Ruth Barker

The Lives of Saints

East End Women's Heritage Walk dowload
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The Lives of Saints


Downloadable Podcast, 20 minutes approx in discrete form. The work was read from a prepared script and recorded by Carolann Burns at Platform Arts (with thanks). It was then released as a downloadable podcast that can be heard either interspersed with an East End Women's Heritage Walk audio tour, or seperately as a discrete artwork.  The Lives of Saints was commissioned by Glasgow Women's Library for Glasgow International Festival of Contemporary Art 2014.

The Lives Of Saints download (via GWL).





The Lives of Saints.


A long time ago, I tried to teach myself to see the future. Again and again I filled a shallow bowl with ink, and turned the lights down low. I cleared my mind and sat very still. Barely breathing, I leaned in over the liquid mirror, and looked down. I watched for a long time, until my back ached with bending. But all I ever saw was my own face, looking back, and wearing an expression that I could not read.


I am Thenew, Enoch. I am a word blown by the wind like leaves in a wet land. I am mud in the soles of many boots, cleaned out, wiped away, washed. Wash my boots. Wash my feet. Your giving palms are soft, and my soles, receiving, are dark like leather. I am all these things: leather, mud, leaves. I am a woman sliding through mud down an intractable bank, clods of sod in her skirts and her hair and her hands, rain pushing under her skin, her heels gouging glacial scars in the grass and the groaning earth. At the bottom, she stops falling. But not before.

I am a thing that is lost and wiped away in time, by time, by many hands. I am a woman of similitude, and likeness. Things resemble things, resemble me, resemble you, even. Tumbled together, we are the same. I can feel your breath on my cheek, and you are warm. Your footsteps are like drums. Walk with me, now. We walk in time, now, walking.


In the shadows of saints, we find our lives wanting. Wanting you. Wanting me, perhaps. Wanting the sun on our skin and the wind in our teeth and a warm hand on our bellies. We want so much! I am no saint. Me with my muddy hands. I am touched by the earth, and it has touched me back, insistent.

Below these streets is the dark loam of the world. It lies, compacted, under the paving slabs. The crust extends at depth, for miles beneath the tarmac, and the paint, and concrete. Fathoms of earth that move with currents as deep and ageless as any sea. There are darting beasts, big eyed and soft bodied, and their own lives are wanting in the dark eddies. What do they want? They want only the soil itself, and blackness all about them. Life is intimate down here, and calm, and quiet. Our footsteps are a million miles away. I am no saint, but I believe in bugs and have been known to worship at their muddy altars.



Walking through the park, I have pinned a flower to my coat. Its petals are small and blue, and its stems are long and ragged, tangled green against the black of my lapel. It is a forget-me-not, plucked wild from where it grew at the base of a forgotten column. There were others there, and I only took one, but theft is still theft I suppose, and then I wonder – can a living thing be stolen? At what price, wild property?

One of the last jobs left to an old woman is to keep her garden, and I am proud of mine. Each year I bury all my wishes, and as the world turns so some of them come true, pushing up to greet me as the days lengthen into Spring. We are nearer to our selves in a garden. We are closer to everything that grows, and in the mornings, studded with dewy diamonds, we find our treasure trove.

The flower bobs as I walk, nodding its small head on my breast. Yes yes yes. And still, and still, and still. Forget-me-not, forget, forgot.


I birthed this gridded city. I grew it inside me and nourished it and held it close until it was big enough to live outside my body. Then I let it out, gently. It squeezed me into a new shape, and so it left its body-mark on me, as I have left my body-mark on it. I birthed this city once, and now I keep it close. Thenew, Taneu, Thennow, Thaney, Thenelis, Thametes, Thenog, Tannoch, Tennoch, Enoch, Mother, mummy, mum. The city clings about my skirts. I am the woman with muddy knees sliding down the Law. I am the woman with an oar, steering her coracle. I am the woman who is manless, who is loveless, who is growing her own son alone and without help, and who is holding him close and who is loving loving loving in his wholeness, his smell, his skin, him self. This boy is the soil that broke my fall from a height. His limbs are the water that floated me away. His laugh is the city that grew on this spot. And I love him, always. Even when he does not see me fall.



Working on the carpet, I start from the outside edge, and move in. I put everything in there, everything I can imagine. The carpet becomes the pattern of my mind, the pattern of every street I have ever walked, every dream I have ever had, and every person I have ever loved. I kneel on the floor and reach in and out, near and far, towards, away. I am like the sea moving on the shore, or like a garden that swells and fades with the seasons. The rhythm lasts forever. Forwards and back, forwards and back, starting at the edge and always, so slowly, moving in towards the centre. Street by street, dream by dream, heart by heart, the carpet grows, towards itself. I have always worked here, and I have never done anything else. The carpet is wider than the world.



When I hitch up my skirts to stamp, I tuck the fabric back behind my knees. When I hitch up my skirts to stamp I can see the scars of my falls in marks that do not heal. When I hitch up my skirts to stamp, my shins are pocked where the land has stuck beneath my flesh, and my ankles are thick from breaks that were not set. But when I hitch up my skirts to stamp, it does not matter. This is the way to parade. My feet are bare. My legs are marching strong. My soles meet the pavement in joy, and the traffic lights change, and all the world stops turning for a sigh, just to watch. When I hitch up my skirts to stamp, I am remembered.



Talk to me as we walk. Tell me what you have forgotten. Tell me all of it, and I can make a list. Describe to me everything that is no longer in your mind. I live now in the blind pot of your mind's eye. I am the lack of civic statuary. I am the shadows cast by statues that were never made, brinzes that were never cast, marble that was never hewn. I am the blank corners of cities and I am everyone who has ever faded from view, who is unmarked and unremarked, anonymous eventually, forgotten. And I am home. Talk to me. And tell me everything. I'm listening. And I will remember everything you say. I will sew your stories into the soles of my shoes. I'm listening.



I am no saint. Last night my nose bled bright and sudden blood, dropping carnations of blossoming scarlet into the Andrex snowfield. I was frightened, and later when I went to bed I had bad dreams. These are the things that connect us, then: the blood in our veins, the blood on our skin, the blood in our hearts. We are creatures full of blood, and when the blood sings we sing back, joyous and viscous and proud. I am Thenew, Enoch. I am no saint, and so I sing. And I smile to the city as it walks. This city lives in the blood. It is a living thing. And I am proud.



I am leaky. We are leaky. My body is perforated by many holes, all of which may sometimes leak, bringing what is inside, outside. Blood and milk, salt tears and sweat and wax run over my skin like traceries of filigree. Beaded with rubies and pearls, diamonds and opals and amber, I wear my porous surface as my wealth. The city too, is porous. Liquid flows through its storm drains and gutters, through its pipes and outlets. And from the run-off grow new bluebells and fresh cornflowers, self-heal and heather. The scent of the city seeps from its walls and its cavities, and it enters our own skins. The city’s songs murmur and grind and hum and sheer into my ears. Its rub pushes under my nails. Beaded with sweat and salt tears, the streets are damp and beautiful. Slowly, tentatively, the city and I touch each other. My skin on its sandstone. My fingertip traced along its walls. One day, I think, we may be indivisible.


Under the ground we are all one, turning flesh into soil, and memory to blackness as we dig.

Once I dreamt I was a witch woman. After I had burned I lay on my back and dug myself into the soil. I scooped the mud over my legs and my belly in rich armfuls as if I lay in a hot bath with the water drawing up around my ears in luxurious suds and sods. I ducked my head under the soapy water, and I heard the dim roar of the city like a heartbeat in my ears. I heard the compound throb of the bars and the walkers and the pushchairs and the buses and the purchases and the cigarettes and the singers and the children and the shopfronts and the music and the lattes and the drunks and the women who beg with open cups and silent mouths, and I heard all of the city pulsing, blood-singing, still-living, communicating into the earth. And in the dream I lay with my eyes closed, and was warm, and buoyant and safe.

And I don’t recall now, what happened when I woke. I think I went to work, regardless, with the smell of singeing braided in my hair.



When my head is removed from my shoulders and set inside a box, and when that box is placed upon a table, and when that table is kept inside a public room;

When my teeth are loose in my jaw, and when my jaw lies in a skull that is polished smooth and clean, and when that skull has sockets that are full of nothing but dry air;

And when my dry-eyed smooth-domed wobble-toothed presence in that box on that table in that room does not even raise a toast among the living:

Then I will know that it is time to move on. But I am a long lost saint with her head in a bar, and who would ever fail to raise a glass to that?



When we walk, our minds beat to the pace of our steps, to the pace of the street beneath our feet, to the press of the land beneath and the skies above. When we walk, we turn the world a little. We walk to be seen. We walk to step out. We walk to think. We walk to progress and to make progress. We walk to claim space. We walk to be part of the world. We walk to map, and to understand, and to be. I am a part of this city. I am Saint Thenew, Enoch, and I am every woman who has ever walked, and I am every witch who has ever burnt, and I am every song that has ever been learned and then lost again, not quite remembered, on the tip of a tongue. And when I walk through this city that I am, that I have been, and that I will be, then I walk to be remembered. Not in name perhaps, but in the fabric of a thousand histories that live, resisting, laughing, glorious, and true.

A long time ago, I tried to teach myself to see the future. Today I filled a bowl with ink, and turned the lights down low. I cleared my mind and sat very still. Barely breathing, I leaned in over the liquid mirror, and looked down. I watched for a long time, until my back ached with the bending. But all I saw was my own face looking back, wearing an expression that I could not read, and waiting.