Milk

The toiling sun is weak still, as though immersed in jars of cloudy water. Slowly, I plait the hours together, smoothing out the slubbed weave of the days. It is February and a sudden bomb of snow has exploded over London in the kind of big, glacial flakes I remember from childhood. Time has stretched out a long way for me recently, become clear and malleable. I can remember other winters I have never lived through, seen the vital glow of flames against the walls of unknown homes. I have always had a peculiar gift for dissolving into other places, objects, and time streams, at one moment the yellow peel of a lemon in a bowl, or a patch of sunlight warming a wooden table, the next a coffee bean rolled between the fingers of someone I will never see.

Train carriages, woven baskets, slaughterhouses, coffee machines. I have been green velvet on a woman’s sleeve, a game of dominoes in a hot town square, a ringing bell across the early fields, a plastic sandwich box opened at the side of the motorway. I have always been able to slip the loose suit of my body and become these things easily. Now the snow has come and, as it often does, blunted the edge of Time with its prodigious talent for silence.

I’ve recently become a little obsessed with the history of trade in the East, and later the migration of Flemish artisans to London in the 16th century. Trade in general has bartered its way into my brain and now it’s full of Delft blue and dyed wool, paper making and silk and glass. I read about Constantinople and its fall, the shockwave of open throats that broke across a continent, and I wondered at how it may mean nothing to the man frying dumplings or boiling water now. How that 16th century dutchman may have glazed a tile the size of his palm thinking one hundred years later, ‘What is Constantinople to me?’

I don’t know, I mean to say that time has paled and thinned out, like beaten flax, like milk. I have a henhouse of projects ruffling themselves for my attention, and I can’t give it, because I am busy being the wax on smooth, dark wood. I am honey paste and frangipani. I am engaged in the process of being heavy cloth, as soft and blue as dusk.

Now it is March, and I have even less of a grip on Time than I did then. I also care less. The last few weeks have unveiled themselves like novices escaping. I breathe in and out and watch the sun coming back after the year we’ve all had. I let my veins reawaken, my neck stretch, and my soul remember the important things. I let myself process not only Covid, but the last five years, like someone looking back across a lake they have sailed: the world turned upside down by rehab, my penchant for constant, rootless moving, doubt and delight and dying friends caught by their heels by addiction’s drowning monsters, patterns rising and receding in waves of old trauma 20 feet high and unfathomably deep. I let it all push through the soil of this new spring and bloom, and appreciate the colours of that life somehow survived from another, wilder, freer shore.

Let Time and its edge, salted and thin as cured meat, take it all. There are other things to do now, I hear the mouths of unfamiliar streets asking me to dance. There are other things to be now, with that strange, visionary, wandering eye of mine. A duck’s egg cupped in a warm hand. A beetle testing the edge of wet leaves. The click of a morning radio button. The melancholy poetry of oysters. A gold tooth. A sack of black pepper. A cloud laughing its head off, flying over the raw spine of the mountains.

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