From ᚮ (the book of gatherings)
It is the blue riband event. We dig up our rotting grandfathers and stand them at the line. We understand this to be a knowable construction – anything extra is pure abstraction. We step out in search of three degrees of wisdom. We find them marked on the noticeboard in the gymnasium. The one in the men’s changing room. Next to the showers. Before the gun, we fall into silence.
Our thoughts soon turn to equalities, to brotherly love, to having and then taking liberties. Though we have done nothing to occasion it, our late grandmothers are waiting at the tape. Nobody has the heart to cross the tape. It’s as if the men have met the better halves of themselves. The meeting draws a crowd. The sense of contemplation on both sides begins to slowly pulse like a weak electrical charge. An outside broadcast unit arrives to film it. The race itself is hardly memorable. We remark upon the lack of tension in races.
Only the fathers have the guts to ask where the grandmothers have come from. There is a special bond between men and their mothers. Everybody knows it. They are like a pared hymn. One the Spartan words, the other a thin melody. Together there is a danger of uncomfortable opulence. It teeters. It honks. It is a foul-smelling faux-luxury item bought without care the day before Christmas. The grandmothers refuse to answer. Their coats are ragged and dusty with mould. Something tells the fathers that they are viewed with suspicion, that they might be incomplete. They are right. The grandmothers hold up placards made with floorboards and bitumen. The placards declare: You have suppressed our research. The fathers withdraw.
The grandmothers gather into a circle sotto voce. This is not the time to be cautious, one says. This is not the time to fumble and fall, says another. Soon, there are modest estimations of self worth everywhere: let us lead, not talk; this is the time to welcome our neighbours; we are righteous, we need no reward. And so it goes on. Until the tallest of the fathers, who are indeed the grandmothers’ sons, steps into the ring. He has a roll of parchment that the fathers have quickly put together. There are ten points. The grandmothers sigh as one.
The grandmothers know many things: how to keep a man hungry; why her sons are easily distracted by horses and alcohol; why her sons use out-of-date fruits for the celebration cake; when to remain silent; when to resist correcting mistakes. The grandmothers choose their moments to instruct, even though they may be in the throes of weariness, even though they suspect the men may never take their advice.
When it is time to put the grandmothers back in their graves, the fathers will know it, and may have to overcome their sons in order to do it. It will be eight days after the encounter with bears. The practice of reinterment is exhausting but necessary. Its necessity can make it inexhaustible, but that is another question about another practice for another time. Once a son, and a son of a son, has emerged from her skirts, the omens are positive. Their last words to you will be stay on your feet, keep the lights on. You will do well to repeat this to yourself daily.
Copyright © Mark Russell 2019
Mark Russell’s publications include Shopping for Punks (Hesterglock), Spearmint & Rescue (Pindrop), ℵ (the book of moose) (Kattywompus), and ا (the book of seals) (Red Ceilings). The poems here are from a longer work titled ᚮ (the book of gatherings), some poems from which have been published in Tentacular and Black Market Re-View. Other poems have appeared in Tears in the Fence, Shearsman, The Scores, Poetry Salzburg Review, and elsewhere. His work has appeared previously in Molly Bloom 4, 11 and 16.