The Thing Itself: A Prose Poem

Click. When I can walk no further I lie down in the place where I fall. In the darkness my surroundings are no longer visible to me, except for a sense of tall trees. I open my eyes in the darkness, unsure of where I lie.

My feet are numb and my legs are heavy – I have walked until I could walk no more. In front of my eyes the ground, my cheek pressing on the gravel. I roll onto my back. The numbness in my legs makes it difficult to stand, and my feet are sore and bleeding.

I reach out my left hand and it touches the wall, a wall of vertical stone, damp to my touch. I press my left hand to a dark wall, and then take a step and lean my shoulder against it and then my back. I feel the need to walk further, to see.

To my left there is darkness, to my right, darkness. But the darkness at the left has the quality of a city hanging just beyond my sight, making its presence discernible by a faint luminous gradation of the dark running along the horizon, visible when the mind becomes accustomed to its surroundings. I move in the direction of this would-be presence.

The walls around me are jagged, scored with crevices and cast in the shape of somewhere else; a memory of rocks. The faint glow strengthening, a globe of light comes into my view as I pull forwards. I am in a tall, open space bounded by rocks and my body joins the ranks of jagged pillars of stone.  Together we displace the waiting air as our shadows criss-cross on the walls and sandy floor. The light cleaves to the inhospitable stone, the damp walls, and draws shadows among the thousands of tiny pieces of grit on the ground.

The cave is cold but to rest now, to lie down, to feel the strange light casting its shadows onto my skin feels like a compulsion that is at once unresistable and of my own desire. I reach down, my left hand touches the shadows among the grit, joining the shadows between my fingers to these infinite, tiny shadows, which run across the floor like a wave, divided by the pebbles and their fragments, then up to the walls, over, up to the dark crags of the roof above. A serious house on serious earth it is, in whose blent air all our compulsions meet, are recognized, and robed as destinies. And that much never can be obsolete…

With the wave comes a coldness, a tiredness that covers me and grows from me into air that has filled with this quiet light. I am lying on my shoulder and my hands reach out, spread amongst the ground-shadows. The light occupies me and the skin of my cheek turns over the gravel floor. The light is like the full moon in a cloudless sky. I am lying on the floor in my mother’s cellar, hiding in some sort of game.

Continuing to lie, unmoving, as my name is called from up the stairs, my shoulder pressed to the hard wall. I reach out my left hand and the damp rock touches my fingers, damp from the approaching waves as I rush to avoid getting my feet wet.

I am at the rock pool, pulled like the waves by the moon, which hangs to the right, just below the horizon. I will suffer even a telling-off from my mother to ensure I can plant my feet in the warm water nestling between the damp rocks.

Take a run and leap onto the first rock, and jump down into the cloudy water. The rock was one of those tremendously solid brown, or rather black, rocks which emerge from the sand like something primitive. Instantly, people are lying beside you and you run with a panic down from the rocks and pelt across the sand, eyes blurring and large. Run towards mother who has waves rushing around her skirts, but she is not mother. She was a rock. She was covered with the seaweed which pops when it is pressed. Open your eyes unsure of where you stand. Tears wet your cheeks. Out of the corner of your eye a gleam signifies something white. Run again across the sand, the white becoming pointed, edges – a skull… perhaps a cow’s skull, a skull, perhaps, with the teeth in it. The September sunshine gives this small absence its shadows, eye sockets deep and crags of seams running across the bone’s white surface. There on the sand not far from the lovers lay the old sheep’s skull without its jaw.  Clean, white, wind-swept, sand-rubbed, a more unpolluted piece of bone existed nowhere on the coast of Cornwall. Reach out your left hand, touch the shadow where the jaw once was. Click.