Playlist: May 2021

There is much I cannot tell you. I’m not going to be autobiographical. I want to be “bio.”

— Clarice Lispector, Água Viva, trans. by Stefan Tobler

Hidden gardens where a bioluminescent frisbee, in imitation of the mysterious diskettes that roam the deepest zones of ocean, drifts upon the late May breeze. It is unseasonably cold. We take pleasure in relishing the ‘unseasonably cold’, as to say something is unreasonable or unforgivably it. The thing. The heating is on all through the month of May. Rain-sodden trainers left to dry on radiators. A documentary about nudibranchs had revealed to us the secrets of experts. Experts in general. How you really have to hate the thing you study, in order to love it. The thing has to perpetually withhold from you what you want, not knowing what it is, but always in pursuit of it. So the nudibranch in question, this pinkish one, does what is told as a ‘dance’ for the diver, who has gone too deep in the song. The sea tells nothing after the bridge. It is barely a chorus. 

I am a heart beating at fish time, deep in the abyssopelagic city along with the dumbo octopus, the cookiecutter shark, the shrimp. I will not say much about these animals and how they came to adapt to such aphotic lifestyles. I myself was once a chaser of light. We are circus anomalies, dependent on a phrase of unseasonable coldness. The freak quality of not-to-want oxygen or like, having been left here then stubbornly I will stay here. Make of my heart what you want — a jewel or rock, a piece of cold life, swallowed. Bare and beating. Something is getting dark around us. Darker yet. 

And so never to leave the perpetual lockdown of the not capital city, and so to leave it for gorse and blue realms and the haar of what is by the sea, in a wavelet transformation. Having to go inland to escape it. And so to give up one’s limbs for the personal study of human impossibility, as if we had also been persons all along. I wear a delicious, impermeable bracelet of kelp. The order of adjectives tends towards certain qualities, for instance when I say a blonde soft hair it is wrong somehow, touching the thing in a wrong order, when everyone wants a soft blonde hair as delicacy. To be in this month and spearing the secret fish of the story, one after the other meandering down this channel. At the bottom of everything, when you see it. When you see the story. 

Let us go deeper yet. I have these new glasses, you have these hands that will brush away masses of silt and sand. You have the order of words corrected. Living in a grammar of ceaseless helium. Lamentation of the soft urban fox you were once, once were. The frisbee glows quietly in the grass at night. At dinner, J. gives the lowdown on *********** and various fish glow quietly in their sadness and having been farmed to believe I too am in this story, eating. The very delicate scarce thing we would toss to the word of the mouth, the open wound of it, melted substance. Brushing a fork through soft blots of cream and saying is it so, deep sea, very scarcely. This instant, speared, you are the story also. Salt. Twice removed from the lavender thing twigged from the garden and drank in gin with soda, so the ice knows more than I do. So the ice clinks in the quiet night, which is never a night. So T. confesses the end of dark lunch. I read it. 

The cold fresh lenses allow us to witness how the deer get sick, how the white deer especially are beautiful by any standard of “I love you” said between the innocent eyes of how we are also roes, taking our glasses off to see better the way faces exist when brushed together, clicked and twisted, kissed. And the gorse so yellow, sky so blue. Immediately, to have been tourist for mourning. The most disappointing best hot chocolate in the world has all the good sweet silt at the bottom. I finish it, feel sick as expected. Flush. I throw up my arms or something. Wash the cup, recycle it.

So the nudibranch’s name is derived from the Greek words ‘nudus’ and ‘brankhia’, meaning naked gills. They have no special skill in discerning between light and dark, often using chemical signals to locate what is needed: food and each other. They possess a pair of ‘oral tentacles’. Soft-bodied, dragon-like, losing their vestigial shell during a larval phase. The extreme vividity of their being works as advertisement. I am obsessed with them. The sap-sucking slugs, algae rich. They produce solar power from munching on corals, absorbing their chloroplasts to photosynthesise nutrients. Bright colours result from their diet. The month of May has a toothed structure that tongues the very campion and jewelled aurora that passes for what you want ‘pure total nature’ or sweet poisons, for which I take showers to exhume from this system. 

The writing, at the bottom of everything, is colours. They come from what we eat. 

Null cerise and sweet neutral grey, back into darkness again and gently. 

Now it’s 10:29 of Sunday morning and last night’s song thrush and the afternoon skylark and none of this heard on a podcast exists — it is all true and continues. The frisbee flies sentences through the wan air and hark is it early to never want to leave, to always be entering the room spreading butter on toast and holding a glass up for persons, wild-cats, in a language the daylight speaks and speaks along, another dark lunch hidden from the universe only to be camembert nightmares of rosemary — whisky — do you remember this shadow man or his shadow step-daughter, do you remember the riot, do you remember the castle of gold, clearance and loneliness? This place is tricky to heat. Black tulips, white hyacinths. Coming up the stairs is the question. 

A nudibranch bristles into coral and kelp bed. At the bottom of everything is the nudibranch. Do you see it? Do you see it? 

I burn my tongue on the question. What will be coming 
around the mountain of bleached consideration, haunted and lovely 
through the haar and more blue to come
exists 
as breath, underwater, this pause before each born 
to scrub our hands with sea kelp soap from the isle of darkness and safety
trending in the United Kingdom
of the girl, with her voice of crunched glass
abolishing sky castles, sand castles
her salad days
her spectacular glands
her nudibranch heart

~


Arca – Brokeup

Nap Eyes, NNAMDÏ – Blood River

Burial – Space Cadet

Brian Eno – Little Fishes

A. G. Cook, Charli XCX – Xcxoplex

Katie Dey, Lonelyspeck – Darkness

Caroline Polachek – Breathless

Slayyyter – Troubled Paradise

SOPHIE – JUST LIKE WE NEVER SAID GOODBYE

Zoee – Host

Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen – Like I Used To

Judee Sill – Down Where the Valleys Are Low

Lana Del Rey – Blue Banisters

Bright Eyes – The Difference in the Shades

Playlist: November 2019

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The hall is full of noises, sounds of torrid airs and sigh. It is a steel hall, non-place, serving lusciousness in plastic cups. The animals sing on a loop. The choir just lifts. ‘The science is clear’ (Greta Thunberg). I stayed up waiting until the cries came, curled on my little sofa. It isn’t years that slip when she starts, when the young ones start, when the colour is like a radical hydro seminar. What do you have to contribute, I give you my silks just once, clutching a ticket. Can’t stop worrying the skin of my cuticles into a bleed, scrape the hard bit sore against my thumb. She just swirls. Something has shifted between us since. She moves she. Moveable she. I can’t start up.

Two of us drift in dresses, crushed of scarlet velvet.

It has been a long time since this was honeyed. I felt sultry like an Everly Brother, his actions speak louder. On the line standing and learning, the lines, I think it hurts.

In the poem I am clipping my nails again. Words, words, words; a snip.

How is it that we sat up late, same sofa, in the skeins of this year? Have you even come down yet?

His actions speak louder than shimmer_

Bliss not this, Christmas cactus at the corner of_. Is it better to cry in the sun or the rain. The rain is so obvious. I confected a dialogue to spite the blues and the cherries, rinsing packaging in the sink. It was supposed to be red. You said it fell flat. There was a half-moon curve between us and I sat there hugging my knees. The others. I like when you say you like a riff. Let’s be as I was in the hall, champagne later, tiniest bubbling; don’t say rise, let’s hold it cute. A sippable glitch in the music. Walking home in the rain, I murmured it: wtf wtf wtf. I made this punctuation; be here now, missing the body. She does this thing with her lips; teensy bubbles taste dust of gold & angel.

Watching your arms like a symphony, fucking—

Perhaps it is not about being at all, yet I am at the table and the hydrangeas are just too much. I wish there were Silk Cuts. Deathly attendant, where writing to you at the specific moment was standing in the flashbulb of a passing car and trying to look up at the stars. Just as the stars in the valley, we visit the shire. The stars you say are most particular, yet they are anyone’s; the stars are in the garden now, a proximate shrubbery and I put on my makeup. Deep bled fuchsia into sage and clary; yet we are violets, smelling the sea. And a dram before class, something citrine to start us, blendable night. I try it again; the word ‘frenetic’ peals from me.

If history was different, wouldn’t I be singing this.

Merry season helichrysum. There is a headpiece of corals worn by the sea. A quartet of angels play the flute-hoop and daylight twists, and Greta says it more than clearly. So hot this hurts. At current emissions. Someone in the back shouts FUCK THE TORIES and I put on my shoes. I wake up to my nails not coral-red, my eyes not pressed with cornflower blue. ‘if the word / does not arise it will fall back, the thing itself, it will fall again / into that ocean where it is not biodegradable’ (Beverly Dahlen, A Reading: 11-17). The thing of the word fell back into water, lots of it deep and luxury water. I wanted to say, the word has been waiting in shallow poetics. Floats of white. Water is a memory of the water before it. That feels like love but is that a falling. Into it, into it. That ocean speaks its chords again, thingly and falling. Dear degradable, non-bio daylight; sentiments of infrared, blip of foam.

I wanted to ask, are you striking, striking. The blood clots around the skin of our thumbs. Got lost in the rhythm I leave at the door / you painted helium blue. I knew it would bring me home to you. I was immediate, here, I knew what to do. This electric hand, hello.

What did you have to almost wake up for?

There is so much to grasp, at any one point. ‘We’ll clear a trail through the forest’, Hélène Cixous says, but ‘We can’t go via the city, nor at will, nor by bus’ (Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing). All those doors in the underpass, surely one was a portal? I thought it was only that you wanted me back in the leaf-trails of language. What is it that carries you now? The cold air whipped your chest and I pissed in the bushes. How much neon is the news.

Time collapsed so soft, we were in thrall of the science tiara.

We sat in this anonymous hotel lobby while the rain piled on and the beats got wet. Tresses of soaking beats. You say the only music that gets you now is pop. Continuum of sweetness in the formula lifts: the trick is melodic. So hot, you’re a burning peach. Embarrassed, I look at such childhood photos, the soft plash of it: language out of language it folds me again. Brush your hair. Softer your face, I come back to that star that is it. Approach, he holds out a finger to say, hello hello, hello you green. Is there something like a sour glissando? The bass was flat, my wilted leaves; the Styrofoam kept your guitar too warm. There are so many strings, collecting the sea. Only one you know

I was at the edge of a rainbow, sipping echinacea tea. ‘Farewell, Angelina, the sky is on fire and I must go…’ (Joan Baez, ‘Farewell, Angelina’). Do you think maybe it’s like, those emails were part of the plenum of summer, when I passed so south on the train with sugar-licked cakes of rice and a readerly silence? The sky was burnt and strange. And you could have boarded at the requisite moment, or maybe you were in the glass also, the glassery crying for the sound of drowning Amy from the game. When she did this impression of the lamb, I could not help but cry out. The aw, the aww, the missing ‘e’ in awe, a ewe. It was you. http://www.findyourfood/. Zombie tunes, sonic aporia. Mum said she nearly called me Amy, and I would have pink hair and sheaves of lyrical gestures, like this. Someone I loved had a house.

The sky is untitled.

Branding me narcopastoral, shepherdess at stringent dawn. We drag a high—

Break into it, careful at first then with clear intention. The wrapper falls back and away by clouds.

Upside down, we approach the softest waves. I’ll not harp on about the light, how it caught the crease of our plastic. You take us to the boat, so lovely and blue like sky. In the dream she unfurls her fist, a lot of blue dust comes out and her voice is thick and quick as an auctioneer’s. She has swallowed the age of the water. But we are rowing on, cordoned from time by the ripples of unforgivable sea. I want you to never forget this. Dream again—

We wandered a garden of samphire and crystal, met some friends at the edge of the blue. The grasses were singing a grassy melisma. Suffering cramps by the burning sea, the glass of the elsewhere orange, trembling sky. Scrolling my phone, I was reading an essay on birth control where the author, a man, argued that taken daily two spoons of honey would regulate your cycle. She got him by accident, a cherub handed down by the gold-dripping moon. I polished his soapstone limbs and drank from the chalice a lateral condition. Let’s go at this sideways, say every droplet of rain was a baby. Honey.

The additive birth of water, over.

Most palatial things are isles or sets.

They bring treacle scones for the picketers.

Bottles of wine for your glistening birthday. The sky is a film; it goes click, click. The season you say is looming, a moment agogic and I let you tender the rain of me down. I was all strings when the image appeared and you pulled on a tensile thread, a tease and we fell into the same whole notes…

Ion square, perspex swings / I breathe out, you breathe in / Permanent midnight’ (Bloc Party, ‘Ion Square’). It’s this song that feels like fucking, live in happiness, breakable day you free in a hold, before this sleep and the night bus home. I walk along the motorway. A breath between us feels like math, the ruination of the norm. I had nothing to bring you; I was reaching the end of the film where they find her dead, but only in photos. End of the lilting road. Quadratic Lily, Lily, say this is Lily. It’s just somewhere in London, and I want to love my mind. And I want to love my mind again. Did I love yours and yours too much. The fog rolls out of the square the same. When you drew me, it was like I didn’t have a face. The birches gifted their silver and I felt like sleep, so heavily berried. The sky is a film, you take it.

Trapped in acid, the hotel air is seething. I wanted breakfast to feel the same, and I wanted to love my mind; to love my mind for the sake of you in it. When the lyrics appeared it felt like the end-of-the-world digested, yes, it was a crème de menthe apocalypse — by which we mean, you can just hop in the grass of the future. Björk’s utopia. Juuuuuussssst that kiiiiiisssssssss. Perpex swings in helix of flute, could you insinuate a sleep, these spirals of harp. I’m not where I want exactly; look out the window. Sugar-rim. They pay less, pay less, pay less. A shot.

By the time I got back, the leaves were all gone. The stars, as if they were plural.

In the belly of the gnarliest graphics / I felt impaled on a former capital. There is luxury in the curriculum, but we live off our clearest cakes of rice. Break this as crumbs, don’t say word / The consoles cast their dust again. Press replay. I wanted to lie in a field, but that was you. A salty fist. I wanted the lie. Little curled hairs in the sink. Your name is doing well / Look where it got you.

The university a corpus ate the rat.

I was tired, you were tired, my mum was tired. This makes a rainstorm a screensaver.

Has anyone notified the trapeze artists about our sea?

Most things don’t occur as they do in this space. It flexes and folds in lucite, yet against the glint, less of your mobius eye. Roll it up, like a wave. We wait for the bus and it rolls in smoke / I press my faceless against the glass.

 

~

Bloc Party — Ion Square

Björk, Arca — The Gate

FKA twigs — home with you

Double Discone — Sam’s Kinky Hat

Clearance — Chances Are

Bradford Cox — Natural Harp Monitor

Princess Nokia — Balenciaga

DJ Heroin — My Veil

Grace Cummings — Paisley

Alice Coltrane — Lovely Sky Boat

Malibu — Nana (Like A Star Made For Me)

Hiro Kone — A Desire, Nameless

Hannah Peel ft. Hayden Thorpe — Cars In The Garden

The Brian Jonestown Massacre — Food for Clouds

Maija Sofia — The Glitter

Tomberlin — Seventeen

Weyes Blood — Seven Words

Soko — Sweet Sound of Ignorance

RF Shannon — Snake Oil

Caroline Polachek — So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings

The Everly Brothers — Love Hurts

The Cure — Charlotte Sometimes

Princess Chelsea — Come As You Are

Astrud Gilberto — Look To The Rainbow

Playlist: July 2018

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This month first bloomed in the green-gold fairgrounds of sleepless nights, twinned in a week of pre-delirium. We stood in a packed sports bar and watched three screens simultaneously, everyone’s face a spectacle of something other that was going on beyond offsides and angles and penalties. Indulgent love of epi-bro culture. Finding that tiny jubilance inside you. Running round with the lights off, spouting catch phrases that kill and kill. I say the same name again and again, without meaning to. Am I winning.

Closing time and proximate whisky. What swills and feels wavy, later, at the top of the street. I hold ice in my gums for the numbing. 

Imagine a toothache so rich in pain it was like cradling some other entity within yourself.

So the paths seemed windier than usual and trailing my way into whatever would happen and the ascent and the lights that seemed stranger. Cradle your toothache into some kind of coda, a pause that leads to return. The portholes of naproxen, dihydrocodeine, paracetamol, ibuprofen. Appetite collapses and the mouth is a metallic pool of pain. Send one thing away to endure. Circle around, forget about yourself. Forget your body. Learn to make of my carpet a turquoise pool, our belligerent drift which quickens to pulse. I lay very still and bit my lip. Learn not to cry when people are kind, learn to accept gesture in itself. Walk in the back roads of Finnieston on some green afternoon, everything lush and wilted with rain.

So it warms again.

Salt rinses make me sad for the sea.

These train rides between cities and the way the light looks at eight of an evening in late July. The soft yellow gold of fields to be harvested, trails of meadow lines read as braille. We talk intermittently. I close my eyes to a faint remainder of presence. It is difficult to remember what’s happened, bundling into a part song of falling. Walk back along the Clyde, swallow a letdown that ricochets through all buried traits, read as you walk. Walk as you read. Chance encounters that mean things.

To be sent home early, to feel over-brimming with all this salty, incorrigible water. Cancer season comes to an end.

I say whatever weird thing pops into my head. This is the way we are now. It is light at six in the morning, we sit at the table among fag paraphernalia and sketch each other’s souls. So ever to read glitches between us in negative space. I walk home alone and the daylight tastes so beautiful and I am so dizzy from twice cheating the diurnal within the same week. When we message, we use only the choicest emojis. Wouldn’t you like a vial of mercury?

I told him I was seeing. I was seeing.

My head in my throat, forehead to forehead. Is it the sweat, the seemingly interminable beats? The club is like the cabin of a ship, sloshing with heat and bodies. I spill out in cold night. I write this looking at the rain outside, which is utterly vertical and soft, drooping the branches of trees I can’t name. The sky is a greyish egg white, clearer towards centre. It matches my mood quite perfectly. I fear it will melt.

The colours in the takeaway were ravishing, erratic. I could not take my eyes off the shreds of meat. The singular tomato.

The rain was welcome. It gushed bright cold to my skin as I peddled, the canal adjacent to my trail. Catching my breath on the hot chest feeling, which later would become a pang, a harp string pulled too taut. A minor chord that needed to settle. It takes awhile to settle into your own body, to learn its game. The rain was good, the rain was silver and dazzled the leaves. I cycled to Lock 31 and back again twice in a week. I wanted to compare each experience. The fact was a shift in my flesh, a chorus of moving blood and water.

My sweaty hair smelled of the sea. I like that the seagulls leave when it rains.

Maggie Nelson writes: ‘How many ways are there / to get saturated in another’s mind?’ & I wonder. She is writing about a canal too, but really she is writing about desire. Canals don’t flow though; canals are relatively static. Something of undercurrent draws them along?

The pale sweet scent of coconut oil and misplaced nostalgia.

The Forth & Clyde Canal is so unlike the Clyde, this great wide luminously masculine river. When the song came on and I thought of the boy who drowned. I like to look at the lights on the Clyde at night, feel quite dark in myself and proximate to history. Feel everything dimming. Feel muscular for merely being there.

But then once I saw the Clyde in the afternoon, it was buttermilk.

Maryhill becomes a sort of fairyland, the unseen space around the canal, the outcrops of houses blending into Anniesland. I stick to the line, the gravel, the pace. Trust in my breath. Clusters of teenage girls pass by on their mobiles.

Sometimes I hallucinate the phone ring of my childhood home.

Keep sleeping in and savouring escape. The trick is to get to bed before five. To keep yourself stable.

The weeks slip away like vulnerable sand flats.

I drink things that are orange and icy and strong. I try to recall that hullabaloo of pain. A wedge of it bright and red.

Drawing is a warm sweet vortex where I drag myself deep into greens and blues.

Layering long stints of techno over the same routes. It gets heavier. I walk into the headlights of cars without meaning to. They keep playing Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’ in Byres Road Tesco, the inchoate vertigo of a broken decade. Later I dream the stores were empty as they were in the snow days. Water everywhere, sloshing the hours and ankles, not a drop to drink. Remember when everything caught glitches, sounded through the tinniness of a Motorola phone, those metallic wee speakers, resounded twice over on the plexiglass of a bus stop?

Everyone’s cold suburbia closes. You just shut the skylight, ignore the rain.

When you are away I sort of half live in the other place, but then already between myself.

Is it the circles below my eyes, below ugly tungsten light? The intimate work of a visceral distraction? Too many bowls of soft cereal?

Craving the expanse of the sea, releasing my cuts, wanna lose all time + memory.

Salt rinse, salt rinse; salt and cloves.

Find a note on someone’s jotter at work: get cunt fae spar. It will take a while to parse this. Fae spar get cunt, cunt spar get fae. Ye olde spar will get yae. Forget the star. 

There is a fight and a fire and over and over I write things like, gratitude, gratitude. Plug sockets sparking. 

Resist the tinny in the fridge. Do magick. I think maybe I am tired and scared of the present. The piano sounded lovely. With my window open, I could hear someone warming the keys. Notes for a genuine summer, notes for a situation. Then breathe. Bryan Ferry is sound-checking from the bandstand, you can hear the distant, phasing groan. It is almost August. 

 

*

 

Death Grips – Black Paint

03 Greedo – Jealous

Cold Cave – You & Me & Infinity

Fred Thomas – Good Times Are Gone Again

The Twilight Sad – I/m Not Here [Missing Face]

Hand Habits – Book on How to Change

Pavement – Harness Your Hopes

Mush – Luxury Animals

Black Marble – A Great Design

Sun June – Discotecque

Emily Isherwood – Calibrate

Hana Vu – Crying on the Subway

Laurel Halo – Sunlight on the Faded

RF Shannon – Jaguar Palace

Amen Dunes – Lonely Richard

Lucretia Dalt – Edge

Ride – Chrome Waves

Oneohtrix Point Never – Monody

Gang Gang Dance – Lotus

Beach House – Black Car

Womensaid – Magick!

Wooden Shjips – Eclipse

Phoebe Bridges – The Gold (Manchester Orchestra cover)

Galaxie 500 – Tugboat

Judee Sill – Lopin’ Along Thru The Cosmos

Aphex Twin – aisatsana [102]

To the Sea

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Watching the sea is like watching something in pieces continually striving to be whole
Imagine trying to pick up a piece of the sea and show it to a person

—Emily Berry

Richard Dawson’s ‘To the Sea’ opens with anxious strings, unearthly vocal drones and harmonised chants that carry across a darkening, eldritch bay. There’s a shiver in my heart and a sense of the waves chopping apart what constitutes the sea, the sea, the sea. How much sea do you need for it to be sea? Is every wave an incantation—and if so, whose? What if you took whole eons and chunks of the sea away, would you be left with puddles or rivers? That word that shudders: estuary. When does the sea become ocean? I feel it is to do with a feeling. To feel oceanic is different to feeling the sea. There’s an intimacy with the latter, its intimation of bitter-green waters, childhood memories, tidal flats on which you take off your shoes and wade towards the water. The sea is a mirror for our feelings, but they don’t stay still—you can’t just project them. They change like light; the water answers. The water has its own shanties, stirred up by night tides that lick at the edge of the land less like lovers than knives. A silver kiss of sharpness and silence, a tiredness. 

How many times have we apostrophised the sea? Built into it myth, folded our cavernous longing through song and let ourselves out into the blue. The sea is a monster, a tyrant, a Leviathan; the sea is feminine, rippling, birthing and giving. We can never decide. The sea is the unseen foetus of sound in a shell, little figure as portal, an unwhorling. Imagine how its voice would look on a sonogram, the whispers. The sea is a place to blow away cobwebs, to unravel your hair and blink into wilderness. In ‘On the Sea’, Keats urges ‘Oh ye! who have your eyeballs vexed and tired, / Feast them upon the wideness of the sea’. The sea is expanse, expansive, expanding. We can stand at the edge and be caressed by its urges; the catharsis in that. The elastic edges, islands and coastlands and cliffs that shift and zoom and shrink with parallax. We whisper and the wind carries forth our voices. It’s good to howl at the sea, alone on a beach.

Then there’s Charlotte Smith’s catchily titled, ‘Sonnet: On Being Cautioned Against Walking on an Headland Overlooking the Sea, Because It Was Frequented by a Lunatic’. The sublime in this poem is born less from the sea itself, the Sussex Cliffs Smith walked all her life, than the ‘giant horrors’ of the man’s madness. A madness glimpsed readily enough by the speaker, at a distance: ‘He seems (uncursed with reason) not to know / The depth or duration of his woe’. His mind is the unseen deep of the sea. If reason is a curse, this state of nature in which the man has found himself can’t be so bad. He can only plunge through his days in a kind of ‘moody sadness’ of unknowing, an eddying through time: his ‘hoarse, half-uttered lamentation, lies / Murmuring responses to the dashing surf’. This primal communion between man and sea is met with the sensation of legend, adorned with a sonnet’s rhythm and rhyme. 

But the sea, equally, is a haunted place for all of us. I remember being obsessed with this Los Campesinos! song at a time in my life when I was stuck in the city with unhealthy constancy, wanting to wail for the blue back home. There’s a burn in your chest, then indifference again. ‘The Sea is a Good Place to Think About the Future’ is a song about a broken girl, intimate with and yet distant to the singer, starving herself in response to grief. What could be a self-lacerating song, a depressing lament, is lifted by the strings, the joined-up shouts, the catharsis of those candid lyrics and the way they break into chorus, so loud:

And all you can hear is the sound of your own heart
And all you can feel is your lungs flood and the blood course
But oh I can see five hundred years dead set ahead of me
Five hundred behind, a thousand years in perfect symmetry

The song swirls with the clutter of contemporary culture, our fraught politics and virtual addictions; but it draws towards the deep time of the sea, the abyssal possibilities fringing Britain with mist and grey. What could be a desolate song of dwindling spirit, bursts into that thumping, rousing chorus and the release in that, the release so strong. Waves crashing ahead of you, the splash-backs spitting your face with salt tears so that just to stand there is to have a conversation with the sea, with what hurts in the Earth and might hurt forever in you, but that’s okay. An inhuman empathy; the human washed out of language.

Why is it we need the sea to look ‘just like the edge of the world’? Why is we need the horizon of apocalypse ahead of us? Does love always require the threat of the ending; does death have us thinking of forever beginnings? There is the question of translation. Are we all, like Charlotte Smith’s ‘lunatic’ (she must be forgiven for her eighteenth-century lack of political correctness) just muttering in our pain to the sea? Who will hear us? In Emily Berry’s poem, ‘Picnic’, communing with the sea is like the kinds of communication you do in therapy. Trying to pick out the pieces that make up the story of the sea, the pieces that make up the story of grief, then ‘polish’ those uncertain feelings before ‘a man in a room’, whose ahhs and mhms are perhaps no coherent than the whispers of the sea. Sometimes we just need someone—something—to listen. Sometimes we just need to listen. 

Susurrations of the tongue and throat, the vowel sound sweetening eeeee. Sea, sea, sea.

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At the brink of most existential crises in my life, I revisit the sea. Summer 2016, I got a train to Cardross then walked a couple miles along a busy road, wildflowers growing in the verges past a cemetery, to Ardmore Point. The smell of the brine was like a drug: this vague area where the River Clyde becomes Firth and innumerable fragments of quartz are washed up on shore, residue of the sea’s mysterious industry. I looked across the water and I suppose I saw Greenock. There is so much of the jagged geography of westerly Scotland unfamiliar to me. The northness of names I have loved since childhood, the west coast forever of fishing villages, port towns, places of old time and tiny ruin: Luss, Arisaig, Applecross, Ullapool, Stornoway, Uist, Portree. A new indulgence in studying maps, mostly for a vague sense of where blue meets green. I have started to worry about sea levels. I keep a vague memory of my mother’s old home in Twickenham, where there are plaques to mark places where the river burst and flooded as high as the houses. The fields near my father’s house in Ayrshire become so easily sodden with water, a sunken valley where sheep sometimes drown. A favourite childhood memory is the single night we camped in Arisaig, and I’m sitting on a rock snapping fizzy laces between my teeth and watching a lurid strawberry sunset. Still I am filled with such sugary imaginings. The sand was so smooth, in the last light it seemed almost a mirror. It didn’t matter that we woke to torrential rain, with that sunset still within me. 

I open my sky-blue edition of W.S. Graham’s (Greenock-born) New Collected Poems and find ‘Falling into the Sea’: ‘Breathing water is easy / If you put your mind to it’. I think it is maybe a poem about dying, about the changes in the body, scary at first, a metamorphosis you adjust to: ‘Breathe / Deeply and you will go down / Blowing your silver worlds’. It is a plunge through new emotions, learning how to float in the bubbling eternity you have blown for yourself. Is this a dream? Is this a survival guide for the drowned? When you arrive on the ‘sea / Floor’, Graham suggests, you will encounter a ‘lady’ from ‘the Great Kelp Wood’ who offers you good British hospitality then ‘asks you / If you come here often’. How many times do we pretend we are mermaids as children, harbouring some hope of adoption by the elements. I spread my dreams on the sea like butter on a scone, the way they glimmer in the light then go. Are we recalling some anthropogenic trauma, deep embedded blue and sea green in our genes? In every deja vu there is a song, a half-remembered line with a context long forgotten: ‘Go down to the sea / And tell me what it is that you wanna be’ (Swim Deep). The sea is possibility, maybe; summertimes and sweet jangly, insouciant indie. Singing the greys, the blues, the self in crisis. The backdrop to so many of our deepest conversations, the murmurings melodic. The backdrop to perfect silence. When things went wrong in our house, we’d drive out and take long walks along Maybole Shore. We often didn’t talk; it was the wind in our ears and the kicking up sand and the smell of the salt that cleared the air, that did the work of unspoken feelings. There was the night two friends and I took vodka down Prestwick Beach and talked our lives out and embraced in the drunken rain, the spray of the water. It was so cold it burned the blood from our fingers, but we didn’t care. We were so fucking pure. 

Ten minutes listening to Drexciya in your living room and already I feel subaquatic again, 8am on a Sunday. Remember, we came from the sea. Our bodies are so much water and salt; we can hardly process any more of it. Crisping the lisp between here and there and what might drown. I was still a teenager when I sat by the harbour and twisted pink thrift into the plaits of my hair. I’d weave this space into a novel someday, the pain of the land sloshed up in geologic process; again the erosion, the sense of two worlds coming apart as a gaggle of teenagers stand lost in the waves, on the rocks and in water. It would all come to an end this way. I guess the bad techno thudded through every staccato chapter, the fault-lines of pointless dialogue. On a whim, I titled the whole thing West Coast Forever. Its universe was jagged, familiar and strange at once, self-destructive to the point of indulgence. I wrote it because I missed the sea, its harshness. I gave my twin protagonists eyes of green; two halves of what could be. I wanted to think about all the ways we are wild once, to try not to forget it. The sea is a lore we pass onto our children. The rocks we are not supposed to swim beyond, the orange buoys that mark the danger. The lives lost and loves found, the glitchy repetitions; the sand that thickens our mouths like overripe fruit, our words purpling and furring. 

Then there are gentler lagoons, bays which float out and away into grander blues. Clear and liquid lyrics, drizzling like moonlight or syrup over some wide and distant surface, the panoramic sea. The finger-plucked acoustic soothes and tells us what to do in its melancholic verse. Cat Power’s ‘Sea of Love’, Julie Byrne’s ‘Sea As It Glides’. I am obsessed with how these songs might sound, crackling and passed down to us over a ship radio, the edges worn away. The uncertain rasp of tuning in. I think of ‘Above the road (Skies of Blue)’ by Fionn Regan, or Johnny Flynn’s ‘Heart Sunk Hank’: antique and between times; recordings on a Voice-o-Graph; all white noise and sparseness, the yearning words. When I was twelve, I spent four days on a little fishing boat, bobbing up and down the Sound of Mull, between Oban and Tobermory. I lived off a Pepsi cup full of pick’n’mix sweets for the most of it, my sugar levels spiking like the rise and fall of the tide around us. Back then, I rarely noticed the wax or wane of silver and night, flesh and bone, blood and milk; I was only just learning to treat my body in cycles. There were very little times in the journey when we couldn’t see land, but Oh the loneliness when it went away.

When the mist came and there was only the greys. I used to play this game as a child, embracing my Pisces moon, thrashing through the waves and swimming out so far that someone on the sand would be shouting me back, roaring my name. I rarely cried; I dealt with my emotions that way. I liked that fort-da play of presence and absence, testing boundaries; the idea that I might disappear and become something other. The running against what resisted. I liked the way the waves licked my arms and thighs and stung me, the sand in my pores still flaking away later when I stood in the shower. The body catches a taste for the other world. It unravels. 

All weekend I’ve been listening to Frightened Rabbit, ‘Swim Until You Can’t See Land’, trying to heal the torn-apart strings of my heart. Ways we deal with loss, chasing the source. Some kinds of plunge are stilling, others sweep you up again and you’re back to before and the shock of it. You think you are okay but then again the sting behind your eyes, like somehow you let the sea in. This song will always feel new to me, a tune coming fresh out of hurt and to burst into something else altogether. There’s the rolling bass and energetic strums and the way the mood changes easy as weather between brilliant and bleak. I watch a YouTube video of Scott Hutchison singing an acoustic version in some courtyard; you can tell it’s spring from the two fire tulips that grow beside his bench. It’s spring like it is now, spring before the sunshine and colour felt wrong. There’s a helicopter flying overhead, so you know the world goes on and there are other bodies drifting into distance. And I miss him. I miss him. 

And the water is taller than me
And the land is a marker line
All I have is a body adrift in water, salt and sky 

Collapse again and again on the anaphora, the swirling, thirsty water. Who gets to wash up, who is vomiting their life and drying out on the sand and who presses a cool palm to their raging forehead? Why do we have these fantasies of saving someone from the sea? Is it a primitive fear: that we will lose everything we know that way; our life’s loves and possessions dragged away, river to firth to sound to sea. I flick through my Instagram stories this very morning, and my brother is filming the sea with his phone: an hour ago, ten seconds of grey-licking waves. He’s somewhere far away, I don’t remember—Bali, maybe. The sea is a trip-hop ballad, a rippling distance in which the ambient sounds don’t save me from thinking. The sea a great wash of the late 1990s, a millennial curve at the turn of distance. I think I think too much. Didn’t they worry, before 2000 came, that every system would collapse on zero? Didn’t Emily Berry describe the sea’s wee ripples as glitches? I long for the tidal flats and the drag of scavenging gulls in the skies above, howling some song that would save me. What are they hungry for, the circling birds? Arthur Russell is telling me to jump off the platform again; in the glimmer of that cello I can hear the echoes of a seascape blurred, pixelated to grey but alluring still. I plug myself in, deep in the chasms of sonic escape; here it is all wave and wave of shoegaze. The sea glows red before I sleep. 

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We need to break the waves, we need to break our minds. There’s a cleaving in there, hard as a diamond but liquid if you breathe deep enough the cold salt grey. It’s the saddest summer of my life and where was that aeroplane when I needed it, soft and sweet. Then neutral, oh so neutral; in all oceanic tang the lingering metallic taste. Do you miss me. I miss this. How blue the sea was from the air, so clear! One of maybe five songs I can play on guitar, the simple chord progression kills me still. How close his vocals are to the mic, that loudness an unabashed roar, a unified sound. My guitar strings are so old they sag like kelp strung across rocks deep below and in that looseness there’s a release, a new feeling. A lyric embrace which is the voice rising from platitude in earnest acrobatics and disappearing in a brass solo. The sway of the rhythm, I’m realising now, is a bit like the buoyed-up feeling of being on a boat, or watching the waves side-to-side from the land and finding your body a little seduced by the back and forth. Who is there on the shoreline, who waits? Before it gets dark, when we are still the sweet notes and the swaying trees. Little cross rhythms, a minor key and so far apart in our shadows and secrets. Ocean rain. I won’t say the name, I won’t say anything. 

The sea is a darkness we hold under our tongues. Sometimes when I think of it too much, I see myself as a siren. But Oh the cost of screaming in the night. Elizabeth Fraser in ‘Song to the Siren’, haunting and flawless: ‘Here I am / Here I am’. The way her voice curls and shimmers, like a whirlpool coming into itself upon shipless waters, swallowing those foolish enough to break their bodies on the sea—‘Oh my heart / Shies from the sorrow’. In what lick of tide may we assert ourselves. I flip up the lid of my laptop, see the screen, and all is a glorious ersatz blue. A whole thalassic core of thought. 

Berry again: ‘If a person standing still watched another person minutely moving would it / seem after a while as if they were watching the sea?’ How do we hold who we love in our vision, crawling at the brink of distance, disappearance? Why do they always become the sea? Why is there ever this scattering, and can that alone be the work of elegy—the between the between, the breezy, the needing?

Let go, for eternity
is too much with us
& not
with us yet. 

—Francesca Lisette

 

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