Sunday, 15 July 2012

Dada's Seed (long version)


Before Dada first did me harm
he sat on my bed and stroked
my right leg, the one he would ruin.

I watched his Adam's apple heft the axe
and split his thoughts into sounds.
He let loose hardwood splinters.

They slid beneath my love, attached themselves
to my heart, buried themselves deep,
formed black lumps so that in later life,
whenever I was hugged, a splinter shaped
the responses that escaped my mouth.
'My heart,' Dada began, 'you see, or soon will
if you do not already, or if, sadly, your Mam
has failed to warn you, is as black as the inside
of a coffin with the thick lid nailed shut;
made that way when my Da took revenge in the night
for the things done to him, over an apple, long ago.'

A single tear clung to the thick lashes
of his left eye – a mountaineer poised on the cusp
before the advancing avalanche. 'I have to warn you,'
he continued, 'that I am unable to love properly,
I find the touch of your Mam's lips intolerable.'

His nails scratched the skin
beneath my shoulder blades raw while Dada
continued talking. 'Unlike you, my Da
made me sleep in a Hessian sack, would you believe,
and, with Nuncle Pat as his side-kick, threatened
to throw me in a river if I forgot myself and fell asleep.
I'll do no such thing to you,' he said, 'but must
release the hellhounds that gnaw my organs
in a fashion that allows me to keep breathing.
So in fairness and in warning, my scion, and to ease
the hammer that thunked the flesh inside my chest,
in three days time, I shall begin to hurt you.'

Dada wept several tears. I watched them
slide down his cheeks then lost them in the stubble
and shadow of his chin and throat.

He said,  'I would like
to be brave but find it easier to send
you down into the darkness
than to make the difficult journey myself.'

Three days I waited.
I felt walls crouch close
and nip at the air before it passed my lips.

Three days I waited.
I forced myself to sleep with an eye open
and my hands placed firmly between my legs.

Three days later he began on my leg.
He manacled my arms to the bed,
pulled back the sheet and took hold of the leg
where it stuck out of my pajama pants.

His left hand held it firm. His right hand
grasped the arch of my foot.
As he sung Goodnight Irene he began to twist 
until first the ankle cracked and then the knee was ruined.

He revisited that leg every night for forty nights.
I fought, sought pity, thrashed - a fish
trapped in a plastic bucket, swimming in pain -
the bones crushed and re-crushed
until marrow escaped, muscle fled and the leg, from
the knee and all below, flopped and puddled
beneath the thigh, the colour and consistency of porridge.

Next he fed me the flesh carved from the back of Mam.
He cut the meat into thin strips, sautéed in peanut butter,
skewered and fed to me with bowls of Basmati rice
and gentle green tea. If I vomited
he returned to the kitchen. I heard my Mam's screams
and then he brought me a fresh batch of meat.
To hold her meat down I bit the pillowslip.

Mother came to me every morning.
Gingerly, she lifted her shirt
and showed me the flesh missing in patches across her back
beneath the tight horizontal strap of her black brassiere.

My teens were spent in Dada's cellar,
fearful of his visits where he would whisper
his love
and pound my spine or pluck single hairs
from my head
or bite the knuckle of my thumb
until it bled.

One night, with pliers, he snipped off
my left hand's little finger.

He told me about a brother I should have had
if Dada had let him live.

'That one,' he whispered, his hot breath
forced into my right ear, 'sleeps at the bottom of a river.
I had to, don't you see, rid myself
of the fear of that damn Hessian sack.'

He was the eldest of the two sons born to Dada
and to Mam but he would not see the light,
not after today, his Dada has shoved him
in a hessian sack and, with Nuncle Pat,
to the river they then dragged him.

The Hessian sack’s opening
was tied tight like a white knuckled fist
holding the universe closed
so the big, big bang would
fizzle, splutter and go out.

In the bag the son gripped to the memory
of the brightest sunlight
and tried not to replay over
and again the howling screams
of his poor old tortured Mam:

She who cried and screamed
and beat fists upon Nuncle Pat’s back
and Dada’s head; received back a slap
and a kick and then fell
to the ground uncomforted and defeated.

The son pleaded with his Dada
but this is what he said,
‘Fear not my son, or do, but fear not for long
soon the hessian with breathe in water
and your soft lungs will lose the battle -
I’ll be sad to see you go

but not as sad as the relentless pain
my memories of my own Da bring to me
and so you see, drowning son of mine,
we pass on the pain  - seed to seed,
deed by deed, so adieu then drowning one.’

Nuncle Pat said nought, his lips
miserly pursed, a tally-ho fluttering
as his orange-tinged fingers dug
into the old cat-skin tobacco pouch;
he rolled a fag and, while listening
to Dada, to ash converted it.

The ground tried to hold on to him -
he felt its earthy fingers in every bump and scrape
and knew the water would not be so kind;
it would gently devour him
where the land has only held him upright.

And then he heard his Dada’s voice one final time
as he cried again, ‘good bye my son,’
And Nuncle Pat gave him a favorable kick
and shouted ‘you could have been
the best of the lot of ‘em if only
you had put up a bit more of a fight.’

He felt his body in the sack
lifted high like a leaf upon the wind
and then the movement in the hurl,
his weight briefly abandoned him
until the water and sack collision.

He sunk and it grew darker by the moment
as he was embraced by the cold clammy hands
of water - or was that of death –
spreading across skin, and soon,
he knew, into the very heart of him.

‘Oh my Dada,’ he cried just before the end,
‘this did not have to be, we could have chatted
through your agony and found the grass
on the other side. Oh my Mam
how can you have chosen this man
as the sower of your seeds, could you not see
the future deeds in the shadows of his smile?’

The darkness was all but complete now, the water
wipes the air from his chest, took his life
along with it, he felt it gushing past his toes
and wrinkled, shivering finger tips.

Into the vortex, into the hessian’s oblivion,
into the sound of the river and of maws
of the worms awaiting him
and he wished he could have held the hand
of his babe brother one final time.

I wet my mattress at night. During the day I dried it
with the heat that emanated from my frail body.
I coughed up the best years
of my adolescence and spent myself time over
on the soiled, spoiled sheets of that prison bed.

I dreamed of rat breath warming my toes -
the ones I could and could no longer feel –
while bones ached with the memory
of Dada’s touch and the twist to pain
that reverberated still, like lips
waiting to be kissed
or a stomach empty for too long.

At 21 Dada released me.
Mother kissed me. She touched my forehead
with her hand and handed me a crutch
to hobble with.

As a final gesture, Dada pushed me out the door
and shoved me down the steps. He laughed
as I fell and put a front tooth
through the flesh of my bottom lip.

I found employment sitting beside a beach
polishing hermit shells I stole off the crabs
as they wandered the shoreline
beneath the lapping light of the half- moon.

I sold the shells to children, told them
it was not the ocean they could hear
but the cries of crabs lost upon the ocean's dark floor,
seeking their mothers' familiar claws
or fearful of the snip if they encountered their fathers'.

I married a woman who gathered up sand
every evening to turn into glass
and brought her home
to meet the family. Was shocked
when Dada seduced her; he forced
my Mam and I to watch
while he coupled her.

She, I forgave, I knew my worth,
had felt her eyes on my wooden crutch
and felt her body shiver whenever
she touched my ruined leg, but blood
should not be forged into a weapon.
I plucked out my eyes
and threw them at Dada.
He never paused but rushed onwards, faster
than a breached dam.

The dogs barked as he rutted
and when she cried out part of me went missing forever.

I left that place, took my wife,
or, rather, let her take me, her hand
holding mine as she whispered her apology
but all I heard was the whisper of the ocean -
and my wife’s sound towards the end
when my heart fled me - but soon lost her
and never sought to discover
if she went to back to my home,
back to his bed
where I was first brought into existence.

Eventually, months and years diminished
my revulsion and I was drawn north to south.
I slithered over the back fence
and took up residence in the back shed, fed
by my Mam in secret. Blind in the darkness, heartless,
I listened to the dull leather sound as Dada 
beat my Mam. I offered no solace
when she brought me food in the morning.

One night as the stars sat above
and I felt their tears in the silence
that surrounded us I ask my mam
how she could ever have chosen such a man.

It was his words, my darling babe, not his statues
made from clay, though the scent of clay on his hands
did excite me, that your Dada used
which undid me and brought me to this place
where you and I sit and stare up
into the darkest pits of humanity.

‘I understand now
what I did not then, that he makes statues from earth
to cement his place for the air and the ocean
unnerve him and we
have become his stars, our light
hurts him
and so your Dada must forever seek
to darken us, to drag us down
to the land of pain and humiliation.’

I asked Mam if she
could tell me the story
of Dada’s words
so that I might understand how the world
could come down to this shed
and these are the words
she gave back to me - Dada’s words,
uttered by him when seducing Mam,
and her words, accepting his charm,
and they, together, creating my history.

Even as his fingers unlaced my  dress,
I could sense his hands, browned in earth,
itched to mould damp clay.

While his lips kissed away my fears
his tongue pushed urgently between
to taste my coming screams.’

‘For in the morning,’ he always whispered,
his hands holding my head
still so I could not turn away from them,
‘I shall abandon your sweet nest
‘And as I wrest with memory
to produce an after-image
of your liquid sensuousness my ears,
lost in creation's delight, shall not hear
your voice cry out and my soul,
empty as night, shall devour our final embrace.

‘So one final time, as my fingers trace
our passing along your white spine,
remember this - do nothing,
nothing, but forget me!

‘Do nothing but forget me!
Like the ocean's spray,
let me envelop you, let me caress,
excite and elicit
the secret responses hidden
from common view.

‘I need nothing. I grip nothing.
Everything slips through my fingers.

‘Do nothing, nothing, but forget me,
for though my hands work miracles
the promises I whisper in my need
are as binding as daisy chains
while your hindsight reproaches
wreck havoc upon my innocence.
‘I seek nothing - the discipline is to listen.
The clay sings - the dream is revealed.

‘Everything passes through me!

‘I am nothing.
I take everything.
I slip into ancient warmth
to discover your secrets.
I see into your pain, make it mine.
I feel your heat beat, match it, change it,
lead it down sodden paths once hidden from all.

‘There is no safety, no logical progression,
no calm expression, there is only this,
this tempestuous unearthing,
this explosion of fragments and hidden meanings,
this collision of myths and insights
as muscles and tendons
lose conscious direction, strip back the layers
to reveal visions –
the melting pot is stirred to action.

So you could not leave Mam,
but surely you saw the end before it began?’

With each tired movement I struggled
against the growing current and found
in the end I had the strength to save myself.

Nor to save me, mam,
no my brother drowned.

It words captured me son;
Dada’s words were a net I could not escape,
I was the fish hauled towards the light
knowing death waited in that embrace.
As thick reeds caught hold and threatened
to drag me under - only the scent of the clay
and his watering words brought relief!

‘Thoughts unbound fly in the face of protection -
a hard, wet slap to force clay into shape.
Thoughts fill my hands, fingers stab the clay,
become sharp knives to slice the morals
off stiff upper lips and hypocritical redemptions.

‘I am not redeemable!
I float, lost and passionately angry, in the space
between acts inconceivable. I caress,
I force, I manipulate and the clay breathes,
exists in shimmering propinquity to that which is!

‘Sometimes my ecstasy dominates, a storm,
a raging wind rending roots and leaves impenetrable
as I struggle to find an escape from the fire
that burns deep inside my chest - then beware! Beware!

‘For though my flesh may seek your embrace
my thoughts lie elsewhere and my hands,
as they dip into your lavic heat,
already ache for the clay's cool touch.

‘I need nothing.
I grip nothing.
I take everything.

‘While my words seduce
my eyes appraise;
I take what lies hidden
and follow the inspiration.

‘Sometimes I long for you.
Sometimes I even love you
but darkly, secretly, sometimes
I wish badly for you
and my fingers wriggle like snakes
spitting venom in The Gorgon's hair,
seeking a return to the clay’s lair.

I wished him to be gone, my son,
on more than one occasion, to be
gone from that time and place!

I wished for more, for less, for difference!
But only sometimes… Then his words
preceded by the scent of the earth,
would begin to drop upon me, like rain
falling on the rock to produce the gully.

‘Sometimes I gentle flesh,
I caress and softly seek the recesses of delight.
Sometimes I erupt
to rend a vision physically unto existence.

‘Come my sweetling,
my sparrow,
my sacrifice,
come seek my arms, my loins,
my embrace.

‘Discover that though the flesh
may sate
and separate,
the passion that compels us
can invest us with a truth
so vast everyone is touched.’

We sat for a time, my Mam and me
and the ghost of our brother too,
I think, breathing
in the darkness of the shed,
dreading the dawn of the day
and Dada’s next step.

Soft the old web
as an overhang is pushed back.
It touches the face,
a fading kiss from the beast.

The branch swings back, the path
revealed in drips of water
collected in puddles from footprints
of previous passer-byes.

In the distance, the hungry deep-throated buzz
(locusts singing up a feast), from the road
we move towards.

Dada led.

Dada always led.
Mam followed and copped the webs,
Branches, drips and the leeches
that waited between drinks like hobos,
patient and always thirsty
until bloated and fall
to await the next passing drink.

The garden around the shed
is alive with the squawks of birds
who mirror my thoughts.
I want
to push past Dada and find
my own way
but his confidence unnerves me.

Our relationship bears the marks
of hunter and prey.

let me go on without you.
Let the hurts
shrink like the hills
behind, let them become shrouded
like Mam’s eyes.

Must you always win

Must this son
bide in shadow
until I assume the role
of parent?

Where is my time in the spring sun,
free to gambol
to waste energy the way the meadow
unleashes itself in dazzling colour,
swift to pass and memorable?

Summer, stoic and bearable
must come soon enough -
is there a reason to rush toward it?

let me be.’

And then in jest and in anger
I sang a song I called the seven songs of Dada.

The first son had an arm
twisted behind his back
until the bone
gave out with a crack, the wrist
splintered, the shoulder
popped loose and the arm
flapped like a turtle fin.

That son lived in a shack
by the beach, collected whole shells,
abandoned by hermit crabs
he spent the dark nights
with the shell held to his ear
imaging the possibilities
of two strong arms.

The second son found his leg
twisted by his Dada
while the other sons sat upon him
and held him still, his Dada
corkscrewed the ankle over and over
to the tune of the second son's screams.

The second son lived in the forest
in the hollowed shell of an old oak
ate acorns by the bushel
and watched the forest animals
scampering in the dawn and dusk
with an undeniable envy.

The third faired no better, this time
an eye was plucked from his face
and fed to the dog for supper
while the third howled in the corner,
his hands covering the hole left behind.

He moved to the city and became a singer
on a street corner, a patch over the hole,
his voice filled the places his face
was unable to place, before him an old hat
captured money for his supper.

The fourth was born in winter
so his father cut off both ears
and fed them to the fire where he heard
them sizzle and splutter

he stayed at home and was happy
to bury his father
though he wept when his Mam
joined him some months later.

The fifth had his back broken
under a pile of lumber
he had crawled under to slumber

He lived happily in a cast
spoon fed by his Mam
and a lovely neighbouring lass.

The six lost his fingers
to his father's welded axe

He went into a home
and stayed their forever.

The seventh was lucky
he died the day he was born.’

And when the song was ended and the tears
slid down my cheeks unable to cure
the pain shivering within
I wished in my heart as it did beat
that I had been the lucky one
and already dead.

Finally I left the shack
and discovered, like others before me,
that the road back is harder still
than the slide into the darkness.

I found a new woman who had three children,
lived with her beside a river,
ate apples every day
and planted their seeds at night. I watered them
with my tears and the gentle stories
I told her children.

My ears heard the laughter
as water scampered across tickling rocks
or the joyful squeals of her children
as she chased them, pretending to be a monster.

I found a large boulder and placed it
upon my own monster. I know
a seed cannot grow without light.

I found, one winter, a son that she gave me
and bit my tongue off while I held him; smelt
the skull that had captured sunshine
and the scent of the deep blue wings of a butterfly.

She stood beside me, her hand
around my shoulder, her lips
painting, with breath, the hairs
of my ears and I thought of my Mam

and the apple trees blossomed
and shed their petals
as gently as death
or love
or snow.

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