Standing in the kitchen, lights bright and nobody near, two hands on the counter to steady the sudden sway, this clarity of thoughts comes as a surprise because, for as long you can remember, they’ve come spread in syrup – at work you wait frowning for words to come and colleagues look at the clock or over towards the door – but in this instant you could conjure exactly the right phrase, articulate your words in precisely the right order, yet your ex isn’t here, your friends aren’t here, your parents aren’t here and as your mouth fills with saliva and the panic comes on strong and your knees thud against the floor and the plates smash in slow silence about you, all that’s truly clear is the hopelessness, the senselessness, the futility of life, for love was in vain for those who die alone.
Those cold, bleak winter dawns that freeze the city from clear open skies, that go creeping past quiet terraces long before sunrise, and way up, a crescent moon’s blurred dark blue in your eye by a sharp, icy wind; god those dawns cut straight through you and all your thoughts turn to warmth, in some simple language of survival; all you’re doing is hurrying down the same old street to get to work on time but hell, for those few shivering seconds deep in your bones, all you feel is the bitter, bitter cold and deeper still, some ancient longing aches in you for just one ray of sunlight, for just one ray of sunlight to warm you through. You can’t get to the station quickly enough and during those traumatic moments, the idea of no shelter at all is just unthinkable, it’s just unthinkable.
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.
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.
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.
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
‘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
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.
©James Bruce May, 2017
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.
©James Bruce May, 2016