Kind of getting away: 9

Out and alone in this.

Why do I bother to tell.

What indeed. What indeed and why.

Not preservation.


I am not contained. Do you see? On and on like a lamentation.

What do I want out of this? What can I expect of this, even now?

Love? What from?

Better loneliness.

Things are not yet full enough.

Things are going to change.

Letters: 2


Now I am crossing the seracs. The worst of the icefall is behind me. I cannot tell you what this place is like and how terrifying it is. The grinding ice moving in the matchless dark – bergs that have come down the broad valleys between the mountains – that have stayed too long and too late on land – all wrongfooted and impatient all foundering towards the sea – all this cruel seething rock in the cold.  This place is bigger than Lyskamm or Kanchenjunga. You cannot imagine the sounds that come at night – sometimes a great crack will ring out and I will startle, thinking it is a weapon. But it is only the ice. From where I am – I am on a thin ledge of ice, and I am following it around the glacier to reach the station – you can see the scale of this scene. Each moving block of ice is the size of a skyscraper leaning brokenly. When the glacier heaves these blocks turn and topple – it looks slow but that is only because of the distance. Some of them, even though they are a  very pure chalky blue, reveal undersides dirty grey and brown with the rock they have crushed beneath them. Such majesty – that is the word – but this also brings with it a certain sadness – not the sadness of a tragedy, but a different kind of sadness that continues all the way down – sadness that occupies the same space as breathing – if you asked me now I would tell you it is the fact of witnessing this kind of destruction, but on all honesty I cannot truly tell. Two days ago – before I started the crossing – I saw from a ridge a section of the sheet the size of a city, miles and miles of grinding and broken ice, collapse in on itself, into the water. The sound of it – it was shuddering – it was of the great order of noises – like the Cannons at Toven. It was like birth. I couldn’t tell when the calving began at first, but the movement caught my eye and I stood for a long time to watch – I wish very much that you were here to see this. The whole place reminds me of you.

Remember me,


Letters, Rewritten: 1

Dear John,

I am not dead. We are all waiting and tense – scouts never came back – but I am alive. This is my first letter to you – isn’t it strange that we are forced to do this, to actually write on paper before they scan it all – and that we enjoy it – maybe it is the sentimentality of it – what Hatherance calls Old School – but I am not familiar with this, and so I think I must right away reassure you that I am alive and well because that is probably what you are thinking about now – at least I must hope so.

I know what you will be thinking – but do not doubt this. I am alive. It is true, what you are thinking – what I know you must be thinking, if I know you at all – there are others who have written dozens of letters, prepaid for all of them, and asked for them to be sent in staggered order, automatically – one every two, three weeks, or so – all this so that even if they die the letters from them will continue to be sent – I ask myself when their partners will discover this and what they will think and if this is a kind of compassion or cruelty. But this is a letter from me, alive.

Exactly four years ago we met. I intend for this to be a brief chronicle of things that have happened to us – that we did – a remembrance of what I am told I should call an anniversary, when I saw you standing there over the opponent in the Ring, looking flatly, coldly – that is how you look – up at me, the one from S1P5 who had shot the exercise drone by accident – of the night we first spent together, I terrified, you amused – even now I am not sure, you are unreadable – amused, or wondering – us at the graduation where I tasted Muscatel for the first time and was shocked at its brilliance, and where you had far too much and sat there perfectly still and only very slightly smiling when I slowly slipped and fell off the chair without realising – and even then everyone too afraid of you to laugh – how I woke with a blinding ache the day after finding that the commanders had been honest about not letting the nanos help with the alcohol for that night and realised that I had to be carried back to the bunk and put to bed – that you had done it, impossibly, and I wondered what people must have thought who saw it. The first paired mission in Afar – two of us, two very soaked sergeants of the CM in the night not saying anything, just leaning over over the stele-light, looking at the warmth between us like a miracle – night over the great plains and navigating by stars that were only just familiar enough since we had no Globenet – no easy task even for me, you said – and then I for the very first time knew that maybe you respected me, in a way – finding the abandoned convertible and learning to make it move – the picnic, or so we called it, of rations and terrible coffee – the tent of light and warmth we made in the space under the rusting hulk of a while we did the twonight recce – the  bootlegged music you brought that Gryzhas had taken off the Stize web – Emperor Concerto, you had written on the black chip, assuring me that was not its real name – us listening with the muffler around us in that space and me wondering where such music came from and how it had been discovered as it roared around us in that small flickering space. After the success of that and our return the dinner at the Auburn – the privilege of that and the people who stared because we were too young and unranked for such a thing – the mission call – promises made – and back again this time to Lamarck – two nights before the departure us, again a little drunk, spending all night in a cinema and falling asleep locked in each other’s arms – waking and the shock of it and realising that we had not been discovered – me actually laughing in relief and you looking annoyed. Hatherance wanted a meal before we left but we – without speaking – agreed it was better if no-one felt our leaving and so we left her request unreplied to.

On Lamarck again nights like a prayer all strung together and punctuated by the fighting that you longed to throw yourself into but which we were not supposed to be a part of – the mountain pass and the wards all along it that made my heart hammer and that you said would not hurt us – the firefight in the ruddy mountain dawn – you losing an arm and high-fiving a child you saw on the way back down with your remaining arm, high on the meds – the bunk we found buried there in the mountain – the flare I sent up – cold blue in that crow sky as we watched  – I know what you noticed. I know you noticed and you did not speak to me about it. There are things about me that are not necessary to know about but I tell you now because we might be together again that what you saw happen was not something I willed – was not something that was important to me – not a part of me – come back and ask me and I will tell, I can explain. It was only a light, John – it was only a light.

Back and still surprised at our survival – at least I was and that was all I could tell those who asked – you carried already the awe around you that suppressed questions – the first time we fucked in my bunk and the first time I asked  – just after you appeared at the door and again people stared. Us hoping that because we were lieutenants we would get more time – but two weeks and then the mission call came – the misery of realising that we could not go together – your anger – I know it was anger although you called it other names – the dangerousness that you carried with you – you hurt Gryz badly when he asked, do you not know? – and me standing at the seawall at Thysbe – we said goodbyes, you fonder than I ever remembered – me tearful and stupid – Hatherance calling you a bastard for not saying anything or telling me your departure hour – that did hurt – I wanted to tell her about your way of doing things but that too felt like a betrayal, and my stupidity can govern me. The last quick drive over the cliffmount to the perch you showed me where the ships leave – your great metal insect borne speckling into the light and a roar that came through the air long after.

I watched till I could no longer see your convoy and everyone though again that I was staring into nothing. There was a long contrail left that glowed after night fell, catching stray light.

Do you remember at Afar how I told you that – looking up at the deep sky – it was hard to imagine that there is not a kindness looming somewhere – and you told me how many of the people we knew were dead and I was a stupid dreamer – I must confess that is a large part of what remains with me, this looming kindness I postulate to myself in my head over and over again – what else is there? We come into this place, this world or rock or planet perpetually falling in whatever rut it is lodged in, we improvise, and then we leave, never having had a chance to practise. Everything turns out so thin. I want this war to end.

I hope I see you soon, my love – I will write messages from the field for there is no one here to talk to and you have quelled my tendency to silence.

Remember me,


The word is stopped by the water

The boy squats by the canal. His clothes are flecked with spray. In his hands he holds something slick and alive, like a bomb. It is struggling so he holds it out, away from his face. He laughs. The water in the canal is smooth and deep and muscular. The thing that is alive is fighting for its life. It is struggling. As it moves it nearly slips out of the boy’s grasp and its centre of balance shifts out, away, toward the water. The boy’s voice goes high with delight. It is a shriek with a small intake of breath in it, in the middle. Adults do not make this sound. Without knowing it the boy adjusts to the thrashing weight he holds, as everyone adjusts without knowing it. His hands go out further, he leans forward. He leans forward too fast and topples into the water without a sound. The water carries him away swiftly. He cannot be seen. The thing that he was holding, the thing that is alive, leaps briefly out of the water. Then it is a shape, moving arrowly away, holding against the current. The boy cannot be seen. The canal is long and straight. On one side is wildness and on the other the buildings come down right to the edge. The boy comes to the surface for a moment. He is far down the canal, further than one might think. His arms are out in front of him. They only just come above the surface of the water. His fingers are rigid and clutching. He cries out. The word is stopped by the water. The frail sound disappears fast. It is difficult to tell where he is because of the turbulence. Eddies, foam. He comes up again. His limbs are pale and thin or maybe the stretching water makes its look so.  He turns, burbles. He turns and his face shows. He is not paralysed but the panic and terror of it is pure. He tries to see through the water and his hair. His hair is long and one eye is covered with a wet sheen of it. He cries out but the water grayly pulls him under. The movement looks graceful. The boy sees flashes of blind white sky and then black autistic water, bubbles. Sometimes the sides of his body feel the stony bottom. The boy tries to grasp at things but there is nothing to grasp. It is hard to see him in the water. His head looks like a rock beneath the surface. He tries to cry out again and again until he can only breathe and cannot afford any sound. Then the child is at the surface again. This time he does not disappear underneath. The child tries again and a sound comes like a miracle. It is high and bright with terror. It sounds like he is crying but surely a child in this dark water would be too stupefied to cry. The child makes the same sound again and again. A woman comes running down the canal. Her voices rises but not in the way the child’s voice rises. Her shoes make a stony noise against the pavement. Frantic she takes them off. She nearly trips but does not. She does not stop calling for help. Then she calls the child’s name. She says that she is coming. She tells him to wait. The child cannot wait, the water is taking him down the canal, past the buildings and the storm drains. He turns one way and another and he cannot see the woman but he can hear her. The voice of the woman is hoarse. There is an animal inflection to it. The second syllable of the child’s name she draws out. Not a scream, more necessary than it. Someone hears her. The woman points as she runs. She moves her finger as if tearing at the air. The stranger cannot see the child in the water. The woman is infuriated without feeling it because she can see the child very clearly. She can see him every time he comes up. His hair is grey against the current and it shows. There, she shouts, and the stranger runs to a bend and waits and jumps. The stranger swims well. He goes into the canal often. As he comes out of the water the child’s arms are around him. They are cold. They clasp so tight it is frightening coming from a child. The boy’s eyes are very wide. Water comes off him and his clothes and runs down the legs of the stranger. Even though in the canal it is massed and gray it is very clean on the boy. The woman ignores the stranger. She takes the child in her arms and wetness expands over her clothes. There are small pink cuts on the boy’s palms. His clothes stick to him. The stranger stands against the railings and bends over. He puts his hands on his knees. The child speaks. I was not afraid, the child says. His voice is slightly muffled. His feet are bare. The woman is crying and she presses the boy into her chest and she does not hear him as he says, Mother, Mother, I am not afraid.