Beth Hunt

The Premonition

The night is drunk on the wine and song of the carnival. Suspended above the silhouette of trees, a huge neon parrot preened in a rainbow of metallic feathers, is blinking on and off like a psychedelic eye in the sky. At the edge of the galaxy, the moon’s wild swan spills her brood of intoxicated stars to pop the darkness into a dazzle of light.

In the dizzy swirl of the fairground an octopus dips its armed fists tilting crazed passengers towards the Milky Way. Shrieks escape from the steel cars streaking through the stratosphere. A red-nosed clown on stilts levitates above the aroma of roasted nuts and hot dogs lathered in Ketchup. Excited children chase puffy pink balls of candy floss on sticks. The Ferris wheel waltzes in step to the tune of Ricky Martin belting out ‘Shake Your Bon-Bon’. Next to the House of Horrors and its gothic screams, children gallop in a giddy circle on a carousel of ponies. In the throng of the crowd, a crone, bejewelled in bling bling, calls from her caravan steps … ‘Your destiny revealed … Come, come … There’s no time like the present to know your future.’

He stops, the ball poised mid air, aimed towards the rotating jaw of a painted clown’s head. Her voice, evocative of some foreign country, tunnels down his ears. The little girl pulls at his sleeve. He steadies his hand and throws. The ball plops into the gaping mouth. The stall holder shouts ‘Bravo’ and takes the celluloid doll down from the shelf.

‘Thank you mister, thank you.’ The street child jumps up and down with joy.

As she stretches her arms towards the prize, the belly of the night splits open in a heart rending cry. The octopus flings one of its cars like a little metal bucket into the night, decapitating the gaudy parrot and falling through the trees before dive-bombing into the carnival crowd.

‘Come, come …. Let me tell you all from my crystal ball… come… come … No time like now …’

She draws her black shawl tight around her shoulders. Gold hula hoop earrings reflect dancing lights in her long auburn hair.

He pulls himself back into the moment.

Is he crazy or something …?

Reluctantly he climbs the steps.

The air inside, behind closed curtains, is cocooned in fragrant incense and pungent smelling herbs.

The gypsy waves him towards a chair.

Her long red nails are talons. She reminds him of an exotic bird peering into the secret depths of her crystal ball.

Their eyes meet … hers are smouldering coals. She wrings her hands together. Silver bangles clutter her wrists.

He presses two notes on the velvet cloth, backs out of the caravan and stumbles down the steps.

At the Purple Lizard he stops to steady his nerves over a double J&B, thankful to slip back into reality with the distraction of the sport on the overhead channel and Joe’s mundane gossip, ‘Saw Laura Phipps this morning … tells me she has another bun in the oven … there’s more to working in the Blue Monday Laundromat than meets the eye … I think she’s quite a girl, that one …!’
The barman winks and flattens a cockroach crawling across the counter with the ball of his thumb.

Through layers of nicotine they raise their glasses.
There’s always one more drink for the road.

In the morning, the alarm jerks him out of a fitful sleep. He showers, slaps margarine onto thick brown bread topped with marmite, makes a flask of coffee and heads for the door.

Reaching the Grand Parade he quickens his step, pulls the collar of his anorak up against the north wind, muscles his way amongst the crowd of daily commuters. A young Coloured boy selling the Cape Times shouts out the morning headlines. ‘Read about it …Death at the Fairground … Read about it … Death at the Fairground …’

He stops, immobilised.

It’s all there on the front page.

Mechanical problem with octopus last night at fairground sends car careening into the crowds. Both occupants killed instantly and fatal casualties on the ground. Among the dead are Amira Rashida the Fortune Teller and a little girl clutching a celluloid doll.

He drops the flask and lunch box and rushes blindly towards the railway track.

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Beth Hunt

POLICE REPORT (alias the inner critic)

The police have been notified.
They are out to get me.

I’m a fraud, a wannabe writer on the run.  Where can I hide?  In a mouse hole?  Down a drain?  Am I crazy?  Did I really think I could pull this off?  Look at me.  I can hardly string a sentence together, dot an i or cross a t, let alone write a Luc Bat.  Sounds like the name of a vampire species, rock star or maybe a Pakistani cricketer.  But here’s the thing, it’s actually a Vietnamese structure of poetry composing 6 and 8 metre lines. Great! I become dyslexic just counting the fingers on one hand. I’m all thumbs … 6,8,6,8,6,8,8 .. I mean 6 … Oh, for heavens sake!

The real reason I’m here though is not to freak out on Asian arithmetic but to write like Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf or Katherine Mansfield.  Of course, I’d be happy if I could just  pen words along the lines of Marian Keyes, Jodi Picoult or Anita Shreve … Maybe Erica Jong, ‘Fear of Fifty’ … A little late to be thinking of that now.

The police are not interested in these minor details.  They have filed their report.  The evidence is there, blogged out in block letters, starting with … well, how appropriate …  Blocked, stuck, messy, empty, devoid of words, no ideas, the creativity of a cauliflower.

If I could be as prolific as Danielle Steele, or any one of those glamour chic lit authors, I’d be happy.  There has to be a formula out there, some secret code belonging to these highly evolved scribes for mastering time, churning out 5000 words a day, spinning yarns and raking up relationships into best sellers which are then sold off to the highest bidder to be translated into twenty different languages.

Look at J K Rowling.  How can she possibly be an ordinary earthbound mortal?  One moment in a queue waiting for a dole handout … the next … well, it’s history now.  But someone with that kind of luck has to be hatched out of a fairy’s egg.

It’s all so daunting but just when I think I’m getting the hang of this 6/8 metre Edward de Bono mindbender I go and lose the plot completely.

Total exposure … Dumb bat!
Sentence is passed.

The beefy police woman with her red lips pursed together like Velcro gives it to me in no uncertain terms, bouncing her baton up and down on the beeswax tabletop probably wishing it was my head and reads out my punishment as if she’s announcing the weather report.

One year of writing morning pages à la Julia Cameron and ‘The Artist’s Way’.  Three hundred and sixty five days with a serious, intentional commitment to filling up lined notebooks with words which I shall only peruse once I have completed my twelve month sentence.

And practise, practise, practise …!!!

Just so I get the hang of things there’s nothing like a little literary warm up with an alphabetical jog around the block (excuse the pun!)  …

All brilliant chefs do enviable feats, gastronomically halving, icing, juicing, kneading, layering, marinating nine omelette pancakes, quartering raisins, spooning them under very wholesome Xmas yeasty zabaglione.

The things some chefs get up to!

Beth Hunt

Mood Swings

Blue is yin.  Green is yang.

Legends of the cosmos bask in the sunny nooks of my mind.  I’m sprawled out in a dizzy ecstasy, nose against the freshness of grass.  My eyes dip into verdant pools; follow a tickling ant trail on a bare arm – the dog’s wet nose glossing my warm cheek.  My heart is a bright red poppy, breezy on its long stem.  Day dreams bathe me in their lazy mellowness; plump figs plopping to the ground in a purple glade.  The trees breathe huge green lungs into this country space holding me at ease in its ripe berry season.

When the climate ruptures, the pallbearers come, deadening the air with their poison fumes.  Cruel February burns in my head; rages his balled heat in a furious fist.  Bone-dry I reel back, stunned by such malcontent.  The starlings drop like hot coals in the bird bath.  The garden is a parched tongue.  Death unloads its bleak crimes at my feet.  In a desolate meltdown graffiti peels off the wall … Save water …Trudy is ‘n dronkgat.

I shake a plague of crickets from my ear.

Yin is the sea – open like a wide moisturised mouth.

I dive deep into her cool coral bowl.  In this blue womb I’m a shell cradled beneath a sea of kite-high clouds.  Wave-capped her heady depths lure me in until rocks recede in a dismal brown crowd.  The landline blurs and dims.  Hushed in a healing lullaby, I lose sight of the shore.

The world is an egg cracking open to birth a new consciousness.

Between mountain and sea I set out on my journey, a solitary pilgrim searching for Qi.

Beth Hunt

   

Music pulls me away from the world
Across a bolt of flaming water
And the crashing wave
Until all becomes calm again.

Across a bolt of flaming water
Rainbow vibes flash the air
Until all becomes calm again.
The clouds are moving dreams.

Rainbow vibes flash the air.
Filigree sea shore at dawn of day.
The clouds are moving dreams
Breathing peace into the world.

Filigree sea shore at dawn of day.
Men in white turbans, bright white teeth
Breathing peace into the world
Mourning lost love.

Men in white turbans, bright white teeth
Stealing the forbidden kiss
Mourning lost love.
The man is a cad, that sultan of love.

Stealing the forbidden kiss
Across flaxen-spun sand.
The man is a cad, that sultan of love
Dancing me over the golden dunes.

Across flaxen-spun sand
Smooth as satin he twists words
Dancing me over the golden dunes.
Music pulls me away from the world.
 

Beth Hunt

Mandala of life –  a prose poem epiphany

This morning I gather up five stillborn eggs – smooth and hard as pebbles.  And one dead chick, its feathers flat and soft as petals.

Such a small death cradled in my hand stirs the ‘why’ and’what if’.

But the sky refuses to budge her blank eye.  She reveals nothing.  The garden folds into herself tightening her greens into a fist.  Beneath my feet even the grass blades stiffen.

I back away from cracking open speckled shell to unravel mystery into evidence.  Instead a primeval urge deep within to turn up soil and bury each dead egg around the tiny corpse.

Beyond dying, a mandala of life.

Beth Hunt

Media madness – a villanelle

Chaos breeds like techno river bugs
swamped between the reeds of reason.
Media madness spins its web of drugs.

Into currents of technology society plugs.
Escape the baited hook of dot com is a mission.
Chaos breeds like techno river bugs.

From cyberslime arise the monster slugs.
Spam, viruses, blikbrain without emotion.
Media madness spins its web of drugs.

Microsoft stirs a muddy soup and lugs
science down to the gigabytes of a mouse’s treason.
Chaos breeds like techno river bugs.

Ads assail us from fast cars, food treats to soap suds.
1,2 & 3, DSTV, Isidingo and pulp fiction.
Media madness spins its web of drugs.

From Survivor to Big Brother come the thugs
of petty crime with no respect for time or season.
Chaos breeds like techno river bugs.
Media madness spins its web of drugs.

Beth Hunt

House of drought

In this place of dust, dried to tumbleweed, even the geraniums bleed their sorrows, in terracotta pots cracked like ancient maps.  No one stays.

Only the birds at the house of drought fly free – recklessly – a council of crow-crying prophets.  By noon the wind is damp as death banging its bones against the turrets.  Her laments upset the air.

A brown dog runs down the track towards me.  In the broody dawn lips curl back baring teeth.  His eyes are yellow marbles.   I stretch out my hand stiffening as he growls around my ankles.

He turns and runs ahead of me, through the looming coral sunrise, straight up the steps of the wooden veranda.  When I reach him he is pawing the door and whining.  Shutters, gaping missing slats, hang from loose hinges creaking in the elemental draughts.  The air is dry.  Something knots in my throat.

The door opens and we follow her inside, the dog and I.  In an instance the morning light falls away and the bareness of the house swallows us in a shroud of despondency.  Our flat shadows wander on a silent pilgrimage from room to room.  Spiders netted in webs tighten into buttons.  Above the black mouth of the fireplace a barometer hangs like a lopsided grin on the wall.  She stops to tap the glass.  Dust balls float to the floor settling their grimy corpses on the ashes of the past.

I watch her bony knuckled fingers … tap, tap, tap … as I had once watched them through those sullen summer days flicking a pair of knitting needles in a frenzy of agitation … click, click, click …  all the time her fury ticking away inside her breathing its deadly vapours into the room.

And him.   ‘Want a drink, doll?’ …  ‘want a drink, doll?’ … want a drink?… want a drink? … want a drink? … until her face puffs up like a fermented pickle in a jar … until she loses count of plain or purl, drops stitches, gazes with hollow eyes at the plastic pot plants … lets her cigarette burn a hole in the floral upholstery … until she can’t see further than the kidney-shaped pool and the neighbour’s vibracrete wall.

In the dim light I hear the tight echo of her voice.

‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ 

Her face cold as stone.  Insistent.

‘Why didn’t you tell me he was fucking those women … what kind of sister are you?’ 

Layers of emotion rise like fumes peeling away an open wound. 

I cannot save her. 

The dog barks from across the room … demanding.  I follow its cries to where the cracks in the window shimmy patterns of light on the blank walls.  Pulling up the sash I gulp air into my burning lungs.  Grief grounds me to my knees.

Through the mocking wind I see her, black tresses cascading to her waist.   And there’s my father laughing and swinging her in his arms.  They’re crazy with happiness dancing around the room on the bright paisley carpet … My handsome daddy and Miss Talent Queen, the prettiest girl in the town.  I smile at them from the safe harbour of my mother’s lap.

When the bats lurch from trees and string their sticky worry beads upon the night sky I turn to look back at the blurred outline of the house.

From her dark dome the hag-moon leers down at me.   My heart thins to a skin.  The craggy gargoyle chuckles flaunting burning squibs across her bare breast.

In a gesture of mad kindness she throws enough light for me to see  I’m being followed by the shadow of the brown dog.

Beth Hunt

meditation

it’s quiet here, closed up in this small room
leaving the safety of the mind’s shore.
I once met a swami with a quaint name

sitting in the lotus position
detached.  deep inside himself.
The square of light drops

beyond the window pane.
I bundle my body into a ball
maybe winter is not the time to begin …

Backing out already…?
the ego smirks red-lipped
with the grace of a bag lady on acid.

I remember the swami
still as stone.  The glow of incense.
enlightenment – yin and yang.

I feel my skin unwrinkle
soft as tissue paper.
Detach … detach …

On the surface of my mind
my breath is a bubble.
I watch to see where it will take me …

deep into the void that beckons …

Beth Hunt

My what a gal!

A character profile

 

Winning a cookie cutter was probably the most exciting thing that had happened to Winifred Whelan.

‘And the lucky number is …’announces the stage manager of the guild playhouse waving a piece of paper enticingly towards the audience.

And there’s Winifred blushing the colour of a cock’s comb while Stanley prods her in the side coaxing her to go up and claim her prize.

‘Go on Winnie Pooh,’ he whispers, giving another gentle nudge.

Fate has wacky ways of dishing out destinies.  Into her fiftieth year of marriage, Winifred Whelan has spent half a century measuring the length of her days in heaped teaspoons of Royal baking powder, vanilla essence and bi-carbonate of soda.  All thanks to a raffle ticket and a gadget that looks as if it belongs in a mechanic’s toolbox. Winifred’s decorative batches of piped delights are the first to go at church bazaars.  Her nutty wonders are renowned.  At eighty this octogenarian is no slouch.  She can still turn out a flop-proof state-of-the-art applestrudel, and give any Austrian Frau a run for her money.  And then there’s Stanley’s all-time favourite, cherry buns with candy peel.  He loves those buns.

Winifred pauses to push her spectacles up her nose with floured fingers.  Beyond the kitchen window, Stanley, on all fours, is tossing weeds from the petunia bed into a neat pile on the paved path. 

So ordered and predictable she thinks. 

Not so when the cherry buns are out the oven cooling on the rack and Winifred lies dutifully beside her slumbering husband.  In the dim light she listens to his snores competing with the Westminster chimes down the hall.  This is when Winifred, wild and wanton, pulls her dreams from a magician’s hat in her head.  No white rabbits here, no bland dough and dirty dishes  … She’s a Lolita with a waspish waistline and breasts that pout desirably in a push-up bra like the bank manager’s young wife.  Stanley is wearing plus fours and they’re driving down the highway in a souped-up sports car with the breeze blowing through her blonde bob and Frank Sinatra singing ‘My Way’ full ball.
Stan’s got his foot on the gas and they’re whizzing past a blue lake with ducks bobbing about when Winifred opens her eyes to see a masked figure standing beside her.

Convinced that this is no speckled mallard or yellow-billed goose she spins out of bed and heads for the stairs with the speed of a track athlete in Nikes.  A scream in Stanley’s horizontal direction serves as a wake-up call to say ‘We’ve got visitors’.

Before the burglar can utter ‘cream cakes are fattening’, Winifred reappears wielding a stainless steel knife with an impressive 14 inch blade.

Stanley sits up in bed and rubs his eyes.

Is that his Winnie Pooh pointing the Sunday carving knife at a strange man’s private member?

While Winifred challenges the intruder on the size and quality of weapons, quick-thinking Stan is on his feet in a jiffy.  He doesn’t miss a trick.  With a nimble karate chop he has an accomplice slinking behind the curtain lights out on the bedroom carpet.

Well watched, thinks Stan to himself, rubbing his palms.

It is no wonder that the Whelans supersede the Beckham celebs in the popularity stakes for the next few weeks.   They are even sponsored first class train tickets to travel from Liverpool to London as guests of honour on Radio 007’s Talk Show.

For a heroine Winifred Whelan is quite modest.

‘I really didn’t know I had it in me,’ a pause, shaking the curls of her blue perm, ‘… after all these years.  Well, there was a time when I was a girl guide …we learnt how to tie knots and things.   And … oh yes,  Stan and I watched Crocodile Dundee on the box …channel 4 I think …’

Stanley beams across at the interviewer.

‘She’s quite a girl is my Winnie Pooh … and there’s nothing in this world to touch her cherry buns – that I can tell you!’

Beth Hunt


The road more travelled

‘Our eyes are dry because we do not use our voice to speak’

Mist clings to the morning landscape like a fungus.  A grove of bluegums felled to a graveyard of stumps.  An owl mangled to the tar.  Two dead dogs.  Traffic converging into a metal knot at the lights.  Africans weaving between cars selling cheap oriental imports and Radio KFM blaring from the white BMW … Celine Dion singing “Bewitched”…

A tabloid’s print bleeds its casualties through my dry eyes.  They’re clubbing seal pups to death in Canada.  Chinese élite serve shark fin soup at weddings.  Do you know the Japanese are harpooning whales in the name of science?  Forty-two leopards brutally killed in the traps of Eastern Cape farmers.  A six month old baby murdered.   Iraq is burning.

Flames of reality lick at my open wounds.  The pain is unmanageable.

What is a grasshopper?  My God … a chameleon, a lizard … a butterfly?
 …the imprint of those chubby little hands collecting lucky beans beneath the kaffirboom tree … Peanut butter sandwiches with the blonde boy next door …Racing around the garden on our Raleigh tricycles …Reading Nancy Drew and longing to wear a bra like my sister.  She’s Miss Coco Cola with an attitude …. My father’s 1950 Chevrolet parked in the drive …  Hopscotch wearing fancy patent leather boots with  pointy toes.  Interval at the drive-in … crushing Simba crisps between a bread roll with tomato sauce dripping down my chin.  John Wayne … Doris Day …Elvis singing …
It’s a one for the money
two for the show
three to get ready … go man go,
you can do anything but lay off my blue suede shoes

And my mother playing Chopin on the piano … My mother ringing a silver bell to call Mavis to make the tea.  Mavis with her bed on bricks and newspaper print plastered along the walls of the outside room …washing her Transkei skin with green carbolic soap in the old corrugated tin bath.  Mavis squatting her large bulk in a patch of sunlight at the kitchen door … shelling peas, shining silver … and getting so drunk on Friday night.  My father shoots his gun into the sky.  We never see her again.

My mother plays the piano and my father wrestles with demons. 
Bella, our fox terrier chases her tail round and round and round.

The Mamas and the Papas singing “California Dreamin”, “Go where you wanna go …”

… A size 34B cup … black … the one with the bit of stretch.  A penchant for seductive underwear.

Burn baby, burn …

His red-hot passion against my skin.  Sex in 64 positions.  Betrayal.  A fist slammed through my door.  Metal flashes like foil.  My heart bleeds a crimson pool at his feet.  The yellow moon cannot contain such grief.  She rises in a blue halo swallowed by the sun.

Burning in his ring of fire.  The flames get higher and higher …

In my dream I see the goshawk.  Devil-clawed executioner.  Pippa, my red hen beheaded.

I go bug collecting for the chicks.  A spider latches its poison at my ear.  Bucket and spade fall earthbound.  Soporific flames draw me in.  My soul slips into the soil like a shadow.

Memories of my father close shutters … soundless echoes in empty rooms … Elvis dead …my sister mindlessly eclipsed by ruby red cabernet …

Last week 200 killed in bomb blast in India.
Israel at war with Lebanon.

The inner critic clamours at my ear.
‘All that chilled chardonnay you gulped down … Remember, you couldn’t write for a week?’
She flaunts her aggressive little left brain … an illusion dressed to kill  …Nerveless as a knife blade, she dowses my words with flames.

Until I’m left grinding my teeth on a mouthful of ash.

Beth Hunt

Space Saver

Badgers Boarding House. Cornflakes and cold toast in a dingy dining room. It’s the seventies, Elvis is dead and the Portuguese man rolling a cigarette at the next table tells me I haven’t lived until I’ve tasted LM prawns.

Is that a fact?

I blitz the aftertaste of cheap coffee with a strip of mint gum and nod politely as I leave the room.

The bus ride from Gardens to the city takes forever. Morning traffic and newspaper headlines pull my blood sugar down to my ankles. At the Heerengracht Centre, I catch my reflection in the plate glass windows and reluctantly push my body through Trust Bank’s revolving doors.

‘Did you see Chris Barnard?’ asks Bettie Beukes, squinting at me through a veil of menthol cigarette smoke.

I shove the cover of my Olivetti typewriter into a desk drawer.

‘I’m standing right there,’ she continues breezily, ‘at the water fountain when he walks past wearing a white suit. My aarde maar daardie man is mooi!’

Bettie waits for my response, dropping ash between her keys.

By teatime the news has networked through the bank like an underground code. Cape Town’s famous heart surgeon depositing his hard earned cash in the vaults of our bank! Jan Marais, the guru-god sitting above us in the chairman’s suite must be happy. We all feel so united and patriotic under our little South African umbrella.

Except me.

I’m working for an Afrikaans bank with an English surname. What got me here? I feel alienated from my tribe. With 6% for maths in matric, who am I trying to kid by working for a monetary institution? Don’t tell me … my mother. A teller at the Reserve Bank, she gave up playing her Otto Bach piano to count money. It’s in the genes.

I’m sitting in a grey fuzz thinking about her aborted concerto career when I notice Koos Duikers giving me the eyeball through his glass kennel. Sometimes that man looks at me as if I’ve stepped off the moon. As Bettie would say … ‘Dis aaklig!’

I roll the gum in a ball around my mouth and dare myself to blow a bubble in his direction. Instead I pretend at busyness by studying the contents of my in-tray. He heaves himself out of his comfortable leather chair.

‘Miss Stanbury, I want you to type this memorandum.’

‘Sure, Meneer Duikers.’

‘No errors. Do you hear me?’

‘Loud and clear, Meneer Duikers.’

‘And bring it to me for signature, not like last time …’

I interrupt.

‘Yes, Meneer Duikers as soon as …’

He interrupts.

‘Twenty copies, Miss Stanbury.’

‘Twenty copies, Meneer Duikers.’

I blow a bubble at his retreating back.

Pop!

I’m living my life in black and white. I’m dying inside … I can see my future mushrooming in the dark like a fungus … going nowhere.

My mind is made up. One more pay cheque and that’s it.

Amazing what a shift in perspective can do. Badgers dining room looks a tad less drab this evening. So what if the odd cockroach does a walkabout on the rim of your soup bowl. Please, there are far greater things to be concerned about in life … like pushing back the boundaries of my comfort zone. All I know is I don’t want to live an unlived life. There has to be more.

I’m making wobbly little eyes in my malva pudding with a fork when I catch a whiff of … cologne mingling with tobacco?

‘My name is Luigi de Freitas.’

He stretches out his hand. I feel the strong grasp. It’s comforting.

‘There’s a restaurant in Observatory where they serve the biggest LM prawns in the country. Maybe you would care to join me tomorrow evening.’

I hadn’t noticed earlier how Al Pacino he looks.

‘Maybe,’ I reply.

A warm feeling ignites inside me.

‘Hey, why not?’

Beth Hunt

Seeking self

‘All humanity is one undivided and indivisible family.’
Mahatma Gandhi : 1869 – 1948

I’m living on the outskirts of my life.

This comes to me while flicking through the latest Oprah – The Ed’s letter spells out her state-of-the-art formula for success, Dr Phil’s moustache bristles with pop-guru advice and that flawless female financier highlights the advantages of balancing a chequebook. It’s totally over the top on page 23 with the strawberry blonde hanging onto the side of a mountain calmly breathing in the ether from an unknown stratosphere. ‘I’m in touch with the real me,’ she smiles. Pass the vertigo please and don’t mind me as I shrink to the size of a lentil. While movers and shakers are rearranging Mount Everest, I’m left feeling like a falling comet. Forget the peaks … when was the last time I dabbled my ten toes in the cool currents of the Atlantic Ocean?

I’m a wannabe writer trapped in a rut. I don’t carry a cell, cook in a microwave, or cruise cyberspace. I haven’t watched TV since my husband’s Brazilian Pepper grew up like a beanstalk in front of the satellite dish. And while the Mayan calendar breathes down my neck about the future or the end of one I’m trying to excavate some kind of user-friendly identity before 2011.

I stress out with technology, know nothing about the finer details of a smart card or how to download on the internet. The Musica sales assistant with the rail tracks of eyeliner looks at me askance when I request The Three Tenors on LP … some oddball on a visit from the Flat Earth Society? Which self in me is supposed to have evolved at a rate of a billion digits to keep up with the current global network? I’m unwired … big time!

It doesn’t help much when my wacky cousin, Lola comes to stay. She’s been travelling around in a re-possessed caravan reading tea-leaves and tarot cards. With a crimson bindi stuck on her forehead she peers into a crystal ball. Over a glass of plonk she informs me I was an Eastern Block vodka-quaffing peasant in a past life. My husband nearly chokes over his wine and throws her a look which translates into ‘what weed are we smoking now?’ But coming from the same gene-pool, cousin Lola has an intuitive feeling as to where I’m at.

‘Identity crisis … simple … meditation,’ she says the next morning reversing her 4×4 out the drive with the crystal ball and caravan chugging behind. We wave until she’s out of sight.

I start with incense. Its musky fragrance filters beneath my study door alerting my husband and dogs to the fact that I do not wish to be disturbed. I’ve bought those fat little candles from Clicks, a dozen at a time, just in case there’s another power cut down the line.

I breathe in deeply, ballooning my stomach beneath the palms of my hands … exhale to the count of four … motionless as a log … my breath going in and out. I watch the flickering yellow flame until I’m mesmerised.

In the stillness, all my selves come crowding into my consciousness. I watch them come and go like shadows across a screen. Some I recognise, others I hardly know. It’s time to lodge an enquiry …

The dogs are scratching at the door. My husband is shouting that according to him, the kitchen clock and the sun below the yardarm, what about some domesticity around here? Like maybe dinner for example.

My selves scatter like ghosts into dark corners of my psyche. I’m left with the ‘me’ that must go and take the three bean casserole out the oven. But before I do, I suddenly get this feeling … maybe life’s not about living in the ‘know’ but in the ‘mystery’ …

Beth Hunt


Snake Skin

Orange, the second chakra, colour of ripe butternut. I’m standing in a field of daisies waving their little eggyolk faces at me. The sky is a blue bowl and there’s so much green around, I go dizzy with desire.

A cold chill and primeval memory yanks me back to that Edenic setting. Adorable Eve standing beneath a fig tree and along slinks a macho cobra with a stockpile of Granny Smith apples … and don’t we all know the rest of the story?

So I box up my yearnings in a crate labelled ‘fragile’ and drag it into a dark corner in the attic of my mind. That’s when the drought sets in and cobwebs hook onto my psyche like hairnets. I might as well be a Greek widow and schlep around in black all day.

My bright butternut, on the verge of decay, has morphed into a wrinkled gourd. It lies on the roof of my skull scorched by the heat. The daisies are starched to the texture of polyfilla. As for the Granny Smith … it houses a grub the length of an earthworm on steroids. And that venomous reptile is still rearing its evil-eyed head like a lethal yo-yo.

‘Join belly dancing classes,’ says my Jackie Onassis look-alike friend, ‘there’s nothing to beat an Egyptian shimmy or a Moroccan hip drop to take the edge off existential angst.’
It’s enough to make my cautious little left brain sneak out and sign a monthly debit order at the health club. I’m desperate.

Our teacher looks like the jewel of the Nile. With the longest limbs in the harem she stretches up somewhere towards the air conditioner. Her hair is pulled away from a sculpted face into a ballerina’s bun. She’s divine and to complete the perfect picture she’s married to a real-life Arab, an import straight from the dunes of the Sahara.

‘Goddesses come in all shapes and sizes,’ she informs the motley assortment of women circled around her. This is good news. We can toss Dr Atkins out the window … and who needs the pain and strain of Pilates to whittle waistlines down to the dimension of spaghetti?
‘Imagine,’ this goddess continues, beginning to undulate every muscle in her diaphragm, ‘that you’re a snake … move like a snake.’
I freeze. The scaly serpent that’s responsible for unbalancing the cosmos and we’re supposed to dance like one! I remember the monthly debit order and begin to move my hips … Was that an endorphin shifting in the cerebral hemisphere? You bet.

I’m shimmying, I’m coiling, I’m slinking and twisting. I’m shaping up to the sensual rhythms of Marrakesh and Istanbul. Just call me Snake Hips.

I’m shedding my old skin.

On the way home, I stop off at Woolies. Each pore in my body is oozing great sweat. I bite into a big red apple … organic of course! Yummy … I never thought liberating the goddess within could taste so delicious.

Beth Hunt

The Moon and the Yew Tree

‘…I believe that one should be able to control and manipulate experiences, even the most terrifying – like madness, being tortured, this sort of experience – and one should be able to manipulate these experiences with an informed and intelligent mind …’
Sylvia Plath
3 months before she died.

December 15, 1962

“I am living in Yeats’ home in London – with the blue plaque and all … I am very lucky to be living at No. 23 Fitzroy Road, the home of a poet, it is a real inspiration to my writing.”

The apartment’s gloomy mouth sucks her into its silence. She tugs at the sash of her robe, breathes in the cold, damp air. It refuses to budge … to go anywhere. Her despair and loneliness are relics entombed in the soundless room. She shakes her hair free from its thick plait. Beyond the window a cruel winter shrouds the London landscape with snow. She could light the gas, make a cup of tea. Instead feverish agitation drives her to sink onto the dingy couch.

Within the fragile walls of her soul, she can hear the sleeping children’s breathing floating down the passage. Light as angels, they levitate above the soporific vapours; their little hands trying to lift her up. But she cannot rise from this cradle of pain where dark forces attend to her wounds in their blue shadows.

The clock drops minutes like pebbles into the void of her consciousness. She lies there quite still, flattening the palms of her hands on her abdomen, fingering the contours of her bones. She follows her breath in and listens as it slips out of her body. Memory traces the lines of Ted’s angular jaw, his unruly hair and brooding look. ‘A large, hulking, healthy Adam, half French, half Irish, with a voice like the thunder of God.’

She squeezes her eyes tight. Closed in.

‘I am terrified by this dark thing
That sleeps in me;
All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.’

… ‘There are fumes that I cannot touch, where are your opiates, your nauseous capsules? If I could bleed, or sleep!’

The moon has slid behind the night. An eclipse of sanity casts its dark shadow over the edge of her skull.

… ‘This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary.

The trees of the mind are black … I’m separated from my house by a row of headstones. I simply cannot see where there is to get to…’

August 5, 2004

Sylvia, I too am ‘separated from my house by a row of headstones …’

My veined arm, bone-thin, extends butcher-hooked to the clean tick of something saline. Green-gowned, I’m paled into cherubic innocence. A nurse has shaved me down to bristle-edge. I’m labelled and bagged; quietly dulled into submissive lethargy.

But – something still lives between the brain walls, whispers me to breathe, rally up nerve and muscle to moan away this raw pain.

The light is blue.

Through ‘fumy, spirituous mists’, you beckon me.

I follow to where ‘grasses, prickling my ankles, unload their griefs on my feet.’ Beyond the yew tree, a cold wind fingers my hair. ‘Look,’ you lift your raging gaze towards the moon, ‘white as a knuckle and terribly upset.’ Your eyes are black as onyx. Intoxicated, I dazzle through the heated flames of your metaphors. Your chilling symbols bring me to my knees. At the altar of your myth, I worship with the ‘O-gape’ of a devotee. ‘Eight bells rise like flames to startle’ my consciousness. They bong in my ears.

Sylvia, you have unhinged heaven, stalked the night sky with your piercing eye, spilling sinister stars out of your red mouth. They explode like bombs. You’ve peeled back the skin of the moon. ‘Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.’

My hungry ear is cupped to share your secrets. The inner battle of each violent impulse tirelessly arranged in its stark perfection. Such fierce honesty transfixes me to your legend.

Golden girl of Smith College, blonde, amber-skinned goddess. Snaring the attention of that gorgeous Yorkshire hunk, pressing your red-hot heart against his cheek until it bleeds. Someone like you cannot go quietly. You’ve made perfection an art-form and ransacked your destiny from the Gods.

And paid the price for such ruthless genius.

What demons rose to lure you to that final brutal act? What lethal weapon took up arms against your soul, battering down your dreams, leaving you concussed with a profound sense of loss? When did it happen, the moment your abandoned senses slipped, lost their grip … when your heart bled its first drop in silent and desperate surrender?

The ruby-lipped moon with her fickle grin took you in. … Her flickering embers of love were deadly grenades … ‘See, the darkness is leaking from the cracks. I cannot contain it. I cannot contain my life.’

They found you the next day, lying there as if in a dream … Before turning on the gas, you had taken a bowl of bread and milk to little Frieda and Nicholas asleep in their bedroom. Then quietly, you closed the door …

‘I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering blue and mystical over the face of the stars. Inside the church, the saints will be all blue, Floating on their delicate feet over the cold pews, Their hands and faces stiff with holiness. The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild. And the message of the yew tree is blackness – blackness and silence.’

February, 1963

In the harshest winter of the century, the quiet snow lies bellied over by a dome of grey sky. A freshly dug grave, in the churchyard of Heptonstall, yawns from the bowels of ochre clay. Behind the stained-glass windows, mourners, faces pinched with grief, lift their voices in unison. During the service, the sun faintly penetrates the February clouds …

I see you there, clearer, more real
Than in any of the years in its shadow –
As if I saw you that once, then never again.’

– Ted Hughes

Bibliography:

The Moon and the Yew Tree –

– Sylvia Plath

– 22 October 1961

Beth Hunt

Life pulse

A flower pushing up to finger the sun
from the daily trivia monologuing in my head.
I can rise and tread lightly through the day.
I want to find my own soil where I can root myself

from the daily trivia monologuing in my head.
I will open my petals to the birds.
I want to find my own soil where I can root myself
in a world with a castle and a drawbridge.

I will open my petals to the birds
in happiness and anticipation;
in a world with a castle and a drawbridge,
amidst forests of trees and the secrets of bees.

In happiness and anticipation,
I can rise and tread lightly through the day
amidst forests of trees and the secrets of bees …
A flower pushing up to finger the sun.