The Hogback Stone and Ship at Heysham, a fable.
They were inseparable. From childhood into adolescence they dressed the same, cut their hair the same, such that no stranger could tell who was girl, who was boy. The hogback, convex, massive, stone, covered in images, became their home,
where they dwelled, safely guarded by the great beasts enclosing the ends. They pored over it in the church with eye and touch – her father was churchwarden, she had the key – sometimes at night, blindly, or in the mystery and clarity of moonlight. They endlessly talked about, made up stories, adventures in which they were the heroes. Entire sagas, if anyone had written them down. And the images on the stone changed as they grew. The man by the tree was Adam in the Garden, naming the animals – until one day she suddenly saw the serpent that had wreathed itself around the stone – where had it come from …? – and he became Sigurd the dragon-slayer. The stag, at first in the wild, with companion birds and beasts – even playfully carrying one on its back! – became the hunted, by wolves and then, worse, by men with dogs. The four men with raised arms were, for cowboy-mad he, in a hold-up, “Reach for the sky!”; as they learned, they became the dwarfs who hold up the sky in Norse legend. They puzzled over the lemur-like creatures with long curling tails – had they escaped long ago from Heysham Head Zoo, found refuge on the stone? The figures and beasts on the stone spoke to them, from a time when there were gods everywhere, and everything had a voice. They sought words to join themselves to the plants and animals, and beyond to the sea and stars. They asked, ‘what does the wave say?’
Then Ship arrived,
beached on the shore, concave, slender, steel, empty. Standing in front of it, gazing through it to the sea and sky, he said, ‘when the modern era began, the exterior world, hitherto teeming with gods, muses, fairies and ghouls, became empty space.’ ‘No!’ she cried. ‘While the interior world became deep and rich beyond measure. Language changed from poetic to descriptive, men and women no longer spoke to the world but about it, replaced connection with control, named all things but did not sing them. It’s called progress.’ ‘NO!’ But she saw that the identical figures on Ship were facing away from each other, to different worlds. She saw that he would go far, naming, and doing great things. While she would stay, come again and again to experience the sea and sky cupped in the steel hull, and listen for what the wave says.
1. I have incorporated texts from Homo Deus, by Yuval Harari, and The Broken Notebooks, by John Gilmore.
2. The hogback stone is a 10th century Norse/Saxon memorial to a Viking trader. It is in St Peter’s church on the cliffs at Heysham Head.
3. Ship is a new artwork, by Anna Gillespie, on the shore close to Heysham Harbour and the nuclear power stations.