No more clocks and calendars (detail) - Oil on paper - CB 2009
SPIRIT LEVEL LADY
This is not the first time she's been here. Anticipation makes her
clumsy. She brings the door knocker down - too hard, Helen. Too loud.
She’s not inside the building yet, is standing still on the rough side of the door,
wood and woman momentarily chagrinned on the tatty outskirts of Troy.
Tugboats. Traffic. Trains. Impatient calligraphy of sound. She hovers
on the red brick steps at the high tide mark. Above the factory keeper's door,
neither plaque nor polished bell; instead a weather-worn lintel,
tough as a loved old face - grooved, striated, shocked rigid by age –
and four strong numbers staking their claim.
One. Nine. Zero. Seven. Nineteen hundred and seven.
She cannot help herself, quickly does the sums: one plus nine
equals ten plus zero plus seven equals seventeen. Seven plus one equals eight.
Of course - the perfect number for sanctuary and business.
Behind the un-carved door, the double shuffle of footsteps. David.
Russell. They click back the latch, usher her in. Men of few words
they’re all shyness and grace, manage Hello and thank you
and how have you been? Helen checks an inappropriate thought; Heavens alive, Woman.
You want to take your shoes off? You can’t; this is a factory!
It’s a chapel. I must.
In her head – where, mercifully, everything is possible – she does both.
Upstairs, on the factory floor, her eyes adjust to the light.
Three silhouettes – sacristans dressed in deep purple
overalls - look up, nod and continue about their business. Helen hears
humming. Where are the choristers? The darkly-timbred pipe organ? And then
she recalls the previous time, late afternoon industry striking up music,
the pedal-board bellow of wind amongst lathes; the percussive shlip shlop
of slip over metal and slurry over glass. She remembers the mellow undertones
of ochre flocculent in a small harbour basin, glass tubes oscillating
in a modest side room. Here, now, Russell urges her to touch, pick up the pieces,
take photographs. She runs her fingers over tall mesh racks, shining bronze mushrooms;
cools her cheeks on damp clay moulds. A little further on, a blackened steel workbench
is the night sky laid out for the taking - constellations, planets, glowing glass moons.
You work in the apse of a cathedral! She exclaims. They smile. Say nothing. Keep walking.
In the furthest corner of the last small room, Helen finds Frances
focused on her task. Each glass vial is given a two-minute circle
of attention. She has the capture and release of bubbles down to perfection.
At the end of the day, it’s Frances who makes these fragile spirits
soar - every piece a perfect promise. Helen asks her if she remembers how it felt
to be a girl, barefoot in a light cotton sundress, blowing soap bubbles in a garden?
She leaves wanting nothing more than to skip and dip a wire wand
into a glass jar sticky with dishwashing liquid and glycerine.
CB – 2010
Catherine Fitchett is this week's editor on the Tuesday Poem hub where she has posted 'The Olduvai Gorge Thorn Tree' by North Carolina poet, Sarah Lindsay.
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Ann Kjellberg - editor of special press, Little Star - has posted the poem Phi by Tuesday Poet, Melissa Green on the press website. Ann is instrumental in seeing that Melissa's exceptional books - her poetry collections The Squanicook Eclogues and Fifty-Two, and her memoir, Colour is the Suffering of Light - be reissued. You can show your support and add your name to the motivating petition by clicking here.