Thursday, 31 May 2012

Diana and Actaeon: The Hunt

The air above him shimmers with an untranslateable portent. It is midday, the sun pouring its equal light onto both halves of the land. Actaeon stands in the rapefield's chrome, and holds a feather into the air. The rocks glitter at his feet. Today he will take his chance to shine. His eyes are bright and jittery, his soul murderous. He replenishes his quiver and the dogs at his feet shake with joy. Here he is, about to visit maelstrom upon the natural world. Here he is, Actaeon, for all the world like something grand and good.

In the copse of willow, the roe deer breathes in the ephemeral light. There is a beacon burning in her heart. Her life mystically replenishes itself each day, and she scents the air with practice and grace.

It is tumult at first sight. His eye locks with hers. He draws his bow, she startles into motion, but leaps to her death in jittery arcs of pain. His feathers fill up with her blood, and catch at her breast in jagged flags and darts. Again and again Actaeon pulls the bow, feels it bright and good, celebrates his potency with a cheer, gulps in the mineral smell of blood, and something like peaches on the air.

When the sun is a copper disc he turns for home. Looking up to see the ripped and stained canopy of Heaven he licks the blood from his knife. Since his sister had been buried he had longed for blood. The consolations of its taste and texture on his tongue. Pehaps that is what was meant when the hunters called him bloodthirsty. He had killed the wrong man. Certainly. He had killed twenty wrong men.

Through the sordid forest he crashes, blood in his heart and in his mouth. So he fails to notice the dark pond with the vision of Earth's Goddess bathing until it is too late. Of course he shouldn't look. Of course he is obsessed with looking. He feels his heart's cold bird rise up singing. Gone are the shatter patterns in his heart. He leans in, breathless to see more. The pool is dark, blistered with lights. She pours the water over herself in streams of silver. Beacons of bones collapse in Actaeon's heart. It is as though his sister lives, and laughs.

But Diana turns. She sees him. Locks her eyes on his, draws the bow of her mouth into a line. He startles into motion. She flings a veil of water at him, drenches him with its shine. Three stones arrange themselves across his body in an Orion's belt of agony. His head bursts into stag. He is his true self beneath a crown of horns.

Owls mark the night landscape as Actaeon turns. He runs flashing like zinc in the moonlight. The power in his legs is profligate. Speed flushes kill-thrill though his veins. Tears roll down the face that is not his. Beyond the forest his dogs lift an innocent scent on their muzzles, translate it into  fear, a secret lake of bewilderment, the buzzing flying biting illusion of freedom. They are suddenly mad with lust. He cannot meet their flashing eyes, but as they bring down the broken line of his back, as they tear the veil of muscle from his lethal frame, pull out the skinned peach of his heart, his eyes glaze, take on the silky sheen of death, and the light in them deteriorates.

The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Penelope Letters

Letter from a waking dream, Ulysses. I move slowly through my days, like the idea of exile, like a wise virgin husbanding her oil. The silence of the house is brimming over. I walk barefoot across your floors, fancying I feel the swell of the sea beneath my feet.

There must be a last time for everything, I think. I just never recognised ours when it came. If I'd known then as I to waved you from the quayside glittering with fish, how many days would slip under themselves, would I have made more of it? Would I have noticed the crashing silence of it, would I have seen the slow-motion disaster? Would I have felt it stop my heart right then and there?

Instead after a perfectly ordinary kiss, I turned back and so I  never saw an entire future blurred by tears,  did not feel a sense of a thread lost, a footing missed, the sudden drench of knowing that nothing would ever be the same. These things came to me much later, in my dreams, as I tried in vain to recapture the moment before you left to see what else I could have done.

The suitors have taken to telling tales about you to keep me company, your intelligence and your consummate strength. This is what the past can do, reform you, reinvent you, retrieve you from the vast sea of forgetting, collecting just enough story for a funeral breakfast.

Each day the day dawns again.  Each day I shake off the waking dreams of your boat. I tell myself, as I am telling you, there is progress. It is provisional. Each day we are moving towards each other, making our way home.


The copyright of this blog belongs to Claire Steele

Electra's Bouquet

Three shoddy mull jonquils hastily pinned to her breast. Hardly a basket of flowers, but three being better than two it will have to do. Electra pulls a long face in the foxed mirror, views herself like an astronomer, one eye at a time. Behind each eyelid, the stars come out. Hope is painted in a gracious arc of blue above each eye. She makes her mouth luscious and robust and spins before the reflective oval, longing to meet the gumptious day, to get out where the sky is the exact chalky blue of an Easter Sunday. But hoping and longing aside, first she must pull on her dim cloak, the red boots , the misremembered dress with all the little blades sewn into its hem.
Hunting seems to be my thing, she thinks, as she follows her nose past the kitchen, where cook is measuring knives against her wrist. Past the horrific kettle of eels she goes, the cauldron of jellied pigs' feet, past the birdcage window and out onto the street, where the rain falls in halos and arcs, and down to the quayside, strewn with improbable storm-wrecked blooms.
Tell me, says the voice of Rafael in her head, what it is you plan to do now with your one wild and precious life

The copyright of this blog belongs to Claire Steele

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Prodigal: The Clothes She Stood Up in

She wears the perspective we wanted, but at an unpredicable slant, throwing her weight behind the day's open-ended hours, knowing that back at home cook would be licking the blood off the edges of the knives. As Alisha strides down to the harbour in her paisley liberty bodice, her horsehair petticoat and her red shoes with the hand-painted soles, the day winces and the piano on the quayside tilts dangerously, She has her damask donkeybag rivetted and double-laced, a bag that snaps shut just as easily and firmly as her jaw, forbidding the slightest intrusion.
Scenting malice on the morning's breath, Rex has retreated to the farside of the harbour, behind the clinking masts of the boats. Never one to wear his expected gender, today he is corsetted and ballgowned, as unexpected as a gloire de dijon rose amongst the quayside debris. But there is no hiding from Alisha; she hails him, reels him in. Today's capricious spoirit is calling her to play. As trouble comes in threes, he walks a curious waltz towards his wife, ready for whatever games she has in mind. He steps out across the apron of the harbour, falling for sequinned light. The cracked fountain flows across the stones, and as he leans in for her kiss, darkness comes down like an empty glass.

The copyright for this blog belongs to Claire Steele

The Prodigal: A Gumptious Day

A gumptious day Alisha cries, flinging open the windows. The sun bares his burnished chest, the peartree dips its blossoms, a crow flaps a languid wingspan from the fence to the chimney. Alisha takes hold of the morning at both corners and shakes it out like a clean sheet.
High in the attic, Rex is spinning something luscious out of yesterday's horrific news. When I put my head around the door he looks up at me, dismay or despair suddenly wintering his gaze. I go to him and lay my head upoin his hands. He spreads my hair across the Bible and recites the words of Deuteronomy, the text of which is painted in delicate script along the eaves of the attic. When he is done, he pops a jonquil into my collar and hopes my day is perfect.
The house of sleep turns over and moans softly.
I creep back down to the bipartite kitchen, split between the realms of kettle and cauldron. There is the familiar smell of cordite and gas as I light the sharp blue flame beneath the pot. Soon I will begin the journey, take myself out upon the surface of the precious mile,  begin the day again, fully formed, immaculate.

The copyright for this blog belongs to Claire Steele

The Penelope Letters


just to let you know, I have devised a plan. It's a child of necessity, but I know how tales get twisted out of recognition on the high winds and I wouldn't want you to hear of this one backwards. The cat is on the roof and won't come down. That is to say, I am weaving a shroud for Laertes. But grieve not, though you have been away for so long (nearly twenty years Ulysses – you should be coming into your prime, but you have squandered my prettiest years) he's not dead yet, though he will not come and see me. He tends all the trees of his kingdom and grows old Ulysses. Time does not wait for any of us. Anyway I am weaving him a funeral cloth. Each day I sit and play the loom as though it were a lyre. Each night, Ulysses, I unravel the threads of this sad garment as though I could turn back time. I have stalled the suitors for the time being, saying that as soon as the cloth is finished I shall take one of them as husband. (It will be the one I spoke of.  I could bear no other unless you come back to me soon).

The story of this shroud would take several tellings. I laugh to myself.

I wonder whether you dream of home, or whether early on you decided that you no longer had a proper language for it. Will you recognise the coastline when you arrive?, what will you make of this falling land, clipped by salt, and atop the cliff? your kingdom with its dusty squares and its forlorn flagpole, ever ready to salute a new regime.

The maids are all busy making love to the suitors. Our marble halls are silted with sand and dry leaves. Today the sky is in a shawl of grey salt, and the house is grown dingy for lack of love. Telemachus scuffs his feet and demands a great feast. I shall have to talk to cook.

Are you wandering through the arcades of amnesia? Do you suffer the weight that throbs off the unfamiliar angles and the acoustics of the sea? Bear with me Ulysses I am trying to imagine what it is like for you. My name is faithfulness (and how I wish it weren't to be so bitterly tested). I can only get through this by virtue of the most stupendous act of imagination. I conjure you up in your little boat. Beneath the clouds and the stone, there is one green bottle balanced on the wall. Nothing stirs to confirm or deny my assertion that you are on your way. It conjures nostalgia, the ghost of hope.

Well this cloth is a textile of longing. It would warm the body of the dead, but I hope it will not have to. My dearest wish is that you will return to make a nonsense of it all.

Until then,
my love

The copywrite for this post and all posts on this blog belongs to Claire Steele

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Penelope Letters

Ulysses, how far am I from you today? It is my waking thought. A blunt guess at the distance between us: miles. Our psychic distance, the emotional distance between our hearts, or our souls, contracts and expands the physical space. We vibrate at different frequencies, and that too explains distance. Our lives hum in different keys.
I imagine you slipping through the present as smoothly as a fish in its skin. I am ekeing out the past and shoring myself up against the future Ulysses. Time has slipped its moorings and I don't know where I am.
What is distant? What is near? I draw you to me by means of what mild magic I possess. I practice the ancient fragrances (call it art) of seduction. Draw near while I am still far off and make me whole. I offer you my splintered, fragmented life and hold its pieces out for you to do with as you will. Please, cover the distance between us. I want every speck of distance to dissolve into closeness. Distance is the economy of space that confers value upon us. What I hope is that the further I am from you the more you regard me.
Cook says distance makes the heart grow fonder, as she brings the blade of the knife down cleanly upon the lamb's leg. I am struggling to define myself without you. What does she mean by fonder? Madder? Softer? Think of my poor soft heart beating is buttery beat in my breast, furred with desire. Does this distance between us make your heart grow more desirous, Ulysses?
I am in the grip of desire and it attaches to what it can find. My dreams are peopled with lovers not all of whom are kind. His mouth covers mine and we fall backwards into the dream - it is as much as I can do now, to get this letter written – and I waken both beset and bested by lusts and prey to anxieties beyond my understanding. Distance would come as some relief from all this. It would be observed as a kind of respite. A possibility of gaining renewed fortification against the onslaught of the craziness of missing you.
Distance is a sea between us that cannot be crossed. Its waters are now sparkling under the sun, and inviting. Come in Penelope, the water's lovely. But this is a mirage, a chimera. Because when I climb down to the sea, to try and meet you, the waves grow green and turbulent and I am tumbled beyond the perameters of sense, arms flailing, eyes blinded by the force of this distance.
Distance is a melody played on a far harp. It is enticing. It invites you to close the gap, to lie down under the magic of its music. But the notes are carried away on a warm breeze, and it leaves in its void a peculiar nostalgia for closeness. It is a plucked string vibrating in an empty church.
I am beyond comprehension now. I am without hope for closeness. My body longs for your shadow but I am living my life out in the unflinching light of distance. I have longed for you so long I hardly know what longing is now. And yet, Ulysses, it is as vivid as a scratch upon your cheek. Does that seem uncommonly close? Let me tell you, distance has this habit of falling away at those moments when we least expect it. There are times when I find your presence disconcertingly close. So close I still can't see you properly. I have no perspective on this. Your bulk diminishes me. I am back in your presence again.
Perhaps this is how love stows its gifts away, in little slices of silence, as when the wind just curls away to nothing and even the everyday waves of the sea fizzle onto the shore.
Come and claim them again, I beg of you
Or I must ask the gods to intercede on your behalf
At this moment I am
Still your loving and virtuous