My name is Luke.


I’ve been learning to write.

Kathy gave me a Dictionary for my birthday. It is filled with words about words. You have to know what some of the words mean before you can find out the meaning of the others.

I told Kathy that wasn’t fair.  Some kind of theft.  So that those who already know the words feel bigger than those who don’t, can’t or don’t want to.

I told Kathy that it was the same as people with money. They use money to get money so that they are better than or stronger than people who haven’t got money.

I haven’t got money.

I have words and a book of words about words.

Kathy told me that I should learn to write because of my name. The name of an Evangelist.

Luke started by writing this:  “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us.”
And he finished by writing this:  “And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.”

That’s what King James said was written by Luke.

Kathy told me that you had to be a poet to understand the words which were written between these words. If I wanted to learn about what was really written there, I would need to learn Greek and Hebrew and History because everything had been translated and different people thought the same word had different meanings.

“Kathy,” I had asked, “If everyone was in the temple all the time, how did they stay alive?”

Kathy isn’t my mum.

She told me that the most misunderstood word in the world is “love”.

I replied that the most misunderstood word in the world is “fear”.

I had left a cigarette butt on the plate.

“ Smoking can kill you, Luke. ”
“ Everybody dies, Kathy. ”
 
My mum died four years ago on St Valentine’s Day.

They burned her body.  She was scattered over the earth beside a lake. The land was an ashtray for all of those people the world has snuffed out.

My brother was scattered over the earth as well. He hadn’t been born yet. My father wanted to call him Luke Junior.  So I guess I’m Luke Senior.

Luke Junior used to talk to me.

He doesn’t talk to me now.

Let me tell you about my dad.

My father. I’m his only son, his only child.

I love my dad.

Now, he lives in a big house, with lawns, flowers, trees. At times, he works in the garden or the greenhouses. During the summer, we’ll sit on a terrace.  In the winter, we’ll meet in the conservatory at the other end of the terrace.

He’ll smile and hold my hand. He might tell a story about “remember when” but my memory of “when” was always different.

He always says the same thing when I leave.

“Look to the sky. Listen to the wind.”

Sometimes, before I leave, he’ll give me something from the garden. A bag of blackcurrants, fresh carrots, a posy of flowers.

Kathy said he isn’t well, that he must live where people can look after him.

When Dad was well, he had a red van.

Then he had a green van.

Then a blue one.

All of them rattled.

I remember, in the summer, he would take all of his tools, old fires, dustsheets and plaster out of the van and store them in the allotment shed. We would load the van with pans, sleeping bags, an old bell-tent, boxes of food, drink and Wellington boots.
There were cushions, an old mattress, separate bowls for washing hands and washing pots, a water container and a double-burner primus stove he had salvaged from a skip. At times, we went to stay near the sea. Other times we went to festivals where hundreds or thousands of people came to talk, listen to the music and hear the wind in the trees beneath the stars. My Mum used to sing. All of us used to dance.

All of us used to laugh.

I remember Mum singing while she danced on the beach at sunset, her bare feet leaving a pattern across the sands. By morning, the footprints had been washed away.

Dad taught me how to make fires and showed me how to cook without burning the food.

At home, we lived in a house built for quarrymen. Brick and flint in a terrace of brick and flint houses which all looked just the same. The house shook when a door was slammed.

To the North of the house lay woodland, below the old quarry, the scar bitten into the hill. To the South, a river and, further on, a gravel-pit which was now a lake.
At weekends, people would come and walk past the mill, beside the river, some to the lake. They would bring picnics, footballs, dogs and kites. They would eat ice-cream from a van parked at the end of the lane. But during the long evenings of Summer, this was a quiet place, occasionally disturbed by the sound of machines cutting hay, the crack of a shotgun followed by a clamour of crows.

Dad made wine. He would take me on walks through woodland to pick berries, ask at farms for dropped fruit from now unpicked orchards. At the beginning of Spring, he would tap Birch-sap and before making the wine, would give me a glass of the bittersweet liquid he had drained from the trees.

Once or twice a week he would come home from work, dust or soot on his face, and open a bottle. Every so often he would arrive home after calling at the pub on the way. If he drove the van back from the town after a drink, then when he came in, Mum would pick up one of my old trainers and start hitting him around the head with it. Dad just covered his head with his arms and started rolling about on the floor, laughing, while Mum kept hitting him with my shoe and shouting.

The next morning, she would open a bottle of wine and drink it all. As she was drinking it, she talked to herself. About men. About how stupid they are. If it was a warm day, she might take me to the riverside, bring a half-full bottle of wine.  I would run around the grass and woodland in bare feet, wade in the river, spend ages leaning over the bank looking at the reflections of the sky in the rippling water, watching the insects darting with bright colours. Some of them could walk on water. They might be eaten by fish.  A swirl of water at the surface, the glimpse of a cold eye.

Mum would throw pieces of bread for the ducks. Mallards, she said.

She would sing.

“Be kind to your web-footed friends

For that duck may be somebody’s mother.

She lives on her own in a swamp.

Where it’s very cold and damp.
Well you may think that this is the end.

Well it is.”

At school Miss Gibson said we would all be judged in the end.

“Even Ducks?” I had asked.  She sent me to stand outside the classroom.

At school, Miss Gibson had said  “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God.” Then she said  “And if you aren’t good, God will be angry and will send you to burn in fire forever.”  The Word was fear.

Mum said if you remember to love, you forget to be afraid. She told me to watch the waves move through the fields with the wind. She said we were like the leaves in the trees. We live our lives and fall away. She said we were like a river, growing and slowing sown until it dreamed on with the ocean. She said it was something like the sound of the ocean which gave us rest. A lullaby.

Kathy told me that Mum had been to prison once for sitting down in a place where the soldiers wanted to go and refusing to move. Miss Gibson’s dad had been the magistrate who had her locked up.

Miss Gibson’s dad was also the doctor who arrived at the brick and flint house before the ambulance came to take Mum away. I arrived home to find her struggling to get up from the kitchen floor.  On one side of the room, a stool on its side.

Scattered beside it were fragments of a crystal vase she normally kept on the top shelf. Beside the sink, some flowers, still wrapped in paper and cellophane, a card with a message.  Blood on the quarry-tiles.

She smiled at me.  “Mummy went ‘bump’. Mummy’s sorry ”.

When Dad came home, I was still sobbing.  He picked me up and hugged me until I thought I would never be able to breathe again. His voice carried the sound of a creature in pain.

No. His voice had a sound as if all the creatures of the land were in pain.

On the mantelpiece were two cards with red silk hearts.

On the day when all the strangers came I went with Dad in a big black car with seats you could sleep on.  It didn’t rattle at all. We went behind another big black car which carried a box made from plaited willow withies.  Mum and Luke Junior were inside that box. There were flowers all round the box. We drove up a lane to a building with a tall chimney. Dad took my hand and we went in there, following the men who were carrying Mum and Luke Junior. Everybody there came in behind us. I remember somebody sang.

“May the pure light within you shine your way home.”

Then the box went sliding along on rollers as the curtain was drawn.

The smoke blew away with the wind.

A week later, Dad took me for a walk by the river late in the day. All the birds of the woodland and meadow were singing. He carried a cardboard box. As we walked, he opened the box and removed an off-white glazed pot. Like a vase, but with a lid.
He said “This is all we have left of your Mum and Luke Junior.”

As he walked ahead of me, he would take a handful of ashes, swing his arm, and scatter them over the land like seed. The he would take another handful as he slowly walked on. Silhouetted against the sun, past the trees.

Mum used to have a poster on her bedroom wall. She told me it was of a painting by Van Gogh. Dad looked just like the man in the painting. You couldn’t see his face because the sun was so bright behind him. Mum said that’s how they used to plant seeds before the tractors came.

“ When it rains,” Dad had said,  “all that is left of your Mum and Luke Junior will become part of the earth.”

He paused.

“And then, they will become part of the meadowgrass and of the trees, and a part of the wild creatures who live from the land.”

He turned to me and smiled. “Let’s go home, son.” 

That was when Luke Junior started to speak to me.

He only spoke to me when I was outdoors or when I was in my bedroom with the window open.

His voice, sometimes, was like music in my mind.

His voice was carried on the wind, in the shimmering of leaves, in the beating of rain against the window-pane.

Some of the time, it was as if he were weeping. Most of the time he was happy, laughing, sometimes mischievous.

The meadow was filled with flowers that Spring. We would play beside or in the river, climb around the quarry, crash through the woods, dive into the lake. Sometimes we would just lie on the ground and look at the stars or at the clouds changing their shapes as they passed.

Once, we threw gravel at the windows of the Old Mill and as I ran, I heard a voice shout “I’ll screw your little neck like a chicken.”

Later that year, as the leaves began to turn to amber and gold, Dad arrived home in a ratting blue van because the rattling green van wouldn’t rattle any more. Without washing away the soot and the grime, he set off down the track towards the river. As I followed him at a distance I noticed a piece of paper fastened to a gate before I crossed the footbridge by the mill.

Dad was striding along the riverside path and up towards the lake. He stood at the top of the bank for a long time, his shadow growing longer across the meadow. Then he took his boots off. He removed his jacket. He ripped his shirt away and in a minute, all of his clothes were scattered around him. He stood there, his skin amber in the sunlight, soot on his face, around his neck, his arms stretched out, his hands stained with fire ash. He started chanting and singing, like the American Indian songs he would play at times when he had too much wine.

Then he was silent. Then the birds were silent.

His voice like the sound of a creature in pain. “ Enough is enough ”.

He plunged into the lake.

Seconds later when I reached the bank, all I could see in the water was some bubbles rising, the ripples of his dive spreading across the surface, shivering the reflection of the rising moon. I waited until I knew nobody could hold their breath for so long.

For so long.

There was an explosion of water and a whooping intake of breath, my father’s mouth moving the way a fish gulps at the useless air when out of the water.

“What are you doing here, Luke?”

We walked by the riverside, past the mill, up the track. I noticed the expression on the neighbour’s face as she peered through the bedroom window. My father, naked, holding his clothes under his arm. His other hand held mine, while in turn, his boots dangled from my grip.

After that, there were some mornings when I would awake and find Dad still slumped in the armchair from the night before. There were evenings when I arrived home from school to find him there still.  Slumped in the old armchair. Dust on the mantelpiece and on the shelves. His unpolished boots beside the door.

It was a cold Winter.

For a month I could write in the frost which coated the inside of my bedroom window each morning.

I would write “Luke”. I would write “Luke Senior slept here”. I would write  “Luke Junior is my brother.”

During February, the machines came. When I walked home from school, they were there. Two bright yellow ones with JCB written in large black letters and a larger blue one with a bucket fastened to a thick chain.

Dad got drunk and played loud music.

I couldn’t sleep because of Dad’s music.

I couldn’t sleep when the music stopped because Luke kept on talking to me.

Luke wasn’t happy any more.

The next day, when I got home, the meadow beside the river was criss-crossed with scars in the grass, piles of earth, the rattle of engines and buckets crushing the still air in the valley.

Before Easter, the people with money had started to build houses. 

They make a frame out of timber, then they cover that up with panels of wood with holes where all the windows and doors were going to be. On top, they put frames shaped like a squashed letter  “A ”.

When they stopped work for Easter, there were ten partly built houses side-by side. Four were covered in felt, plastic, battens for the roof-tiles. On the first two, the bricklayers had started to build rows and rows of imitation stone bricks around the outside of the wooden boxes.

“ Our house will still be standing when all of these new homes have gone.” Dad had a wry smile on his face.

Two days later, Luke Junior woke me up. Luke Junior woke me up with a wind from the East. I could hear a gate creak open, then slam, then creak and slam again.

Through the window, I could still see the stars, the moon quite high to the West. There was the hint of dawn across the horizon.

As I went through the kitchen to get my coat, I noticed three Easter eggs on the table. On one, Dad had written  “To Luke. Happy Easter from Dad.”  On the next, he had written  “ To Luke. Happy Easter from Mum.”  On the third  “Yo Luke. Happy Easter from Luke Junior.”

From the riverside, shapes and shadows loomed in the moonlight. On one side, the part-built houses were illuminated to one side, as if by searchlight. To the other, the blackest of shadows. I could just make out the outline of a digger, a dumper truck.

Close to the fence, a loaded trailer was propped up on steel legs. It was laden with frames. Within the shape of the letter  “A” was, I realised, another letter. Like a “W ”.  Perhaps an “M”.

I turned away. To the East, the stars were beginning to fade. Across the surface of the river, a series of patterns of light and shade as the gusts of wind roared through the trees and across the valley. A rapid series of splashes from the far bank was followed by the startled cry of a duck, the beat of wings under the slow dawn.

There was a glitter of frost on the field beneath the moon. Motes of light, imitating the stars.

It seemed as if the air were blowing through to my bones.

Luke Junior helped me. Luke Junior helped me to find the pieces of wood and paper. I whittled the wood with my pocket-knife, the pale shavings coming away in curls.

Like my Mum’s hair.

When I lit the fire, the flames flared immediately. I built it up with larger pieces of timber, climbed over the fence to gather offcuts left on the site. We stood close to the fire until it began to glow, the heat penetrating my clothing.  I was staring up at the sky, watching the clouds move past the stars and the moon until it seemed to me that all of the sky was racing past, the clouds barely moving.

Mum had told me how the Earth spins and spirals its way through space faster than anything but, perhaps, space rockets. I was spinning and spiralling through space with my brother on a journey to the stars. I could see his face in the full moon.

The fire became intense, the wind like a bellows, each gust ripping the flame to the west, carrying embers in the air.

When the trailer caught fire, I didn’t notice at first. The tarpaulin draped over the roof frames was alight when I turned around from my dream of flight. As the fire took hold, the flames began to blow sideways, to roar, pulses of sound with each fitful gust of wind until it was like the sound of a storm.  A pall of smoke drifted along the valley, thinned out by the wind, sometimes obscuring the moon. As I moved away, the trailer tyres were burning like Catherine wheels. All golden and red. There was an explosion, then another, as the tyres released the air then the whole trailer shifted to one side as some of the burning letters slipped over. Then the first of the houses was in flames.

My face was burning but Luke Junior was happy.  We ran to the riverside, jumped into the river. It was so cold that I couldn’t move my legs at first. I waded across, the heat burning into my back and ice creeping up from my waist until I slowly came out onto a sandbank by the bend where the ducks would nest. I could still feel the heat from the fire on my face and on my hands. My jacket was beginning to steam.

The smoke whipped into the sky. Sometimes thick and black and then paler in the growing light before sunrise, it formed shapes which would change more quickly than the shapes you see in the clouds when you lie on your back in the meadow. At the base of the smoke, bright red, sometimes incandescent, while great sheets of golden flame would burst and roll through the smoke.

I took all my clothes off and laid them neatly along the riverbank.

When I turned around, I could see the shape of my mother in the smoke.

I could see her dancing across the face of the moon. She was carrying a child in her arms.

Sometimes, a curl of smoke caught the light as if she had grown wings.


Luke started chanting. He used my voice. He chanted the same words which weren’t words which my dad used to chant when he played the Indian music. I dance on the sand at the riverside the way Mum used to dance on the beach. The fire was the pulse for the music, my feet hammered down the beat, Luke singing in my mind and my voice crying to the sky.

I  remember my Mum danced with me. I could tell from all of the footprints in the sand as I raised my head to the sky then cast my sight down to the water, tears of joy rolling down my cheeks, the taste of salt on my tongue.

As the sun rose, a veil of smoke across the moon kept catching a blue light.
Flashing. Like a wing fluttering. Drifting away with the wind as she waved.

I was chanting in the temple.

I was praising and blessing God.

Luke Junior never spoke to me again.

 


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(now try Dave Rose's poems - here)

 

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this island rose: a 15-minute video - words and pictures by Dave Rose with music by Mick Bruce

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