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Fifty Catacomb States (Extract)

By Iain Sinclair.



Foot-foundered across negative space where wild mustard thrives, towards an intimate tangle of crosshair wires & falling branches; lice resting, egg transport in stinking crotch & oxter, clarified memory of ants and sutler creatures in thoracic armour, strafed on all sides & culled in sleep, our pudding-basin tommy limps towards a kindred spear: the saint he can’t staunch another fellow’s privates torn away, terror postponed, that moment on the rocking bridge between heaven and Hull, bones are straws & rags on trellis, costume he admires, a better class of tailoring. Antiquarian modernist, convert eavesdropping on moonlight mysteries, sacrament, flesh wafer turning to copper on the tongue, wine to uric acid, sandbag the suburbs, day’s haul, dropping pack & rifle, Brockley to Harrow, curse the bandsmen, pity the bear, fall in, mess tin, sweet afton, your number is 7, keep your distance, recession of mangolds, Mametz, machine-gun nests & trenches carpeted with the slow dying. Sip gravely, pierced water bottle, carrying a spare toothbrush, held his emptying glass to the western light, and in its prism flies wrappered in gauze, we watch the boatman mend his sail, petroleum is hurting the sea. Where the other artist chappie, L/Jack Adolf, also carried away from that wood, woke to the same voice. Say what thou seest yond.

…and, yes, the bloody birth of words commodifies around the desperate final leg of the journey, procuring memories of awful jest in the grounds of the big house with its permitted path, yellow portals and fish on unicycles. They are not all rock star gentry, Roger Daltry having been set aside, but opening the oiled gate, with consideration, on a classic railway scene. Our renegade troop unhesitant in reaching for Mandrax tablets & deferring standard transfer options: Potts on Prynne. This kentish slaughter farm stinks fresh. Condemned flocks, penned in open shed, bleat to the last. Dirty asbestos shields. Field signs chopped. VOTE LEAVE. Unaffiliated fools, labouring under the weight of a giant enamel toad, are pierced to the heart’s root. Which saint? Augustine’s City of God is carried from Chevening church, gratis. Iron plates have been let into the floor in time of civil conflict. Rabble piss the yew hedge. The bride’s proud in doc marten boots, dragging mouse nests & wren skulls in her shitty wake. Rother bottled as septic runoff from the font. Lady crosses the blasted cornfield listening out for hard rain, carrying her own dates & cattle chews.

The first flecks of snow are falling faintly, like the descent of their last end, on a suspiciously edible tombstone. The downdraft from a low-flying military helicopter, making tight circuits over the church property, is polemic. And resented by sentimental remainers in German cars. Free-range swine, across the road, on churned gault clay, are unaffected, tolerant of acoustic intrusion. Mud tastes as good. Inside the church, the lady is housed in a generous two-decker bunk, cadaver tomb or transi. A realistic off-print reclines in state on the lid, while her post-mortem double — enshrouded, bald, mouth agape, a shriek in stone — vegetates in the chamber below. Gold stars have been painted over the ceiling-sky, a leasehold Annunciation up for renewal.

Death’s charnel house and every stage in the process of mortality, the unrobing of flesh from bone, is made visible. Every subtle advance is open to view through Gothic traceries. Churches are large buildings, in which, after the concept of sanctuary lost its force, nobody chose to live. And only marbled duplicates are permitted to sleep and wait.



Iain Sinclair is a Welsh writer and filmmaker. He is the author of countless books, most recently Dark Before Dark (Tangerine Press, 2019).

This is an exclusive extract from Chris Kelso‘s I Transgress: An Anthology of Transgressive Fiction.



First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, November 3rd, 2019.