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Norman Jope - Three Prose Poems

Norman Jope

A Silvery Scythe

Ankou manifests as we sit on a wall in Roscoff, overlooking the Wednesday market setting up and the morning drift of the harbour. He puts his silvery scythe down for a moment and, in a portentous accent, informs us that there will come a time when we will remember nothing of this… nothing of the granite buildings of this sleepy seaport or the brief sleep on the ferry broken by an insistent harp, nothing of our love for each other or of the thirty-three-year narrative that has brought us to this wall, framing the fact that we are sitting here exhausted at the beginning of a looked-forward-to day in Brittany.

Ankou, you must have seen us in the Arrivals Hall wresting coffees from the machine with old euros. Ankou, your presence is no surprise and – although the odds on your claiming us on this particular visit seem long – we’re only too aware that you’ve been following us from the terminal at Millbay, cowering in the corner of the lounge bar of the Armorique as the Patriots Chapter exchanged affectionate swear words and plotted their conquest of La France Profonde.

It’s too early in the morning to think of death, so we feign immortality and continue with our explorations. He needs us, we conclude, as much as we need him – he represents the threat of death, not death itself, so is a parasite upon the living, a Renfield-like parody that stands in for the essential unknowingness of death. His master lurks in shadows that we cast behind us, not deigning to be visible, as we rise from our places to explore the town.

Indecipherable Miles

The sea tells no stories… as opposed to those who sail on it. Allegedly, Joyce planned a follow-up to Finnegans Wake that would have described it (cross out the word ‘describe’ and substitute another not yet minted). What is seen, of course, is the outside of the sea – reflections of clouds on this bright yet windy day in late July and of the shadow cast by the ferry from Roscoff to Plymouth. It expresses a locked door that nonetheless transcends the limits of our vision, as if we were toddlers peering up at it.

Naming a boat turns it into a place, and this one is called the Armorique. There are nine levels, and we have settled on the seventh for now. Two children sing along, annoyingly at times, to the tunes on their mobile. The Entertainments Manager sings ballads to a handful of spectators at the far end. Expensive bottles of spirits rattle decorously in the boutique, each one of them capable of colouring a world… or of making a life collapse upon itself.

Time acquires a hospital quality as interludes and episodes stack up… somehow, five hours pass and we’re in sight of land. I lead you to the open deck and point to the line of deeper shade in the distance to the north… then, to our left, I notice the precarious needle-point of the Eddystone Lighthouse, ten miles out from the Sound as daylight fades.

I imagine it as the only protrusion of land on a planet of water – too small to land on so we’d sail forever, fed by miracles and artichokes from the buffet. Growing old in benevolent boredom, we’d retire to our bunks to be awakened, arbitrarily, by the blast from a Breton harp… not knowing what day or year it was and with no other stories to call on than the stories we’d brought on board.

But soon, Rame Head and Wembury Point return us to the time of ashore… and the many stories greet us like wreckers as we yawn and pick up our bags.

Silent Blue

Sunshades darken dusk to an arrangement of blues and faint gold lights. I sit alone and sip Peroni, as if to do so were to orchestrate them. Far to my left, the lads at Lockyer’s Quay have been drowned in distance – thankfully, their instinctive swearing doesn’t reach this far.

I try to decipher the registration numbers of the fishing boats, but this minor game bores me in moments. I settle for the mandible aesthetic of the masts, gears and ropes confused against each other.

Early evening diners have departed from the Miller and Carter, formerly the China House. I am surrounded by a phalanx of transparent guests, with whom I re-populate the world. Two hikers briefly cross my path, taking a shot of the Barbican, and I marvel – comfortable in shirtsleeves – at how heavily dressed they are.

Then it’s half-past ten and I must drink up and depart – the bar staff are already clearing the tables. Silent as the blue of my shirt, I exit the building and stand for a moment, facing south to a place of departures.

Ahead, low down in the sky, a burst of light seems too large to be a planet – but, if not a supernova, then it must be Jupiter. It opposes an attenuated moon that sets above the Civic Centre and St. Andrews Church. It focuses and reflects my silence, focusing the world around me and the blues of this summer evening that are many shades deeper than black.

Blue is an exit route from being to silence. I imagine my heart, my lungs, my brain turned blue at the deep end of the spectrum. Elsewhere in the east, another day dawns but I can scarcely believe it possible.


Copyright © Norman Jope, 2020

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