My life, in rope
The thick hemp ropes securing my ship speak to me in staccato voices, raspy, irregular and yet engagingly persistent and incessant. They speak of wild storms on unknown seas. They whisper the feverish dreams of hunger, blisters and violent outbursts becalmed and helpless atop disinterested waters. Those ropes are speaking to me now but the language has changed. Now, those safe, secure, life-saving ropes are urging me to speak back. Yet for all my ability with word and deed, this task they ask of me is too much. A score of lifetimes too much. No. Not lifetimes - lives. The lives of my friends, my enemies, and more unsuspecting bystanders than my mind wants to remember. If I do write, I write for those un-named, unknown souls. They are the vividly etched landscape behind the imagery of my life, and perhaps if I were to highlight them you will come to see the footprints and shadows of my part in that untold story? For better or for evil, I will listen to the ropes. I will tell you my story, and to the best of my ability, I will tell it true.
There’s something about ropes, something real and alive and physically present. Thick or thin, every rope has a purpose, and every rope is there to help you, to protect you, to enable you towards bigger outcomes and wider possibilities than anything you could achieve without them. Take note of the rope supporting my right shoulder just now. It’s thick - very thick. As thick as your wrist. And so immensely strong that 50 men pulling with all their sinewy, sweaty strength, would ne’er do more than pull it straight. There’s a strength to this rope that belies belief. And purpose - my God, what a purpose. This rope wraps itself around a stout knob-topped bastion of worn timber here on the fore deck of my beloved Persephone. Straight as an arrow that rope recedes into the shadows below the forecastle, disappearing with purpose and absolute certainty. You cannot see it but I know that this very same rope appears out of a hallowed round dowel just aft of the bowsprit, and from there it launches itself across empty space to lasso an unsuspecting post on that stone jetty that is just crouching in the water beside Persephone in a smug, self-satisfied mass of weight and certainty. That thick hemp rope secures Persephone and by brute strength, forces that jetty to hold my ship safe and secure. The rope has friends, many friends. And each is just as reliable, just as adamant in the exercise of their purpose. Ropes bind and protect my world. And I love them for it.
And these ropes, well, these ropes have history. A deep, real, and vibrant history holding much that is yet unwritten.
What’s that? You don’t see how a rope - any rope or any thing - can hold that which is yet to be? There’s much that you are to be learning, is my thought. I’ll share a little piece of history that lays embedded in that rope, the one just there. You’ll feel the views that rope has held through, and you’ll understand the deep well of unwritten songs and stories aching to soak themselves into that hard-wrought length of hemp. For that I will need a stout stool and a mug of ale, and you my friend.. Well, you will need to loosen those mind locks you seem so proud of. There’s no place for close horizons once we place our hands on that rope. No, none at all.
Duncan we called him, for no other reason than he once offered to a task that none others wanted, and by his slew of our language he could only grunt “Dun can”. Now his name may well be Dun or Duncan or it may not but to us the man has always been, and always will be, Duncan. And he wasn’t a mythically proportioned barrel of a man or incredibly tall. Nor was he particularly gifted with pistol or sword. He couldn’t even spin words enough to bed a down-on-her-luck dockside wench and he had no past to trigger an interest. Duncan was loved by one and all because if anyone can, we all knew that Duncan can. Duncan was a steadfast man, a good man.
He had the rope magic too, you see. Not that automaton mindless tie-twist-repeat effort that some call skill. Duncan’s rope magic was ethereal, not of this world. Most of the men who’ve walked under my masts could pin a stay or weld an eye or marry different widths with their hands behind their backs. Rope skill is seabed in our world. It’s assumed you’ve got it because if you don’t then you’ll be called or caught out before breakfast of a winter solstice day, you will. But Duncan had more. So much more. He didn’t deal with ropes behind his back - he caressed rope with his body wholeheartedly - his head bent, his eyes all over the rope, moving, holding, pushing and hauling. His fingers moved whether they needed to or not, and you had naught hope of spotting the difference between a pointless fiddle and a point-filled poke, even if you sat at his side for three ales and a supper. And that rope there - well, that was the rope that killed Duncan.
That rope emptied half my ship, and left a lead-filled weight of sorrow around the neck of every man who remained. And I’m not to know that it won’t be the ending of my own story but I keep that rope regardless, for the all-be-it faint possibility that its future may yet bring Duncan back to me. It’s a future not yet written, it’s true - but there’s a deep magic hollow inside that rope and that fact I know with a certainty absolute.
You see I liked Duncan. Maybe more than any other man I’ve ever met, bar one - maybe two. Duncan is a pivot in my story but that other - those others.. Well, their part in my story would be accountable for Persephone breathing beneath our sorry backsides, and much more besides.
I liked Duncan, and Duncan... Well, Duncan liked Yolande. My Yolande. My beautiful, wilful, wonderful, harsh Yolande. As taut as standing rigging but overflowing with the energy of life, she was. Yes, full past overflowing with lust and love, like a main-sheet fit to burst. But a sheet so driven and twisted by winds unseen, that no mere mortal can contain the raw forces unleashed or the emotions let loose. Yolande tore from me that which I can never reclaim, and the wounds remain as deep as the seabed. They be ropes you'll like as not never set your eye to, not even if you lived sufficient long to be as hard-lived as me. The tale is old and worn - not through any telling, mind - but through an age of shadow cut-out scenes repeated endlessly in the theatre of my mind. I liked Duncan, and Duncan liked Yolande. But I loved Yolande. I still do.
Now you do go get me another ale and yourself a sherbet that be to your liking, and mayhaps we'll share some scenes from that theatre of my worn out mind. I warn ye though - it's comedic and tragic, both. I'm yet to be certain you've the ballast for the journey. Meanwhiles, you just go give a wink 'n' a nod to Meal’oh below decks and he'll sign off for a bucket for us each, if you but mention my word. Be a good hand and get to it now.
And while you’re gone, I’ll sit here in the twilight, more sorrowful than morose, and dwell on sparkling shores of an era long buried and already the stuff of song. For all the fact that I am known as a man of action, my capacity for action appears dulled by the fortunes of time, and blunted by the receding shorelines of my outer ambitions. Not that these thoughts will be shared with you, and not that they will be a part of any story bearing my name.
For if I'm true then my story starts with my name, and if a name declares a man then my name was ill wrought, and ne’er fit for the life it led me to. But what a life, I cannot help but wonder. It is true that I’ve seen what few have seen, and trod ground that few have bent before. And I’ve loved - wholly and full ’til my chest would burst. And cried. No man who has truly lived can say he lived if he has not cried. Not the sob of a gentle broken heart but the gut-torn agony scream of a soul shredded, leaving the empty husk of a broken human shell grasping in a sea of sand for just one solid rope of sanity. I’ve cried that cry but you won’t hear of it and I won’t tell. Some secrets should lay on the seabed until the final sunset falters over a final horizon. No, some of my life’s footsteps and shadows will remain hidden behind the lives peppering that vivid landscape I spoke of. And the story of my name - well, I may yet I may not share it with you. Other lives I will talk to you of - but always at a tack, and e’er so slightly into the wind.
I see old Meal’oh has gauged my mood. No ale for this pale evening light. Good, hard whisky. He’s a man of good standing that Meal’oh. Truly a man of good standing.
So draw a pile and rest your bones and I will talk of my life in the rope.