GARDEN


The Garden

She is a nameless woman in the garden. Yet it can hardly be called a garden because no gardener comes to tend it. Like her its wildness is a refusal to be tamed. The garden has remained wild for an epoch, but no matter, she knows the lengths folk would go to in trying to claim its borders as their own. She would not betray it, even for the trading of a kiss. Here she dreams a little without recrimination, her reclining body is suitably refreshed as an unconquerable territory. Whenever she has to leave it she carries with her the desire for this uninhabited soil.

 

FAMILY GROUP

FAMILY GROUP
There are so many doorways; there are so many entrances and exits and so many figures passing in and out of your life. Yet there is a need to refer to them from time to t914753_42410124ime. Who possesses this doorway? Who consolidates this space to show willing or are dragooned into it? Who is there? Who is standing next to whom in this hierarchy of kith and kin, height and generations?

Look! Not even the eye of the camera will frighten them away.

 

G.F. Phillips

THE WATERFORD TRAIN


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It was raining no harder than any wet evening in Wicklow, the late night lamps fuzzy as this little man lost. He saw a porter, a blessing in the circumstances, for sure. “The Waterford train?” he asked. “Waterford be blowed!” replied the porter, hurriedly, assuredly. “That’s a fine place to want to go to on such a wet night.” “But which train?” the man enquired further, somewhat dampened by the porter’s response, and shaking some persistent drips off his coat. “The train be over the far platform.” “Oh! I wouldn’t say that… No, it’s not due out till mornin’.”

(Published in And Then magazine, New York, 2010)

 

 

 

HOME TOMORROW

Mobs are indiscriminate. They’re no different in Mashonaland except they’re poor and war-weary. But no excuses: you either leave your farm or you don’t. But even though you knew they were coming, it didn’t make it any easier. Those vultures in Harare called it ‘the popular will.’ We called it ‘pigs’ swill’. Still, I knew a little bit about the art of survival. I had a smattering of Polish from both my parents. Yet Hebrew has given me an undying love for my father and the seven crops of his groves. And in the desert war of ’73 a pinch of Arabic taught me to always keep an ear to the ground, stony or otherwise. So now it’s good to be in England in this safe house amongst comrades – oh you’re so lucky to have a big guardian angel protecting you. Since their independence in 1980 I’d been a man of the soil again. My wife is from Mashonaland too; my two sons are a grateful harvest. I had one hundred workers under me. We were set up for life.

861926_45651909But mobs play it by their own rules. Over the years those vultures passed laws that gave them the right to grab their land back, anyway, anyhow. One day, last month, ten of them came and smashed down part of the wire perimeter fence. They chased away a few of my workers, breaking the arms and legs of those holed up in the sheds. The fear was if the other workers helped out the victims, they’d get the same treatment themselves. And your last breath is always your last breath. The screams and shouts were a warning to us all right. They’d come again, and most likely at night, when most bad things happen under occupation. We’d be the last to expect punishment; we were the owners and so a bit special. There was no choice. We left the very next day. But my right-hand man as chief guard was rounded up by the mob.

According to reports, the men came in an old Mercedes Benz into the farmyard. They abandoned it – how do you say? It was clapped out. They were all armed with catapults and iron bars, straightforward weapons, and most effective at close quarters. They stripped the place clean and then, no doubt, those vultures would sell the assets and in return feed off a few more dollars. As for our escape route, not even my right-hand man knew. So if he confessed anything under torture, it would be a lie. But he knew I’d go my separate way. But now I’ve got word that my wife and two sons have been tailed to South Africa. In the morning I am flying from Heathrow to Jo’burg. We must meet up, re-plan; start again. So I don’t know where home will be tomorrow or the next day or even the day after that … not when you’re on the run, and trouble always follows you.

G. F. Phillips

(Broadcast on listenupnorth.com in 2013)

 

 

BIRD MAN

Nearby, the watching birds, hanging upon the statue, immediately got the message, and went homing in on the straightest flight towards what was now their recognised target. They were the vanguard (mostly pigeons), swooping in to surround him. In the midst of these birds he was anchored to his chosen spot, his legs felt wedded to the ground, a cap rounded off his head. The fact that he was well-prepared suggested he had done this before. There was nothing like encouraging the birds, these infiltrators from sky to earth.

The stonework on nearby buildings had taken its toll of bird droppings. But he never thought of this end result in feeding them. His sense of giving was drawing a small crowd of onlookers, amazed at the number of birds in the vicinity. There were more pigeons flying in from all directions, rapidly increasing in numbers for their daily sustenance. There were now two swarms of feathery bodies, only the main flock concentrated solely on the bigger bits of bread, grabbing what they could, holding onto it; fighting each other off with an occasional peck or dive to try and frighten a rival away. He was well under siege. One pigeon flew up and took a bigger bit of bread from his right hand and flew off into a handy free space to gorge alone on its edible prize. Several pigeons circled around him to see what was left for them to grab. Come to me, he seemed to say. Such a solitary figure, with his clothed arms outstretched, and as still as could be, he could have been a tree in a former life.

(Published in And Then magazine, New York, 2015)

 

 

AT THE CLIFFS EDGE

Everyday the couple look across their disintegrating territory to see what’s changed, what can be salvaged from sunken and fallen ground. He stands now at the jagged cliff edge, its renewed border, where once stood their washing line.

17268-cliffs-by-the-ocean-pvEmpty rusting canisters lie against the only surviving and battered stretch of outer wall. Some twisted roots of their old apple tree loosely grip the red sandstone. Everywhere has been softened up or pushed back somewhat; the couple, too, have retreated. Their prefab now holds everything they own. They are hanging on, she gutting the smallest of fish in the faint light shining through the window, a TV aerial on the rooftop shakes with every sea breeze, seagulls squeal overhead, as if in a warning of danger.

Squat as it is, the prefab is a little way back from their former cliff-top house. The council has given it twenty, perhaps thirty years of survival, enough for them to see their life through. But does it gratify them to live beside the sea, with that tendency to want to stop and scan the horizon, just because it is there? All they know is they are being overrun by every raging storm, each succeeding onslaught; regardless of its intensity, it has penetrated deeper and deeper into the shifting landscape, eating away at their very foundations.

Theirs is a half-breached habitat. Its centrepiece is still the stairs, now open to the sky, the wounding salt and the vagaries of the weather. It is not much comfort that from there, high up, they can view the whole scene of destruction in one grand sweep; even further along the cliffs edge, where the bay juts out, the other cliff-top houses are under attack from the malicious waves below.

But they were always the newcomers who thought it would not happen to them. Different, they were not. By staying on, they have not only drawn attention to their plight through a local newspaper report, they have drawn attention to their selves as well. However, to admit now that they should not have come here in the first place would be even more unbearable.

(Published in And Then magazine, New York, February 2010)