Racing The Clouds Home
The brutal, dead iron bridge stood before me for the umpteenth time. I hauled my heavy bag full of mail up onto my shoulder and climbed the first of twenty seven steps that led to the black tarmacked gangway that stretched across the dual carriage way.
Indescribably bleak, toxic with exhaust fumes and laden with graffiti, this monolithic depressing structure was supremely efficient in serving its purpose. It provided for its community on this bleak landscape very proficiently, just like me. Having climbed the steps, my legs screamed frailty with the build up of lactic acid, so I let the heavy resentful weight fall from my shoulder. I looked down to see my mail bag on the gangway and observed the streaking cars underneath visible through the cell like railings. The bag’s weight may now have become the bridge’s burden, however my shoulder, in fact both shoulders were still weighed down under the heavy neural smog that I perpetually carried with me. You see, I’d laid my hat here in the south some years previously and for reasons that you may read about in the following pages, I am still here, moving back north is presently problematic. I despise this place.
This metallic, uncompromisingly miserable metal structure stood across the main arterial road between London and Southend-on-Sea. From my vantage point I gazed to the east. Heavy cloud and co2 emissions restricted any view and a seemingly endless stream of soulless tin boxes ploughed their way from the sea side to the city, some no doubt destined for the claustrophobic towns along the way.
I focused on one car and followed its progress from the non to distant fog horizon until it vanished beneath my mail bag. I quelled a childish urge to turn and run to the opposite railing and watch it appear from the other side. An automated game of pooh-sticks if you will. Each approaching vehicle seemed to carry a miasmic haze of hate and intolerance around it. Picture a comic book displaying school kids fighting. The artist would emphasise anger and violence by sketching uneasy lines and clouds of movement around the figures. Every tin box that dragged beneath me seemed to have this invisible vapour around it. Though it was very visible to me.
I stared down beyond the middle distance where the cars had seemingly entered my bag of mail from below and noted the harsh pillars that held this structure in place. Rooted to the spot, two identical tripods at each end of the bridge pierced the concrete pavement. Stubborn and erect they ignored the gathering of litter that accumulated at the foot of each leg.
From the glorified estuary town that masqueraded as a holiday resort in the east, I turned and faced west. I leaned back onto the cold railing and placed my elbows on the grip rail. As I watched the cars and lorries spew their vile, putrid smoke into the air on their way to the labyrinth of London, a heavy sigh rose from the pit of my stomach and forced my lungs to inhale the unnaturally warm and poisonous air that swirled around me. I exhaled and sighed a gargantuan sigh as I stared as far as my eyes would allow me towards the capital.
Unfathomable chaos. Where my natural vision ceased, my mind continued to see what was ahead of me. It saw the cross section of a human ant hill. Busy confusion, selfishness, arrogance, anger and intolerance. As more and more vehicles passed beneath the bridge, the sensation of claustrophobia, despite my being outside and in possibly the highest point within the vicinity, thundered towards me. I was an ant, and a groundsman was heaving his heavy lawn roller towards me. Panic and frustration began to seep in at the periphery of my being. I took in another deep breath of allegedly fresh air and shuffled my feet roughly forty five degrees to the right and faced north. I needed to go home.
Home wasn’t here. Home was there. Again my eyes strained as I took in my northern perspective. Once more my brain filled in the blanks as my eyes stretched to the horizon of rooftops no more than a mile away. Beyond that I saw memories tinged with hindsight, most of which I admit were through rose tinted glass. Up there was my happy childhood, sure. But what was also there was my essence, the fabric of me. The building blocks that grew me from deeper foundations were all still there, immovable.
A physical pain took hold in my chest. It felt like grief. A cavernous and profound yearning to be somewhere else enveloped me. I’d felt this many times before, and as defeat screamed at my face once again as I accepted my fate in this suburb of London, I raised my eyes to the yawning heavens. Then it hit me. Something so basic and childish. So obvious and fundamental, yet as this epiphany gripped me, a wave of understanding and pure undiluted happiness graced me. I smiled.
The sky may have been the colour of battleships and polluted to various levels of toxicity, but that sky, that very sky that was in my field of vision, the sky that was composed of incomprehensible amounts of space that allowed for freedom of movement, was the very same sky that existed in the present over my northern home. Unlike the ground, the roads, the paths and buildings that were all essentially obstacles, the sky touched me and it touched my home. I stared at it and felt that it knew me. It had an awareness of who I was and what I wanted. It took fragments of me up with it and stretched them two hundred and fifty miles, it swirled those fragments around in the loveliness of the place I called home and then gave them back to me. A fix, no less. It gave me some hope and some home.
The phrase ‘same sky’ remained in my mind and resonated. I picked up my bag and with a wry smile of understanding continued on my way to complete my deliveries. That was the beginning of what has become this book. My first thought was that it would make a great song title and so began to compose lyrics. It was easy, really simple. The way the words fell onto the page with their rhythm and natural flow gradually moved away from the concept of a song. They stood alone in their own right and I felt really didn’t need any accompaniment. Same Sky became the first of many poems that all reflect something about my life. Even the ones that are more abstract and not about me directly are drawn from an experience or passing glance at a circumstance.
Logic tells me that had I not moved south to begin with, I would not have had the urge to write these words. For that, rather than complain that circumstance has been cruel, I am grateful. Nevertheless, the envy that I feel when I look up to the sky in a north westerly direction is still uncomfortable despite it leading to my home town. However, at least I have those feelings, that wonderful experience in the past that stimulates within me the desire to return and to be creative. The two are not mutually exclusive! I guess I have to accept the fact that when I first looked skyward and smiled my smile of understanding on that ugly bridge that it may be some time yet before I’ll be racing the clouds home.