Twenty years ago I went to Monkton Wyld Court for a residential men’s weekend. It was my first exposure to men’s work and it’s fair to say that I was pretty nervous about going. I needn’t have worried, Alex Wildwood held the space beautifully and having spent the day making images of things from our childhood that we wanted to let go of, we went at dusk to Charmouth Beach and made a bonfire between the crumbling blue lias of the cliffs and a rising tide. It was dark by the time we lit the fire and spontaneously created our own ritual. The images I had made were about loneliness and the loss of my father.
The ritual was simple and powerful but it was a momentary glimpse of something else that made the evening unforgettable. I’ve been struggling ever since to capture that moment. This narrative poem is the latest attempt. It really needs something else, more radical I think, but you’ll get the idea.
Eleven men gather on the narrow strand
Between the crumbling cliffs and the sea.
We walk in silence, as dusk chills the air,
Until we find a place to make our prayer.
From the shoreline we gather driftwood
To build a fire that reaches up to heaven.
Then pile stones high at the water’s edge,
A sacrificial cairn to mark the rising tide.
We stand apart in silent contemplation,
Staring at the moon-capped inky waves.
Each one seeking answers in the depths
To the questions that haunt their lives.
The moment comes; time to set the match.
Flames leap into the sky and lick the stars.
Fire to cleanse the soul and warm the heart,
A beacon of hope for men adrift in the dark.
We are drawn as if by magnets to the source,
Men called to make confession to the flames
Some shout and weep, some whisper quietly
Some speak a blessing or swear a sacred vow.
I clutch the images I made that day, and then
With shaky hands and new-remembered love,
Consign them to the scorching crucible of fire.
It’s an old story Dad – and it’s time to let it go.
When it’s all over we stand around the blaze.
Now we are more than just our fathers’ sons,
We’ve left the boy behind, we’re men at last.
A much-belated rite of passage for each one.
Mad with joy we run into the summoning sea
Then shake ourselves dry like a pack of dogs
And dance to the raucous music of our hearts
Until we drop exhausted, on the friendly sand.
Our madness spent we gather round the fire
In quiet comradeship and mutual respect.
This night has brought us unexpected gifts
And the time has come to take them home.
Back into our lives, along a different shore
We walk, laughing and sharing our stories
Like mariners washed up after a great storm,
Brothers-in-arms strolling through the night.
A sudden presence tugs at my heartstrings;
I turn my head to the distant fire and stare.
In the flickering shadows another man I see:
My long-dead father, dancing there with me.
© 2014 Geoff Mead