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

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

1

The Best We Can Do

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

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

2

Last Resort

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

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

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

-

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

-

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

-

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

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3

Summer 05

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

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

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

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

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4

To my lover, (not quite) leaving

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

Thursday entanglements were rash

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

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

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

these thoughts are mine
(this time).

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

A Portuguese Package Holiday

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

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

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

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6

A Feast of Tongues

Dearest Clementine,

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

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

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

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7

Donkey’s Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I expect you to kiss me."

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

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

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

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8

I was a unicorn once

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

9

The Two-Horned, Toy Unicorn

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

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

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

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

10

Broken Chalice

Emptiness
in a cup
that once never ran dry

The wellspring
of eternal life
is no more

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

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

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

11

A White Don

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

12

Do Not Trust the Donkey

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

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

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

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

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

13

Donkey

can’t forgive
shot up

straight when
not crooked

taken if not
took

token if not
rode

whiskey
going home

pinballed; rough
sandwich

false wish
made with

ham and mayo
toy ass

bad donkey
lost and seasonal

bag of burgers
and french fries

a torch song
to parse

the growing
fence
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14

Cape/yellow

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

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

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

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

15

Blink

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

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

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

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

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16

Sodden

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

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

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

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

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

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

17

Red Saloon

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

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

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

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

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

18

HORSE LATITUDES

The train comes and stops here. But it doesn't stop here forever. The railway folks come and change the engine coach. It heads out for its next flight, brings a lot of people to the city and by night positions them at places where they belong, without a miss unless the person himself had asked the train to leave him to his fate. My wooden horse totters day and night. The train has never been an empty cloud except those freezing hours when men engage themselves with other life-saving practices. My horse never complains. My horse waits for the train’s arrival. It believes my brother is stuck somewhere in the inner molars of its engine. Someday, the engine will spew out the body, although invisibly white.

19

Anxious Donkey

Sneaky, to trick eye, as big as the cars behind blurred in white fence. And the antenna that launch out of them! Not telephone poles, but weary masts of rickety vehicles, that are, luckily, like everything in this light, dead still. It would be a different image perhaps, if the pool was brimming jelly waves. Lapping and terrifying watering hole, with bigger bodies splashing shapes. But little plastic feet still get warm on concrete, that's been heated everyday since the end of summer, and don't forget the creeping shadow behind; a spiking point that a throw of night will delve all into dark blue and moonlight. Then all to do is know, in the peripheral of vision, that the orange beacon in the corner is showing everything's still

Still;

and the wires haven't moved and tangled round the edges.

20

Life Line

'Not so bad, thanks. Summer might be on its way today…all right, not a hint of a leaf as yet, but a beautiful blue sky, and a bit of warmth in the sun.'

‘Just the four of us at the moment, Mum…getting the place shipshape for the start of the season…not long to go now.'

'Oh, the usual, you know…a deep clean, check all the equipment, and a lick of paint here and there.'

‘I had a bit of a shock, this morning, though…you know…over what happened last summer…not that I’d really forgotten, of course - you could never completely forget something like that could you, but I’d managed to put it more or less to the back of my mind… I mean, I’ve got to, haven’t I … jobs don’t grow on trees… Anyway, I wasn’t getting so many flashbacks. Thought I could handle it.'

'Well, I went to the swimming pool to clean it out …but just before I got to the gate, I turned and shouted back to Greg that if he brought out a couple of chairs we could have our sandwiches in the sun.'

'So what’s the first thing I see when I finally open the gate? That donkey, that’s what…it gave me a real shock…I don’t know why it was there… it should have been in the creche. Lyndsey does the creche. I don’t need to go in there. '

'Well, it brought it all back, like… I had to come away, didn’t I? I was shaking…and I kept on thinking - what if it’d been Becca…she’s about the same age…what if it’d been her? What would I have said to Jen? I still don’t know how it could have happened, Mum. We’d done all the checks. And now I can’t stop seeing that little ’un again, face down in the pool.'

21

Off Peak

Hi, honey.
Yes, there is some wildlife, in a sense.
No, but I'm sure they'd fill it up if we asked them.
Oh come on, there's no need to be like that. It's just out of season. That's why we got such a good deal.
Well, I'm not sure. It's difficult to see past the road, but I'm sure there's some great walks around.
I know it's in the middle of nowhere. I thought that was the idea.
Look, I think you're over reacting.
Well, I've booked it now.
Don't call me that.
So, what am I going to do; stay here on my own?
I see.

22

ICON

A donkey on the poolside
this fine, winter's day-
I am undecided.

Unaided, I scan a car park
for signs of life I envy,
I am so lonely here, barren, solo.

I crave the thing I lack:
life!

Oh to be a flesh and blood donkey,
not a white plastic travesty.

23

Closeout

Sold quad bike sold to us by a neighbour who needed money back then a-cause of my daughter’s substance strife. Sold biology and anatomy books. Sold 1950s fishing gear. Sold juicer to a tiny man who wanted to know if motor would burn out on tough fibrous fuckers like parsnips. Sold shoes with reasonable soles. Sold accusatory dolls. Sold folding stepladder to a woman who wanted so thoroughly to test it she went all the way to the top shelf of the medicine cabinet and gave a private mournful look on her descent. Sold twin beds. Sold sleeping bags and mats and tent. Sold primus. Sold bookshelves to students. Sold small teak desk to a student who bargained down because his knees couldn’t get under it.

Sold make-up to women in castellated suburban homes. Sold lustrously lifted lashes. Sold lipstick that took longer to bleed into the cracks. Sold pressed powder. Sold youth dew. Sold books concerning facial regimes. Sold finger-padding exercises for chin and cheeks and eyes. Sold death masks.

Sold words from the ends of my fingers onto someone’s screen and into their lap. Sold ____ and _____ and even ____-______ing.

Sold car to buy what even its owner called a piece of shitcan crap. Sold piece of shit for scrap.

Sold things from an open door into the baking twilight of motel parking. Sold things into open windows on streets that slunk behind conference centres. Sold slightly bigger tit in the cab of a Family Dollar truck to a man who wanted only to chew like a child on those Swedish fish candy, is all.

Sold both hands. Sold song of myself. Sold shadows in corners. Sold sour breath. Sold them all on my dream of watching them move above me from the bottom of a lake.

24

Just a Donkey

When there are snazzy cars,
Swimming pools around you,
The glory of fenced places,
The skies look so grand.

But then you are just a donkey,
Braying around, nobody listening,
They call you a donkey,
Laugh a bit, kick you around.

But it is good to be a donkey,
You carry their burdens,
They laugh their warmth away,
You carry it inside you.

25

Wrong names

We went on a train
once

passed through
oxford circus, crystal palace,
wrong names.

Now this
a lido

the tide does not come in
the donkey is a statue

there is no sand no castles.

26

Motel Paralysis

The sun’s heat prickles and then swells across the woman’s shoulders and back, her torso is sheathed in black polyester, that halter neck dress from the 1970s that skims her shins, her legs shaved smooth beneath the synthetic silkiness of the fabric How did I get here Her sunglasses are black orbs territorializing her face Her oily hair is coiled into the nape of her neck, pulled tight at her temples Her skin, taut burnished ochre, glows in synchrony with the arid weight of the air that throbs about her, rubs up against her And she is comforted by the benevolent pressure of this communion of elements Her body is nestled in a trashed plastic chair the like of which are typical of pool-sides the world over Right leg crossed over left leg: ankle, calf, knee and a slice of thigh of the former exposed to the rays that both nourish and bleach out The scene is bleached-out This overexposure provides an affective entry into a dream of epistemologically motivated instrumentalisation of violence [It is sunny in a pan-American register I am repeatedly slapping my daughter’s face; tears stain her bruised cheeks yet she endures The crying man – a faded pop star – is getting high on camera from a used up bag of Maltesers: he raises the elliptical opening of the bag to his mouth, he inhales deeply, exhales slowly, and tears stream amidst the deadened synapses and extinguished capillaries, relief spreading across his tense physiognomy: thoughts, henceforth, paralysed. The three parked cars belong to the others (the men who frequent this place, for we women are always driven here, in the broadest possible sense) The pool is empty of water: drained power-lines cross-cross the azure sky which seems exempt from the generalised bleaching A fiberglass donkey is poised to receive the latest melancholy itinerant, sex/dope-fiend, suicide bid The sky blankets everything; its benevolence is too remote to penetrate the carapace of flesh, which instead squirms beneath the irradiated heat that is produced from out of its nucleus

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27

Letter to The Times

Sir,
It is with great distress that I learnt of the willful reduction of donkeys at our local swimming pool. The six have been in situ since time immemorial and they are the custodians of our children's well-being and happiness. I, as a little girl, would sit on their accommodating and resilient backs and dream of a world populated with children and donkeys, which at the time seemed preferable to some unimaginative adults who would smile patronisingly and snap vacuously on their box brownies.

Now there remains just one survivor from this donkey decimation and funnily enough my favourite who I named Benjamin. He was the reliable recipient of my thoughts and dreams and gave good advice on the tricky subject of adults, which I acted on immediately with mixed results. Why or why has the Council in their infinite stupidity been allowed to reduce the ranks and cause such misery? I am aware that in these draconian times of austerity, cuts have to be made but not please to the world famous troupe of donkeys, who have graced our seaside town with their insouciance and charm.

I have been reliably informed that they are to be rehoused in Donkeys' Years which is a Sanctuary which will afford them all the respect and care they deserve but life will not be the same. Children and some discerning adults will be traumatised by their absence and Benjamin will be lonely and deserted without his friends and allies. I know what I will do, I will ram raid the building and carry him off to my home where he will see out his days in my capacious back garden. Please, please return the five, so they can rejoin their friend who is suffering such pangs of loneliness and disconnection which seems to me symptomatic of life in Britain today. It appears the water is fast running out as well, is this the intolerable end of seaside days as we know them?

Sincerely,

28

Waiting for Summer

The shallow end is my place,
I guarded it all summer.
And all winter cars came and went
Empty. No kids. A tease.
It's a long wait.
A few come, just to look, remember.
Or disappear into rooms.

Bright cold winter bathes me
In cold light and steely rain
Now sun.
They’ll be back
They’ll give me hugs, kicks, ride me
Talk to me. I’ll get another new name.

This shallow end
Too deep for some
They held a man down. At night
I saw it all. He lived. Just.
Sometimes I still hear it
But there will be more screams
And laughs and company
The wait is like eternity,
like forever and a day
Sun will come, and with it the kids
Now. In time. Soon.
Summer
will come
before this life
is done,
and time
is gone away.

29

Vacancy

“Get moving kid, we gotta be outta here in five minutes,” my dad said, snapping his gum between orders.

I turned back to look at the donkey.

“Come on, come on,” Stephanie said, hopping on her left foot, trying to adjust the strap of her platform shoe and elbowing me in the back to move me forward, “don’t just freakin’ stand there kid.”

My throat was on fire, like I’d swallowed the burning Nevada sun. I couldn’t explain how I felt to my dad and Stephanie but I couldn’t leave that donkey here. Abandon it to the abandoned motel.

“I’ll carry it with me the whole way,” I said in a timid voice - and again because nobody seemed to hear me.

“Oh sure,” Stephanie said, rolling her eyes as she fished in her purse for the pills she took before long car journeys.

My dad put his hand on her shoulder, whispered something in her ear, too low for me to hear. He smiled, his cheekbones rising and pushing his tinted sunglasses up further on his face. The secret passed between them as he squeezed her bum and then he clicked his fingers at me.

“No more bullshit Sam. Get in the car. Two minutes.” he said as he walked back into the dark room, making sure nothing of us remained there.

“I, for one, am glad to get out of this fucking hellhole,” Stephanie said while giving the finger to the creaky motel sign, the ‘F’ hanging off it’s hinges. “Hey Fountain Gate,” she yelled, cupping her hands around her mouth, “Fuck you!”- her voice echoing around the yard, disturbing the empty spaces.

The donkey remained unmoved.

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30

Maria had a donkey

Maria foresaw her dying breath
In the changing room mirror
Her donkey died another death
That day near Marbella

Now the tourists have gone
And she hopes their cars will rust
And her donkey’s poorly-shod
And she thinks of misplaced trust

She sees him left abandoned
In the shadow of the railings
Little donkey gently hummed
As she considers all her failings

Wonders about untaken journeys
A pool half-full or half-empty
Illness and wounds and injury
In this land of milk and honey

Is he fenced in or is he fenced out?
How did it come to this?
Is there any room for doubt?
Will the service be in Spanish?

31

Donkeys Don’t Belong in Housing Estates

My daughter slammed the donkey down hard.
'Here!' she said with that look, pure, narrowed hatred. I was almost too afraid to oppose her. But I did. I was still her mother.
'But donkeys don't belong in a housing estate with houses, why don't you put it on the grassy area with the other animals.'
Lucy frowned and crossed her arms. I noticed the sun had lightened her hair. I wanted to hold her warm body - too painful - for both of us.
Lucy's eyes welled with tears, her lips bubbled. We only had fifteen minutes per month, social services had decided. I was helpless, watching my daughter grow up with strangers made me feel like a pariah, and every time I visited, Lucy grew more distant.
Then the tears came. Oh Lucy, Lucy, my Lucy, instinctively I go to pick her up but Jackie intervenes.
'It's best I do it.' Putting her hands around my daughter's middle, she lifts her up and walks away. Why don’t I just grab her and run, run, run? Lucy didn't look back. She didn’t look back. Lucy’s hand grabbed Jackie’s hair - I remember how that felt.
Lucy had fallen over on the patio, her eye all puffy at first, swollen, later black, yellow and purple, school had intervened and social services stole her from me. No questions. No explanation. No kindness. I'll never forget Lucy screaming and kicking in the strangers arms, me begging and cajoling - why - I don't know -I guess to ease her pain but Lucy was right, kicking and screaming was correct. I just broke things, including my marriage.
Funny how numb you can feel when things are not in the right place. He's no longer sleeping next to me - Lucy doesn't come to me in the night and slip in under the covers with her cold feet and messy hair or eat Cheerios, or try to wear them as rings while I tell her they're too small, then she smiles and eats them from the tips of her small fingers and slurps orange juice, pretends to give a drop to monkey. Monkey didn't go with her. Monkey's still at home.

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32

I Know of a Place

I know of a place where stars dwell when you are too tired to tell whether you are awake or asleep. I have seen this place when I crawl into the night. Humble as a baby I stretch my hands to grasp the offerings in the blue that drapes the day at the end of its recurrent residency.

I know of this place and I can describe the view - you can too, if your eyes stay true to all you've seen as a child; all that made you smile even if your lips didn't move.

I know of a place - the softer of plains - where a wild horse gallops free. At night as the engines of cars are inert, she is certain to ride along the moon's whisper where during the day there was only silent fences and concrete.

At the end of her nocturnal loping she rests by the lake - a lake full of secrets only the water can keep. It might seem like an empty pool when you are awake, but in my dreams…

…In my dreams, she watches over me as I swim.

33

Pour Concrete

Pour concrete onto villages
In some foreign clime
To attract the working classes
Their spare money and spare time
All they need is sangria
Exotic food and poolside chat
Before they go we'll take their Euros
With more expensive tat
The telephonic cables
Are redundant now and why?
The hotel has upgraded and installed wifi
The fences keep out the locals
They'd only pollute the pool
While mum and dad order drinks
The kids play on the white mule
Pour concrete and build blocks near sands
It's not a real palm tree...
Not like the ones that grow in nature
It's contrived and for a fee...
They'll allow you out the compound
Into the real place
One of poverty and siesta
And more charm and grace.

34

a Lonely Monologue

It’s interesting. I’ve never paid attention to how shadows tail us everywhere. They’re stuck to our feet and fingers, actually to every limb of our body, morphing away each time we choose to move apart. That said, I’ve never really thought about how shadows sort of disappear when we turn the lamp off at night, draw the curtains and go to bed engulfed in total darkness. Like it dissipates. If you drop a dab of black oil into a glass of clean water, it stays there, very prominently, very imposingly, just floating on time until you feel it’s time to fish it out with a tissue paper. Still then it seeps into the tissue paper in a spidery web, voraciously gulfing down the porous fibers of the tissue. But if you replace that water and that tissue paper with, say – black water and black tissue paper – I mean, they do sell black tissue paper at Sainsbury’s – okay, maybe not tissue paper but napkins – but what I really mean is that it won’t show. You’re never quite sure if it dissolved into the thing or it’s just hanging there but still you can’t see it, because that’s protective coloration. And I wonder, when a complete darkness descends on us, is the shadow still there, or has the shadow simply become a part of it? Then, you know, I can’t help but think about how shadows basically exist as a counterpart of light. Because we are blocking the photons from reaching the surface that’s why there’s a black patch sprawled on the pavements, and that sort of means that shadows can only exist where light is. But in total darkness, can there be a shadow at all? Or is the darkness the origin of all shadows, the biggest, darkest, and the most complete shadow you can imagine?

I can’t figure it out. Well, not yet. Streetlights blaze at night, and the glaring neon signs and headlights know not when to sleep. Even if a lunar eclipse brought a moonless night stars still shine from million years away. So, unless I can destroy the universe, or jump into singularity past the event horizon, I would never find out how shadows work. I’ll never know existence without shadows.

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35

Barren

She stands on fissured concrete, white, blemished, head turned from the shadow-self that leaks from her feet, spilling over hard, grey earth. The spectre of captivity threatens and creeps. There is no water here, no grass, no grain. What is this useless, lifeless place? It is haunted by half-things, almost-things, unfinished things. Faded, scarred. She is surrounded.

36

Jack

He carries silence on his unusual arched lips
waiting for my father,
whose coarse voice and stick still loiters in our ears.
I have moved on but Jack is there
white , and mournful.
In the morning as my hand replaces my father's
carrying the meadow hay
he stares blankly
with his head hanging low.
His stubborn eyes arrows the sun
until it bows to welcome Pleiades
and their silver moon.
Like the red nose reindeer of Santa,
Jack then journeys the stars
to find his master
if somewhere he is
unwinding from the yarn of cerecloth.

37

Losing Color

These hoofs— scarred forever by the union of U-shaped steel plates onto each of my palmars, a permanent shoe, fecundated by the cruelty of Man towards animals since the start of man-consciousness— have patiently travelled thousands of miles through hundreds of different terrains— soft soil, steep bush-ramps, whispering sand dunes, icky stretchy mudground, mossy screes, smooth unearthed pine roots, subzero riverbeds— all in the name or for the sake of what Man calls Journey— a migration perhaps? I’m not sure. I never know. These man-beings they never tell me where they’re heading— always so discreet like I’m an erratic bipolar bear who would rip their heads off and gallop to Boston if he says “Ohio.”

I’ve walked for days this trip. Thirteen sunsets? I’m not sure. My memory is bad but don’t you dare compare me to a goldfish— I’m way better. I can count. Yes. I’ve been counting my steps all this while— nine thousand four hundred and twenty-two— which explains why I’ve lost track of sunrise and sundowns— all in the name of Journey, lugging around a tumor the size of a small latrine— a carriage housing two women— one severely obese with cellulited swines as her thighs and the other a rather well-carved lady with a first class bosom, two smelly boys, forever fighting over a yellow spotted tarantula they caught two nights ago—”Let’s call him Spottie!”—”No, he shall be Sunset!”— and a wise-looking man whose chin birthed an impressive polar bear— maybe erratic and bipolar?— whipping my posterior whenever I decide to chase butterflies or stare deeply into the horizon— Where to? I never know. I don’t want to know. As long as the hills of juicy hay coupled with cold spring water lay before me every morning, I’m content. I’ve accepted my role on this god-forsaken Earth as the prime mode of transport and that Man, albeit cruel and noisy and smelly, are way better in counting than I will ever be. My brown coat is starting to gray— Oh hell no!— God-forbid I’m transmogrifying into… wise-looking man with his pet polar bear nestled under his chin— my color, my vibrance… a sojourn?— How is this possible!— I want to stay vibrant forever. I will stay vibrant forever. I will.

38

Cirque d’Été (Pantoum)

A refugee from Chandni Chowk or Vienna’s Prater,
what are you doing by our swimming pool, horse?
Standing still, resigned, a follower of Zeno,
the patron saint of lazy bums and procrastinators,

what are you doing by our swimming pool, horse?
You could go in circles carrying a blasé prince of old,
a patron saint of lazy bums and procrastinators,
or hide in Reznikoff’s poem, with the centaur and the unicorn.

You could go in circles carrying a blasé prince of old,
but prefer to watch the clouds and the automobiles
(they hide in Reznikoff’s poem, with the centaur and the unicorn):
the clouds have tyre marks on them, they’re tyred clouds.

You choose to watch the clouds and the automobiles
standing still, resigned, followers of Zeno.
The clouds have tyre marks on them, they’re tyred clouds,
they’re refugees from Chandni Chowk or Vienna’s Prater.

39

Writing toward an imaginary son

I will not start by addressing this to you,
no one can load you with the language of bibs
when you still don't know these fingers are yours
how would you when I do not explain?

now, I will tell you one thing: you are beautiful
because you are mine and I am possessive,
I craft you with color- the way glass bubbles shape
blow onto your imperfections till they cool and round

you like a valid creation, a mixture of genealogy and gems
rosy cheeks I can pinch when my muse leaves for Africa
little chit-chat, a story box for when my close women friends
forget to invite me to sewing because I'm not good with gold thread

the color of your hair, I will not define
if it sparkles in direct light, or frizzes under water
I can only assure you that it has the softness of waterfalls,
the fall of neighing horses, the stubbornness of donkeys

I will I promise, consider taking you out, no one will see
if you've stained a shirt or threw a tantrum
we'd sit in the park, you will run along as I'd pretend to read
when you come back with bruises and tear stains,
I'll kiss your scrapes, bless your fears and mine

and in the summer when the kites are high and the birds are low
our ground will be swimming pools, bodies of ice-cream and waves
where we'd dunk our worries like tea-bags
the darker, the deeper- no sugarcoating or floaters for our skins
Read more >

40

Mise-en-Scene

"If you live your life with no regrets, there is nothing worth forgetting. Shadows add depth. Light draws the eye away."

She would not let trauma play pick and mix with her memories. She would not give them the satisfaction of running their own disembodied time. The pleasure of detaching/ Detaching/

Outside of her control. She vowed not to become jetlagged. The time difference between now and then, The burden of a time traveller With only the present to call home.

She was balanced/ /Or so she said/ /Her feet perched on the edge of the empty concrete pool/

"The poet picks and chooses, like trauma, a lens for consumption. Am I fighting poetry?"

She lets the images wash over her.

The mise-en-scene of the motel refuses to budge from her mind; this arrangement of things unfulfilled, still broken. Climbing from the wreckage, she stands out from them like negative space.

"In this window of time, I am complete."

41

Ekphrasis

It is a pointless life.

His feet are rooted into asphalt heavens of dust and scorching heat.

His eyes look out to barriers he cannot cross. Someone taller might have;
he can’t tell.

His ears point towards the fading washes of the ocean, dabbled with clouds and fog. A realm he has only known with streaks and streaks of lines crisscrossing over, just as suffocating as his barbed wires.

His world glistens with the whiteness that resembles his body. Freedom is always just a step ahead.

Who knows, it might even be a she.

42

Frozen in Time

Motionless I wait,
In limbo, lost.
Why am I here?
Out of season, empty pool
undergoing a cleaning process.
No holiday makers.
Worst of all, no children.
Running, shouting, laughing,
clambering on my back hoping
I will take them on a donkey ride around
the camp.
Alas no.
But I know who will.
Normally I bear a sign,
"To the Donkey Rides"
I watch as they enjoy themselves
sad that I can't join in.
But then I'm only a plaster one.
Motionless I wait.

43

A WRITER’S BLOCK

Stuck in the middle of a piece of writing
Like a lost donkey enduring the pain
Of immobility
The blank white skinny paper evolves
Into an enemy
Wrestling with an angry ink never wanting
To give up
It’s a lonely bright sunny day
When the sun display its brilliance
Scorching the knowledge out of my mind
My shadow reflects upon the earth.
There’s this poem I’ve ever wanted to write
There’s this poem I’ve never ever completed
There before me is a pool of drought
I dare not enter.

44

Plastic World

The curtains are closed to keep the sun out, whiskey with salt and rocks to keep cool and the fan in this motel room is broken – He sits with his back to the television screen, the morning news is on and he’s not listening. Behind the locked bathroom door, his wife of close to ten years, they yell and fight. About money, books and the songs He never wrote. She’s colouring her lips the same red of the wine she drinks. The two carry lockets with the same picture of their daughter, she’s growing to share her mother’s eyes and smile but nothing of his. It’s twenty passed ten on Sunday morning, and the world is almost three drinks behind.

The two had driven to Nevada after He had come home late the night before their daughter’s twelfth birthday; He slept through the day and forgot to buy a gift. He felt his heart fall through the floor, as she lay her hands in his and spoke of the pool outside, filled with love. His wife was laughing with tear filled eyes and He wish she hadn’t. He knew his wife, who found humour in pool outside, didn’t see it the same way he did, and didn’t respond. His wife was made up, hair freshly blonde. He needed a shave, to borrow money and to polish his shoes. His wife offered him another drink; He nodded his head and began to roll a cigarette, thinking without speaking. He could not say turn the offer down, his shirt pocket was full of only note pads and a blunt pencil.

The sound of the other motel patrons spilled through their closed curtains and the two could hear children complaining of the empty pool, she laughed and he shuddered. As she stood He asked for her to wait, in response she filled his glasses again with whiskey. ‘Get out’ she said as she opened the door, ‘dry yourself off’.

45

High Hopes

Joe had high hopes for the end of season staff party. It would be his last chance to cop off with Maria before they went their separate ways. From the day she joined the holiday camp staff as a waitress he had been unable to take his eyes off her. She had turned him down when he asked her out at the end of her first week but now they had been in the same gang for over a month, hanging out together, laughing at the same jokes, he knew their time had come. So far it was going well. He had brought her a drink and they were chatting away about the season’s highs and lows. Her smile was making him feel giddy. When Ged and Pete joined them he went to the bar for another round. Nothing could stop him now.

But when he returned he noticed Ged slip his hand around Maria’s waist and Maria lays hers gently on his. Joe took a few good gulps of his pint then announced that he was going to the toilet.

Pete noticed Joe walk straight past the toilet and out the main door and he decided to follow. Outside he spotted him on his way back to the staff accommodation. Pete jogged through the cooling autumn air to catch up. Joe was carrying something.

‘What have you get there, Joe?’

‘The plaster donkey from the Kids’ play castle,’ said Joe without looking round.

‘Why?’

‘I’m kidnapping it. A souvenir of a wonderful season.’

They walked on in silence.

‘Look, mate,’ said Pete, it was never going to happen between you and Maria.’

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46

CLOSE YOUR EYES

The sun is promiscuous,
the pool, a fresh promise.
Communications are good,
the sky wired,
but we enjoy
extraordinary silence.
We’re surrounded by trees.
Patient
cars nuzzle bricks
like tethered horses.
Safety is paramount,
so nothing moves,
except shadows.
These leave apologetically,
like men in slippers. It takes them hours.
Days dream themselves.
The nights

are stars, stars, stars

47

Rodeo’s Not My Thing

“A hundred degrees!”

Janey squints at the thermometer and taps it, just to be sure, then shuffles back to the sun lounger and flops down on it.

“Geez!” she whines “What a dump.”

She grabs the bottle of suntan lotion and squeezes a blob of white onto the palm of her hand, starts rubbing it on her arms, keeps on complaining.

“Why have a pool if you’re not going to fill it?”

“They’re scared the donkey will fall in and drown” he tells her.

“What?”

“The donkey. It can’t swim.”

He rolls over on to his stomach and closes his eyes, wishes Janey were someplace else.

But she slaps him on the back of his thighs.

“What donkey?”

He lifts his arm and points vaguely in the direction of the pool where the donkey is standing, but stays face down, burying his face in the towel.

“That one” he says.

He hears Janey get up and walk towards the pool.

“Shit” she says “How the hell could I have missed that?”

He doesn’t bother answering.

But he thinks – “Because you never notice anything, Janey.”

There’s a “woohoo!” and lifts his head to see her astride the donkey, flicking one arm above her head like some rodeo rider.

The back of her neck is red where she forgot the lotion and he smiles.

“Hey!” Janey cries “You wanna’ try?”
Read more >

48

Little Donkey

Mark’s here. I can’t believe she brought him. I can’t believe he’s wearing a suit. I take a few pics of Becky in her tinsel halo with my phone. Did he come in his car? I bet he did. Old biddy next to me sidesteps to her left and scans down to my trainers. That is not church appropriate footwear. Becky sings a song about heaven and babies. I think she’s wearing a pillowcase. Mary and Joseph encircle the stage. Christ, is that a real baby in that crib? Is that allowed? Wait, it’s a doll. I think. Shepherds arrive with tea towels on their heads. One is wearing Crocs. I pretend to hum along to the carols. I can’t see Becky anymore, just a tuft of blonde curls as she’s blocked out by a king wearing a crown from Burger King. The children stand there for a moment and stare at baby Jesus. There’s a donkey. Not a real donkey.

The service finishes and Lou takes Mark up to talk to the minister. They stand there arm-in-arm with Becky at their sides, sharing jokes, smiling. That was me once - in a suit, Becky wasn’t there but that minister thought I was their man. He gave us our blessing, told us God would look over us or some bollocks like that. I had church appropriate footwear, I had love, I had the world.

I don’t get the chance to talk to Becky but I sit there for a while. I drink out of a Sprite bottle filled with something else and listen to panpipe carols filter through that cold building. People leave. Kids’ heavy footsteps thunder down that aisle towards promises of hot chocolates in front of the telly, away from grandparents’ cameras. I wait. When it’s just me, I head for the front of the church and lie myself down on the fake hay. Hello, little donkey. Well done for getting that pregnant lass to that stable in time. I pat him on the head and take a selfie with him. He’s not furry like a donkey should be. Solid, shiny. His tail lifted slightly like he’s about to take a dump. I like this donkey.

I wake up the next morning on concrete surrounded by fag ash and an empty bottle of JD. A man stares at me from beyond the railings. ‘Excuse me, sir? You and the donkey have to leave, please.’ The donkey stares me down. How did you get here? ‘Where am I?’ ‘This is private property...and it’s frigging Christmas day. I don’t need this shit today.’ He leaves. The donkey and I are left staring at the vacant carcass of an off-season hotel, an empty swimming pool, a silent blue sky. Little bucked teeth grin widely at me. I have a donkey, a little donkey. I bet Mark doesn’t have a donkey. I put an arm under his belly and we leave.

49

Trojan Horse

You donkey, I said,
Don’t spoil my dull mood already,
With donkeying around, braying uselessly.

I said, you equus africanus asinus,
Find a jenny and mate her,
Let me look for the one, who left me,
Or let me find another in the cars there.

And He replied, you ass!
I’m a horse, from the city of Troy,
I’ve seen this meeting and mating too much.

Now, they put me into computers,
And also into the minds of men.

50

First memory

If I close my eyes I can imagine
I am back there.
Two years old I'm sitting
on the white metal donkey,
rocking back and forth.
Mother, at my side, is laughing.
Families are splashing in the pool
having holiday fun.
There's the smell of fried
food and candy floss.

Then I see my father
striding towards us.
In his hand he clutches
ice-cream cones.
Mother's laughter dies away
as father's figure eclipses the sun.

51

COLLECTIBLES

‘It’s my third chance’.

I thought as much when I saw it.

The first had been on that street corner in Berlin, where I had seen the large stuffed toy. It was right near our apartment and I had thought I would pick it up right after my trip to the supermarket. It was injured and dirty. It needed tending to and stitches on one of its’ legs.

When I came back it was gone, someone had taken it to cherish.

The second had been inside that antique shop in Galle, Sri Lanka. The different colours of wood paint were many and you had tried to bargain the best price for the one in the most perfect shade. It was tarnished but beautiful.

‘What will he do with it madame?’ the shopkeeper had asked me.

Then he had doubled the price and we had laughed and left.

The third, this postcard, this could have been it!

But alas it was only a horse. Plastic and glistening alone on the side of an empty pool, I understood him.

I once was a unicorn too, in someone’s eyes.

52

SHE HAD THE LAST WORD

If it's wrong to despise one's mother, or, equally, one's son, we are both one hundred per cent in the wrong. We have never been apart for long, unless you count my few nights in the Working Man's Club. My escape and entitlement for working conscientiously in the packing factory and avoiding Mother's complaints. She, the fount of all wisdom, has this annoying habit of quoting well-known phrases or proverbs and attributing them to myself, or any luckless person she meets. I digress: and anyway, in her defence she has no husband to support her as he escaped the rantings by dying. My wages support us and by some judicial saving we endeavour to have an annual holiday. It would be agreeable to stay in Cornwall just for a break. By myself. I could enjoy the bracing air and Cornish pasties.

No, on second thoughts she could or would not manage without me as her baggage controller. So- here we are once again in nearly-the-end- of -season-time in our familiar resort. After checking in to rooms 26 and 27, I left Mother to sort her belongings and ventured outside. Nothing much has changed since last year except by the empty pool is a donkey. Not a living breathing donkey, but still, a donkey.Well made , sleek and glossy, with an erect tail.I stroked the back of the unusual model, which felt warm from the sunshine and sank down on the concrete beside it resting my head against the body.

The tranquility was short-lived. Mother came waddling over to me with her beach hold-all and various other items.

'My, don't you look a right pair!'she sneered. 'Here's my stuff, I'm ready for the beach.They say that donkeys go best loaded. I'll just take a snap of you and Eeyore, to show that you made a friend on holiday.' As I was struggling to my feet and adjusting my sunglasses, she stepped back, holding the camera, still cackling over her joke and disappeared over the edge of the empty pool...

53

The Donkey’s Tale

Have you ever wondered why Mexican donkeys are often made of paper mache? Well, last week this 'ere swimming pool was full and the kids were all having a grand time pulling my tail. Well, as you can imagine, it wasn't long before they pulled it and I followed, straight in, ears and all. Yeah, you guessed it, the paper kept me afloat. But the darn kids pulled the plug out and now I can't go for a swim, despite the fact I can't drown and it is 40 ℃ in the shade.

Ye ha, that's life, I suppose!

54

Anywhere but here

He dreams;
of drowsy, cicada-strung olive groves
and patiently standing
whilst his panniers fill;
of midnight in the desert
and a child’s cry hushed to silence;
of damp sand beneath his hooves
and chubby, ice cream scented fingers
patting his nose;
of corn and carrots;
of having flesh and fur
and of flicking his ears;
of being real
and of being
anywhere but here.

55

The deep end

Seventeen pools in as many days. We may as well collect empty pools as anything else, Dave says. His mother says why don’t we go round a nice garden. Or a castle. They have brilliant dungeons and better tea shops.

But everyone does those. Even full pools are a bit of a cliché these days. Abandoned things have more glamour to them.

More ghosts, Dave says. He’s taken to brushing me down before I get back into the car. He won’t let me wear bathing costumes in case I get the urge to jump in. The most I can get away with is a towel wrapped round my head, which, frankly, looks daft with jeans and a hoody.

Dave sits behind the wheel and waits for me to check out the pool. He’s got a clipboard and a map that sits between us on the front seat, and I draw a little star on it for every pool we find.

We don’t go to the successful towns, the centres where people take their fitness seriously and the council can still find money for leisure. Instead we drive like arrows towards the down at heel, where people stand outside chip shops to watch out for any stranger who might lower their guard. The pools here are bigger, they reek of European money thrown randomly and enthusiastically like cash at a wind machine and no official ever visiting to check their investment. Their closure will have been slow, lifeguard by lifeguard until even checking water purity cost too much.

Do you want me to come with you? Dave asks sometimes, and I just shake my head, side to side as if it’s wet. I put my hand up and touch the ends of my hair, pull strands over to my nose as if I can smell chlorine. There have been days when I’ll even lick my arm to taste the salt. It makes Dave groan in a way optimism never can.

And then we drive off to the next one.

56

Only You Can Carry Your Burden

You may feel you thought what you wanted to
You may feel you said what you thought
You may feel they heard what you said
You may feel if you can
But you never know...
You're the donkey
That time and doubt ride together
Free yourself
And exchange the roles

57

Counting Donkeys

When sleep evades
the mind suffers
I've tried music, reading,
even meditating and pleading,
all to no avail.
And as I feel my
sanity fading,
I'll turn to lost mind
to see what I'll find.
Cows jumping over moons,
even a few silver spoons,
I'll try anything.
With my mind failing,
I'll try something different.
Something a little dissident.
Something with flair and malarkey,
I'll try counting donkeys.

58

Someone Else’s Stag

Beer in the swimming pool.
(Too little for diving,
Unless I wish to float
Upon my own red blood...)

It was a damn good night.
(Howling as a full moon
Gazed over Barnstaple...)
We had a damn good deal.

(It is like being born:
That cold, sharp nausea
When light follows darkness...)
I shall begin afresh.

59

Wish You Were Here

When asked if they had a plan for retirement, Roy and Arlene just laughed. They didn't have money in the Stock Market, no 401K plans. Did the weekly Lottery tickets count?

But they did have a dream they shared, to find a pink motel, somewhere off the interstate in the middle of nowhere. There would be a pool and lawn flamingos. They would sit on folding chairs while the air conditioner hummed, counting the cars and watching the trucks pass by. Maybe they would have a diner, too, a stop along the way, serving pie and coffee.

The neon sign would read "Stop Here" and they would print up postcards, real nice pictures of the pink motel and the clean, simple rooms, all the beds fresh and inviting. The pool would be shining in the sun, and the plastic flamingos would be joined by a donkey.

All the travelers would write "Wish you were here" on the postcards while they stopped for coffee.

60

A Singular Transformation

Today I woke,
My ass’s head
Displayed.

Tomorrow, too
As well I know,
It’s heavy weight in place.

I thought to fly,
Transformed – instead,
I bray – Hee Haw! Hee Haw!

Words lost beneath
A soul’s façade,
What is where once I was.

A string of
Senseless syllables
Break on tombstone teeth.

Full vexed,
I trot on gangly legs,
Tail swinging side to side.

Run though I will,
I cannot leave
My fur clad skinny form.

Around my self,
It holds me still,
Bound by its bony cage.

Transfixed, I see
On four long limbs,
Thoughtless ends repeated.

A species grown,
Expectation’s work;
Created, captive changelings.

Consumed; costumed,
Word wielders’ worlds
Cluster still in number

So hybrids hope
Someday to hear
Magic call their restoration.

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Excerpt from the Fortean Times, 26 March 3143

Equine-noctial Omen by FT correspondent Cassandra Shaman

Flattermen dismantling a centuries-old ‘leisure complex’ near Swindon’s derelict Heathrow Terminal 77 have in recent days uncovered a large sunken concrete structure thought to be a rare Plastic Age burial.

In an area once famed for its primitive images of horses carved into chalk hillsides, the discovery of a tomb containing a small man and an entire herd of miniature chalkstone horses is sparking intense debate among scholars and public alike.

On 20 March – a date known in Seasonal Times as the Spring Equinox – the astonished Flatters unearthed a single small white horse (pictured), but as the clearing continued an entire herd of more than fifty stood revealed – and among them, laid out in patterned silks and leather knee-boots, and holding a leather-covered stick, the body of a small man.

The horse statues are unsigned, but may have been carved from blocks of the last stretch of chalk downland to be levelled in the Great Deconstruction at the turn of the 29th century.

The date of the burial’s discovery, and its similarity to the Terracotta Army found in a Chinese tomb more than a thousand years ago, have many believing that the ‘Small Man’ is a lost figure of legend. ‘We are looking at a belief system that was thought to have died out with the Italian invasion over three thousand years ago,’ said Time Team presenter Morrie Smidgen. ‘But whoever buried this small man in ceremonial silks, crop in hand, with his horses around him, believed that one day the levelled hills would rise, and he would wake, and ride the Downs again.’

‘However,’ he continued, ‘I am very to disappoint your readers, but I must stress that he is most unlikely to have been King Arthur.’

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picture a donkey contemplating an empty swimming pool

________________________________________

spaces between decisions I fill
I fill with counting pesetas
feeling the tug of old tight jeans
when nothing is impossible
except late spring mornings
growling with buses and vans
the tap in the corner is chrome
there is a dis-attached hose
this stillness is my starting pose
no one put in a winning post
and dust doesn’t settle here
where all water was rain once
last year my favourite busker
played saxophone
Kate knew four tunes
Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street
the other pieces have no names
and she played them that way
I am refusing to find out
proper nouns for funeral music
someone I love died March
every year, every year
between wilderness snowdrops
and cultivated daffodils

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Cheesy

Agreed to meet you reluctantly
I never imagined it would be here
An atmosphere for debauchery
Cheesy love gone sour and cold

I'm a natural, tofu sort of girl
Relishing the fresh and clean
Spaces like this are the casual whirl
Take me home and let me breathe

64

Donkey doodle hay day kinda ride.

The scent of it alive in his, in her, memory. Always. Yet, only always an alive memory. That’s all. They make it out to be more than that. We all do. It is how we play the game of life. It is how we live. Sniffing our way around it.

“Quite the ride.” “Yes, a memorial one.”

It was a conversation often had, yet left unspoken. Words are merely vibrations after all. No matter how memorial. Real? Unreal? True? Untrue? Who can say?

“Yes, quite the ride.” “Donkey doodle hay day ride, kinda ride”.

Whatever that is. He liked to play with words, you see. So, this would have been something he could have gift wrapped and handed her with a smile. “Oh, you and I in the donkey doodle hay ride days, baby. Remember? You and I. Dancing on the tiles before the tide came in, in the pool. Swoosh. We had a blast. It was good. Hey, hay. Do you remember that baby?”

“I remember Mr. Jones. I do, but you were untrue and it was untrue and so I had to get off the donkey and on with my life. I had to be stubborn like that. A real mule in fact. I drained the pool before I drowned, I drained it. Mules don’t go anywhere. It is empty now. It is dry and cracked. Easier to walk on than water. We weren’t all we were cracked up to be. Yet, it is still deep. The pool that is. Deeply so.”

Meetings at a cheap motel. In truth, it had all been a cheap motel. But let’s not tell them this.

Read more >
65

Galilee

The guy who sells weed to university kids died yesterday. It had stopped smelling. I knew something was wrong. I had to tell the manager myself because everyone else living near me is behind on their rent and couldn't risk it. Management is threatening to kick them out so he can start making this a motel again.

A pregnant woman was trying to book a room. She said she was on vacation. I waited, not wanting to interrupt such a careful lie. "Like shit," the manager said, shooing her away, "I can't have anymore residents." The woman looked at me, but I was fixing my attention on the broken coffee maker wondering whether it would get fixed. Expecting the manager's answer, she walked out and into a pick-up truck that hadn't stopped it's engine.

I smoked a J by the pool that had been drained four winter's ago and never re-filled while an ambulance dealt with the corpse next door. An odd array of lawn ornaments had collected pool-side, discarded by people moving in who brought more than they knew they'd have room for. They're hoping they'll have front yards again one day. But this was the first time I noticed the donkey, a mismatched piece from a manger display. I remember that Jesus rode an ass into Jerusalem. That must have been something to see.

66

Donkey Please Stay

Donkey. Do not turn away.
I can change.
Things could have been different.
But you must leave.
We will always have Wilmington.

67

Ride me, ride me

Ride me, ride me says the plastic toy who thinks it is a Derby winner

Swim me, swim me, says the empty pool who thinks it is the Mediterranean

Walk me, walk me, say the concrete slabs who think they are rolling landscape

Speak me, speak me, say the sagging wires who think they have voices of their own

Turn me, turn me, say the tired shadows who think they are part of the sun

Live me, live me, say the thousand bricks who think they are vital as air

Write me, write me, says the words of a poem who thinks it has a right to live

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