In the Gaze of the Crag
The morning tastes of earth, the grcound damp with dew.
Our bodies bend before us, heavy under the weight
of gear, and expectation.
We are drawn by the promise of laughter, drawn as if to nectar.
Held in the gaze of the crag.
A palette of greys, dressed as it is in tender light.
The rock gives itself to us. We toil across it’s back,
balance on ever-smaller cracks, on ballet dancer’s feet.
As if defying gravity, lifting and smearing.
We bargain with the stone, the air, the gods; try to find a way upwards.
Our hands, no longer our own, mere tools of the task.
We are pianists caressing stone keys. Fingers travel creases and fissures.
Looking for something more to hold onto, than a half-remembered dream.
We bear witness to the seasons.
The barn owl swoops across our consciousness,
gone in a flash of summer light. Soon we will follow.
Silently we watch the sun depart. It magnetises,
sweeps it’s coat of blue-green-gold across the horizon.
Silently we rue another moment gone.
For we are small against its grandeur.
Those Six Feet In front Of Me
Once I was introduced to rock;
to the feel of the crag;
seduced by the prospect of height.
I was called to climb.
Now I go to places others rarely tread,
tied to a ledge, everything is different.
For those two hours all I think about
is the six feet of wall in front of me.
It’s a different perspective.
I leave the other world behind;
escape the rest of me.
It doesn’t matter how good anyone else is.
The challenge is against my own limitations.
I feel strong; feel muscles working;
feel the music of the rock beneath my hands.
It’s physicality sings.
It opens me up to jibes.
But even when friends are teasing,
it is meant well.
At least that’s what they tell me.
I climb because I can, because when I do, I’m more myself.
Because I laugh more when I’m climbing, than I do anywhere else.
There are all ages of climber here.
The youngest no older than four.
She scales the highest wall,
shouting at her father to stop telling her what to do.
The oldest makes me feel like I’ve stepped back in time,
into mountaineering history.
White hair, beard, hat.
Trousers that are probably as old as I am.
The young dare each other to try impossible tasks.
The elder members aren’t any better.
They use only one leg, or half the holds.
Anything to create difficulty.
There’s a constant desire to push harder, further.
The challenge, though, is what they ask of themselves.
It is a longing for greater achievement.
For the satisfaction of a job well done.
The good-hearted chatter from their companions
serves only to drive them higher.
My eye is drawn from paper to wall by the curses and the sighs.
By the banging of feet and knees on fake rock,
by the whirr of the auto-belay as it descends. People fall repeatedly.
Sometimes, partner willing, they hang then get back on.
Others lower to the floor, prepare to start again.
After an analysis of what went wrong,
of what they should’ve, could’ve, might’ve done.
After the chalk has been delved into.
The challenge will not go.
It does not matter how old you are.
Gritted teeth, and scowls, stand in testament to the lack of success,
to the wall’s victory. Until they look up, begin to climb again.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jessica Wortley is a writer and teacher currently working towards her MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle University, where she also works for NCLA, promoting and ‘live tweeting’ their literary events. In the summer of 2014 Jessica was writer in residence at the Lit and Phil library in Newcastle, where she led creative writing workshops on the theme of nature. She is also writer in residence for Sunderland Mountaineering Club. Jessica’s writing was included in the 100 Faces, 100 Stories installation, curated by Alan Lyddiard, and she has been involved in Sunderland and South Tyneside’s Cultural Spring project. In August 2014 Jessica was invited by Appletree Writers to read at the Edinburgh festival after her work was included in two of their anthologies, and she came first and third in two of their competitions. In October Jessica performed at her first international poetry reading in Montelone, Italy, and her work was chosen as November’s poem of the month by Diamond Twig press. Recently, she has been involved in the ‘Young Writers’ award scheme, in association with the Lit and Phil, which places writers into local secondary schools. Jessica is working towards her first poetry pamphlet, which will be launched at the beginning of 2015. You can read more of her work on her blog www.dancingbeepoetry.wordpress.com