February 8th, 2005


There was once a road through the woods

I feel as though I can't find a way in to any of the things I want to write about. For the last few mornings I have paused to look at the snowdrops on the side of my path to work, until their heads are bowed under the pressure of unspoken words, and I am frozen between the lines, unable to speak, my spirits lifting at the turning of the seasons but sinking under the weight of all the flowers that will fall without their passing being marked, all the hours that will pass wholly unexamined. They're stars fallen by the wayside, or bells that peal in the spring; they're the white dresses of green girls, ice crystals in the dirt, and the thawing of my heart after winter. They're the whiteness of the pages I can't fill. Once the words didn't matter; the woods would clothe their arms with leaves and carpet their floors with celandines, and the clearings would ring with bluebells, and the sun would drip through the trees like something you could catch on your tongue. Not a time without words, but a time when there were enough words for the moment and no more, when the air we breathed was sufficient unto the day.

It's easy to sing hymns to the passing seasons, to stand with your head bowed like the snowdrops and reverently watch the turning wheel. The world lends itself to wonder or worship; a flower may seem a vessel for childlike animism, or an offering on an altar. But it is neither: it is a grain of sand in a gathering heap; it is a cell -- a child or a cancer -- dividing and multiplying; it is the momentum of the minutes and the hours and the days that rush in and pile up, filling my mind and my lungs, stifling breath and thought.

Accretions of analysis thicken the world's arteries until nothing is itself. I want a paring-knife to peel away the layers, I want a sharp tongue to speak of what lies underneath; I want to find the way through the woods, a path where there is still space between things, air to breathe. It need not be the pale spaces between the petals of flowers or the bark-dry spaces between trees, it can be the sheer spaces between buildings, the spires piercing the sky, the no-man's land between glorious armies of sun-blind windows facing each other from skyscraper to skyscraper, the stencil-sharp spaces that bridges cut into their horizons.

And all this is meaningless. I want to switch all this off and listen to the silence, but the fear that runs deepest in me is the fear that if I stop speaking I will recede into the spaces between. Sometimes the parallelograms of sky between the roofs of houses make me ache to be something else, something pure.