Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections – Dexter Petley

22nd December 2007

In which, as the year comes to it’s end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments;

there are two winters in a year. they open for one life as they shut on the other. for the scavenger they calibrate instinct & drive metabolism. for the novelist they slam the laptop lid & kick me outside for 6 months till recall-day on the first red moon. i rely on this organic clock to engrave memory, give everyday tasks perpetual elemental echo and an animal life & death importance. as such, excluding highlights, every minute too intensely present, unforgotten. i pluck at random. this year was:
no first winter. a warning shot, 2007 would be unpredicable, bushwhacking for victory. i recall the fear because the pond never froze.
the days of january weeding.
strawberries in march.
april, gathering sticks in the forest for the coming of the garden one afternoon, me and laure sit down on a log with our flask of tea; half a dozen wild piglets scarper from their bluebell picnic.
the cuckoo on my bird table like a fat milk-maid, its song in a twist like two legs down one knicker-hole.
the renewing of the forests, for me as close as a healing scar on my own flesh; changing daily like they’re covering their tracks, the layers take their turn, like a gala or traveling players, somehow all their spores and bulbs and roots and seeds all occupying the same space till their time comes and they rise, die, stand aside for the next act. model societies, my chosen community. but there’s vandalism too:
in june i’m sitting in the cabin doorway five o’clock in the afternoon watching hailstones big as tangerines blasted by hurricane through 3 months of hard gardening, 6 months food torn up. a poplar tree ripped in half, thrown on top of the chicken shed, a dozen eggs uncracked inside.
the reaper who took my potato crop without so much as snapping a twig, coming back for the tomatoes a week later.
my birthday bottle opens with elliott smith singing “half right” through a headache, time-stopping just for the line “broken sink for a face” our wine froze in the glass at smith’s controlled hysteria from the moment he begins it like a dripping tap till the last note when you think he must’ve gone home and stabbed himself, like it was the song he recorded when they were
sweeping the studio floor round his feet and he didnt know the tape was running, nick drake did it once, swept out with the dog-butts…
then the loire in summer, a sunday of upturned white buckets and fishwives in housecoats fishing whips and pinhole floats in the margins, bleak whipping for tea while the men turn up on bikes and take solemn place shoulder to shoulder on the big girder bridge 100ft above the women, lowering their swinging floats and waiting for the freshwater herrings, the hotus, beaked-carp or nase someone has told them are on their way upstream in their millions.
for the carp i went eyeball to eyeball with, who brushed my line, then sank from sight and made a fool of me, stood me up in the rain.
for the coming of the printed “one true void” in a publisher’s jiffybag after 20 years writing it, a species of moment anticipated every day of those years. a book is always a ghost. this time i held it like i’d survived a missed punch, a lousy cast when the float for once tweaks off the branch…
and for the reaper who had that stockhausen, a-clashing as he was back there when i was 17 and lost in the real “one true void,” pushing me to dissonate for the avant garde instead of goal-poach for the village second team.
and now for the second winter, writing with ice, the orange suns and tilted moons of advent. waking under slit-eyed moonlight to hear the boar snouts under the window. and for the hens still a-laying after a week of ground so frozen i have to pick-axe the door open every morning, eggs iced solid soon as the hen jumps off ’em.
and straightening my beret, a special mention in dispatches to finish on, one for the road: the getting of arcadia’s ja back to camp after presumed missing in action,chasing the grim reaper across a minefield he was, for which i nominate him for a literary vc.

  • letters from arcadia