Journal Entry

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Come, let’s figure this out. This drain on resources, this wound, weeping tiredness, weeping fatigue. Let’s look at ideas and prepare against the winter, the fall of life to dust and regeneration: an idea curls across the palm of your hand, as they always do; a soft fingertip draws a circle; like the breeze that started blowing when your new lungs cried into the blank space above your cot, a blank space once filled by the huge face of your mother, space that moved from blank to starry when you turned to the window – and how the space shimmered as the breath curled away to petition the seasons and find its place rustling through long grass, moaning in chimneys, rattling branches in forgotten forests. Once, when you were little, you watched a fox emerge from the hedgerow, stop to ponder you and sniff the air. You waited, tense, but the fox dismissed you and returned to the foliage to clamp its jaws into the scruff of its cub’s neck. It brought the young creature into the sunlight, though it immediately retreated into its mother’s tail, letting out a little cry as it settled amongst her thick auburn fur. You saw the grass ripple with a quiet breeze, then; a leaf twitched on a twig, and into the palm of your hand a circle curled: the beginning of a life passing into unknown quantities of danger and nurture, hunger and anxiety: the beginning of life passing through your fingertips, and into the unknown.

Ashton triple: The Dream/Symphonic Variations/Marguerite and Armand: First Night Review (ROH, June 2017)

You enter the auditorium which opens cavernous beneath you. You thank the people who twist and stand to let you pass to your seat. You sit as the oboe sounds, as the strings swarm; the lights begin to dim, drawing the red from the walls, the last murmurs from the crowd. Darkness surrounds the stage and invites you to watch for what might unfold. Polite applause greets the conductor. Art is great when it opens a portal, and you watch for what might unfold. The curtains rise and you find yourself looking out into a glade, spectral, mystical. Music rises, warming the darkness, and fairies gather and begin to dance. You know they’re fairies not only from their shifting, glittering garb: they move with an otherworldly grace. Their king and queen arrive and dote over a young prince; they chide and quarrel with lovers’ time-honoured, flirtatious steps. Men and women arrive, promenading, straying into these enchanted woods, far out of their depth. And here comes the king’s supernatural servant, leaping with the light energy of mischief. And here comes a group of country folk, vigorously celebrating their happy lot in life. All of these gathered are given unique movements to outline the difference in their characters. All of the wit, charm, comedy and romance of Shakespeare is here, you think, as the choral voices of children swell and lilt towards you. And if your mind begins to wander, the choreographer calls you back – this is a genius on a genius, you think; the lightning spins, the vitality and drama in each movement, the donkey on its toes, and the trust between the fairy king and queen who must lean into one another to form the perfect shapes they project – as the applause once again surrounds you, you realise you had travelled, you had been transported.
***Interval***

During the break you chat, you read a bit but your eyes catch the clothes of the crowd; you sense the shared excitement, the thrill of the people. Back in your seat you wait for the silence to fall once more. The orchestra tunes up and you watch for what might unfold. The curtains rise and a pianist plays. Only a handful of dancers gather on stage, dressed skin tight to match the slim flowing lines of the set. The patterns they perform are cyclic; the story they tell isn’t fiction; you can see they are dancing truth; you see they’re telling of the nature of life, its journey from beginning to end, its renewal through love, its simplicity, when stripped to its fundamental parts. You see a striking image you’re not used to seeing in ballet: one man stands with three women – it’s different, it carries a different emotion – and whilst dancers take turns to perform centre stage, to the side, a ballerina stands waiting, alone, staring out into the audience, poised yet calm, and you focus on the movement and the stillness of life. The cycle repeats. The ballet lasts only twenty minutes but you feel it could continue in your mind, or in your heart, forever.
***Interval***

At the bar time passes unnoticed. The people around you are moved by what they’ve seen. Your mind is full now of notions and ideas yet there’s more spectacle to come. Back in your seat you wait for silence to fall once more. The musicians below settle their instruments in their laps and upon their shoulders and you watch for what might unfold. This time the dancers act out the lifespan of a famous, passionate love story. They bring that love to life, but this is love grinding against death, for the prima ballerina’s character is fatally ill: she fights against her health and her desperation to live, to continue to love, pulls your heart to the surface. The music rises and falls, the pianist’s hands climb the keys and play every note in the scale with longing, with yearning; the costumes speak of glamour; the staging allows for intimacy – all come together to coax your imagination, to coax your heart to the surface. The dancers become the characters they play, and the great artistry of the star-crossed lovers makes their performance rare and spectacular. Sharing the experience of watching their performance, and the performances of all the other dancers, has brought between everybody in the auditorium, perfect strangers to one another, an understanding. Applause echoes and ricochets; bouquets are brought to the arms of the dancers as they take their bows.

On the train home people check their phones and read from crumpled dailies. The image of the heartbroken dancer clinging to the body of his lover as she dies in his arms repeats in your mind. You know you spend all your days alone inside your mind but for one small moment, the art you witnessed unified you with the crowd: two thousand people in London go home to dwell on the weight of love grinding against death, to ponder life’s stillness and its renewal, and celebrate again the delicacy of Shakespeare. This meditation is the parting gift of a choreographer whose work still lifts our hearts to the surface.

 

@ James Bruce May 2017

Sleep on it

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‘There’s just no time to think,’ says the wind to the water, barely brushing her surface as he hurries towards the night not looking where he’s going.

‘Oh, please; there’s only time to think,’ says the water to the wind, moonlight shimmering all about whilst fish ghost deep beneath and the dark comes closing in.

 

©James Bruce May, 2017

Watching Jupiter

 

Yesterday, in the early hours, I put my eye to the telescope

and flew up into space

to watch the Galilean moons weave their way around Jupiter

who spins in silence so many millions of miles away.

 

Chatter from smokers outside the pub along the road

cascaded from the brick walls of the terrace,

whilst up above if I looked for long enough,

I could just make out the distant stars behind the blackness of the night.

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©James Bruce May, 2017

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My thumb follows the veins on the back of his hand, loose skin precedes, a wave with no shore any more – It takes a long time to figure out one’s allergies, he says, quicker to understand taste but a while to understand hangovers. His smile draws the teeth of a head lice comb across his eyes and the timbre of his voice carries an assured melancholy as he continues – It takes a long time to figure out what to do with your time, and a while too to understand how little time you have. He pauses and takes my hand in his as minutes shrink to seconds – But you must be quick to realise that you still have time; you must grasp that you still have time; you still have time to live before all your time is spent. His arm quivers as he lets go and turns to the view, eyes smooth once more. I rub my thumb over the back of my hand, still waiting to finally break upon a shore.

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©James Bruce May, 2016

Ocean

OceanTo stand and stare was all I could do, arrested by such emptiness after months in the city; in my hand I felt the shells we held as children, their rims bone-smooth, across their backs a bite of barnacles. The wind brought waves up from the shore just as those shells once whispered lonesome stories and above went a gull without even waving a wing. I watched until it became a white speck against the glimmering empty sea and wondered which, solitude or searching, provided its impetus.

©James Bruce May, 2015

A Marathon Reading

On 31st May I’m running the Edinburgh Marathon for the Multiple Sclerosis Society!

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This Saturday, 16th May, at the Rubgy Tavern, Holborn, WC1N 3ES – I will be reading a 26-minute prose-poem in the hope of gaining sponsorship for the big race. My friends Alistair Roberts and Ian Plested will also be reading, Alistair from his work focused on Cambodia, and I believe Ian will share something by Blake. There will also be limited edition marathon cookies available.

Doors open at 2pm, the readings will take place from 3pm. Food and drink is available from the pub. Hope to see you there!

You can sponsor me and support the MS Society via JustGiving here – https://www.justgiving.com/JamesBruceMay2/

Thanks – James Bruce May