this morning i came within sound of the sea

for a man whose eyes till now were a bed of rock
whose hands were drier than deserts
the sea's voice drove fear up through the valley
the tributaries meandering inside me longing for outlet
shrivelled even as their own courses became straight

my demand for ocean died now the ocean approached

the clouds put up with a lot of invective from me today
not a stone lay upon the earth in its right place
the valley upheaved into a mountain and the sea froze
the hardness in me was all fluid - i cried to be melted away

i could not bring myself down into the green pastures
or lay myself out amidst fruits and believe the sun
the truth i'd been stumbling towards i hated the heart of
the sayings of those i'd killed enchanted my ears
my instinct was to turn and run inland forever

and on the morrow i went down to the sea
and stood for a long time for the waters to calm me
i let my feet root among the shingle and seaweed
and my mind bobbed on the cove's waves absorbing their rhythms
what i had come for i found looking for me - and the green
world conceiving inside me smashed through my skin

the sheer stupidity of the sea

going on and on mounting the land
and falling away again
gathering to itself a compendium
of its own tricks
                               not thinking
that any one cares which way the tides
alter the look of the beach
but just doing it like an animal
because it has to - having nothing else
it could reasonably do and remain

     it's that stupidity
in all its sheerness that people
(unable to admit in themselves)
find to worship in water - and that's why
they can't get it out of their dreams
and (near it) regress into children
(the only unashamed animal-bit
they have left in themselves)
classrooms should be down by the sea


as the waves attempt to make the sea wall
and the wind (in a fear of an impotent fury)
can only beat its chest in a green rage

what is the hand that slyly digs into the dark
of ages and finds (in the bed of some ancient rock)
that fuel instantly igniting - and thrusts it up
like a hard fist smashing the waves out of their socket

to take the land (and its most pleasurable
nooks and crannies) and in the coming blue calm
goes its mysterious way - and likes no credit

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Part (iv) takes another step back, retreating out of theatre into educational drama, but in the belief that here is where the bullet was first bitten, the ebb tide turned round (or whatever!).

educational drama took the old nut
and cracked it open - it declared
we have no intention of remaking the old nut

And, as a result:

freedom was granted a space
eternity was held in a hand

Well, for a while. Slowly authorities began to realise something earth-shaking was happening, so they had to devise ways of seeming to approve but making the whole experience a safe one (safe for them, the authorities).

william whitelaw is sent in with a message
if drama will give up its arms
it will be allowed to survive

if it will agree to abide by the law
it can dance as it pleases

if it denies its subversion
it can help paint the fruit on the trees
and encourage the children to eat them

Benign manipulation is born.

now children here is a body of knowledge
and i in the name of free drama
am going to let you do as you like
and use your ideas in such a way
that you will want to go into that body of knowledge
and find out what i happen to think is good for you
to find out
(no - i'm not tricking you
look i have nothing
up my sleeve or behind my back)

and if what we find happens to make you
wiser people and better citizens
so much the better eh

and i shall tell any visitor who asks
yes it is the children's own work

remember children it is all your own work
don't keep looking at me while you're doing it

Actually that passage cuts to the quick of what it was, and still is, mostly, to be a drama-teacher. Educational drama from its beginning, with the likes of Peter Slade and others who have slipped back into the mists, never really freed itself from the delusions surrounding what was genuinely the children's own imaginations at work. The structures have not existed for children to be themselves fully and untrammelled by adult suggestion. The personal interests of the teachers, with their own views on the nature of the manna that should fall from heaven. too easily become the wishes of the children. It is impossible to be free of that corruption (if that's what it is). In a way the story-line of Through the Circle attempts to pick itself through all the brambles (of the pleasurable tricks authorities play to allow their charges to be happy at being manipulated) towards the dream of the receivers knowing exactly what their own responsibilities are in a manipulation-free situation. But this is not to say that at some point I have not played the manipulator's game in search of a more pleasing result. The role of a non-manipulator is hard to be true to.

how interesting children you've chosen the wars of
      the roses
the history man was hoping you would

However, over my years as a Drama teacher, concerned to understand the nature of manipulation and to move as far as I could away from its coils, I did manage to concoct a list of what drama-for-itself was about, and, imperfectly maybe, tried to grow by it

drama is not a subject
it is not a knowledge-tool
it is not a behaviour-mechanism
it is not a pleasant way of doing unpleasant things
it is not a conditioning tablet
it is not a punishment block for awkward children
it is not a new way for a teacher to do his old job
it is not a carrot
    on the end of the headteacher's stick
it is not a pourer of oil over troubled waters

it is not a provider of qualifications nor a booster for

    academic success
it is not an ego trip for the teacher

it is subversive to all such concepts
it is concerned intimately
    with the problems of fulfilment
with the release of people from authority
with the exploration (through practical problems)
    of the possibilities of being equal and free
with what people are in themselves
    and what they aspire to
with the physically imaginable world
with the unity of language and flesh
with the relationships of
    people with people
    and people with space
with the birth to death cycle
    and the meaning of nature
with the here and now translation of myths
with looking at life steadily and seeing it whole

Although there can be a lot of laughter in the drama class, at heart drama is an intensely serious concept, pitching itself against the ready availability of entertainment-which:

supposes an extraordinary world
    that ordinary can't enter
but must see through the window and gawp at

Educational drama started with big ideas, but always in the service of its young makers. By becoming drama in education, and then education through drama

neither drama nor education makes sense
in hierarchical terms
to be made to fit the system
both must be declared insane

their dreams are clipped off
(their voices castrated)
they go about in dark suits
respect their headteachers
they cannot open doors
with their broken fingers

educational drama has become drama-in-education
it has cut out its eyes and turned itself inwards
has done patch-up jobs on one or two junkyards
has bred exotic roses that bloom long under glass
it doesn't know how to move outwards
and stay true to itself

By contrast:

the spirit of drama is shy
it exists in the drab and the lonely
it is sick with the showmen the dressers of shit
it looks for an ordinary way amongst ordinary people
that's when its miracles come
when the colours well up from the heart
and language comes out of the mouths in deep-
rooted rainbows

So drama awaits. Clearly, by this point in the thesis,
on the side of the meek, who, in the end, are to triumph
in any world conditioned by the spirit, the
inner energies of the Drama Movement are in place
to re-inform and remotivate the dead theatrical

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core story




1. all life is contained within the temporal

2. it dreams of - aspires to - is in awe of - envies and fears the eternal

3. all living creatures (whether animal vegetable or mineral) and aspects of life (that relate to - or are consequences of - the living instinct) are conceived are born grow mature climax decline and die in traceable (though widely differing) spans

4. the temporal registers itself as aeons which contain eras (time on a millennial scale) which contain ages which are quantified as centuries decades years months days hours minutes seconds etc

5. an aeon is beyond human effect - an era marks a shift in human consciousness so immense and deep that it alters the perceived nature of life at every level - an age marks a shift in human meaning within the overall assumptions of an era.

6. a change of eras comes about when a governing spiritual assumption about the nature of the relationship between the infinite and the temporal is overthrown in favour of a new spiritual assumption around which then accrues different structural concepts of the nature of life (and the role of human beings in relation to spiritual forces) in terms of themselves and every other living entity.

7. a change of age occurs when the governing spiritual assumption shifts a gear or is seen (through an advance of understanding) in a different light.

8. life grows invariably from the inner core to the outer surface - all change perpetrated on that surface is a consequence of the development of the spiritual assumption at its core, which itself cannot avoid the conception-to-death shift that affects all life - nothing discovered consciously is more than a limited innovation (an experiment with increasingly available resources) towards the fulfilment of the seed-intentions of the spiritual assumption currently in control.

9. each spiritual assumption (or sufficient change in spiritual assumption) creates its own underlying and overriding structure - establishing itself in both a symbolic and practical way in order to contain and clarify all the meanings and interpretations possible of its fundamental view of life and the relationships it is capable of engendering.

10. at the death of one spiritual assumption (and at the arising of another) the symbolic structure belonging to the former has to give way to that of the latter - however (living nature being what it is) that changeover cannot take place tidily or without pain - it is analogous to the shedding of one snake's skin for the next.

11. the most calamitous and dangerous times for living entities to endure come with the changing of aeons or eras or ages when old structures have to give way to new - but without there existing the conscious skills to see in the changes proficiently - the greater the change, the more painful the living process
when an age dies at the same time as its era (or when both die at the same time as their aeon) then the living entity is put under unbearable stress.

12. we may well be at that point now

13. the release of the ordinary human spirit may require such a cataclysmic change

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1. each age organises itself around its spiritual assumption
and comes up with its symbolic structure to organise itself through

2. that symbolic structure is translated by architects
working under the intense pressure of the multifarious needs of the time
(each anxious to interpret the spiritual assumption in its own backyard)
into an earthly building
which accrues around the space-shape best suited
to convey the relationships (implicit and explicit)
needed by the assumption to prove itself

3 this space-shape houses the meeting-place or assembly point
and by its mere proportions and use of height and distance
induces the rules that control the conditions
governing the relationship between
the assembly's officers (the doers and conveyors)
and the general body (the receivers)

4 this assembly-paradigm is then adopted
(and temperamentally adapted)
by each Institution required by the Assumption
in order to transmit its own special segment of the Assumption's overall meaning

5 the more authoritarian the structure insisted on by the Assumption
the greater the use of height and distance
to separate doers from receivers
or (where height and distance are impossible to impose)
the greater the barrier erected
(heavy desk or table - superior quality of chair etc)

6 the theatre
(in which the actor-audience relationship is the key factor)
provides the simplest template
for understanding the Institutional structure
the Cartesian sound-bite I think therefore I am
(head before body/thought before feeling)
exactly resolves itself into a stage
protected by a proscenium arch and heavy curtains
into a lit space
(where the actions and important decisions are played out)
and a darkened auditorium
(where the receivers of the message anonymously sit)

7 its actors are not meant
to show their backs to the audience
(remember Stephen the Round's knife)
the power of the back wall
(through which the voice of God -or the Assumption's presence
makes itself felt)
is the proscenium's most awesome effect
the seat of the all-judging authority
that holds both actor and audience in thrall
(even if they won't consciously admit it)

But the Inner Wall of the Cathedral of OHS
part-containing arm of the passageway round
sees beyond the impasse

1 what happens to the back wall
(seat of the ultimate power
protector and invoker of doers)
in the round

2 actors hone their techniques
on the tensions between
the back wall's authority stance
and the receivers in front
in service to one
wanting slaves of the others
such actors imbibe
a whole set of subliminal instructions
they would drop dead without
(symbolically speaking of course)
take such protections away
(not to mention costume scenery lighting etc
and all such supports to weak flesh)
they could be identity-less

3 the actor-in-the-round
survives in a world so different
it should be a planet apart
there is no back wall
to be father-on-high
no slaves sitting hushed in the dark
(they actually have faces - they're real)
but see one - turn your back on the other
such knives you'd expect to be whizzing
but - hang on - there are four back walls
each side of the acting space
which each part of the audience sits with its back to
authority has its back to the wall
(so it can't have a knife stuck in)
so where's the authority now
it must reside with the people
so whom does the actor serve
the people - and they're real
so look at them when you speak
(the authority-demand down the ages)

4 in the round
the audience carves the actor
into three hundred and sixty slices
with its knife-sharp eyes
and each operation is equal but different

This is what the INNER WALL says
(the back wall on four sides to what it encloses)

nothing can stay as it was
when this new world explodes into being

but being a cosmic thing
it can only come slowly

and since human beings are concerned
the mess is bound to be bloody

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core story



Word And Action the practical structure
the transformative longing
cloaked in symbolic walls
of the Round's changed assembly offer
out of the New Age's dreamt-for
spiritual assumption
we imagine - therefore we can be
tackling the perennial problem head on
of the mutual suspicion
hatred and the need for each other
of individual and collective
one and the many
particular and general
the fulfilment of the group
is the sum of the fulfilments of all its members

and (to reconcile the old opposites
the left and the right of politics
in the spirit of yes AND no

without equality there is no freedom
without freedom there is no equality

with a touch of semantics

inequality depends upon uniformity
e-quantity depends upon sameness
e-quality depends upon diversity

Word And Action declared itslf as
a language-arts organisation
exploring the creative use of English
in all possible forms

a community (theatre and writing) service

all performances to be done in-the-round
and presented in the here-and-now
all its assemblies to be seated likewise

an equal responsibility company
(all jobs to be shared
or allocated evenly
so no need for consensus or voting)
an equal wage throughout
all would-be members to choose their own joining
(no previous qualifications demanded
a refusal to expect cv's)

in the light of the company's
expressed purposes intentions and limitations
all members to name their own going

hierarchy of experience was inevitable
the company did what it could
to demean the hierarchy of power

Word And Action set out to be organic
new members choosing to join
expected voluntarily to accept
the state of the company till then
and its reason for being
and to help the company to grow
by its unusual intrinsic agenda

and out of this structure
there bred a sense of its creative agenda
instant improvised and scripted
theatre drama and poetry workshops and courses

scripted work to aim
at the reduction and removal
of the power of the director
poetry to be part of performance
its workshops and courses
to range through reading and writing
and publishing to stretch
from the gathering of courses' material
to local anthologies
and individuals' collections
and local poetry magazines

in all aspects
authorities not to be deferred to
celebrities not to be encouraged
Word And Action's job
was to tap the creative roots
of the ordinary human spirit
to be available
to poverty disability
deprivation however dressed up
to the whole range of ages

it had no time
to be a community action group as well
the most important job in the world
is to physically-nourish the needy
the second is to nourish
the deprived human spirit
(both are too much
for any one organisation)

nor did Word And Action exist
to placate the authority view
of what the arts world
should properly be about
authority (painful to relate)
is more of a disease than a cure

Word And Action started
less well off and secure
than proverbial church mice
(no generous vicar with crumbs)

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get out of my way i'm going through

the grey wall like a hoop round the barrel
holds in the churches the grange
the warder with the peaked cap the moustache
the kitchener eyes the pointed finger
drilling me back back against the tombstone

for this my cenotaph i have paid - am paying
my guts out for a few words' epitaph

this was the man i needn't have been

the gate is a drink when i have no more squares left

call me my lovely from the cleft in the rocks
outside over the plain where the wind howls
its intolerable melodies into the cold
and the tree is stuck up like two fingers
split by a tornado
                              a wild thing must
thrash and thrash amongst the lost ones
who (man's midnight) have found the gate their
stoned compulsion - you there gynt upon
the farmost crag i am your timid self
collecting the blood to join you - and brand
(my sternest dream) name the depths i must
strip down to if i'm to go your road of ice

i believe beyond the ridge the land is homely
there will be room for those i kip with here

but don't come with me if you don't have to

stay where the
grass is lush meals are comfortable
breeze and lute stay in tune
lovers fumble each other by warm wall
(within your smile i am honeycomb - becalm
me in nylon sheets those blue lagoons)

even where our fight is desperate this world
knows how to butterfly my aches and soften
the granites my convictions are built on
but o the gate
                       the gate
                                       in the midst of
ejaculation it stares at me mocking my
impotence - in the hearth of a kiss i hear
its satirical latch booming in space

the deepest bell of the inchcape rock
has its fingers on me - the muezzin is for
my ear only
                        the furies of cape horn
the scratch of the mountain goat and the
ice-deaths of tibet - through the gate
and across the plain they lie in wait for me

i must speak to them even if they do lie

the future may well turn out to be the past
the flint outside the gate the grass inside
gynt and brand my lonely bank-clerks
sycophants to money and the status quo

don't hold me back my dearest i have to go
(even if it's the dearth of all i know)

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During the eighties
my wife eventually divorced me (1982)
Jack (first son of my partnership) was born - Feb 1983
my mother (Kate) died aged eighty - Oct 1983
Our daughter (Kate) was born Dec 1985
and died thirteen days later
My father (Albert) died aged one day short of ninety-two Sept 1986
Matthew Albert (our second son) was born May 1987

My two partners myself and our six children
were all born on single-figure birthdays
with a strange set-order to it
my wife and first daughter (Pat) on the first
my second daughter (Sue) and son (Andrew) on the eighth
Jack and Kate on the fourth
Matthew on the fifth
Liz on the seventh (sixth without BST)
Myself on the sixth

Matthew was born on May 5th - Karl Marx's birthday
If Kate hadn't died Matthew wouldn't have been born
Kate Alice Reeve = KAR
Matthew Albert Reeve = MAR
Matthew was born in my 60th year - in Latin LX
none of this realized until weeks after Matthew's birth
and sometime after his name was registered

For the first four years of Jack's life
I was touring (mostly abroad) for seven months each year
when Matthew was born such a schedule became impossible
in 1991 (with the company now employing over twenty people - full or part-time
and with over a hundred years' experience among them)
I decided it was time for me to pull away from the centre
both to concentrate on a heavy writing programme
but (importantly) to let others get the feel
of the company structure without me
I was aware from the mid-eighties
of fifteen plays I needed to write
of a long poem
(started on my father's ninetieth birthday in 1984)
I had to complete
but most of all -

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Extract from Second Shepherds' Play

Then Mak comes in wearing a big coat.

Now by the seven names
Of our Lord
Who made the moon
And far more stars
Than I can put a tag to -You Lord
You haven't shown too much concern
For me in your great plan.
I'm all at sixes and sevens
And that often causes
My brain to rattle.
I wish to God that I
Was now in heaven
Where there are no brats
Crying on and on.

Who is that whining so piteously?

Would to God
You could know my troubles.
Look at me -
A man who walks on the moor
And is out of his wits.

Mak - where have you been?
Tell us what's up.

So he's arrived.
Everyone keep an eye on his things.

He goes to take Mak's coat from him.

Watch it. I'm a yeoman -
I tell you - from the King
The self and the same.
A great Lord's messenger
And suchlike.
So keep your hands off me.
Get out of my sight.
I'm entitled to reverence.
What do you mean - who am i?

Why are you being so toffee-nosed?
It's wrong of you Mak.

Mak, you don't have to play the saint.
That's what it looks like.

If the rogue is out to deceive us
The devil might hang him!

I'll put in a complaint.
At a word from me
I could get you all flogged.
I'll tell on everything you've done.

Mak, that's not very wise.
Now spit out that hoity-toity speech
And let it fall on a turd!

Mak - the devil in your eye.
I could give you a beating.

Mak - don't you know me?
By God I could thrash you.

Why - God save you all three!
I thought I had met you before.
What a good lot you are.

What are you getting at now?

A rogue nosing around
As late as you are
What are we meant to expect?
You - with your bad reputation
For stealing sheep.

What - me true as steel -
As everyone knows?
Oh dear. I'm feeling very sick.
It's making me boiling.
My belly's upset.
I'm out of condition.

You don't often find the devil
Dead by the roadside.

I'm aching all over. I'm ill!
As sure as I stand stone-still
I haven't eaten a morsel
For a month or more.

How is your wife?
Is she getting on well?

She lies sprawled -
Cross my heart -
By the fire.
With a house full of kids.
And she's drinking well too.
No luck for any
Other good she'll do.
She gobbles as fast as she can
And each year that comes my way
She brings forth a baby
And (in some years) two!

And even if I was more prosperous
And richer by far
I'd still be eaten
Out of house and home.
Oh she's a foul shrew
If you get too near.
No one who's met her believes
He's met a worse one.
Now do you see what I proffer?
Tomorrow at the latest
To give all in my coffer
As an offering for her soul.

There can't be anyone in this county
So wearied from waking.
I'd sleep
Even if I got less wages.

I'm so cold I feel naked.
I must have a fire.

I'm weary.
Worn out with walking
And having to run in the mire.
Hey - wake up!

It's no good.
I'm going to lie down here.
I must get some sleep.

I'm as good a man's son
As the rest of you.
Mak - come over here.
You can lie down between us.

And then I'd stop you
Whispering no doubt
All the things
You need to say to each other.
From my top to my toe
Manas tuas commendo
Pontio Pilato
Christ's cross -
Speed me on my way.

They all sleep.........

Except Mak....He gets up and says:

Now it's time for a man
Who lacks what he wants
To steal secretly into the fold
And get nimbly to work.
Not being too bold
In case he pays too dearly for it
When the reckoning comes.
Now it's time to move quickly
But you need good counsel
If you want to do well
And you're short of the ready.

First a magic circle -
As round as the moon
Till I've done what I have to -
Let's say until noon.
May you lie stone-still
Till my task is done
Now I must utter
These few good words:
High over your heads
I lift my hand
Out with your eyes -
And perish your sight!

But I must get a move on
If things are to go right.

Lord don't they sleep soundly!
Now all of you listen.
I was never a shepherd
But I'll now learn to be one.
If the flock is scared
I'll have to grab a sheep tightly.
Watch - they're coming this way!
A fat sheep I dare say
Will bring joy out of sorrow!
If I can lift a good fleece
Well when i can - I'll repay!
But this one I'll borrow.

He seizes a sheep and runs off

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each month the road to ansty
placards us with different slogans
of itself - there's a summing-up
of nature's sleight of unrepeating
hand (slipping so deeply into dark
and out again with colours forms
textures never quite sensed before)
the car takes half an hour to cut

through dorset hills lanes and woods
with neither of us giving time
to what the current manifesto is
but rather locked in conversations
trivial to squirrel or a bird
but real enough to us for whom
this glut of casual beauty (care-
lessly put out) is a passing phase

the cottage is a different world
the car is docked and stepping out
into a vista lightly fixed
for ages we are made to let
our skins give way to green demands
not here the cliched brushing-off
of change (the tired eye's tucking-in)
the swift slip-by and nothing's altered -

each month (within the long-life calm)
we're made aware how much the wheel
has turned - how green re-homes as brown
bareness breeds a longing in itself
and finds spring in its pocket - how hills
that one month eat like horses from
your hand the next are pushed away
by glowering clouds - how rain that tip-

taps idly on the grass comes next
with slashing razors - how trees
hard-put to push a leaf or two
so soon are bucketing with fruit
- how the wisteria sucks your eyes
away with its soft mauve then turns
its leaves on you and lets the mallow
play at pink-doves through the summer

here now the sun has had the day
untrussed by cloud - its warmth though
much too ruffled by the wind for us
to sit outside - the garden's shifted
(as gardens do before the summer's
been told officially to end)
into its autumn togs and the cottage
has that slightly pulled-in feel

as if the spirit of good living
must leave the fields and take its spell
indoors - in the recent heavy rain
the hedges (no longer hobbled backs)
have found as many arms as siva
and thrust them fiercely to the sky
stealing the lake and fields from view
again the cottage turns in on itself

and in this atmosphere and with
the turbulence of nature shut away
we come into the monthly room armed
with tea and pauline's special cake
to have another go at probing
who we are - what inner nature is
as pooled by three-decaded men
whose words are bridges to each other

seventy- sixty- fifty-plus - the three
of us have found this wrapt lacuna
in the month to spell our poems out
at ease and have them listened to
with equal relaxation - we draw
a resonance (a surging sap)
from the roots this cottage has
in the earth and vision of the place

this the triple gathering of men
who monthly meet at ansty - cottaged
and secure against vicissitudes
their lives have put them through and their
writing has taken as its roots - three
long-past blown assessments of themselves
but child-like enough to love their words
fluttering then settling in the room

and this they share - much truck with daughters
fathers of fourteen (fifteen) children
(four are boys - and three of those are mine)
an easy access to the feminine
the games it's played with how they could
be men - the speechless doors it's opened
in language trying to make sense
of what dark impetus propels them

they seek to celebrate the word
not to bring their knives out on a poem
dissecting it to find a heart
whose beat lies naked on a table
not to score in triumph on a line
no sensitive would put a nostril to
but simply to receive it as an
offering glimpsing the sacred there

the most despised belittled
enervated creative cowcake
of them all in the public eye
prestigious when it doesn't matter
to the clapped-out powers and turned
away from when too awkward and
impolitic to confront - ball
to be bounced from high art to low

when fights break out amongst the teachers
and shakespeare's wielded as a cane
as the rich old crusty clan reverts
to the days it hated him at school
but loved the beatings - loudhailer
broken-down old-banger any ram-it-
up-your-arse and suck-my-prick to those
who want to tear chintz curtains down

and shock the cosy populace to taste
life at its rawest (most obscene)
courtesan to fashion and today's
ploy - advertisement's gold gimmick
slave of beat and rhythm - dead but
much loved donkey in the hearts of all
who learned di-dah di-dah at school
and have been stuck in the custard since

plaything political-tool pop-
star's goo - poetry's been made to garb
itself in all these rags and riches
this age applauds the eye - is one
of outward exploration - the earth
(in life) and universe (in fiction)
are there for scurrying over - haste
is everything and the beat is all

fireworks feed the fancy - a great ah
rewards the enterprise that fills
night skies with flashing bountifuls
of way-out stars - poetry has to be
in service to this want (is fed
into the system gracelessly)
there can be no standing-still or
stopping-by no take a little time

and see what blossoms here - we're into
poetry in motion and all that shit
and i can accept it all - what stirs
the surface of the ocean ignores
the depths - what talks the hindlegs off
the day can't murder dreams - that's not
to say the depths and dreams aren't there
for those who need them - it's commonplace

they hold the keystones of our lives
i fear something else much deeper
the diabolical self-deceiving
(wilful destruction of the spirit)
by those loudspeaking themselves
as poetry's protectors - publishers
editors literature officers
poetry societies and centres

all all jumping on the flagship
competition's crock of gold
find the winners pick the famous
all the hopefuls cry please name us
aspiring poets search their wardrobes
for the wordy swimsuit likely
to catch the eyeful of the judges
(winners too in previous contests

inured to the needle of success
but this time though now they are tops
totally pissed-off with the process
only here because the money's good)
winners' middle name is wordsworth
losers swallow a dose of shame
organisers rub their golden hands
pride themselves on their discernment

these jacks have found the beanstalk
castle harp and the golden egg
the stupid giant and his frightened wife
who let them steal their best possessions
whose ear for poetry's so poor
they think fum rhymes with englishman
and so of course they get no prizes
thief and trickster now come rich

poetry's purpose is to hit the jackpot
so great the lust for poetic fame
thousands without a ghost of winning
find poems like mothballs in their drawers
sprinkle them with twinkling stardust
post them off with copperplate cheques
the judges wipe their arses on them
the money's gone to a super cause

Return to
core story






For some years I played that game for all I was worth. I was the scum's CIA, the mocking redemptor of the down-and-out, the one who could see beyond the unseeable. My territory was the gall-bladder. There was not a human ailment, crime or sin that did not leave its stone in that much discarded organ. The gall-bladder was the seat of the deepest pain known to the human frame. Its deposits were so often argued to be the symptom not the cause, as though the liver itself was by far the greater oligarch in that part of the body-state. I knew differently. The ripping of the gall-bladder from a sufferer's body was to remove the only revitalising sanctum for a being's bitterness. Bitterness inwardly denied must spew outwards, or dig deeper into the impenetrable channels of a person's mythologically inturned landscape. I was a great success. Detectives have always been incurable romantics. In their born-again period, so many carried hearts, souls, eyes, mouths, faces, brains, minds on their banners. And of course there were the scurrilous romantics who proposed the sexual organs as their cause celebre, and seats of evil. There was a smaller coterie that reached to the liver or the spleen or the kidneys, as the important organs of communication. Many foreswore the physical and went for the more obviously spiritual. I was the first to my knowledge who attempted to solve the deep mysteries that came his way by treating the gall-bladder as the door into the mystic centre.
I tell you this now with something akin to self-contempt, although no one can be detached from the fashions of the day, no matter how much such knee-jerking is denied. For a while it gained me fame (or notoriety) to a degree, and enabled me to live with some disreputable comfort. They were dangerous times too - after one particularly vituperative denigration of the liver as the detective's most valuable hieroglyph, I was the victim of a scalpel attack in broad daylight, wielded by a nonagenarian long past-it surgeon whose whole life had been bound up with liver-transplanting. He was after mine, and got too close for my own comfort before a young adulator of mine managed to kick his legs out from under him. But not before the scalpel had penetrated some centimetres into my flesh and somehow broke off in our mutual fall, leaving part of its blade behind. My tissues still remember the pain.

I reached for the magicator and pressed the blue stud. The ringing coughed to a halt and immediately a small square to the side of my visuals screen came alive with a rush of grey and black lines across it, accompanied by the kind of hissing one would have associated years ago with a container of enraged snakes. This erratically cleared to a face peering quizzically into a camera. Indistinct as the image was, I knew the face had a familiarity about it, but in my sunken state I could not find name or place to fit the face to. Until, in response to my identifying my agency, the face spoke - and then too much came back in too great a rush. Hagisia Ratchet, one of the unfortunate women in my life and whose mere presence in this city would account for the foul moods that have squatted on me for the past month. The last I'd heard of Hagisia Ratchet, she'd been at least a thousand miles clear of here, and in such a dire way it seemed inconceivable that she could have somehow recovered to turn up now more or less on my doorstep.

She had been my last client in my gall-bladder days. It was she who blew my reputation out of the water. She had come to me after at least six other agencies had locked their doors on her. She'd travelled through the organs in her search for a sympathetic ear. She was expecting to be murdered any day, by any one or more of a host of would-be assailants, none of whom she could put any bodily description to. She was paranoid beyond belief, convinced utterly at different times that she was being got at through her hair, her brain, her neck, her heart, her liver, her sexual organs. She was so into the specialisations of the Investigation Agencies of the day that she could outquote any of the high-flying experts. Nobody could do anything for her. Her faith in each particular organ in the brief time she averred it brought shame to the detectives themselves, whose level of self-belief gave way at a remarkably shallow level to the usual cynicisms of their trade.

Hagisia Ratchet, known colloquially of course as The Hag or The Haggis, was victim to a deep, deep disturbance. Well, her name for a start.....but it wasn't really like that. Her real name was something else. What I'd never found out. Hagisia Ratchet was her own choice of a name, adopted when she was in her forties. The only name, she said, that actually spoke to the outside what she spiritually felt herself to be within. So the name was not the cause but the result of her disorder. She was, exactly, a storm in a teacup. A porous teacup. Her diarrhoea was not simply verbal - it was her feelings that abused their container. I had no doubt, when she crossed my path in her sixties. that her soul was of good quality. In its constant outpouring though it was like the princess's beautiful yellow hair that would not stop growing, so that eventually it became the world's greatest curse.

I took Hagisia on because all the others had abysmally failed. I was riding a gall-bladder high. Spectacularly so. My previous case had rescued a fine young blonde from the lascivious clutches of her gall-bladderless guardian. That case brought me multiple rewards and, I must confess, a certain degree of guilt. However...... A few days after the sensational completion of the case, where I was able to demonstrate knowledge of the symbolism of the gall-bladder reaching back into Babylonian times - did you know for example that the first recorded removal of the organ was carried out in the Tower of Babel? - I received a hastily-scrawled letter of the old fashioned variety (more or less unknown since the collapse world-wide of the ancient postal services) shoved under the door of my office. It was during a period of heavy rain and the writing was smudged to such a degree that I could read nothing but the name of the writer (clearly) and fragments of an address. In this way I met the name of Hagisia Ratchet, but with no inclination to waste hours (days, weeks maybe) searching for the body that went with it.

I was not to escape from her that easily. Within two hours she was back inside my office, trying the door, walking straight in and leaping to sit on my desk that was of sufficient height for her to have to dangle her legs, she was that short. She introduced herself with some such doggerel rhyme:

the heart is common as dirt
the brain does as it's told
the lungs so choked that they hurt
the gall-bladder is gold

"Private papers of the ancient Keats - or was it Yeats?", she continued, "Hullo my dear Donald Cherryman, I'm Ratchet, Hagisia Ratchet. You'll be hearing from me." And she walked out. She was so short her ears barely came up to the door-pull. The next time I met her she turned up in my home.

I'd had a miserable day, not unconnected with the fine young blonde, and had got home late. I went straight for the dry shower, spilling the medicated sweat-powder I was so exhausted; then, pulling on my dressing gown of many colours, staggered into the bedroom. Hagisia Ratchet was sitting like a naughty schoolgirl on the foot of the bed. I stared, she grinned - wrinkles rearranging themselves on her facial skin like iron filings. "I get what I want", she said. I had nothing to say, thinking all the wrong things. She was wearing worn out greenish footwear that could have been slippers on anyone else, puce half-slacks, a lemony jumper crying out to be unravelled and her hair was so thin she could have passed as bald with a few strings attached. She was already a monster.

"I am about to become an avid gall-bladder enthusiast", she asserted in a deep voice that could not be hers, but unbelievably was. I stayed stunned. I was desperate for sleep, but I had become rooted into the bedroom floor, my eyes propped open by her outrageous behaviour.

"Do you mind if I get a drink?" she boomed, bouncing off the bed and going to the drinks-tray, where she poured herself a major Serpico.

I have been scared to my marrow very few times in my life. That was one of them. She seemed not to notice. "Many people are trying to murder me and I haven't a clue what they look like. I want you to track them down and" (this with a grand actoressy gesture of the worst school) "e-ra-di-cate them!" And she did a prolonged dance on my best Laplandian carpet. "And I shall reward you in every way your dreams and vanities demand!"

I guessed then it had to be a set-up; she had to have been listening to the whisperings of some fine young blonde birdie, out for revenge. I was wrong about that too. Hagisia Ratchet had her own language and she lived in her own enclosed darkly innocent world. She was incapable of listening to gossip. She had no incoming communicative skills. Everything with her went outwards. She hopped from spur to spur of each moment. Her ideas of dreams and vanities included neither money nor sex. Money by then was becoming difficult for everyone: it was more trouble than it was worth. And sex with Hagisia Ratchet would be like twiddling a little stick inside a paper bag the size of an ocean. I came to think of her as a papier-mache creation, thinly stuck over an inner windtorn space. Her voice boomed out from a bottomless cavern, forced between the craggy jaws and teeth of her mouth.

At no time, in the months I spent working on her senseless case, did she do one thing that was not outrageous, even by the standards of the mid twenty-first century; even in the light of the great Detective Boom, of which I was one of the greatest charlatans. She could not render one piece of clear evidence for her paranoic assertions. All was gusty, uncatchable. She woke at night and there were men under the bed, whispering in a threatening way. In the street she was pursued by reflections, shifting curtains at windows; octogenarian joy-riders on electric machines intent on squashing her into the potholed ground. Not one professional in the whole Investigatory circuit found a mite of credibility in her stories; and she, gifted only with a phenomenal airy memory, went the rounds of those whose reputations hit the big city billboards and filled the leaky internet, devouring their professed organic obsessions and regurgitating them in her own manic tongue. She was desperate to be believed; to have the ghosts swept clean from her frightening midnights' innards - and not one of the geniuses she looked up to saw her as anything but the windy space she was. She was a chatterhag of the worst degree, incapable of listening or taking anyone's advice.

It was not for her sake that I agreed to act on her behalf; rather as pap to my own arrogance. She knew, long before I did, that my whole thesis of the gall-bladder played into her hands. I had a pathological leaning towards the painful, self-destructive underdog. Fat, forty, farty - and feminine: a long-time lore defined sufferers of gallstones with the four f's. Hagisia knew herself to be all-wind. By time she reached the gall-bladder in her quest for absolution from her nightmares, she was convinced she had come home. She was one big gall-bladder. Long before I managed to get her out of my house that night, I had agreed to try to put flesh to her figmentary murderous pursuers, and to bring them to solid justice. She was such a pathetic, but compelling old woman. The pale blue gash of her mouth horribly enchanted me. I knew from the start the impossibility of what I was undertaking; but I became convinced it was possible, even necessary, to trap the impossible. If her proposed murderers were real then they were fiendish. They were the equivalent of the excruciating green stones that were swirled cosmically into existence within the worst torture chamber in the human frame. Excruciating - the crux of that word is the cross. The crucible of human wrongdoing. The very implausibility of Hagisia Ratchet, her absurdity, her wanton nonsensicality: they responded to the lightheadedness of my recent successes, and gave back a sweet miasma that utterly confounded my judgment. I had the wit and the will to convert her tenth-class joke into a brilliant triumph. What a shithead I was.

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core story





cover - SNAPSHOT FOR VICTOR SUGARSnapshot 1: The Procession
Sixteen of us shuffling towards the gate of the Field, carrying our weighty sticks. Silently, brooding about what is to come. A flickering sense of fear, although Three of Diamonds (who does not have a stick), Three of Spades and Four of Diamonds try lightening the atmosphere with a number of moral jokes, which fall flat.
Snapshot 2: Through the Gate
A new, two dimensional grain-cutting machine stands at the gate which is open. It looks like a very modern painting. All behind is blurred. Three of Diamonds is about to climb up into the grain-cutter's seat. The rest of us are raising our flat, stout sticks in some kind of deferential cheer.
Snapshot 3: The Field of Three Corns
The Field itself. Small, bordered by trees that look as though they've been cut from a coloured magazine. The ground is covered with three kinds of ripened grain. In a broad swathe, around the edges, stiff stalks holding up orange-coloured heads of wheat. A middle swathe, again going right round the field, of a paler, heavier, softer oats. In the centre, a rectangle of the prickly heads of barley, intermingled with its still greenish leaves. Not a weed to be seen despoiling this perfect picture of an English (Lincolnshire) late summer.
Snapshot 4: Explanations and Intimations
Three of Diamonds in the seat of the grain-cutter, looking down at the rest of us, explaining that the stiff wheat stands for the male or the father; the buxom oats for the female or mother; the prickly barley, more windblown and indisciplined, for the child. As the corn is cut, the rest of us, laying aside our sticks for the while, are to follow, binding the fallen stalks into bundles and then arranging them in stooks so that they can dry out. Newcomers will learn the simple natural techniques for this process from the more experienced ones. The beauty of the field, and the allocation of tasks, cause a great wave of cheerfulness to rattle through the Cards. If it were not dead against the code, some hanky-panky may have broken out. I think I distinctly see Eight of Hearts (a mature woman) rub fronts with Seven of Spades (a younger man, whose tongue I've noticed before has a habit of flickering over his slightly sensual lips). I find myself illegitimately wondering what he has been flattened from. This snap makes me feel a little guilty. I sense my intimations are rather non-conformist, and a little out of control. I must learn to be more rigorous with myself. Three of Diamonds has that quizzical look in her eyes. Is she surreptitiously watching me, as I watch others?
Snapshot 5: Cutting the Wheat
The grain-cutter slicing through the proud wheat. The deep ripe orange of the heads sends a thrill through me that seems to touch upon some past emotional experience. What is wrong with me? Three of Diamonds concentrating on her task. The rest following the cutter, intent and silent. Each Card though has an alert stiffness about it. Reflecting the wheat? Or waiting for something to happen that goes beyond what has so far been explained? This snapshot has an atmosphere about it that sends riffles of apprehension across my carded shoulders. I am meant to be eradicating my sensibilities of all previous male relationship. Am I being too careless in thinking I've done that already? There is a betraying flicker in my eyes, as if I'm trying to guess from what direction the intuited threat is likely to come.
Snapshot 6: Making Stooks
The binding of the wheatsheaves, a technique I prove to be a moron at. You gather an armful of wheat stalks, select a handful as a binding agent and tie the rest together in a stiff spray. I try desperately to do this two-dimensionally, and fall flat on my flat face. The others snicker and continue without me, expertly binding the sheaves, and stacking them together, in a leaning formation, to form a row of wheat houses or stooks. The process is called stooking. The stalks are too stiff to be used easily as binding material. I have several goes. Think I have succeeded at last, place my bunch against a completed stook and the whole thing falls apart.
Snapshot 7: Nine of Diamonds
I am left behind. Nine of Diamonds, a middle-aged man with a haunted look about him, has taken pity on me and clicked himself back to help me. He shows me the simple knack of it, and stays to help me with further sheaves. I reward him by clumsily tripping over the rough wheat shoots still in the ground, falling into a completed stook and causing it to collapse. His haunted eyes sink briefly into a deep alarm, then resume their normal grade of ghostliness. He carries out his Samaritan duties in complete silence, except for when the last disturbed sheaf has been lifted and put back into place on the stook. At that moment, his eyes go a deep purple and his lips move as imperceptibly as he can manage. Take care, I think he mutters, before he shuffles forward towards the next batch of cut wheat stalks.
Snapshot 8: Drinking to the Cutting of the Wheat
Celebration at the Completion of the Cutting of the Wheat. A wheaten drink has been produced. All the wheat stalks have been sheaved and stooked in pleasing straight lines (except for one I was left to do on my own, which is glaringly out of place). Two Cards have shuffled off to redress the mistake. No complaint against me is voiced. Instead we stand in a pack, raising our glasses, brimming with deep golden liquid, but dry in character, and intone Death to all the past males in our lives. Deep smiles, to reflect the nature of the wheat, and the Cards' triumph over its maleness, suffuse this snapshot, in keeping with the glorious timelessness of the day.
Snapshot 9: Carded Relaxation
Halfway through the Cutting and Stooking of the Oats. The grain cutter has paused, to allow the followers to catch up with the binding and stooking. Oats are heavier, softer, to handle. Oats are female. Female bodies are easier to play with. Wheat's stiffness has a forboding about it. There is nothing playful in the handling of it. It has the feel of taking liberties with gods. Oats encourage fondling. Wheat is singular. Oats offer double delights, inviting hands to roam within its buxom properties. Wheat conforms easily to the needs of two-dimensionality. Oats defy it. For a Flat society, Oats are a conundrum. They provoke sensual longings and wayward thoughts. For a bit of hanky-panky, a bed of oats is ideal. So, in relief from the stern puritanism invoked by handling the wheat, the Cards, in contact with the oats, have become skittish, even giggly. Jokes, with a hint of raffishness, a sly effusion of desire, have become permissible. The men-that-were have longed a little, and the women-that-were have felt faintly longed for. If you sneak a glimpse at Three of Diamonds, pertly sitting at the wheel of the grain-cutter, do you sense that her flat-chested beauty has thrust itself forward a little? No, of course not - but the shot has caught a brief flicker of the thought in her eye, and the lips of others have slightly dropped a little. A rare and surprising phenomenon, I am already sufficiently Carded to know. I feel a little bit more of a Card myself, and you can see from my flat face, and somewhat gleaming eyes, that earlier apprehensions have dropped away from me. I put it down to the wheaten drink, perhaps, with its dash of insobriety, and the lascivious invitation of the oats, which I certainly have found easier to hold in my arms and bend for binding, despite the problems they arouse for the two-dimensionally bound.
Snapshot 10: Two Hands Touching
I am so stirred, by the comradeliness that has set in, that when a Card I cannot identify shuffles close to me and touches me with both hands on my two lowest rear club pips, I can only murmur in appreciation, though I do edge away, not daring even the flicker of a glimpse to spot who my temporary admirer might be. I am caught in the pose of hoping no one else has noticed.
Snapshot 11: Drinking to the Cutting of the Oats
Taken in late afternoon. The oats have been cut, bound and stooked. I have been praised for the quality of my work. Flickers of smiles have smothered me like kisses. An oaten drink has been produced out of nowhere. It is a paler gold in colour than the wheaten liquid was, but, as it soaks its way in through the card-interiors, it is impossible not to yield to a pleasing peasant sensation that this is where true paganism begins. There is much giggling and card-wiggling, and jokes become syrupy and permissibly suggestive. Loosened tongues spill out a colourful chatter. The toast, even smilingly proposed by Three of Diamonds, Death to all the past females in our lives, is lightly accepted and lip-smackingly followed by the downing of the sweet drink. This is the moment in the year, I sense, when the Pack of Cards feels most at one with itself, and properly yearns towards the completion of its numbers. The arrival of the Joker is flat-heartedly wished for.
Snapshot 12: The Secret
A short click forward into this one, but what a draining of one atmosphere and the imposition of another. We have been told to pick up our flat, stout sticks. You can see we are not about to follow the grain cutter; we have spread out all round the central flat rectangle of the barley, waiting. In every eye you can pick out there is a hint of terror; in every carded back a tension of shoulders. Somehow, I have become an odd one out again. To my right and left, my neighbouring cards have pulled slightly, but noticeably, away from me. The test is about to begin. There is no humour in the air. The flat sun has begun its descent into the flat trees. If you look at the barley, you can see its whiskery stalks caught in the act of rustling against each other, shifted into different directions by the coming of a breeze wanting to get to all places at the same time. So the barley has a scared look. Whichever way it leans, the breeze is about to blow it contrariwise. Three of Diamonds is about to let the grain-cutter's blades slice into the whimpering stalks.
Snapshot 13: Fear
Again, a mere click of time on. Shorn barley stalks are lying on the ground behind the grain-cutter. No one has moved to create sheaves. Cards are tensed up to snapping point. Some are bent as forward as flatness allows, gripping their flat, stout sticks with both taut hands. Others show a touch of hysteria in their eyes. You can see from their lips that sound is emitting from them. Clearly I have been caught out. I have no idea what is now in process. My eyes show some fear of attack, though no other Card seems to acknowledge my presence, or in any way is offering threatening gestures towards me. There is something in the barley that is writing FEAR large across the surfaces of every shivering Card. Three of Diamonds is the only imperturbable one.
Snapshot 14: Bastard! Bastard!
Oh horror! The grain-cutter has almost completed one round of the stricken barley. The cut stalks still lay unhandled on the darkening ground. Torches have been lit around the field, throwing startling streaks of light and encouraging responding shadows in and around the watching Cards, the slowly shifting grain cutter and across the remains of the barley. A form has just broken cover from the terrified centre. It is a young rabbit! It tries to head for the edge of the field, but not quickly enough. A Card, Jack of Spades, is in its path. A yell of curdled delight hacks into the tension. Jack of Spades smashes into the rabbit with her flat, stout stick. This is the moment the snapshot has caught. A spout of blood, impossibly large, rises into the savagely lit air, and stays there fixed in every flat memory around. The rabbit shrieks and stops, dead. Jack of Spades though goes on with her striking. Again again again. Crying You bastard! Bastard! Bastard!
Snapshot 15: The Blood-Lust
A wide angled shot, taking in the whole field. The flickering lights and shadows of the torches. The spout of blood from the dead, still-being-savaged rabbit. And all Cards, myself included, who must have been programmed in the Induction for this moment, are chanting:
Father brother husband lover
Mother sister mistress wife
We dare you bastards to break cover
To pay in full for our dead life
What we have been now we're not
Kill kill kill till the past's forgot

Ecstasy is not far away.
Shapshot 16: The Blood-Soaking
The sun is almost down. The torch light has become more lurid. The grain-cutter has paused. Three of Diamonds is lost in shadow. Her invisibility is ominous to me, who am in this shot but out of focus. I have shared the incredible but compelling drive towards the slaughter of flesh and blood, but am so full of an unfathomable sense of menace that I have hunted towards it, but have not yet joined in. This snapshot is soaked in blood. There has been an upsurge of panic from the diminished barley. Rabbits of differing sizes and ages, very old trundling ones, young babies, sprightly bobbing males and cautious females, have broken cover, chancing the alternation of flaring light and growling shadow, to get to the far hedges and away to safety. I have seen none that succeeded. Rabbit after rabbit is spotted by the prowling incensed Cards as their special victim, their recognised villain, and thrashed into, until the scurrying of each stops and bones are crunched and fountains of blood leap garishly upwards and spray out to fall on the whiskering, murmuring, mutely protesting, trampled and scuffed-up stalks of barley. Every participating Card is splashed with triumphant blood. And the seething searching for more victims is captured here, and the silent snapshot presence of the demonish chanting,
Father brother husband lover
Mother sister mistress wife
We dare you bastards to break cover
To pay in full for our dead life
What we have been now we're not
Kill kill kill till the past's forgot

rising to crescendo as further prey is spotted and then dying down as the bloody, murderous act is leapt into, with such gusto and cries of bastard bastard bastard, or some such other disgusted contempt for family origin, or suffered child, spat out towards the battered twitching mangled heaps of flesh and bone. And I in the shadows, out of focus, sucked up into the thrill of the gruesome hunt, paying out my own disgusts to the past, yet shaking already uncontrollably with the certain awareness, so slow to dawn, that all this, on this occasion, has been set up for me, yet still not seeing why this should have to be, or what form my demonic punishment would have to take. Meanwhile I am taking part in the lusting, the rabid chanting, the ecstatic gasping at the giant splashes of cheap red blood, and the unbridled crunching of small bones.
Snapshot 17: Time to Get Blooded
Three of Diamonds has stood up on the grain-cutter. Some other Card has thrust a torch in her right hand, which she is holding high above her head. All the frantic activity of the blood-letting and mangling of broken rabbits has suddenly stopped. There is a desire for silence that undercuts the deepest instincts of the human race, down to a Flatness that justifies all death-dealing. A desire thwarted by the heaving shattering energies doled out in the previous snapshot. Every Card, except Three of Diamonds and me, are smirched with grime from the beaten earth and blood from the massacred rabbits; our furry friends - as one Card now mockingly calls them, as stillness and dead quiet are struggled towards. Three of Diamonds waits though. The others now seem sheepish towards her, and soon comply with the need to defer even the right to whisper to her equal superiority. This snapshot catches that deference, but also the moment when Three of Diamonds turns her flat attention on to me, and every other Card shuffles, in obeisance, to glare intently, bringing me into sharp focus for the first time since the final Ceremony started. Coolly, but touching on a deeper ice, Three of Diamonds now says, Six of Clubs, your rabbit is waiting. How can I convey my complete willingness to acquiesce at this point? I have much to settle with my past. Killing it has been my great desire. I now find myself dismissing all my feeling of coming martyrdom as mere flickers of an old being. I realise the Cards are not glaring at me so much as willing me, with all their carded hearts, to do as they have done. The test is simply one to prove whether I am of them or not. Nothing special, or personal meant. Every novitiate has to go through the proper stages to complete acceptance in the Community of Cards. I have been brought out of the shadows (of the valley of death, a caught thread of me utters) and now I must perform on this field of flat battle. I grip my flat, stout stick with a strength I have never before been able to accredit to myself. I acknowledge Three of Diamond's compelling invitation, and the other Cards' emotional desire towards me and look to the remaining breeze-wracked clump of barley at the field's centre, flickering in torchlight and shadow with ineffable menace. Time to get blooded, I keen, wiping out at a stroke every pro-fox gene from my wet past. The flatness in me longs for such slaughter. And, from a light whisper, to a crowning shout, my accomplices drip intoxication into my courage, with their seductive, affirming chanting, seeping through my Card-exterior into the very bowels of my flat new self.
What we have been now we're not
Kill kill kill till the past's forgot

I have been whipped up into readiness.
Snapshot 18: Fever Pitch
All Card-eyes fixed on the barley strip. Three of Diamonds starts up her grain-cutter again, managing the impossible task of driving the vehicle, yet sitting full square on to me. Her eyes never leave me, as the torches flare and the shadows cut deeper across the field, with its slaughtered bloody corpses, its knocked over stooks of wheat and oats, so carefully stacked before, and the trampled-on whiskers of barley. And its tense, inwardly-seething, frightened, obsessed Community murderers, yet elated in their butchery, wanting more more more. You can see my own eyes, narrowed to slits, concentrated wantonly on the diminishing patch of upright barley, my flat, stout stick grasped across the front of my top two club-pips. I will hungrily for some movement from within, a shift of sleek, grey fur, the white bob of a desperate tail. The chant rises to fever pitch. I feel the great boost of its energy, the triumphant surge of its absolute conviction.
Snapshot 19: Go Go Go!
Now! Instantaneously, a small grey face appears at my side of the windy strip, Three of Diamonds stops the cutting, all other Cards break their chant and scream Go go go, go go go, go go go; and I, my searing moment upon me, my flat, stout stick clicking clicking before me into thwacking action, in best two dimensional fashion, pin-point the grey streaking flash of the rabbit as it heads for the hedge, stupidly, right within range of its machine-like assassin and his snarling stick.
Snapshot 20: Kill Kill Kill!
Smash! The blow, too hasty, misses its target, but crashes into the bloody oats-stubble just a space before the fleeing creature's nose. It stops on a pinhead, turns, and is about to race back into the barley cover. Bastard bastard! I grate. There is a mocking oh!, uttered as one voice from the flat onlookers. The chant changes to kill kill kill, kill kill kill, kill kill kill. The torches blaze in fierce disappointment. The shadows are so black now I fear they are on the side of the rabbit.
Snapshot 21: Thrashing the Barley
I am at the patch of barley's edge. A fervent wind is forcing the whiskered heads to quiver. I catch Three of Diamond's stance. She is standing up on the grain cutter. Her face leers with a heavy flicker of triumph, which smacks at me like a cudgel. It throws me into confusion. I am flaying the barley with my stick, losing grip on my murdering intention. The torches, seized by other Cards, are being waved in a frenzied motion. The chanting increases its intensity and volume. KILL KILL KILL, KILL KILL KILL, KILL KILL KILL. My eyes are hammered by a sick migraine. The rabbit is escaping, into the barley, into a secret hole at its heart. I am a failure beyond failures. I am the rabbit, waiting tremulous and hated for the slaughter to begin. I am attacked by a violent shudder. I feel my old body's urge to become a marble column, soaring stonily above this coming carnage of myself. As a Card though, flattened to destroy all roundness, I can't become a column any more. Not even a paving stone, I weep inwardly, distraught for a past I am forever on the run from. No! Not even a paving stone. Here I am thrashing the barley, wanting to howl, to sink to my knees and to open myself to the first sneering blow.
Snapshot 22: Smashing the Rabbit
A torch flares, foreshortening itself to the barley's plane. I catch a glimpse of a large scared eye locking into mine from the centre of the hissing stalks, which my frantic stick has knocked askew. The white eye pleads with me. This sight alone destroys the cowardice in me, switches me back from victim to triumphant killer. I swing my weapon and smash it down on the inert, trusting, grey body of the rabbit. Bastard bastard bastard mixes with the shrill kill kill kill, ringing at me from the whole flat field. My blows are wild. Some miss, even at this close distance. But the rabbit does not move. It has nowhere left to go. Bones crunch; its blood spurts. The white eye vanishes, becomes a scarlet pulp. Strands of barley, badgered by the stick, come to cover over the top half of the destroyed form. My blows rain down blindly, frantically. Bastard bastard bastard, still being stirred by kill kill kill. All of me, flat face, staring eyes, carded torso, black robe down to my feet, are stained and reek with rabbit's blood; but still the body, the lower half of the grey body, twitches. My blows beat into the barley, but can't land straight.
Snapshot 23: Not A Rabbit
In this snapshot my vision has gone into a tunnel. The field, with its wrecked corn stooks, its flaring torches, its sable shadows, its Three of Diamonds leering down from her flat grain-cutter, the shrill chants of my fellow Cards, even my own bloody rampant figure, is sucked away well out of focus. The lens is fixed severely into one frame. On the four edges, smashed, blood-soaked barley. Across the top of the picture, wayward clumps of barley, dragged in the beating over the upper torso and smashed face of the young victim. Nothing is recognisable beneath that matted whiskery curtain. In the centre, in the clearing, where the barley has been snapped away by the savagery of the onslaught of my flat, stout stick - two feet, in black shoes, with grey socks pulled up to just below the knees. The knees are smashed, the ankles broken, grey and black mottled with gore. It is not a rabbit any more. Hovering above the snapshot, behind the camera's black box, unprintably, a scream of such proportions the whole lurid field shudders, shakes and heaves, as if an earthquake is in progress.

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