The original idea for ‘Words from a Bench’ came from Iceland, a country with an intense interest and love for literature. In the capital, Reykjavik, a literary trail takes in local landmarks and offers poems through QR codes on city benches (and they love their parks too). We thought this was a great idea, and so our own writing project was created.
We’re thrilled that the April 2014 issue of ‘Words from a bench’ has pieces from both our local writers and a group of writers from Reykjavik, and we were delighted when Ásdís, one of the Icelandic authors, dropped by recently to see the QR codes on the Rowntree Park benches. The University of Iceland will also be giving our poems and prose an airing on some of their benches!
We hope that you enjoy a selection of the pieces, themed under ‘Spring Fever’.
How do you do? by Inga M Beck
Please join me. Sit. Enjoy your day.
I am glad you have come this way.
I hope you know what it means to me: your simple presence, your mere existence.
Who am I? I am an unknown face, a forgotten soul, a single grain in a beautiful field, a drop of rain, a ray of sunshine… I get lost in the masses, but I am always there.
Do not forget: your beautiful smile can be that curvy pink line between life and death.
There is no medicine stronger and more powerful for the heart than an unexpected kindness.
A smile on the road or a ‘How do you do?’ on a park bench can turn a dark winter to sunny spring.
This power rests on your lips.
This is my smile to you.
Summer’s prologue by Karen Green
When warm sweet showers of April do us soak
The drought of March is pierc’ed to its root,
And sounds of birth will echo small frog croak
As ink nights visit with their tawny hoot.
A ball of gold begins to splash the blue
And bathes dry leaf veins in her tepid tears.
Take comfort at the lack of wintry dew
And keenly throw off all ungodly fears.
The breath of spring is fast upon the earth
As tender crops unfold their bounteous caul.
No more to gather at the fireside hearth
In fields we’ll frolic now until leaf fall.
Above a swathe of wings makes melody
A ceiling to our labours on the land.
To till and plough the future’s remedy
Fits firm within the toil of brow and hand.
Do these small birds dream through the night, eyes shut?
In Chaucer’s time they slept with open lids.
Remain awake to keep outside the rut
For spring is come and we ought do her bid.
Spring fever by Lóa H Hjálmtýsdóttir
There’s an illness that runs in my family. It’s on my mother’s side and only affects the women. We’re not exactly sure if it’s a disease or a family curse but every year a few of us will get very sick. When winter packs its bags and spring arrives and refuses to go to sleep, some of us will fall madly and deeply in love with a random guy. They don’t have to be handsome, we don’t have to be available. A few of us act on it but the older women are better at dealing with this. It’s not very practical to ruin your life every spring.
A Walk in the Park by Kate Lock
The blue tits lured me
Further than I meant to walk
Following their dipping flight
And gossipy twitter
Through the spindly branches in the park.
Amid the wails of babes
And exhortations of tennis-court mums,
The whimpering of pups
And the roar of the park-keeper’s ride-on mower,
Beyond the clatter of kids on scooters,
The raucous crows
And squealing girls on swings,
A voice spoke. It said:
Here I put on a play about Alice.
Here I organised a regatta of junk boats made from egg boxes.
Here I planted trees, and here, bulbs.
Here I made a maze of children’s footprints.
Here I painted a wall with blue butterflies
And goggle-eyed frogs.
Here I hunted minibeasts and
Wanged wellies and
Held a May Day dance with
And hid fairies in blossom-laden boughs for children to find.
Here I played the trombone in a booming brass band
And here was where we had
Bat hunting and fire juggling –
Yes, fire juggling! –
On one marvellous hot August night.
Here there was
A cello, playing
Peter and the Wolf
In the breezy pavilion.
Here is the path and the bridge
And the pond we put in,
And the mosaic map we all helped to create
Of the park we love.
Here is the Green Flag
Still earned annually
That we helped to hoist,
And the chessboard horse
We helped commission
When there was money.
And even if the pavilion with its
Painted bugs and bright handprints
Has been drowned too many times to save
And the bowlers have all gone
And the beech hedge is shabby
The children still skip and skate
And the blue tits bob
And there is cappuccino and a little library now and the cakes
The geese still honk and crap too
But I found a snake’s head fritillary on this unexpected morning
Hiding its chequered head in the wild wood.
And I remember when we planted those rare flowers.
So it’s all good.
A Second Spring by Æsa Strand Viðarsdóttir
“And look!” he continues, pulling me along the gravel path. “See? The bench we used to sit on. Remember? In the shade. Because the sun burns your skin so easily.”
I nod, even if I don’t really remember. It feels familiar though, the whole park does, but in the way that everything feels like it’s on repeat; if not experienced in person, then from photographs or films. My body might recognise the bench as I sit down, but whether it is this particular one it remembers or just the shape of so many other benches used through its lifetime, I can’t tell. The fresh spring air is equally familiar, with the dull aching smell of winter just gone, and summer’s ripe sweetness waiting in the wings. An echo of other springs I know I’ve lived, even if they’re forgotten.
He holds onto my hand, turning it over so that he can stroke the palm with his thumb. It tickles but I keep still, indulging him with a smile when he looks up, oh so hopeful. His eyes are grey with a touch of light blue, like the sky in the early morning before the sun has had time to bring all the colours to the surface. If he smiled, there would be crow’s feet by those eyes. I can tell by the shallow scratches in the pale skin that are still visible even now when he is so serious. He tells me he is thirty-five, but in this moment he looks so much younger. I, on the other hand, feel very old, despite my life having just started.
“You always joked about having a short lifeline,” he says with a hollow laugh. I have a feeling he used to laugh very differently, out loud and bright, with twinkling eyes and his face split by two rows of shiny white teeth. “Maybe this is what it meant. Not an early end but a late new beginning.”
“Maybe.” I look down at my hand, slack in his hand, his fingers slightly curled around my fingers. I wonder which line he is referring to.
“Can’t we just …” He sighs and looks away, his thumb still stroking my palm in tiny circles, round and round. The move seems practiced, a habit borne of days spent like this, holding hands in the sun while sharing thoughts I can no longer recall. “Can’t we just do that?” he finally continues. “Start over? Make our own new beginning?”
“I don’t even know you,” I remind him gently.
“But you will,” he insists. “We fell in love once. We will do it again. Just give it time.”
I look at him. He is handsome. And sweet. And so very patient. And I am …
Well, I don’t know. Pretty enough, I guess, until you notice the knotted line that runs along my scalp like a red snake. I am shorter than I expected to be the first time I looked in the mirror. Thinner, as well. Bottom line, all I know about myself is what I see. What lies beneath the surface, trapped inside this skin, these bones, this confused heart and this broken head? What is my character? Who am I, not only to other people, but to me? And how can I love another person if I don’t know the person I am?
I have no other family. That is what they tell me. My parents died when I was very young. There was just me left; me and my grandmother. She is gone now, too. Sometimes I think I can feel a small hand in mine, like a ghost child walking beside me. Maybe I used to have a little brother or sister. Maybe I just helped a lost child find their way home. Maybe the child is me. I don’t know. I just know that if I leave him, I will be on my own. Still …
“I need to figure out who I am,” I tell him. “I don’t think I can do that with you.”
“Why not?” he asks. His thumb has gone still, his grip on my hand tight.
“Because you want me to see who I was,” I explain. “And I want to see who I am. To be able to do that I need a mirror, not a photograph.”
He lets go of me and pulls his hand to his lap. Angry. Hurt. “You say that like you’re two different people. They’re both you.”
I close my eyes for a second and breathe. When I open them again he is sitting hunched forward, elbows on knees, wringing his hands. I can feel him trembling, small shudders of laboured breath that play his tense body like a cello. His eyes are fixed on the ground.
“No,” I say, keeping my voice calm and gentle. After all, none of this is his fault. “One is your version of me. An imprint of who I was before. A memory of me as an adult; when really, I have just been born. We might bear the same genes, but I wasn’t moulded by that person’s experiences. And I never will be.”
He straightens up and turns to me, a frantic look in his eyes. “You don’t know –” he starts and I cut in.
“I have no idea who I will become. Or who I will love.” I pause, not wanting to be cruel, but he keeps gazing at me, waiting, hoping, and I realise there is no other way. “It might be you,” I say, “but it might just as well be someone else.”
He recoils, his eyes wrenching away from mine. He opens his mouth then closes it again, swallowing repeatedly. “This was supposed to be our summer,” he says finally, voice hoarse, and stands up. I watch him walk away, head bowed, hands thrust deep in his pockets.
I remain sitting, heart pounding with terror, excitement firing up my veins. This is it. I am on my own. I feel sorry for him, I do, but he is not my responsibility. Only I am. Maybe this was supposed to be our summer but now it is my spring.