Justy Phillips

Eels – You

Nothing definite any more.

We’re standing on a wind swept beach Swiss Julia and me. I’m knee deep in rocks and weed. She’s making images of the sea. All the world’s possessions washed up on this beach and nets and floats and bottles and boats. Actually no boats, but something better. Something deliciously unexpected. Someone’s left a present here for me. I just see the PHI at first. DEEP SEA MODEL GUARANTEED. I slip my best fingers into the hold. Pull my trawler buoy from the sea. There must be a tonne of air-filled weight on this beach. But only this one has my name embossed. Pressed with manufacturers P-H-I-L-L-I-P-S in Grimsby. It’s come from the north of England just like me. Who knows how long it’s been out there with the phantom nets and cod. Because I’ve been to Grimsby, to the twenty-five metre swimming pool when I was faster than them all. When everything I ever wanted I collected in my fingertips. Like buckets of Norfolk eels. People ask me why I spent so many hours in the pool. Made so many circuits of the water. Because I had nowhere else to go. And I’d say you’d have to be there to know how it feels to move through water the way I did. To know what was definite. What was true. Only then and only then do you see. You don’t move the water. It’s the water. It’s the water that moves you.

© Justy Phillips 2012

Horizon – Bloom

We are losing eight minutes of light each day now. I’m here to witness the big swim. It’s 8am and I am standing on the rocks looking out there trying to decipher lines of grey. I’ve been waiting here for days, battered by the cold and the rain.  I have a flask of coffee and a Lava bar. Eyes on the prize. The dark water. The chaff and the churn. I know he won’t come unless I am watching. Unless someone can witness his swim.

The down in my jacket is starting to weep causing delicate rivers of Arctic rain to collect around my wrists. And inside I am clammy and white. And somehow the black from out there has engulfed the white from in here and suddenly I am full of something else. In the north of England, big black clouds of rising damp are swelling in the walls of my father’s bathroom. And into my father. And it’s drowning him. And he has become the polar bear. And he is swimming for his life. Then flaying in the chop. And he can see no one. And no one sees him. My father. In his off-white pelt. Bedraggled and wretched, stands in awe. How the skins of all the other bears shimmer outwards in this light. Returning shards of yellow to the sea.

I want to go back to his house and scrape all that blackness from the walls. But I know it’s already inside him. It’s under his nails and in his hair. It’s in his voice. In his teeth. And every time he opens his mouth he lets another piece go. Ever so gently. At the front door, he calls me over to inhale the perfume from a single rose he has grown in half a wine barrel. He ushers me closer, wants me to take in all the air he’s letting go. ‘Look’, he smiles, folds his face around the bloom, ‘I’ve made something beautiful’.

I heave my heavy case up his narrow stairs and flick the latch on the wooden door. I can not describe the smell in this room. You’d have to be there to experience it for yourself. This is the smell of neglect. Of losing someone who is still there. It’s the smell of all the conversations you will never have. It’s the smell of all the things from which you came. All the things you fear you will become. All these things that are here. But already gone. I pull my jumper over my mouth and lay my case down on the carpet. Careful not to disturb his cobwebs, most of which are covered with fine yellow dust. Woodworms have eaten through the antique tables and sitting chairs. Holly, Cherry, Oak and Ash. Their delicate trails left undisturbed for months. If not longer. Flies caught in spiders webs. Brittle veins drawn from every window frame.

There is a sheet on the bed. I ask Dad who was the last person to sleep here. He pretends not to hear me and I pull myself inside because I don’t want to sleep on someone else’s skin. And I can see it’s all dusty and there’s probably tiny animals living in the fibres and then they’ll be living in me. One day a few weeks from now I’ll discover that I have started to germinate this room. And then I‘ll be the host. And all of this will be inside me. I call down the stairs for bed linen. I don’t touch anything. I don’t allow anything to touch me. He appears at the top of the stairs looking kind of lost, like he forgot that this room was part of his house, that all these things, these spiders, these woodworms, these pulsing veins belong to him. He reaches into the wardrobe and picks something off the floor. ‘Would this be ok?’ he pushes an old curtain, complete with wooden rings into my arms. ‘I don’t seem to have another duvet’.

I unpack a t-shirt which smells of me, pull it around the drool stained pillow and fold the arm holes to the back. I sleep in all my clothes, pulling the curtain up to my face, allow the wooden rings to kiss my chest. This is how I have been in his house since I was ten years old. Cocooned inside the smell of me. I lie awake thinking about all the things that are wrong about this room. About the black shape slowly rising up the paint, which joins my body to the toilet wall below. Not sure if I am on the inside or the outside of this rotting bloom.

© Justy Phillips 2012

Concrete – Spotter Plane

On the horizon, large tapestries woven from Icelandic wool. Each depicting a single rock. Not a volcanic specimen or archaeological find but a slab of broken concrete, found on the roadside. Chipped away from pavements, buildings, forced by car tyres into cascading screes. The tapestries are oversized, like islands, or meteors or small floating planets. Adrift in the universe. Think Westeman or Grimsey. An iceberg. Incomplete perhaps. A simple postcard, black and white, a news photographers snap of a polar bear in flight. Eyes skyward to the spotter plane. No where to run. But swim between the Arctic Char. And the white crested chop of the dark. To Iceland. See wonder. Experience monumental and spectacular scale. All this change. Constant. But also weight and time. More than even I can imagine. More than the flow of a broken heart. And another island greets the visitor. A land of Pulp fiction. A paperback novel. Like a life-raft, but only for the brave. An atlas of rupture, I will call it. Concrete icebergs, made from all the other pieces people threw away. And now the viewer becomes the white bear. The gallery the black dot in the sky. And all the while the ice is melting and the rest of us are running for our lives.

© Justy Phillips 2012

Waterfall – Kittiwakes

yesterday. This is who I was/ felt/ saw.

Walking behind a waterfall.
Climbing through a rainbow.
Touched a glacier.
Ice and black stone.
Bubbling water from the centre of the earth.
Travels up my shin.
Steam from a mossy hillside.
Walking through a fissure.
Petrified souls turned to stone.
Milky floe.
Dead sea birds spear the beach.
Kittiwakes landing on a cliff.

© Justy Phillips 2012

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