PHILIP O NEIL

CAVES IN THE WOOD                                                  1st vol.1st issue Dec’2013
Prague (Ruska) 1997
”Through a thick forest of stout beeches I climbed all the way to the mound at the old castle. Century old lindens with flowers rinsed clean, silent, not even bees. Up above in the transparent sky a swallow flies past. Some dark bird with a black beak, who funnily squats at little intervals, settles nearby on a stone.”
Leos Janacek in his diary commenting on his birthplace, Hukvaldy
*
A heron gyres above the pines, and in its screws
winds down a day that wraps the grey-stone woods;
mooning menhirs weathered to a watch as dusk lids down
on the crowning collapse of a fort,
the silent threads above the cloud of trees
throw cardinal robes across the slopes.
At lightfall we raced through lime and beech
to catch the gagging curtain – muting air and dumbing slopes,
rounding stones, shading in the valley,
and with the deft sleight of a practiced hand
the lighter veil is whisked away under the eye of the circling bird.
We spied the scene like decorations on a cake, siblings
in a teatime, two-timing cottage, gazing, glass eyed
at the fresh marbled cake in a muffled gloom
before the cere hand blinds the dark,
boxes the room with a light switch
and shadows retreat like wraiths
into far more acceptable shapes,
but then, for a moment, only then
light was no longer light but not quite dark,
the mirage of a hidden movement in the woods,
with the switch the heron turns again a routine spin.
Had we in a beat, beat time and light. Left it limping up the hill?
There, see,
down shoots the bird;
against self – like a hawk
harpooning into the strict timbering of the wood
diving through the green cloud into the map of trees
pillared trunks, docked below, that solitaire board in ranks
on a herringbone carpet of needles, divining with their brittle angles
the cat-cradled wood egg-sliced by the fingers of the sun’s last rays
and the heron’s eye shoots past with stroboscopic flash
flickers through the fence of trees, rattling like a stick
reflecting all in the yellow hemisphere of an eye –
the end of a silent film reel ticketing in the air,
warm fanned fingers chloroforming trees
the light smoothed into a blanket
and the nurse’s hands of dusk
bully thickets into shape
like pillows.
Quiet,
ssh
sh
the wood
is muted now
but for the one sound
from the brambles. No, there
from the ferns, a thrush or squirrel?
It’s the noise, you know the noise, that cocks ears
when you’re walking down a street or path, cocks your ear,
stops you as you twitch your wryneck head, you lose it as you listen:
again and again you try to trick the sound into appearing, define its direction,
nature, shape, but you move on, searching for a moon and track to home. Leave the sound to weave itself into the tapestry of the wood. A new colour needling
into the loom, and pulling back, you see it hanging on the sitting room wall
A woodland scene at end of day one – ‘Aurora’ of course, it’s called,
the colours fresh as if first viewed, colours still aware of their
surroundings, hanging between impressionism
and expressionism. Leapfrogging
their shades, and looking up,
closer you see by the castle
on the wave of a hill
two faces half-lit
peering at
a bird.
The tramp
travels on a cushion of needles
as the sound weaves into his footfall
recedes into the eye of the thrush, jumps
with pine cones, tap-dancing down branches;
in all sounds which are echoes here. It spreads
like moles in the ranges of roots and then springs up
through the sieve of the floor. Caught now.
frozen in sprays of spruce and fern
tonguing for the last rain of light,
the sound dampens the wood,
a muting pedal strangles
the bedding light,
gripping them
like vines
with its grasp
of hardening stems.
And the rays are like old folly columns
squeezed by ivy, spreading fast, dulling light
and painted on its smooth walls an Arcadian scene
a pan piping to a river where Bacchus, drunk,
laughs so much he’s unable to move
in the tricking light that sends
two figures to the scene,
paints them on a hill,
staring at a bird
but the virulent
Ivy sends them
Back to
Obsc
ur
it
y.
2
figures
seek refuge in the wood,
Venus light at the cave entrance,
herons stabbing nearby in nightponds
kindling crackling in the illustrated cave,
salamander lisp of flames flickering into view
symbols painted on the chipping rock
the glow burning another veil.
step inside and watch
the wreaths of flame
lick with serpents
heads,
tails.
And think with a fragile head, supported by a delicate scaffold of matches
within a workman’s platform precariously joined in the flame-lit cave
poring over the images daubed there by the speechless twins
their images of hunting, hunted, fear, joy, one another,
of two primitive artists finding fire in their cave
the same fire that will burn their supports.
The two cavemen who fight with their new brands
waving their fiery batons, conducting away natural light
the swish of the orange beat like sparklers burning the beams.
Beneath the Aurora tapestry in the sitting room of number thirty-three
where, in the late afternoon, a tired and bored Mrs Eliot turns on her new TV,
watching now the awe-filled voice, hushed so as not to scare away the paintings
in the fire damaged cave. “Here thirty thousand years hence, we can,
like detectives, decode the clues to discover that a fight took place,
and very probably a murder; the victor leaving behind, not only
the murder weapons but also a confession: here on the wall,
quite possibly the only one of its kind in the world.”
Mrs Eliot watches the screen as she irons,
the smell of linen and steam rising
as she watches the man tell the tale
of one man in a cave
who, then, realised
the need
to flee,
sickened
for the first time
by the routine spin,
as he span like a top
around himself, hopelessly
tied to his core. As outside grey faces
peer from the mooning stones, Easter Island
aasks hewed by wind and rain, nature back to nature
smiling humbly into the thick green of trees as in their eyes,
lie the caves where burned paintings were etched into a skull,
images grabbed from a life that had started its echo in a cave
in a nutshell, in an empty pool, like the first headache,
the inexplicable nails driven into an unseen space
knocked like chisels into the circling skull
into the matruska rocks. A vision.
The bird wheeling around
the two prisoners
in the cave
not knowing
they could leave
at any
time.
PHILIP O NEIL

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Philip O’Neil, born in the UK worked as a journalist and editor for a number of newspapers and magazines for 20 years. He has worked in the UK, Belgium, Czech Republic, The Balkans and the US and also has had his photographs published in over a dozen publications. Meanwhile he published two collections of poetry ‘Riera’ and French polishing (Alexander Press) He currently lives in Prague writing a follow up to his novel “Mental Shrapnel’.