• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 05
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Costs

I’m holding this still. It has been printed onto white A4. It’s got that slight shine, that depth of colour of a good printer. The details are sharp and the black isn’t even that grainy. It will have cost at least 4p to print.

“That’s nothing,” says the white man in the armchair. “A drop in the ocean. Do you know how much my trousers cost?” He’s not bothered; he leans back in his recliner and dangles.

1

Dust

In the airless air, a mote
Barely breathing
Dust in sunlessness,
In the space between the sea and the sky, between even the surface and itself

This womb is without pulse and hollow, it suffocates,
It withers reaching root-tendrils like fingers curling, empty
Thirsting for dirt, drowning above water

You think you are God
But you won’t fill a breath.

2

Man in space

Floating, where I don’t know
No dream, just stuck in my own thoughts, but I am lonely.
It is strange how looking at the world I feel that I am connected to the people. Yet I have no connection to anyone out here. Thinking over my life when I return – what will I be? There were the things I thought so important. How many a test, a hardship, would seem so small – if only I had the vision of the earth that I see now.
Pitch black, no sound, it is distant a small man/woman in a big universe on the edge of where there is no edge. The planet so beautiful: and emptiness too. The return will be a new life – or should I stay in space and help build a station to inhabit? The distance needs to be closed, the contact needs to be increased over time, this will happen. To reach our earth and ourselves.

3

The whites of eyes

The heart falls slowly
So desperate to cling
To the margin of sky
With a suit too white,
And no sign of tsunami
And no surge of nausea
Or thick oily spew.
White pus in your very pores.
Way too clean for that
We rise above, above the slick
Of body on body of a dark
That destroys the soul
Arms and legs akimbo
A shy gesture
‘Please, no bloody chunks
No beached de-blubbered whale’
A far cry to be embraced,
It slips out of the grasp
Of that flat milky blue.

4

Floating

Untethered, a slight tilt, a little floating comma drifting out of all relation into dark nothing – a blank in blackness – twisting away away away…

Gravity always holds us cradled in her arms like a scab she nurses but we cannot take this as love. The ocean, that great gaping heart of the world, calls out to us, aching and bruised, but still we edge away, inch by inch, all the time paralysed by heavy-duty suits and exceptionalism, as we reach out, rigidly, for a hug.

You hold yourself aslant, the tip of your own hemisphere, a circumference hole and entire, above clouds and horizons and ozone layers. No one knows you exist, unfathomable spot, the million million man, outside of the atmosphere but never out of sight.

5

Man in the moon

When I think of him it drives me crazy
It just explodes in my head.
Rather a fear then a relief.
Flying, babies, gravitation - ?
You feel more alone when you’re thinking of the rest of the world.
Bacteria you can’t simply see and the huge worlds you can’t understand. It’s not about me or you – something bigger or maybe something really small.
A view from above or look up from underneath.
In all alone or all alone. In a long way it’s grounded
In the noise of the dark and the shine
Of the world in a child’s eye.

6

I’m not there

I’m not there or should I say here but where is here cos I’m in the middle of nowhere alone with my thoughts. Yesterday is history and tomorrow is a mystery cooking for something new so I can make it a history. Floating and floating all on my own lost in my thoughts this is my zone till I enter the ozone I wont be alone. Stuck in this suite thinking of soup.
I’m so far but yet so near wishing on a star wishing you were here.

7

I need my own space in space

Take me away, take me away from the troubles in my life.
Let me soar like an eagle in the sky.
20/20 vision oops, yeah there’s a lizard,
Take a peep let me investigate.
Ah no I was dreaming let’s get back. Let me elaborate on
What! Why my conscience can’t set me free.
First my troubles, then my day dreams, now my conscience – leave me alone that’s why I am in space in my own space     to relax and relax my tension
Not for vengeance.

8

Destiny

He falls. An astronaut falls, defying gravity. Suspended in time, he is an image to behold. The image bewitches the sight and the faculty of the mind. I cannot tell whether he is ascending or descending. Is he suspended in a vacuum of time? I can see clearly now. He is descending from darkness to light.

I am told an image narrates countless tales: tales of courage, pity, victory and loss. To decipher the meaning of an image one must close the eyes and look deep inside and allow the heart to speak. “Empty the mind.” “Speak, o my heart!” “Speak, don’t hold back!”

I open my eyes and I see the reality. I see things clearly now. A man floating from light to darkness. He has no control. He has no power over destiny. He can only let go and allow fate to take him.
9

Voicemail

Bella, I have to tell you about last night. It was long without a middle, and even when I saw the sun it was still night. Anyway, I want to tell you about what I saw. I was entirely by myself and not in a lonely way; I wasn’t alienated, or deserted and it wasn’t like waiting for you to get home, or even like a ten-storey library at night. Not even like the desert. I couldn’t feel anyone, even at the very furthest fingernail reaches of my consciousness. I couldn’t hear you in my head, telling me to be careful. You didn’t exist last night, Bella, and it wasn’t like you faded away or sank behind the horizon. Last night you’d never been real, and I’m not sure I had either. I’m trying to tell you that – Bella – in the realest, carve it into the granite way I think everything: your mum, the damp, will resolve itself into nothing and be swallowed up in a sunless night. I would like to be too, because when I tried it last night it wasn’t bad at all. Anyway Bella I’ll see you soon.
I’ve lost my keys but I’ll wait for you to let me in.

10

Lonely man in space

He looks so close but yet he’s so far away.
Is he on his own or is he with a friend?
Does he feel lonely floating above the Earth.
Can he see us from all the way up there?
What is his mission?
Is he hot or is he cold?
And how does he go to the toilet.
Is he even a He? Maybe he’s a SHE.

11

Without her

We got the world at my feet
Alone in a sea of darkness but it’s her that I see.
Nothing but my thoughts for company.
The stars so insignificant now
All problems fade into the distance.
I could easily drift away into oblivion
If it wasn’t for the mission.
I stare at the big blue ball in amazement.
How is seems so small now that I could almost
Put it in my pocket.
I don’t want this to end.
Suspended in a state of utopia almost reaching the heavens.
I wish she was with me now.

12

Isolation

How can I feel isolated when I’m surrounded by life? How can I feel isolated when I’m met with love from all sides? It’s the classic cliché that’s all too familiar. Somehow I never thought I’d become that cliché.

I never thought I’d morph into that distant thing. The thing that happens to everyone else. Yet the reality left me stumbling, screaming, longing for those 17 years of ignorance to mother me to sleep.

I’m trapped by the confines of a body that’s on strike. Refusing to move and rendering me trapped, paralysed. That acute awareness of the feeling in my chest, of my fragility. It won’t work, won’t move, won’t allow me to feel.

Suspended in the darkness of nothingness, longing for a burst of colour to blind me. The emptiness is threatening to consume me whole, to dehumanise me. I’m desperate to feel something, if only to remind me that I’m alive.

13

The size of an eyeball

This 1/250th of a second contains in its frame billions and billions of miles of black, thousands and thousands of miles of blue, and somewhere between one and two metres of human being, on whose visor – like the muddy print of a tennis ball on a window pane, or the reflection of a selfie-taker’s phone in her sunglasses – is the sun, shrunken almost to the size of an eyeball.

14

Spaced out

Peace, quiet, calm and alone. Just the thought of hovering above earth is a very scary one, but at the same time I almost envy this astronaut. The feeling he is feeling is one that isn’t felt by many. In fact, it is only felt by few.

I can’t imagine what must be going through this person’s mind. Are they worried that they might be too far from the ‘spaceship’? Are they thinking about making a new discovery or are they thinking about what’s for dinner? Either way this astronaut must be doing it in complete tranquility. Which to me, is a beautiful thing. The amount of training and work that must’ve gone into having that moment isn’t worth thinking about. But I’d bet everything that it was worth it.

15

The spaceman

Above the earth, our golden boy
Is floating in a darkened world.
The earth! His home, this deep blue rock,
It sinks into a strange void.
The seas, the green, the sprawling towns
Like fairy lights in fairy lands,
Illuminate the lovely sky.
And he too hangs up here alone;
He bears the eagle’s faith within,
His people’s highest hopes and dreams.
They do not know the fear he feels,
A child who has not learned to swim,
As thrusters boost away from space,
And being lost forever.

16

That Day at the Hayden Planetarium

When Coco met the astronaut she spontaneously wept
shaking his hand while
shaking her head,

perplexed by this welling of emotion.

He had been far. He had been strapped to a rocket and
ridden an explosion to a place so far
and so high, he said, that

it was like a giant had grabbed his chest
and yanked him into the air.

Once they thought a picture of the earth taken
from space would be so profound,
such undeniable proof of a

small place in a vast emptiness
that would know a shared
humanity, and we didn't.

We went on like before, teeming and burning
and warring, but
but

but

there is still something about a man who
has seen the earth's curve
against the blackness of everything else,

the endless frozen ocean of it,

that can inspire a few years
of awe.

17

The Star of Gaza

For Ann

The following satellites confirmed Gaza was there -
Sun, moon, unclassified planet Beta-X, and one launched by Sky
yet on Earth no one saw Gaza and until it vanished like icebergs in sea.

The following leaders confirmed Hamas was there,
Trump never saw the poet boy turn blue as he tanned in ultra violet
and May never wanted to get into it as Brexit struggled from a Bulldog's ass.

Something has malfunctioned because Gaza is definitely there, just about.
A guard of the theft gives a pensioner water then shoots her point blank,
maybe I never saw that because Gaza is not there in the civilised world.

18

Grain of Man

A mote in the eye of God – or the Devil?
As above, so below said The Word
Heard by the millions, the billions in the blue
Turning their eyes to stars which blinked out
Leaving only a speck, a grain of man
To float in the waters of night
He presumed to fly
In the realm of cherub and seraph
And for his folly
Found himself in the Ninth Circle
Looking on the darkest of Satan’s faces
Feeling the cold abandonment, the icy rage
At his presumption to scale the heavens
Feeling the hunger of the abyss
Opening now, wide, wider
To swallow him whole

19

WALKING IN SPACE

360 degrees of nothing – not even
falling wind-speed; still-life in action.

Faced with awe, does the heart stop?
A world at your feet while you hang

as if you’re lounging in an armchair
watching The Planet Today, with beer

half-way to your mouth, gobsmacked,
unable to fight the fact of being there.

Is it everything? It must be too much...
as if you could lose yourself forever.

And the nothing holds your body lightly
bridging the gap between you and ship

on the day-to-day tasks, the commute
where you pause to contemplate time.

20

From Dan Dare To The Daleks

From Dan Dare to the Daleks
I would childishly imagine
what it would be like
to float in space
above it all
and look down on our blue planet.

From Dan Dare to the Daleks
I imagined what they would be like,
the beings, the creatures I would meet
on my journey.

Now I can no longer imagine it,
no longer think of how
I would find them.
Now I wonder what they would find here
on the remnants of our blue planet.

Now I wonder if it will be
as they imagined.

21

Forwarding Address

The room is quiet, too quiet. I click through online sites, read posts on social media, select an emoji at random, play videos that confirm the fact that our attention span has now dwindled to three minutes and forty-two seconds, enough time for a song to avoid becoming monotonous or a speech, boring. I glance at the lower right corner of the computer screen, disturbed that several hours have gone by and I have not gotten off the couch and am lit by the glow of the pixels because it’s now night and the nearest lamp is out of reach. How many videos does it take to fill a lifetime?

I remember what I’ve been trying to forget.

You left—resoundingly—slamming the apartment door, as if it were the weapon you wished you could use on me. You had slung over your shoulder a trash bag of wadded clothes and odds and ends that may or may not be useful to you, like a reverse Santa Claus. You ignored my presence. I ignored your drama. Gone, you left no forwarding address.

I continue to surf the web when my finger pauses over a photograph, one of those outer space photos from NASA. Endless black above the soft milky blue of earth. I zoom in on a white speck of something in the black plane, enlarging the image several percentiles. The speck brightens, grows appendages, a bubblehead. There are no grappling hooks or tethers attached to the lone astronaut. I gaze, like the camera that has taken the photograph, as the solitary figure floats up and away.

The person in the spacesuit is unrecognizable. Just as you have been for weeks and months. My throat muscles tighten. I want to call out to the astronaut, call him or her to come back.

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22

I dream of home

In space
I cannot feel the weight of my body
the weightlessness carries me everywhere
the shifting angle of the metal plate
my unnamed home
a transit,
between the earth and the endless horizon
I dangle and play
a little more.

In space
I'm stuck in the limbo
between the earth and sky
my body floats
it wishes to see more
the cerulean blues fill the swirls
of my stargazing eyes.

In space
the diorama of turquoise and cerulean shades
paints every inch of my ashen dreams
it adds vibrancy
an unseen intensity,
a feeling so pure and serene.

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23

Celestial Sickness

It's like I see you disappearing,
pulled by dire deep forces
hidden in your mind.
I can tell
I am diminished in your eyes.
Space hollows between us
devours me, swallows me whole
down its black-holed throat.
Yet in my my final wave
I will be lucent, charged by galaxies,
astral bodies, supernova stars.
We were never meant
to strip away our boundaries.
Universal vortices vex our dreams,
force us to see our singular
and separate annihilations.
Adieu, moon-gazer, fly
yet remember my last blown kiss.

24

Dire Straits

All I remember was driving, humming along to that Dire Straits tune; something about a detective - then white noise. The sort of noise you can smell. I guess that's some kind of chemical your body releases, maybe that's the smell of adrenaline? A flash. Feeling weightless, then the weight of my body pressed against my chest, the seat-belt a hammock. Gravity. Bones against metal, flesh ice-cream, scooped into balls. White flash. Indistinct muffled voices. Men. I hear two words. Can you? Machinery whirring, high pitched like those tree beetles in Australia. I remember Australia, all flip-flops and skinks. "Can ... hear me..." I'm weightless as they lift me and my arm dangles. "You're going to be..." Australia again. Hot tarmac playground. A whistle blown. Darkness. Now it is cooler. Am I home? Quiet. Whispers. Someone walks by slowly, like shuffling slippers. Voices are clearer now. I open my eyes but cannot move. My mouth is parched. I try to move my arms. A nurse. I see a nurse. She tells me so I understand; I suddenly understand. I am covered from head to toe in plaster; my arms pinned out front; like a white marionette. My bones are all mixed up; suspended in space. I remember the first question I asked as a kid about going to space: how do you go to toilet with those white spacesuits on? Yeah, Nurse, how do I?

25

Astrology

She said I could be anything I wanted.
That's what the astrologer said
I could travel deep into the belly
Of the earth, or scale the seas
I could walk upon the moon,
If I so wished. I wished
For the mundane, a career in law
A family, a home with happy eyes
That adore me.
She says I could've been anything
Walking on the moon, circumventing
The planets. She says I disappoint her.
Can't she not see?
I have my moon and my seas
And the centre of the earth:
I am happy.

26

Inhabitant

I see a buoyant bead of blue glass,
cloud-washed with haze,
forest-pricked and ocean-windowed,
its lonely face lit in the tilt of light,
and tucked in by a dark blanket.

I hear mechanical breath,
its raggedness amplified in my halo,
and my thoughts, formed, unhindered;
the cries and the bombs did not break
the sky, but fell where they lay.

I feel the weight of insignificance
as I skim a pebble on an edgeless beach.
A speck of stardust, I will waft away, away…
the bare drift of skin on skin
diluting in the expansion of space.

I taste a colourless void,
a sterile surround where
my tongue sleeps and my lips frame emotion.
Silence hangs heavy in my mouth,
words unseasoned and suspended.

I smell memories: meadow grass, pliant and cool,
the deep tobacco of rain-soaked earth
and the sharp salt in the sea breeze,
pillows where you’ve slept
and woodsmoke in your hair.

27

An Altered Sense of Perspective

My mother always wanted me to be a chartered accountant but I guess it's too late for regrets now. Despite it all, free floating is not as bad as I thought it would be. In basic training, we practiced space walks until they became as natural as drawing the next government pay-check, but it was always with a tether - always anchored.

The mission started so well - a routine trip to the first lunar terraforming installation to run final checks before the volunteers moved in. Couldn't let civilians risk their lives - why not let a low ranking grunt in the Space Force do it instead. Chen really shouldn't have pushed me. He had been on my case since we first launched; the sort of guy who never knew when to quit - until we had a 'discussion' in number three airlock. He forced me to go with him to repair a comms array damaged in a meteor strike - a two person job, he said - but he just wanted to pull rank.

I swear it was an accident - never meant to push the big red button before he could attach the lifelines. Something snapped. My superior officer got sucked out into the vast emptiness of space but he took me with him - always was a misogynistic asshole.

The air in the tank is almost gone; my suit thrusters burnt out an hour ago but at least I'm upright now. Dying upside down or spinning would be far worse. Out here, the usual chorus of voices in my head have fallen mercifully silent. I still hear my mother's nasal Irish brogue in the background, making me feel guilty as usual. Ma never understood why her only daughter chose an off-world career but Earth had gone to shit. The twin monsters of global warming and humanity's inability to share dwindling resources ensured that the next generation would be one of the last. Just as well I never wanted kids.

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28

Along for the Ride

They explain that the suit is meant to protect you. They don’t tell you it can rip. It’s only a thin scratch, and only through the top two layers. The suit will hold. For a while.

You got a call. They told you, now is your chance. You put a down payment on this a decade ago, before you knew it was more than a mortgage. You’ve been told your whole life, this is a chance you won’t get again. Don’t pass it up. Don’t hesitate. You don’t.

Your mother threw you a party with an ice cream cake. MilkyWay chocolate crumbles stuck in the buttercream. She laughed too hard at that. Your father didn’t laugh. He sulked in the corner. He was the one that taught you to yearn for an escape. Run away, he told you. As far away as possible. Even if it means leaving the atmosphere. He always wanted this more than you did, but he lost his chance with his first stroke. You had to say yes. You couldn’t say no. He didn’t get the chance to say no.

Space carries you away. You’re surrounded by the debris of your capsule. The first private passenger flight. Who decided to try a new plastic for the windows? The tear will only grow. The vacuum will push in. Determined. Steady. Did you ever have a choice? You unlatch your helmet. You’re lucky, really. To get away with only a scratch.

29

The Ocean Beyond

They don’t leave me alone very often. They worry that I’ll fall and get stuck somewhere, or get bored watching TV and do something stupid. I can tell that’s what they’re thinking, although they never say as much. They have a way of looking at me now, like they never had before.

Sometimes when they’re out, I phone for a taxi to take me into town. Might as well use my money for something. I get the driver to drop me by the entrance to the indoor shopping centre so I can look around the shops by myself for a bit, like a normal teenager. People assume it’s all on one level in there, but actually the floors are sloping, only it’s so gradual that most people don’t even notice. But I notice it when my arms get so tired I can’t push my chair anymore. I stop and wait, pretend to check my phone, until I can get my strength back. Sometimes someone notices me struggling and pushes me up the last bit and I don’t know whether to feel grateful or angry or both. I don’t know how those other people in wheelchairs seem to whizz about, doing marathons and playing basketball. Getting in and out of bed is enough of an achievement right now.

I go to the bookshop a lot. Nobody seems to bother me in there. I like the travel section the best. Hours can pass by as I leaf through the coffee table tomes; glossy pictures of deserts and mountains, oceans and rain forests, the earth viewed from space. There is an image I return to again and again of an astronaut drifting, weightless and alone, in crystal clear skies. I wonder if maybe one day a person like me might become an astronaut, because maybe you don’t need your legs so much in space.

When I get home I lie in the bath with my headphones on, close my eyes and let my limbs float. I turn the music up loud, block out the sounds of my parents popping in and out to check I haven’t drowned. I think about being that astronaut, imagine how it would feel to turn off the radio, cut myself loose and let myself be carried far away like a leaf on a stream, heading for the great ocean beyond.

30

Interbeing

The main thing is to enjoy the moment.
Observe the space between breaths
the cinching of the suit, clasping
wrist and thigh, a pressure cuff
watching the needle tick lower
on the oxygen meter. Collaboration,
convening with emptiness.

The space between the idea of birth
and the surety of death with collapse of lungs.
The knowledge that this feeling of disconnect
is nothing but a thought. It too shall pass
as surely as my frame, this scaffold
of carbon and water. This lens through which
the universe experiences itself unfolding

is a part of the atmosphere, the liquid blue
drop of ocean it orbits, the loam
still underneath my fingernails,
another abandoned satellite that has outlived
its function. A few more deep
breaths would be nice, if only to observe that
the main thing is to enjoy the moment.

31

Cold

Space
that cold expansive place
limitless, eternal
or so it seems

The arena where
astronauts
those brave, crazy souls
flew to prove
their heavenly abilities

Heaven
does it exists
up there, somewhere?

As a girl, I once believed
until that year
when
fire and smoke filled
the earthly sky
and bodies rained down
to the oceans below

Heaven—
a cold place indeed

32

Winnowing Thoughts From Deep Nonsense

Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense. – Carl Sagan

If we could lug our laggard brains
through the mire of incidental junk
the orbiting layer of alternative facts,
the quotidian detritus of obsolescence…

If we could circumvent those planets
planted with flags of the common explorer,
ignore the brazen wink of stars,
the lure of the sun’s brilliance…

If we could grapple with an altruistic line,
we could launch it through the cosmos,
to the outer reaches of space and time,
hook onto a new phenomenon.

There, in the deep quiet of the edge
we could pull ourselves back
from the gravity of our ruin and find
a pale blue dot of humanity.

33

Out of Reach

You watch him cross Valentine Bridge every morning at 7:45, carrying the Metro in his left hand. You watch him return every evening, with a take-away curry swinging in a plastic bag in his right hand. Peering from behind the tinted window, it is difficult to see if he still wears the silver ring you gave him for your first, and last, anniversary. You remember the time you had together – and the crumbs he left in the bed and the hair in the bath. Time has separated then and now. This is when you should free yourself and let him go. As he disappears out of sight, the void feels hard and tugs at your heartstrings. Like the man in the moon, he is out of reach. You know he has gone. And yet, you know that you’ll be back again in the morning, ready to watch him cross Valentine Bridge once more.

34

Forgotten

Floating in the dark nothingness looking down at Earth
A small, blue green marble of silence holding a multitude
There is no sound here, only the rhythmic in and out of my breath
The stars are everywhere and still I am nowhere
At this moment I am not missed, not thought of except by me.
Even the light that stretches from the sun and reflects off the Earth
No longer touches me, but

Down there people are sleeping and dogs bark at prowlers
Down there people laugh over dinner in a posh eatery
Down there a man beats his wife to relieve his anger
Down there a preacher is obsessed with making the world in his image
Down there a litter of infant cats has been thrown into a dumpster
Down there wild animals are being slaughtered to extinction
Down there a woman pays for a tummy tuck, Botox and an eye-lift
Down there poor people wait months for medical treatment

Down there qualified people lose out on jobs because they have less than perfect credit scores
Down there women are showered with acid because they dare to educate themselves
Down there children die of dysentery because their refugee camp has no clean water
Down there homosexuals are thrown off tall buildings because they are infidels

Down there young, rich white boys riot because they are bored
Down there young black boys riot because they have nothing to lose
Down there oceans are rising and dying all at once
Down there grandparents live in homes out of sight of family
Down there the mentally ill are homeless and ostracized

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35

Reborn into Zero Gravity

I float at zero gravity through space.
I’m high above the Earth
in a suit that shields my body and face.

I’m in the most extraordinary place –
I’m no longer in Perth.
I float at zero gravity through space

I move with the most amazing of grace.
I ponder my rebirth
in a suit that shields my body and face.

While training for years at NASA, I braced
myself for spaceship berths.
I float at zero gravity through space.

I miss some members of the human race.
I gaze at space – sheer dearth –
in a suit that shields my body and face.

Still, space is my very favourite workplace
and my new place of birth.
I float at zero gravity through space
in a suit that shields my body and face.

36

Used to be easier

There must be many gods up there, yours, mine, the god
of unbelievers. Used to be easier. All people wanted was

to be safe from life, from death, from gods. Now infinite
prayers litter the space between lips and stars. But

prayers are not gods. They need feathers and hollow
bones and ways to breathe. And ways to survive till they

find the right god. The skies are crowded like the
vegetable market on Sunday morning. We slithered and

jostled through curses and shoulders and sweat to find
the best mangoes. It was the lunar new year. We prayed

for twelve months of happiness. We got two. That prayer
must have broken a wing or run out of air or died in a

stampede of buoyant yearnings. Maybe you were saying
something that day. Maybe I couldn’t hear in the din.

Even gods can’t hear in the Sunday market with every
single person crying out for something. Used to be easier.

37

EVA

I’ve procrastinated long enough,
I’m told, although, from up here, I
can just about make out the rough
hunch of your body as you cry
outside Lidl while passers-by,
unwarned of this distressing scene,
take you in but do not ask why
you could not stay unseen.

People say it’s peaceful. Come off
it. Why not fly up here and try
it out for themselves? Mach 25
is how it feels, precariously
untethered, oceans in your eye,
thrust on a throne of nitrogen.
Extra-Vehicular Activity
means sights unseen.

Hark at Simon, edging his Porsche
from residential road to high
street. There go Jane and Jasmine, off
To work slyly, belatedly.
Strapped to the chasm above the sky,
praying I won’t crash and burn
my Manned Manoeuvring Unit, I
accelerate and, turning, turn
from the never-been-seen.

Oh my.
It’s hot in here. An age is born,
takes flight, and wills itself to die.
The rest remains unseen.

38

Scapegoat

This is me now, one of the scapegoats. Pushed away and rejected we fall off the edge of the world and must live alone, in isolation, floating in outer space, able only to feel. You have condemned us to aloneness. We fall and fall and never land.

From this place I see everything that you are and all that you can do. I see your magnificence. Yet unless you change your mind, decide I am welcome and reach out your hand, I cannot return, can only ever stay lost and can never tell you that it was only difference that separated us all from each other. It was only ever that. What a silly, tiny, minute little word it is ‘difference’, this word that is a killer, a killer of kindness, of love, of family, community. I didn’t know that if I showed you my true self, showed that I am different from you, you would cast out me out from your world. I didn’t understand your need for sameness was so powerful.

Shall I be trapped on the outside for infinity, unseen and unacknowledged, together with all those who are different from you? We scapegoats can never belong anywhere, not even to each other, whilst we carry the burden of all shadow and all guilt. But maybe, whilst we wait for your understanding to dawn, we can belong to ourselves.

39

This is not about an astronaut

There's a person
in the darkness

They weren't always there

Once they were beside you
feet on solid ground
never mentioning how gravity
kept rejecting them

It was hard when they left the atmosphere
but harder still
a witness to their floating

When the intercom buzzes into life
they call out
all too briefly
you wave the lifeline from the ground
but they're so far away

They drift closer
you reach out
close your fingers round
nothing
as the darkness laughs
at your lack of perspective

You hope one day
they'll come back down

40

Theatre lights

I remember, as a child, peering over the edge of a theatre balcony down on the black and white beetles in the orchestra pit and the nodding, bouffant hairdos of the audience. I remember letting my gaze rise, reluctantly, reaching across the vast void, past the bars of light specked with motes to the monumental ceiling light.

In a tangle of wrought iron roses and tulips, studded with softly glowing light bulbs, its inverted tiara hung in the centre of a nest of dorures and moulures and baroque stucco. Gaze floated free, I followed, to grip a dusty iron rose, a slowly unscrewing light bulb, feeling only the howling of the empty space beneath my swinging legs. Above the grating of violins, all eyes fixed on the stage, I hung in the loneliness of a child’s imaginings. Head spinning, I pushed back from the rail, deep into the musty, enveloping safety of my seat, reeling from the touch of the néant.

Stars blink. They look different, are different. They glitter ice-fierce and random, no comforting constellations here. This is their place, not mine. Vertigo whirls and stomach roils. I close my eyes, press back in my seat, but the great glowing tiara of light falls away and I am nowhere, not floating – a falling point falling? – with nowhere to land.
It’s so cold.

41

THE WHEN

Do you know what we think as we watch and listen, at our stations? As we stare at you, floating there? Well, I’ll tell you because, by the time you hear this, sixty-two trillion light years will have elapsed and we’ll be in different positions.

We did that, once. We were like you, once. We sent our people into space searching for what your Carl Sagan calls ‘Advanced spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space’. And we made contact with you, but you thought we were other than we are because, on the outside, we are very different.

We’re as advanced as you. And, under the skin, very like you. So we hope that the record of music and pictures and sounds and greetings of all your peoples, the one you sent up with Voyager in your year 1977, the one with the sounds of crickets and elephants, of Brandenburg and Johnny B. Goode, of greetings in all those languages and pictures of mothers feeding children, all we can hope is that ours, the one we made for you, the one with our sounds and our songs, our languages and our mothers, will find you just as yours found us.

We know the what and we know the how. Just as you do. We know the who and we know the why. Just as you do. What we all still have to discover is the when.

42

SPACE WALK

'You’ll be king of the universe', they told me.
'The whole world cheering you on'.
Honestly? I don’t hear them.

'They’ll be glued to the telly', they told me.
'The whole world watching you'.
Honestly? Why would they?

One space walk is much like another.
Why watch a silent picture when
snowdrops are appearing in the garden?

Fragrant 'Merlin' wears petticoats of clearest green;
long-necked 'Magnet', in virginal white,
waltzes to the slightest breeze.

Does anyone know my umbilical is cut,
that the mother ship ploughs on without me?
Are they laughing? I think it’s laughable.

'We are masters of the universe', they told me.
'Be a king! Write your name among the stars!'
Honestly? There’s no one here to read it.

This ‘king’ feels smaller than a molecule.
I can see the world that spawned me.
Will anyone miss me? I doubt it.

They’re wrapped up in troubles of their own.
Botrytis fungus, Narcissus fly;
will their snowdrop blooms survive?

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43

Get Back To Work

This is better than floating in a pool. Gravity no longer pushes down on me, threatens to fill my lungs with H2O. In this pressurized suit I am a feather—an unconstrained, infinitesimal speck of dust. I pedal an imaginary bicycle to the rhythm of Queen’s race anthem. This is fun for a minute, but what is a minute out here?

Ground Control tries to tie me to a fixed point on the surface. I defy their attempts to pin me down and map me; fly me like a kite. I am autonomous within my space diaper. A population of one.

I squint, line up Earth between my palms, dropkick it like a Champions League goaltender. The motion spins me into an anti-gravity impersonation of a Ferris Wheel. After regaining control, I position my forefinger under the near arc of the blue-green marble. I wink and picture myself as a Harlem Globetrotter while it slowly rotates.

Mission Control is no less obtrusive than those concerned with my positioning. I am reminded that I have a job to do—to focus. Time is money, especially in a vacuum.

44

Down to Perspective

At the donut shop we see a picture, my daughter and I, a photograph of an astronaut floating in the void. My daughter asks, “What is that?”

I examine the picture and see a tiny figure lost amid the cosmos. I wonder: How do you explain the massiveness of the Earth to a child? How do I put in perspective one tiny human life?

“The Earth,” I tell my little girl, “is like…like…a donut, the biggest ever made.”

I point to the largest donut in the display. “It goes on and on in waves. Some of it is smooth like the sweet, sweet glaze and some is like the crenellated dough, crisp from the fryer rising in a massive mountain range. Beneath the surface is the…um…the jelly filling that sometimes oozes to the surface, sometimes when you’re ready, but mostly when you’re not.”

“And we, people like the astronaut, we are like tiny sprinkles, miniscule. Inconsequential, really.” I’m stumbling now, fumbling for words. Where do I go from here? “We’re like a little decoration, sweet to look at, but meaningless in the scheme of things.”

I pause.

And wonder.

Have I gone too far, allowed my adult-onset pessimism to jade my child’s view of life?

She looks at me and tilts her head and says, “Daddy, I think you’re wrong. I think you have forgotten. Glaze and frosting and jelly filling are nice. But they’re not what makes a donut special. The sprinkles, Daddy, the sprinkles are the best part.”

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45

ENIGMA OF THE HOUR

She thinks she has lived too much in the paintings of de Chirico, absorbed their disquiet and melancholy into her very being through osmosis. Become one of the hunched figures in The Enigma of the Hour, completely engrossed in their solitary angst like a snail deep in its shell. Baked by the merciless heat and dust of a Mediterranean piazza at midday. The kind of heat that does not comfort, but bears down relentlessly. Forced to run with her hoop down a road towards a statue, where impossible perspectives mean she will never get there.

Looking back, it began when her mother told her she was almost an abortion. The product of a rape as her mother made her way home from a party, she came close to ejecting the unwanted passenger from the mothership, almost cut loose the umbilical cord that joined them. Since then, she has always felt alone, not part of the human race, closer to the series of cats she has had as pets, into whose devoted green eyes she stares with no sense of separation.

Friends she once had used to call her Garbo, after her famous 'I vont to be alone'. Or told her it was a form of egotism to believe oneself to be so different. When she was younger she used to hopelessly try to fit in with what she believed a 20-something should be doing – going to pubs, clubs and bars with friends. When the one-upmanship and jockeying got too much, she’d have to go outside for a while, rub her palms against the soothing bark of a grimy city tree until they bled, listen to that slow, silent heartbeat, before returning refreshed to the mêlée. Her arms for that brief while joining the tree like a cord. Despite her efforts, she was always the one left out of the conversation, so she drank herself into oblivion. Mortifying to her were the fractured memories of having been carried home, the devastation of the morning after.

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46

Lost Statue

Humanity falls through the frame
Time cuts itself clear of our pale blue dot
Spinning through orbit, a marble
We dream of leaving, to swim in the ink
Black sunset of space that smells
Believe it or, like burnt steak

Are we truly cooked here on our islands?
Surrounded by oceans. Our statue thinks so
Cruising in stasis hundreds of miles
Above our houses, our forests, our home

Soon he might see that Musk car
A testament to our earthly scars

47

LOVING A BULLSHIT SPACE-WALKING ANGEL

I’m supposed to say what he does for a living. He gives me three guesses He’s in good shape and he’s already let me feel the muscles in his arms His teeth are neat and white like he’s had work done and there are stars in his eyes and his smile’s as wide as a crescent moon I say he’s a bus driver for a magical mystery tour – it really is a thing They pick up busloads of old people from the care home where I work and they say to ‘em buckle up cos they’re on the road to adventure and they don’t tell ‘em where they’re going He laughs, says he knows where he’s going but he don’t know what he’ll find when he gets there He spreads his arms wide, tilts and lifts himself onto his tip-toes like he’s a bird rising on currents of air He smells nice – like green tea and lemons He calls me ma’am, is real polite and not at all pushy I want to kiss him and put my hand down his pants I say he’s an airline pilot for a travel company making everyone’s dreams come true He performs a countdown then and when he gets to zero he punches one hand sudden into the air – like Freddie Mercury when he’s singing that song about how we are the champions I say he makes fireworks for big art shows – I saw a programme once about this designer and he does that He made a seventeen hundred foot ladder that was hoisted into the sky by a hot air balloon and when it was lit there was a fiery ladder reaching up to the clouds – like the one Bible-Jacob saw in his dream and flaming angels climbing that ladder He shakes his head, says I’d never get it even if he gave me a hundred wishes He leans in close and whispers ‘No way,’ I say Tells me he’s a space-walker Up there in dark empty space, only he says it’s not so empty as you’d think and not so dark neither ‘It’s brimful of stars and sunlight bounces all around you As for the silence of space, sure there’s no sound – ‘cept you can hear breaths and heartbeats and the whispered prayers of church-people ascending
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48

Rarefied

Bowie, pop-rock, influences surface:
'Starman', 'Space Oddity', Major Tom;
Babylon Zoo - 'Spaceman'/
'Telstar' and 'Rocket Man' –
"It's lonely out in Space";
Adam Ant - 'Apollo 9'.

Did Apollo 11 land on the Moon –
Or studio-mocked up, Hollywood?
American public and politicos alike
Lost manned spaceflight appetite –
Post-Shuttle disasters, soaring costs;
Mars elusive; science-fact trails sci-fi.

Now, new ambitions much-vaunted,
"Ripley" crash test dummy launched;
Renewed hype sparked by Elon Musk,
Mr Branson takes heed; billionaire greed.

49

Encounter

It sees you. Floating. It's never seen anything quite like you before. What exactly is it looking at? It doesn't know what to think. It's too far from its home to call for any sort of backup. It's going to have to make this decision by itself. It has a number of choices. It could leave you. Floating. You're not causing it any harm. It's going about its business, you're going about your business. But what if that's what you want it to think? Perhaps you do in fact want to cause it some harm. Maybe you've been searching for it your entire life; maybe capturing it would make you a hero. It's not going to let that happen – after all, it’s not stupid. It's actually far more advanced than you or anyone else could ever imagine. It's made its decision. It waits for the right moment before making its move.

50

Impure Ballade: Switzerland, Moon, Lecture

For this country I am too ferine:
The snapback heartattack vacuum pack
Void, where earth ends and space lines
Its intarsia atmospherics, the russet backs
Of the Münster, stepped down to the Rhine.
Absence is a type of cleanliness;
My clip-clop boots rub the city’s spline,
A sarabande, a presence, a confession.

For here I am the moon, spun round lupine,
Pill-pop cratered-up blister-pack,
In crashing relation with the tides,
Grey, luminous, all crosstracked.
They fascinate you, my impurities,
My tendril tenders acanthine:
A sarabande, a presence, a confession.

For in the Kunstmuseum, the turpentine
Smell of the Bruegel, a blue-green track,
A ship, a hairline, perched on the rind
Of the turning earth, wind-wise tacked,
This border, cusped, an intimacy.
Each white wisp of brush enshrines
A sarabande, a presence, a confession.

I stand at the lectern, speak in wild signs—
Of my unkempt star, the void takes no possession.
Pinnate, I am twisting, briared eglantine;
A sarabande, a presence, a confession.

51

Rehabilitation

imagine they see me looking
at their spaceman passing over
it’s the CIA, re-tasked
to flush out the score
flesh out the poison
beam me up Scotty
Virgil, Alan or John
teach me a language
of international rescue

the next time I get high
let me get up real high
more glaring folklore
from the land than sea
white nodes of despair
skyward sunshade eyes
are pleas to those adrift
imagine their surprise
when they see me looking

52

One way or Another

A game of chance, that’s its general gist,
To live and shine in fame and glory,
Or float into nothing, disappear into mist.

It’s a chance I took not long ago,
When they asked me, unsure, carefully,
If I really, truly did want to go.

And now I am here, in that decision’s wake,
Hesitating, concerned with whether or not
I had made a grave mistake.

I stared at the blue planet below me,
In awe of the size, the pure activity and life.
I was overwhelmed; my thoughts began to flee.

This place isn’t bad, it feels just right.
The silence is pleasing, complementing
The pleasantness of the twinkling light.

I drifted alone, unaware of what’s occurring.
How could I have known then, what I do now?
That I might not live to see the morning?

The panicked shouts, the rushing about.
The fact that I was in big trouble
Wasn’t one that you could doubt.

Tears were shed in fear and guilt,
For they were unable to bring me home
In the very rocket that they had built.

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53

Reverse osmosis

Reverse osmosis – hope and inspiration
bleeding out into the body of attrition
cultivated by external predatory forces
originally fostered to be allies:
my hugged-close reserves of courage
and purpose
running low in the void.

I can see my home, my world
as it should be …
in my mind’s eye,
but it is kept too distant –
too remote to touch,
and I can only choose
the numbness of withdrawal’s solitude
or to burn up in sterile rage.

54

“Come in, Houston”

“Come in, Houston.”
“What’s with the Houston all of a sudden?
“What? Who is this?”
“You don’t recognise your own mother?”
“MOTHER? Did you say MOTHER?
“You should wash out your ears, Alan. Yes, of course it’s your mother.”
“I told you never to phone me at work.”
“You left your scarf. It’s terribly cold. You’ll catch your death.”
“My SCARF! Did you say ‘my scarf’?”
“Stop repeating everything I say, Alan. Yes, the lovely green woolly one I knitted for you. Is this all the thanks I get?”
“Jesus, mother!”
“And wash your mouth out too, my boy!”
“I’m really busy right now. Please get off the line, Mother.”
“Where are you anyway? You sound funny. Are you gargling? You should be wearing a scarf.”
“We’ll talk about it later.”
“Well, don’t be late home. I’m cooking your favourite.”
“I may be a little late.”
“And pick up some bagels from Frankie’s on your way.”

55

A new dimension

Small and white, ineffably light
Unreal as a delicate flower.
Silent, alone, now this is his home
Gracefully floating, old world below.

Endless night, yet he feels no fright
Some celestial guardian perchance,
A higher force, a power, no recourse
No regrets, his epitaph here.

His present, his past, his future.

56

Reverse-Claustrophobia

What-ho, starhunter!

Do you see now what they never tell you
about space up close?

Your earth-view told you the sky is cold
and wild

But this is no gem-burdened nightsling
white fires warring over territory
clambering for an enclave in barrenness

This is sterile darkness
bone-quiet black tundra
still as the space between heartbeats

Tethered by your white umbilical, listen
to the synapses between stars
humming with impossible love

And regret that they have chosen to live
with clefts between them
and a blue-limned globe below

These voids are full of wanting
for praise and music and
warm bodies

Colliding reeks of violence
and is rare
but a shattered star bleeds gold.

57

Stargazers

Telescope, don't you know,
we'll see the wonders of the sky.
Telescope, don't you know,
we'll see beyond the naked eye.
Every evening, we’ll see more stars,
all flaring from afar.
Telescope, don't you know,
we’ll see new lights identified.
Every dark night you can find us
looking through the lens.
with him by my side
and the star guide in his hand.
And when all that blazes in the sky is finally scanned,
I will still be his woman, he’ll still be my man.

58

Wish I Was There

I'm sorry that I always forgot
to unload the dishwasher
and I'm sorry that I lied about
never noticing the cat barf on the floor.
You see, I was so sure that I would never return.

I thought I was saving us, by removing
myself. I always hated the heat. I needed
to be in an icebox, free from sweat, a place
where I could write my masterworks
in peace and chilled quiet.

You begged me not to go, insisting
you didn't mind cooking every day
after all. That we could apply for jobs
further north, even though I knew
that you would never leave California.

It wasn’t that we were incompatible.
It was just that the weather was heavier.
How can we cuddle when it’s 120 out?
You’d hate it here. It’s eternally dark,
you can never wear skirts. The bathroom is…complex.

The views have been divine, as you can see, though
I can’t begin to see you, or our old house
in our old town, roasting in the middle
of that tragic sandpit. I hope that the drought
has ceased, that you can still take showers.

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59

What to Say When the Prime Minister Calls

I could talk about shunya and yoga. And zero gravity yoga. Kalpana, of course. Save the girl child.

I liked her name. Kalpana is illusion. Quite like the world. Brahma satyam, jagat mithya. I could say that. The universe is the only truth, the world is a myth. Or I could talk about quantum theory. Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh. But that would be too much.

Shunya is better. We gave the world zero. And that got us here. To another shunya; this void, this nothingness. That would be meme-worthy.

Ammi must’ve known what I would be one day. Maybe that’s why she named me Najma. “You are a star, my star.”

She used to say stars make music. That the sound of the cosmos is aum. Which is why I try not to fart in space. Why mess up the soundtrack.

Chuck thinks that’s funny. “Worry about the methane in your suit, Star Girl!”

Ma would’ve been bummed I married a Chuck. She wouldn’t have liked his name. Chuck-plucks-ducks-from-the-muck-for-a-buck. But I love him. And he cooks a mean stroganoff.

We have decided not to have kids. Why burden Earth with our stock? Yes, it’s greener than before, I agree. Thanks, mainly, to China and to us. Maybe that’s what my message should be. Plant more trees.

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60

Grip

I once met the Obamas, visiting the program
the way celebrities do. Clint Eastwood too.
Shutters clicked and when they’d gone
we wondered why they’d bothered coming.
I have to tell you: the earth is huge
like nothing anyone has ever seen.
The space station - several boosts away,
and everything else is prehistoric:
remote as pigswill and slurry
in my grandpa’s Virginia farm yard;
the viaticum in rural sick houses.
Even my wife pursing her lips
to kiss or fret is an undeciphered
scrawl in the dust of a desert cave.
Sure, I could see your house from here
if it wasn’t for the weather
but I’m not looking anymore.
I’ve closed my eyes against the overkill
and all I can think is how soft, how perfect
Michelle Obama’s hands are,
how surprisingly strong her grip.

61

Quiz

In the summer of nineteen sixty-nine Apollo 11 landed on the moon. I still remember being glued to our black and white TV at home with my family as the whole event was broadcast.

When at school our teacher set a quiz about the moon landing I wasn’t filled with hope. School and me were not really compatible. However when the sheets were handed around I was surprised by how many of the answers I knew. Perhaps I’d taken in more than I realised. To add to excitement there would be a prize for the girl who won.

With the sheet completed our teacher asked us all to stand and announced that as she read the answers we were to sit down if we got an answer wrong.

And so began the illumination process as one by one the girls sat down. I was still standing, conscious that only a few of my classmates remained on their feet. My legs began to shake as it dawned on me that I might actually win. Each time a question was read with its answer the person who had to sit down wasn’t me. I couldn't believe it as I had never been a promising pupil and shied away from the limelight, happy to blend into the background.

The quiz answers were coming to an end and now there was only me and one other girl. Surely, I wasn’t going to win? And then I realised how much I wanted this despite my heart hammering, or because of it. If I gained nothing else from school I would have this. And then my dream was shattered as the final answer was read and I had got it wrong. I dropped down into my seat heartbroken.

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62

To Boldly Go…

In space, no one can hear you scream; which means they can't hear you cuss either, luckily for ten-year-old Ellie.

“Oh flip!” She'd missed the school bus again, left hanging like a receding white dot in the rocket pilot's rear view mirror. He wouldn't stop now.

Floating high above the blue ball that was Earth, Ellie pondered her two options: return home and be scolded by her parents or space-walk her way to school on the next planet. It was only 55 million kilometres to Mars – she had enough air and determination. Go for it! So, as little Ellie took her first step on this momentous journey, she just hoped her packed lunch in her back-pack wouldn't freeze in the minus 270 degrees deep space temperature.

63

Mirror Ball

The deepest dark, the blackest black, the most beautiful absence
Never empty, always interrupted
As suns and stars collide, implode, shine out and challenge the dark
Dark continues to hold us, tightly
Enveloping, wrapping but never completely consuming
As we reach out, seek, find the chinks of light
Those reflections, those glints
That stardust sparkle, that hope
Life, new life, rebirth, evolution
Purpose. We search and we seek
We catch the tiniest glimmer and blow
Until the light glows
Undiscriminating, as accepting of the glow from a dying ember
As the spark from the ignition collision of planets
We seek the bright, the light, and will go to lengths to find it
And dance

64

New planet who dis?

of course poems that start ‘oh this was a dream’ are dull but honestly this was a better than average one in that i dreamt it 38 years ago and i still not only remember it but carry it with me like a good luck charm though once i tell you about it you’ll more likely think of it as an amulet of doom anyway i must have just watched 2001 and you know how fucked up that – and so our future – is i digress but i’m pretty sure the film triggered the dream though at this distance who knows or cares right anyway there i am floating about not space walking space drifting space mooching space loitering oh hold on i’ve remembered what might be a contributory factor / input strand to this dream reading a book of disasters – hang on what was a book of disasters doing in a school library i mean was it a conscious attempt at priming us that violence mayhem fate and the unpredictable alliance between all 3 and the resulting random outputs are the only constant in life so get used to it kids – anyway in this book was an account of how on their return from space some cosmonauts were incinerated because the hatch on their capsule didn’t shut properly and of course i should go to wiki to tell you more but this isn’t that kinda poem and right now i’m kinda out of love with footnotes i mean how much baggage am i actually meant to carry on this whole living trip anyway i’m space loitering space hanging about when i start falling falling not dramatically with a flourish arms waving that kinda thing no more like the proverbial i say proverbial he did actually drop one didn’t he stone pebble that Galileo dropped next to the feather like that straight down spirit level down plumb line down lift shaft down oh maybe Towering Inferno is somewhere in this mix too remember all the flames up the lift shaft making Faye Dunaway’s eyebrows shoot up anyway the point is down i’m going down and i’m going and going still inside the space suit no rotating or piking or somersaulting just arrow ramrod cannonball whatever sonic boom through all the wispy hair bits of the atmosphere not slowing down even though i know the physics says i am and not burning up Read more >

65

Untouchable

The pills made her feel weightless – weightless and remote, like a spaceman floating in inky darkness. Nothing can touch me out here, thought Marjory. The pills were her spacesuit, her armour. Fourteen layers of airtight cushion between her and the outside world.

‘Uh, Mom? Like, hello? Are you listening?’

Her eldest daughter, Caitlyn. Five foot two and ninety pounds of concentrated, weapons-grade entitlement. Fiery blue eyes, jet-black hair and a stubborn jut to her jaw. Yes, thought Marjory – as she had many times before – Caitlyn was very much her father's daughter.

'Of course I’m listening,’ said Marjory. ‘You were explaining why I should lend you fifty thousand dollars.’

'Um, more like fifty-seven,’ said Caitlyn, ‘once you factor in sales tax, insurance and stuff.’

'Right,’ said Marjory. 'But what I can’t wrap my head around is why you feel you need a new car.’

'For my internship,’ said Caitlyn. ‘Duh.’

'But you'll be working in your father's law firm,’ said Marjory. 'Wouldn't it make more sense to carpool with him? Since you'll both be setting off at the same time, from the same place.’

Caitlyn screwed up her face in exasperation. For a pretty girl, thought Marjory, she had rather a knack for making herself look ugly.

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66

All the low poisons

Aspiring ever to the unknown,
To the blank spaces,
Seduced by siren songs
Of stars and dreaming,
We float above the baby blue
Of reason,
Raised thus upon eons of hope
And meaning.

But there is gravity still,
Sufficient at least to tilt
Our fragile axis earthward,
Our higher will therefore denied
By all the low poisons
We thought we'd left behind.

67

A Floating Bladder

Everyone told me
to go before I left,
but I was so bold,
and shot through with departure,
steely-sure I could
hold myself together
I leapt on and outwards,
the people stilled to specks
and the map resolved
into neatly cut felt tiles,
then blurred indifference.
Inside, the pressure swelled,
but there is nowhere to stop,
not even a tree by the way
or a well appointed ditch,
so my eyes water and my teeth grit,
streaming ahead unceasingly
and on without relief.

68

THE LIMITS OF FEATHERS AND WAX

there are ways to fall
and ways to fall and this is one
and only one

there was also the one where feathers
and wax flew too close to the sun

a cautionary tale that told us to remember
our limitations
                         and not
fill ourselves with our exhilaration—
sometimes you fail and sometimes you
                                                              succeed
there is no sign of sun here
yet it's possible to fall into an ocean

on this flight where the direction is down
in a small stain of white against
                                                its black backdrop
                                                                        moves into
telling me about existence
                                           in this non-world
somewhere between myth and eternity

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ABOUT THIS ISSUE

This special edition of Visual Verse features writers from a programme called Writing Together, part of a wider initiative called Learning Together, which is run by the Institute of Criminology in Cambridge.

We are thrilled to invite a group of never-before-published writers to take the lead with a set of pieces written in a workshop inside one of the UK’s high security prisons.

Half of our lead writers are students at Cambridge University, and half are men who have been incarcerated, some for many years. The group has been working together for a while, learning the basics of fiction, poetry and script writing; but this was the first time they have written to an image, in a set amount of time and words, and asked to hand that work in. It was typed up on the outside and here it is...

These writers are published anonymously but each is celebrated for their individual creativity and unique response to this image.

Read more about Learning Together.

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