- Vol. 01
- Chapter 02
A Rhumb Line (1969)
If I drew a line through all
our births over five centuries
from the Silk Road to the Satloj,
through the woolly Khyber
—its dark resinous opium
wending towards Lahore,
pockets of carved stones—
at one end would be the seed
ferrous imbricate hybrid
yellowing thorn of wheat
At the other
the June waking the July waking
to inedible sheaves, to age,
to our hair falling out, our eyes
clouding with disease
and the children
that keep on never coming
wild logic scythe in hand
barefoot harvesting all night
high on morphine
We gather things
In the milk room:
Bones seamed with
Light, the boards
Made their beds
In colder years.
These sad things,
And the requiem
Form the basis
Of our permanent
Taking them from
You is a kindness.
We bring them
To this pure place,
Stretch out arms,
A breakthrough at last!…see below.
General survey – Week 30
The mirror remains blank.
No sign of her face in it yet,
applying dark powder to both eyelids
with a brush,
or the trademark black line
with a stroke of the pen.
Both brush and pen inert,
displaying no proof of use.
The robe lies discarded on the bed.
No evidence for residual moisture
from the shower,
or any of the lingering body-warmth
usually associated with recent wear.
As such it must accurately,
be regarded as ‘pristine’.
The hairdryer is cool to the touch,
its switch set to the ‘off’ position.
All indications suggest it’s been a while
since this product was used
in the ritual known as ‘the most boring five minutes of the day’.
My mother terrified me. She was fragile, as every good woman should be, but impenetrable, never raising her voice or losing her purse. She was too clean to smell of anything, and when, on the rare occasion I’d manage to touch her (which, she hated) she was neither hot nor cold. She always looked the same, immaculate and weightless as if she might shiver in the wind. But I never saw her shiver or sweat – she was man-made with thermal ventilating vests, 100% cashmere, lined boots and hairspray. She was built to last. She cut the air in any room and would cut you too as only paper can, a searing shock that would prick your eyes but draw no blood, the most elegant of wounds.
She required nothing of me and that was where my fascination lived. The silent awe. I liked to examine her when she was busy, unpick the separate parts that made up the whole, those secret seams that kept her, day after day, so neatly stuck together. And yet, it seemed, the harder I looked, the less I saw. She would disappear before me and I’d retreat unsatisfied with the conclusion, ‘uninterestingly unnatural’. As a teenager, I hated her for this. I thought it nothing more than a cheap trick but now I see it was magic. Or witchcraft. She made herself her own illusion and made the unnoticeable, the ignorable, invisible housewife the only thing you could look at.
I wish origami had a scent,
like a new book,
or an old one.
I wish you could sense
my lingering fingers
on the fish, on the frog,
on the flower I make for you.
How do I begin to explain
that a stone in a river
has been touched more times than it can remember?
That it knows so much more
than it is able to say.
Until I can name the smell of the air near your sea, there shall be no rest, my love. To cast away the effrontery of the vulgar, merely mimetic piece you sent me the other day, I write to fertilise us. Read yourself:
In the garden of many flowers
of shapes and colours
all pleasant to the mind,
an impertinent voice is heard
obstructing buds and men alike.
What putrid smell is this?
As though some creature died!
Won't stand this torture any longer;
I pack my nose and fly!
In the garden of many flowers,
of shapes and colours
all pleasant to the eye,
the wicked voice still lingers.
Tell me how? The man has died...
Where did the colours go?
Now only corpses lie.
The sight... Simply appalling -
Let's leave at once! I'm shy.
The moment passes. I don’t rightly know what to feel.
My mother always used to say she could read the progress of my thoughts in my face, good or bad. Wirz calmly knots his wheat stalks and does the same.
“You can’t let it upset you, brother.”
He smiles and tucks the finished braid into my shirt pocket. I’m surprised how beautiful it is.
“For luck. Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
How could I think of my mother?
“Won’t be many more like it now, eh? Reckon we’re about a week shy of the harvest here. It’s a good healthy crop.”
“There was this old hand I got to know a while back. He was a scholar, a real one from one of the big universities. I forget which. He always came through without any of the carry-on you usually get when this stuff starts to wind down. He’d just pick his spot and open a book. I asked him one day how he managed it. Thought I might learn something. It wasn’t the laws or the orders he said. They were just words that changed with the thinking back home. We know all about that, right? No, he said. It’s where you’re at with moral consequence.Read more >
Her eyes cannot recall
The days of flesh.
Nerves running through skin cells like children playing
The adrenaline clash like
Thunder through skies.
Skin is now sloughed;
Memories warp its surface like
Ink bleeding through paper
As metal becomes all there ever is
All there ever was.
We find ourselves in a deep white space:
his voice, my voice, his hand, my hand.
We are the warmest tenderness
but the coolest anger,
the biggest love,
but the deepest distress.
What can save us from ourselves?
There's no certainties when it comes to feelings.
Still, we are going to lay in our deep white space,
shaping our bodies with our fingers
forgetting about the other side
hoping that one day there will be only one.
I carve you a flower
with this same knife
that cut my name
into the wall.
I miss your willowing white
just a touch of blush
veining through by the warmth
Bedded and wafting to silent words
your purity unfolded, seeking into the blue
to taste the first drop of rain.
Content to feed at the sun's count
and sleep with the moon.
Echoes of my childhood scatter,
scatter on the night breeze,
tumble-toss like dandelion clocks
over forgotten fields of bleached smiles
- flaxen seeds on fragile stems
I cannot catch.
In vivid dreams I chase murmurings,
trip over atoms of the past.
Lost faces blink at me. I snatch
the edge of dimmed voices,
a father's 'all is well'.
My mother gave the latch-hook wall hanging
to my brother one year for Christmas.
It was something new she’d started doing
to pass the time and distract herself
from missing people in the dead hours before sleep.
We did not know what the gift was when he opened it,
and I could see him trying not to look puzzled,
trying to keep from showing what I knew he was thinking:
What is this thing? Why would she think I would like this?
Have I ever spoken of latch-hook wall hangings before?
Did she think the latch-hook golden wheat
would be the thing that would join them,
that somehow wheat was earth and her only son
was that to her: earth, stronger than blood,
lasting longer than a hug or kiss or tear of sadness.
absorbing light through
to the under-side's shade
roots severed a cross is negative
a Y states yes for attachment if
if anybody wants to connect
if they know how to record a clear yes
soften the harsh-as-Striding Edge and scary
toughen-up&buffer the re-wounding turn of any shoulder
don't get blown around faster than Earth by a candle's waft
make sound - dried rape in rain! And not worn down by storms
(with a nod to J.M. Barrie)
I have never
smelled the wheat
in its twilit field—
nor will I ever.
But I imagine it
to be the heady sweetness
of the slow-limbed languor
of the stalk
that bides its time
with dreams and visions
until the thresher,
blades polished by purpose,
to its destiny.
in this room
the walls unfurl
o p e n
a furnace floral
worlds a million
a paper sconce
in this room
ink windowless and white
a dichotomous promise
penned in another galaxy.
What he believed in
wasn’t living, paper flowers,
wooden buds. The moths
around him were made of wax,
how I hated their wings
for melting into the lamp.
When he spoke to me, he imagined
someone else, a cut-out doll
whose edges weren’t frayed.
This was the secret
to our relationship, we didn’t know
who the other was, except
for the shadows we left
on gravestones, the sculptures
And when he asked me to kiss him,
all I could think of was how he knew
I wasn’t alive.
you said that the paper flowers
were too white, too perfect
like the hospital bed sheet
you refused to sleep on
and I had to drive all the way back
to 34 Park Road to retrieve your blue
bed sheet with the planets appliqued —
you believed that to have the best dreams
one would have to put one's head on Mars.
I wonder if it would please you
to see me add to the immaculate bunch
the flower I discarded, the one with my paper cut
sprayed blood dots on the petal edge —
to bring you better dreams, I wonder how many more
red planets my fingers still have to shed
All the crucialities that come down to
what you may scatter when you leave this life
the steam that rises off your rooftop once the sun has warmed enough to melt what settled overnight
the child-sized menhirs of your grief, set back from the house, where they can’t confront you every time you glance out the back window
the swaying cradle of sleep with its moanings, its promises of French plums and waking
aches, bruises of tempest or simple cloud, remnants of addictions,
fragile fronds of deceit sharp enough to slit the skin
You gather these stems in your sweaty hands. You are bride of life
with a bouquet of floating dissipation and faint shadows.
You toss to your waiting maids a pocketful of vapor,
gravity’s collection, the sound the pebbles make when they touch water at the bottom of the well. That hopeful wave, that echo in the round.
In swingeing winds
cool air buffets us,
teased out singletons.
white, crisp, delicate
negatives of fate.
broken from the roots,
it's our last intimacy.
we couldn't reach you
the dry path you took
the light you cut
from the paper stems
we couldn't hold you
behind the white wall
we saw you leaving
force stark petals
along our fingers
was not wrested from us
It was always supposed to be white
With a silent warmth
My senses are saturated with that white
And that creaseless mind
Stops wandering through the window of sky
It then settles, settles slowly to hold
Just a few drops of petals
Smelling the words of past
Sketching the words of string
I don’t know
When I put the stem in to the ivory ink
And started writing my dream!
There are cracks in my knowledge
Gaping open, flapping in a breeze
What came first, the chicken or the egg?
Who cares, except the poor hen that fucked
and clucked her way to Exodus.
I bet it hurt: a riot of feathers and blood
A carnival of bone marrow and cracked
beaks. The peeping sound of new life
And the hen vomits, exhaustedly happy
To be part of an eternal riddle
I remember standing next to a beached
whale. The men who found it told us:
Step backwards. Step backwards. Move!
It was edging closer to explosion...
And I was really excited, couldn’t
bloody wait for guts to spew over sea.
A grotesque little girl, always waiting
For death, pain and grotty beauty.
And there are things I’ll never know
Like who has the fish? And how do
You manage to bend that way when
I touch you there.
I stared at the paper flowers for long, wondering what to do next. Should I call him? I wasn't too sure what I would tell him. Rather ask. He may not have left his name, but I knew it was him. I had caught his many glances towards my side. That sly corner of the eye look too. If only he could directly approach me and tell me what was on his mind.
The return of an ex lover is never a good thing. It refreshes a lot of buried memories and is a constant reminder of a failure. In my case, he was a bad decision. I was looking for distractions when my parents passed away, when he landed perfectly in my life. He was stranger at the hospital who approached me with a paper rose, offering his condolences. That was the first time I had smiled that day.
Emotional dependency is a bad thing, I realized that much later. He was always there for me, but after some time it seemed like I had become a liability to him. A constant nagging liability. He supported me for a while, until he could no longer take it. He left, bringing out the cynic in me once again.
It took me a lot of strength and courage to come out of the pain. A year later, I had metamorphosed into somebody I barely knew. I was independent in every way and stayed away from attachment. Emotions did not mean anything anymore. I was happy and that's all that mattered.
When he had joined my organization a month ago, I wondered why he was here. He did not try to talk to me nor did I make an effort. We worked without coming in each others way. But why had he left the flowers now?
Refusing to go through it all over again, I slowly grab the flowers and drop it into the dustbin, very aware of his eyes on me. I sit down and immerse myself in work, like always. The cynic in me continues to live on.
There was a time limit. Students were given a budget, notebook and the access code for the 3D printer. The only rule was not to make something designed to injure life, limb or property.
Hamish began in his first free period. A quiet young man. No one was surprised that he went straight to the library.
In the first week Hamish produced a list. Its heading -Things to borrow (ask for) and things to learn to do.
Flip chart stand
In the second week Hamish began writing computer code and another list - Things to buy
Waterproof matting with heating element
In the third week Hamish continued to write code.
In the fourth week he wrote more code.
In the fifth week he started wearing a white laboratory coat whenever he wrote code.Read more >
You asked for flowers, you have them.
They are not freshly picked
and reek with heavy scent, as you can see
they are fashioned from paper.
Each one was folded
to resemble a papyrus plant.
Imagine them cut,
the outer fibres of the stalks peeled
away and the inner core sliced
into thin strips - the best quality are found at the centre.
They are soaked in water for days,
to remove the sugar content.
The strips now spongy and soft
are rolled flat and dried
before being cut to the desired length.
Next they are pounded to remove excess water
and the strips are laid side by side,
overlapping slightly - another set placed
at right angles to the first.
The strips are now a sheet, pounded again
and left under a heavy stone to dry for days.
Finally the sheet is polished
to a smooth sheen with a shell.
Now imagine just one of these flowers
is my heart.
How come flowers can be paper?
flowers are for smelling
flowers are for stroking
flowers are for serenity
flowers are for simplicity
flowers are for showing love
flowers are for seeking forgiveness
flowers are for shaking out seeds
flowers are for sadness
flowers are for secret lovers
flowers are for shrines
flowers are for silence
flowers are for showy-ness
flowers are for superstition
flowers are for success
How come flowers can be paper?
Sculpted in double cream,
their faces upturned, filled with air,
as though seeking sustenance
from a sun they cannot sense.
Were the fingers that fashioned them
as long and sinuous as their stems,
teasing, with sensual delight,
each pointed leaf, each thimbled flower head -
leaving them to settle like meringue?
It is no use crying over paper.
It can be bent.
It can be burnt.
It can be marred, spoiled, stained.
It can be cut into thousands of pieces, folded into new forms, or simply blown away.
It is no use crying over beauty.
It can be destroyed just as easily.
And yet. There is an "and yet."
It is upon paper that we have written our story.
We choose, of all mediums, the fragile one.
God writes on stones, and yet we write on the fabric of trees.
Trees that live and die as we do.
What does that say about God?
What does that say about us?
We choose paper. We choose beauty.
There is something irresistible about mortal things.
Perhaps we fear that which will outlive us.
So we store our books in houses that can burn.
We keep our letters in boxes that can mold.
We love beauty when time has already set its target.
We yearn for paper flowers.
We cry when they are crushed.
And yet we still manage to throw them away.
After all, some things were not made to last.
I have seen these
balancing on his hand
like a lisp
totters on the tops
I have taken them now,
and drained the color.
It is soaked and swollen
in a jar
and I will bleed it
into a blouse,
leaving the petals
to drift and dissolve.
“Where have all the flowers gone”
The sea has taken them.
We have a desert mentality now
until the sea reminds us.
The tide marches in
and surges where it will.
It destroys our shores.
Prays on our weakness,
Limits our actions.
And turns us again
and waiting for nature
to whisper “All clear”.
And is there a more
poignant cry than from
washed-up seal pups?
Wrenched from mothers
with the finality of
in a war zone.
Some dead on arrival.
With no flowers in their
salty and encrusted wreaths.
brow creased satin folds
behind a fair fringe.
turned the paper
Wots it gonna be?
Wots a patience?
Wait and see
it means wait and see.
turned the paper
Why a boat?
Coz I can float it.
It’ll go soggy and sink
not a boat.
Animal, say it.
Aminal. Wot aminal is it?
Not an a n i m a l?
Ohhh. Why not? Like aminals!
A n i m a l.
Say it properly.
In the dark
I call your name
now that you are gone.
Night tries to speak
with the voice
of the Moon.
gently as petals,
the way water
forms into snow,
white on white,
Commission: a living pod of organic shape
and texture, with a sense of suspended space.
The design: an emergent form pushing, a force
bursting upwards, bending columns topped
with capitals of a layered, opened calyx,
each sepal taut and separate to support
an architrave of air; your ears, alert
to susurration, will hear the rush, sleek
and rustling, of respiration, circling breath
around the building; you'll feel bricks drift
imperceptibly, shifting place when rough
winds batter, but the walls, malleable and soft,
will give but never shatter. These are semi-detached,
energy-efficient homes. See prototype attached.
And then these thin stems,
these white fingers of fleshy
fauna, stretched forward to
peer at my face.
I was as open as a mourning
lily, but as closed as a flower
in morning -
and then these thin wrists
reached for me, in memoriam,
and realisation hit hard, like
a hard stone punch of words
resting above your final death
bed of flowers and soil and
a strangely detached epitaph -
that these thin limbed things
should choose to grow
out of the ground where you sleep
soundless, and without the thunder
that cracked when your chest still rose
to the occasion.
They are all plants,
wood and paper and card.
Why would any one make a flower?
These flowers are super real,
can real flowers fly?
These flowers are super real,
they have the deathless elegance of
Why bother with colour,
we may be the epitome of flowers.
Or an alien abstraction of wood or paper or card,
why would any one make a flower?