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Grayhaar, City of Sea-mist

This prose-poem, in the style of Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities”, was commended in the 2017 Bradford-on-Avon competition, judged by Carrie Etter. It is a heavily-disguised version of Edinburgh, where I lived for a year that included the heatwave of 1976.

Grayhaar, city of Sea-mist 

You will ride north for weeks before you reach the city of Grayhaar. When you arrive, the chances are you will not see its full glory. The granite castle’s crenelated roof-line, the towers and spires and domes of the city’s churches and temples, the ornamented parapets of the buildings of state, the upper storeys of the tall narrow houses, all are obscured by fog. Wagons drawn by shaggy oxen will rumble out of the sea-fret, pass you by and disappear. You will not see ships but you will hear the voices of mariners and kittiwakes. You will not see the grey-green waters of the estuary but you will smell pitch and rotting seaweed. You will not see the summit of the extinct volcano that sits incongruously within the city’s walls. At midwinter the noonday light is a mere lessening of the gloom.

For one month at midsummer the city sparkles in cloudless sunshine. Trees break into blossom and the slopes of the volcano are covered in wild flowers whose fragrance fills the air. Butterflies and song-birds flock from the south. The citizens are freed from toil by the arrival of itinerant workers.  Minstrels and mountebanks throng the city squares. In place of drab work-wear everyone puts on bright clothes. It is a brief and hectic season of wooing and wedding, of dancing in the streets and merrymaking late into the summer-dim. You may wonder why the citizens stay there year after year. It is said that the joy they know during that single month of summer more than compensates for eleven months of dreary weather, and that indeed the pleasure of anticipation is one of the greatest benefits of life in Grayhaar.


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