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The only car that would take the harp was my 1986 Lada Estate, so early one evening in December 1992 I found myself driving down the M61 towards Manchester with sketchy directions to a particular entrance near Manchester Victoria station and a photocopied picture from an old concert. If I arrived within the quarter hour, I would find the harpist and her harp waiting for me. My task was to deliver her safely to a house in Hexham where the concert was taking place the following afternoon.
The sequence was published in Envoi 111 in March 1995.

HARP AND HARPIST:
weekend in early December

1. Manchester: collecting the harp

not a very clear photo,
on newsprint,
the ink too heavy
on the flipside,
fading your cheek
into bold lettering,
and the street map
not making plain
exactly where the gateway
should be-

but, against the odds,
I have found you,
and now we are trundling
a roughly triangular
plastic shrouded solidity
of dead wood and steel,
its voice the discords
of trolley wheels,
over the flags
and set bricks
towards uncertain spaces.

we have not yet learnt
the right words to say
to each other.

2. Hartside

I have discovered
that you come from Shrewsbury
and your father is a cartographer
that a harp has seven pedals
and you have been playing
since you were seven
that you like lakes and
high places
that you laugh easily
that you have eyes
that also laugh
that your voice is
an instrument I
can listen to
for its own music.

3. Concert: solo

your hands
are the texture of steel,
summoning voices,
making the air
bleed sound,
setting the shaped notes
spinning.

what else to say?

the harp sways and
you sway gently.
whatever ecstasy it is
you share with us,
touching and burning,
all we have imagined
seems more real.

4. After the concert.

we are making the noise now –
the inconsequential notes
of casual conversation.

the hostess has brought your wine –
you sip it slowly,
meeting with necessary words
what must be met, shyly,
as if what was laid bare
is not quite covered.

the room is full of tunes
that seem half written.

5. M6 in the Lune Gorge

the wind is turning the bracken,
fingering the pale grass
as the fells slide
in and out of the fine mist,
grey meeting green and brown-red,
a shudder of wild notes.

your fingers are still now,
your harp, for the moment, covered.

6. Salford

the city is drawing us in.
the earliest street lamps
make pools of cold fire.
the cars are orderly –
they move in strict time.

we have talked the words out.

I watch for the changing light
where the road narrows,
hear your slow breathing,
strange and alive,
conscious of the shirt edge
on your shoulder,
the slope of your neck,
your right arm,

the fingers I have seen
conjure improbable voices
from the sharp artefact
of wood and steel
we carry southwards
under a thrusting sky
of iron and flat red brick.

© Antony Christie 1995

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