- Vol. 06
- Chapter 06
Less than three hours to go until they get here.
As well to wait here as anywhere. I have all I need, for now. I think I can assume that no one has noticed, that no one is watching, for now. There is a massive silence here, tier upon tier of it.
I’ll just wait here.
I don’t even know what game we will be playing.
Really, what can they expect of me? That I should get to my feet and run? I’m tired and I don’t understand the rules, the scoring, and what I would have to do to defeat them. If that is the mouth of the goal, I turn my face away from it.
Some time soon they will be coming, bringing their roar, their noise, their flags and colours, their plastic wrappers. Some time soon I’ll be discovered.
I’ll just wait here, turn my cheek to the ground and let my eyes rest. I don’t even know which way I should be facing. If that’s the goal it’s way behind me. I have long since crossed the line. I won’t look back at ground I can’t recover. I can’t see a way forward either. I’m not seeing the whole picture. Something missing—a nothing. 20 to 30. If so I am way past the line that is ahead of me already. This is not the bracket I fall into. I am not part of any team, and certainly not this one.
I don’t even know what game this is, or what the rules are. Whatever it is, I’m not playing. They can’t make me.
Some time soon, less than three hours now, they will charge in, with their spiked shoes, with their armour, with their gums guarded and slavering; with their thoughtlessness and unity of purpose; and they will pulverise my heart into the ground.
The air brings you novel sound, you sample its metal
You hear roars, heed the clamour
They are urgent, they say the world is your stage
You hope, seek, contend. You hear rhythm and song
You heave, snatch, fumble, sweat, slide
You tire, feel that first depletion, experience doubt
Yet still you thrust, claw, stretch, barrel
You heed the calls, listen to soft whispers. You wonder why they sometimes withdraw
They say this is all, your totality
You taste salt on your lip, feel blood pounding
You pause. Stand still. Wonder why the voices abandon. Finally, you steal a look
You see no faces, only folds of black, yet you hear their screams
They say this is a crucible, a test of your hopes
You know their urgency is empty. This a mausoleum, a trap for your dreams
You snap past the towers of noise and gaze forever upwards
They fall silent
You leap and reach
You make a claim upon the heavens. You smile. Your grasp claims nothing
You fall, taste earth, clutch the dirt.
You listen to muffled tongues, mutters that retreat. Before your closing eyes you see shadows lengthen and their darkness merge.
The players will be out soon – you should really get changed. You should get up and move, make yourself known, meet the managers and captains, let the teams know that you are here and you mean business.
But you like it here. Lying down, facing up. The serenity of the empty stadium, the uninterrupted quiet of the cloudless sky. Soon these stands will be filled with the uproar of heated cheers and violent groans – jeers from old and young – but for now everything is calm and you like it. No funny tummy, no aching head, just peace.
The players will be out soon to warm up: stretch calves, ping balls, test keepers. You should really get changed. Plaster that sham smile on your face. Come kick-off it will be your job to control the jokers, the jostlers, the swearers, the divers, the whiners, the downright disrespectful but for now it’s just you. You, the stadium and the sky. You close your eyes and let yourself drift off…
“Come on ref!” shouts a coach from the mouth of the tunnel. Silence broken. Not knowing what to retort from afar, you sluggishly get up, conforming to his instructions like one of his players might. You’re only the referee but you’ll need to show them who’s boss when the whistle blows. You’ve already got ground to make.
this pitch awaits a new champion
if only this man moves from lane 3
he’s lying on freshly cut grass
lines newly painted
like in a swimming pool
he takes the right–hand lane
but a couple of yards to the left
and he’ll be in the middle one
he’s not even racing
not looking back
or taking a breath
his suitcase floats beside him
a writer with a manuscript
caught between paths
unable to move
like a character in the novel
he hasn’t finished yet
Life is a games-pitch.
Turf looks smooth from up above,
from rows of tiered bleachers, but down
on the ground ill-shod footfalls skid on mud.
Shoulders slacken and fold under unfair heft
of brute, burgeoned weights and regulation cases.
Plus, progress requires orientation
when way-markers disappear. Flummox
those too near to see
proximity to coming darkness.
the lost and lonely pray.
Lie beside me on green turf
under sun’s unblinking gaze
smell the polymer fiber
rub a palm against the flat
leveled playing field, this field
of emerald dreams, zone
of ancient rights, armored
knights’ helmets molded
foam-padded plastic shells.
Lie near the white chalk
line, rake your finger tips
along its edge and count
the yards from white to white
roll with me to the edge
of this bucolic meadow
watered with the sweat
of cleated giants who thunder
within these contested fields.
We will play at play, you and I,
rest on the arena of defeat
wonder at rectangular beauty
the symmetry of parallel lines
contemplate our end zones.
Let us take our ease on this grassless pasture, this bucolic scene.
I am the unseen eye in the sky, the fly by, the one who scores a line across the blue with my feelers out, looking for what you don’t want me to see, because you think there is no-one watching, no-one paying you any attention, but you will find, if you should turn your eye, that I am there on high, the fly by sky guy who knows your every move.
Even when you are still.
You are still, on the ground, your face turned cheek to grass, I can smell the fresh turf, I can smell the white paint which marks a three that sizes you up and outdoes you, that three, it outdoes you in width and height, and the arrow next to it aims directly at your head like a weapon.
Your head, with its headphones on top delivering noise to your ears, I can guess the beat of your music from up here. I feel it in my chest like a caress.
Your scarf wrapped loose around you, its wool feels soft against my throat as I watch you lie there, just lie there, not going anywhere, your body all angles and splayed legs and looking for all the world like you’ve fallen, like you’ve tumbled down
and down again
until you’ve become the man who fell to earth, the still point of a turning world, above which I hover, quiet as a bird of prey, a lover of slight movements of air and every care for what happens below my machine.
My machine. Lens and rotor and spinning blades and freedom to roam.
I am the unseen eye in the sky, the fly by, the one who scores a line across the blue.Read more >
It was hard to leave. I had to leave in a way that wouldn’t be obvious, or else I’d have been stopped from going out at all. It took me a long time just to be allowed to go to school. I learnt very quickly that voicing what I wanted if I didn’t get it did not work. Sulking was out of the question. I had to be quietly manipulative, appear endlessly patient and make it seem as if any idea I had was in fact hers and that any benefit from it wouldn’t be for me but for her. I had to work so hard to bite my desire down, cover my tracks and continue to slowly, slowly inch towards escaping.
At no point did I say that I wanted to go because I felt so stifled, so hemmed in, so compressed. At no point did I say how much I loathed being near her. Instead, I talked of improving my employment prospects and improved employment prospects would mean more money coming in. The only thing that could compete with her desire to control everything from what I wore, who I saw and what I did, was her desire for more money. Having enough money would mean she would be able to keep things exactly as they were. As she cajoled the washing machine to stop it from spilling sudsy water, I’d muse about how if I went to school and got a job, I’d be able to buy us a brand new one that didn’t keep breaking down and we’d never have to go to the laundromat. She hated that place more than any other.
I kept to myself at school though oh how much I wanted to reach out and make a friend, someone I could have shared my secrets with. But she wouldn’t allow it, she wouldn’t let me stay after school for anything. I even had to go home for lunch. I had to start walking home as soon as the bell for the end of class went. She even timed how long it took me to walk home so she’d know if I was dawdling.Read more >
between the lines I lay (wo)manikined
top secret documents encased in briefcase
nestled with the wax wrapper from my free range vegan wrap
the turf of the playing field is close cropped
devoid of weeds, perfect in its own way
I was part of the play
in the game, the game of life as defined by somebody else
these are not my work clothes or my sports kit
I seem to be at the small end of 3
the big end of 20
and down and out for the count
I did this once
and no crowd roared
no one wanted a photograph
just the breath from a winding
the soles of my shoes to be available
and I played that part to well, without dropping the ball
there was no ball to drop or pass on to a team mate
after the parade I hurry on with a door I could not open I laugh the way people laugh spying from their phones
the rich commuters and strangers board the train to New Haven the home of plummy proudness and steady habits
(where the pay phone was invented) and their small nods of civility through the train window a bendy body in a borrowed bed
a man hanging from a rope leaning in to whisper with an open mouth holding a megaphone wide echoes of men unwashed surrounded by cardboard white vertical lines
these porous boundaries quickly dissolve and blur far behind me like a picture taken by children from a moving car in winter a brilliant stream of accumulated useless objects
souvenirs of the unforgiven woven into the steady sound of hammers droning with my eyes closed in this shimmering plain oddness of a wordless moment
Some time back we visualized you on the beach,
coolly holding out against the workaday world.
Welcome home, transfixed though you are to this fresh pitch,
abruptly put out to grass. How's tricks, friend? You weld
one hand to your bronze bag. Holden, how *is* the novel
coming along? (Stewie: "Gotta, gotta compelling
protagonist?" Also: "Gotta . . . Beginning, middle
and end?") Mockery. Sorry. Really, it's swell you're back, fulfilling
your destiny. You flat-out prince of a guy!
Now stay right there between the lines, OK? I spy
the teams, the teachers, the phoneys – 25 yards out
or thereabouts. They're asking: *who in hell is that?*
The head linesman wasn't looking for this kind
of scrimmage. He takes a knee; and offers you his hand.
It’s the dream you’ve been having for a while… Everything is green in your green dream.
A train whistles green in the distance; people get on and off. You need to depart first in order to arrive. Some can do it without an instrument, or so you've heard, like the green wind forcing its green breath out through the puckered lips in the green trees. You never learned to whistle properly.
You were so in love with life in your twenties. When did life fall out of love with you? Or is it the other way round?
All of a sudden, you hear a high-pitched, airy sound in your green dream.
You’re whistling in the dark if you think I’m going on without you. 20x3 is not the end of the world. Get your ass off the ground.
I’ve started. You just catch up.
I’m the only one who’s entitled to stop the match. (Blows whistle twice to resume play. On with the show playing.) The whole trick is to whistle along.
Dawn breaks early;
Sunlight dances on a still face.
A collapsed angel lies as if asleep,
sinking into the unity of existence.
At one with every blade of grass,
Sister to the birds in the sky.
Every living thing bears witness.
An off duty cheerleader lies,
In the camouflage of a New England leaf in fall.
From a distance, she looks at peace;
a mobile in one hand and a clutch bag in the other
Waiting to be found.
From a distance, the crime scene looks
more like an act of meditation.
Serene — as if she chooses to be there
To mock star players who never knew she existed.
A conscious act of placement;
Not just the discarded remnants.
One more victim on the field of dreams.
I went to the gym, the one in Charlotte Street,
With the electric rows of machines,
And the office girls in skim sleek
Tights, layered up to the holocene.
I bought a desk set, a tasteful nest
Of minimalist acrylate boxes;
And a plant, too, a fringe-tressed
Joke of fern whose soil-nested coccyx
Was the width my days should be,
If I could wear my hair in a messy bun.
Ninetofive not TenSixEightThree,
I would not lie awake in the dun
Pre-dawn little mornings wanting
Not wanting this ponytailed ordination,
In the aerobics studio mirror caught
Coordinate bouncing incantations
To the circularity of days:
Home, Work, Tube—normalcy.
Of which I, incapable, dormant
Dormouse death’s-head moth,
Too voluble for downers, too small-veined,
Too uncourageous for cocaine.
At Charlotte Street, I admired them
Aspired like potted aspidistra,
Like hipster Hackney Monstera deliciosa,
- Lie down in the field with the highest number. If the number is even, find the next-highest odd number. If the field has exactly two arrows, move two fields to the left. If the field has a yellow line, do NOT step on it and move to the field on your right.
This was their first set of instructions.
- The highest number of what? People? Pigeons? Potholes?
- You will know when you get there. Facing the number in your field, lie in a position which, viewed from above, could make you seem either dead or travelling. Hence the briefcase with matching jacket and shoes. If you end up in the wrong field or face the wrong direction, you will be terminated immediately. If you follow instructions, you will hitch a ride. It can get loud, so don’t forget the ear muffs. And remember, 0 is not a number.
- How am I to tell number 6 from number 9? Does it have a little dot next to it?
I was quite proud of my question. It sounded like one of those they might not have counted on. A question like that can be a matter of life and death.
- The numbers don’t go as high as that.
- But above all, bear in mind the precondition without which you will be stuck there in that field, neither dead nor alive, until the end of time: Wrap a towel around your arm in the colour of your trousers. You must always know where your towel is.
a ‘big boy.’
not shy at all,
love knows itself
Unfooled by doubt,
unminded of decorum,
untainted by experience.
The ways of not being two
and the almost whys of being four —
the consequence of three.
The perfect consequence
The game is played between the lines.
The sun shines on the verdant field,
remembering the roar of excited crowds
as ancient warriors, almost forgotten
from a time of chariots and gods of war,
battle for victories and wreaths of laurel
but the time of ancient warriors are gone,
as the time for battles of new warriors has arrived
with new crowds roar for their heroes' victories.
The sun now shines on a more peaceful field,
remembering battles ancient and past
whilst the dreamer dreams of battles yet to come.
The dream is always the same—
I wake up, fully clothed,
briefcase in hand,
in rush mode.
Only I can’t move.
Not one muscle will cooperate.
Instead of running to the tube station,
I am lying flat
on an American football field,
anesthetized by the scent of hot dogs,
stale popcorn, and turf.
It’s a hot, synthetic fiber scent
that shoots up my nostrils.
I must be awake.
What dream scratches the skin
No direction feels like the right direction.
So, I remain there, motionless—
watching myself from above
in this out-of-body experience,
where the air up here
can only be better than what awaits me below.
this Velcro life existence
resembles that moment when you see someone,
and you can’t remember their name.
You also can’t escape the face-to-face meet up
that is about to happen.
Read more >
Every straggling half-decade or so
I am dragged back reluctantly
to the old home ground.
We inherited each other, the team and I,
passed down through generations.
The best thing about living on the other side of the moon
is escaping the hooks of traditional barracking.
God help me, the cringe of the quarter-time entertainments
as a dizzied pair wobble kicks at the goals.
The sacramental pies made as they ever were,
and the holy cup fizzes flat with yellowing lager.
We take our plastic seats solemnly in the shady slice,
and I crane to watch them dash and kick,
no longer knowing a single name down below.
But even if the details have changed, the ceremony feels the same.
Red-tinged faces staring hopedrunk at a blue sky,
desperate for their lot to fly unerring to the mark.
You'd think we'd know better by now.
There's the proper heart-pain as they slip behind the score
until no one believes they can make it up anymore
and we talk about leaving, only part-joking, before the next siren.
A man behind us shouts down, seamlessly switching to work-phone abuse.
There's gnashing of teeth, mournful howls of outrage and despair,
and I realise that I'm part of the cacophony too.
Oh, arrogant chump! — to believe that I was too far away
to sink back into this raw ritual of lost victories.
Of course, as we leave, a blind optimist raises his head
and shouts out a profession of faith in the season next year.
those hushed whispers
are trying you to clamor you
they are trapping you, slowly and surely
and pitching an invisible fence around you
those loud cheers
those blaring noises of excitement
like something new is unraveling,
the air is thick with the smell of victory
with people busy lining
those placards are riding high in the air
heavy with the victorious smell
that sweet musky fragrance
you can hear the foot taping
how everybody aligns themselves to happiness,
the thick magnet pulling every one
This tide of life
this elixir of happiness
is pulling you in
you are getting drenched in it
with each pore of your existed dabbed
with this serenity
I went all out for you
once upon a time
Cloud nine —
the full nine yards
You took me to the moon
once upon a time
till I found myself trapped
mid-air free falling
solid ground is that place
from which I roll
Drumroll — over you
played once, twice shy
will I go all out for you
TO: Dan - editor, Sports section, Miami Tribune.
FROM: Jimmy - sports reporter, Miami Tribune.
I’m getting this in straightaway Dan before Twitter goes wild.
The game was going fine until halftime when suddenly this body falls from the sky - smack into the centre of the field.
People are saying he was a stowaway — a migrant? A refugee maybe?
Apparently they get up in the undercarriage before planes take off, freeze to death at altitude, then hours later when the gear comes down they fall to Earth frozen solid.
I guess this must be it because there was no blood no splatter he just hit the ground and lay looking up clutching a little damn case.
The terrible thing is everyone was silent for a second then gave an almighty cheer — a cheer for God’s sake! Like it was the half time entertainment or a goddamn Trump rally.
They didn’t know who he was, what he was or how he got there. We don’t even know he fell from a plane or what plane he fell from.
So I don’t know whether they were cheering the thought of one less refugee or just cheering death itself, but it turned me cold, chilled to my heart.
The crowd all stamping and cheering a dead man like a crooked cartoon on a painted field.
Dan tell me this isn’t what we’ve become?
It’s a perfect world sometimes. But then things
Like this happen. You were simply making
Your way to your next appointment, briefcase
In hand (which along with your belt and shoes
You’d oiled the night before). That jaunty scarf.
It wasn’t like you to bounce out of the house
In such a manner. But there you went.
The front porch fell off into an abyss.
Out you walked, plummeting through a blue sky.
It seemed almost pleasant, then you landed
Like this, on the plush grass cropped perfectly
By half a dozen zero-turn mowers
Droning on as they do on sunny days,
Clouds like gray cattle grazing overhead.
Survival is overrated.
When you can bring yourself
to a pause or maybe a stop,
even when you're just three steps
and there're twenty more to go
(or vice versa).
When it's easy
to cut the hands reaching for your throat
a silver jack into a port.
The music, the air,
when you can reclaim both
as your own.
Survival is overrated.
When you know
this will last forever (or not).
This green tenderness,
this soft, rhythmic flow
of the wind, the white light,
nothing starts and stops with
not even your faint heart
with its weak strengths
and strong fragilities.
Survival is overrated.Read more >
the grass elongated
splashed a vivid green
the air was full of scythes
to keep it in place
more lines, more demarcation,
a choice of font
to failures of initiatives
the grass was still lush
the end of education
now lie down, sleep
It’s the last quarter, all to play for.
Time Out. The clock is stopped.
You called Time Out —
was that on the game,
or on our marriage?
The clock is stopped.
I claim injury time because
I can’t leave the field
with a broken heart.
The clock is stopped.
Should I appeal to the replay
official, the review panel?
Please. I’d like a replay.
Things were so good
at the beginning,
right from the kick-off;
every week we got the extra
point after touchdown.
You were my quarter-back
hero, calling the play.
Where did it go sour,
become an incomplete pass?
Is the man part of rescue mission
Or needs to be rescued himself?
Is any player injured and needs
To be shifted out of the field
Or just a first-aid will do?
Is he a medico, a physio or a
Manager? Or is he part of
Some peace-keeping mission
Taking a break on the pitch?
Or is he an official, inspecting
The pitch to find out made-in-a-hurry
Glitches or is he just a spectator,
Who has sauntered onto the pitch
After the match is over?
Is it a pitch where big boys play or
Is it a space from where you launch
Yourself in a mission, maybe to
The outer space or maybe to
Your inner space, unobserved by others!
Who can tell?
Somewhere between here and there
and the enumerated nonsensical,
he fell straight down, landing on his side.
From above, he looks to be strolling
down the horizontal pitch.
Make no mistake though,
his fall was vertical and serious.
We don’t know if he walked off
an abyss, or was pushed off a plane.
If you were to approach him
he would not move for he is deader
than dead, his eyes wide open
as if were about to score a goal.
The music still blares from his iPod
filling his deaf ears with a new age
ambient dirge. The grass is soaking up
his blood as if it were real. The cops
will go through his papers, all blank,
and his wallet, identifying him as a
cartoon character (Mr. Magoo).
The coroner will declare his death
the result of a fall from on high.
People are holding vigils. They look
up to the sky for an answer but
no clue appears, only the clouds
calmly passing by. There he lays
Read more >
whatever the urgency was it's over
a stillness after haste
large numbers on cut grass
mowed for speed long gone
the man on the grass is dead
has been shot no blood
is exhausted by work was late
his briefcase is empty is finished
time up at
three minutes past eight in the evening
It’s easier to listen when one is alone and cold. When one has no warmth to speak of or cling to. When one is out of hope, at least for now.
I ran here, to this field, not even dropping off my briefcase after work. I was breathless by the time I arrived but didn’t break a sweat because the temperature is perfect and forgiving, the kind of temperature that eases itself between your knuckles but doesn’t make you shiver. Not yet.
Andy died five years ago today. He would have been twenty-two, like me. He would have had a good job, like me. Spent too much money, like me. I ran here because I almost forgot it was today.
But now with my ears to the wet ground, I remember. I remember everything. His hands, his stride, his voice, the way he drove, the way he wouldn’t let anyone get through the day without enough to eat. He was 6’3” and 190 pounds but he always shared what he had. I didn’t. I still don’t. Maybe that’s why he’s gone.
I can hear him through the turf today. He’s saying, “Give until you can’t,” something he always said, and I can’t, Andy. I can’t.
Above his desk are quotes he decorated in Sunday School.
Every day you’ve got to be your best self.
It’s a sin to waste a God-given talent.
His mother had put them into frames and nailed them to his wall, like Christ to the cross.
Irwin pinches the clay between his finger and thumb and rolls it. Already the heat of his body is making it soft. He breathes carefully, through his mouth, leans forward and selects the tool he needs from the array beneath the lamp. It illuminates his desktop like an operating theatre. The white clay is still too big. He uses the tip of his thumbnail to lever off a chunk and commences rolling and moulding again.
‘Irwin.’ His mother’s voice is raised up over the hymns blasting from the radio. He can picture her, face glazed with the pan steam, pinafore tight around her skinny frame. ‘Irwin, set the table please.’ He presses a little too hard. The tiny earphones snap. He sighs and balls them back to indeterminate clay.
‘Irwin!’ The edge is there now. He squashes the ball into an oval and stares at it, imagines it life-sized, tucked against his armpit and his ribs. He flies across the turf, legs like pistons and lungs on fire. He makes the line and dives in exultation. The boys crowd round and coach pulls his head in close. ‘See you for practice on Sunday. You’re looking good, kid.’
Irwin lays the ball on the desktop and squashes it flat beside the miniature briefcase, the tiny crumpled jacket and the minuscule pair of blue jeans. He reaches forward and switches out the light. He unhooks his earphones from around his neck and picks up his Bible.
Football: where neither the ball is spherical
Nor is it kicked with a foot as often as it sounds.
I would not know, because in the glimpses I got
From the Youtubed (24x7) Late Night show references,
There were terms packed in pom-poms (?!), inert
Words, internet-shipped, gloriously spilling mid-air,
Weather ricocheting like a deferred delivery
As if we all wore the sweaters too soon, in the
American summer scorching across both the
Hemispheres, with ads like 1789 war-songs (on sale).
It’s 20th of March, 3:20 PM, I am 3 going on 20,
There is no way to finish this frozen walk.
Superbowl: was it Beyonce who won it?
NFL: is it close to IPL or EPL or LOL?
Pitch: was it a patch of grass with new ideas?
Home-run: is it where one runs home in words?
It is long since I was caught, mid-tiptoe to sheepskin,
I have changed tracks now. I’d rather stay iridescent
the age when I went to work one morning,
and vowed, "never again"
will I attempt to pass myself off
as a useful entity the day after
a "let's go for a beer after work,"
unintentional bender the previous night.
The dizzy nausea produced by
angry vascular kick drums in my temples
enough to bring indestructible,
early-adult exuberance to its knees.
I just need to lie down for a minute,
This looks like a good place—
at the back end of my age bracket.
I can feel the summit of middle age
looming. If I go horizontal
it remains in the distance,
and I can begin to slow my hyper-
ventilation at this imaginary altitude.
This stubborn insight comes
on the heels of another realization—
getting stoned prior to work,
no longer doable, either.