• Vol. 04
  • Chapter 10

Three Lessons

I

We discover their country
Bring with us our language
We teach them to worship our God
In rows designated – here – for the Y
And here for the almost X
Sit in the space between you
Who do not have names
And wait to reach the lovely white lines
All of us were descended from
(apes the sapiens of paradise)
Some of us know how to pray.
We will transport you
Or hang you
In the British Museum.

II

They come to our country try
To speak our language
We gift them to our Gods
Our names are passed down not
Carved on headstones
We dance for ourselves.
Know things.
They say they come in peace
Try to develop
This earth: here the water, there the treasure
Scratch lines on paper, land
Ships, big bellied, hungry.

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1

Estate

When she rode the car too fast into the underpass it gave you a little jolt, a small moment where you could taste your heart. In the heat the oil puddles were shiny like the coat of a beetle and the sound in the trees was loud. She had graffitied the side of a brick church for him but he never graffitied back. In August the dust was deafening, all things dry. Small anxieties of high summer. Drops of water from your plastic bottle cutting circles like coins on the pavement. Eating a tomato from the hand in an empty apartment. Stand in the corridor, think of all the other flats stacked below you, the ones above you, all empty. Brown powder on the marble of the shower plate. Sleeping with your mouth open. Sometimes you waited to be picked up at the corner, heels sticking to the plastic. The strap cut a line in the back of your neck, you rubbed your arms, rolled the sweaty dirt around your wrists. She always spoke as if she were sucking on a piece of warm candy, drove with her hands in the 10 and 2 position. There was a game you played religiously: you threw a handful of foxtails, and then she jumped three times, and as many foxtails as they still clung to her front, that was going to be the number of her lovers. When I grow up, she said she figured, that she would be a judge, ‘I have a strong sense of what is fairness.’ For a month at lunch you watched reruns of TV trials. Cold peach tea with your feet up on the plant pot, a packaged ice-cream. The inconsistency of voices from the open windows of identical balconies, chopped deaf by heat striking. Somewhere, a pan rattling. When you hear her car pull in, cross the street running.

2

Sleepwalking and Me. A Selected History.

How strange it is to find yourself in two places at once.

2014. Fall asleep on the 18.06 from Victoria to Brighton. Somewhere near Hayward’s Heath I stand up and shout, ‘Eagle, there’s an eagle!’ to the surprise of my fellow travellers.

2011. I stand on the box at the foot of the bed and grab hold of the lightbulb overhead. I wake my girlfriend and explain that our ship will be sunk if she doesn’t help me hoist the mainsail.

2009. Every night for three weeks I convince myself that I am in bed with a stranger. I stumble around the room, apologise, put more clothes on.

2004. The night before the wedding. There is no wardrobe so I hang my suit from the curtain rail above the French window. Two hours later, certain that there is an intruder, I tackle my suit and wake with a nosebleed.

1999. In a badly-maintained student house in Birmingham I wake up with a section of gas pipe in each hand. I have pulled apart the pipe that runs along my bedroom wall and now the house is filling with gas. I wake my friends and we wait in the street in our pyjamas.

1996. I’m invited to stay with a friend whose mother is an interior designer. The room I’m given is full of valuable artefacts from around the world. An African mask becomes a hired assassin in my imagination. I swing a fist and break it.

I could go on.

3

Moving Into Place

- I’m concerned about the sightlines.
- From where?
- Everywhere. Well, not the front, obviously. But when it’s happening . . .
- It will be moving, you realise?
- I know, but wherever it is . . . people will have to twist.
- I don’t see that as a problem.
- Some might . . . I might find it uncomfortable.
- To twist?
- Not just the twisting, it’s staying there. In that position.
- I’ve already said, it will be moving.
- But if you’re on this side – well, the other side too, but for the moment
I’m imagining myself on this side . . .
- You won’t be on this side.
- If I were, though, if I was, then, you see, I’d be twisting, turning my head.
- If it was behind you, yes, but then it would come forward . . .
- . . . Yes . . .
- . . . And you wouldn’t have to turn at all. There wouldn’t be a problem.
- If it’s in front of you, though, I don’t mean you, specifically, unless you sit . . .
- I won’t be sitting, I’ll be here. Standing.
- Anyone, then. Anyone who’s here . . . or there, but let’s say for the sake of argument that you’re here, no, not you, not me, someone, she, her, all of them, are watching, looking back, twisting their shoulders, what will they see – I mean, what will they see if it’s here? Or there? Or behind them?
- They’ll see what’s behind them.
- That’s what I mean. They’ll turn, and all they will see is . . .
- . . . is each other. That’s right. They’ll see the people who can see.
- Even when . . .

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4

Underfoot

Morning breaks. She watches over
the roses with a squint of scorn,
then pulls the clothesline tight.
A grooved branch holds its weight.

And she pegs his shirts
by the side seams on the line.
Upside down – a distress signal.

Socks paired, then pegged.
Jeans, wrinkles flicked away
by the breeze. Clothes billow,
but the air is breathless.

The grass underfoot is hard.
Seashell-crisp. It’s the heat.
Makes everything hard.

Once she was young. A virgin.
And then she married. Twice.
She reads romance novels, but
finds nothing familiar in them.

She keeps house, raises children.
Double-pegs another shirt, and
in so many ways, she knows
she’s reached the end of the line.

5

Gravewise

It might have been a tombstone
etched with cryptic lines
of ancient Ogham script;

it kept its secrets close,
unwilling to yield the name
of who lay below its feet.

Counting lines for clues
produced tangles of consonants,
meaningless without a key.

And yet, regarding it where it stood,
black and arched, I realized
that a key was indeed needed—

that this grave was no grave,
but a door, waiting
for the right hand,

for some gentle touch
to press it open,
so that it might yield.

6

Outside the shutters…

It’s a goose fair morning.
Untimely autumn air tinges
brittle sunlight apple green,
sends it falling through leaves
that ripple in the breeze.

On this side of the shutters,
day stirs mouse-grey,
sleepy-eyed and musty.
Slatted rays and dust motes play
tag with zoetropic birds
soughing their first words
outside the shutters.

7

Face Off

you send split radio signals
you are a radical two
leaning together hands clasped
facing away arms folded
fire fodder flicker fox
face forward lips drawn
your nose is a pillar of salt
your eyes slit accusations deep as lino cuts
your brow plummets down into gullies
your footprints in mud walk away
from wherever I am

what claws have been here
leaving shreds
striated strips across your
cheek

8

Dark Matters

My wife insists my legs run constantly
although I think she's making assumptions
due to the rucked up bedsheets on my side.
I'm pretty sure she doesn't move at night.
She settles to sleep like so....and that's how she is when the morning cracks the curtains.
So maybe it is me. Restless legs? Meh.

Last night was different though. At three AM
I woke. Not in bed but on the landing.
My feet were wet and cold. The moon was full
and I could see my watery foot prints
padding up the stairs from the open door,
a gush of light spilling across the lawn.
I traced my steps back down to the grey shrubs.

A large man approached me and I was scared.
Shitting it in truth, but I couldn't run.
Not with my limp. He was wearing this mask.
A helmet really. It seemed like the moon
was within him and shining from these slits
in the mask. He spoke but surprisingly
his voice was soft, calm. "I'll be the surgeon

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9

The Lost Temple

As I arrived in Africa on a research project about African artists, a young lady that was sitting beside me asked me what cologne I was wearing. I told her it was a gift and was unsure, but I'd gotten many compliments on it and thanked her. She said it smelled like African musk, something her father wore before being killed during Apartheid. She began to tear up and I hugged her. She asked me my name, I told her it was Greg. She replied saying hers was Khadijah. All of sudden I felt a bump! We landed. I told her it was a pleasure meeting her. She wished me well, and asked would I do something for her. I was a little nervous; but I said ok, what? Khadijah gave me this photo, and told me to visit THE LOST TEMPLE. I did. I never did the story on the African artists.

10

Peek

I remember clearly
the windows
the frame and the
lane beyond it.

I remember clearly
the kids
the friends and the
angry skies.

I remember the touch
on the shoulder
that morning.

I remember vaguely
touching the wooden rail
the clothes we had on.

I remember vaguely
the sun and the pain.

I remember clearly
The windows
The frame and the
Lane beyond.

11

Please, love me

Cryptic, maybe Coptic signs –
more accessible than your face
averted when I cross the line of
I don't know – some inner waste?
I like puzzles that anchor me
to the world yet set me free
of intellectual abstractions
and emotional redactions
in the interests of quietude.
Anything for
anything more.

12

The Arch

Arch-rival

This is the arch I pass under
when I get too caught up in
my mind

Distracted by my thinking
wondering about the images
of crucifix
of levels, of ribs

Penitent, I bow
because I have a focus beyond
this one

Arch-enemy

That is, my mind, my
distraction point, the fuzzy
image

Just coming into focus.

13

Unmasked

Visored, my knight errant
Erroneously rides to my rescue
Scar-etched metal form
Symmetrical panels of pain
Gained from my barbed soul
And bladed barbs

Narrowed eyes begin to see
All that I am, misleading
Frailty hiding sheathed claws
I can scratch when I have to
Shall I show you?
Let me carve a line under us
And our chalk-dust lives

It was never black and white
Neat, symmetrical
A tidy planned out life
It was chaos really,
The nearly us
The wearily us
Until we removed our masks.

14

tell me where

once in a while, biris feel like rain in the mouth. that’s your answer.
the first quiet sunday after above water. that’s not your question.
several intimate winters after, this acid. when sex feels right, i dial across the country.
sounds knock over a part of memory, you are never at the right place.
or angle.
i cannot surprise you with every sentence. you can take a hike.
close to the quay, our mahogany bed still soft as grain, 5 by 7. this ear extends to the shore. little bits.
cheese crackers and a quotidian sense of belonging.

don’t blame the seagulls for bad wood.
nobody knows the right way to wipe blood. rasp or no rasp. starboard to driveway.
there’s why–

15

re:deem

I ought to feel strong
but instead, I feel loss
I ought to look right
but it's to weakness
I submit,
I ought to feel wide
but more, I feel sweet
I ought to feel hope but
the lines that cross and bear
pull me straight,
it's this that I feel
I step up
or else, to the light.

16

DEVOID OF COLOR

Devoid of color, of softness
your harsh lines unwelcoming.
Yet what light escapes your coldness
gives me reason to wait.
What is the key to reaching you?
You are diametrically opposed to yourself!
Stepping stones collapse before I reach them,
yet I move with hope of your changing.
No softness of coupled Yin and Yang,
only cold lack of color matched with that of all colors combined.
My heart sees hope through your rigid bones.
My love wants to melt your stark edges.
There you exist in anger and fear.
Here I wait – outside of you.

17

The Shutter

The shutter seemed to be an inscrutable face this morning. Laurence slumped against the wall; it was closed. He wondered, could he linger? He bent forward, slowly, retied his shoe lace methodically, and with care. Still bent forward, he pondered for a minute, then switched feet, retying the other lace with similarly geographic sluggishness.

He stared at the cracked pavement, pushed into ripples by the biological imperative of a nearby tree, convinced that if he took long enough, if he didn’t peep, then she would be there – at last, better late than never – framed in the open window, when he straightened.

The bow on the second shoe lace was symmetrical, but the first had uneven loops, and it sat to the side of his shoe. Would it be cheating to retie it again? He didn’t think so. He grasped the ends, pulling the sturdy laces loose, and with deliberation tied them together. He crossed them over, formed a loop, pulled it through. Tightened it, making sure the loops were even and the bow centred over the gap between the uppers. Yes. That was done. He took a ragged breath, then another, trying to calm his heartbeat. She wouldn’t be there if he was flustered, only if he was steady, apparently uncaring. Or so superstition said.

Finally, he drew a breath that didn’t catch and flutter in his chest, and knew that he must stand up now – any more prevarication would be cheating and she wouldn’t be there if he cheated.

He gathered himself and pushed himself to a standing position. Before he could look, his eyes snapped shut, and he remembered.

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18

Spiky

I seem to
Recall seeing something very similar,
Oh...many years ago.
Now, where could it have been?
Maybe that time I
Accompanied a group of A-level students to
Indiana Jones and the Temple of
Doom
during a maths course at
Exeter University. So, that must have been
Nineteen eighty something.

19

Peacock, 1941

Only played that Wurlitzer once,
most boxes had glass tops, selections
on cards, easy to change as
the hit parade renewed each week.

In Guernsey, after Go Karts,
at the café by the track,
pocket money went on
Beatles, Stones, early Cream.

Each track, A or B side, held up
like a lollypop, laid on the
centre cone. The arm clicked over,
bobbed over the warps.

My dad, who saw no value
in anything without an orchestra,
was generous, admitted
they had some melody.

As clear as yesterday,
knowing that satisfaction,
feeling free to bring them in
over our sausage and chips.

20

The purpose of doors

vertical slice of light widens
as cathedral doors open
becomes T-shaped as they swing
embrace worshippers eager for shade
enlightenment, a new perspective

doors within doors
grant entry to sun
unfiltered by stained glass
the deference of downcast eyes
seeks side chapels’ silence

bands of iron, hand-forged into scrolls,
take the timber’s weight
human hands admit believers
the arch’s crown holds the keystone
on which everything else depends

21

Utility

I’ve designed this all-purpose cut-out
for solving everything: nit-comb,
can-opener, straight-edge, spanner,
template for a Norman arch or
Playschool window, portable semi-
Cubist Cross for waving ineffectually
at psychic vampires, universal
spanner for burring every nut,
guide for making right-angles.

Yes, I’ve got a gut feeling this is it
(it even slices bread), so I’m off,
love, to the Patent Office, with my
bilaterally symmetrical, trilobite-
inspired, perfect blueprint in linocut.

22

The Mask

An assemblage
Of lines and shapes
Forming the image
Of a face references
Back through the ages
To ancient lineages
Around the time of
Persia and Greece
Funny how images
Evoke shared cultural
Memories almost
Forgotten but never
Quite shaken off
The mind tells a
Story to fill in
The blanks of
Great warriors and
Battles which may
Have never taken place
All because of our
Natural inclination
To fit images into
Faces and place them
Into contexts from
Memes, tropes and
Clichés to create
Reassurance that our
Memories are sound
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23

I roll the dice

I roll the dice: a two and a five.

It’s no help at all.

Two is an even number, which is a good sign. Nature organises things in pairs. But combined with the five — an odd number and one that has brought me a lot of misfortune — it’s a bad omen.

The thick iron doors in front of me open slightly, the light beyond blinding me to what is inside. It feels like an invitation, but yet they don’t open all the way. Should I push them wide and walk in? It would only take me three, maybe four, steps and I’d be inside.

I turn and look back down the road that brought me here. It’s dark now and I’m a long way from home. I contemplate the dice on the muddy ground in front of me. A two and a five. Perhaps the people inside have food, a warm fire and a soft bed waiting for me.

Perhaps they do not.

It could be cold and damp and evil in there. The instructions that led me here tonight were not clear on what lies beyond the doors, only that I should come here and then decide.

Should I roll the dice again?

Yes, I think, I should. And so I do. A second roll and it’s a four and a three. Four is a remarkably good number. Even. Square. Solid. But a three? Bad things always come in threes — odd numbers are never good. And four plus three equals seven. Another odd number. My skin itches as I grapple with the meaning of it.

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24

CHAMBERS OF SOLITUDE

Mute,
my radio, my jukebox,
the altar of my sanctuary–
without words or music
until now.

I think I've ruined it.
I had to put in my two cents' worth,
and look what it got me.
I just couldn't refrain.
I had to join in the game,
though I had nothing to contribute.

The symmetry is not fearful, after all–
I could have just quietly contemplated,
free associated,
lying back on my psychiatric couch
telling myself to tune in,
turn on, drop out.

Radio, jukebox, altar, tyger,
tiger, burning bright–
Grandma's washboard!
Let's take it down to the creek
and give them overalls a good scrubbin'!

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25

Where Am I?

Where shall I sit
in this place
I don't know.
Which side of the aisle
Should I be.
Or should I be at the front
conducting the ceremony
like a lecture.
I've done that
often enough
when I knew where I was.
Or maybe I should stand at the back
ready for a quick getaway.
I couldn't do that at my wedding,
but if it's my funeral
I think that's the best place
for me.
But is it?
So difficult to know.

26

Still Life, Black and White

It's not often
you can see
the juke box
when its lights
aren't pulsing
and the speakers
aren't vibrating.
A stark image
in the closed cafe,
checkered floor
fading
until first light.
The broom rests,
chair legs dangle
from tabletops.
Lights are out,
door is locked,
laughter and music,
long gone.
Perfectly symmetrical
white on black
it sits silently
in the corner
and waits.
27

A FLUID QUESTION

You’ve been outside for a long time, outside in the harsh hot light where there is no shelter, where you are trying not to listen to the voice that says you’re about to die of thirst, and thermic fever.

You’ve seen mirages: an oasis, palm trees, camels, even humans. But all have dissolved.

Thirst wracks your body, vertigo confuses you. You don’t know where you are and you’re beginning not to care.

And then I let you hear it.

Water. Dripping.

You close your eyes and let your ears do the work. You stumble and fall but always I guide you, persuade you, give you the strength to keep moving. You stretch out your hands and tip your head back. You walk as if sleepwalking.

Your hands hit something hard. Wood, you think, and you’re right.

You’re at my front door.

You look through the narrow opening. You feel cool air on your face. You cry out. You are saved. You walk through the opening, sideways. You stumble and fall onto the earth. You lean against the ribs of my shutters. Your hands and the scraggy cheeks of your bottom tell you that the earth is damp. You open your eyes. You stare. You cry out, again. You struggle to your feet.

You’ve seen me. The Water Spirit. I know, not a beauty, not at all. Never have been. Never will be.

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28

Unaccommodated

One headstone curve
and no compromise.

Comb’s-teeth waisted,
like staves without sound.

A slab, slate cold, and
lines that write nothing.

Hobbling oblong pawprints
mark a short dark road.

Right angles; x, y axes
half-frame dusty space.

An empty altar, waiting.
God’s blunt limb, reaching.

Never touching.

29

Chronicler

So, you are Ambroise of Normandy, and you are chronicling the Third Crusade: I’m honoured to make your acquaintance, sir. My time is short, but I will tell you what you wish to know.

Everyone has heard of the Knights Templar: oh, yes, indeed. Famous, or infamous, if you like. What you will not know, of course, is that we, The Knights of the Sepulchre, were their brothers in arms. We fought beside them, shared some of their aims. I joined their number as a young man, serving as High Master until my fiftieth year - a good age to have still been in office. Unlike the Templars, we do not hold our stewardship for life. I’d had my fill of war and striving, and was glad to hand over responsibility to a younger generation.

We of the Knights of the Sepulchre never had the power or the resources of the Templars, but, in truth, I believe that was no bad thing: we were never sucked into the politics of martyrdom as was the case with our Templar brothers. I believe we did as much good in our relative obscurity. We were free to help the needy, or lend our swords to the crusading cause, as we saw fit.

Like the Templars, we took the Cross as our symbol. The upright argent - that’s white to you, if you’re unfamiliar with heraldic terminology - against the sable field, represents the splitting open of Death’s tomb to let the light of Redemption shine in the darkness of evil.

Saladin - ah, but there’s a name to conjure with. Yes, I knew Saladin - for a short time before he died. Though there were many years between us, and in spite of our different creeds, he was a man of great honour and chivalry.

Be sure you record that in your chronicle, sir.

30

Last song of a lunar trapezist (or a neo-futurist anti/war poem)

me x you what's the result
tu-tum tu-tum tu-tum tu-tum
my heart is tu-tumming
in the bone cage because
I do not knooooooooooow the result

we were
subtracted
submitted
substantialized
sub ub ub
blobobloblob

now I'm here
you're there
wooooop alé zan zan
now you're here
I'm there
wooooop alé zum zum

what is the result
if we decide to multiply
to multiplay
multiply ply play play pliù pliù
for the last time

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31

Something Sweet

You sank your teeth into the tarmac like you were trying to swallow it whole. The road bit your lip. Bloodied your gums. Ripped the skin clean off your chin. It looked like jam was falling down your face.
Something sweet.
Sisters weren't supposed to fight like we did. We just let it all out on the street. Other kids would be standing around in their front gardens or looking through the windows, dark faces slashed in two by their curtains. They didn't want to be seen, not by us.
I don't remember the first time I realised I hated you so bad. It was civil war with us. No one told us off. Mam and Pa had their own battles waging. With the tax man. With each other. With the ‘goddamn government’.
I slung my fist into your cheek when you said it would happen to me. That I would get tits. And strong ugly hairs down there. A red soaked rag between my legs each month. I didn't want that to happen. I didn't want nobody looking at me the way that men had started looking at you.
I didn't mean it to hurt so much. I didn't mean to push you so hard. But, you were laughing at me. You always were. I hated you but I needed your taunts. I needed your brittle nails to carve crescents out of my skin. Your booted foot to kick my shins and your bony white hands to slap the page of my cheek.
People said we liked the attention.
People couldn’t see that fighting was a comfort.
Hate was love.
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32

First Map

The infant sees her mother’s face. Rounded, it looms,
fading in and out of focus.

Lunar, it rises
from chaos.
Shadows,
darkness and
milky light,
soft edges,
bent angles,
wavering
shapes,
coalesce
into eyes
and smiles,
mapping
the symmetry
of curved and
straight lines.

It becomes the horizon and delivers the world.

33

Ballon

In the gap is the air
that partakes in our living
By giving it space

we are giving it the chance
to adjust its shape;
to embrace the ever changing
landscape

And fire escapes
through the tears
While a smile might be
a dotted line

So sign here

And let the air be
And breath in the bridge that
binds us in our gentle treading

regardless how trying
the path may be

34

Everything best, has been done.

She is not looking forward to tomorrow
She is not looking forward at all
Modernity has moved on, her love for nostalgia has gone
She stares at the Art Deco style print on the wall

She is not looking forward to the future
By nature it’s unpredictable but much more
Years count for nothing, flashbacks to a previous summer love in
And demonstrate… against the next war

She is not looking forward to tomorrow
She has read all the books, there’s nowt else
Tired paperbacks written by dreary ex-journo chaps
Help prop up her bed from the floor

There once was an age…
Streamlined ideas and the page…
Where Gill Sans Serif lettering appealed to all

There once was a time…
When a clean line…
Minimalism, just leave the wall a white wall

She no longer cares for the moment
Everything best, has been done
All those album sleeves, no more to conceive
And the best races have already been run

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35

beyond the starkness of symbols

1
behind elaborate iChing lines
pedestals for air, fire, earth and water
hidden there are soft ungeometric spaces
caretakers of infinity

2
arches frame each window
colors illuminate the altar
from this belief I came to life
perhaps at the end I will learn its love

3
as a child I was not allowed
colored ink but the yin/yang
to trace letters and figures
with the beauty of calligraphy

4
I do not paint without contrast
shadows must resonate hints of cobalt
or faded magenta
are you and I so distinct?

5
black and white
so much distance between
until dawn opens the blinds
to the details of a day

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36

Line Drawing

The world is much at peace
With me. The surroundings
Co-exist with each other,
Symmetry in form. Lines
On the face tells of
Age and worldly experience.

Lines on the drawing says
Symmetry is the root cause
Of trouble in understanding
The world.

You dance in joy throwing
Symmetry to the waste paper bin.

The artist frowns.

You do not have shape and size.
You are an asymmetrical mischief
Unfolding on the face of the world.

You wait patiently; want the artist to
Pick up his brush.
A line drawing would suffice.

A window to your mind where
Life has cast its shadow.The world is much at peace
With me. The surroundings
Co-exist with each other,
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37

A Doorway

A door into an ancient tomb
Of an Egyptian Pharo's mummified corpse.
The door bears a message
"No one can enter beyond this point."
"Entrance is Forbidden"
Forced entry will result in
the intruder meeting certain death.
Evil will prevail,
A curse will be inflicted on any person's
tampering with this sacred tomb.
Beware!
All who venture beyond this point.
Respect my wishes
And I in return will give you
your freedom.
The freedom to live.
The freedom to leave well alone.
That which does not concern you.
Leave now while you can.
38

MORNING ANY MOMENT

The sounds of the island filter through the shutters. A van, a motorbike, crates being unloaded, someone shouting in a language I have yet to master. The same every morning. It’s not yet six, but already the sun is drawing lines on the floor. It will be hot. It is always hot here.
By noon, they will have found us. Banging on the door, a warning that I will not understand but will recognise by the tone of voice. Three of them, maybe four, uniformed and armed. Perhaps I will call out, beg them not to harm me. Perhaps I will remain silent, frozen.
They will batter on the door till it gives away. I will sit up in bed (for I will remain here till they come), sheets drawn round me, frightened. Or defiant, I don’t yet know.
Their guns will be pointed at me as I plead with them to turn away while I dress. They may honour this, or they may leer. I will pull on hastily discarded clothes lying on the floor and tie up my hair.
“Tell him to get up too, unless he wants to be shot.” This is what their words must mean. They wave the barrels of their guns in your direction.
I will do my best to tell them to take me, leave you alone.
They jeer. He is not much of a protector, to lie prone while his love is being taken away.
As they hustle me out of the room, I catch one last glimpse of your body under the sheets, now dappled with sunlight as the heat reaches its height. Someone prods you with the butt of a rifle. You don’t stir. You can’t stir. They pull back the bedclothes and see you in all your naked, ashen beauty. They will look at me with awe, with horror, with disgust. Someone will hit me, and my lip will bleed. And they will drag me out as neighbours peer from between the slats of their shutters at the foreign girl who should have known better.
But for now, my love, we lie with our arms draped round one another and I promise never to let you go, even though you can’t hear me, even though you left me during the darkest part of the night.
39

Gouge in the Oak Door

You seem to think you know enough, set design and location brief.
But you don’t know past shuttered 16th century windows,
crow step gables and cobbled wynds. Did you hear the pan tile slide, disintegrate like pink sherbet at my feet, high storm, last spring?
You seem to think this is a once upon a time. A lick of paint will pitch us into a blockbuster life? Slip and slide on December ice, layered on higgled-piggedly cobbles. You weren’t there when a car slid full pelt from the Abbey, down Back Causeway, whacking every parked one like the dodgems. Modern times, the Post Office closed, a bus once an hour.
You won’t discover our community garden, its fankle of dried leaves, the muddled splash of faded petals, the cream-white nettle sting crowded by bees?
Have you heard the watering cans gurgle, the village blether, understated kindnesses? Have you googled ‘plague graves’ or ‘coffin walk’? Eavesdropped on Devilla’s secrets? Sat on its lichen-smudged stones, names erased to a fade, washed by centuries of gales?
You’ve had no word of Reverend Bishop’s slant-angled funeral procession, nor walked to derelict stacks on Preston Island, tasted the faint after-trace of furnace smoke, men’s guttural holler, machine-metal clang?
You claim imagination. Research Carnegie’s leaving at the jetty. He left his heart here.
40

Formalist Affair

Your door, your window,
always shuttered—
I stand before that window,
that door, and imagine
my entrance into your silkscreen
world, a universe of formalist
perfection: each line, each
curve, perfectly wrought.

But perfection has rough edges.
The paper’s grain, the way the ink
soaks into it, the uneven spot,
the traces of variable pressure
or scant ink—all these off-kilter
elements evoke love, the care
we take to trace the curve
of a lover’s mottled hip and thigh
or the delicate rise of a mole
on the sleek surface of a lover’s bicep.

Here is the gate through which desire
rushes, unshutters that window,
swings open that long-shut
door, and then knocks over
that perfect vase. It shatters
on the lintel, scatters a thousand
fragments, blue and white
and gold, across your entryway.

Read more >

41

The Portal

Browsing in a second-hand bookshop in the back streets of York, I notice a book which grabs my attention: 'The Portal' by Annest Gwilym. Not just because the author is my namesake, but also the unusual image on the cover: an arch painted with blackboard paint and a primitive-looking design of chalky white lines and rectangles.

I open the cover and instantly find myself transported to a large white marble hall with black onyx carved into it in mysterious linear patterns. It has doors set into the marble, which seem to stretch into infinity. On each black door, there is white writing. I glance back at the door I just entered and read on the reverse: ‘NO EXIT’. Glancing down one side of the hall, I read the words on the doors, and realise that they are the titles of some of my favourite books.

I open the door titled 'A Suitable Boy' and quickly close it: it is a live black and white scene of the stampede at the Pul Mela on the banks of the Ganges in Brahmpur. It is exactly like walking into an old film, but with the characters full size and 3D, the sounds and smells of confusion and terror fully realised.

Next I open 'Wuthering Heights' to find the dying Cathy on her bed, wild-haired, eyes rolling and incoherent, shrieking for Heathcliff. I quickly close that door too.

When I open 'The Bell Jar' I watch a girl on the roof of a tall building in New York throwing all her clothes over the edge to float down like strange jellyfish. Slam!

Read more >

42

She Writes

Because she wants to know how the sky tastes
and how close an ancestral echo
rests on the tip of her tongue.

Because from the carnival of words
she wants to find the precise few
to create a portmanteau
of the past and future
and watch how it
        boomerangs
from eternity.

And then rest
like a miniature antique tabletop sewing machine
in a dusty shadowbox with other miniature objects
that reveal this vast human condition
In their Tiny ways.

43

Roman Numeral Cathedral Blasphemy

It’s all a numbers game
with lines and digits
stained
in black and white
silence

Never cross paths
in this labyrinth
where you imprison hearts

without a hope
to escape

without a key
without a map
without a compass

without a prayer
in the world
to survive
the lies of lust
that come garbed
as love
from the maze
of your mind

44

St Magnus, Kirkvoe

Harald Maddadsson, Earl of Orkney, peered through a Romanesque window at newly-completed St Magnus Cathedral. The focal point of Kirkvoe had been founded by his sanctified forebear – Magnus Erlendsson – ahead of his brutal, untimely demise at the hands of Haakon's men.

So stands Orkney where she did, he pondered, gazing out to the narrow streets, dominated by the sturdy tower-house of the Bishop's Palace. Were the rebellious Orcadians and Scots ripe for crushing? 'Ethnic cleansing' like the Picts, intermarriage and assimilation, joint sovereignty of Orkney, Shetland and mainland Caithness? A monetary deal with King William of Scots might be the best solution, he mused.

Maddadsson paced the smooth floors, admiring the sandstone pillars and arches of the finest Cathedral this side of Bergen; before joining Harald Eiriksson – so headstrong, so naïve in administration, so much to learn! Striding purposefully ahead, Harald the elder exited and felt the warm glow of sunshine on his cloaked back. He looked up; a raven perched precariously on the weather-cock above the Cathedral's pyramidal tower – a portent from the Gods?

45

Walking through the darkness . . .

It all started with a question. "How to reach it?" Okay, what is IT? "IT" is the light at the end of the dark tunnel – the tunnel which I dunno how long is!

Ok, I get it. "Do you still believe you will see the light?"
"Hell, yeah! I do. I am not sure if I per se will see IT. But I am sure, IT prevails there and I need to get to IT to see. IT wont come to me! So, I keep moving, with hope."

That is how a conversation goes between heart and mind on the worst days, which outnumber the better days in life. We all face it. Some times a day or two, many a times a few days in a row. We can't help the worse days to disappear. All we can do is to face 'em. We face dampened emotions, unmuted melancholy, grey scale scenarios and all that negativity. We put on a masquerade, smile at jokes that tend to hurt us, wear a smile that lets none believe we are drifting into a black hole. Dull senses, darker periods, stifled voices, lost taste and what not! We get accustomed to a pretended life. Passing every day, pretending to be happy and laughing at jokes that never made sense!

Days like these are when we get so insane and consider ending our own lives. Before we realize what we had decided upon, we are gone. Every day struggles like this? What is the point? And, nobody would speak of the bravery needed to create an end card, but would curse the cowardly nature wishing to die! If you plan to make your end card – in other words – suicide/self harming/whatever, take a moment to think. All these mentioned practices need more courage; dying demands more courage than to live.

Read more >
46

Walking Along the Diagonal

With this stone
I carve what once was –
my first day and my last.
Like the rounded shoulders
of poor posture,
inscribed eyes
down turned,
I look to the soil for answers
and a final point-mark on the horizon.

Here lies my past,
my present,
my future.
At rest,
we are three in one.
All memory and sound
travels to the place of records –
the place where what we do matters –
the place where ancestors
welcome us
and the new generation
traces our steps.

This place we sail to
is the forgotten land
and the promised land.
It is the place of belief
and rejoicing.
Read more >

47

Images

Not quite a robot
Perhaps an African mask
Art deco recreated by an 80s developer
Either way
Images remind us of memories
Some good, some bad, and sometimes at the same time
A 7th grade overnight
A would-be mother-in-law
A commercial building that was numerous businesses over a decade
A lobby of a Manhattan high-rise
All of these memories
A database to share with the next generation to hopefully make them stronger, happier, and successful humans
If this actually happens
I have done my job

48

On the Tracks

When Jo boarded the tram, she had a pretty clear indication of where she was headed. She wanted to go somewhere far, but not too far, somewhere no-one would know her, somewhere she could lose herself for a while. She checked the various lines, the various stops on the lines promising her freedom, a space where she could clear her head and forget about everything she had lost.

The tram was slowing again, pulling in for a minute, allowing other passengers to get on, some with hard-set expressions, others wearing beatific grins, laughing as they passed. Jo hunkered down in her seat, not wanting to inflict her misery on those housing happy hearts.

Outside, the sky had turned a fine aluminium grey, the swollen clouds pregnant with unshed rain. Soon they would burst, spilling their transparent seed far and wide, washing the world clean. Jo closed her eyes and imagined the feel of the cool drops on her fevered skin, temporarily easing her restless mind.

The tram continued onwards and Jo said a final farewell to the last stop, a place which didn’t interest her in the slightest, a place which was too close to home to be considered comfortable. No, she needed to go further, possibly all the way to the end of the line before she could breathe easy.

The clouds continued to roll in and Jo was glad of the carriage, the four walls which protected her, the ceiling with its flickering light which was probably doing more damage than she cared to admit. She didn’t feel that brave enough yet, not brave enough to step outside and expose herself to the elements. Her heart was a glass cage, shattered in a hundred thousand ways, barely maintaining its shape, but she was clinging on, just about.

Read more >
49

Blossom

The principal said, ‘No plants at school.’
Automatic shovels were digging the schoolyard to remove the seeds of an unknown plant called ‘Cogitatio’. The shovels crunched them up as the pupils cried. They were crawling under benches, moaning out of despair.
Victor timidly exchanged a knowing look with his classmates and fetched a small bag of seeds. He hid it in his pocket and crept under a bench, hardly making any noise. One by one they took a seed and the seeds were ingested without delay.
The principal turned back and noticed an eerie flash of lightning in the classroom.
The pupils branched out and their boughs buried the principal.

50

Trust – a Love Poem

On inside passages
I breathe in through my nose
out through my mouth,
calculate the distance to shore
check who else is near.

He watches the chart unfold
our boat a small, black triangle
red crosses marking the rocks
I cannot see. He gestures left
or right. I turn the wheel.

I doubt I’ll die in my bed.
There’ll be no cross for him
or for me in his wake.

51

Why Do Doors Go Skinny At Night?

Half-life shutters, slits to peer through
expecting less eeriness over there.
Straight edges into eternity, curves arch
into the simplicity of slats. Moonshine seeps
through like stair steps, launch pads,
stepping stones perhaps to a bar room
of silent brawlers and baby snakes
or a sanctuary for the unrewarded dead.
I’m not scared, not really. I can run back
through swinging gates. If the dream
is too narrow, constricted, I push
them apart like a threshold yawn
to let me pass.

52

ASH GOD RELIC

I

I have been asked
To fetch the herb
For the last man dying
By the last woman
Who’s lost her bearings.
This might well be
My last chore, although,
Who can tell?

I recall doing this
Once in every age.
They told me
Though I was clever
They made themselves
Better after me, and for ever
I’m their page,
A factotum, for ever.

But mostly I recall
Their battle with the giants
And among other things
My heroics: burning
The palace down
And my leap
Across the ocean
Teeming with life.

Read more >
53

Baby Pencil Pusher

Stubby little hands push
coloured pencils through
brown speaker threads
of an Art Deco Bakelite radio.

Heat radiates from tired valves
warms brown polished wood
a smell of burning gusts
into a kitchen where his mam

admires her new Tupperware,
and fresh goods for her to sell
for Avon door-to-door.
She must remember to keep

the little one occupied
with pencils and paper
while over fresh filter coffee
she sells the goods.

54

Last Cry for Consent

Tinted glass splits open
Doors stomp closed
Candles define uncharted
Lines that do not cross,
Uncross when the right amount of light
Stretches to the right angle on the right day
The sixteenth as I recall
Was an auspicious day
The wedding was set to the tides
Long before they met

The dress white, with hyacinths
Embroidered over fear's sweet nectar
Veiled to shield the procession
From fierceness, shadowing
The black suit, pressed in tight rows
Of duty and honor and family
Pulled firmly over resolve

Sixteen lines on each side
How they all stood up to toast blood
Rightly, properly witness the passing
Of one ghost slipping into another
Vows choked out, not of love
As a eulogy of innocence

A shutter fails to obey
Banging in the wind's insistence
Defiance wails though the hall
Read more >

55

THROUGH THE ARCH

a gamble has to be taken
there are edges upon edges
some could be as sharp as knives
everything blacks and whites

overtones have become undertones
that ultimately mean nothing
yet there is meaning in nothingness –
a prelude to an assassination

on reflection how you would deal with
a mirror-image is hard to say
has to lead down another tunnel –
this is implicit in the overall design

no is not no it's just convince me
try to see how balance awaits you
choose a cheeseburger one day
go to a nice restaurant on another

though life on a desert island is constant
locked into its own inner freedoms
you can walk circles in opposite directions
build an arch then just walk through

56

The First One

Wesna emerged from the transporter. It was still dark and what he could identify of his surroundings seemed quite grim. A barren gravel desert. Though the place where the trials would take place was kept secret to prevent the run of curious tourists, he hadn’t expected anything different. To keep the losses as low as possible in case anything went wrong, a planet that mainly consisted of useless matter has been chosen for the tests. Another 24 volunteers followed him out of the vehicle. Some of them shook his hands and some of them glanced at him with a hint of envy in their eyes.

Good luck, man.
Thanks, guys! Good luck to you too.

The other volunteers would be transported to the other side of the planet, as far from the trial area as possible. Many more volunteered but they still were on their home planets, going through the preparation procedures and waiting for their turn. One-thousand trials were planned in the first round. The second round would be test runs with two people. The next step depended on the results of that round. Of course, there had been experiments with animals before. The whole project spanned over 100 years already. If you were precise, it was as old as humanity. Wesna smiled; he was the first one to do it! He wondered how anyone else would feel in his place. Would they be more solemn or reverent? He was just slightly thrilled – finally something resembling an adventure was going to happen. A voice tore him out of his reverie:

Are you Wesna Armstrong, the First To Go?
Indeed.
Welcome to Planet G2345. We are very pleased to meet you.
My pleasure.
Read more >

57

SOMETIMES

The heart of an icon
takes an age to fathom.
You have to dig deep
to find its relevant messages.
In a godless universe,
why look to mathematical teachings
for something human?
Beyond matter and consciousness
do we not still find a spine, shoulders
ribs and cranium and aren't the signs of the crucifix present at the temple door?

58

a dramatization

i dont know about you + maybe
its just because of this horrible party
but i really want to be abducted right now

not in the reconstruction real-life crime-
show girl-at-night-snatched-by-killer
kind of way just the normal way

by aliens desperate to understand what
exactly humans are + why it is
that we always do such boring things

like going to horrible parties where all
the conversations revolve around
what everyone is writing right now

+ luckily i would have prepared such a
beautiful answer that the aliens will be
moved to take me back to their home world

a place – i imagine – where words never
decay + everyone is always super excited

by my tales of brilliant socialisation
my proof of my own existence

59

Clouds

The chain of the swing-bench squeaks swinging backwards but not swinging forwards. To this music she watches the sodden clouds advancing and thinks they might inspire more awe if she knew their names and how they worked. There are plenty of people who know how clouds work. She sits and swings and feels no urgency to learn things already known by others.

When she was six Father Beard was in the classroom on a sunny day, vivaciously describing the glory of Heaven. He was old but still enthusiastic about this magical place. Didn’t all things become tiresome eventually? During her summer holidays she’d had the cheek to get bored of a beach she’d been brought to for a week. As a child she presumed you became more passionate about Heaven the older you got. But she was old herself now. His arms were raised high, his fingers wriggling about his head like worms on hooks, his eyes shutting tightly long enough for her to see the world of wrinkles on his eyelids then flicking open, wide and wild, trying to share the glorious image he’d just seen like he was thrusting a holiday snap at her. Father Beard put on a good show and it was wasted on her. It seems important to remember she was six. He threw open his sermon to the classroom floor for questions. A daring thing.

Is stealing food from another’s lunchbox a sin? (Yes!)
Can you go to hell for wishing someone dead? (Yes!)
Are there pets in Heaven? (Of course.)
Does Nana see me going to the toilet? (Er...No.)

She put up her hand and said, “How do you know it’s all true?” There were gasps and the rolling of little eyes. Taboo. She expected chastisement, but no. Read more >

60

Aubade

Sometimes there’s a door
with no locks
always open just enough
to move through
inviting clean air in
its ribbed slats
sieving light
limiting the reach
of darkness
in its greedy rush
to bleed grief
past the edge
of morning

Always open
this door speaks
an emphatic word
unrelenting
bright forgiveness
washing through
our empty rooms
in an avalanche
of light

61

What You’ll Learn Before It’s Over

You'll stand in the queue that roams untidy as dropped thread. As you weight each foot turn by turn, you'll remember that horses sleep standing up and you'll hoof-tip your resting leg. Out there between the yew trees the fine rain will needle-prick your bare arms. You'll fight the urge to turn your made-up face to the sky, to open your arms wide, spin on the spot, and let out a cry, because it would be unseemly in the circumstances, and your mascara would run.

You'll shuffle into the porch, as the others will shuffle. They will feel what they feel and that you cannot know. You will be filled with the scent of old stone and ancient wood and you won't know why but these things will be memories deeper than your years, and felt in a place within your chest. There's something about this threshold that will excite you, but it's too remote to make sense of, so you'll notice it as nothing more than a moth landing on the front of your dress and you'll send it away with a flick of your hand.

You'll see unsmiling men in dark suits and ties and serious women standing in a huddle by the font, wearing those fiddly hats with the black mesh over their faces. They'll turn to watch you enter into the silent space. You'll worry about your non-black dress and bare arms and red lips, but it's too late. You'll turn your face to the high arch of the ceiling. You'll notice gargoyles pulling dreadful faces at you from their perches on the tops of the marble pillars that define the structure and you'll look away.

You'll become aware of the old lilly smell of incense and how it gets stronger as you follow the line and insert yourself into a pew as directed. It will take seventeen minutes to get everyone settled: thirty-two pews, sixteen seats per pew. Five-hundred and twelve mourners for a former civic dignitary, long retired, great aged, now dead, unremarkably. Read more >

62

Sunday Graces

Church bell rang out
10 a.m. on the dot
With panted breath
She sprinted up the steps
Content with being fashionably late
Sliding in the ornate wooden door
Just before diving into the first available pew
Predictably three rows from the back
In front of the one that wobbles when you move
Yes, she tells herself every week
"This is the Sunday when we'll be on time!"
Perhaps, being on time isn't her destiny
There's a lesson to be learned
It takes more dedication to be a few minutes late
Than it does to show up early to gossip.

63

Wilderness

He sits at the back and all the words drift over his head. He doesn’t know when he lost his faith. It must have happened so gradually that he didn’t notice until one day none of it made sense anymore and none of the words made him feel better like they used to. At one time he would leave the church fired up, full of…what? The Holy Spirit? Whatever, it kept him going through the week. Now he was in the wilderness of his faith and it had been a whole lot longer than forty days and forty nights.

As the Eucharistic prayers begin a dread comes over him. He’s lost God. He tries to tell himself that God hasn’t lost him, but how does he know? What would he do now? His faith had been strong once. Was everything he believed in a lie? Had his whole life been a lie? And how could he live without God? Did he need to? Maybe he could keep God and ignore the rest. That felt better, safer because he couldn’t imagine his life without God in there somewhere.

His mind drifts as blackness and panic seize him. All those books he’s read, all those Bible study classes he’s attended and retreats he’s been to, the prayers. They weren’t helping him now. They were worthless. He’d been living with a doctrine and rules that made no logical sense. Why had he not seen it before?

He takes the bread and the wine through habit. What else would he do? Still, he feels guilty, an impostor, an unbeliever. He returns to his seat thinking about all the rituals, all the rules. Who made them? Then he thinks about Druids and Egyptians. They had rituals too. Everyone believes in something. Even atheists have beliefs – that belief in a god is rubbish and that you are on your own. There is no grand plan for people.

His eyes rove over the rows of seats, the altar, the icons, the cross, the stained glass he loves even now. With a sigh he leaves. Read more >

64

Jailbird

He used to sing to be close to God.
But when they opened the door,
he escaped the cage to sing more.
He badly hurt his wings.

Cupped in my hand,
I laid him down on a bed of thorns.
So that I bleed but his songs stay.
Yet, he still longs to fly away.

65

Others

The walls of his room are covered in masks.
Imagined faces
Of people from imagined lands.
$400
Museum Quality
He imagines their connections:
Heroes, warriors, hunters, outsiders.
They only roll their eyes at night.
When his monitor friend turns itself off.
One day, before dawn, they club together and buy him a mirror.
A convex one
$400
Renaissance Style
So he can imagine himself, and try to understand.

66

Monochrome Maze

last night I fell
into the arms of a dream,
stared blankly
into monochrome eyes

as my fingers stroked
lines of face,
explored corridors
of its architecture

feeling for arch of rib
and column of spine
around symmetrical
contours of body

in search of the core,
a mystery of design
that revealed itself
in the cold light of day.

67

Escape Artists

To the chubby one, all of eleven, a vegetable grater
with a bottle opener on top and a ‘squarish’ sieve make themselves seen

I see a virile god-organ, a slender cross, steps to an altar
and sunlight dappling on wooden benches in a parish hall–
details that only the atheist in me can relish

Between his love and my irreligion are doorways
that lead beyond. Slim rectangles large enough
for a generation to squeeze through unquestioned

Beyond is where he and I will live. Once the black
outlines absorbed into sight become a blind spot ripe,
we will escape through the indifferent gaps and find
a shapeless sky and sea, ours to trap in squares,
dead redwood frames and awning stripes

68

Midnight

Midnight,
a doer has dropped

all the weapons,
stepped

into the dark
that is

the private
fear, the inner

route, dead-end.

The broken lines,
bones, dreams

against
the void.

A doer wanders
through

the years, the roots,
the endings

and declines,
starts to think, tastes

the softest blend of
chalkboard doses.

69

Lone Tree Saloon

The Nebraska breeze
caresses crude chestnut,
flings the bat-wing door
into moonlit motion.

Light and laughter
seeps through the slats,
the foe I fear unseen
in the contrast.

Hand twitching
by my holster
I push through
to the other side.

As gun smoke clears
the stark shadow
of the saloon door
swings to and fro.

70

Images

‘It’s late. Thanks for seeing me. I have a notion. This experiment might throw light on the subject – for all of us. Remind me. Edward?’
The face that peered back was expressionless.
‘Correct, Dr Alexander.’
The voice clipped.
‘Wonderful. Let’s see. Here it is. Would you study this image, then share your thoughts, Edward? I’ll hold it up for you.’
‘Seconds spent staring are seconds I will never retrieve in a life which is already over-populated, drained of freedom and curtailed by circumstance. It is, ostensibly, a metaphor for society.’
‘How so?’
Edward sighed. ‘Put simply, it is a pictorial representation of aspirational stages. From the lowly to the highest, there are platforms to be mounted, rungs upon ladders, steps…Yet more steps. Of course, the symmetry underlines the irony of the situation –’
‘I disagree.’
The voice was steady, educated.
‘Who is that?’
‘My dear doctor, it is I, the Reverend. Edward, as you know, turns to philosophy, or politics, for all explanation. What is obvious to me is an elongated church window through which we can quite clearly see an invitation to The Light. Stare long enough and there is a definite cross shape. Marvellous.’
‘Thank you, Reverend. I see Edward has left us.’
‘And so must I take leave, Doctor. It was but a flying visit. I have sermons to write.’
A deep voice interjected.
‘They know nothing.’
Read more >

71

Barricade

Lock the door,
Bolt the shutters,
Shut out the World,
Hide from harsh words and unkind voices,
Curl up and lick the wounds of failed relationships,
Build a shield to project yourself from lost loves and loveless lives,
Too many knocks to your vulnerable soul,
Battered hopes,
Shattered dreams,
Brace yourself for the next onslaught,
Poised to fight, but hoping to avoid,
One more battle against your greatest enemy,
FEAR

72

Contract

They sent us the floor plan
Seems simple enough
Kinda church-like, centre aisle
What looks like pews
on either side

North facing wall's
a curvature
         (I think we can do something with that)
Frosted glass, it's up to you
Or maybe take advantage
of the view

No, I don't know
What they want it for
They didn't say
Maybe they're religious
Who cares
So long as they pay

Time frame?
Geez, I didn't ask them that
Took them years
To get here
They seem the patient type

Nah, not what you'd expect
Maybe it's all those
Old time shows
Mars Attacks, you know

Read more >
73

WINDOW of HOPES and DREAMS

My grandmother wanted to go to university but her education was stopped at school. India was not independent but was slowly veering towards it. It was learning to dream big in the hope of their fruition. But my grandmother had no such luck; her dreams for herself would be dashed prematurely. Married off at 17 to a man in his 30s, she would go on to have nine children. She would read in her kitchen, everything from newspapers to novellas, in the little time that she got between chopping vegetables and frying them and between cooking meat and cleaning utensils. Since she never had the privilege of getting a college education, she ensured all of her children did; despite the fact that her husband passed away when she was only 36 years old, leaving her with little savings. My grandmother sustained herself and her children on her husband’s meagre pension. She would go on to live for 80 years. But you could count on your fingers the number of times she went outside her home. Yet she knew a world of possibilities existed and her children had to explore them to the best of their abilities.

My mother grew up a rebel. She did not want to be confined within the four walls of a house for life. She was frightened for her future every time someone mentioned marriage. Circumstances had not led her to believe that marriage was enough assurance for a secure future. Her mother helped her get an education despite numerous hardships. Mother wrote exams feverishly to land a job. Her escape was well planned and executed.

My grandmother lived in a town far away from us. But she kept me in her prayers. She dreamed bigger dreams for me than she had for her daughter. She was proud when I went to college, prouder when I got into university. My mother would worry about me living with strangers in a strange place but my grandmother firmly believed that I would be able to adjust to my new environment. I think she lived vicariously through me.

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74

Domestic Violence

His face looks like a mask to her, sometimes. Especially when he sleeps—everything is drawn tight, everything is closed off.

She watches him, his face cast into darkness by the dappled, shifting light coming through the window. Squinting through the gloom, she catalogues every twitch of an eyelid, every wince of his mouth. She feels almost insane with wanting. She wants everything of him, all his emotions, and he won’t give them to her. He’s a man’s man, always in control. If only she could crack him like an egg, shatter his defences, drag her grasping fingers through the helpless mess of his forced vulnerability.

Just once, in all the time they’d been together, had he cried. He wouldn’t tell her why, but even so, as she held him, as she murmured comforting nonsense and stroked his hair, her thoughts had been brassy and triumphant. Finally, she’d thought. Finally.

75

82.70

The young man looked into the grey of her eyes. It was the color of the roads that drew long lines into the green hills of his home. Straight roads, ruler drawn, which crossed the endless steppes, where, like freckles in a laughing face, wild horses were grazing.
The girl’s eyes were lined with kohl, thick lines paralleling her pencil sketched eyebrows, and the long tentacles of her mascaraed lashes where shivering as she closed her eyes and opened them, closed her eyes and opened them. Like the long grass danced, when caressed by the evening wind.
“Your eyes are like roads…” he said.
She closed her eyes and opened them. Closed her eyes and opened them. It was a nervous tick.
“I beg your pardon?” she said. “That’s 82.70.” She kept her head down, looking into the open drawer of the cash register.
“Your eyes take me home,” He said. In the bright halogen light of the gas station, he thought he could see freckles shine through the opaque foundation of her make up. And underneath this thick layer of powder and dusty rouge, he thought he could see her blushing. He thought he could see her cheeks turn into the delicate color of pink primroses.
“Of course, 82.70…” He felt for the breast pockets of his leather jacket. “Can I tell you something, though?”
“That’s 82.70.” She did not look up.
“You don’t need to hide behind all this make up. You’re beautiful, you know.”
When she looked up, she saw her own mascaraed eyes, the straight line of her own tense mouth, her own painted face. It seemed like a warped mask, reflected in the closed visor of his helmet. And there was no money in his hand, but the little muzzle of a gun looking straight at her.
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76

Mask of gathering ages

Certainty of symmetry's static     stoic
    song: Of the Silent Interpretation.
 It was here language
involved the tongue
         more by layered
                         fruition
  than by the intercepting
     of misaligned meaning,
   moribund fascination with
                                political
         open-faced inaction.     Architectural
meaning is desolate when bodies
                 cannot function amid
   its closed silence and concrete
                                regard

__________
     closed eyes encompass a brand of seeing
     and of knowing darkened halls bridge
     slant with paralleling diagrams of associated
     chemistry–
__________

                                within the arc
                              the middle's opening holds an elated
                                                          crow's
                                    undulating hiding        as
                           with the
     hands of family
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77