Saturday, 29 January 2011

yehuda amichai

Half the people in the world

Half the people in the world love the other half,
half the people hate the other half.
Must I because of this half and that half go wandering
and changing ceaselessly like rain in its cycle,
must I sleep among rocks, and grow rugged like
the trunks of olive trees,
and hear the moon barking at me,
and camouflage my love with worries,
and sprout like frightened grass between the railroad
and live underground like a mole,
and remain with roots and not with branches, and not
feel my cheek against the cheek of angels, and
love in the first cave, and marry my wife
beneath a canopy of beams that support the earth,
and act out my death, always till the last breath and
the last words and without ever understanding,
and put flagpoles on top of my house and a bomb shelter
underneath. And go out on raids made only for
returning and go through all the appalling
between the kid and the angel of death?
Half the people love,
half the people hate.
And where is my place between such well-matched halves,
and through what crack will I see the white housing
projects of my dreams and the bare foot runners
on the sands or, at least, the waving of a girl's
kerchief, beside the mound?

trans by chana bloch And stephen mitchell

Thursday, 27 January 2011

li-young lee

This Hour and What Is Dead

Tonight my brother, in heavy boots, is walking
through bare rooms over my head,
opening and closing doors.
What could he be looking for in an empty house?
What could he possibly need there in heaven?
Does he remember his earth, his birthplace set to torches?
His love for me feels like spilled water
running back to its vessel.

At this hour, what is dead is restless
and what is living is burning.

Someone tell him he should sleep now.

My father keeps a light on by our bed
and readies for our journey.
He mends ten holes in the knees
of five pairs of boy’s pants.
His love for me is like his sewing:
various colors and too much thread,
the stitching uneven. But the needle pierces
clean through with each stroke of his hand.

At this hour, what is dead is worried
and what is living is fugitive.

Someone tell him he should sleep now.

God, that old furnace, keeps talking
with his mouth of teeth,
a beard stained at feasts, and his breath
of gasoline, airplane, human ash.
His love for me feels like fire,
feels like doves, feels like river-water.

At this hour, what is dead is helpless, kind
and helpless. While the Lord lives.

Someone tell the Lord to leave me alone.
I’ve had enough of his love
that feels like burning and flight and running away.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

just for kate...

step away from the textbooks and feast your eyes on the titanium goodness!

on margaret atwood

so it turns out that for a weekend at geo's i don't actually get any cycling done - saturday morning because it's just too foggy, sunday he gets up too soon and generally because my post puffer belly altho increasing in size thru lack of activity isn't healing itself as quick as i'd like and i'm having to take it a bit easy.

but what we do manage is to buy geo a new boat and various pieces of kit to go with it. of course the sea is flat as a dish and as perfect as you could wish and equally of course i have the bike as opposed to the kayak and no gear but isn't that always the way of it. on the way back loch awe presents itself in a transcendental calm, so clear it's like looking into another realm. naturally i nearly crash the car!

and, being that we haven't seen each other in an age we do that thing we should do more often - buy a load of food in, cook it, have a few drinks, blether nonsense. all the food's been caught here, scallops, haddock, mackeral, salmon. geo takes care of the scallops while i finish off a destructively good fish soup followed by a navarin of fish.

and what do we talk about? geo's brain isn't working as it should and fixing it is worrying him. there are relatives and relatives of friends who have become suddenly frail or in care. we  talk about a dawning feeling of finiteness. in between we have a musical accompaniment of 60s french pop tunes, klezmer music, dancehall, the stooges and margaret atwood. margaret atwood's name comes up as part of a discussion around will self's book of dave which geo is currently ensconced in. you should read some margaret atwood i say. and before i have to explain why i haven't read the novels i'm recommending there's her voice. and she says...

Instead of this, I tell
what i hope will pass as truth.
A blunt thing, not lovely.
The truth is seldom welcome,
especially at dinner...

(from The Loneliness of the Military Historian)

at which we both burst out laughing as we have spent so many meals together where geo listens with horrified fascination as i tell him, as i have today, about a wound so big i could've stuck my hand in and played that person like a human glove puppet. the difference being that at geo's table these little day to day truths are never unwelcome.

we break open the vodka. i almost never drink now and when i do i'm most at ease doing it in geo's kitchen. he has a tiny wee shot glass for me, which is as well as there's not much vodka. which is as well as if i tried to drink it like i used to i would fall over. and then she's there again. this time Death of a Young Son by Drowning. we pause and listen again. no laughter this time but we both like the word bathysphere and we both like the hands, glistening with details.

on we go, listening and talking. he observes he thinks, certain changes in my viewpoints. i tell him i am not so sure but i am happy if it is so. we make plans for making his will. and mine. tho he feels his need is more pressing. i tell him he is full of shit. he says i can only tell him this because i am such a dick. we wish we could be out on the sea but the van is broken and t cannot come over. we concoct an elaborate plan where i will race t across scotland, me cycling and her on public transport and then we will all catch the seaplane but then we realise we will get stuck in glasgow. a city where romance surely goes to die. discuss.

we meet his mum in the street. she appears to recognise me but i know she can only do this because geo has spoken to her on the phone a couple of hours before. she looks like margaret atwood's much older sister. i do not tell either of them this. she asks if we have been to church. i say we have enjoyed the service, sang many songs. she gets the joke but the alzheimers has robbed her of the spark of response. she must be off for some tea she says. take care you boys she tells us and becomes part of that small but precious community for whom we are still and always will be daft young laddies.

we listen to Morning in the Burned House. aye, says geo, she's all right this atwood woman.

i return home and discover that, according to the blog stats, the most popular post this week is margaret atwood. i had not realised when i posted it that progressive insanities of a pioneer was quite so popular. or in another version of events margaret atwood is addicted to googling herself, spending the last of the evening obsessively checking and rechecking where she may be found and how often, in between penning plans about keeping prison farms open in order to save the birds, big cats and other sundry creatures. it seems no less likely than her unbidden and much appreciated performance in a kitchen in oban. (in fact what she has been doing is posting about cats. t being a lover of cats i cannot but post the link)

once i revisited the house i grew up in, or at least became aware of myself as a person. it's still there, unburnt, but not my house. i remember the house next door which also did not burn down but i will admit, i did set fire to. i remember the beating i got for that like yesterday...

Morning in the Burned House

In the burned house I am eating breakfast.
You understand: there is no house, there is no breakfast,
yet here I am

The spoon which was melted scrapes against
the bowl which was melted also.
No one else is around.

Where have they gone to, brother and sister,
mother and father? Off along the shore,
perhaps. Their clothes are still on the hangers,

their dishes piled beside the sink,
which is beside the woodstove
with its grate and sooty kettle,

every detail clear,
tin cup and rippled mirror.
The day is bright and songless,

the lake is blue, the forest watchful.
In the east a bank of cloud
rises up silently like dark bread.

I can see the swirls in the oilcloth,
I can see the flaws in the glass,
those flares where the sun hits them.

I can't see my own arms and legs
or know if this is a trap or blessing,
finding myself back here, where everything

in this house has long been over,
kettle and mirror, spoon and bowl,
including my own body,

including the body I had then,
including the body I have now
as I sit at this morning table, alone and happy,

bare child's feet on the scorched floorboards
(I can almost see)
in my burning clothes, the thin green shorts

and grubby yellow T-shirt
holding my cindery, non-existent,
radiant flesh. Incandescent.

(from the collection of the same name.
find it and read it!)

Monday, 24 January 2011

gwendolyn macewen

Let Me Make This Perfectly Clear

Let me make this perfectly clear.
I have never written anything because it is a Poem.
This is a mistake you always make about me,
A dangerous mistake. I promise you
I am not writing this because it is a Poem.

You suspect this is a posture or an act
I am sorry to tell you it is not an act.

You actually think I care if this
Poem gets off the ground or not. Well
I don't care if this poem gets off the ground or not
And neither should you.
All I have every cared about
And all you should ever care about
Is what happens when you lift your eyes from this page.

Do not think for one minute it is the Poem that matters.
Is is not the Poem that matters.
You can shove the Poem.
What matters is what is out there in the large dark
and in the long light,

Saturday, 22 January 2011

milton acorn

Live With Me On Earth Under the Invisible Daylight Moon

Live with me on Earth among red berries and the bluebirds
And leafy young twigs whispering
Within such little spaces, between such floors of green, such
figures in the clouds
That two of us could fill our lives with delicate wanting:

Where stars past the spruce copse mingle with fireflies
Or the dayscape flings a thousand tones of light back at the
Be any one of the colours of an Earth lover;
Walk with me and sometimes cover your shadow with mine.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

mimi khalvati

On a Line from Forough Farrokhzad

It had rained that day. It had primed a world
with gold, pure gold, wheatfield, stubble and hill.
It had limned the hills as a painter would,
an amateur painter, but the hills were real.

It had painted a village lemon and straw,
all shadow and angles, cockerel, goats and sheep.
It had scattered their noises, bleats and blahs,
raising a cloud, a white dog chasing a jeep.

It had travelled through amber, ochre, dust
and dust the premise of everything gold,
dust the promise of green. Green there was
but in the face of a sun no leaf could shield.

It had rained that day. It was previous,
previous as wind to seed. O wild seed,
as these words proved. ‘The wind will carry us’
bad ma ra khahad bord – and it did.

Monday, 17 January 2011

race day!

so, as the weekend rolled into view a brief recap of strathpuffer race history -

race one (the quad) - i have the flu. i will do two laps. t will want to take me to hospital. of the rest one bonks, one gets a concussion and the last man standing retires with hypothermia.

race two (solo) - a gale threatens to blow us away. it is very icy. a certain tv presenter claims to do a number of laps that is at odds with the time he spends in his motorhome. i blow out my knee. this will become a recurring problem.

race three (solo) - i suffer a broken bottom and then a seatpost insult. i try not to remember any of it. the recounting of this event provides some people with much amusement.

and we arrive in strathpeffer. while not exactly perthshire there's still a lot of ice lying about. foolishly, i assert it's do-able on mud tyres. i'll reconsider this later and do all my laps on spikes. our first indication of the comedy to come is when i forget which hotel it is that we've booked into. i could have done this while we were in the van but no, that would be too easy. i ask at the bike shop. they look at me like some sort of idiot.

eventually we find it and we arrive with a couple of other teams. they tell us there is no food. but we booked with food we assert. that was with the other guy we are told. and he's in france. oh, we say, so that'll change the price? no. and off into the hotel and up the oddly cambered staircase, a staircase covered in what can only be described as hallucinogenic tartan. there are no half measures in this place. to be honest to get the best out of it a person would really need to be shitfaced on a variety of substances for it to make any sense. there are mannequins of victorian scottish servicemen, oddly decayed oriental dolls, the breakfast cereal is served on a table supporting a grinning porcelain chimpanzee. it's very odd. and cold. colder than the van. except at about two in the morning when we wake up broiled. in the morning we go for breakfast. the others look at us, tired and vaguely shell shocked. then the earsplitting easy listening hits us. like sitting in the bass bin of the worst wedding band you've ever heard. we meet kate. is it the long drive from bristolia that's tired her so or the effects of the strathpeffer hospitality? whatever, we apologised (really, sorry kate!) and took off.

i have to say i was proud of t when i saw the uphill from the start again and made a mental note that for her yearly cycles i should do better than sit her on her summer tyred bike and expect her to go up and down an ice covered slope. she complained (a lot) but as ever did herself proud despite her protestations to the contrary. and really, we both knew it was going to me who would be doing the falling off.

and so it proved as i got knocked off within sight of the start by a grumpy fellow who did not take kindly to my suggestion that perhaps he'd get more traction at the side of the fire road. ho hum. i was super glad that i had ice and snow tyres on. low gears and low cadence saw me grind up the initial fire road without much in the way of mishap even if i could still occasionally manage a slow speed lowside into a bush with the best of them. i have to say i was surprised by the amount of ice but even at the start it was warm enough that i was confident it would get better as the event went on.

my head was right , my cadence was right, my legs felt okayish. everything was going to be well i thought. and then my bike broke. not completely broke but just didn't want to go uphill. gradual uphill was okay but anything steep and it chainsucked into immediate halt. not happy. tho not as unhappy as i was going to get when i was changing the tyres back at the van. bending over a wheel in the wet with cold fingers and a back done no favours by the night before's accommodation. fortunately a guy from the team next door, a brother soul who i can only surmise, recognised the plight behind my wheel related tourettes. two minutes later and everything was right as rain, the scott was left behind and off i went on the newly repaired specialised.

in my initial conception of the race the plan was to do four laps on each of the three bikes. the specialised has never made it past two laps so i was in uncharted territory. i had the rohloff bike, true, but i'd never used it in its current form, plus i'd have to do another tyre change. so i figured i'd push the spesh to see how far it would go. and go it did. until i got thru the deer fence and had a mystery over the bars incident after the second set of duck boards. i am as mystified as everyone else as to how i managed this. people did stop. are you okay they asked. i've just had a bike in the nads i gasped in reply. sympathetic oohs and aahs ensued and everyone moved swiftly on. i gingerly checked the chaps were where they should be  and did the same. it wasn't pretty.

unlike the downhill which, when it came, was. i may have been pacing myself on the uphill but i was fierce quick on the downs, the quickest i've ever been on the gloop from view rock and stupidly fast back to the transition (one of the nevis boys would lose his brakes on this section and hit a tree. end of race for him but okay as far as i know). by the end of lap three i was feeling confident. a bit of an achey knee but my technique was dialled and, most importantly, my head was just in the right spot.

and then to lap four. i was aware it was warm for me and it's true that i most likely should've taken on a wee bit more fluid but i was planning on a hiatus after lap four, fuelling and hydrating up, before my first stint in darkness. still, i should've been drinking more and it showed itself in a tiny niggle in my legs over the course of the lap. i'd expected as much. strength was never going to be an issue but, given i hadn't been out on the bike for any distance since november i had concerns over endurance. still i'd met one of the square wheels guys the lap before walking off some cramp. walking is the singlespeeders bottom gear he had sagely reminded me, as he has before, and that it is a twenty four hour race. take it easy i told myself and keep those head weasels at bay.

all fine until the section after the deer fence again. this time coming off the slabs prior to the drop in to the bridge of thighs i caught a wheel in a hole, flew over the bars and landed in a puddle. cold and wet but remarkably uninjured one of the other guys stopped to make sure i was okay given the magnitude of stack he'd just witnessed. but i felt good, maybe a wee bit of a dead leg on the right side after that dunt, but good.

well okay, maybe not that good. i've a feeling there may be a connection between crashing and cramping. maybe it's the standing about, maybe a bit of adrenalin. whatever as i came of the descent from view rock and onto the uphill i felt a wee niggle in my right leg. no worries i told myself, take it easy, i'll soon be back. and i wanted to be not least because t was waiting on the last descent and i'd forgotten that it gets dark quicker up north so had no lights. all of this was in my head as i made my way over the icy track back to the start of the forest. i had a blether with a guy, had a slide then started over a wee drainage trench, so small and insignificant i'd barely noticed it in the dozens of times i've been over it. not this time tho. as i accelerated up the track my wheel rather than bumping in and out, jammed right in the hole and i catapulted belly first onto the headset. as usual there was a handy wee somersault to finish but before i'd even hit the ground i knew something wasn't right.

the bars had hit me right in the liver. the last one of these i saw the guy had all manner of bleeding and a nasty haematoma and drainage as a result. split livers, burst gall bladders = no fun. i wanted off the course and no mistake. and my tumble had done me no favours in the darkness stakes. the initial downhill was entertaining to say the least. after the that it was all instinct. i couldn't see the water barriers just jumped them onto what i hoped wasn't ice. i was hurting but all my focus was on getting back. on the last section i was majestic. i overtook two people in the rooty, muddy section before the final run into transition. a group of guys standing at the side cheered me on 'no lights, man. top skills!' - whoever you were, thank you, thank you, you made my race. i came past t in a blur. the next she saw me i was off to the ambulance.

where it was better than expected. i had a palpable egg in my belly, couldn't lie down and was a bit slow on my feet but otherwise no signs of significant bleeding. the first aid people were great. they listened to me and that, coupled with the fact the team next door were all doctors, meant that i got to stay in lieu of any other symptoms. anyone else they said, and it'd be raigmore. wobbling back to the van was unpleasant. my race was done and i knew it. i was cold and defeated. again. getting my gear off was and exercise in soreness. and then back down to the main tent, it was warm, there were people and, if i was going to have a wobble, i wanted to do it there. which might sound a bit dire but in fact it was warm, i could fill up on food and, courtesy of the fact steve had fancied a band this year, got to listen to the rather excellent mystic shoes. it was all rather cheering.

we spotted kate briefly. she'd had a freewheel moment followed by a long walk but the squarewheels repair squad had sorted her right out. 12 laps at the finish kate? i'd have been happy with that. as it was we eventually meandered back to the van, sat under the remarkably mild light of the moon until retiring to our sleeping bags.

so, another strathpuffer, another tale of racing woe. was it worth it? absolutely. there's something about this race in particular that sets me up for the whole year and being back after a year off made it even better. a big thanks to everyone, organisers, marshalls (a stalwart and supportive presence as ever), first aid guys, caterers, musicians, the folk doing the unenviable job of sorting out the parking, everyone (a special mention too to the red poppy restaurant who filled us full of top quality food the night before and gave t the 'best vegetarian meal in scotland' she's had in years).

and not forgetting the competitors. we were parked beside a team on their first outing who would go on to get fourth, a sterling effort on a first go and a great group of guys. this year as well there seemed to be far more women doing it than previous. and not just giving a go but giving it a serious compete. it was great to catch up with some of the square wheels youth squad who have grown sufficiently since the last time i saw them to make me feel old! and still a credit to youth development in cycling in the strathpeffer area.

am i jinxed? is there some sort of strange strathpuffer curse upon me? i don't know. in the end i said that maybe next year i might have a go as part of a team. i'd like more rest, the opportunity to go faster on the laps that i do but then if i did that it wouldn't be the me and t team and somehow that just doesn't feel right. so knees, liver and strangely bruised nethers aside, i've a feeling we've a few more solo efforts in us yet...

Saturday, 15 January 2011


Sea Rose

Rose, harsh rose,
marred and with stint of petals,
meagre flower, thin,
sparse of leaf,

more precious
than a wet rose
single on a stem -
you are caught in the drift.

Stunted, with small leaf,
you are flung on the sand,
you are lifted
in the crisp sand
that drives in the wind.

Can the spice-rose
drip such acrid fragrance
hardened in a leaf?

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

kamau braithwaite


Propped against the crowded bar
he pours into the curved and silver horn
his old unhappy longing for a home

the dancers twist and turn
he leans and wishes he could burn
his memories to ashes like some old notorious emperor

of rome. but no stars blazed across the sky when he was born
no wise men found his hovel. this crowded bar
where dancers twist and turn

holds all the fame and recognition he will ever earn
on earth or heaven. he leans against the bar
and pours his old unhappy longing in the saxophone

Saturday, 8 January 2011

the saturday cake report

less than a week until race day and up until this morning the latest reports were that the course was free of ice and snow but still hard and frozen. that was the good news. not so good was all the new snow fall today. just when it looked like it might thaw!

on the upside (assuming rohloff wheel build complete and repaired shock arrives from fox) the snow made t stay in and experiment with foodstuffs to keep me going thru the long night. it's not that i'm against energy gels per se but i'm no fan of what they do to a person's insides when you've consumed them in multiples. so instead t had samples of rice krispie, sugar and treacle infused chocolate laden delights. which will no doubt work a treat if she manages to hide them from me!

hasso krull

The sea rustles quietly, like a running river,

The sea rustles quietly, like a running river,
it is not a river, it is the sea, clouds run
over the forest, over the juniper thicket, they run like a river,
but inside them is a hole, inside the clouds is a hole

and because of it, flowers of sweetbriar can be seen,
no, they can’t be seen, I lied, but
sweetbriar still flowers, clouds run,
and lie along with me, so earth is black,

so grass is green, lilies yellow,
peonies red, clouds lie about all of it
and so the art of lying hasn’t decayed,
in fact, it has reached new heights,

it has caused the sea to roar, birds to sing,
red peonies to flower, the sea rustles quietly,
and it is no river, the river is raised high into the clouds,
these clouds lie as much as they can, though there is a hole inside them.

trans brandon lussier

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

rainer maria rilke

from Duino Elegies

Eighth Elegy

All other creatures look into the Open
with their whole eyes. But our eyes,
turned inward, are set all around it like snares,
trapping its way out to freedom.
We know what's out there only from the animal's
face; for we take even the youngest child,
turn him around and force him to look
at the past as a formation, not that openness
so deep within an animal's face. Free from death,
we only see it; the free animal
always has its destruction behind
and god ahead, and when it moves,
it moves toward eternity like running springs.

Not for a single day, no, never have we had
that pure space ahead of us, in which flowers
endlessly open. It is always World
and never Nowhere without No:
that pure, unguarded space we breathe,
always know, and never crave. As a child,
one may lose himself in silence and be
shaken out of it. Or one dies and is it.
Once near death, one can't see death anymore
and stares out, maybe with the wide eyes of animals.
If the other weren't there blocking the view,
lovers come close to it and are amazed...
It opens up behind the other, almost
an oversight... but no one gets past
the other, and the world returns again.
Always facing creation, all we see
is the reflection of the free and open
that we've darkened, or some mute animal
raising its calm eyes and seeing through us,
and through us. This is destiny: to be opposites,
always, and nothing else but opposites.

translated by a.j. poulin jr.

Monday, 3 January 2011

theodore roethke

In a Dark Time

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood--
A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What's madness but nobility of the soul
At odds with circumstance? The day's on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks--is it a cave,
Or a winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is--
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

christmas, new year and the training

new year came and went but still no respite from the snow and ice (tho more ice than snow now) which has been with us now for over a month. but at least by new years eve we could get out and put some lanterns up in the sky (as did several other people - in those magical minutes before we thought it might be a good idea to take a picture!)

christmas it looked more like this. i had a rare foray out on the bike and had a rather delightful slowmo off at the bottom of this track. but no bother, it was so beautiful i was content to lie in the snow and soak it all in.

and then go back later with t so that we could look at the lovely snowflake forms decorating the landscape. the snow may have been inconvenient but the weather mad the landscape wonderful

but it still meant very little time off the trainer and outside and even when i did get motivated enough it meant a proper old school cyclocross style hike-a-bike with intermittent i-am-an-organ-donor moments on the roads. today it's started to thaw enough that i thought about the roadbike (the tracks now being all solid ice) but call me a fearty if the thought of it hasn't got me spooked. another couple of days....

so where has this left race training? trainer commitment means i guess i'm kind of fit but endurance is a question i can't answer. plus i've had almost no time out at night. but with two weeks to go and a maximum of five more training days i have to say i'm actually feeling okay about it. which is more than can be said for the bikes. all three race bikes, including the unknown quantity that is the rohloff one are all out of commission. front mech on the specialised is (still!) not working and i mashed a rear brake caliper on the scott prior to new year. and the rohloff is well, the rohloff, and might work or might not. as that hub is on my normal puffer workhorse bike i'm less than impressed.

still a set of new brake pads for all (avid brakes, i do not love you, no i do not), a new mech and a bit of luck and all should be well. bring it on!