Bordeaux Bay

Bordeaux Bay
Watercolour by Tony Taylor http://www.paintingbreaksguernsey.com

Saturday, 29 October 2016

PAINT IT BLACK

A spooky story for Halloween!


THE CANVAS          

Alex stepped back and gazed at The Meadow: wild-flowers in the foreground, forest to the left, and in the background, purple mountains in the misty distance.  It had the makings of a magnificent picture: a few small touches and it would be finished. 
The canvas was a large one, six by seven, and Alex was excited as always when her creative vision began to become reality.
Stepping back from the picture, Alex turned to her other work-in-progress, a smaller canvas on which a child’s face was taking shape. Working from memory, Alex, continued to add colour to the cheeks of the young girl she had glimpsed years before when witnessing the eviction of a group of travellers from her father’s land. It had been a time of high emotion and the child’s haunted eyes, staring from behind her grandmother’s long black shawl, had touched Alex’s heart, even as the old woman raged and shook her knotted fists.
Alex worked on the child’s portrait for a couple of hours, concentrating on texture and bemoaning the fading light.
The advancing shadows seemed to bring a sense of unease and Alex found herself becoming anxious for no apparent reason. Normally, when a picture was progressing well, her mood was elated but today it was the opposite.
When she set down her brushes and turned to look again at The Meadow she was surprised to see a flaw in the picture that she hadn’t noticed before: a splash of black paint beside the tree-line. 
Leaning closer, Alex fancied that the blemish looked like a figure dressed in a loose-fitting garment. 
Seizing a cloth and turps she attempted to sponge it off but, frustratingly, the mark refused to vanish completely and she resolved to paint over it when she resumed work the following morning.
Alex slept badly on the futon in the corner of the studio and, rising early, brewed strong coffee before approaching the picture again. The splash of black had become a smear, larger than before and Alex cursed herself for having attempted to remove it whilst she was tired.
Studying it again in daylight, it did indeed look like someone at the forest’s edge: larger now, as though approaching. 
Shaking her head in puzzlement, Alex painted it out of the picture and returned to the portrait that was already taking shape, but couldn’t shake the mood of gloom that seemed to gather around her.
Pausing for coffee, mid-morning, she noticed with dismay, that the mark had reappeared, this time even larger than before.
Alex stood before The Meadow. The mark was clearly a figure now, the shape more defined. Someone dressed in a flowing coat, advancing from the forest, head bowed beneath a black cowl. This time Alex made no attempt to interfere with it but moved away, bewildered and slightly afraid.
As the afternoon gave way to evening, she worked on the child’s portrait, recalling the scenes of anger and despair that accompanied the eviction that afternoon long ago.
Each time she allowed her attention to stray to the big canvas however, the mysterious shape seemed larger than before.  Alex tried to tell herself it was simply an oil smear spreading, but knew it wasn’t.
Before retiring to bed, she studied the canvas again and saw that the figure was more distinct and its features, though still in shadow, were partly visible.
It was a mean, sallow face, deeply lined and furrowed. The eyes were visible now and, to Alex’s dismay, seemed filled with ill intent. 
She turned the canvas to the wall, extinguished the lights and settled down on the futon.
Alex awoke with a jolt. Moonlight spilled through the high window. Something moved in the room.
She sat up, shining her torch round the studio. The large canvas stood at an angle. A triangular strip of darkness between it and the wall looked like a the flap of a black tent  Beside it a figure crouched, the hem of its ragged coat spread on the floor like blood; the face, beneath its dark shawl, was unmistakably evil.
Alex hugged the duvet to her chest and began to scream.  



Wednesday, 26 October 2016

SPLASHING OUT

Despite living minutes from the sea, I remain a reluctant swimmer and am regularly put to shame by my wife, Jane, who is an intrepid bather untroubled by cold water.
I blame those Northern Irish seaside summers during my childhood when I was urged to brave the icy Atlantic breakers at Portstewart. Even the gritty paste sandwiches and lemonade afterwards couldn't compensate for that ordeal. 
I wrote this poem in August after watching Jane, in mermaid mode, frolicking in sky-blue water at Chouet beach. 

SPLASH

It’s a shock at first,
braving the water, wading out.
Beneath her feet, pebbles
jab at white, splayed toes,
as rising cold, chills knees,
soaks timid thighs and crotch.
Then, breath indrawn,
half stumble or half plunge,
she launches out.

To be immersed is not as bad
as hesitating,
shivering ...
so when the buoyant water
bears her up,
she’s laughing,
sunlight
falling like a blessing
on her upturned face.


Sunday, 23 October 2016

NIGHT FEVER

It’s said that Eskimos have a multitude of words for snow but not one word for home.
There are many varieties of love but, strangely, the normally rich English language boasts only one catch-all word to describe them all.
This is curious because the theme of love in one form or another must surely be the most written about subject there is.
I attempted, in this short poem written several years ago, to capture something of the feverish nature of romantic love when it arrives quite unexpectedly and renders a person almost delirious with passion.
I believed then, as I do now, that we don’t choose love: love chooses us.





















TWIN

At first it all seemed hit or miss:
a glance, a reckless engagement,
with no commitment either side,
a tea-shop visit, nothing more;
easy, no need for concealment,

no thought
that it might come to this:
this shifting of the nerve ends,
the creep of blood beneath the skin
that sends me pacing in the night
hungry for rest
or for the rest
of what I am,

for you, my twin,
and everything the future sends.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

DOWN TO EARTH

Mortality and death are subjects which greatly exercise poets and, with the notable exception of Browning's My Last Duchess, murder tends not to be the subject of many poems.When it is, it tends to be in the form of a melodramatic ballad.
This month's Guernsey Open Mic had "Earth" as its theme, but I decided not to write about the planet and instead focus on soil, mud and clay, and this short poem developed from that.


DIGGING

Earth appeals for earth conceals
sad, broken things.

Like shattered wings,
her pale white arms 

would cause alarms,
her fractured smile 

(save for my guile)
could get me caught,
to trial brought, 

a lesson taught,
a lifetime’s jail.

Earth, do not fail
to hide this ruined, little one
 

and what I’ve done.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

TIME'S ARROW

This October is the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings and, across England, commemorations and reenactments of the event will be taking place this weekend and throughout the following week.
An ideal opportunity, then, to publish this poem.


OCTOBER RAIN

An aspen in a Norman wood
supplied the shaft.
A craftsman’s patience
straightened, seasoned,
then perfected
something far removed from nature,
shaped the taper, sealed it,
gently carved the narrow nock.
Fingers, that might pluck a lute
on fair-days, set to fletching:
grey-goose feathers, 
resin gum,
fine thread of linen.
These would aid trajectory,
ensure the trueness of its flight.
Lastly, a hand affixed with care
the arrowhead, the killing-piece,
fierce-furnace-forged
into a kind of bird-wing-shape
with pointed beak, as lethal as a battle-sword.

It would be one of many
that French archers took to English soil
to fly in flocks like starlings
over Hastings fields
and fall to earth like iron rain,
out of a grey October sky,
to pierce the fearful blue of Harold’s eye.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

SUMMER'S LEASE

I love summer but, as russet leaves pile up around my front door and the lane becomes strewn with autumn debris, I must reluctantly acknowledge that summer's lease has expired for another year.

























END OF THE AFFAIR

The heating gets switched on;
sandals build nests 

in the boot-box;
the old straw hat sleeps, purring,
on the shelf where, overnight, 

hats become cats;
jumpers sidle out
like pale young vampires in early dark.
The game’s up.
Summer’s finally cleared off somewhere else
as you always knew it would:
a false friend,
a good lover gone bad.

Monday, 10 October 2016

GRANITE GRAN'MERE

I’ve just returned from several weeks in southern Italy, staying in Bari, Alberobello, Ostuni, Lecce, Galipoli and Otranto, and travelling (or rather, attempting to travel) on the notorious southern rail service, Ferrovia Sud Est (FSE).
Miraculously, Jane and I managed to survive the experience, although I feel it my duty to caution would-be travellers to avoid this rail company at all costs.
Trenitalia, which operates in northern Italy, is an excellent, inexpensive and efficient form of transport that we use frequently, but their southern counterpart, FSE, falls well below accepted standards in the Twenty-First Century. 


Photo by Jane Fleming

Having returned to Guernsey, I’ve been receiving encouraging feedback about my recorded radio interview with Jenny Kendall-Tobias on BBC Radio along with some excellent reviews of my poem, La Gran’mere du Chimquiere, which the BBC commissioned for National Poetry Day 2016. 
 Click here to read one such review and hear the poem.
Due to the terms of contract, I’ve been required to keep the poem under wraps until after the broadcast, but I am now able to publish it.





La Gran’mere du Chimquiere is a 4,000 year old statue-menhir situated at the gate of St Martin’s parish church.  She is thought to bring good luck and fertility to those who place a garland of flowers on her. The poem is written in the imagined voice of La Gran'mere.




LA GRAN’MERE DU CHIMQUIERE       

Stone,
old, old stone, I groan with age.

Gran’mere, Earth Mother,
I stand sentry beyond the churchyard gate,
and watch, with sightless eyes,
the snail of human traffic creep along.

I am old and granite-cold: your island’s anchor-stone.

Your fathers’ fathers came to me
to pray, to lay or lift some minor curse:
an endless chain of island men,
one generation to another,
linked.

Four thousand years grown old I am. Imagine.

Still they come,
their mode of dress and manners changed,
their supplications much the same:
love, fertility, wealth, happiness, a long life free of pain.

Young children step tip-toe,
lay yellow garlands on my weathered brow,
or proffer coins that glitter in the sun.
They stand before me,
gaze up to my strange Earth Mother face,
and murmur spells as old as time itself.

Rooted here, I listen
as the salt breeze sings of breaking waves,
of fishing boats and lobster-pots,
greenhouses, leafy water-lanes,
smart pillar-boxes, shining blue,
and amber cats asleep
on sun-warmed granite steps.

The soft breeze sings
of that so-lovely town
that climbs up to the sunlit summit of a golden hill,
the dauntless castle and the ragged rocks
where angry currents run.

Four thousand years grown old I am. Imagine.

Islanders, I anchor you.
Primeval, granite, I remain unchanged,
unchanged in a strange world of change.

This gemstone island, Guernsey,
this sea-locked rock whose timeless granite
birthed me,
whose good folk
shaped me,
this
my ancient magic will protect
and cause to prosper.









Saturday, 8 October 2016

FEATHERED FRIENDS

 Skimming through my workbook, I discover that I've written several 'bird poems' over the years. My wife, Jane, however, is the more accomplished writer of 'avian' verse. 
Writing under the name Jane Mosse, her track record is impressive.
We once enjoyed a wonderful trip together to Italy on the strength of it, when she was invited to read one of her successful competition entries at a major festival at Lake Orta. 
Birds have been the muse of numerous poets: Shelley, Keats, Tennyson and Blake: all penned immortal lines on the subject. 
Edgar Allen Poe's Gothic poem, The Raven, is a perennial favourite, and writers as diverse as W B Yeats, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens and Ogden Nash have all published poems about birds.
It seems, then, that Jane and I are part of a very prestigious flock. 























CROW



A hunchback crow, its plumage black,
sits, like a threat, in a bare tree.


I hurry past, avert my eye
from evil. Some things hardly change.


A childhood dread, perplexing, strange,
still numbs me. Old fears never die.


No harbinger, no grim banshee,
could raise such gooseflesh on my back.