The Old Toyota Tree (After Zierle & Carter)


The horse nods its head as it trots along going ‘Yes, yes, I agree, yes, yes I agree,’ agreeing with you all the way down the country lane lit by the moon and stars and your mobile phone. It agrees with you as the green fields and brown paths go grey like your father’s hair, the trees stretch higher, losing their wizened limbs in the clouds, and the sky ripens into violet.

As the horse’s thick long tail swishes and sweeps the air behind it from side to side, you think of tracks being covered; of dirt and snow disturbed.

Are you trying to cover your tracks?

Leaning forward, you whisper into its flickering ears, “Hoof-prints don’t really last on tarmac. If you want to follow someone now, you just turn on their laptop.”

You’re passing the shut-up storefronts of coffee shops and bank branches. The city streets are empty. Clip clop, clip clop. On you go.

“Footprints disappear, smells fade, and memory distorts. But a browsing history..that will show you the way.” And the horse goes, “Yes, yes, I agree, yes, yes, I agree,” swishing its tail nonchalantly.

You are sitting on its spine. That spine is long and gently curved, like the flourish of a pen underlining a name. The horse’s ambling gait stirs your insides. You feel them slosh against a skeleton that you learned recently won’t even melt in the heat of a furnace. You start to think of your own spine. How upright is it? Could it unfurl a little bit more? How much weight could it bear? In history’s marathon, it will go some distance.

And while you’ve been thinking this, you’ve not even noticed that the wind has picked up. Or that it has started to rain. Or that there are other people on the open terrace too.

Look at them: there’s a man in a black suit with one hand over his eyes. The other hand pulls his long brown hair over his head in front of him. He searches the space in front of him blindly, his ponytail pointing the way. And there’s a woman in a pale pink dress that ripples in the gale. She strides around a small pool, contemplating it with a look that is…what, sorrowful? Determined?

After a while, you decide it is neither, and is in fact equanimity.

There’s a skull in the pool: a horse’s skull, wrapped in pearls, resting on a bed of its own bones, and long black branches. They could be the branches that were lost in the clouds, the clouds you saw when the fields and roads went grey like your father’s hair. You turn round to whisper this in your horse’s ear, but stutter and stop mid-sentence. Your horse has gone: it’s in the pool, wrapped in pearls, resting on a bed of its own bones. His poor spine has crumbled, worn out by exhaustion and disease into individual vertebrae.

It happened when you weren’t looking. 

We’re very sorry for your loss.

Look again: there’s a woman in a black velvet jacket walking towards you, presenting you with a small wooden box. You look at her, and it, through the tears shuffling down your face. It’s quite a beautiful box; an antique probably. The hinges are rusted and the wood looks darkened with smoke and soot. It’s a shame you can’t name what type of wood it might be – and the realisation ignites your cheeks with another flush of shame. You know the make of the car you drive, and the jacket on your back, but not the tree that was felled for this.

Sing it softly to yourself:

I will meet you in the shade of the Old Toyota tree.

The woman in the black velvet jacket leans forward and whispers a question, making your ear flicker: “What makes your backbone? And what keeps you running?”

Your spine is long and gently curved, like the flourish of a pen under your own name, and the flourish curves a little more as you lift the black biro and tag from the box into the wind and rain and tears. Looking up, you see the skull held at head-height by the woman in the pale pink dress. Your old friend, he’s standing up again. With a look that has lost its equanimity, and is both sorrowful and determined, the woman tears the pearl necklace apart, bit by bit, pop by pop so all the little pearls drip drop, drip drop into the water, and your pen strokes answer:

Thin Air

Which are both a kind of formlessness.

You step inside from the cold for a moment. Warm coffee. Nervous interactions with other onlookers. A few keystrokes on your phone, each one a little gouge in your Wall, an attempt to preserve and endure longer than this moment (but not as long as your spine) like gathering branches and bones around your own formlessness.

Freedom & thin air.

You step into the storm again, see the horse bones and confessions dangling from the frame of a bare parasol, skin ripped clean off by the wind. A man-made skeleton paralysed in a state of constant exhalation. With cold, wet, shaking hands you wrap your message around the wizened branch and stamp stamp, the woman in the pale pink dress is looking out across the pearl-filled Thames, resting your old friend’s skull on her shoulder, stamping her feet on the low, low bench, and stamp stamp, we’re impatient to get moving again but the man in the suit is washing his hair slowly in the pearl-filled pool, half asleep and stamp stamp, someone is going to have to wake him up but it feels too cruel to do that, to give people another thing to be sorry for, another loss – even if it’s only of sleep and dreams, but look, she’s leaning against the low, low barrier, giving your dead friend a great view of the floor, 20 ft down where he could smash to bits and your heart has wrapped itself round your neck, pumping away like a too-tight bloody bowtie, and someone needs to WAKE UP!

Have you ever noticed that your messages move faster than your body does? The wind has frantic hands. The string on your message has come loose and your wish gets exactly what it asked for: thin air and freedom. You realise how much the formlessness terrifies you, and how crucial you find your own words to your selfhood when they come back from the grave, sodden and smudged, saved miraculously by the hands of these somnambulists: the woman in the black velvet jacket; the man in the black suit; the woman in the pale pink dress, who has stopped goading death and stepped back onto steady ground.

There’s no horse to take you home, but you have to leave soon. ‘There’s no horse to take me home’ you think as you go up, clip clop, up the flight of steps to the next balcony. But when you look over the precipice to the ground below, you see black branches and bones have made the outline of one, filled with hair and glue – drawn from your old friend’s hooves. You see his spine like the flourish of a pen, bearing the weight of his name, even as the wind and rain makes his skin melt again.

The parasol collapses. You begin to breath again.

Inspired by Zierle & Carter‘s Walking The Dawn, presented at SPILL Festival on Sun 8th November at The Nationa Theatre, Weston Terrace.

Published by Gareth

London-based artist

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