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A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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June 2009, vol 5 no 2

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Ken Jones

An Afternoon at the Biographicum

On the stony path
where my shadow points
I follow


Up a previously unknown way through the woods. And in a clearing a rusty storage container bearing the faded letters LUX TRANSIT LOGISTICS. Idly and at random I flip the metal digits of its combination lock and, rather to my alarm, the door slides open. A reassuring backward glance over the great estuary of the Dyfi, spread out below the forest.

The sea gone out
across the grain of the fluted sands
cloud shadows drift


Inside is what looks like an airline seat in a small chamber resembling a planetarium. Musak of the tinkling spheres. A younger self stares out of a screen. “Is this you? (select and click) Welcome to the Skull Cinema!” A row of role folders pops up on the screen – teacher, spouse, politico, lover, ascetic, and so on.

I click on “Son” and a memorable childhood episode begins to play through, like a video, or, rather, in this case, an old film. I see it all through my child’s eyes, and can hear that voice only too well (bullying my sister, as it happens), except it sounds different before seventy years of hard wear. After such a long time I’m a stranger to myself. There’s our chocolate-coloured bakelite wireless. And here’s my anxious mother, with her emotional hunger, wearing that fur boa with the fox’s pointy face. In grainy black and white I relive a life with the irrepressible dead

Some more recent episodes in other roles have a shattering immediacy; things are not as I now recall (though I was apparently better at billiards). “No, don’t do it !” I mutter (like, turn down that job offer, or chat up that woman). But I do. Or, rather, he does. And often, well-deservedly, someone else does, too. Some of the episodes sign off with my/his favourite music of that time. Operatic Verdi can make even folly sound like fun. La Forza del Destino.

Somewhere a heavy coin clunks into a metal box, and EXIT lights up. A moment of panic. But the lights do come on. An affable functionary, with Biographicum on his jacket, offers me a complimentary drink at the little bar. “Enjoy the show, sir?” I hasten out past the “Personalised Souvenirs” and into brittle winter sunshine.

Estuary flowing with light
flood tide
fingering new channels


I glance around for fear of alter egos, doppelgängers or the like waiting to waylay me, and make sure my shadow is coming too. Then off for tea and buttered welsh cakes at the Penhelig Arms.

Again that broken stony path
but not a single pebble
out of place

 

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