Image of beech tree roots growing over a rock, next to red fallen leaves on the ground. Text: a beech in Scotland does not sleep. Q Manivannan.

a beech in Scotland does not sleep

[a beech in scotland does not sleep. it waits, for the moon, for the sun.]

[a beech does not see, hear. a beech feels. a beech feels too much.]

[a beech is heavy.]

[it does not sleep. it waits.]

Black and white drawing of a beech tree without leaves.

Image by Annie Ovenden

Blind trinkets: I suck on their sides, crumbling crusty rusting metal meals, pens, the pack, the smooth cover, plastic, intimate, near – of sorts – with it, around it, I move. In the dirt, I write you into being.

Sometimes I feel the tremble near me, above me, give me cancerous names; call my hands invasive, a root trespass; a migraine, they don’t call it death, don’t give it clean endings, only separation, trenching, severance, excavation; to rend, render me unburied. But I know, the buried are friends and kin; not all of them the best kind, but they’re here and don’t go anywhere. They cannot leave and cannot stay. They fall and only fall and still fall, slowly. They move deeper as I push in, on, with them, as the tremble trembles me. I am attached to some; they stay with me.

“The root system of a beech is shallow, but they have coping strategies.”

I’m sick now, a Fife beech too much, too cold. You must come to me, come to the beach, a shore, surety, certainty, come, my big giant breath, of tombs and songs that make my hair tremble, a good tremble, a gentle tussle between me and you, your fingers, my face, your shivers, and grace.

And where can you bring me gentleness from? What coasts have you crossed? Here, there – home or heart – breaks, wreckages I left, I came with, other winds, other wetnesses; rain that held tears safe within its midst, here, here, still here. , for here, to bend new arms to scratch, push, squeeze, textures and heavinesses, rock, stick, fibre, and shard. I moved here because you were close(r). You aren’t here now, but I know, at least, I know, that you’re nearby. Roots know when something is near; two limbs proximate but do not meet, a prickle, a tingle, a tension in the void: relieve it, steal it, seal it, the space between.

In the 15th root system, my 42nd foot, I feel a hairclip wrapped in a print of Ismat Chughtai’s Lihaaf, torn, worn much before it drowned in me. I rub against the dead paper, feel its shapes, Anoop Kamath’s caressing, raging seas, of lines spinning, animal pleasures, a cry (“please, please!”), Asaduddin’s words, colour and the dead dye.

Black and white line drawing of two women, one with bare breasts, embracing passionately on a bed.

Anoop Kamath in Ismat Chughtai’s ‘Lihaaf’

‘“Allah! Ah!…” I moaned in a feeble voice. The elephant inside the quilt heaved up and sat down. I was mute… There was the sound of someone smacking her lips, as though savouring a tasty pickle… Flaring my nostrils I scented the air. There was only the smell of attar, sandalwood and henna, nothing else.’

Lihaaf, Ismat Chughtai

So what if you aren’t near me anymore, if your scent doesn’t drip down the green of my hair, every strand shimmering in the breeze, it’s a sunny day, hungry me is fed, dripped in through my body, I feed you too, sometimes, in red, sometimes, burnt, babu, come near. The brown of my body is scarred now. Things have begun to break in winter, my hair sheds, a careless effluvium, my heart disperses through skies the sacks of calls to return, come back, come back, come back, or just in touch, in touch, in little touch. What is around me is growing old with me, but you aren’t, you don’t.

“A soil can’t be younger than the oldest trees growing in it. It can’t be older than the materials in which it forms or the landscape on which it is found.”

And what landscapes do I escape, with the day, as I move, every night, as I stay still, trembling?

My third toe, the deepest root, nearly half my brown’s length, finds a framed letter. “Sleep, you won’t feel lonely,” it says. And then – a surprise! The sizzling burn of a burnt sparkler! Metal and magnesium, aluminium binder, oxidiser, a spectacle of emancipation – I feel the air thicken this time of year, the heat in the sky, the burning in my feet, roots shrivelling. I am trying my best to move or stay or survive and each rainy day feel the burning washed deeper, deeper, down me, till gone away for good. Do you feel lonely on Diwali too, still? Do your lungs burn, creak, and wheeze as I do in the rain? Or, clothed in safer skies, does the water wash it down, drip down your body, record by record, tracking stages, the lines, fold, little pretzel, shiver to the touch, up, down, repeat, return? Return. Come back.

Black and white writing in Arabic with a Romanised transcription: mohabbat karnay waalay kam na hongay/ teri mehfil mein lekin ham na hongay

Mohabbat Karne Wale’, written by Hafeez Hoshiarpuri, read in the voice of Mehdi Hassan

Once, you were a friend. You sat on my lap for three days, moved too much, plucking from my strings, a body made of me, long now, longing and different, curved and straight, warm, shaking, and as you trembled, I shivered too, to the touch. In : “agar tu ittifaqan mil bhi jaye, teri furqat ke sadme kam na honge” (Even if we meet again, the grief of our separation will not fade, will stay.) Can’t you come back to be with me now, then, now and then, a shift in pressure, a hovering graze? My bones are broken, un broken and immaculate: attar, sandalwood, henna, unblemished, my skin never been cut or dyed, no commitments, no words, no tears, I am perfect to be touched, to be touched, to be touched. Babu, where are you?

When did you last go home? How is your family? Did we come and go at the same time, a parallel switch of dirt, a crossroads in the soil, since I am here and here and here, and you come and go? Why? Why can’t I go too? I blame you for the stickiness in my air: I think you might be near again, some days, some nights, so please come. Come.

Near my 60th foot (mildly bent, the shape of an axe, I take from my many deaths) I’ve hidden away a map, a treasure. In a box, for you, there is attar, sandalwood, henna. Come, rend, rip, tear, the little patch of moisture near the 59th root system, the smallness of the beautiful cold, wet, autumn day. I remember your mother, and your father. I remember you. You told me stories, little you, a bit like the squirrel in my hair, quick, careful, earnest, regular, picking at me, fussing kindly, came to me all the time and stroked my hair, placed the kindness in my deepest brown.

In my 35th foot, the little gentle root, shy of the light, the one near the mud, moonrise side, friend of the timid morning sun, there is warmth I’ve held for you for some winter day. I’ve kept it safe.

I’ve kept these trinkets safe; they’ve kept me, I suck on their sides with my feet and wash them with my hair – I am here and will not move, I am not restless, I am here when you are. I won’t fade if you return.

I’ve kept them, and them me. I’ve kept you, begum jaan. So, come. Come. Come back?

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Q Manivannan is a writer living in Scotland. They write and read care and grief, learn from protests, and teach peace in Fife. 

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