It started as a desire to be apolitical, amoral, irresponsible. I wrote a poem called ‘Yellow Woman’, a dialogue between a 'seeker' and a woman who lives somewhere within wild vegetation. Soon after, I recognised a similar woman in several paintings by Pauline Bewick. We met and I spent time looking closely at her work.
What I originally conceived as an ekphrastic sequence of about twenty poems morphed into an examination of fear, imprisonment and liberty, and then became a scenario with a story to tell. It's an allegory, though I largely let the characters go their own way, given the circumstances.
While a few of Pauline's paintings appear as themselves, her Eggshell Woman, Slate Man was the main visual catalyst. The rest I constructed as if I were writing a fantasy novel, with its own inherent logic.
Agelast is a slate city, geometrically planned, with a sacred pyramid at its centre. The prevailing belief, inculcated by the oligarchic government, is that there’s nothing beyond the city wall, and no way of reaching or penetrating the white cloud-cover that squares everything off. All essential products are mined from the ground, food is in the form of pills, desire of all kinds is kept subdued. The ground is thought of as male and the sky female; Sky, Ground and City constitute one self-generated god.
Parvit begins as a lump of matter hidden in the city wall, unwilling to be a conscious participant in anything, afraid to take a shape, but she’s experiencing more than she realises. She’s a conduit to the world we recognise as reality, where she encounters various fear-inducing situations of imprisonment, and their counterpoints in escapist ecstasy.
Square city of radiating streets, within high walls.
What impresses most is the porcupine of spires.
They bristle and watch, you swear it, fending spurs
on a square wheel, the hub a raised pyramid
black as a dormant volcano with a dunce’s cap.
Soon you are level with the top of a building, look in
to a lighted office, a low-sized, brawny man circuiting
the long windows, mic to mouth, officials at screens.
Then scud through an untransected street of giddy-
tall towers, free-standing, at measured intervals.
The sound of heaving makes you turn and think
the scene behind contracts and settles, breathing out.
Ahead, the street questions you and the towers seem to
pull back, like lonely men at the touch of a woman.
Continue straight as a javelin, full-stop at the wall.
No way now but back—to the city’s core, the Krone.
pitiless, and the steely white, always white Sky
(Sky not always steely, sometimes gauzy,
mostly dull and with the tone of faded cloth).
falls like missiles on the equally metallic streets.
equally matched. a fervid battle starts,
slate battling slam, a pummelling of noise.
children peer from windows, shrunken silent,
pinched and polished faces in their gray hoods.
clap their hands when in a water-charming dance
here come the Deft, weaving through the maelstrom,
mystics in a hail of spears. you see them start
but in a pulse they’re shadows in the liquid veil,
and it’s a game to trace them through the rabid air
so far along the street as necks can reach.
Deft are quicker than the rain, and tougher;
we will gather, sing the progeny of Agelast.
No-one knows the fissure in the wall at Burobaile.
It’s a slice of unsuspected habitation, sheltering
Parvit, asleep on her hard bed, soft that she is.
Malleable that she is, her body like pockless dough.
No eyes, but vivid images received, signals converted
by an inner light to show her how the world does.
Where she lies, lodged within the fissured rock,
unrisen Parvit, what could be face is lower
than what must be feet, so all the city slides distorted
into her slant: long twisted towers, limp spires,
streets askew, potted plants bulbing at her rim,
faces in their daily fervours (His face, her nemesis).
Volts of rem experience make her undulate—
horrid beetles under the skin—but deep delta
spreadings underwrite her and, safely defused,
she in her sealike stance learns all she can hold.
It’s a kind of love. The city lifts its refuse to the wall
and shoots it into the acquiescent, unthinkable beyond.
Cranes deliver to the towertops, where other cranes cast.
It’s a ritual, dipping at the high heaps, backing, turning;
slow tips, rhythmic clanks, the reverent hum of engines.
Households waste little. Penalties are too severe. Mostly
it’s dry tailings from the mines—rocks, overburden, what
was backfill, before the city’s underbelly grew clogged.
Then there’s the effluent, consequence of foreplay, (build-
up, close labour, presentation of gems). In the nethers,
fluid is pneumatically pumped through the tight
apertures of pipes, to the same inexhaustible oblivion.
Agelast is eternal present, self-raptured, fixed at its
original 256 points, webbed in its own stirrings,
recycling them, sloughing off all stray concerns.
There is no wasteland.