• Vol. 02
  • Chapter 05
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After everything is said and done

After everything is said and done, we are all donkeys standing on the thresholds of swimming pools, miles and generations from the sandy strands, trying to decide whether or not to take the plunge, trying to remember whether or not we are able to swim. Our skies are sullied blue; our grounds are grey and unyielding, and we are rooted to them, every hoof. Our distances are filled with traffic lights and crossed wires, indecipherable signage, and all the trees are winter trees even though the sun is shining. We are all fenced in; we are all made of fibreglass. And the swimming pool might or might not have water in it, might or might not even be a swimming pool; the only way to find out is to jump.

1

The Best We Can Do

Every morning looks warm but it’s cold, not only in the shadows, and there’s nowhere for me to walk. It’s alright for you; you just like to get up, sit down, and smoke your head off, with your jumper on back to front. Every morning you say what a blessing this jumper has been. I don’t know what you are looking at while you sit there; if your hair is still tufty from sleep I touch you there and your head turns and voila, there is your face, looking up at me. Still I have no idea what you see and there’s no point in lingering. The sky is very promising, very reminiscent also, but it’s not a place I can go. There is nothing here! I try not to say too much because I don’t want to injure your feelings but then I remind myself that as far as your feelings are concerned I really don’t have the first idea. There is no pattern to them – then again I cannot be disdainful because I know you are not empty. The way you talk over my body makes me restless, especially when I stand there during daylight. I can’t do to you what I want to do and neither can you to me.

I feel so stark and there are so many close-knit shadows, if I run the sunlight strobes and I feel graceless; I panic. It seems to suit you, all these fast slices of light and dark, like a guillotine perpetually falling within a hair’s breath. And I get bites all around my nose which makes me self conscious and there is no privacy, and no good bowls either. I will try not to mention these complaints but sometimes, when you start up criticising me during the night for some small thing I bungled or forgot during the afternoon, it’s a challenge to hold onto my tongue. Besides, it seems you have at last accepted that I love you very much and will never live here, that I stay for a few weeks now and then, and then go skipping back to the serrated mountains, where there are no shadows and where the sky has so many lanes.

2

Last Resort

NO OTHER LEISURE COMPLEX IN WALES OFFERS SUCH A WIDE RANGE OF VALUE PACKED MODERN ENTERTAINMENT ALL INCLUDED IN THE ADMISSION FEE!

Prestatyn Sands, Parkdean, Greenacres cannot compete. Nor Mosney, Filey, Ayr, Trobolgan. It is fair Pwhelli for us, grandfather. Cryogenic beaches and mountains even you wouldn’t pick a fight with.

Bag packed: travelshop brochure, JVC camcorder plus new tapes still fresh in cellophane, jerseys with collars popped in Cantona fashion and two cartons of Rothman’s.

-

You grip my wrist to steady it, first in the bucket of ice and next in the bucket of boiling paraffin wax. In the dead mountain air the wax contracts around my fingers. You peel it slowly around the palm, praising my stoicism, and give me my trophy: a third hand, formed to perfection. Behind the camcorder lens you shout “give us a wave!”. I raise the waxen duplicate aloft in raw glory.

-

52.905508, -4.332166: coordinates of our two great misadventures.

-

Do you remember? In the ballroom your eye trains on Cynthia, runner-up in the Glamorous Gran contest, Pimms-drunk, rouged and draped in tinsel sash, resonating prestige.

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3

Summer 05

I remember standing in my kitchen being told to watch Y Tu Mama Tambien by a family friend, a perennial corrupter called Colm, who my mother pretended to protect me from. “It’s the dirtiest movie, you must watch it!” Had my mother not been present, he would not have delighted in his titillation as much as he did with her there. In retrospect, I have a lot to thank these older bad role-models for, as they afforded me the education that an older sibling might have done, and kept me from falling victim to the weirdness that can affect some only-children.

Of course, I watched Y Tu Mama Tambien a week later. From the get-go it was filthy and well-told and familiar and funny. I loved it. The two Mexican guys reminded me of friends of mine, or maybe fantasies, and it all seemed momentous. There was a bit at the beginning of the movie where the two friends lie on two diving boards over a pool, masturbating.

The year I was fifteen, my mother and her friend Lucia took the opportunity to go on a road-trip and brought me with them. The drive from Rome to Nice was 9 hours long, and we set off early, when the heat of the August sun was at its coolest. There were lots of jokes about Thelma and Louise along the way.

I had been to a party the week before, the annual pool party of twin friends of mine, and I’d ended up fooling around with a boy in the empty dressing room, when everyone had gone to the main house for cake. He kept asking me to do things to him, but I’d had enough conversations with girlfriends to know that I was to say no: If he demands it, never give it; if he doesn’t, then maybe. He hadn’t called or texted even though he said he would, but I didn’t feel too bad about it. “This is what it’s like for grown-ups,” I thought, and felt bad for all of them.

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4

To my lover, (not quite) leaving

(only shifting) –
I am sad, I am sorry
for emotional excess.
All fences were down
at least you found them easier to traverse

Thursday entanglements were rash

nevertheless, impossible to change
scratches from neck
to
lower
back.

I am engaged in noxious scrutiny,
self-mutiny and
even struggling to reach for poetry

maybe because
I can’t share this one
– not now at least –
as there’s already a string of apologetic messages
you’ve digested and
besides,

these thoughts are mine
(this time).

Your jumpers smell like comfort
by which you mean
me
by which you mean
you fall easily (for intimacy).
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5

A Portuguese Package Holiday

It was the kind of heat that made the soles of your feet flinch and dance across the concrete slabs like creatures possessed, that made the bluish white skin on your shoulders blush, burn, crisp in the time it took you to yank a t-shirt over your head, that felt like you had been shoved in the top oven of the Aga and had the heavy cast iron door shut on you for good. The kind of heat we didn't know existed 'til we ventured like squinty-eyed beings from another planet, from the shady depths of our single hotel room to the swimming pool around the corner. Three freckly musketeers, 12, 9 and 6, sick with excitement, clad in mismatched arm bands, our polka dot swim suits faded in the arse, parading to the pool under a scorching midday sun that threatened to zap us like ants under a magnifying glass, before we got anywhere near the holy water that might save us.

Day one of a precious week in the first land we had ever tread on that wasn't moist and green as a piece of soggy cabbage. Portugal, a country we had never heard of until our dad announced we were going on a second-hand package holiday our cousins were too good for. Maeve found it on the map and announced Ireland would squash into it 6 times. Aine's holiday goal was to make friends with a Portuguese black girl and be pen pals.

We were exhausted and parched as Jesus in the desert by the time the bluish tiles of the pool swam into our blurry vision like a mirage. We were not built for this climate, us Irish I realised, as a rogue bead of salty sweat stung my right eye. We were designed to thrive in drizzle and damp. I thought of the cool turquoise water that would soon envelop my body and struggled on. Finally we reached the entrance and I creaked open the rusty wrought iron turnstile, the other two squashing in behind me, squealing with excitement like animals about to be released into the wild. We had never swam in a pool before and the anticipation was on a terrifying par with Christmas eve.

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6

A Feast of Tongues

Dearest Clementine,

Apologies, I have not written for several months. Christmas and the New Year glared with gloom, were ravines of grief; I tumbled, I fell. Five months now since Albert’s death. Still not gone home! I’ve left the cottage in the Welsh mountains and tripped down into Anglesey to a chalet in a holiday camp (photo on this postcard!). Rent is cheap out-of-season.

It suits me perfectly, out of time, out of place. Anything could happen here. My room looks out over the empty swimming pool. Every morning, I confront le vide of Lacan, bare, hollow, the hole. This swimming pool is deadpan, almost comical. It echoes with the nostalgic grit of bygone days, the memories of holiday-makers written in the tiles, yet the pool also impassively awaits what is to come. It is ever so slightly eager for the future. To be filled. To be full again…

And then, Clementine, there is the donkey, standing foursquare, ready to stay or to go, to leap or to stubbornly remain, peering out over the gully. Aesop wrote the fable about the donkey that dressed in a lion’s skin to scare the other animals; but was unmasked by his voice. Currently, I vacillate between believing I am fearless, a feline warrior, have passed through the worst of this grief. And then, I fray, fracture, am betrayed by a tremble in my throat, a sudden dash of tears.

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7

Donkey’s Years

No solace in coming back here. This cockroach infested motel; the pool's fallen into disuse. But this is where she made me a believer, like The Monkeys song - but they were a manufactured band with manufactured sentiments. Not a trace.

Back then, this wasn't just some pitstop, it brimmed with a vitality- my little lady sitting on the deck chair wearing a Panama hat and that tattoo of the donkey blemishing her inner thigh just about visible. Maybe the place was the same and she made everything different.

I was no gangster and she knew it. Couldn't remember the night before but I'm pretty sure I had been the obvious loser in a messy brawl at a bar with no name, in a town with no centre. We talked - I don't know about what. She said her father was some sort of oil tycoon and had had big plans for her.

Out by the pool I acted like her hanging around me was the most natural thing in the world, while my blood was like a marching band.

"Do you ever feel hemmed in by people's expectations?" she asked

"I'm an orphan, so I kinda have the opposite problem."

"I expect you to kiss me."

I feigned indifference despite the galloping in my breast which she must have noticed as that was where her hand had rested.

"Not until you tell me just why you got that dopey looking tattoo?"

"I had a donkey. He was useless - just idled all day and I loved him. He was a great fornicator too, a real hit with the jennies. He engendered a mare that was made to slave all day. Does that sound fair?"

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8

I was a unicorn once

Who says there is no magic here?
I was a unicorn once.
An unexpected stop in my career,
but who says there is no magic here?
This current status doesn’t bring me tears –
my horn isn’t a permanent absence.
Who says there is no magic here?
I was a unicorn once.

9

The Two-Horned, Toy Unicorn

The dark shadows with the shrapnel pierce me,
The white fence hems my world in,
The cars mechanize my world within,
Long ago, swaying trees were lost to me.

The electric current fills me, makes me raving mad,
The eerie silence, listless skies is all I ever had.

And then, the two-horned, toy unicorn,
Never seen before, nor seen ever after,
Makes an appearance.

I don't need antidepressants now,
The Unicorn's sheer white
Is the milk of kindness I need.

10

Broken Chalice

Emptiness
in a cup
that once never ran dry

The wellspring
of eternal life
is no more

A Trojan horse
A broken promise
A blank stare into the abyss

The fishbowl sky holds us down
as electric tendrils
radiate the atmosphere
with electromagnetic pollution

A few lone travelers
weary from the fruitless struggle
land themselves in the nearest dive joint
hoping to sleep the day away
praying for a flood to quench their thirst

11

A White Don

Like a lone warrior, the survivor, alone at the heap of its achievements. That head held high, those eyes sharp and sly. Especially that tail - curved just at an appropriate angle, to indicate its indifferent arrogance to the world it left behind. As a fact, the world goes around, and in this world, they say, what goes around comes around. So happens with this white entity. The world gets back at it from the front. Paying it back with the same indifferent arrogance, raised a few degrees higher in intensity. This jackass is barred from moving at will and ditched by those it condescended. The piercing moment of shadowy truth arrives for this one.

12

Do Not Trust the Donkey

The trick is not to look at the donkey with a handle for its tail. It has been put there to deceive, to convince passersby that they recognise such a familiar thing as childhood. They think of balloons, long afternoons spent in the park, the taste of birthday cake on their tongues. But if you cast your vision further out and gaze at the periphery, you will see adulthood looming with its wrought-iron fences, and vehicles taking you to and from work, making doctor’s appointments and getting back before the kids come home.

The donkey is merely a vessel channelling your lost hopes and dreams, a time when you weren’t afraid to say or do anything; the word consequence yet to make an appearance in your understanding.

Yes, it is deceiving, this pillar of freedom with its I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude, cornered on all sides by the approaching adult world. It laughs and makes a mockery of fifty and sixty-somethings whose hearts inflate like helium balloons at the sight of the little donkey who accompanied them through their childhood.

You stand with one arm linked through your partner’s, and with your other arm you shield your eyes from the pure blue sky above. You close one eye and see the donkey exactly as it is, and then re-opening it and closing your other eye, you see it has shifted slightly to the left, as if to say you can’t catch me, you’re too old. Its face reveals nothing but its blackberry eyes hee-haw all the while, so that you are forced to look up and away, beyond the wrought-iron fence at the monotony of adult life, where one day is very much the same as another.

There are no unexpected surprises in adult life, and with a heavy heart you look back at the donkey to find it has disappeared.

13

Donkey

can’t forgive
shot up

straight when
not crooked

taken if not
took

token if not
rode

whiskey
going home

pinballed; rough
sandwich

false wish
made with

ham and mayo
toy ass

bad donkey
lost and seasonal

bag of burgers
and french fries

a torch song
to parse

the growing
fence
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14

Cape/yellow

Well, this is a bit awkward isn’t it? Almost naked, stripped bare, nothing but the sun to hide my indecision.

I had dabbled with the idea of it. Pull the yellow socks on I thought and perhaps even a cape (a cape always looks smart),but black minimalism seemed to better represent my mood after all that conversation between you and me in all its clip clopped-ness; the burning concrete, the burning brain in the middle of again, a sausage sizzle place to review and hover.

You see, you all go cleanskin eventually. Leave me standing in the afternoon heat, before the light goes somewhere else above glittering beetles that dive through scraps of liquid mirrored on the bottom of the pool, perfect in its emptiness in front of me and my shadow.

Eee awe, ee awe out towards the fence I sound when no one else is around. I doubt any one would believe it. Believe that I am here inside my suit of donkey-ness waiting for the space to fill when I will jet pack to the edge and pirouette to find my reflection, wild-ass earless and twitching…and of course, I’ll be wearing my cape of yellow.

15

Blink

It was my dream that you followed. That was your first mistake. My dream. That old dream. That rent a convertible and drive across the States dream. That old Kerouac paperback dream. That let Route 66 be more than the bus home dream. My dream and you followed. Should have been saving for a house. Wasn’t that the plan? Might have been. Maybe you thought I’d get this out of my system and we’d go home. Home. That home. That home we nearly had. Home that wasn’t the rented flat with the damp and the expiring lease. That was the plan. That was the dream.

Now we just wait and see. Who’ll go first? Who’ll walk out first? The expanse of sky. The wide open road. Means nothing when we’re stuck in the same space every day. Means nothing when we run out of things to say. Means nothing when we’re each waiting for a truck stop or a small town to appear over the horizon so we can find an excuse to stop.

Hotels weren’t good enough. No. No, I wanted the authentic experience so had to find the shittiest motels we could along the way. I had to find the rooms with the paper-thin walls, the brown water that never gets above tepid and the buzzing neon that get louder at night. You could have said something. You should have said something. Why don’t you speak anymore? Why? Just tell me. Please just tell me.

Maybe you’re enjoying it in your own way? Maybe you’re finding out something about yourself as we pass the empty miles. I’m learning something about myself. Do you want to hear? No? Well, you’re not listening but I’ll tell you anyway. I’m a prick. Every mile that we rack up in this piece of crap car that just drinks petrol and has never been comfortable, every mile that we clock up looking out at the great big emptiness of the road, the road, the bloody road, every mile we pass shows me more and more that I’m a prick.

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16

Sodden

I packed it up. I filled my head with fake nunnery, like in that film whatever it was called. I was the saint, not the sinner though there was a cheeky flash every now and then from the towel that kept slipping as I tried to trowel it all in. Who knew that the motel's fake garden kit would come in so handy? Fake grass can't be mowed, false soil can't be tilled, but fake drugs, oh they can be harvested all right.

The glamour wasn't there for me though. This was bloody low rent old fashioned soap life a la Crossroads, wiping scum off toilet seats before I sat down, wondering about the worlds of jet skiing in the Bahamas. The closet I was getting to excitement was a trip to Marbella conjured up by the donkey. I was the ass to think he'd meant it. Told me it would be all expenses paid. No risk. No questions. No nothing except my spangly arse.

My plan was brilliant. Pack the drugs in the donkey. Except I drank a bit much of the mini bar and got obsessed with why they had detachable tails. I know they don't but it's been a long weekend. Ok.

Really it looks more of a pony but who really cares about donkeys, mules, asses, unicorns.

So I thought I'll just ram it all in and then take it for a swim. How was I supposed to know it was papier mache? I was so busy trying to keep my bikini top on in the wind I let go. It all unravelled. Sodden.

Now he keeps sending me pictures of empty swimming pools with donkeys. Donkeys that stare and stare into nowhere. I just put sequins on them and send them back.

17

Red Saloon

The donkey and the pool are irrelevant, mere props to detract from the events unfolding in motel room 4. Its occupant parked his red saloon car outside. It was unlikely at this juncture that the anyone would arrive in time. No-one had visited this theme park in years. There were no more yellow coats urging participation in tongue in cheek party games. No more ladies with womanly curves chatting on balconies and roaring at kids below.

Fun was dead and white washed walls and freshly painted railings couldn't hide the decay.

He took the pills out and laid them on the bare mattress. He counted twenty two. Would it be enough? Would the cavalry arrive? He thought briefly of his wife who left with a pharmaceutical sales rep. two months previously. He thought of his kids, now grown with lives of their own. He raised a bottle of water to his mouth and viewed the pills. After thirty minutes, the water was drunk and the pills uneaten. Sweat poured down his back.

He opened the door and looked up at the blue skies and telegraph posts linking people to people, conversations, fights, people making up, forgiving, forgetting, maybe moving on.

He went outside. He knew there was a public pool down the road. He decided to go for a swim.

18