Our Lady of the Sparrows

Once upon a time there was a girl who spoke sparrows. She didn’t speak to sparrows: when she opened her mouth it wasn’t words that came out but birds. This was unconventional, to say the least.

Her family was deeply embarrassed and didn’t know what to do with her until one day they had the bright idea of selling their story (her story!) to the papers. Well, after that, people flocked to their door to catch a glimpse of the miracle and gawp at the freak-show that was their daughter. Some chirped that she was a holy-woman, others squawked that she was a witch. Stephen Fry tweeted that she was a fraud.

The girl who spoke sparrows was very unhappy. She had things of her own that she wanted to say, damn it, but all anyone cared about was those bloody birds. Talk about stuck in a rut! Stuck in a rut with bird-shit all over the IKEA furniture, to boot!

So she made a decision. No words: no birds. She refused to open her mouth. People got bored and went home. They had uncooperative teenagers of their own.

Finally!… except that… after a while, the girl began to feel the tickle of feathers in her throat. Oh no! She swallowed hard. Now claws began to scratch at her. She couldn’t keep it in any longer. She opened her mouth and out flew not a sparrow but a HAWK! And then life got very interesting…

Reading Wrap-Up: September 2018

This month’s highlights:

Bee Journal by Sean Borodale. “You are not fully ordinary, bees.” I wasn’t sure I would enjoy this documentation of bee-keeping: poet Alice Oswald calls them, not disparagingly, pre-poems and note poems (of which I have a deskful of my own: finish the things, damn it!). I loved it! Here we have the mundane and the mysterious inseparable from each other, with a sense of immediacy throughout.

I opened the jar of honey I bought on holiday and sipped a little from a teaspoon. After reading these poems it tasted no less than a bee-spit sacrament.

The Great Passage by Shion Miura, translated from Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter. In which a small team of lexicographers compile and publish a dictionary over fifteen years. Sounds dry? Not in the least! It’s delightful: a feel-good book without saccharine or fluff. I enjoyed the contrast between Majime’s precision and exhaustive referencing with the definition of words and his ineptitude with the spoken word. As for his love letter, it is at once unintentionally funny and painful.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell. If the truth be told, London Above is scarcely less baffling and stressful to me than London Below is to Richard, a hapless everyman who finds himself in mortal peril in a world he didn’t suspect even existed. This is the first I’ve read of Neil Gaiman. I enjoyed it very much and didn’t want it to end. It has fascinating ideas, great characters, humour amongst the deadly serious bits, and plentiful illustrations in the margins. What more could I ask? Well, maybe more of the splendidly awful Mr Croup, an utter savage who speaks as though he digested a Stephen Fry vocabulary-builder at a formative age.

This month’s disappointments:

Ink by Alice Broadway. So, tattooing of significant life events is compulsory and, after death, one’s skin is made into a book to be honoured or publicly burned. Add a charismatic leader ramping up fear of the other and exhorting a return to “traditional values”. It had me feeling so tense at the start but as I kept turning the pages, that tension wasn’t sustained or adequately resolved and the book failed to deliver on its promise. Regrettably, it reads as though Broadway spent the bulk of her writing and editing time on the opening chapters with the rest being all rather “meh” with a headlong dash to the finish, where it becomes apparent that this is volume one of a trilogy. I won’t be reading on.

I spent too much money again although, in fairness, three of the books were bought during a special occasion day out (and two of those had been on my wishlist for some time). The other two I bought after first borrowing copies from the library. Poetry.


Welcome to Kathedron

Here, in a crowded marketplace, I offer you this. I know, I know: you are up to your neck in it; there is somewhere you should have been twenty minutes ago; you don’t have time for this nonsense. Granted, it doesn’t look much, but it is a whole world.

You can ball it to a disgusted nothing and lob it at the nearest seagull-priested bin. You can crumple it into your pocket along with your loose change and obsolete till receipts. You can pause for a moment in brow-furrowed incomprehension. You can ignore my out-stretched hand and stride past, your focus held, compelled, by the trail of gum gobbets and cigarette ends that guides your feet. You can nail your attention to the horizon over there, oh anywhere, over there! Your eyes can meet mine and flick away or glare me down. You might even glimpse this world, maybe even kick at the tumbled masonry amid the nettles and sneer at the god-fled ruin of it: what earthly use is any of that?!

Listen: the only way to see this world for what it is, is to become familiar with falling between the cracks in the floorboards with all the magnified momentary disruption and utter inconsequence of a lost button. It is a dark cramped place at first sight but light comes lancing down from the sky-boards’ flex and groan and illuminates a spark amongst the moth wing dust to kindle a humming bee-glimmer, warm and ancient and charged like amber.

And maybe the humming now has become a bell summoning the long lost in the back of your mind and here you are! Here you are: welcome to Kathedron.

For they labour for life and love, regardless of anyone

But the poor spectres that they work for, always, incessantly. *

*William Blake  The Los Poems: Jerusalem ch.3 lines 279-280