Nocturn

Words by:
Maxim Griffin
Featured in:
September 2023

By Maxim Griffin.

Two days since the last swift was seen – heading back to the Congo with a belly full of midges – most of the big fields have been cut – that heavy August funk of pig muck – the sweetness of blackberries thickens – nights are very much drawing in – pub people venture home, three sheets to the wind if possible and the night people attend to their night businesses, those sleepless dreamers are preparing for another long haul flight across the small hours – the first star tonight is Antares, the heart of the scorpion.

No, not coffee – you’ve had enough, besides, after dark all coffee tastes of is old river – cold, sparkling water is the way to go – you attend to tasks – tidy up – tick jobs off lists – wash, dry, fold – the moon, just after full, glides through the battleship clouds – that hour before midnight when you know rest is far away – flick around – channel 17 – those programmes about skin diseases turn into those programmes about ghosts – Zak Bagans passes the time – flick around – they’re telling the Syd Barrett story again and you feel it – that cat’s something I can’t explain – poor old Syd – the distant shuttle score of taxis and folks drifting to town for a late one – cigarettes and dear drinks – a little rain begins to fall.

Nocturn – the canonical hours – night prayers – those that stay awake until morning salute you – it becomes easy after you’ve done it a few years – a helicopter cuts through the darkness on its way to the oil rigs – a bite or two of pack up – white sliced with grated cheddar, Branston – you couldn’t stand pickle as a child but now the taste makes you smile – Schindler’s List is on BBC One – the unfilmed Scorsese version makes perfect sense in the context of Goodfellas and Casino – the economics of deception – somewhere close a fox approaches the bins – he was in Darkman, Liam Neeson – he’d have made a great Kurt Schwitters.

You can make it to morning on an ocean of repeats – you lurk on reliable channels – of course, you always have a paperback but it goes unread – it’s quiet – soft rain on double glazing – the house shifts, adjusting its weight – there’s a beam in the roof that always creaks after it rains – clouds going fast, in a rush to meet the morning – you felt the same but you’re used to it now – the sleepless nights are their own strange landscape.

Starry nights
The sky clears – stars are monstrous things, the stuff from which gods are thought – Polaris, obvious – another bite of sandwich – a satellite passes without sound, at odds with the flight paths and the firmament – you trace the shape of Ursa Major with your finger – a blackbird hasn’t settled yet – the bats are out and feasting – the tarmac of the bypass reverberates, someone speeding across the Wolds – the clock strikes one – one ping only – a little rain falling through the floodlights at the back of the supermarket – a vent of steam rising from the care home laundry room – someone shrieks, cackles, curses – Jupiter, Saturn, Oberon, Miranda and Titania – you trace the shape with your finger and take another bite.

The streetlights turn off everywhere except the main roads – badgers have gotten bolder in recent years, tumbling bins with impunity – muntjacs walk the pavements, foxes hanging out on the corners – a hedgehog scuttles along in the shadows of the suburban garden, scratching for beetles – the blue light of a TV show, a baby wakes – with any luck there’s a drop or two of Calpol left, enough until morning.

After midnight
Moon’s glowing, sickly yellow – all the muck in the atmosphere – dust from the harvest and Saharan sandstorms – a red eye from New York to Istanbul draws a line from west to east – all luminous – must be two – the bell chimes two – most channels switch to infomercials – Zak Bagans has gone to bed – you try to work out who buys this stuff – the man trying to sell you the electric mop had a small role in Independence Day – no – change channels – past the evangelical network, the bigots and the jiggling ladies and into the radio zone – Radio 3 is playing a combination of mythological sounding jazz, Bach and things that sound mostly of old gates closing – this then is a good place to settle.

It wasn’t quite a nap but you certainly weren’t present – time has passed – a lost 15 minutes – a half-formed dream of scope and grandeur – you shake it off, drink some water – no colour in the eastern sky but the knowledge that light is coming provides a sense of relief – a short, rattling squall – cooler and fresher – smells good – rain sounds tune into the quiet cacophony from the radio – the announcer says it’s the 204th birthday of Herman Melville and here’s a version of Led Zep’s ‘Moby Dick’ played by the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band – it’s significantly groovier than the original.

There’s a line of cloud, east to west that carries the coming light – the pigeons are getting restless, shifting on their branches – colour slowly coming, a dial being turned up – the silhouettes of battleship clouds against grades of blue – you look straight up – stars fade quickly – Jupiter, Polaris and Saturn stick around a while longer – there’ll not be a spectacular sunrise, no cinematic arrival of the sun – another wave of rain comes and goes.

Half four – nearly light – birds singing despite the weather – the sparkling water is now flat and room temperature – tea perhaps – no – tea after five, you’ve got a system – five – Bullseye’s on – imperial phase – you make your tea – charity darts, £300 for the RNLI – the Sunday afternoons of your childhood, the spectre of Hugh Scully – alarm goes off on your phone – half five – might as well get cracking, there’s the work of the day to attend to – heavy red clouds shift through the east – the degrees of astronomical dawn pass westward – you stretch, yawn – tired but not sleepy, sleep can wait, tonight – tonight you’ll sleep – a sleep deep and dreamless, oblivious to the great and terrible stars.



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