Fragment of Soul

Fragment of soul


The woods are almost silent to the untrained ear but if you stand still and ignore the hum of distant traffic, the forest sounds become overwhelming. The falling of leaves is like slow rain, pattering against the leaves still clinging to branch tips; a squirrel rummaging in the leaf-litter sounds like a much larger animal digging. The smell is the sweet mushroom scent of healthy decay, spicy and slightly erotic; the aroma of damp earth bringing back memories from beyond time when we were animals only.

I walk up the slope and into the grove of chestnuts, the undergrowth retreating into nothing but fallen leaves and a few bare dead plants and the grim green of persistent nettles. In late April this was a sea of blue, and the scent of wild hyacinth intoxicating in the warm spring air; but the bluebells are now withdrawn into skull-white bulbs, and are curled tight in their potential.

Muscles pull. I can feel age creeping up on me, but mostly this is the near permanent pain of a body that got put together ever so slightly wrongly. I know that I must be more and more careful as I age that I put less stress on joints that will bend and let me become circus-freak pretzel-shaped. Distantly I see the cobalt flash of magpie wing and I focus on the bird itself, bouncing on a twig too slight for its weight above the mud of the pond. I wonder if it will fall. It flies to a higher branch and a flurry of leaves drift down and coat the oily surface of the pond.

That’s when it happens, the flash of memory.

I’m holding a fragment of bone, curved like a primitive bowl, and smooth as only countless hands caressing it could make it. It lies in the palm of my hand, bigger and so much more significant than my small hand. I can see the suture lines where the skull bones fused together and I realise that I have always known this, that this skull I hold, broken and ancient, is somehow a part of me.

The curve is delicate, like a vessel made by a skilled and careful potter, and the skull it belonged too must have been a dainty one. None of the hefty brow-bones and bulging lobes that mine possesses. I hold only the very dome of the skull; I cannot see the start of the slope down to eye-ridges or the knobbly temples. You might use this fragment to scoop up spring water with and drink from, a forgotten sacrament that honours both the spring and the soul of the skull’s long dead owner.

I shiver and the images dissolve and I walk on, mesmerised by this fragment of soul memory.

Time is kind

Time is kind


Time is kind:

Each night it wipes

The whiteboard clean

Of teeming words

And painful, wounded songs.

Each day I fill

that empty space

with remembered tunes

and fading rose-petals

browning at the edges,

Their fragrance ebbing,

a scarce remembered thing

topped up by surreptitious squirts

Of artificial scent.

Each day, I rewrite the words

re-enact the scenes,

Aware(but oh-so-dimly)

that what I write is not

what occurred

but now the memory

Of a memory alone

And therefore corrupt and defiled.

Time is kind:

One day I will stand,

bereft but with relief

And be unable to recall

Those lost and keening words,

And that blank space

Will fill with new and better ones.


Take Me Out by Martyn Clayton ~ a novel of warmth and humanity

Take Me Out by Martyn Clayton ~ a novel of warmth and humanity

I was immediately snagged by the blurb that comes with this novel. There’s something comforting about having a main character who appears initially to have little that is instantly heroic about them but who seems both familiar and likeable more or less on first acquaintance. Lauren Seymour is cruising through life with little to either challenge or excite her and she’s probably set fair to do so for some years yet until an idle promise made while half drunk comes back to haunt her. I’ll show you what I mean:

Lauren Seymour enjoys a well-ordered existence. Passing her time in York she likes nothing better than the occasional crisp sandwich, reality TV, listening to her CD collection and ignoring the advice of her big gay house-mate. An early morning phone-call suddenly shakes her out of her comfortable groove.
How do you react when the odd guy you once tried to avoid befriending whilst at university claims that you are now the only person on the planet who could possibly help him? When that man has been pulled half alive out of the icy-cold waters of the River Ouse after attempting to kill himself you might feel obliged to at least see what you could do.
What she discovers in the 32 year old Robert P. Gorman is a man who has kept the ashes of his dead granny under his bed for ten years, and who hasn’t bought an item of clothing for a similar length of time. Yet he doesn’t seem completely beyond redemption. Could Lauren be the one to rescue Robert?”

At first I was concerned that this would be some variation on the Ugly Duckling story, but I soon discovered that the author lives in my world and not a Disney world, and the characters are so real, I swear I already know some of them. Robert, the would-be suicide, is vulnerable and very annoying; he seems to push away those whom he has asked for help, and yet retains a certain little-boy-lost appeal, and the promise Lauren made to be there for him carries more weight than she ever intended.

While many of the themes are serious and even a bit disturbing, they are written is such a stunningly light-hearted way that there were plenty of moments where I roared with laughter. There’s one part that involves a scenic view of the Yorkshire countryside, a Quality street tin full of human ashes and the core characters trying to do the right thing, that had me holding my sides from laughing. It would really be brilliant as a film. The dialogue is often funny, but largely because of the sheer understated humour inherent in the speech and attitudes of people from Yorkshire rather than deliberate jokes or puns. But anyone who has ever spent time in this part of England will also know, the humour of the people springs from great kindness and a closer connection to our shared humanity than you find in many parts of the world.

It’s a very BRITISH book, but I think it would appeal to Anglo-philes all over the world. The story is set in the city of York and is rooted in both the city and the county as well as English culture. It’s also very kind book, and one that recognises the value and the limitations of kindness. The characters are ones you can very much relate to, in their different ways, and I’ve wondered what would happen in their lives after the story finishes.

I guess that is the mark of a good book, when the actors within it make you care enough to speculate about their futures.

Watching the fire ~ how to go beyond emotions and passions

Watching the fire ~ how to go beyond

Imagine that your strongest feelings, those emotions that you simply cannot control or order, and which drive you to the brink of breakdown are not simply inside your mind. See those feelings as a fire in a desert place, blocking your path onward.

It’s a hot fire, burning with fury and the heat coming from it is intense and you can feel your skin scorch as you stand too near.

You might try and put the fire out by pouring water on it, but there is no water source nearby and the water you carry is insufficient and
moreover you need it for your journey ahead, if you are ever able to move past this conflagration.

You might also think of using your coat to smother the flames, or indeed kick sand onto it, but this is fraught with danger. You will almost certainly get yourself seriously burned and maybe even burn up totally.

But the fire is blocking your way and there’s no way around it.

So what to do?

Sit down, a short distance away where you can feel the warmth of the flames but not so close it is uncomfortable. Now is the time to watch those licking tongues of fire, and see the dancing images hidden inside them.

Watch the fire.

After a time, you will see that it has lessened. Do nothing yet. Watch.
Keep watching.

In good time, the fire will burn all its fuel and it will go out and
then, you may pass. If you try to put the fire out, you will just
fuel it, but if you let it consume itself, it will reach its natural

So it is with powerful emotions like rage and jealousy, those fires that will destroy if you let them. Do not feed them but let them consume themselves and you will be left with harmless ash that the wind will blow away and leave no trace.

I’ve made it sound easy but I know from bitter experience it is not easy at all. But it is possible, and knowing it is possible means making the jump from a cerebral knowledge to putting it into practise much more feasible. Each time I find myself overwhelmed with emotions that seem to rampage like rioting madmen through my soul, I try to step back and think of that fire burning in the desert, and once a small part of my consciousness recognises that this state is, and must be, temporary, I find that the rioters lay down their weapons and eventually walk away, muttering.

It’s sure worth a try rather than letting those passions rule you and make you do and say things you regret later.



I don’t have a life:

I exist in the corners

Of the lives of others

Kind enough to lend me space.

No, don’t shake your head,

Protest and frown,

Condemning me for self-pity.

It’s true: the words say it all:

Wife, daughter, friend, mother.

They define me by my

Relationships with others.

My name: a jumble of sounds

Meaning nothing in themselves,

A label by which to identify,

Quantify, stratify and forget:

Put me in my box

And hope I stay there.

Me, I reduce my name

To a single initial.

It takes up less space, less attention.

And maybe, just maybe

Beyond all names

I may shine, alone.


The Snow Queen’s Shard ~ examining the wound (part two)

The Snow Queen’s Shard ~ examining the wound (part two)

I go inside; it’s not as hard as it sounds. My soul-shell parts to let me come inside and then closes behind me again like silk curtains. Inside here, inside this chamber, nothing is as it seems and nothing is easy to see and describe. Like a dream-scape, things shift and change as you look at them and I try not to look around and become distracted by the landscape that shimmers and glows like essential oils dropped onto spring water held in a crystal chalice. I am here to go as deep as I can bear and I let instinct guide me down tunnels that burrow deep into bedrock.

The tunnel walls are rough in places and dimly lit by stubs of melted candles in niches. Someone tends this way but not diligently. I follow the maze as it twists and turns upon itself, a hollow snake that writhes wildly. It’s boring, true, but it’s also boring deeply within something deep and ancient.

Just as I lose interest, lose focus, I arrive. It’s a shock. There’s a thing in the middle of my vision, a hologram it seems. I try to touch and my hand passes through. It looks like a mangled lump of flesh but as I look I see there is a pulse and I know that it is alive. Suspended in mid air there is an immense heart. I feel sick. I retch and want to run but I make myself stay.

The heart is battered and ugly, and I can see healed scars where it has been sewn up, repeatedly. It reminds me of my ancient teddy bear, whose seams came undone many times and has been sewn up and mended, my inexpert stitches in the wrong colours showing even today. That bear is forty five years old, like me.

The heart slowly rotates and I make myself look closer. I can see a gleam of something deeply embedded in the muscle and I discover that if I don’t try to touch, the hologram responds to my wishes. I can zoom in and zoom out. I can look deeper.

I can see it there, the glass shard like a jagged knife, a weapon of accidental power, peeping out and I look closer and then jump back. There is a monster staring back at me from that shard. I want to run. But I lean closer and look again.

The monster is me.

She blinks, this monster, when I blink; recoils when I recoil.

The monster is me.

Everything about her is the same as I, yet hideously different, distorted beyond any caricature.

I cover my eyes and so does she. I’m not sure I can do this but I do. I lean closer still and seem to step into the yawning black void of the pupil of the eye.

I stand in the blackness, and open my eyes again. I have split; part of me is standing watching this, outside the shard, outside the heart. The other part is standing here inside the shard. I can see now I stand not in one mirror but between two, and the reflections go on into infinity becoming smaller and more distant as they vanish into a point a million miles away.

I force myself to gaze obliquely at each reflection and I see that each is made up of something that seem at first like pixels. Then I see that each image is composed of words, millions of them, repeated endlessly. I gaze at the furthest one I can make out and I see that the words that one is made up of are short, monosyllabic and blunt. Dimly I am aware that the images that exist behind it in the hall of mirrors are made up of not words, but emotions that are shown with dull horrid colours and distorted textures and discordant sounds.

The images shimmer as if the original mirrors have been struck and I find myself outside again, looking at the monstrous eye peering back at me from the shard. I look closer, not at the shard itself but at where it is lodged. The muscle around the sharp edges is lacerated but semi-healed in places. A little blood drips constantly but as the heart slowly turns like a grotesque ballerina, I can see older wounds that cross and cross cross each other where the shard has slipped or been struck driving it deeper and deeper into the flesh. The edges of the scars are sometimes silvered over and old, or reddened and inflamed. There is more scar that untouched tissue. I wonder what the shape and size of the shard truly is; does it pierce the whole heart or is it merely shallowly embedded? Would taking a firm hold of it and pulling sharply rid me of it or does it actually form the core now? Would removing it abruptly cause this heart to haemorrhage itself to death?

I cannot see how deep this shard goes but I can see it has been there a long, long time. Perhaps more than one lifetime. Perhaps a hundred lifetimes. I do not know. But the shard and the wound that it has made are ancient. The flesh has grown around the glass in places, seeking to engulf the cutting blade with itself, and it has contained it for a while before the shard shifts, taking on a new position and hacking the surrounding flesh as it moves.

I move away, and stumble back up the winding tunnels until I return to the entrance. My eyes hurt from holding back tears and as I push the curtains apart so I can return to the daylight, a single tear falls, acid burning down my face and I am gone.”

The Swordsmith

The Swordsmith


I’m angry.

More than that, I’m mad.

But the red cools fast

And I plunge the hot metal into water

Watch the steam rise

I look.

Needs more work

Back to the fire,

Pump the bellows

Watch the metal glow white hot

Lay it on the anvil

Beat the ringing steel

Till the forge sings

Again and again,

Folding hot metal

Beating it flat,

Shaping it.

Finally, the steam clears

And the sparks begin

Hold the metal to the grind stone

Hone it till the edge holds.

Fit the handle

Bind with damp rawhide

Heft the finished sword

Watch the light gleam

On newly minted death

I don’t get mad

I get even.

Vivienne Tuffnell 21st January 2009