• Vol. 02
  • Chapter 10

Surrounded

You were so tired. I took the picture and didn’t turn back.

At first I worried. About you not having sunglasses. No hat to shade you from the sun. Water for when you got thirsty.

You said all you needed was your guitar. To find the thing you had lost. That made you you. You couldn’t find that thing while you were surrounded.

I repeated this until I stopped worrying. I was tired too.

1

Moving On

It’s the sky, of course, the vast indifferent sky. That’s what holds him. The same sky he knew as a child. He used to go roller-skating, he tells me. On his own, in the little park near their apartment, through the grey drift of afternoons. Skating round and round, quite slowly, and all the time singing to himself the one song, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, ‘I Love Rock’n’Roll’. Quiet and slow, like a promise that if repeated and repeated must come true: and we’ll be moving on, and singing that same old song, and we’ll be moving on… Like a needle in a run-out groove. He knows five languages, he tells me, but he isn’t perfectly at home in any of them. He had a job, even a career, he tells me, but now he can’t work, not properly, not the way he used to: he can’t cope with the noise, the arguments, and they said he was unreliable. He tells me this from a place far away, sound and meaning travelling slowly, some kind of delay… Then his eyes lift and his smile breaks through like sunlight through cloud. But it’s okay, he says, I am kind of a floating person. And he leaves me with the song and its promise, bright rock’n’roll shifted downtempo, transposed to a minor key, a phrase revolving slowly under a wide grey sky. We’ll be moving on. We’ll be moving on. We’ll be moving on.
2

Dialogue

    You might wonder what I’m doing here, out so far beyond words.
    Words stopped with the last signpost miles ago. And, as for me, well look at me—a silhouette: perfect, phallic masculine. I look like the sort can’t end sentences, who’ll drop a word like peyote, whose drawl stretches out so far each word could straddle Texas.

    Say nothing.
    Just look at me. I have been designed to be looked at.

    Evasive, I’ll slip from the eye, posed like I don’t care how I look, which is no less a pose, offering some affordance to the verbal. So tell me what I am. I need completion. My feet, for example. Do I have any? Am I wearing—what—cowboy boots, high heels? Are my jeans straight or bootcut. Stockings?
    I might be taking a piss.

    Slim: my girlfriends find me insubstantial. They overspill their tops, they bulge against their jeans. They’re looking for one who feels things deeply but can’t say. Girls are too much. I am not.

    The only thing better would be a soldier.
    The only thing better would be a gun.

    In the desert nothing is masc or femme. I can’t come back from here, can only dry up, go on, into this land that might have cactuses, or might have nothing. I’m facing this valley like the sea; each grain of sand is faceted. To describe each of them would take an aeon. You see why words are useless here.

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3

Getting Out

So you left. So you left the city and went out on your own, left behind the apartment that was freezing cold in winter, left behind the filthy streets, left behind the hypodermic needles that collected in that gulley by the wall where the junkies hid and huddled and shared their treats.

You got out, escape by way of Greyhound, into the bus station past the souvlaki stands, the subway hustlers and street corner pimps.

And as you left the city and stared out at Hell’s Kitchen, you felt a lump in your throat. It was as if you were already looking back on something you’d lost, like being presented a shoebox of photographs someone dug up from your stored belongings, like sitting in a cinema showing a lost and scarred stretch of silent film.

You were gone, out, into the green. All gone to look for America. This was so long ago there were ashtrays in the back of the seats. The air in the back of that bus was blue with cigarette smoke, stank of sweat and cold souvlaki and beer.

And you rode and rode and rode. Out into the west. Out to rest stops and road side diners where no one had ever seen someone like you, where they asked, What you want, honey? And you were just relieved they weren’t downright hostile, there, in the land of blue eye shadow and bouffant hair.

You walked out there with your guitar. Someone asked you, What you play on that? You showed him, showed him the tune you’d been composing, showed him that an electric guitar can play even softer than an acoustic.

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4

Somewhere Beautiful

"I want to be somewhere beautiful."
    You already are.
"Somewhere in the middle of a guitar
arpeggio, strummed by a Spanish peasant."
    How noble, how clichéd.
In the centre of a Spanish arpeggio.

I want to be somewhere beautiful,
in the centre of an unsung arpeggio,
in the midst of swan feathers diving
to break the lake and still know of living.
To catch the sun on a diary page,
to burn forever and never fade.

5

Hymn for the man by Periyar

this thick yarn of emptiness
is all I have to feel warm
in your absence
this rudimentary landscape
your cold, shining jaws
and a janitor called moment
drug me to sleepless hours
and endless trek
through nothingness
when moon spills over Periyar,
don't drown your self

This love is not safe

6

Bass Cleft

Death Valley. Sidewinders and sweat lodges. Furnaced winds and crystallised salt. Ghosts of gold-prospectors’ withered wagons and quad bikers chockfull of daring-do. Each a mere sand-blasted striation on Mother Earth’s abdomen. An unnoticed notch that secures no traction across her fecund belly, hence they view her as barren in this benighted place. More graveyard than gravid.

But he knows the key to unlocking her. To have her spew the molten magma from deep within her navel. To unleash a spurting cataract, one the oil companies would bear no interest in. Not through any foolish drumming. That vain anticipation of striking up the sympathetic resonance necessary to crack open the landscape. It’s not beat, it’s not even down to frequency. Nor is it any drone effect. It is rather the place of dead sound. And his trusty Fender bass will find it. No need for electrified amplification. Just strumming the strings in humble propitiatory vibration will soothe and induce her. Plucking and slapping and popping her womb. The lowest note in the world to resonate with the highest temperature at the lowest point in the world. The Omphalos to the realm of volcanic heat below. And when his bass has played midwife to Mother Nature, then the Devil shall emerge from his Inferno to claim his rightful kingdom, serenaded all the way by an orchestra of glorifying bass guitars. Hailed by the humble and unhailed of rock and roll.

7

The beach

A thousand echoes, cliché as it is: that is what you've left me with. Dark cove, dunes like sifted flour. Shells that whir, that long to speak but are muted by fear and confusion. They witnessed it all.

The wiser of the animals frown their disapproval but don't wish to involve themselves in the dirtiness of humans. The otters float, eyes raised in quiet exasperation, the whales mutter their annoyance and the accident of size amplifies their voices, gives them strength and importance they perhaps wouldn't have chosen. The octopus long ago sighed and propelled itself away. It had seen enough of this type of thing.

Only the dolphins are confused. They like humans, it is hard-wired into their brains. We sped by perhaps those same ones in our boat and you reached out and touched one's head. I said not to, you jeered at me, told me I was pathetic and a tree-hugger. I watched your mouth open and shut. Lips wide and pink like slugs, spit over teeth. The black hole beyond. Why do we speak? I thought then, as I do now. No good ever comes of speaking.

So now I am silent, I am wise and I share with you the secret I have learnt. Speaking with our mouths only is useless. Completely. Its is surplus to requirements. What we need to communicate is our voice, yes, but that voice that comes from within, the note carefully tailored by the universe, by the dunes, by the sand and sea, by things smarter than us.

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8

Sandy-Shoed Brucealike Has Mid-Desert Identity Crisis

In the deepest desert, things glean
Like the taught strings of a guitar,
Drop your life to look like Springsteen,
Born to Run, but not this far.

I figured I looked pretty cool, too,
Silhouetted in desert heat;
The reality: sand in my shoe,
And only sand to eat.

I retuned my faithful Fender,
And booked the next flight home,
I went on an all-night bender,
And then fiddled as I burnt down Rome.

9

Interupted tracks

There are dry places where music
calls out sustenance,
the quench for expression conglomerates
within sandy notes
finds contemplation -
the musician is nomad among the minds of dancers
troubadours taking, making feeling from a fretboard.
.

She that wanders might not be balanced
but might walk with awe, atuned by way
of philosophical concerts.
Her equipment may not be natural to the environment.
Energy she feels the need of can pass fleetingly;
waiting for the sun, or a lightning bolt.
In the fingertips, she can always find power...
One guitar, no need for electricity.

Resonance is a portable entity - in the dry heat
it takes in its setting, amplifies, and echoes out truth.
For talent, within, she will always be in demand.

10

Stolen Strings

Time proves you right: I am no good as a thief. Try as I might, I fail to steal your heart.

I settle for hitting grocery stores.

You move south to write poetry and fall in love with an acid jazz drummer. I never get why your poems don't rhyme, but I still dig you anyway.

Outside music stores, I scour the fading cards pinned in glass cabinets. Bass player wanted. I hang around backstage, and lift a Rickenbacker. Fingers made for forcing unlocked windows are repurposed to caress steel strings.

You come to my show; you’ve seen my picture in the local newspaper for all the wrong reasons. We kiss and, after you leave to make the last bus, I gun for somewhere I won’t be found — all tin shacks and parched earth.

In the cool evening, I watch the path through the foothills and sing your song. Only now, I realise that I have always been the victim.

11

resonance

the thing about the bass
is the resonance
is the carrying on
and the thing about this picture of me
is the resonance for me and
the resonance for you
and the carrying on

you back there with my amp
and my leads and your drums
and those hands holding the sticks
and my hands here on my bass
on my bass

and the other thing
about me and you is
or was the rhythms
is or was the rhythms
the rhythms
and the thing about out here is
the rhythms
of the sun setting
and the sun rising
and the green
always there
stubborn and resistant
but never quite blooming
never quite blooming

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12

Grit

A single grain of sand crunched against her teeth and little things and little thoughts seemed of the greatest significance. She considered the might of the grain and if it could actually stand against the force of her enamel and crack her teeth and be done with it. She clamped down hard in a spirit of worry and trust and this singularity fought on despite its isolation. And for longer than a moment she envied the grain’s tenacity and made excuses for the lack of her own by brooding on its hitherto easy life. No previous singling out, nothing special, no adoring fan base, yet a stronger desire to survive than she had shown to herself.

Nearly twelve million people waited for her in the city, just two days’ walk away. She could hide in the anonymity of numbers and occasionally when her bills and her ego demanded she could play some of her songs unknown there and be the focus again for a night. That was the plan as the plane’s brakes screeched and she watched the sand blow across the runway. Perhaps a wheel of her plane tossed this very grain into the air as she arrived to be breathed in as she left. Again these little thoughts: that it was she who threw this grain of sand high and as it descended it marked her time like sand in any hourglass. How obvious it is now, that all things that play out are the result of one’s own hand. There must be no blame but that which you direct towards yourself.
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13

A Visitor

When I killed the animal I ate its flesh and threw away the bones. I went to sleep with a contented smile on my face, despite a sore stomach. A violent sound woke me in the middle of the night, a close sound. I forced myself to keep still. I didn’t even breathe. The rest of the house remained silent, as did the wide desert outside. The animal may have had family who wished to avenge it. I threw on a pair of old trousers and took my rifle. The blue moonlit sand was still asleep, cold as my bare feet sank into it. I circled the house to check. I should have saved the animal bones for soup, but another animal had carried them away. I turned on every light in every room of the house. The brightness settled me. Sleep didn’t come easy, but when it did it carried me long into the afternoon. I started my day as everyone else finished siesta.
     An open window had let the house fill with moths. I hunted them out with the yard-brush, killing the ones that refused to move, then drove into town for supplies. On the way I passed the old honky-tonk tramp, playing songs on a battered out of tune bass guitar. The tramp wrote its own songs, probably due to an inability to play other people’s. Each song had the same dreary drone. They were all about people who lived round here. I wondered if there were any about me and the animal.
     I picked the tramp up with the offer of dinner on my way back from town. People were rarely invited to my house. I liked to be on my own; that’s why it was further into the desert than any other house in these parts. It made me feel like I lived on the edge of the world.

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14

OneTwoOne

You know what? No. No. You know what? You can just stuff it. No. No I don’t care. No. I’ve had it, had enough. Enough of you and enough of you. And especially enough of you. No. No I won’t sit down. No. I’ve held my tongue long enough now. No you fucking shut up. I’m out. I’m out of here. I’m out from under the fucking thumb of you lot. No. I see it. I see exactly what you’re trying to do. I’m not an idiot. I know exactly what you want and I know you’ve been after it for months. You think I’m blind? You actually think I’m blind enough that I wouldn’t see. You really think you could go on with all this bullshit, drag everyone out here, drag me out here, lock us away from, from everything, all to just sit back and do exactly what you want and I wouldn’t see it? No. This morning was the last fucking straw. I know exactly what you did. I could hear it. A fucking idiot could hear it. You had me in there working all yesterday trying to make sense of that gibberish you keep shouting in my ear, put some shape on that pile of rubbish you think means something, leave me sweating in that fucking box all day then come along and dump the lot of it and come up with this, this, this shite, and you think I wouldn’t spot it? You really do take me for an idiot. Yes, you. The lot of you. You all think I’m just here to make up the numbers. Read more >

15

Album Art

My brain’s gone mushy, I don’t remember his face. The photo he called album art’s no help.

I remember this: he neither took off his leather jacket nor put down his bass guitar until a girl gave him a reason. He loved playing the rockstar.

His act, I thought, was only that – an act. The right woman, meaning I, would tame him. But he grew bored, picked up the bass and the jacket and vanished. All I’ve left is the album art and the bump.

I wonder if the baby will look like him. I hope so. That’ll remind me.

16

Solo

It’s much too quiet for a song, too quiet for a song to be heard at all, to be heard at all over all the quiet that’s getting much too quiet, much too quiet but you just don’t know it yet, know it yet don’t know it yet, yet the sky holds everything together even when you think you’re alone, alone with a song in your head that holds everything together even when you think, you think you’re alone and the song jags through something too soft to be another cloud passing, another cloud passing over what you thought you knew in the light of the sun shining on the very thing you had in mind just long enough to make it out, make it out of there by letting go and forgetting the whole thing ever happened about which nothing can be done now except think around the empty shape of its happening, its happening isn’t happening now, now listen, listen to each step pressing the sand into each step in the shape you might recognize if you listen, listen to the air through every opening that isn’t your body in a steady state of containment to listen, listen to the opening of your body shot through with holes letting just about everything in to swirl together and smoke up to make absolutely no sense of the sky just there to listen, listen to it play the whole thing back for each of you alone with the huge sun crackling white hot that eats away at the back of the soft cloud puffing white puff that shadows the long shaded ground cooling in the rain shredding the empty space into every conceivable empty space you could fit into if you really tried again in blast after blast of wind.
17

LEADERSHIP POTENTIAL

Imagine that you've crash landed in the
desert. You, and five others, are alive.
After a quick examination of
the contents of the plane, you make a pile
of the salvageable, serviceable
items which survive the impact:
           plastic
heavy-duty rubbish sacks, four bottles
of airline-branded mineral water,
two boxes of chocolate bars, a carton
of complimentary nuts (to be served with
post-take-off drinks), several cushions, one
pair of headphones, a lifejacket, three books
of matches, a rum miniature, blankets,
and a bass guitar (rescued unscathed from
the overhead locker).
           And there's always
one – only there to get a day out of
the office – who says, for a laugh, “sod the
rest of you, I'll take that guitar and a
bottle of water.” Then, with that, stands up,
slings the guitar over his right shoulder,
and blows a cheery kiss goodbye.
18

Sand Song

It’s good that the sand captures the sound.
The silence is heavy and deafening
but if you’re willing to take the scorched steps
or buff your skin smoothing and sorting the grains,
the notes will rise to your ears, stick in your teeth,
cling to the corners of your eyes and hum like
a shell song in the depths of your head.

If the sand did not suck the sound from air –
if it weren’t hungry for the weight of chords,
jostling to the beat, thumping the rhythm up
through the soles of your boots to the soul;
if it did not cling to the waves and peaks of a strummed string
and weave itself into a vibrant carpet of vibration,
where might I go? How could you ever find
me if my songs were left to run loose and unrecorded
into that terrible sky?

19

You have to trust

Each time it's different, but still the same. The ping of recognition. Finding your other half. Everything becomes a co-incidence. A miracle. You too? Oh yes, me too. I feel. Me too. The step taken willingly over the void. No turning back. Only then, in the distance, like wind over a desert, another half-heard song. A siren you can't shake yourself free from. You too? No. Not you.
20

African Sun

Twelve o'clock sun punishes my neck.
No sign of a dipping down above.
The glare of a desert day
follows me friendless,
a silhouette, silent, strolling.
Yet coins jingle in my pockets.
I can never be alone-
my mind waits until music extends
from anxious, nimble fingers
into the chords of my guitar,
now cocked at half mast.
I'll wake the plains
with grand swells of sound,
make particles of sand
surround me, shiver alive,
vibrant.
21

a different song

escape
from
palette-cleansed dinner conversations.
from
eyes that will not
well or look or talk
or laugh.
from
the banter of friends
who once were
but now dance
to a song
that has abandoned
language for words.

escape
into
a long conversation
with the wall that
wands itself
a poem.
into
eyes that bore
into nothingness
like the dark bores
into light.

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22