You took me on holiday to the continent. Railway trains to Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. You loved those trains. I hated them. We stopped in the dark at unknown stations. I’m thirsty, you said. Get me some tea. I left the train, climbed down to the platform, went to the restaurant. I had a fistful of money, but didn’t know what it was worth. Tea? I begged the man behind the bar. My mother wants tea. They all shook their heads and offered me beer. My turn to say no. Coffee?  A pause. Uh-uh. They offered me orange juice, lemon juice, wine, and I finally water. A whistle shrilled. It’s the train, they said waving their hands in the direction of the door. I let them choose the money they wanted.  And something to eat. They gave me a sandwich, a slice of cheese in a baguette, then seized some more coins. The engine hooted, a lonely owl, calling for its lost chick.  I ran out of the restaurant, on to the platform. Carriages moved past, slow at first, gathering speed. The last passengers climbing aboard, the doors closing. I ran. The guard, at the end of the train, blew his whistle, waved a green flag, held the last door open, until I caught up. He helped me onto the train, gifting me with a storm of words in a language I could not understand. The doors between the wagons remained locked. My compartment lay to the front of the train. I couldn’t remember the number of my carriage or my seat. Wagons-Lits? I shook my head. Première classe? I shrugged. Touristique? I nodded. The guard grimaced, led me down the train, unlocked doors in the sleepers, led me on and on, until we arrived at my compartment. Restrained by another guard, you yelled and shed tears as you tried to pull the emergency cord that would stop the train. Ah, there you are. What the hell do you think you’re doing? I was worried sick. You slapped me. Now I stand on a different kind of platform, watching another train pull away. I stand here, abandoned, and watch you slide slowly into an unreachable distance.





     You can sense it, you can feel it, the alert spirit that guards this room. Walk in there at your peril. No, don’t. Just stand at the door and observe the poinsettia. You bought her a real one, a year ago, but she forgot to water it and when you visited, leaves and flowers, had crisped and dried, withered and perished. You even found cigarette butts stubbed into the pot’s powdery earth. You bought her another one, this time an ever-lasting, artificial flower, scarlet blossoms of silk with yellow-dotted plastic beads. Today a feather-duster breeze cleanses and enriches the leaves, replenishing their faded splendor. Motes rise, their dancing angels of dust hovering, suspended in a sunbeam that picks out their supple luxury. Their fiery tongues cry out to you from their green plastic pot in this empty room. The plant throbs with a startling vibrancy in this early morning light that enlivens piano keys, table top, and the polished, wooden chair arms you cleaned yesterday.  The poinsettias seem to wring butterfly hands as they gently flap in the breeze from the open window where thin lace curtains twitch, shaping the sunlight into light and shade. Her ash tray sits by the radiogram and awaits her return. That last cigarette, lipstick staining the filter, stubbed out and cold, waits for a companion. Later today, you will go to the hospital and visit her. You do not want to enter this room for its guardian spirit demands solitude and silence. You do not wish to create a disturbance, yet something moves you, and you walk over to her flower. A film of grey cigarette dust rises once more from the silk poinsettia, disintegrates, and dances before you. You bend your head to the silken surface and feel dry leaves brush their butterfly kiss across your cheek as you breathe in the ashen smell of stale tobacco.

Swansea Bay



 Swansea Bay

            My childhood in Swansea: a mixture of seaside and sand. Walking over the bridge at the Slip to reach the dunes at high tide, the fish nets at low tide, the dog ever before me, running fancy-free, chasing yellow-beaked gulls that swoop low, mewl, and lead him on and on, past bundles of bathers’ clothes in summer, and the dog lifting his hind leg, visiting each pile, marking them, one by one, a squirt at a time, and us denying we know the dog, not ours, we say, then beg for the empty pop bottles, taking them back to the vendors, pocketing the cash back on the bottles until we have enough for an ice-cream, a grown-up wafer, not a childish cornet, or a go on the swing boats, and the dog comes with us, gets sea-sick, air-sick, hangs his head over the wooden sides drooling thick saliva as we wait for the bump and grind of the wooden bar that will slow us down in spite of us pulling on the ropes, harder and harder, until we swing higher and higher into the heavens, and the sands dwindle into nothing, and the dog throws up, and the man who handles the swing boats calls us bad names, as we run away, across the sands, ‘I’ll tell your dad,’ he shouts after us, but he never does, and the dog wanders loose across the sands to drink salt water and throw up again, and yes, I remember the starfish, their golden triangles winking wet in the sunlight as they hang from their netted firmaments, and we walk out along the concrete sewer pipes that pour the town’s waste, the town, and not the city, never for me a city, and how could it be a city when so many uncles and aunts lived on Town Hill and my father worked in Town Hall, and Swansea Town were the Swans, and they played soccer on the Vetch Field, the old hanging ground for the town jail, never the city jail, and the Mumbles Railway ran its electric trams out from Swansea Docks to the quarries by the Mumbles Pier, and we took that train, sat on the top deck, The Slip, Singleton Park, Blackpill, the Mayals, West Cross, Oystermouth, where last year, after a hundred years of absence, wild oysters finally returned, the pollution from Copperopolis, the largest copper mining and smelting town in the world, finally drained from Swansea Bay and the waters now clean enough to keep those oysters alive in their cultured oysters beds at Oystermouth, on Swansea Sands, below Oystermouth Castle with its ruined walls where we went once, but I remember nothing about it, nor Swansea Castle, in the old town centre by Castle Street, its ruined walls banned with their Keep Out signs and Danger, but the warnings themselves enough to invite us in, except we knew we’d be beaten if anything happened and we were caught and everyone knew everyone in Swansea Town then,  and somebody would surely bear the tale to our parents or grandparents,  but that’s enough of that, and its’ out of the tram and across the wooden planks of the Mumbles Pier, out to the end where the old men throw their lines into the sea and sit and wait and hope, pulling on cigarettes, Players Nay Cut for preference, as they watch swirling waters, taking sips, like old men everywhere, from secret bottles in brown paper bags that cause them to wipe their lips with the back of theirs hands and cough with pleasure, waiting for God knows what to come along and tickle the end of their line, and out there, at the end of the world, the lifeboat house with its slipway and the lifeboat, launched only in the roughest weather when the tall ships founder or the small boats are blown away, out into the sea, that twinkles now with its wrinkled old man’s face as it moves back and forth beneath wind and sun, and everyone is smiling in the summer warmth, though it’s cold where the wind blows off the sea, and it’s into the corners away from the wind, or into the pavilion where the arcade games wait for our money, and it’s ‘please, please, one more go’, as the small metal arms armed with their claws, clutch at toys and dolls, and furry animals, and the fighter planes come swooping down in their practice arcs and yes, I am a gunner again, fighting my Battle of Britain in a spinning turret with a mobile gun-sight, and time and my money run out and it’s ‘ please, please, one more go’, and my head is spinning, as the turret is spinning, and the world is spinning on its axis as memory’s spider spins its web of illusion, delusion, and time rolls backward on the station clock, as the tram rolls up and we track our tired way back home, past Oystermouth, West Cross, Blackpill with its little Roman Bridge, Singleton Park, the Recreation Ground, St. Helen’s, to the Slip, where we boarded in he first place, and home we go via the fish-and-chip shop in the road at the bottom of our street, and all adventures end as we open the front door, calling out ‘we’re home’, and the smell of warm salt and vinegar soaks through the newspaper binding the delicacies we have brought to placate the gods who wait in silence for our return.




When good friends get together they can talk and walk and hug and hold and discuss so many awkward and difficult things, like how the body fills with spirit and the reader can be swept away in the magic of voice and how time and space can be suspended in the majestic act of creation that spins a web of forgetfulness around us and makes us forget who and what we are as we forge new worlds and the duende (Lorca’s dark earth spirit of love, want, and creation) holds us captive and drives us onward and inwards until we give birth to that which was waiting to be born, even though we never knew that the seed had even been planted, and “What is this?” we ask as we survey the new born entity fresh on the page, held in the hands, suddenly full of life and breathing on its own, a thing of beauty in its own right, that made complete sense as we struggled to hold it as it grew and transformed and transitioned from internally ours to externally and eternally theirs, a product of mind and body now belonging no longer to us but to the world beyond us, and we long to know its fate, to watch it as it walks along its path, its destiny now in its own hands, and “What is it?” people ask as we stand still and know not what to tell them, or else they say “Nice”, sigh, and go back to their two-thumbed clicking and their imaged devices, bereft of the imagination to see and explore that which has just been placed before them, this babe in swaddling clothes, this new creation, “Here, have some,” they say, thrusting our way the chips on which they are munching, or the curly French Fries they are crunching, or the pistachios, or whatever, and their coffee cools on the table, and their eyes are locked on the text that moves between their fingers across the electronic page, and this is life, as they know it, this shifting screen of shadows, this black and white stage that moves across the wall of the man-cave, woman-cave, in which they have immersed themselves, their noses close to that shifting screen, their minds elsewhere, trapped in the instantaneous insanity of the hyper-cyber-space that inhabits the void behind their eyes and between their ears, as they try to judge the price of everything never understanding the value of anything, let alone what we have created, and “Take away his grant,” “Let her wither on the vine,” “They’ll soon forget to be creative when we chain them up face to face with harsh reality,” and was that what they said to Goya, to El Greco, to Leonardo, and what exactly did they say to Lorca, before they shot him dead and rolled him into that common grave along with all the other murdered men and women, teachers and artists, poets and thinkers, and we, poor parents, holding our precious precocities in their swaddling clothes and wondering why we ever set out on this adventure, and why we are creators in the first place and “Watch out, here it comes again!” the tsunami, the tidal wave that sweeps us away and drives us into the black holes of our inner lives where a dark sun shines and shadows dance and lead us on and on until we have caught our dreams, squeezed them dry of their nothingness, and turned them into the weavings of an actuality stuffed full with new life, a new reality, a new creation, something that is truly ours, yet outside ourselves, and we gaze at it for a moment then position it in its cradle of reeds, place it in the river, push it out into midstream and eyes fill with tears and heart with hope as we watch it float away to make its own life, sink or swim, on this sea of sorrows, where someone, downstream, may bend to the waters and say “Holy Moses: what on earth is this?” or “How are we going to judge and assess it?”



for my friend, Mr. Cake

It’s old age, I think:
I can manage
one thing a day,
depends on the weather,
then I forget,
then I remember,
but the weather isn’t right,
so I put it off again,
start a story,
write a poem,
the phone rings,
someone texts me,
there’s a knock on the door,
the crows in the garden
make me procrastinate,
(crass  Latin joke*),
then I remember
and feel sad,
and hair leaks from my head
like straw from a scarecrow,
and my teddy bear brain
turns to sawdust
when I scratch,
and what was I saying?
I guess I’ve forgotten,
I’ll sleep on it tonight,
and write again

Crass Latin joke*
Cras is the Latin for tomorrow. Cras is also the sound, in Latin, that the crows make. Hence Pro-cras-tinate: to leave things for tomorrow, or to abandon them for tomorrow’s crows. The joke probably doesn’t belong in the poem, but darn, it’s my poem and I’m leaving it in there.

This collection of thoughts started in a casual online exchange with my good friend, Mr. Cake. Sometimes words flow and it’s impossible to stop them. Sometimes, they hover like crows or croak at us from the tree tops where they sit ungraspable. My spellcheck tells me that’s not a word, but if it isn’t, it ought to be. Whatever: the world and its words are sometimes surreal and if you are interested in the surreal, then Mr. Cake’s blog is the place to be. Here’s the link. The site comes highly recommended. Click on it now and don’t procrastinate. Mr. Cake’s Blog.

Thursday Thoughts: Divorce


Thursday Thoughts
19 July 2018
[Divorce, Division, Dissent)

Sometimes you wake up in the morning and you realize that you can do no more. So what is it about family split-ups, the pain and ugliness of a disputed divorce, the glue coming unstuck in an already unstable marriage,  a financial settlement that satisfies nobody and splits and impoverishes both sides of a divide? And how do you bridge that divide when you are friends with father, mother, children and the wounds are so deep that everyone of them wants out, whatever the costs and whatever it takes? And what is it about the deliberate wounding of each by the others, the permanent scars that will never heal over, never be stitched over, no matter how hard a third party tries? And what right does a third party (fourth party, fifth party, sixth party) have to step in and try to force issues? And what is it about lawyers, when too many guests gather around the Thanksgiving turkey and the knives are out for everyone to take the choicest cuts and what’s left now but a skeletal carcass, no flesh on the bones, and the guests all hungry still and their empty bellies rumbling for more, more, more … and this isn’t Oliver Twist, “Please sir, may I have some more?” though everyone is heading for the poor house and the beadles are also gathering by bedlam’s door with their handcarts and dogs and the full enforcement of a blue-serge law made to twist and torment, though I have never understood the law, especially when it is left in the hands of lawyers, for “the law, dear sir, is an ass”, a striped ass at that, black and white like a zebra, though grey and costly in the areas that matter most. And what is there to do but rant away about the injustice of it all, the size of the checks and now you must check-out the food banks, the soup kitchens, the meals on wheels, the charity eating and boarding houses, because there’s no more roof over the head and the house is sold and the incomes are split and the children are more-or-less cared for, though rather less than more, and the dog is turfed from his dog house and the pussy cat booted from her feathered bed. Rant, I say, rant and rage away, rage, rage against the dying of friendship and the death of love, because that’s all you can do in this blood sport where even the spectators are spattered with the refined frenzy of friends turned into fiends and foes, and this is a protest, a rant against love that doesn’t stand the course of time, against families that break up, against a society that breaks them up, drives wedges and scissors between people once bound by the puppet strings of love, against relationships that can no longer continue, against the rattling of dead white bones in empty cupboards where the skeletons dance their way into legal daylight and the spectators call for more, more, more, more blood, more money, more blood money, and the engagement diamond is a blood diamond now, a tarnished garnet, and where is the Little Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, that spire inspired needle that will stitch their world back together, and stitch you back together when you have been shocked out of your own ruby-sweet rose-tinted world and torn into little bits in their oh-so-bitter one, the biters bitten and those bitten biting back in return, a new world this world of snapping turtles, turtles standing on the back of turtles, and turtle after turtle all the way down until this carnival world wears its dead clown mask and turns turtle in its turn …

I dreamed all of this last night and woke up this morning and realized … I can do no more.

Friday Fiction: Big Blue Sea


Friday Fiction
6 April 2018

Big Blue Sea

bad story I shout … because anger is stronger than fear … and I can’t analyse this story … I can’t look at it objectively … lucidity fails me … because I’ve been there … and because this story takes me back … returns me to that dark tunnel of the machine’s mouth … back to those flashing lights … back to the clacking teeth of the surgical saws … back to my own biopsies … those invasive surgeries … so deliberately concealed … so little understood … back to the memories of my mother … lying there … silent … needles taped to her arms … motionless but moving … ceiling lights casting orange shadows over African violet bruises on her arms … I communed with her in silence … my spirit seeking her spirit … in a wordless dance of two spheres … bonded by a common gravity yet circling suns … each in a different universe … spheres that would never again meet … not in this life … not in this dance … a beach … she was … with the tide running out … abandoned … empty … and nobody told me … nobody … said … a … word … as I sat there … and now … as I sit here … I find … I cannot write a word …

 … yet when I dream … I revisit these scenes … or do they drop round to visit me … returning like dream-ships in the night … white sails flashing beneath the moon … pale figures restless on spider-fine cordage … and the sequence a black-and-white conjunction of something just beyond my fingers … shy sparrows that I reach out for … yet cannot quite grasp … nor can my night mind exceed them …an Easter flower on a white-clothed altar … flickering candles snuffed out between finger and thumb … dark ghosts of spirits spiraling … surreal images dredged up from the unconscious and paraded at the tide-mark edge of the semi-conscious mind … only to be flayed by the rays of the rising sun and scattered into a million diamond drops that cling to the eye-lashes … and I remember looking at the pastel-paint walls of her hospital room … or looking out at the place I parked the car … beneath her hospital window … and a black dog played in the car park … ran round in circles … chasing its tail … as my dreams chase their tails and weave their willow-wand images in and out of my Mind’s flawed flower basket … weird this fishing weir … these circled sticks netting dreams on the open sea … as a dream-catcher traps them at the window and holds them … stopping them from coming in … and they perch like chirping sparrows in search of breadcrumbs … welcome on the window-sill … singing their mourning chorus … and no … I will not mourn … I cannot mourn her passing … for she is long gone now … I watch the last bus … the last train … pulling out of the station … and me in my dreams abandoned on the platform … and the train pulling away … like a sailing ship … bearing her to her final holiday … a cruise across the big blue sea …

People of the Mist 18



11:00 AM

            … hard baked loaves of stone … hot cobbles beneath the feet … the burning street forced upwards through the shoe leather to scorch the feet … the sun’s orb an irresistible hammer beating the strength out of the sweating body … the heart sucked dry … the lungs shriveled … a man dehydrated … already dried up by the baths … from the inside out …

Everything seemed different to his distorted vision. Translucent people, pale ghosts of themselves, passed before him and wandered across the street, shadows in a dream cast against a cave wall. Tim walked to the central square and entered the cathedral through the same carved glass doors in which he had seen his father’s image, but his father was no longer there. Wary of flames and flickering candles, Tim stood in the dust-laden beam of sunlight that fell from a stained glass window high in the roof.

Wave after wave of colored light broke across his face and played fragmented games upon his hands. He inhaled sunshine and felt the sea-surge of a body being reborn. A new man, he emerged from darkness into light, a spiritual being, neither of this world nor yet of the next. The colored light danced its chiaro-oscuro upon the surrounding walls and he felt soft sunlight flooding into him.

            … inside massive stone walls … candles … crucifixes … paintings of saints … statues … carved wooden images … outside in the sunlight … alebrijes … staring eyes … wagging tails …  protruding tongues … their spirits breaking through the wood … turning from darkness into light … within the man’s head … once open doors slowly closing …  keys no longer turning in locks … unwound clocks no longer ticking … cobwebs gathering in forgotten rooms … flowers on the altars… nochebuenas with their single and double petals … crimson and cream … cempasúchiles … marigolds lighting  a golden walkway to guide the dead … loved ones returning to visit the living …

Standing in the cathedral, drenched in a rainbow shower of light, Tim’s mind drifted in and out of sun and clouds. All around him he saw secret worlds opening like oysters before his eyes. Flames through the candles made hard, crisp sounds, hissing and sharp, like the inside of an apple when strong teeth penetrate the outer skin. Candlelight brought an unexpected peace as its yellow bees’ wax light wandered over the altar.

Tim went to the chapel dedicated to La Virgen de la Soledad, the patron saint of Oaxaca. A girl knelt in front of the altar with a basket of flowers upon her head. With a click, wheels turned in his head and Tim realized that he had seen her that morning in the square in front of St. James. He didn’t want to disturb her prayers, so he tiptoed to the far side of the altar rail and started to kneel. As he did, the flower girl turned her head towards him.

Señor: I am so glad you have come. Please, I need your help.”

“My help?” Tim stood up and moved towards her. “Of course, what do you want me to do?”

“These flowers, I must place them on the altar. But the basket is caught in my hair. I cannot remove it. Could you …?”

“I saw you with a boy, this morning outside St. James, didn’t I?”

“Perhaps. My cousin walked with me until he slipped on the cobbles and could walk no more. He would have helped. Now there is nobody.”

“I’ll help. What must I do?”

“Take the weight of the basket and try to see where my hair is caught. You must untangle it, if you can. Then I can place the flowers on the altar as I have vowed.”

She knelt, motionless, an animal frozen in a trap. Tim lifted the basket and its weight shocked him: the stones within must have weighed at least twenty pound. As he lifted the basket, she winced and he saw where her hair had caught in the basket’s wickerwork.

“Can you hold the basket now?” he asked her.

She raised her hands and held it aloft. As she did so, Tim began to untangle her hair from the weave, a slow, difficult task. At last, the basket came free and the girl’s black hair fell smoothly into place.

“I hope I didn’t hurt you when I pulled your hair free.”

‘”Thank you and no, it didn’t hurt,” She took the basket in her hands and he opened the altar rail for her. She mounted the steps and placed the basket of flowers on the altar at the feet of La Virgen de la Soledad.

“There,” she bowed her head, crossed herself, and muttered a prayer. “My father will get better now.”

The girl returned through the altar rail and she and Tim knelt side by side in front of Oaxaca’s patroness.

“They say she will answer your prayers,” the flower girl looked weary and distressed. “She has worked many miracles for those who have walked the road. My cousin walked with me for a bit, but he was in great pain, so I sent him home.”

“Surely you could have finished the pilgrimage another day?”

“Oh, no, señor, it must be completed between the hours of six and twelve. My cousin should have helped, but I did it on my own. Señor, I must go now. It is time for me to change. I have completed my pilgrimage and now there is work for me to do.”

“Perhaps I can walk with you a little way?”

“Oh no, señor, that wouldn’t be right. I must go alone. But thank you.”

Tired, but full of grace, she got to her feet and walked backwards, away from the altar, not taking her eyes off the Virgin’s face. When she got to the chapel’s entrance she turned and left.

Tim knelt there in silence and thought of the strange things that seemed to happen in Oaxacan churches. Last Sunday he had gone to mass in La Consolación. The lady in front of him had opened her blouse and offered her breast to her youngest child who sucked there, greedily, throughout the service. The old man at the back held a roll-your-own smoke in the palm of his hand and closed his eyes in ecstasy as he inhaled the drug. Three dogs, tongues lolling, were pursuing a bitch in heat and she came into the church for sanctuary. The dogs chased her up and down the aisles as the high priest doggedly murmured the blessings that uplifted the hearts of the faithful: a bored acolyte passed the anointing oil and presented the sacred wine to the priest. Flowers and candles adorned the altar. When the old man from the back of the church stubbed out his smoke and knelt for communion, night breath lay whisky thick on the high priest’s tongue.

La Virgen de la Soledad stood tall on the altar wearing a black kirtle. Silver stars and planets swam through the dark night of the velvet that flowed down from her waist. Beside her, a young man with open, staring eyes hung from a rough, wooden cross. He recognized Tim and called him by his baptismal name, but Tim no longer knew how to answer. The young man had the jewel eyes of a flayed Mexican god, living forever, and never quite dead. Black blood flowed down the carved face and formed a river of coal dust waxed with carmine. The heavy smell of incense mingled with the smoke from the candles and transported Tim to an internal world in which time rolled on and on and lost all meaning.

… impressions … a nose here … a pair of eyes there … long black hair … a tree swaying to the music … a nose wrinkled in disdain … a black bible banged on a wooden table … a thin girl … a Cubist nightmare of female body parts … multiple pin balls released in a rush by an errant slot machine … light falling from high windows … stained glass … reds … blues … greens … smoke from a candle twisting in the air …

People of the Mist 17


9:30 AM                    

… where Alonso waited for them.

“Good morning,” Alonso limped towards them.

“Still hurting, I see,” El Brujo placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder and Alonso grimaced. “But don’t worry, it won’t be long now.”

“That’s easy to say. You’re not the one who’s suffering.”

“Not visibly, no; but underneath the surface I am a volcano, about to boil over,” El Brujo sighed and turned towards Tim. “Are you ready?”

“I suppose so. But I’ve brought nothing with me.”

“Don’t worry. Everything will be provided.”

They walked into the bath house and the attendant behind the desk greeted them.

“A new friend,” said El Brujo, pointing to Tim. “He’s on my account. And he’ll want a massage.”

The attendant gathered soap and towels, then signaled for them to enter the baths.

“Follow me,” said Alonso. He limped forward and Tim walked after him.

“Tonight,” El Brujo whispered to the attendant as soon as they had gone.

“You’re not thinking of …” the attendant raised his eyebrows.

“I’m not thinking of anything yet,” El Brujo silenced him with a gesture. “Here, take these herbs and add them to the herbal mixture in the baths, will you?” El Brujo passed a small packet to the attendant. “And don’t let us be disturbed. As for tonight … I think we’re running out of time … who knows?”

“I’ll close the doors when you’ve gone in,” the attendant smiled. “Nobody will disturb you.”

“Thank you, my friend,” El Brujo shook the attendant’s outstretched hand and followed the others into the Baths.

Tim undressed and folded his clothes with care. Then he forced his watch, his wallet, and the medallion into the toe of his left shoe. Clad only in the paper-thin, skimpy towel and grasping his bar of soap, he opened the door of the cubicle and stepped out into the unknown.

He looked down and saw a line of painted footprints and a hand that pointed … just like the codices he thought … and followed the footprints to a door from which steam leaked. He opened it and stepped into a room as warm as a greenhouse that smelled of herbs and flowers. A thick steam circulated and Tim thought of cool summer tides rising over sun-warmed sands. Indistinct figures floated through the mist and one of these lurched towards him.

I knew it was you,” the figure drew closer. “Come and join us.” Alonso took Tim by the arm and presented him. “Here he is.”

El Brujo, stripped naked, with his long black hair hanging dank below his shoulders, loomed out of the steam and embraced Tim.

“How do you feel?”

“I’m okay, I guess.”

“In here we are all the same,” El Brujo proclaimed. “There are no secrets. We are as naked in body and soul as we were when we abandoned our mother’s body.”

… soft warm air … moving delicate fingers of scented mist over the belly … floating on air … drifting across the room …the return to a surrogate womb cradled in an ocean of amniotic fluid … steam and herbs filling the lungs … reaching relaxing tendrils deep into heart and chest …

In what seemed another life, a door opened in the herbal mist and a man stepped through.

“Who wanted a massage?” he called.

“This one,” said El Brujo, pointing at Tim. “Here, grab your towel and your soap, and off you go,” El Brujo pushed Tim towards the masseur who led him out of the darkness into a brightly lit wide-awake room. The masseur, squat, dark-skinned, and scarred, looked like a judoka from the old school built for close in body-work. He pointed to the hooks on the wall and Tim hung his towel on one of them.

“Soap,” the masseur had the voice of a parade ground sergeant major and Tim snapped to attention and handed him the bar of soap. Then the masseur pointed to the marble slab in the middle of the room and Tim climbed on to the slab and lay there face down. The masseur began by soaping Tim’s body; then using the tips of his fingers, he moved across his back, digging in deep at any sign of resistance. Next came a series of karate chops and the remaining hardness in Tim’s body started to break down. The masseur hummed as he moved and drove each note home with a pounding that made his patient feel that he was the piano and the masseur was the maestro, rippling the keyboard with manipulative fingers.

This is what Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony must feel like, in the Liszt transcription, Tim mused, as the pounding accelerated and he was swept away, a rudderless ship on a stormy sea of carnal music.

“There, you’re done,” the masseur made one last sweeping movement across Tim’s body and moved away from the massage table. “Stay as long as you want and get up in your own time. There’s no hurry. I’ll tell El Brujo you’re on your way.”

Suspended in space, somewhere between earth and heaven, Tim lay motionless on the slab as images flashed through his mind.

… a face from the crowd … lighting up in sudden recognition … a man in a blue suit lying in a coffin … hands folded on his chest … eyes closed … a woman … somewhere … running … with a baby in her arms … snow falls like interference on an old black and white television set … a bridge now … and a river … snow falling into the river … a young girl … three old women … two standing between her and the river … one holding out her hands … the child transferred from young hands to old … the young girl … tears streaking her face … her face as cold as stone … as hard as obsidian … the young girl … an arm waves above the waters … the dark closes in … close up of a snake skin … slither marks in the dust where the snake has slipped away …

Tim tumbled down from a high blue sky and returned to the normal world. After a little while, still dizzy and dreaming, he got to his feet, stumbling and disorientated. Then his sense of balance returned and he walked out through the door and back into the steam room.

“Now it’s time to meditate and dream,” El Brujo greeted him. “Here, this slab is reserved for you. Don’t worry. We won’t be disturbed. There’s only you, me, and Alonso.”

Tim climbed onto the slab and lay on his back. Herbs, magic, mists and healing powers: they wafted their way through his lungs, filling him with a strange and languid lassitude. The lower half of his body unwound and the knots in the muscles untied themselves one by one. He felt as if his body no longer belonged to him.

“Now,” El Brujo lowered his voice until it was scarcely more than a whisper. “Just lie there, without moving. Try to empty your mind of all thoughts and feelings. Just imagine the herbal mist filling your whole body with the lightness of clouds.”

Tim did as he was told and felt himself filling with a peace that he hadn’t felt in years. Weight fell away from his body, and light, he wanted to float away on the air to be dissolved into streamers of mist.

… wrapped in a cloud of unknowing … drifting in cotton wool… damp and grey … clammy … hot spots … cold pools … a ray of sunlight almost piercing the cloud … light fading … shadows … at the eye’s corner … half-glimpsed shapes … sounds … half heard … a grey sea on a cloudy day … movement … a dull glow … distant lava flowing warm from a subdued volcano … a wild beast slinking … chained within the mist … a kaleidoscope of colors … fists over the eyes … pressing …  two eyes … fierce … smoking … the stuff of nightmares … a cold hand seeking … eyes like gimlets … piercing the body … examining the soul … dragging the heart upwards into the mouth … figures walking a tightrope of tapestry thread … a life spun out … too distant to make out … knots and tangles … a skein of memory … shanks of thought … fire and blood … the mist stained …  a deep male voice … not now … not now … but soon … cold ice … hot fire … the slash of Huitzilopochtli’s obsidian knife …

            … the mists buck and twitch … an ancient movie with no soundtrack … a dusty road winds across a flat plain below a high mountain … a black figure … a man striding along the road …  four Golden Eagles circle … they spiral upwards in ever increasing circles … feathered stones cast in an aerial pond …

… a dust path … a man walking towards an old village … houses slumbering beneath the sun … cast shadows … open doors … villagers calling out to him as he passes through …

.. . an upright man young with no limp … the heart of the village … he sits below the central cross … flowers, pink roses play where Christ’s body should hang … time passes … three old women walk towards the man … they greet with an affectionate embrace …

… thunder clouds build … a bolt of lightning descends and strikes the cross … the cross splits in two halves … one half falls to the ground … lightning stabs like a spear … wounds the young man in the right thigh … plunges its electric sword deep into his flesh yet leaving no visible scar … the light fades swiftly … when it returns … mounds of rubble and dust … the young man limps away … one half of the broken cross lies heavy on his shoulder …

…two hands grip the mist and tear it apart … a painted face emerges … striations … alternate black and yellow bands … the wasp god … Tezcatlipoca bares his teeth …. a fierce all-devouring smile … teeth … sharp and filed … stars surround the god of the night sky … words celebrate the god of ancestral memory … he is the embodiment of change through conflict … discord … enmity … sorcery … strife … words flow effortless from his mouth … “I am he for whom you must die.”

            … this is the god of the smoking mirror and of the broken foot … his feet are shrouded in mist … an obsidian mirror hangs from his chest … snakes of smoke writhe within it … within the mirror is movement but no face and no future …

            … words and images lick at Tim’s chest like tongues of fire … smoke straggles up from where his chest hairs sizzle and burn and he knows that he is doomed … yet he still has something to do and some time to live … he stares into the smoking mirror and sees his own reflection… in his hand he holds his broken medallion and then he sees, suddenly, at the edge of his vision, the other half held in someone else’s hand … the other medallion swings like a pendulum poised to hypnotize …

            the image fades and Tim is left stranded in the darkness of the mis … an unspeakable hollowness fills him and he knows that something terrible and fierce has entered his life …        the mists thin to reveal a barren inner city landscape … snow streaks white lines against black clouds … three old women emerge from the darkness …one carries a bundle, wrapped in a blanket … she peels back the edge to reveal the tiny face of a new born child … the lady with the scissors snips the frail, thin thread of red wool that binds the infant’s wrist … the lady with the spindle spins a longer thread … the lady with the measuring rod measures it then twists the thread round and round the baby’s wrist … scissors snip it … fingers tie the loose ends into a bow …

            the lady with the spindle kisses the child then leaves it wrapped as well as she can in a cardboard box on a set of steps leading to a massive wooden door … she steps up to the door and tugs at the doorbell … lights appear … a nun opens the door and sees the cardboard box … her eyes open wide and her arms fling upwards as she discovers the child abandoned there on the doorstep … she puts her hand against her forehead and squints into the night … three sets of footsteps lead away from the door …  but nobody is there ….

            the scene changes … a river and a bridge … a young girl poised on the parapet … she flings herself into the water and disappears into the night … snow continues to swirl … a set of footsteps leads to the bridge … but none return …

“Come back to us when you are ready,” El Brujo’s voice penetrated the illusion. “Take your time. Sit up slowly, then get up when you are done.”

Tim got to his feet. The mist seemed thicker now, and heavier. Memories of all he had seen tumbled through his mind as he tried to maintain his hold on reality.

“Whatever you saw belongs to you and is yours and yours alone,” El Brujo snapped his fingers and Tim shuddered. “Treasure it. Interpret it as you will. The more you perform this exercise, the clearer the visions will become and the more they will speak to you. We cannot live in those lands but we can visit them at will. When we are skilled enough, we can interpret their meaning. Until then, the visions are just signposts.”

“How long was I dreaming?”

“What makes you think you were dreaming? Time has no meaning in the other land. Objective time, the time that runs by in the real world, rarely changes. But the subjective time of the mist is different for each one of us,” El Brujo had a dreamy expression on his face. “Sometimes, it feels as though it can last for years.”

“I’ll see you tonight then?” Alonso turned towards El Brujo.

“Tonight it is.”

“And I’ll see you this afternoon,” Tim said to Alonso. “We’re going to Mitla this afternoon, aren’t we?”

“That’s partly why I’m here,” Alonso looked troubled and, eyebrows drawn together in a frown, he weighed his words with care. “I’m sorry, I can’t make it this afternoon. I’ll send one of my assistants around in the car. Don’t worry, whoever I send will know as much as I do, if not more. And I’ll be there this evening. Don’t forget, then,” Alonso patted Tim on the arm. “1:00 pm sharp, at your apartment. Just wait outside the front gate and someone will drive by and pick you up.”

“How will I know which car it is?”

“Don’t worry. It’ll be an official car and I’ll tell them to honk the horn. Come along now.”

The three men left the steam room together. Behind them, the mists gathered into little groups that vibrated with energy and life.

People of the Mist 15


9:00 AM

Back in the apartment, Tim opened the bottle of mescal and poured a large shot into a glass. He gulped it down and the mescal burned as it rushed down his throat and into his gut. It relaxed him and he felt less haunted. Its swift invasion of his brain left him stunned for a moment and he sat down at the table, picked up his medallion and held it in his hands.

…  papier-mâché figures sway in the square … a cacophony of traditional music … massed village bands … the rhythm of rising rockets thumping into the air … dancing trees flap miniature limbs in time to the music … eyes flash from the trees’ waistbands … dryads and satyrs cavort carved and painted …  liquid motes of fiery tunes float in the air … music visible and almost tactile for a moment or two … stamping feet … stilt dancers … the music stops … young children … boys and girls … emerging from the trees … live dryads bark-skinned brown-eyed … a nymph walks over eyes open in invitation …

Tim’s mind clicked back into gear. Of course, that’s where he had seen the girl from the paper kiosk: she had been dancing in a papier-mâché tree, in the zócalo, and when the music stopped,  she invited him to join her in her tree.

            Colibrí, the tiny bird with the warrior’s soul, whirrs its wings … twin windmills, sun-dog ear-rings, draw circles round a suddenly-clouded sun … a flock of tiny feathered angels as bright as postage stamps sit in the trees in the courtyard to raise their voices in their afterlife of praise …

Tim checked his watch: if he wanted to visit the baths, it was time to get going. He got up from the table, slipped his medallion around his neck, walked out of his apartment and closed the door behind him.