Underneath the circus sky the air is thick with purple smoke.
The leotarded ranks strut by, the sequinned showgirls wink and joke
And whistle kisses to the folk who’ve come, by God, to see them fly.
Their pintucked pinions defy the wide-mouthed crowd, the raw applause,
The wide-eyed wildness waiting where the net is not, but was before.
The tethered bear self-flagellates. The organ-grinder winds a reel.
A greasepaint Joan of Arc flagrates. It isn’t real. It isn’t real.
And there beneath the mast stand I, a spit-and-sawdust plutocrat,
A cat-o’-nine-tails in my fist, a stranger in a stranger’s hat.
There was sand, and sky, and little else.
There was sand, and sky, and stars, and little else.
There was sand, and sky, and stars, and a pool darkly reflecting into a new sky below, and little else.
There was sand, and sky, and stars, and a pool darkly reflecting into a new sky below, and the trailing branches of a tree, and a young woman who washed her hair in a glazed bowl, and the keening of shadowy creatures on the plain, and a heavy fragrance to the air, and a world waiting to be unveiled, and little else.
Matthew stepped off his bike and into the sky. It splashed around his ankles, specks clinging to his woollen socks and rolled-up trousers.
Matthew jumped from cloud to cloud, avoiding the cracks. A badly-judged skip didn’t mean bears, it meant birds and cold air whistling in your ears and through your clutching hands and the ultimate THUD.
The sky flew from Matthew’s plimsolls, ripples spreading and swallowing cirrus and cumulus and an aeroplane and cumulonimbus. A duck shuffled past. The sun started to set and the sky turned furious orange and Matthew was bathing in light, suddenly, walking in fire.
“The sky and the sea could not be severed. They had been lovers once and they kept the close counsel of aged conspirators. When the sky yawned, the sea swallowed.”
Every child born to parents who knew the sky and the sea heard this twice, if he was fortunate: at his birth, and when he married. But the full story, about the fish and the long path and the old woman who could only sing backwards, was not for hearing. Those who taught the sky and the sea told it as they lowered the parents’ children into the ground.