Impatient Ores

Blacksmith helped by a fox spirit
Blacksmith helped by a fox spirit

I just got back from a walk on the canal to clear my head.  A story’s been riding me like my very own kitsunetsuki— fox possession.  I can’t think of anything but, and it’s disturbingly demanding trying to get it down, so full of kitsune-be, fox-fire, that it won’t let itself be forgot.

You can go two ways on the canal.  One way you walk by unloved River Brent, sacred to Brigid, the old goddess of this place, the patron of poets and blacksmiths.  The river is named after her and pays tribute to the mighty Thames in nearby ancient Brentford.  The road outside the renovated church where I live was a Roman crossing and it now marks the place where the river and canal become one in the same.

I went the other way, wanting to avoid walking past the Hanwell asylum wall as I was already raw from my imaginings.  I followed the river south, where the blackberry bushes, also sacred to Brigid, are in flower.

For much of the walk I was completely alone save the coots and swans (also sacred– Brigid is everywhere) and a couple of pensioners out on their canal boats, working the locks.  The fetid green water moved along invisibly, clotted with vegetation and garish plastics that will outlive us.

The cranesbills flower in the folds of rusted fencing. The willow over the rivulet broods beside the path which undoubtedly leads to the ghost of Lady Boston, murdered by her husband, pacing over her unmarked grave in the park beside the Boston Manor tube station.  There’s a small pond haunted by a suicide there, not far off.  Indeed the only company the poor ghosts have now are a few Polish men living rough, leaving their lager cans and ashes behind.

I can’t say I will miss this place, despite its green mercies.  In many ways it’s hemmed me in, not unlike my spectral neighbors doing their obsessive rounds alone.

Dare you see a Soul at the White Heat?
Then crouch within the door–
Red–is the Fire’s common tint–
But when the vivid Ore
Has vanquished Flame’s conditions,
It quivers from the Forge
Without a color, but the light
Of unanointed Blaze.
Least Village has its Blacksmith
Whose Anvil’s even ring
Stands symbol for the finer Forge
That soundless tugs–within–
Refining these impatient Ores
With Hammer, and with Blaze
Until the Designated Light
Repudiate the Forge–

–Emily Dickinson

Asylum Walls

Today I had to go to Ealing Hospital to get some blood work done.  The hospital is huge, and I don’t think there is a more dire looking place in all of London.  It’s a concrete mass with all pedestrian entrances hidden amongst abulance ramps. It seems made of perpetually rain-wet, pebbly cinderblocks.  In back of that there’s an old 19th century pauper’s asylum backed up against the canal– it was at one time the largest asylum in the world.  The wall separating the asylum from the canal contained an entrance which has been bricked up, and that segment of the wall is a stone’s throw from my house.  The asylum is now run by the West London Mental Health Trust and my partner does assessments there.

The place has the agitated grimness that comes from trapped ghosts.  (I am not the only person who sees this, no doubt– the place has inspired a LiveJournal  fiction community and fake wiki page complete with a TB outbreak and a serial killer hide-out).

In 2008 the Hospital was rated the “Worst Hospital in England” based on patients’ ratings, which makes sense now that I’ve been inside its grim, seemingly windowless maze.

The pathology room has a number system, like a deli.  Multiple numbers are called at once and there’s a rush on the phlebotomists, who are all parked in a little room– ladies with needles making chit chat or glowering.  I always remind myself that even though I live in London, I still have time to be polite and thoughtful, to make room for the aged.  You’d think I would have learned by now: elbowed out of the way be pensioners who had the numbers after mine, I was told to wait outside, and then scolded for not coming up when my number was called.  I realized too late why the one pensioner had pushed me out of the way– she got the friendly one.  If I left the room I would never be called, so I stood there stupidly, as if I didn’t understand what was said to me.  Brazen obliviousness– I’ve used it on more than one occasion.  Eventually one of the mechanistic needle-weilders took me.

I didn’t feel a thing.