This piece by Sophie McKeand, Rebel Sun is part of the new Wales Arts Review ‘Artists in Residence’ line-up series. Throughout 2017 these artists, including Sophie McKeand will take a leading creative role in what Wales Arts Review publishes, centring their skills on a challenging project over the course of a month. We were inundated with applications, receiving hundreds of emails about the positions, and it was no easy task whittling down all that talent to this final eleven which included McKeand. Our team of six editors debated long into the night, and in the end, we decided on a collection of people who we most want to work with, and whose work excites us. We think you will be excited by them too.
Sophie McKeand is a writer of water and earth, of migration and roots. These threads of poetry are woven throughout McKeand’s life in celebration of the kaleidoscopic forces that make up the unnameable essence of being.
Your alarm rings beetles. Opening curtain-heavy eyes you waterfall out of bed. Regrouping in the bathroom you notice manes of dune horses patterning through the window onto new tiles that march like soldiers. Slicing knife-edged blinds across golden plumes, you frown and stand on scales that burp toads – you still haven’t lost ten pounds. You try to shower flabby thoughts away but the seal blubber in your mind holds fast and John Lewis doesn’t sell the correct excavation knife.
Your car is a tortoise and you grovel to work together. Outside your office, the daily protest march has begun. Thousands of bricks defend workers from the insurgent army of brilliant light demonstrating across courtyards. You shield poached eyes from the insurrection and scurry indoors to where strip lights and air-con salve jittery skin. Someone has opened a window near your desk so that you are forced, again, to confront the agitators outside. A swarm of birds occupy plastic trees chanting comrade! comrade! to the rebel sun.
You decide to take a stand and, lassoing your desk that floats down-office in the flood, type a strongly-worded e-complaint.
You try to sign off with your name but cannot remember. The letters are ants marching determinedly in circles. You brush this diversion aside and type yours sincerely desk 391. They will know who you are. You eat lunch at break time then buy lunch from the sandwich van parked in tar sands at the back of the building. You are a caterpillar deliberately gnawing through another day. You consider taking up smoking again to curb your appetite.
Some workers are cavorting with birds in the sunlight. They won’t last. You’ve seen it before. Socialising with agitators burns skin to ash. Soon concentration will slosh around the office like over-watered concrete and you will have to dismiss those who are not already blown away by the afternoon hurricane.
You finish work late. There is no traffic. The tortoise is now a hare. Black skies are punctured by bright laser eyes as you surge home exhausted. You are a plague of locusts devouring the contents of the fridge. Blood red wine flows as you settle alone with friends whose scripted conversations intertwine like ivy with social media feeds across the lounge floor. A river of wine finally engulfs the tiny boat in which you are trying to ascend.
Saturday screams by in a murder of crows that claw you into Sunday. You intend to spend the day working. The white screen lights a fishbowl around your face as you yank seaweed across the window and submerge. It is cool in the semi-darkness and you breathe into aqua-blue. You could have finished this work on Friday, probably by Thursday; if you’re honest, Wednesday, but that’s no example to set staff who will loiter like seals at any given opportunity.
The email you are typing refuses to conform, continuing instead to shape the names of places you only know through five-star-all-inclusive-package-holiday-deals. You wonder for a moment about the wider country outside these resorts, maybe next time you’ll be more adventurous. You close that screen, cast your net wide, plunge for the depths and begin writing. This is an important document. You know because it arrives as a pulsating, red jellyfish. You have written these reports a hundred times but it is becoming increasingly difficult to square thoughts. Coming up for air you realise the rebel sun has made a tactical manoeuvre across the nihilist sky and is streaming into your eyes.
You have no time for distractions and climb onto a chair to block out the mutinous light but the chair is a cockroach and you scream in disgust. Lunging backwards you shatter like a crystal vase across the black slate mountain of the dining room floor.
It is dark. Your eyes are open but filling with thick, black oil. In the corner of the room a white glow beckons. You want to move towards the light but your limbs are shards sunk into coal. Someone will come for you.
It is bright. You are still alone. A mass lobby of gulls squawks outside in support of the rebel sun who parades across your body like a brass band. You try to move away but you are still in pieces. Your laptop is chiming butterflies, your phone rings hedgehogs. It is impossible to reach either. You would sob but that is for feeble people and you are not weak.
You lie prostrate before an oppressive sun. The hospital has pieced you together to the best of their ability but insists on rest and recuperation. In sunlight. Your body is a shipwreck. At first, you scream every time they weasel you outside but your actions are perceived as a sign of a volatile and unstable character so you acquiesce.
You watch your skin slowly break into the dirt and feel your mind crumble. Day after day as the rebel sun graffitied propaganda across fractured limbs you hold fast to what you know: the sun’s malice has caused this depression; you were born to work – to be productive, to give everything to the job, to climb, to improve, to be the best, to be unique, irreplaceable. You hold fast to these thoughts and glare at the sun in the hope he will cower in the face of your defiance but instead, you melt into nothingness: you are not special; your employer has already replaced you.
Dissident sparrows squat amongst the shards of your hips and thighs so that you cannot see where you end and they begin. You are pained by their chirrups bouncing around the seashell of your skull and mentally compose their eviction notice.
As the day’s sloth by a beehive takes shape in your heart. This is totally unacceptable but your complaints go unheard. Time and stillness have gifted you the perception of a hawk and you become engrossed with the actions of certain ‘innovator’ bees.
At first, these tiny entrepreneurs are a mirror in which you vainly admire your own productivity and problem-solving capabilities but as another afternoon whales past you realise they are allowing other bees to copy their actions – for free. Not only that but the ‘mimic’ bees return to the hive to teach other bees the new technique. Each time this happens the hive, and your heart, strengthen and expand but you are aware that the innovator bees hold no leverage, no advantage, and are quickly relegated to being exactly the same as all the other bees. You eye them with disgust and begin plotting their removal while surveying the broken remains of your body:
The rebel sun has bronzed your skin to dust. Your bones have taken root and are now a hedgerow for sparrows’ nests. Your heart is a socialist beehive. Your head is a seashell echoing birdsong. Everything is seasoning by organically. You are no longer needed or in control. Perhaps this is hell, you muse.
The full poetry collection of Rebel Sun by Sophie McKeand is out with Parthian Books, May 2017.