Friday, April 13, 2012

Disguise the Secret - Part 2

Into the meeting hall came Theodore, the headman. He was surprisingly small and slender. His eyes, perpetually wide and a deep clear blue, were notoriously poor at seeing, a fact that many miscreant children had taken advantage of. Apart from the eyes he was dark with black hair and skin that looked tanned all the time.
He walked off center, a syncopated lurch that was the result of something breaking in his brain some years before. Even his many enemies refrained from mentioning his ailment, partly through compassion, but mainly to avoid the explosive rage he exhibited whenever it was brought up.
No matter the clothes he wore he always had his grandfathers belt around his waist. A thick strip of leather held in place by leather thongs through holes. Hanging from it, all the way around, were a score or more glossy black feathers and it was this that caused awe in those open to the emotion. Having seen a bird was singular enough. To kill and eat one, to absorb its power, was both wonderful and appalling at the same time.
His family had relied on this awe to maintain their grip on the village for three generations. Whether the bird feathers carried any science was an open question.
"So here is our precious waking dreamer and her latest piece of adornment. Are those spirals what all the young ladies wearing nowadays? I admire the extreme dedication to beauty those tattoos represent but why not use henna, as is more usual for this kind of thing?"
"I need help sir. Please tell me what I can do to rid myself of these marks."
He turned away slightly and in the flickering firelight seemed to be snarling. Then he turned back with a full smile on his face.
"You messed with the bird didn't you? The loops don't like that. They'll push you away from the bird but not before teaching you a lesson. You're lucky they didn't give you a taste of the land of screaming birds. They did that to me and look what happened."
Then Theodore, who refused to allow those around him to even allude to his malady, astonishingly pirouetted, almost stumbling as he dragged his paralysed left leg around.
No-one said a word. Other than the crackle of the fire the hall was completely silent.
"There's an old man with the refugees who's supposed to know about these things. Ask him."
"And how shall I find him sir?"
"My spies tell me he's known as Actor."
Then Theodore turned and walked away through his private door.
Forehead still pulsing with pain Ana made her way to the camp.
A couple of hundred refugees from the now frozen edges of the world had congregated here, instinctively sensing that while the villagers felt sympathy for them, this sympathy didn't go so far as to wanting to live next to them.
Out of guilt, perhaps, the village had given the refugees one of their three cornucopia rings, a loop of dull metal that, fed with raw material one side, produced a bland but nutritious paste from the other.
To feed themselves the refugees fed the ring night and day, the resulting devastation in the meadows and forest becoming a growing source of conflict between village and camp.
The camp sprawled, seeming far larger than it really was. The tents and shelters were varied in material and form. Some were made of oiled fabric; others from sewed furs; others again from glued flame leaves. The sturdiest were carts, covered in planks of wood..
There was a smell of cooked spices in the air, mainly ochre root, thick, heavy, resinous. Over this drifted the smells of paprika, coriander and garlic but the food of the camp looked strange to Ana -- bubbling pots of green lentils with the ubiquitous blue stuff from the cornucopia ring.
Everywhere there were tiny oil lights. Rather than having one large light for each tent the camp residents had chosen to use many small lamps and as a result there was a magical flickering that seemed to have no source but filled the camp with a gentle glow that came from everywhere.
"He's up the hill," the sullen child said, holding out his hand for a reward.
"But no-one goes up the hill!"
"He did. He's been up there for days. Reading the sky, he says."
From his tone and attitude it was clear that the child regarded this as a form of laziness.
Ana gave him a couple of copper pieces. He sneered and ran off into the camp.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Class Warfare

The children of the rich are becoming a separate species
That they are taller and better looking can be put down to
Good nutrition and confidence respectively
But they have long thin limbs
Delicate long fingers
Large but flat chests
They run for miles and still have
Energy for enthusiastic, cool skinned, inventive sex
They are being bred for some high, thin aired Shangri-La
As the world below falls apart they will breathe
Clean air, they will run up and down their mountain valley
Use their long thin fingers to operate computers
Doing rocket science

They will fight wars against us low-landers
As we rise from the sludge of all that is left
They will leave for Mars and we will stay
Failing to deal with a biosphere spasming
And collapsing back to slime mould

The children of the rich are becoming a separate species

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Disguise the Secret - Part 1

The lapwing's poetic meaning is 'Disguise the Secret' and it is her extraordinary discretion which gives her the claim for sanctity.
Robert Graves, The White Goddess

Ana carried the basket, dry reeds woven together into lines and loops, filled with mushrooms. A basket, she sometimes thought when in one of her down moods, that was sturdy enough to carry her head should one of her frequent migraines cause it to fall off.
As always she stopped at the Tall Stone, the prone Lesser Stones scattered around it, paying obeisance. and she put down the basket and walked up to the tall, misshapen spear of rock, bowing a little, respectful of the power in this place. At the height of her head there were carvings, almost invisible after centuries of erosion, covered with lichen.
Above there were three spirals in a rough triangle. They were perfect, as though measured out with ruler and string. Their edges were sharp and they were deeply incised, as if with an inconceivably hot knife -- were it not for the lichen they would look as fresh as the day they were cut.
The inscription immediately below the spirals was different. Faint almost to the point of invisibility with lines that were at times almost just scratches in the rock, it showed what was widely agreed to be the profile of a bird.
Its head was held high and its tail, long feathers sticking out and up, was just as perky. The only peculiarity was that the visible wing drooped at an angle which seemed wrong, as though it were broken.
On an impulse she leaned forward and kissed the bird. It tasted of flint and salt and she was about to raise her head from the stone, strangely disappointed, when she felt an intense.burning on her forehead. Gasping she fell away from the tall stone and fell to the ground, almost blinded by the agony.
When she came to she had no idea how much time had passed. The sky was darker, but that could mean a storm was coming.
Still in pain from whatever had happened to her forehead she picked up her basket and continued on her way home. As she walked she tried to convince herself that there was a rational explanation for what had happened. Most likely she had had some kind of fit and, as she passed out, she'd bashed her head against the rock. Perhaps the fit had been brought on as a punishment for kissing the bird, or more likely there had been something in the salt on the rock that caused a moment’s unconsciousness.
She reached home only a few minutes later. The small cottage with a thatched roof and wattle and daub walls was cozy but nowhere big enough for parents and grown up children. Even when married they needed permission from the headman to stake out some land and build a home of their own.
She pushed her way through the chickens inside the crude wooden fence and walked in to the start of the evening meal. Normally only one or two of her brothers and sisters would acknowledge her entrance. This time, however, there was a gradual dying off in the volume of the chatter as each person looked at her.
"Oh child, what have you done?" said her mother, rushing across the room to her.
Mother had a mirror, a treasured plate of polished silver that she had used when younger to make sure her hair was right. Now she was older and cared less about what people thought but she kept the mirror to remind her of the past while her daughters schemed to be the one to receive it after her death.
In it Ana could see her face. The angular but pretty features were still there as were the storm-cloud grey eyes, slightly too far apart but made up for by their size.
The horror, however, was on her forehead. Three spirals in an equilateral triangle lay there.
"It's not a burn, it's a tattoo. Look at how blue it is. A burn might heal but this is there for life." said her mother.
"But what do I do? I can't go about like this!"
"You could try going back to the stones. Don't look at me like that, it's obvious where you must have got these marks. The only person I can think of to ask is Theodore. He has spies everywhere and I remember that when he was young he spent a lot of time at the stones. Maybe he will know."
Mother sounded dubious but Ana grasped onto this as the only piece of good news she'd received this evening.
Her mother looked up at her. She always wore drab brown and was almost spherical these days. She seemed to have somehow given up on appearances after father died. All the same some faded glamour and a hint of her past beauty (not enough beauty to drive men and woman away, but just enough to attract them) remained. One didn't have to try too hard to see who she had been and by extension what she had done.
"Be careful Ana. That mark will bring certain kinds of people to you. They will want to take something from you and give nothing in return. The flesh-in-ice gets closer each year and people grow desperate. Someone with your talent could be very interesting to those expert in science."
With that last warning mother bustled Ana out into the night to go to the meeting hall.