For several years, I ran writers’ groups in Stourbridge. This piece was written by my friend Gavin Ferris, writer, actor, and teacher, with whom I worked in The Caves, then The Elysia Creative Writers’ Group. He wrote it as a farewell, when I moved from the Black Country to Glasgow. The ‘Edge’ in the story refers to Kinver Edge, a scenic location near Stourbridge.
One Last Stand at the Edge
‘I’m hare,’ it says, ‘bringer of wisdom and foolishness, of cowardice and courage, of rampant sexuality and virginal purity. I am death at your door and the elixir of life.’
Looking west, the sheepwalk is laid out in emerald green, northwards the tenement towers of Brierley Hill can be seen, and beneath their watch Stourbridge sleeps. Friends and memories drift and keep their place no longer but mingle, merge and say goodbye. Behind, the newly risen sun paints the rolling of the hills in pastel shades of burnt umber, lime and orange rose, and closer to, the glittering hues of sparkling yellow and diamond-bright catch the edges of oaks, bringing little wakenings of violet and sapphire to sight, while ferns in darker shadow tones wait for Monet to come with his paint. On along the Edge, two crows fly by, tracing the path of the ancient fort in the sky, playing with the air currents like fighter pilots. He walks on, down into the ditch, up the path, through the gate. Grunts ‘Morning’ to a dog walker who smiles and grunts back. He’s in the clearing now and can see the crows waiting for him where the track narrows and the trees form a tunnel from the light. The first walks bold as brass towards him, the other pecks at the earth for the new worm. Bold boy flies up, alights on the branch above him. They look at each other, both waiting. He loves moments like this on the Edge. They make him feel alive. A dog, free from its lead, darts by, breaking the moment and casting the crows to the sky. It barks down a rabbit hole and is gone. The dog’s owner, wandering, head in the clouds, is distressed. ‘I’ve lost my dog!’ she cries. A good man, he is touched by her plight. So, after the hound, down the hole, he flies. On hands and knees he plunges, past grass, through dirt he scrambles, into the depths he goes, undaunted. Darkness, uncertainty, questions follow, but no dog is found. The dog knows another way out and has up and returned with joy but no prey and a muddied coat. His owner, elated and unthinking, continues on her way along the Edge. Below there is burrowing, digging, hewing out rocks with bare hands, and questions. Ages, it takes ages to fathom the depths, to form, deform and reform the rocks, to penetrate the strata with sense, to make things clear.
‘What youm doin darn ear?’ A voice says in the dark.
‘I’m looking for a dog,’ he says, ‘Who are you?’
‘Never you mynd. Thars no dog dar nere mayte. This is the Black Countray.’
Hammers crash and fire flashes and every cave is a forge. The dark earth becomes flame-filled foundry.
‘Black Countray Boy, Black Countray Boy, me muther, darghter, faither, son, on ar land that proudly stan, a boy now to a mon. Set yoursen down ere an av a cuppla poynt.’
‘Sorry’ he says. ‘I’ve got to be getting on.’
‘Now don you worry yoursen mon, we bin waitin for ya. Youm the poet arn ya? Wev’e med summit for ya. Heretis.’
Then out of the golden, molten metal merges a fluent and fecund form, it’s strong back legs carrying it forth; it’s wise head and sniffing snout alive to threat and promise.
‘I’m hare,’ it says, ‘bringer of wisdom and foolishness, of cowardice and courage, of rampant sexuality and virginal purity. I am death at your door and the elixir of life’.
Then it leaps into his arms and snuggles down like a pet. He stands there shocked and still, feeling the gold fill his heart with courage. The flashing, fiery furnace fills the dark with light. Then it goes out and he drops the hare at the shock of it and the flash of gold flies past.
‘Must dash,’ he says and he’s gone, chasing his fortune down tunnels and tracks, past hammering and hitting and heaving of coal, along passages too narrow and crevices that crush and ravines too narrow to push through. Sometimes he’s made so small by the stone he cannot breathe at all but still goes on, remembering. Then, in a space too small, on a niche too narrow, just as he’s deciding to give up, the flash again, the flash of golden light shining above. Up, and to his left, a ladder of iron appears and he reaches up, grabs at the rungs and hand over hand hoists himself up, gripping the wet, feeling the cold of the hollow within, hearing his feet step and scrape, and the fading of Black Country voices. Still he climbs, hand over hand and hoisting, hour on hour he hoists his body upwards. New sounds emerge from the climbing. Then at last, he is there. One final effort and he pushes the weight of cast iron up. Light bursts in, a flash of gold flies through the gap. He peers from beneath the round heavy weight, unseen. Before him, no hare, but a rain sodden street, the smell of piss. Two men, old enough to know better, are leaning against the shutter of a closed shop; night time.
‘Wha the fucks tha?’
‘Wha ye sayin?’
‘Did ye no see et? A fucken gold theng just shot outta the ground. Look! It’s on topotha lamp post there. D’ya no see et?’
‘ S’probly a fire burd a somthin.’
‘A fire burd. Fucken hell! Jesus Christ! Tha’ll be worth somthin Rab. Let’s get afta et.’
They charge after the flash of gold, crash into the lamp post; the ‘firebird’ streaks across the city sky; a neon laser or perhaps a shooting star. They stumble after it, lurching and swearing like all good stereotypes do in these parts. He pulls himself up through the manhole cover; a new world, a world with the edge on every street corner and looking in, not out.
The scene fades. There is colour and celebration and people parading past old Victorian buildings, waving banners and kissing. He comes to the green, climbs the steps, gold flashes past. A smile greets him, a kiss. He is home.
Gavin Ferris 2017
Creative Writing Workshops
2nd – 4th August 2017, Forest Row
Three sessions with over a dozen people at the annual summer conference of the Anthroposophical (Rudolf Steiner) Society Conference at lovely Emerson College in Sussex.
We did a variety of exercises, starting each time with a quickfire ‘loosener’ before moving on to a more considered piece.
One of the spontaneous exercises was to write an ACROSTIC poem using the name of a cherished place. Here is one of many successful results, unedited, exactly as it emerged over about 5 minutes:
LASTINGHAM by Jane Abel
Long hidden, in time, stands a stone church building
Ancient monastic settlement, nestling in a valley.
Silence, in all seasons, is tangible to me.
Tall dark yew trees mark the way to the door.
I found god again, one day, by chance
Not believing anymore in tradition or cleverness
God was present in the crypt, in Eliot’s words
His Little Gidding my epiphany that day.
Away I went from there, changed, convinced, split open
The crypt at Lastingham Abbey, North Yorks.
Another exercise in spontaneity, this time written in groups. More leaf-shaped than diamond, perhaps:
The Word Within
Using writing exercises, as a group and individually, we will work with memory, the senses, and the playful imagination, as gateways to creativity. We will try to connect with, and navigate, the stream of truth that flows within us, which can carry and guide us through life.