Two new pieces – one prose & one haibun – by Ken Head

Keeping Company With Time


Staring out of the photograph is the face of a ninety-one-year-old former railway worker who’s spent three decades caring for a clock. Not the family-heirloom, wedding-present kind that ticked away in pride of place on mantelpieces long before the world went digital, but the massive, ten-foot, monster of a dial with gold-leaf ornamentation, cast-iron hands and Roman numbers cut from best Welsh slate that hung for a hundred years in St. Pancras station. Immaculate against the gable-end of a barn, his clock dwarfs the man whose skills brought it back from the dead, but who stands stony-eyed, grim-faced, not looking at his masterwork, amid the tangle of bramble that long ago buried his garden. Behind him,  paint on a row of stable doors has flaked to exhausted grey. Creeper chokes the roof, lassoes loose tiles, its tendrils worming through space-time towards the region of two o’clock. 

When Even The Sundials Have Crumbled To Dust 

Oceans of lost lives
pebbles along the shoreline
one or two we keep

Almost no one comes here these days, just beach bums and refugees holed up behind the dunes in hopes of staying forgotten. Met some religious folk once, from a colony down the coast where the sea’s already turned to dust, a hard place, let me tell you, to wait for your new messiah to appear with a second shot at paradise. Hot as hell and no water. Ran into a couple of sun-crazed poets, too, before my eyes began to fail. Lookin’ for inspiration in the music of the dunes, they said. But that was a while ago and they haven’t been around again or I’d ’ve spotted their tracks. In daylight anyway. At night you wouldn’t believe the dark since the towns along the coast were all switched off. Even the engineers who’ve survived don’t make the trip any more. Why bother to maintain expensive plant when nobody uses it? Like I say, the place is pretty much dead, has been since before the tour buses gave up trying to keep it alive. No diesel, I guess, leastways, not for pleasure. A tough drive, too, with the roads so broken up or buried under sand. All the old resorts are ghost towns now, almost nowhere left with water in its tanks or a drop of fuel to drive the gennies. I’ve been lucky so far, though, stayed comfortable, kept myself out of the way of the army gunships that come lookin’. It’s easy if you listen for the rotors … like Vietnam. I moved to a higher floor a while ago to stay above the sand. Not that it matters. Don’t think much about problems, damage to my eyes and skin. Makes more sense not to. Sun’s warm all year, there’s peace and quiet to ease me through however many days’re left and watching sunset  shadow  the world to sleep is always special.

We come and we go
must it always be so
ask the universe 

• Ken Head lives in Cambridge, England. He was an invited reader, alongside Pascale Petit and Mimi Khalvati, at the London Poetry School’s 2007 fund-raiser.

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