The E-L-M

It hadn’t been easy in Hackney, so she decided to rework the first section into something approaching sound poetry. More in tune with Dick Higgins than Pam Ayres she recalled his Snowflakes and then the words appeared quite quickly on the page. This performed approach to language would surely communicate to the 120 pensioners at the Brighton Posh Club, sitting around large tables with tea and sandwiches expecting a cabaret (in the dilapidated ballroom of the King Alfred Leisure Centre). It was her choice to do this, to experience this challenge, and modify her complex material for an audience of elders. She was second on the bill, after a nervous and thin-voiced singer called Anthea, and a flurry of sixties hits from the silent DJ. But what about the hat? Yes or no? Suddenly the compere, Alfie Normal, is here to introduce her. They’d arrived late and, at the last moment, decided against adding black PVC thigh boots to their scarlet sequined boy soldier outfit. 

Alfie walks off the stage and she steps onto it. She’s in this now and the words are coming, speaking, spoken, projected, like this, like now, she is, talking them out. Tailoring her text to this audience was the right decision and also a regret. In this moment, she longs for a more abstract pattern of words that will give space for her stammer. More like:

Like the A-S-H,                                                  

The A S H you tough light weight timber

You s-stand tall yet die back

Cut you down to size for tool handle making 

Turned on a lathe ash handles stored under your desk in a cardboard box for years waiting for the theatre doors, for years for doors, no building, no doors

And the O-A-K, 

The O A K is you is you are                                    

Here always here to be iconic and join the supply chain for hard wood floors 

Come, come quickly, join our logo, our crest, my helmet, your bank, their menu

The O A K of old England and royalty

And name of pub The Royal Oak (in Holloway Harlesden Hackney)

But but 

YOU, you are the other one, E-L-M, the E L M,                             

The tree I know to be the one I look at

And see 

When I am six seven eight nine

With forces of not-breathing wheezing

Do not wake your sister

To breathe and be out there

Even in the dark – but you’re afraid of the dark

To be with you over there standing tall

Up and over

Smothered by surrounding streets of suburban houses 

With windows glazed over and looking

While my eyes

Are searching

To be with you

You were the one for me

You were the one I see

The one I went to see

The E-L-M, not the A-S-H or the O-A-K                                                 

The tree I go to see

To be with you

You to be

To be

To see seeing being

Allowing giving me 

Here with me

Hearing me

Healing me

You are in me

Be with me

You and me

Stay with me

Be here with me

Now she’s back here in Brighton and returns to the script. Her stammer recedes:

And then the beetle comes

Here from over the seas

Moves in, shacks up, creates disease                     

Under your bark is where it starts

So now long time, long time

You are gone, all gone

25 million dead, destroyed

And I miss you bay bay

I never got to say goodbye bay bay

I wanna be with you

Be here with me

Here with me

She hopes they will remember these last few words as lyrics in the dance track by Duke Dumont that will come later. He, coincidentally, born as Adam Diment in the same grim suburb where she communed with elm trees.

She moves her hand slowly towards the hat with a gesture that says watch me now, knowing that in this one action she will disappoint herself and entertain the people who, she imagines, desire only to be entertained. Yes or no. 

‘This is not how it ends’ she says quietly. ‘Not like this.’

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