• Vol. 04
  • Chapter 05

‘Mrs Hadley’s Hand’, Royal Worcester parian vase (c. 1865)

He brought home a model of the design to show her. He had linen-coloured dust from the workshop thickened beneath his fingernails. There were flecks of it in his hair and caught in the tiny-important lines around his eyes. He mistook her silence for wonder and sat back, smiling, fingers laced behind his head.

‘Can’t handle a vase without perhaps a little Keats coming to mind,’ he said. As she peered at the object, bringing it to her face and sensing its coolness, she wondered how long he had been waiting to deliver that line. Perhaps he had spent the whole journey home trialling different wordings. He made writhing spiders of his hands in the air, miming a writhing sort of delicacy as he quoted: ‘Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought, As doth eternity: Cold pastoral!’ He pointed at her and winked. ‘Do you like it? Do you,’ he leaned forward, ‘recognize your grip?’

It had her fingers’ slightness, she supposed. She had never really examined her hands closely before. It was cool to the touch. ‘Like the back of my—’

‘Odd to see it separate,’ he continued, taking the vase from her. ‘Lopped off.’

She watched the vase in his hands. Now it was a finger shushing his lips, now a manicule pointing at his shoulder, now the same angle as illustrations’ hands of God when He is poised to prod or smite-nudge. Too dainty for God—a trainee angel, perhaps, not falling to earth but dipping down a finger as if to taste the difference between icing sugar and salt.

‘Just think!’ he said. ‘Your hand will be famous! On mantelpieces throughout the country! Heirlooms!’

‘Hand-me-downs,’ she said.

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1

From Twitcher, a Gothic novel

‘“So beautiful, so goth,” said Twitcher, eyeballing his body, “You know the nails keep growing until the worms and bats chew them away…” “Bats?” asked a voice inside his head.’

‘In the right weather conditions, an outstretched hand can be mistaken for a vampire bat.’

‘Family lore asserts that Twitcher wasn’t born but discovered under the bed, like a thing from a bad dream.’

‘…his feral verisimilitude was widely remarked upon in a school production of Bela Lugosi’s Dead.’

‘dead skunk breath’

‘His door creaked open, making the noise of panicky mice.’

‘He called his bedroom ‘the laboratory.’’

‘hoarfrost’

‘witch’s milk’

“…the pumpkins were rubber or foam; he had a fancy imagination — fiery gargoyles, phosphorescent trees...”

‘like the TV in Poltergeist.’ ‘like the graveyard in Vampyr.’ ‘like the vampire in Snow White.’

“Jemima… Baskerville?”

‘For Halloween, Twitcher dressed as the Big Bad Wolf and Jemima as Red Riding Hood. Jemima stuck her purple cough syrup tongue in his ear.’

‘Jemima liked to lie on the bed pretending she was a rabbit for him, strung from the ceiling.’

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2

Crackling Blue

The hand that feeds us bleeds
of things we do not know;
we call it mother, it gives us
names of things unsaid. When
we feast, small plants are born
from rivers, and spread like wild
flowers. Our eyes, little black suns.
We are told many things
we choose not to remember –
how to stand in silence, how to
bloom in complete darkness, how to
retrieve or be retrieved without our
knowing, how to understand invisibility.
The seeds we plant are many, but
many more of us grow –
these ones erect and unapologetic
small conquerors of old worlds –
though, they too, must carry the
weight of distraught ancestors
like heavy rocks, sinking into their bones
deeper and deeper
until their crackling turns blue.

3

Androgynous

All the time reaching
no matter how dense the fog
the bone that is shadow can
find a way through.

You might call it a curtain,
a partition, a way into
another world,
but the bone that is shadow
is the hand.

The elongated fingers
will touch your neck
at some point in your lifetime
but will you know it's me
poking in, trying to
scratch your sweet mind.

Will you hear shadowbone
on skin, the roughness of
another conscience,
a break through of notions,
male female, androgynous.

4

Simple

Saw the way he tugged
at your scent,
swept you toe-eyed loose
to the nips,
slope of brokered
whoops, to the halt of light
above the door, needling
points to
home and heart,
the sound of fingers on glass,
fragile instruments tapping
all wavery, hopeful,
but less silver
that tip the moment
open, or close,
the same way blinks, he,
missing letters or worse,
or is it for better or worse?
Saw the way he helped
atone
the way he cares

5

The Hand

Twenty canvasses of your own.
Each nail is a canvas.

Even two year olds daub
them with a tiny brush.

On every high street two or three
businesses compete cuticles.

No airheads chewing gum,
buffing nails and passing calls.

Operating theatre masks,
nail drying machines by their side.

French or gel.
Indulged luxury in austerity.

At home sisters bond and learn
techniques of togetherness.

If you do mine, I'll do yours.
Choose colour or tattoo.

Delicacy of touch and focus.
Mindfulness colouring book.

Pampered by laughter
and forgetting.

6

Invisible

Sad me.
I am invisible.
Nothing left but this hand.
Also a memory of a lilac.
How nice.
A little ruffled bloom so-named
because of its color.
Also sex.
Not the action, just the word.
Man, I wish I remember what
that word means.
Other things I wish
include remembering my eye
color (was it lilac?).
Oh, and I wish I were
not so invisible.

7

That Someone, I

The last mark I left,
last print on the last thing I touched –
the print of my palm,
defiantly unique. My own heart,
head, fate. My own arrangement of sun,
Saturn, success. Maybe someone
will powder my vanished stamp
with dust and discover that
someone was here – that someone, I.
Maybe they will stare
at this five-toed creature’s ghost
and wonder, what the hell?
Maybe they will scream.
Me as was, wearing the end
of my human form
before I changed this world
for the mist. The last of me –
a hand, waving. Or reaching
out for help.

8

Washing the Walls

Your hand, against glass,
A leaf in the snow,
The wind on the grass,
A thumb in the dough...
A pestle on grain,
A nail in a tyre,
A pill to the pain,
A bird on a wire...
An actor on stage,
A shoe in the mud,
A word on a page,
A dam to a flood...
The glass to the hand,
The snow to the leaf,
You question, demand—
Then, you steal like a thief.
The grass yields the breeze
Like the dough bears the thumb.
The cook isn't pleased
Till the pestle is done.
The tyre is flat,
And the pain creates age,
The bird fled the cat
And the crew left the stage.
The mud made some tracks,
The words were repeated,
The rains, they came back.
your purpose...defeated.
Read more >

9

Reaching Out

As I arrive you reach out to hug me.
Eyes down, I sidestep, fiddling with my coat
I mutter, Hi, sorry, got to nip to the…
and I flee to the bathroom, the safety of
seclusion. Yet I want to be here, to be sociable
to see people and engage in chitter chatter.

I discover inconspicuous is a lot harder
than I thought. Others approach ready to hug
greetings. Feeling brittle and gawky,
I stop them at arm's length by picking up my bag.
Brain-fog clouds my consciousness, I struggle to
focus, to relax and enjoy the company I sought out.

I need a little time to mentally thaw out. When
I do I know I’ll want those hugs, that physical
connection to others. But not at the start.
I need them a little further in. Perhaps if I could
begin in the middle and work my way back
to the start?

10

Lambda

His headphones were in and his playlist was filling his cranium with auditory vitriol. Unread textbooks flanked his laptop. He had been in the university library all afternoon but there was very little evidence of this on the glowing screen in front of him. In fact, he hadn’t touched the keyboard at all in the last half hour. His thesis was getting him down. With every page he wrote, he felt more unsure of his premise. It was nonsense. All of it. He felt flat, burnt out. Why had he decided to study philosophy anyway?

He took out his headphones and leant back slightly in his chair. He stared at the frosted perspex which lined the back of the library workstations. The translucent nature of the barrier at least made the workstation feel slightly less like a prison cell. Only slightly.

A pair of anonymous shadows wandered past on the other side of the perspex. Then another pair of shadows projected themselves onto this fuzzy screen and stopped. The outline of an arm appeared as the body seemed to move closer towards the perspex. Then the outline of a hand. A girl’s hand, he thought. It pressed flat against the cell wall and a startlingly clear silhouette came into focus. He stared at the hand as it clenched and relaxed. He felt a dull stirring within him, a forgotten fire, a passion for pure expression and meaning. The shape of the arm and the hand reminded him of a Greek lambda. The language of Plato.

Of course, he hadn’t decided to study philosophy himself. His parents had decided that for him. They had always thought he was a thinker, a philosophical ponderer. They loved the idea of their son gaining a doctorate. It would be the perfect tidbit to sprinkle into conversations at parties when they wanted to impress acquaintances whom they loathed. The language of pretentious socialites.

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11

An Alien Has My Finger

You see, there's trouble...
An alien has stolen my finger.
I saw a hand floating in the dark
with four stubby digits.
I knew immediately he or she
must need a finger,
thinking to offer when I found
myself knowing nothing.
But something went wrong.
I woke too soon and found
four of my own fingers where
five used to be.

12

Joint

skin joint bending found now
love touch connect be see
tongue hip fashion slip mouth
flaming lip album cover vision

welcome
to the human
being
being human
after all

welcome to the rub
of membrane
taste of knuckle
bent and creepy
static

brain takes
in sense
spits it out
says
what do you think now?

13

Hands Are Hard

Everyone knows that hands,
are hard to paint or draw.
It's a universal truth.
I myself paint hands that
are way too large, fingers
that would weight down any
normal being, dragging arms.
Go ahead and trace mine
to help you get the shape
just right.
I would hate for you to suffer
the problems I've had.

14

Detective Work

I'm testing a finger
here to see who it
really belongs to.
Make an impression
on the glass, if you
please. Step aside.
Now is the part
where I tell you
who you are at last,
dear Saint Appendage.
Perhaps a doctor,
a lepidopterist, a famous
skate boarder, or the
homeless man I refused
to help.

15

We Live in Miniature Form

You cannot see me,
but I flutter in your chest –
I memorize the map
of your veins
and travel to every unexplored
corner of you.
With a surge of need
and want
and belief
and courage –
with the knowledge
that this is not the world,
as we know it.

It is a distant land
which we have come to know.
Who or what has transported us here?
We must either leave
or transform the forgotten
landscape into a version of home –
where our fingers touch
and our words flow freely –
where the beginning of you
reaches me, like light.

We are years ahead of all of this.
Trapped inside a bottle,
we live in miniature form –
not wanting to remain contained
by glass and cork.
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16

Float

She’d entered a world of black holes and bluish glints that awakened the life-giving forces of wonder, disguised as fear, tugging and plucking at the sinewy, uncharted strings at the center of her cosmic self. No longer bound to the trappings of Earth, she floated, impregnable and light, as if gravity was faraway and almost lost. And then she opened her eyes.

17

Betrayal and Punishment

George sided with the enemy against his king and now awaits his death in the cold, dismal tower, with no bed to sleep in and only the hard ground to lay his fragile body on. This is punishment for betraying His Majesty. George has been in the tower for two weeks. His clothes are filthy, raggedy and his own body odour makes him gag. The king forbids him visitors, except for the guard, who brings him muddy water and leftover scraps the rats eat.

George didn’t take his decision against the king lightly, but His Majesty has gone mad and will ruin the country. He has beheaded his own brother for giving poor advice. Now George awaits his own beheading. The king wants George to suffer and is pushing his beheading out another week. He enjoys the fact that George has become weak and helpless. He will continue to torture him for as long as he chooses to. No one will speak against the king for fear of execution.

After several more weeks of sleepless nights and slop for food, the guard opens the door.

“By order of King Charles, you are to be beheaded tomorrow morning.” Before George could speak, the guard turns on his heel and leaves the room.

George falls on his knees and clasps his pale white hands together in prayer, thanking the Lord for finally bringing his suffering to an end.

18

Lend Me A

It's ok, I wasn't using it.
I really should take better
care of myself.
It's ok, I can tell you just
want to help.
Being handy. I mean,
could I fit in one more
pun here?
Thing is, I've broken
my best working part.
Can't grip. Can't type.
Not sure how I even
managed to get this down.

19

Assumption

Hands

The hand pressed down
through water hazy with ice,
pressing down,
pushing down.
Her mouth opened:
frozen hell burned her throat,
slid into her lungs
like molten lead.

Urgent splay of fingers,
black against the white light
(tunnel? sun? didn’t matter),
the thick, turgid fluid
forming delicate vortices
around each displacing digit—
dying, her eyes could see
their traceries as they moved
through space and time:

After a lifetime spent assuming
that every hand was against her,
it never occurred to her
that the hand was there
to pull her up.

20

Reflection

We will be free
like the wind that brings our image
reflected in the stillness
only for a moment
then suddenly all can change
and the water will stream life
we will be free
like a shadow reflected in
the stillness of light
only for a moment
the uncertain and unknown
will darken
then suddenly all can change
the light will be within us
we will be free.

21

What Once Was

He had one box. For everything. Full of the pencils he refused to use for school, the pens to tattoo himself with, the paper he would make airplanes from, the hats he wore backwards, the glasses he was blind without but still didn't wear, the shells she gave him, the sticks he loved to use for duels with dragons, elves, dwarfs, friends, enemies, the record player he saved in the tsunami of digital, the pillow he always slept on, his stuffed orca that would glitter in the moonlight, his favourite book of all time that was full of skeleton detectives, hats, revolvers and that grey area in between right and wrong.

Or, that's what his box was full of. Full of memories, bubbling, bursting.

Now there's just a slip of paper in the bottom of the box. And scrawled in messy handwriting — handwriting he once knew:

There once was more.

22

Imprint

This room has been marked by you;
Your imprint is in the walls
Rollered yellow,
Tacked in the curtain hems,
The re-upholstered chairs in royal blue
Laid out in the duo of Persian rugs.

You cover the three-piece suite,
Rest in the melody of your compact discs,
The pages of every book,
The mounted prints and photographs,
The polished glass and wood.

But no one knows how your hands press
Into my white flesh, splay across the folds
And curves, how your fingers
Entice, bring my body to life
Against your handmade cushion covers.

You have stitched my heart to yours,
Swept the cobwebs of doubt away.
When I go, your imprint is fire to my bones.
I wonder if my hand leaves an echo in that room
On the walls, on the rugs, on the chair, on you.

23

a bird flight and you are too young for such a distance

The risk is
calculated: the
number held and

the cancelled
digits touch
the grey sea

null of
drift and away
beyond those finger

tips and it
is my feeling
you have

failed
to grasp
the

transformation
you looked for. We
can barely

see your
wrist bones, a
bird flight and

you are
too young
for such

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24

Going Home

She found herself alone in a field. A thick mist had developed suddenly, from nowhere.
The light had dimmed, an eeriness and feeling of doom overcame her.
Which way should she turn,
How would she find her way home,
How did she get here?
The last thing she remembered was going to bed and saying goodnight to her parents.
Then there was a dream
and a bright light.
Somehow she was transported from her bed to where she was now. Was she still dreaming?
She hoped she would wake up soon.
Suddenly from the mist before her appeared a hand and part of an arm,
Nothing else, no body was visible.
She called out to whoever it was.
"Who are you? What do you want?"
But no sound could be heard and no answer came from the owner of the hand.
Should she reach out to this hand, would it help her?
Could she trust it? Was she in danger?
The hand reached out to her and grasped hers sensing her fears.
It felt cold but soft. A feeling of calm overcame her. Something told her not to be afraid.
She was going home.
She felt comforted and let herself be led away, knowing that soon she would be back home.
But was it her home?
Would her life ever be the same?
She felt helpless and unable to resist.

25

My Grandfather

He lifted his stick towards the hill and reminisced.
"The sky appeared to breath with them," he said.

"They fisted in and out against the purpling cloud
and every time the blotch of them unclenched

it fumbled out towards a belt of muckle elms."
He lay there, facing heaven, he said watching

a corn-moon rise to the rasp of grasshoppers
waiting for the starlings to flock down to their roost.

26

Transitory lives

If she shakes her hands silver rings will fall
like splashes of water. If she could shake
her hands. Her fingers are traces of smoke,
phantoms in the light of dawn. Once strong, firm,
they’d push back wild hair while her hitch-hiker’s
thumb stood determined to stop all the lads;
and she’d hold onto the motorbike guy,
until the next brief stop in a life on
the move. Now, the skin is transparent. Her
fingers cage a butterfly that trembles
on the soft skin of her palm; fragile wings
flutter in the arch of her gentle grasp.
At 5.23am, a long sigh
escapes her, and at last they fly      free.

27

Shadows

I walk as a shadow imprinted on the landscape
A distant memory, opaque, yet visceral still
Still, stark, at moments but a flicker
Fading as the dark night fills
The last vestiges of light

Calling to you as you slumber
A mere whisper slowly disappearing
As smoke into the ether
Crawling in the darkness below

Abandoned to the farthest recess
Tumultuous trepidation amid glistening tears that flow
Into those places long forgotten
Subconscious citadels housing that which must not be known

And time it passes into the bright cold yonder
Amidst feint murmurings that intimate regret
As I crouch and squirm in my ethereal chamber
For, dearest one, you will hear me yet

28

The Last Wave Goodbye

The smoke swirls behind the glassy pane;
A chamber of horrors echoing an historical fact
Hidden in swastikas and genocides.
Figures press forward then vanish in swirl
Like a mirage on a hazy afternoon highway.
Screwed eyeballs haunt the taunting shadows,
Press perspiring gaze on glassy secrets.
Smoke swirls and the glass wall perspires.
Hand stretch forth, taunts with hope,
Vanishes beneath the blinding light
Of a camera bulb...flash, flash, flash...

Flashing lights whisper the tale.
The house sits in the darkened corner, smoking,
Cackling laughter echoing the goodbye
As a hand swirls to view; same hand?
And smears the window pane one time.

The smouldering offering pukes
The blackened remains spilling out
In gurneys and black bags,
The hair stink of roasting and silent tears.
The house smoked quietly, staring at the lawn,
Crickets chirping in the gloom,
The moon hidden in the shadows of perspiring clouds,
A hand raised in a wave frozen in the bag
And sirens continue their dirge.

29

Epilogue

Veins and metacarpals lie
like exposed mangrove roots
upon sea-washed sand;

blue snakes and white spindles
are a more beautiful image,
but they are not beautiful hands.

Like dormant arcade grabbers,
fingers grasp imaginary balls and can’t let go.
Worse, they are the clawed feet of dead finches.

Knuckles as big as glass marbles take up the slack.
Skin that can be plucked drapes over bones.

Beneath flattened nails as thick as seashells
fingertips rasp across photos,
their ragged prints proof of who’s there.

These are the hands of our tomorrow,
hands of saints and murderers,
vagrants and monarchs.

They touched at the first hello
and will be touched at the final goodbye.

30

THE HAND OF THOUGHT

On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
the most famous hand in the world
has just given life to Man.
In the intervening space between
God's hand and Adam's
there is the shadow of another hand—
a hand that neither creates nor commands,
neither praises nor obeys.
You can't see it in the picture;
it must have been painted over
to conceal the other option,
but modern technology has evolved to such a point
that the third hand is a distinct possibility—
albeit only the shadow of a hand.
You have to fill in the blank, as it were, yourself;
not so much like Whitman, who thought he knew
"that the hand of God is the promise of my own",
but more like Anonymous,
that great self-effacing creator of the ten thousand things.
You'll never see it clenched in a fist,
squeezing somebody's throat or caught in the cookie jar.
It knows when to hold and when to let go;
when to cherish and when to discipline.
Its milieu is the emptiness between alternatives;
but if that thought is too depressing,
one can always take refuge
in Art Appreciation.

31

We. Don’t. Think. So.

When you dare to put your hand through to the other side anything’s possible. You feel something. You feel nothing. You feel something you don’t like the feel of. You feel something you do like the feel of. Your hand is grasped by another hand. Or not. But the thing that really matters is that you trust: you put your hand through.

But what if it’s you on the other side? You, putting your hand through to this side? What if we just stare at your hand and don’t take it, don’t respond, refuse to touch you. How does that feel? You know we can hear you bellowing out your harsh, ‘I’ll build walls. I’ll slash foreign aid. (Who are they anyway?). I’ll ban any reporter I want to ban. (The ones who write Fake News). I’ll sign lots of executive orders (Don’t I look good, doing this?). It’s all up for grabs. In my hands.’

So you say. But if we refuse to take your hand you can’t do any of it. You need us to agree. We won’t even rise to applaud you, with our hands, when you address us. Some of us have gone so far as to think your hand is a Fake Hand. You say, again, ‘It’s in my hands. It’s all up for grabs.’

We. Don’t. Think. So.

32

Mothering

In the depths of dreams her hand
still calms the fever,
cools the heat,
pulls up the blanket,
straightens the sheet
and reaches through the early morning light
to slay the dragons of the night.
The soft, smooth hand that once dried tears,
soothed scrapes and wounds
is melted memory, shadow-
bound to the other side of life’s window,
where palms and fingertips form
a mirror image on the icy glass
through which they seldom pass.

33

Oneness

Speak to me the outspoken so that I won't have to make silent speeches of fear for your unspoken feelings. For fears and feelings are kin, merging in bits of spoken realities pertaining to outstretched candid fantasies unspokenly voiced beyond our boundaries.
You above me.

All you and I know so far is the unknown, but isn't it beautiful to know what we don't know and to value it as if we've known it ever since we wanted to know? I crave to unknow the know of what I still want to know...so that it remains ours alone.
You beside me.

For we are one plus one hoping to become one, but our oneness is defined by the blurring rules of the important none, allowed to be broken bar the one that makes us one. Tell me, how can I portray one dream in a plus-one choices reality, when one is all we need.
You within me.

34

Make It Mine, Make It Spring

Peel the layer
made visible by light
and light is the touch
when we reach out

I find out how far 
a touch can go
from inside my-here 
there is the yearning

like open petals to the snow

Call it a day, call
it a lifetime and bring
into my arms the body
I long for

There is no other
like you, there is 
no other‎ light
that invades my every pore

And to my hungry heart
it tears in a door
for Love to enter
like Spring that came too soon

it ‎urges
all hesitant flowers to bloom

35

SHAKE

Somewhere round the back of a burning bush in Australia's Outback is a rock, a rock the colour of pink candy. It is very big but just one side is completely flat. You can only find it with the help of God. Of course the Aborigines know it well and they can see it anytime as God agreed it is theirs because they were already hanging out there when he touched it. Now hardly anyone else except the Aborigines have seen it but they do say that if you dare to shake the long-fingered, charcoal-silhouetted hand, you will find yourself in Heaven.

36

Dancing in the Rain

I remember. He used to smell of the fresh air that was thrown around by the crashing of the sea, tinged with the tang of salt. We would run around for hours with the dog down at Brighton Beach, we would eat ice cream until our stomachs ached and lay for hours looking up at the sky, pebbles shifting to the shape of our bodies. Sometimes we would dream about the future, we decided to live in Brighton forever and open a patisserie in the lanes.

One night on our walk home he had this idea to head into a newsagent and to photocopy our arms. He handed me the print of mine, my fingers were splayed and he said… “Will you marry me?” I screamed yes and we ran out of the shop and started dancing in the rain, childish you may say or cliche but it felt satisfying. We were singing and smiling, spinning like a carousel. We were foolish, not looking where we were going. He ended the dance of our life by pirouetting out into the road and I never saw him again. I keep the photocopy of my hand as a reminder of him, of our future.

37

DEATH OF MY FOX

Did the laughing at the wake irk like donkey brays?
Did the feral yellow of the faux-roses get my goat?
Did the staggered cortege remind me of hungry cows?
Did the lustre of the wood strangely dog me?
Did the wailing of practiced grieving strain like caterwauling?
Did the coughing of the smokers out-caw crows?
Did the side-aisle whispering offend like vipers?
Did the minister’s congested breathing sound like an owl?
Well yes, but nothing unhinged me like the image
of her desperate arm
pushing at the shower curtain
as I,
towel in hand,
ribbed her for making noises
like a pregnant mare.

38

Annihilation

Shattered glass and broken memories
Are all that remain
Shards of the past, splintered and cracked
Stain streets long emptied

This is heartbreak

Nothing moves in the dust and debris
Nothing organic breathes the wild wind
Nothing remains to show who had lived here
Nothing walks except the shadows of ghosts

This is desolation

As the wild wind weaves drunkenly amongst the ruins
Not yet sated, it spies something
A sliver of silver, a single impression
A hand imprinted, reaching out

This is the horror

It drops to a breeze and stoops to the plate
Sniffs at outstretched fingers … and bites
Sinking poisoned teeth into this last reminder
Of destruction, of the tyranny of man

39

News From My Ex-Husband

My ex-husband had his left hand surgically removed. I saw it sitting there on the dashboard. It was holding a cigar. Was that some kind of joke? He never smoked cigars when we were married.

I asked him why he did it. Last week when he delivered the kid, I asked him. He said because he couldn't care for it anymore, and he claimed that his doctor approved it. I wish he would have asked me. I would have told him not to do it.

But I think he regrets it now, having that hand removed. He made a list. With his right hand, he made a list of all the ways he's limited and all the things he took for granted back when he still had both hands. For real. He actually showed me the list. And I think he wants to have that hand reattached. He thinks he can do that.

40

M E

between
emptiness

and a too full library

that crumbles
under the weight
of other's words

the pieces of page
are falling
gray soft shadows
quiet
as midnight

freezing to an out-
line
at the middle
of the floor

the room is dark
but there is light
from the moon
coming in
through a window
and you see

the silhouette’s
desperate
glistening

Read more >
41

Freeze Frame

This is the point where the film jams,
my hand reaching through light
to touch / your hand reaching
through light to hold, as the film
jams, the frame black, then flaming
to nothing, light shining through /
shining on the moment when my
hand / your hand reaching nearly
holds / my hand touching against
white / bright light flooding through
to touch / to hold your hand,
stroking shadows and my hand /
your hand reaches and at this point
the film jams, our hands stopping
every time.

42

Beyond price

And yet, but for your grace
I would sink into the abyss
of forgetfulness, of sloth, the mire
where nothing is real or means anything
anymore.

The paper-thin parchment
of your hand reaches out to touch—
I grasp it firmly,
your warmth tells my heart
to beat again.

A wise, understanding;
your hand asks only compassionate
questions that we share.
The journey to your central core
is infinite.

It lasts seconds, minutes
that's all. Neither one needs
doubt the answer to our prayers.
Sovereignty is granted to our
touching.

43

217 Poetic Points (ekphrastic excerpts)

Poetry stretched out its hand in goodwill, shook away all the strain of bad temper.

Poetry pointed five fingers toward heaven; all paths lead to inner peace … eventually.

Poetry kept a copy of the x-rays, watched the bones adjust with time, witnessed the screws pop loose, said sayonara to machines, decided to leave the flesh intact.

Poetry pulsed with white light against a blacked-out backdrop; visions of Tao float through the stream of time.

Poetry understands the inevitability of ash to ash and dust to dust, but still enjoys a soft caress of skin while occupying the mortal coil.

Poetry is electromagnetic in nature, hums with radioactive frequencies, and beeps steadily in the corner as saline drips, drips, drips.

Poetry mends broken fences, tosses sticks when there are no stones, and utters words with the power to both heal and hurt (depending upon the intention with which they’re summoned).

Poetry is a ghost bleeding through the veil, a mirage, an illusion, a wisp of smoke, a whisper of what could have been, a welcoming of what is.

Poetry is a fist full of sand; don’t squeeze too tight, else it all slips away.

44

A water cure

Her lace parasol soft-shades the boat;
The gentleman of leisure trails his coat.
He thinks himself the cure, the antidote

To summer’s tedium, the trap of her days,
Their monotone white heat, their sad blaze
Of hours dispatched in various small ways.

Finger to forearm, she cools a limb during
His languid lecture on some theme so boring
That her screaming urge, she senses, is returning –

But forth he bores. Braced to make some response,
She’s dipped a hand for coolness. The truth shocks:
It’s him she’s doomed to marry. (Him she mocks

When he’s not there, and even to his face.
Not that he sees, of course. It’s such a waste.)
Edwardian fingers dream, submerged in space,

Doomed explorers of a domestic deep.
Minutes crawl; perfunctory willows weep.
The oars yank in time to a loving speech.

He thinks himself the cure, the antidote:
A fellow well equipped with hat and coat.
She spreads her hand. The future fills the boat.

45

Look!

Look! you said softly to someone sitting beside you: your best friend I found out later, Look at her hands! Several feet away, in conversation with one of your party guests, I fanned my long fingers out elegantly around the glass of red wine I was holding, conscious of your eyes on me.

I had known you for one week. Although we had met, had had a brief, but intense, political discussion at a party on a houseboat belonging to a mutual acquaintance two summers before – a time when I would not have considered protecting my hands with sunscreen. You left while the party was in full swing, for some reason. And after your departure I did not give you a moment’s thought. Not that day. Not that summer. Nor in the intervening months that made up the next two years. Not until your voice on the telephone said, Remember me? You had tracked down my number; I was ex-directory. My illusiveness, perhaps, stoking your desire.

Look, you said, I happen to be in the area. Mind if I call by on this inhospitable evening?

It was blowing a gale at the time, the streets almost empty.

Presumptuous? Standing at the door, a wry smile on your face, a bottle of champagne in your hand. It’s already chilled!

Of course you already knew it was not presumptuous. That look. Those dark, dark eyes. How, I wondered, could I have forgotten you?

A little later, a month or so, work took you to Paris for a few days. You were to come back with a supply of good red wine. You were going to miss me, you said.

Several days later you returned several hours later than promised. You had not telephoned to say why. You had not telephoned to say you missed me.

Read more >
46

SHADE OF AN ARM

reaches out, reaches into
you cannot tell
it is natural to make assumptions
about universal gestures
that extend as no more than a shadow
no further than the elbow
it is not unknown to see an image in haze
obfuscation by mist or the supernatural
depends on what you are prepared to believe
five digits on a hand could be anything
a magic number throughout evolution
often lacking definition
one arm and hand implies another
that is not seen
may not even exist
this one's opposable thumb
suggests the hand is a left one
not usually offered in greeting or peace
here too its cloaked appearance is sinister
the question is whether it is open or closed

47

RESISTANCE IS NON-EXISTENT

Clint pondered on the universal conundrum – at least among those of his profession: why were hazmat suits still so bloody cumbersome in the twenty-third century? They were barely a step up from the pre-sanitary models of the twenty-first century. He decided to vocalize his discontent.

“Why is it–?”

“If you finish that fracking sentence, I’ll stick you with this sampler,” Jean grated into her throat mic while raising a skewer-like tool.

“I was just–”

“You go through the same routine every job. You know the suit material is more secure and the seal-bonding stronger … and yet on and on you go about ease of movement. Were you planning a ballet?”

“What?”

Jean went silent and waddled towards the school’s annex for a closer look. The building had been sealed with Secureplast: the knife-proof, bullet-proof, sound-proof polymer developed to isolate outbreak sites. Only a transmission on a coded wavelength would unlock the bonds of that seal.

Clint knew his wife too well. He shut up and hung back.

“What’s the protocol?” Jean asked in a her professional voice.

Clint knew she wasn’t talking to him.

“Visual HSV1,” he heard a dead voice respond. Eyes on a cold sore.

Read more >
48

Helping Hand

When storm clouds billow around you,
And the icy winds of lovelessness blow,
Balanced above a precipice
That overlooks another defeat,
Just holding on to the edge of your unfair existence,
Afraid to move your feet,
Just in case you slip,
And tumble head first into a deep abyss of despair,
Open your eyes and your mind,
Towards the beckoning, distant fragile light,
Battle through the dense mist of hopelessness,
Stretch upwards for a friendly hand to clasp,
To pull you out of your mire of grey desperation,
To ease your anguish,
To guide you to a new firm foothold,
To illuminate a bright new perspective on your life’s uneven pathway.

49

Hands of Goth

Every now and then,
molecules of nightmare
short-circuit my neuroidal tablet.
A constant battle with my sewers
I keep fighting
and they keep taking the shapes
of deads and dreads.

I did not see the hand. I did not
see the eye, but I felt it
slowly skinning me to my coldest depths.

The shadow is
always on the prowl. The moment
you swerve, it pounds like a
pre-historic kill-machine to eat your velvet veils.

50

The Butcher’s Wife

I am she: the butcher's wife,
cursing my hand.

                        I drive it
into saltwater/
into silhouette.

I watch my fingers dissolve,
my ring fallen away.

I remember bone
and a thick odour.

I remember a whetted silence
I refused to eat.

Why this?
                I asked.

He said blood was just another blooming.

51

A Writer’s Hand

At the store for deluxe body parts, I thumb the catalogue until I see what I want: a long slim hand, described as ‘A Writer’s Hand’. It is elegant and ethereal, with elongated thin bones, so unlike my own large square farmer’s wife’s hands, fit only for making pies, puddings and dumplings. It’s exactly what I’ve always wanted!

I ask the assistant if I can try it on; she helps me unscrew my own, and screw in this exquisite specimen in its place. I imagine all the spectacular poetry and novels such a hand could write, so unlike my own pedestrian scribbling, wrung out of me like dirty water from a damp dishcloth.

On the bus on the way home, I notice strange stirrings in my writer’s hand. An edgy restlessness, a frenzied searching for a pencil or a keyboard. People start to stare at its bizarre fluttering and flickering. Meanwhile ideas begin to explode in my brain like fireworks, embryonic books itching to be born.

At home I sit at my desk and grasp my pencil. A tsunami of creativity pours from my hand as I fill page after page with a graceful cursive script. No sooner than one poem is finished, another bubbles up, impatient for creation. I keep at it like this hour after hour until blisters appear on my fingers, and my neck is sore.

Hoping that the flood has abated, I settle in front of the TV. But everything I watch starts off the deluge of ideas again, which stack up in my mind like dinner plates. I sit back at the desk, manically unleashing new work with my now excruciating writer’s hand.

In bed that night, my dreams are vivid and intense. My hand wakes me at 3 am with its frantic air-writing. My face in the mirror is haggard and tormented, like some half-starved novelist’s who has spent months in a garret scratching out a masterpiece.

Read more >
52

Womb

Even when submerged
there are tendrils floating
dream like in the blue
and sinking further,
it knows that it has been there
before the disintegration began
and every wisp of memory
untangled began to forget itself,
little by little as it reached
the inner sanctum where from
all things are named, where
all pilgrimage both ends
and begins.

53

A Temple to Misère

Ten years gone, and I’ve
filled a moat around my heart.
I still reach for you,
expect your touch,
but all I sense
is a shapeless absence.
An ache.       I miss you.
I soak in emotion,
       and leak.

I’ve lost the words to say
this is impossible.

Sleep. My sleep is smoke.
It comes in fits
and swings — flat as skin
as I track and trace you.
I thought I saw your smile,
but it was my tears dreaming.
I struggle through the eye
of a needle, and lie down
beside your memory, here
in this temple to misère.

54

Ombromanie

Of all the shadow puppets I’ve performed
this was the least well received.
My Sputnik left something to be desired.

I nailed down the butterfly early on;
my elephant in a room
they said, was close second only to none.

I was just a teddy bear for you, baby.
My goose was worth a gander.
Once or twice I got the goat to save me.

But oh deer, much as I loved animals
I wanted to get some space;
clap out the old, swap to the mineral

Push the boundaries of my medium,
be recognised for all I’m worth
Take these hands, salute the earth to come.

You can’t say that I didn’t ever try,
but I’m in the dark as to why
the reception was worse than for Trewey,

Devant, Mallick, Arturo Brachetti,
Bob Stromberg, Sabyasachi Sen.
For all the light shined where did it get me?

I’m marching off the stage, my act has died.
Switch off the rear projection;

I want a coloured life again, it’s time I tried.


Written under the influence of David Devant & His Spirit Wife
55

Miasma

These days darkness grows,
a cold fog that never rises,
so dense we move slowly
groping like the newly blind
unable to distinguish
walls from road
each step a gamble
without map or compass
or any light to guide us.

Worse yet, this thickened air
is not like fog, mere moisture,
watery clouds sunk to earth,
but more like smoke and ash
from some great burning.
It sears and stings
our lungs and eyes,
and takes our breath away.
Until we move, choking,
blind, alone,
hands reaching out,
urgent, open, in hope
to find each other
even in this dark.

56

Soon

I
once believed
       you could would
   guide my silence. Each venture
of the tongue, hollowed in contoured
                             ring-shape diligence
               slid
         the graying death of
     what your fingers

represent.

                         Nothing, now is sacred.

                         Much more, now is a population of alabaster philosophy.

                                             Though you reach,
       the brittle shadow
   shows what weakness
             sounds itself into:



         hope, that in many days from now, the
       gray will strengthen into fathoms of what my original, colorful need



                       understands

57

Amputation of the Soul

for Paul Tek

Stuck here with the pouring anguish
of being unable to help;
unable to change anything
in that Fullyindented Past;

these are the Limbo Hours—
a Beautiful Child lay in a hospital bed
with a swollen brain
and body being fed by tubes;

the lowness of when tragedy triumphs;
many hearts ripped out; Spirit amputated for what
seems like eternity—let this child go
peacefully and painlessly away from us
to find that Next Plateau—
we will wait behind and keep him alive, with us,
in the Eternity of Magnanimous Memory;

yet what is Most Sick about this poem
is that I just came across it in my notebook
from three years ago and it is all happening again,
simply in a slightly different way—

I must watch another child die while shaking my fist at the fairytale Gods.
Once again I am consumed with Death in every direction I dare to glance.
I fear that this time it has come closer to me than any time before.
I can feel its ever-present existence as if it were only inches away,
as if I can feel its breath on the back of my very neck.

58

BEHIND A FILTER OF FEAR

I sit amongst the broken dreams
The dreams that could not be
Those I dared not dream
And the fear that hides the truth

Moving softly to my breath gentle fingers touch the veil
Calling to the birds in song, I tentatively part filaments
They move in circles, slowly
Singing of their dreams

They do not see my outstretched offering or hear the whimper that rises from my throat
How can they?
They are neither deaf nor blind
And know not fear

I stumble forwards watching as the crumbs scatter
One little bird comes close
I can almost touch its silken feathers

Pecking at the solitary crumb it looks me in the eye
I watch helplessly through fearful eyes
In a flash it’s gone
Soaring in truth

59

Blackout

The day the world went blind, Thomas heard Daniel screaming from the bedroom, "I cannot see! I cannot see!"

By the time Thomas reached him, his eyes, too, glazed over into darkness.

"My eyes!"

They fell to the floor and pressed their hands to each other's face. Commotion rose in the streets. Cars crashed. A woman was shouting, "Help! Help me!" just outside their window.

What Thomas feared most, having been trapped for hours in that dark place, was to never see Daniel's rich and gentle brown eyes.

Then, like a switch, Thomas regained his sight and saw Daniel staring at him with those eyes — now swollen from tears — and loved him all over again.

60

The City of Culture

The tiny etched black hand rested on the bone china of the teacup like a duck sits in still water, beautifully.

“Nice isn’t it Mr Teague?” the rasps of Isaac McCormick intoned as the man leered over a portrait of a half-nude lady with red hair in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Eddie Teague rolled his eyes as he observed the teacup through a magnifying glass.

“I thought you wanted the cup valued, not a free peep show McCormick,” he said wearily.

“It’s the City of Culture year, Eddie. How often do we Hull folk get the chance to see art?” McCormick asked.

Every day in Ferens Art Gallery, you dolt, Eddie thought tersely.

“Not often I suppose,” he dryly mused aloud.

61

Newbury Street

I

Nimbus clouds lock
in step-cuneiform.
Wild oats
cover your
eyes

emerald green.

II

Their fingers magnetic
motivated by gears

tumbling dice

III

Your hair shimmered
down your back
last I saw.

Your eggs shimmered
down your legs
last I saw.

IV

Soft bleating

goats

ghosts

Find the greys.

Read more >
62

How to Assert Yourself

It’s all in the hand, you know,
fingers splayed, palm facing out,
an emphatic ‘no’.
You learned this at a weekend course
on how to have an exciting life.
A no to bullies and time wasters
to flaky friends and favours.
Just say ‘no’, no need to shout.
Watch your hand stretch to the front,
balance in the air as you speak,
and then you notice his bitten nails,
a tremor-tremble of his fingers.
It took you years,
took you by surprise, that courage,
your hand, not some stranger’s,
pushing back the coward.

63

SHADOW HANDS

We learned sign language as children
My brother and I –
Tom Thumb equals A,
Three closed fingers across your palm for M,
Spread wide for W –
A simple alphabet mastered
In the radio days of childhood
From a comic page.

It served us best at night –
In bed by six-thirty,
Sleepy or not,
When Mum called ‘Quiet!’
We talked with shadow hands
In the street-lamp shine.
No tame rabbits or doves for us –
Whole stories were told,
Adventures lived, on our wall.

That summer my brother was ill –
Quinsy closed his throat
So he couldn’t breathe.
One rattle-gasping night
I saw his shaky fingers spell out ‘HELP’
And I yelled for Mum.

His life saved by shadows.

64

OPEN HAND

This is my mother’s open hand. Open to caress, to bless, to pat me when I did well, and to buck me up when I did not. Her open hand, in black and white, much like her herself, takes on the shades of life. When she clutches a handful of colours on holi to smear my face, her hand is like the rainbow itself. A pot of joy is at its other end, my mother’s loving embrace. As she twists a ball of dough, and forms a sphere of it in her open hand, she becomes wholesome satiety. Sometimes when I stand before her, defeated and tired, her open hand wipes away the contours of worry on my face. Often times, I have found my mother’s open hand blanketing my sleep, tucking in my day.
I remember when I left my home, her open hand waved me good-bye. Now-a-days I find her hand outside my window. Leafless but firm and proud, open and swaying in the wind. It does not seem sad, but hopeful of a green spring that will soon adorn it with hues of homecoming.
It is incredible that whenever my mother has opened her hand out to me, my hand has always fit hers perfectly. We have reached out and held on during my growing childhood, rebellious teens and unsure youth.
My mother’s hand was also open when it received my daughter in its tender hold. As she passed on my child to me, I opened my hand to receive and to hold. My hand too opened not in protest but in acceptance, as it beckoned and embraced life.
Sometimes my daughter does remark that my open hand fits hers perfectly.
65

the price

I buy them on sale, these pieces of life
these perpendicular pebbles with the heads of a river

you and me
we walk towards the moon in our space suits - through water,
touching the shore as if on a first date,
electric eels with the feet of beetles and their awkward belly-up legs that carry

carry
carry
scenes from Titus Andronicus

beeswax, grease and gremlins

uncovering our bones, we crack against the force
Wall Street hustlers, Future Traders, Investment pimps,

as if there were a comparison between a turtle and a hair brush,
a button and a bottle of gin?

seaweed clings to the back of our throats with leathery laughter and operatic bargain basement tunes

we slip on our astronaut helmets
and the price is extremely high - some days

66

A Visit From Grandma

“Take my hand sweetie, I’ll take you from here.”
“Why are you, invisible grandma? I can only see your hand.”
“I’m not invisible, Gemma, you just can’t see me fully yet. Don’t be afraid. You’re safe now.”
“Okay, grandma,” I murmured taking her familiar hand in mine.
It felt the same as it always did. Warm and soft.
“Where did you go, grandma? Mom said you went to live with the angels. Am I going to live with the angels now too?”
“I’m not sure dear, they’re doing everything they can to save you.”
“Hmmm. How come I’m here with you then?”
“Your body shut down, Gemma. The pain was too great.”
I thought about it for a minute. “Grandma, where’s mom and dad? Are they here too?”
“No sweetheart.”
I started to cry. “Why would they leave me alone?”
“You’re not alone, Gemma. I’m here.”
“But, I can’t see you. All I can see is your hand. Everything else is blurry. I’m scared, grandma.”
“Shush now dear. It won’t be long now. Take my hand, Gemma. We’re nearly there.”
I gripped her hand tightly as my sobs subsided. I didn’t want to be parted from my parents. I didn’t want to be alone.
“Grandma, where’s Timmy?”
Her grip tightened. “Too many questions Gemma. Try to relax and breath. Everything’s going to be okay.”
“But, Timmy,” I said as his little face popped into my head.
That’s when I remembered.
Read more >
67

Fragment

this is a fragment
a mermaid's hand
shadowy, slender
deep and tender
a cult, not occult
real, not obtuse
beautiful, but diffuse
a song
a shadow falls
follows
ghost in trance
dance
song in making
hand roving
catch it, plunge
draw a picture line
fount of sorrow
paint it
heighten billows
overhead
take the deep deep plunge
in gallows of water
what does it matter?
your hand, shadow line
no one watches
the other hand does
out of rippling sky
Read more >
68

Did I Rise a Shade this Morning?

Oh, but it breaks my heart. It took me so long to pluck up the courage to reach out. I guess no one noticed. So many voices. Shouting, whispering, laughing - spewing - all so much more interesting-challenging-authoritative than I.
Still. Here I am. Waving in your faces. Again. How rude for none of you to at least have acknowledged that I’m here.
Did I die in my sleep and rise a shade this morning? If I look in a mirror will I see myself, or just an absence?
It takes energy to keep on waving, to keep on over the strident-ness, the love-fest, the blah-blah-blah. Makes me sweat and shiver, as I begin to wonder and turn it over, just how it got to this point – where your so called inclusiveness excludes one such as I.
69

Millpond

Undisturbed, like a millpond
Occasional ripples when time will allow
But for now whatever storms to come are in the distance
And when they come they are most foul
The flowers have still yet to rise
For those who remain loyal can claim the prize
A change here and there for some makes sense
But for others it can cause offence

Some people stir, others offer a helping hand
Some build castles in the air, and some on sand
But for now at least there is some quiet
Amid the ongoing riot
The season is changing that we know
Lighter evenings from that yellow glow
Early spring we’ll see some changes
May be quick, may take ages

But she’s undisturbed like a millpond.

70

The Ways of Hands

In the Natural History Museum, there is a round black pot. It is thousands of years old. You can see the hand of the maker on one side of it, the only embellishment in the smooth black surface. Some say they feel an irresistible desire to touch it. Their hand on the warm clay would be a perfect fit, as if in the satin-finished darkness, they could reach across time. So, too, in some prehistoric caves, among the pictures of ponies and antelopes and suns, are many tiny handprints in red ochre. How was it done on the ceiling of the cave? Was it the children, sitting on the shoulders of their parents, reaching for the curved dark roof of the sky amid the painted stars?
71

Southern Shadowlistic

Invisible hand emanates from southern shadows, fingers like knives digging into dirt to extract corpse silhouettes. The earth has eyes and spits skeletons at nothing. The void revolts with an army of suns. But thumbs are the tongues that babble sonic eclipses. At dusk, shadowhands retreat into the hemispheres of sorrow.
72

Reach Out

Where are you?
There was a time when
I knew where to find you,
knew the places and spaces
you inhabited
in my dreams,
in my day
and night
dreams.
You would be waiting there,
waiting to be found,
waiting to come
to me.
Now
it's harder to find you,
to recognise your shape and form.
You are becoming fragmented and ephemeral,
floating forms in a damp mist.
Reach out.
Hold on
to me.
Don't pass me by.
It's such a long time since you left,
perhaps it's me who's letting you go,
me who has forgotten how to reach you.
Forgotten to reach out to you.
Reach out.
Hold on
to me.
Don't let me fade
away.
73

Promises

With this ring, I circle your finger,
look it is as round and the moon
and bright as my eye.
Within this ring, I will contain us,
hold against the noise and chatter
that could undo us at the seams.
Beneath this ring, the skin grows pale,
as a particle dancing in a comet’s tail,
pulling us together; our years in orbit.
74

THE MODEL DAUGHTER

A tendril of titian curl escapes
your tawny tousled hair.
Distrait, it's tucked away
behind the ear.
Paper-thin face, eyes kohl-smudged.
Rosebud mouth nibbles with restraint
some egg-white nonsense
and sips green juice.
Our parental powers melting sadly
as you; the holder of our dreams
slip thin pale arms
into a cushioned, quilted coat.
Blow air kisses absent-mindedly.
Your fragile footsteps tap the pavement,
then disappear into a sunless morning.
75

Artifact

Where the bone tapers off
a figure in retreat. Night
and we are all disappearing.
Forgotten how to pose
the hard questions. Brace
ourselves instead for what
surely is to come. We dig up
remnants of the ancient
existence without threat
or malice; me remembering
how it feels to rise and bristle
warm and warming. Skin
against skin. Against skin.
76

Phantom Lover

"You know I dreamed about you, for twenty-nine years before I met you"
The National – "Slow Show"

Passing the horizon, I’ve been back-thinking that rare March afternoon you came to see me. Before the transcontinental flight to my dying father. Between us we spoke so little, so exceptional. We sat on the couch in that rented flat, knees as close to touching, and talked about, what. Details I’ve forgotten. My imagination, even here, limits. The future can be known, but unknown too. Platitudes. You were too young to understand my anguish, but innately you observed its depth.

What surfaces surely is the memory of your hand on my arm, heavy, surviving the bending and breaking moment’s immobility. How can one examine the layered scratches of oncoming grief? But, I see your hand, like an electric brand on skin. White light. I ask the memory: is it still my skin?

You’re nearly the same age as I was when we met. It’s been years, and I still don’t have things sorted out. It’s been years and I finally allow myself to observe the colour love lost turns, the way moments grow the further you run from them. I dreamed of you, before I met you, and still I could not uncomplicate my personality, could never learn, could not alter the direction of something hesitant to be lost. Time, for sure.

77

Peg Feed

marked in symmetry
the ungloved reach of her
pawing the air
parting its molecular cool
until soft fingers - ringless
relieved in bone
each cloud punctured knuckle
savouring empty
the equality of digits
separating inch by inch
the light of chance
framed in chiaroscuro
fitting - the final wave
of anorexic sorrow
as silence
masking palm
permits one final
absolute commitment
to denial
78

When the hand speaks

Tyres scream
the bus rapes a waiting tree
a life is changed.

One child collected
mid-week mince defrosted
kettle on.

Sirens howl, phones shout
tarmac weeps
child on trolley silent and still.

Weary mother watching for
a kettle's boil sees the shadow of
a small hand

a grey wraith wafting
in the kettle's steam
under the ticking clock.

79

It

While leaving, it always made damn sure to turn on the lights so I could watch it go. Still, nobody was ever there to see it.
One night, many nights ago, it appeared, surrounded with a shadow, sucking whatever happiness I had from my day up until the moment it was satisfied. Since the very first night I knew I wasn’t strong enough to fight it, mainly because it would make me unable to move a finger until the very end.
After some time passed, it didn’t bother to hide anymore. The shadow wasn’t necessary because we both knew what was going to happen.
Now, I watch it go another time, unable to scream for I still am paralyzed. Who would believe me if I told them? More importantly, who would bother to come and see it with their own eyes? And, even if they come, would either of us be able to do anything?
Tomorrow, however, I decided that it would be the last time. It would never see it coming.
80

And Then, The Beginning

we are all written backwards:
deaths first, births last.
mouths open, we inhale our promise like soil.
fingernails and skin shiver as the blood stream collapses.
bone by bone, we are unbuilt.
my empty skull turns sans spine and sinew,
and all that nothing rushes forth.
the only thing left, your body appearing,
both arms splayed through the ether.
81

Reverie

1.      From then hand I go to the figures.

2.      The figures on the cover of Spiritualized’s ‘Lazer Guided Melodies’; 1992, I seem to remember.

3.      For I am sure the hand belongs to one of them.

4.      And it touches me because I have always hoped that I’d be touched by one of those hands.

5.      By which I mean: when I first heard the album I fell in love with it. But I’d already fallen in love with it when I saw its cover.

6.      And the couple dancing upon it.

7.      In what could be an infinite void, or maybe just a simple square of black (it’s Saturday afternoon, who needs to be poetic on a Saturday afternoon?) two white figures float in this space.

8.      No eyes, no faces.

9.      He, I assume it is he, has the merest hint of devilish horns; she the glimmer of, the beginning of wings.

10.      Up and down. Heaven and hell. Rock and roll.

11.      And truthfully, all I’ve ever wanted is to find the courage to get a tattoo of her, all pleasure and pomp and primed.

12.      And find someone who’d consent to get a tattoo of him, all pimp and preen.

13.      So still I wait.

14.      For the hand that will agree.

82

What has not passed you

What has not passed you.

You seek in me the unannounced and your eyes exhale a circular plea.
The persistent fog of that which has not pierced you
Corrupt your clean certainty.

You seek in me what hurts,
That wild trait that hurts to touch.
The incommunicable, which subsists
anesthetized
By the beautiful wrapping and the plastic stars.

What you catch in the middle of the smoke
If you get the exact hunter blow.
What the indomitable grid expels
of a dark and brief sea.

You seek the matter pulsating and elusive.
And finally sweating
shaken by chaos
you give yourself
to that which has no name.

83

The Shadows Walk Amongst Us

The shadows walk amongst us,
their memories linger
like mementos held in the hands
of loved ones living with the hope of meeting again.

A phantom thaws the sidewalk
as the bedrock of beatbox blares through memories that shine like linoleum sheets
where b-boys flared and rhymes spewed after dark,
compelling the corners to quake.

I sense your shadow,
the roads we've traveled,
the cold blunted concrete
of Eastwood begs for the warmth of brotherhood again.
The past presses the present,
reaching,
pulling,
hoping for another day of laughter,
of summer, of moonlight candor and conversation,
awakening a boyish joy
like skipping rocks
at the Wilson riverbank,
forgetting the war
beneath the smiles,
the turbulent universe blurred
for a moment of rocks and ripples
ripping through the river.
Read more >

84

Yoga

Sun salutations on the stained-glass floor.
What if we fall?
Inhale. Exhale.
Planck.
No slipping.
No trembling.
Breathe with indifference
and poise.
My hands are slipping.
Inhale.
Open up, with your face to the sky.
Don't let your hands sweat.
Exhale.
This is not an experiment.
Let go.
Inhale. Exhale.
Relax.

Love and ignore
the ones who fall.

85

Theft and Memory

A theft in the night
with my big brother
an "I dare you" adventure
becoming disaster
      the barking of dogs
      a voice and a shotgun
      we ran through the swamp
the mist and fog hiding us
from the gun toting landlord
and from one another
      His arm through the swirls
      my last glimpse as we ran
They found his body
late the next day
      it was a snakebite they said
no fun anymore
with my big brother
and an unfocused forearm
my lasting memory
86

Mrs

Mother

Her stroking hand, her smacking hand,
they still haunt me. Stroking was more terrible
than smacking which at least was honest.

I still flinch
confused by the reflexes of her moods,
the inconsistency of her words
and her love and her hate -
pooled into craziness and masked
every time she left our house
to cruise the outside world
as a sane woman.

She longed to be adored,
I know that. Father said, 'Just play along,
make life easy.'. It's a shame
I couldn't match her lies with more lies.
Couldn't say, 'Your're the best mum.',
when she felt like the worst.
Ever. At least for me.
In the end
I couldn't even cry, still can't,
fifty years on.

87

i ponder, a room of love

how soon mother                 how soon father
how many hematites
to ground the soul into acceptance?

one's awake to a void humanity
and rooms of love, hands like hearts
   with the gentle pushing and bickers
       of banter.     we're good here
                               you belong here.

(exorcising a viral self-hatred)
   cruel dimensions pull and get my soul
           to trail behind my own body; ever slower, ever blue.

                                      am stood
                       midway north midway south
                             between east and west
                               on top of deserts

                                       this is
                                     the edge

                               i disappear now

and they reach out to me,
                 their pull powerful and true, their minds awake
to me. my covenant, my comrades, friends.

Read more >
88

Slack Water

a bad

 

         architect

 

of own

 

             death

 

she eyes

 

         the

 

topology

 

                   of her

 

forearm,

 

Read more >
89

Doodyville 1960

Buffalo Bob shakes his head

                 at Clarabelle honking his horn

                             to summon their menagerie

Chief Thunderthud downs a shot of firewater

slurring Cowabunga   to a vacant Peanut Gallery

Howdy bites the bullet, locks himself in the toilet

there’s no one pulling any strings

                             I’m disappearing

                                   I would wring my hands

                                               If I still had two

90

Memory

You’re the dream I can’t remember
the memory that’s almost lost
the friend I left behind
a perchance missed at what cost

you’re the thought that just escapes me
the wish I nearly had
the half-remembered smell of summer
a longing I’ve always had

the flashbacks are stark and bright
though details are faded and lost
it was my chance to say the one thing
the truth, if said then, at so little cost.

91

Thinning

You can think of it as transitional gauze,
a servitude of limitations. The working class.

I remember summoning something beyond reach,
a child's vision like the planet was plasticine,

but the impact was thinned by an era
in which dictators are fed with applause,

until contrast revealed the open hand,
something summoned answered back.

It is the only thing that can save us now.

92

Negative Proof

Meet me
to touch me
to draw touch from me
so I won't have to reach.

Smoke spirals into fingers
from a censer
until you sense her.

This, because I have cut off my arm
and still feel surprise when I move
to touch you
to find I'm not there.

93

The golden hour

Everything being more beautiful backlit,
I had not fully noticed
until this afternoon's sun,
the pear tree trunk leaning scant to the left,
the pigeons preening their breasts on the slant of slate,
how the cast iron knuckle guards the swung-open door,
how long the fingers of your outstretched hand.

94

Legerdemain at age seventeen

Just a gentle trick, the feathery touch
of cheek against cheek, sweep of lips;
dexterity working magic,
those hands around my hips
like a ghost ship under the radar,
blooming with liberty. Spellbound,
my face smeared with black mascara.
And on return from the bathroom break
you’re mesmerizing the next damn girl.

95

aghast, (a)ghost.

There was once a story told,
Of the cantankerous and the rebellious
Dragged through dirt and grime:
These stories have been worth repeating.

It is every story that you have heard,
And have never forgotten.
Every one.
Everyone.

But, it was today, when
I met the story,
that I realised
I prefer its versions more.

96

Surface Tension

She plunges her hand through the surface,
breaks the tension which separates the summer air
heavy with the scent of roses and barbeques from
the underworld swirl of reed and weed and koi carp;
which separates this Sunday afternoon of ball games
and Wendy houses, of secateurs and weeding, from
all the days which follow, numberless, nameless, grey.

She grasps the small arm that floats towards her,
the fingers wafting like anemone fronds,
the nails, soft and pink, the size of sandshells.
She draws up her daughter, limply peaceful
as if in milk-sated sleep, through every parent’s dread
into a thunderstorm howl that shatters the day.

97

Clarifying Shampoo

It felt completely absurd, walking down these solitary, blinding white corridors, having to stand on my tiptoes to have a brief glance through the minuscule square windows to make sure the bodies were still conscious. They may be alive, but to this world they aren’t humans. They are objects of needless torture, cramped in their metre squared cells – the fluorescent tube lights the closes thing they will ever have to daylight. And the purpose of this? Vanity, of course. We tried a new face toner on the man on the right, but this made his face so mutilated we could no longer tell his features apart. In the cell next to this was a man missing both his eyes, but at least his eyelashes were pretty.

Working here meant you had to become tough. The shrieking, moaning and screaming started to feel like tinnitus, eventually going un-noticed, but it was always there. I think the worst part of the job is collecting the test subjects from their cells and transferring them to the testing room. For the most part they don’t fight back, but when they do that’s when the tranquilizers come in handy. You get the odd one where they try and resist, but there’s no resisting us. We always win.

Becoming tough means that compassion isn’t in the equation. I often see other guards dragging young boys, burns all over their face and severe hair loss due to chemical burns, with a look of absolute despair on their face. It used to bother me, but not anymore. We need subjects, so why not young boys? They’ve been here their whole lives and they have nothing to lose.

My latest subject was a four year old male trying out a new clarifying shampoo, but it didn’t work so we are going to have to find an alternative chemical, because in here we want nothing but the best. That’s the reason everyone is in here anyway – to make sure girls eyelashes are long enough, cheeks rosy enough and lips rouge enough, because that’s what matters.

98

The slap

Applying a primer all over is like sending that initial message, and when you lay the foundation with a smile or a gesture of kindness you could be buffing on a full coverage Revlon formula. Making the effort to ask a specific question, learn a detail, or carve the contours as though you’re now familiar with a face that giggles, but then turns away.

But still, you’ll define the brows and brush through the lashes with a Facebook add and maybe a house party invite, choose a colour to lay down on the lids, and maybe, just maybe even the glitter of a favour if you dare.

You’ll make yourself loyal, committing to a dazzling highlight and go well out of your way to set it in place with hairspray.

But rather than eternalizing the bond with a joint selfie to upload after you ‘smile for snapchat’, you’ll inevitably find yourself reaching for a Johnson’s baby wipe, before anyone sees the embarrassment of your pointless effort. They said university would be the making of you, the best years of your life. Your Instagram account might show you as a social butterfly, but you know that under your slap there’s nothing much there.

99

Reaching Out From the Past

What is this I am seeing? A shadow from the past, reaching, grasping, threatening. No matter the horrors we know from that time, we seem to have willingly, willingly from many quarters, brought it back. Though small in relation to the country, the world, the universe, this wraith-like hand is working to hold us down.

100

Intermezzo (1) Allegro

He smells like a medication factory. I turn him. Under his skin: jutting geometry. I read Clive James's Unreliable Memoirs - the 'Dunny Man' story. I know the one gasp means laughter. I prepare some ripe strawberries, his tongue receives two, tiny pieces. We watch the birds settle into trees, announcing the change of weather. I turn him. I play Sibelius (Karelia suite for orchestra Op.11). I hold his hand. I write the final report:

Intermezzo (1)
Cancer; brass allegro
Movements within a larger work

101

Bath Road, September ‘81

Kicking backwards
across the pool –
two floats beneath my head –
trepidation
turns to terror
when too strong a kick
turns me over.

Flailing
beneath the water,
there is nothing,
whatsoever,
to cling to
and time…
slows…

The surface parts
and Mr Woollaston’s hand
descends;
a silhouette at first,
the detail
gradually focusing,
revealing at last
glimmering strings
of tiny bubbles
caught upon
the reddish hairs
of his freckled forearm,
Read more >

102

I Still Get Hits

Everyone knows about Marcia Tenterhooks, the ageing pop star from a successful girl band back in the day. And how she bought her milk, her bread, her one red onion just like anybody would from Davison’s Store. And when she was two blocks from home at twenty-to-four a deranged fan shot her in the heart. Stuart James, fat and nineteen and famous himself now with a book. And Rog Davison’s store got extended and the sale of red onions skyrocketed. Everyone knows about the bullet bought for two million by the Murnaghan Rock ‘n’ Roll Museum. And who hasn’t heard the address 6012 Anders Drive and its millionaire investors? I’m known by one name and I’m not ageing badly. My Twitter and Facebook accounts have double the followers and whatever I post gets three million more likes than anything she ever did. I’m worth over seven Marcia Tenterhook bullets.

My manager is Todd Spearing who you wouldn’t know unless you were in the business. He’s highly respected and handsome sorta. He’s been my manager for years and he’s finally got things moving again and, well, you’ve seen the billboards. This time round I want better security and a bulletproof screen. Some sponsors pulled out but look what happened to Marcia Tenterhook and I’ve got far more followers.

Todd got this team of ten together to spend a month last summer to risk assess. They flew about first class, drank sangrias and reported back that everything was just dandy. But I’m the one expected to stand before the fans and I get so many views. I told Todd the team of ten should’ve been twenty. And who can find out anything in a month anyway? I dunno why Todd doesn’t understand me.

Stuart James was a deranged fan. I told Todd, Do you realise how many deranged fans I’ve got? I said, Check the comments on “Come Open Me” on YouTube. It’s a classic, right? I ate only tofu a whole year for that three-minute video. Read more >

103

The shadow of your hand

hovers above my face, shielding
my eyes from the sun’s glare,

but unexpected, disorienting—
an ominous sign portending ill.

Or it is pressed up to the isinglass
through which I see the world—

ghostly, like a paranormal
visitation at a dentist’s office,

Or like the elusive dagger
Macbeth sees before him,

this ghost eludes my touch,
escapes my desiring to be

touched. But I am scarred,
touched, but in the head,

not on the body. I want your
hand and not the shadow

of your hand. I want the thing
itself—the flesh, the bone,

the skin of the knuckles taut,
balled into a fist, ready to strike.

But the shadow of your hand
is all I find. Untouchable. A dark

spot passing over my cornea,
evanescent locus of lost love.

104

Wet & Wild

Back down at our concrete heaven
corner store, where they sold my
perfect shade of unnatural neon pink
globbed over my trying too hard

scruffy men pick up trucks just off work
taught me what a beaver was, now I
don't ever wear white pants

busy seeking distractions
since boredom was the curse
of girls with too much of nothing on their minds

there in the corner of my eye
that regularly ignored such warnings
a hand, outlined against the glass
inside that dust-rimmed window of the teenage dollar store
we wasted money on every Friday

a flash, gone almost as soon as
my mind decided it was nothing consequential
surely it wasn't there, my imagination
rivaled only by my paranoia

a phantom apparition
like when I wake too soon
and the fog of spiders are still crawling
across my ceiling

running back home, my Converse tripped
me up, short laces came untied again
my face hits dirt and I'm real

Read more >
105

Mermaid Dreams

Like stars dancing on the edge of breaking waves,
Pearls shine under the velvet coat’s night.
Your delicate toes touch the warm fading foams,
Receding over the seashell-made shore lines.

Your curled brown hair flies under the current,
Amongst the school of tiny rare rainbow fish,
While you symmetrically dive into the deepest deep,
Painted with shining blue-emerald inks.

You play games of hide and seek,
With silver tipped sharks, rays, turtles and blue jellyfish,
While you symmetrically dive into the deepest deep,
Between bushed flowers of soft pink coral reefs.

Oh sweet, (beloved) mermaid,
It’s getting late… Please,
Come back to the surface
Rest your shimmering scaled tail,
Over the bare hot golden stones,
Of this tropical island’s landscape.

(Have sweet mermaid dreams, my baby!)

106