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Archive: American Haibun & Haiga Volume 3

[Return to Author List, Vol 3 ]

George Marsh

 

Man into Air

rolling tobacco his incense
the clang of the gate
his bell

Here is a man—as light as a sparrow. The skin round his mouth is hard as a beak. I balance the nipple of the nylon drinking cup between his lips feeling his arm like an anglepoise against my side. His gasping widens the splay of my fingers on his ribs. He won’t bother with today’s local election results floating on the radiowaves like ghosts through the prison walls and he won’t ever again taste a drink or confront with his withering intelligence an obstinately literal Prison Officer. He concentrates on something inward—nothing as capricious as thought, but a landscape, perhaps, an arid boundless place where the pain helps focus his attention fiercely on the hard work of trying to fly to the distance beat by beat. This is the Winchester Prison Hospital Wing, a rattling dungeon of Bedlam shrieks, dog-ends and sputum-tissue, neglected by a cheery Trusty, and a smarmy nurse. I go to find the SMO. I say that he’s nominated me next-of-kin, can she tell me the prognosis—and realise with astonishment that she hates everybody, even me. She refuses him morphine, sneers, “He’s devious, he’s not dying”—(she has not met him yet, let alone examined him, but in the world of her projections a man of any moral stature does not, could not exist). I stagger out of her office, the words she spat ringing in my ears. “I’ll give him painkillers when I’m good and ready.” Fergy deals with it better than I do. He’s had four decades to learn. I am deeply ashamed that I cannot care for him, that I have to leave him there.

policing wrappers
in the spring breeze
the stationmaster pigeon

At the platform kiosk I puzzle over what a man is: How to be a Sex God is the cover story, followed by Shooting Machine-Guns with the Rednecks! and The Berk Who Lost Two Million! The cool names are Brett Easton Ellis and Irvine Welsh, and the photo feature is Autoerotica, (pin ups of cars, I think). I walk from the station past suburban gardens. A paterfamilias is mowing the lawn.

the hairy bee
sprawled on a hibiscus carpel
snoring

His father was a man—a hard-drinking wife-beating friend-brawler, who thrashed Fergy with a belt-buckle when he refused to eat stew simmered of his pet rabbit, spoon-stabbed at his soft mouth. But you can’t refuse your father; his alcohol and violence rushed up Fergy’s capillaries, entryists, pickling his heart, and erupted on Christmas Day as the drunken boy of twenty-one killed his girl bride.

on a path in the park
a young woman practises
quick white stick taps

Fergy has never had a sniff of a BMW; he scorns the men whose cells are ripe with girly pix, men “in thrall to bimboism,” (that’s his phrasing, and he calls it “self-inflicted bondage, the injustice which they have imposed upon themselves,” in his gravelly mining-town Geordie). Money does not cascade through his hands in jackpot imagery: he earns four pounds sixty two pence each week. But he is a stone in the shoe of a Governor, indomitable with murderous convicts, and bracing to my bland goodwill. Over forty years of incarceration he has found the irreducible core of a man: mind, and will. There is no likeminded thinker to appreciate this. He tells me, “No-one will ever know I lived.” His speech is cast in Victorian prose from the prison library, poured through the pursed vowels and rotten lungs of County Durham, an eloquence finely wrought and strange: “I am a caricature devoid of humour.”

bathers on the beach—
the swifts will arrive
in the next few days

Fergy is in Heaven. He is not conscious that for his last hours he has been released from his Life Sentence into a hospice and lies in a bed of lovely linen in a brightly painted room, flowered and sunned through rose curtains, and he is touched with motherly care, perhaps for the first time, by a great exponent of the Hippocratic oath whose kindness opens the sluice on my heartís pity as none of the callous neglect ever did. It is goodness that makes us cry, not suffering. Fergy is Christian and I murmur in his ear about angels and light. His body now is stiff as saltcod, drying into the warm air.

[Return to Author List, Vol 3 ]

 


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