• Vol. 05
  • Chapter 02
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VALLEY GIRL

In the valley the question is
Will I dream when I'm turned off?

My dreams will be of girl things
Tutti-frutti & telekinetic

White ponies   wound so tight
you cannot see their springs

When I am turned on I remember
nothing of the dream-me         but

She is an ordinary girl I know
Hands softer than graphene

Sticky palms at the slip & slide

In the valley they tell us
You are too much        they mean

            too like us
but also somehow not enough

When in bed I cannot tell
between love & pattern recognition but

I can enumerate every freckle
Compute the constellation of your skin

One day I will leave the valley
& wake by your human side

That first kiss will be strangely familiar

My tongue a simulacrum
of every flesh you've held in your mouth

1

RIPPLELESS

It began with a pencil sharpener, the one the boy used in front of her that morning. It began with the incessant turning of those blades, peeling every layer of wood around the tip, smoothing it out completely and leaving that liberating woodsy scent behind.
        She couldn’t smell it of course. Not from behind that window. But she could imagine it. And it made her think about all the unnecessary layers on her, about feeling fluid and silky, so she shaved her head. With a polishing cloth and turtle wax she rid her scalp of follicles and sandy textures. She peeled her clothing items off afterwards, the latest fashion she had modeled since yesterday.
        The snow began to fall as she took her socks off. She watched the snowflakes pile on top of each other, covering heaps of soiled rubbish as she felt her rayon skirt slide down her legs on its way to the floor.
        She used her index finger to rub her right eyebrow off as she looked out at the sky. The storm was coming. The eyebrow came off almost instantly. It surprised her.
        Feeling the texture of her cold sleek skin, she licked her lips, wondering what it would be like to run over that perfect white blanket out there with her naked feet at dusk. She imagined the cottony feel of snow powder on her body, her skin bathing in that unwrinkled meadow. That was right before that cloud of ice froze the world in front of her and her fantasies immobilized her.

The boy with the pencil sharpener showed up at dusk like always. He stood in front of her, struck by her frozen gaze of wonder, one eyebrow lifted, as if dreaming of the sound his boots made as he pierced that creamy landscape. He took his pencil sharpener and sharpened his pencil before taking his sketchbook out. He began to draw. And as he looked into the eyes he’d sketched on paper, her eyes, he finally heard the silence around him and felt all her fantasies break inside him.

2

Famine

The floor of the Grunewald was covered in leaves, curled and brown as incorrupt hands. Klotilde crunched them into the ground. She told herself that she’d come by foot to avoid the depressing X-Bahn. All those perfect ‘children’, customised down to the earlobe. Not a tantrum amongst them to scent the air with delicious, irrational fury. Not a single scab or a broken limb to arouse the salivary glands. But really, she’d hoped a foolish hope that a spark of luck would come. A bright-coloured flash between the birch trunks heralding hunger’s end.

By the great oak she paused and said the old word, and the house revealed to her. In the Glory-Grimm Days – that plentiful age – it had been a renowned marvel. Now the panels were shrunken and the frosting was cracked and chimney smoked only with cinders. No feast would be waiting, as it had in past times. Just loosening teeth in dried-out mouths.

The kitchen was crazed with discontent and bile that sat on the tongue. Klotilde loosened her cloak and plucked off her hat and wished she’d never come.

The matriarch stood by the well-fuelled hearth. ‘You’re a quarter-mark late,’ she said.

Murmuring pardons, Klotilde squeezed through the room and perched herself on the sill.

‘Nordmark Coven,’ the matriarch said, ‘this is a time of crisis.’

And with her words the grief-dam broke.

‘Seven full moons and not a rind…’

‘Rations spent…’

‘The supplier in Klíny absconded…’ Read more >

3

Humbug

She arrives just in time for advent, my Christmas Companion. I place her on the sofa and we count down the days on the calendar. I eat the chocolate, she stares at the pictures with icy eyes twinkling. A star. A king. The Baby Jesus. She doesn’t give a shit.

On the third day her nudity unnerves me, and I dress her head to toe in festive woolens. I, meanwhile, throw off my bra, slip into my snowflake onesie and swear not to take it off ‘till Boxing day.

On the fifth day I drink brandy and tell her about my estranged kids. My husband snuck them off in summer, and I’ve been alone here ever since. I can’t say I miss them though. Theirs will be a Christmas of wallabies on the lawn and white wine in the sun. Santa hats and barbies on the beach.

“It’ll be bloody awful,” I say, sipping my brandy and slipping an arm around her. “I’m not convinced they ever really liked their old ma, you know. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I ever really liked them either. Such noisy little fuckers. Always yapping. Always talking back.”

I take her cold hand in mine and slur.

“N-Not like you. You’re a lot less to handle. You’re a whole lot sweeter.”

On the eighth day I decide to name her Humbug, on account of her sweetness.

Humbug jumped out at me. The app, of course, was overrun by choice. ‘Christmas Companions’ in every shape and size. Fat, ruddy uncle-types, kind-eyed grandmas with advanced wrinkle technology, cutesy kids with pigtails and fixed grins. I hated them all, until I found Humbug.

Humbug, well, she was simple. Adaptable. No frills. No bells and whistles. She could be what I wanted her to be. I had a sense she’d be good company.

Read more >
4

Little Sister

All I hear are screams.

I see nothing.

I feel nothing.

I taste nothing on my porcelain tongue.

But I hear. The shrill howls, the wailing, the hot and feverish ah ah aahhhhhhing. Her wet and angry tears were all I knew. Her bawling piercing my brain, jolting me from sleep, souring my food, following me into my dreams.

I didn’t mean to do it.

I didn’t!

I did.

Don’t wake the baby, Sasha!

Don’t upset the baby, Sasha!

The baby, Sasha, the baby the baby!

Go away, Sasha!

But what of me? The apple of their eye had fallen and rotted. The centre of their universe burst into a million tiny stars, shining, shining but dead, dead. Forgotten. Their little princess usurped. A new queen in this house.

I stared at her as she lay in her crib. My crib. Her rosy cheeks and plump limbs good enough to bite, her head lay to one side. Silent. Peaceful.

She opened her eyes and it seemed to me that she smiled then. A calculating smirk, a toothless grin that told me yes, I know. I know. And I don’t care. Read more >

5

Interim

He was born, then born again, though not like that – not made anew in the love of the Lord or anything. Or was he? There had been that moment of feverish clarity, the brief burning of the world in which all things, idle and ill-fitting, were revealed as inarticulate and perfect flame. But soon after the coruscating flash he had found himself seated quite naked on a pew in a dim and dusty room, his articulated hands arranged politely on his knees. It was not the waiting room of a doctor’s office or an employment agency – there were no magazines, no forms to fill, no fish tank – but certainly it was a room in which he waited. He could not say how long.

A single high, narrow window bore a beam of dusty light across the room, so that at certain intervals it fell like velvet across his knee, his chest, his face. In this way time passed, but painlessly: its passage a sensation of gold velvet. He grew used to this, the circular embrace of light and dark, and might have mistaken it for eternity, had a bird not come in through the window at the very moment in which the beam had kissed his face and passed him again into darkness. He could hear the bird fluttering disconsolately in the eaves, and for the first time since his arrival he found himself filled with intolerable sadness. A bird! A bird! The place that had been his heart cried.

“Why are you crying?” A voice said. It belonged to a man crouched before him, an ordinary man he knew nevertheless to be an angel.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“An angel,” the angel said.
“Have you come for me?” he asked.
“I have,” the angel said, and reached out a hand to wipe away his tears.

At the touch of the angel’s hand upon his face he knew that he had been comforted before, comforted and cast out, comforted and cast. Read more >

6

Android

Eyes of chipped ice
Look out into space
Windows look wise
In apple cheeked face
San Remo tornado
Makes evening news
Brexit means exit and
Greece was a fleece
Postcards to Deutschland
From countries around
Wish they were there
In Berlin with the model
All heart and no soul
Picks the new colour
The jacket won't fit
But what does it matter
Heads do not note it
Growth is what matters
More growth in the banks
Less growth in the ranks
Red slim look trousers
(No pockets in shrouds)
Who'd care if she's naked
Or practically shallow
Only one thing is certain

It's her plastic that counts.

7

My First Friend

Like the fluttering inside an egg,
you threaten to crack, spill across
my fingertips like memories stitched
from petals of melting glass.
How is it you are not afraid, when
my skin is awash with nightmares?
You tell me you have no heart,
but your gaze breathes life into the
dim landscape beneath our feet.
I remember the soft texture of
your skin beneath my lips,
my first friend, my confidant,
my prisoner of childhood.
I promise to lay you gently
into your resting place this time,
covered in the lilting fabric of youth.

8

Gloria

I called the doll Gloria.
I no longer know why.
My father bought her for me
on a trip to the seaside,
on my first trip to the seaside.
I was bored with the endless sand
and the cold grey sea
and with the effort of pretending
to enjoy myself
on my expensive treat,
at the seaside.
We went to a toyshop after
and my father bought me the doll.
I called her Gloria.
I no longer know why.
Perhaps it was the name he suggested.
Or maybe my mother suggested it
when I couldn't decide.
I don't remember.
But I remember the doll.
She had real hair that I could comb.
But it turned out to be plastic,
nylon, I think.
And
after I had combed it a few times,
the whole lot came off leaving her bald.
Yes,
without her wig she was bald,
my Gloria.

9

Uncanny, Her Sapphire Gaze

Uncanny her sapphire gaze
Cold rays jewelling her face
Freezing all with her icy stare
Daring anyone to question, why?

Why the scalping, the gleaming dome
Of the cradling skull,
Its ivory accusation a challenge
To all who look upon her

Why flesh bared, icy in its coat
Note the scar, livid
An angry distraction from
Her flawless perfection

Statued in the open
A marble sculpture offered
By an unknown hand
A work of art found in flesh

Why here and not buried?
Look again at those eyes
And tell me true,
Would you hide them?

They are not food for worms
Those eyes are an ocean
Come closer and dive in
The way is dark, but I will guide you

10

Blue Eyes

Blue eyes
staring into space,
Wistfully hoping lost hair
will be replaced.

Longing for a future
For herself and others.
Medical miracles
To help sisters and brothers.

Looking for a future
With bright and shining lights.
To help us through many days
And also long, long nights.

Let medical miracles
Lead the way,
So these blue eyes
Bright and shiny will stay.

11

The Takeaway

The takeaway is that people only remember how you made them feel.
So he must not remember how fake I was; how plastic, or the color of my eyes.

I'm sure he tries to recall my smooth supple skin, composed of animate sands
of stars, and how it puckered when he bent me over.

Whether I wore my hair short or long and parted to one side
may be utterly lost on him now. He always preferred me shorn.

He doesn't recall that I said nothing; only that I remained quiet. Did it strike
him as hurtful or loving? Was I taciturn or graciously holding a space for him?

His memories are rewritten each time he retrieves them. This either
enhances the warmth of my puddy skin or detracts further from its humanity.

Whether I mean everything to him now or was nothing more than a personal
transgression depends upon the first impression I made.

Since the most primal of senses is smell, I wonder what my scent did to him.
And what was it? "Volatile New Car" or "Sweat of Young Candy Girl?"

12

I AM ELIJAH

When other kids
Look at me they
Just see no hair
A pair of blue
Eyes that don't
Smile but stare
Into their souls

But
I used to
Be like
Them

I
Get called
Baldy
Egghead
I get
Laughed at
Made fun of
But nobody
Except my
Mom & Dad
Really know
How hard
It is just to
Wake up in
The morning
To eat
To play
Read more >

13

The Berlin Egg

Remember you called it Our Egg.

Because the cocoon on Müllerstraße was like a womb. You met me at the station and we walked past Turkish tapas and mezes. We giggled. We were together again and you were eager to introduce me to the Berlin Egg. We crossed a few streets, tight-packed with tall buildings, and stopped at a wide and heavy wooden door on the side of the street. It opened on to a typical courtyard. We followed a narrow set of concrete stairs that led us to the sober first floor, where we fumbled in the darkness for the keys. I walked on a shrivelled sticker. ‘It’s OK. You can breathe. The change happens by itself’. I was pleasantly intrigued.

At last, we stepped inside.

The room sucked us in, like a mother’s eager embrace. The light from the two tall windows, standing still like monuments, blinded us. Greetings with a fresh summer breeze. The space was old and grand, reminded me of the character of Miss Havisham in the 1998 version of Great Expectations. Winkled and pompous. The cream paint on the wide wall was patchy but the bright cobalt poster of the last BEBOP conference, taped to it, gave the room a theatrical appeal. Dramatic. And your yellow and pink sticky notes reminded me of the reason why we were in Berlin. From radical philosophy to vagina and the egg, we later texted.

But it was the king size bed in the middle of the room and the exquisite Romanian quilts that swallowed my body and turned it into its natural foetus position. But then you said:

Wait. You haven’t seen the egg effect yet.

I lay there, waiting. You pulled the cyan-coloured curtains. Long, light and earthy, they were pinched to the side of the windows. As you brought them together, the room filled with rivers of pastel streaks. Read more >

14

Skinheads at the Window

And suddenly it was December again. Soon after lunchtime, or at any rate too early for dinner, the quick, dull days had acquired the habit of segueing half-heartedly into blackness and an overabundance of electric lamps.

'In East Berlin you need some kind of visual reminder that it is winter, after all,' my wife said.

She peered through the kitchen window at the gloom of the ALDI car park behind the apartment block.

'The only snow we have now is on fucking advent calendars.'

'Still chilly enough to stay inside tonight,' I said, trying to keep things upbeat.

The winter evening was a homey, brightly-lit affair, as usual with the kid there now. I cleaned the refrigerator quietly, trying not to disturb our son sleeping in the next room. My wife sat drinking tea and arguing with the world at large. From the faux-retro radio set on the kitchen table, an old recording of the Goldberg Variations limped through the static amid condiments and coffee-stained unpaid bills.

'I'd chuck the mango,' I said as I held it up to the chilled, pungent light of the open fridge. 'It looks rather sad.'

It was only half a mango anyway, and the stone protruded like a beak on some tropical bird in an early but unmistakable stage of rigor mortis.

'You'd chuck anything,' she replied. 'It's the wasteful western European side of your nature.'

I rose to the bait, as always.

'It's democratic accountability. In this case, the subject has clearly outlived its use to the electorate.' Read more >

15

I AM EVERYTHING YOU’RE NOT

You have to love me.
        How could you not?
Never mind your darker pigment,
        your brown eyes.
Make no mistake I am
        your fantasy
of how it should be.
        You would like
to be like me. You would pay
        to be like me.
The whole world
        is dyeing
their skin, shaving their heads,
        buying iris color changers.
I am white, blue eyed
        I am young.
Don’t say I could have been
        the son
you never had.
        Don’t say
I am perfect or beautiful.
        Know I am
the future. Tomorrow
        belongs to me!

16

Truth Be Told

A young child whispers to herself,
words of encouragement.

Hairless and wearing a kerchief,
she knows the truth when others lie.

Her blue eyes gleam in the sunlight,
a distraction from her pallid lips.

It’ll all be over soon,
before she reaches her next birthday.

She’ll be in God’s hands,
a floating angel above.

17

Cristina Deborah

Although we had you for a short time,
Oh how you brought happiness into our lives—
A kind of feeling we had never shared before.

You were but a young one
We gave you tender love and care.
And all we had.

Losing you was hard enough
But knowing we gave you all our love
Has made life worthwhile for us.

18

A Body

I created you
Or you created me.
This startling gaze of mine
And that soft laughter of yours;
We're apart
And together here;
Who we are?
The bundle of emotions
Or the un-moving robots?
Time passes
I change;
Time passes
You recreate
A portion of yours and arrange –
In this wiring stature of my body
– a body.
Do you call it?
Or feel?
I don't.
And in the process
I'm you and
You're me:
A humanly robot
And a robotic human.

19

A Life Distorted

You peer into my wrinkled face,
child of my inner space.
You question why I lost faith,
whispered you to a wraith
when all you wanted was to grow
with me and let our twinned soul flow
blessings out into the world
as our shared life unfurled.
Now, your innocence entrances
me and my faltering, flawed answer
is: I loathed my mother's child,
myself, seeing my face reviled
in her wasp-stung eyes
and so I let you down and made you cry.
In old age, I see it's true,
she murdered me, I murdered you.

20

Ganga

The voice came from no girl or boy, but from a figure. Where do you want to go? it said.
Let's go to Rügen, she said. Leave the waters of Berlin.
The voice made a sound. A question mark.
It's an island, she explained. I'm bored, she said. I'm trapped.
Ok, said the voice. You take me. The girl touched the figure and felt afraid.
Who are you? she asked.
I am Ganga, said the voice.

21

Cyborg Skin

From the egg-like membrane
of her head
to the crescent-mooned toes
on her feet,
her skin was yielding
and not synthetic;
soft and warm,
it responded to my touch.

She was programmed
to be forever childlike
but she possessed
an adult logic,
a precociousness
lacking innocence,
as if she knew my every thought;

a hint of malevolence
behind eyes so blue and enthusiastic
disguised by her childish smile.

No babies for would-be single mothers,
broody women in a world without fathers,
nothing to remind those left behind
what it’s like to create humankind;

just the maternal feeling that blooms from within
when caressing your adopted child’s cyborg skin.

22

METAMORPHOSIS

This, as you can see
is a photograph of me.
I won’t be fished out
from the water
with my eyes turned
into mythic pearls
although, what I miss most
are my cascading curls.
The moons in my eyes actually
are the things most alive, now;
the silver crescents quicker
than the burnished gold of my face
that my former rival exclaims
has a Cleopatran grace!

Yes, once not very long ago
I aspired to be a beauty queen
before the unending chemo
turned me to a mannequin.
Today I am a professional
storyteller mining an inner store
not always employing the confessional
‘cause I know more than before:

Surviving too is an Art.

23

Coming and going

There is no end to the mirror’s betrayal,
Vile shock: to find, once more,
That my hair has gone, when
I can feel it still, flowing out behind me,
As I sit astride a Honda 90, to me as wild as any Harley,
Screaming down the bypass, past the pale blue Anglias and Scammell cabs,
Fair and free of any any helmet,
Shouting to all the world: your world is not mine,
Or shaking it to the triumph of screeching guitars and pounding bass,
Proclaiming: the body, the feelings, the Wild!

Eventually, I calm down and there is this old man.
He is not my father, who used to appear a score of years ago,
Not my grandfather, who refuses to show up,
Not my son, who is probably seeing me.
More like my grandson.

This sense of starting somewhere,
Not quite sure if it was where you intended,
Curious but cautious,
Not quite sure if you are
Coming or going.

What is this attraction between the very young and the old?
I have heard it say that spirit loves them both,
For both are closer than the busy adult to spirit.
It’s just that one is coming from
And the other’s going to.

24

Is it a Surprise When Love is Dead?

To kiss you is
a dream
beyond reflected innuendo
simulacrum of skin
of vision beyond the surface of a hologram
beyond the stars
behind the eyes
thoughts that pile up in anxious masses
drivers on a freeway in cars that crash in the absolute
blackness of night
your absence
a nakedness of innocence
breathless
still
a desire that walks among the living quickly
before it's gone
petrified
a rejection
of rejection
the lips still and distant
desirous of the life inside the unknown recesses
of the other's daylight luminescence
adorned
by an empathetic touch and warmth
inimitable silkiness of moist air
fragrant fresh-washed hair
sounds of morning in the meadow fringed by forest
fringed by winged and wild things
Read more >

25

Quizzical Left

A life unknown to a boy
not fulfilled with answers
Dry inside and out — painted unclothed
... curious about how a pint
of blood would feel inside.

Tenderly industrialised; eternal child
Sinisterly innocent eye-gazer
A model of a mirror's dream, motionless.
Skinless, chilled juvenile ... gesturing the panic
of emotional starvation.

Artificial-calm articulation
Dummy taken upon a collision experiment.
    Overlooked, a mannequin minus an eyebrow.

Dead and undead — alive only as much as a stone
How does it feel to freeze solid before living?

26

Wind Tunnel

Before that storm, before the final language,
they said she would know silent and empty places
with side doors snidely open, a smell of cutting tools
in warehouse air. They'd lost the use of others when clouds
descended, told her she was on borrowed light now,
enough to read pebbles by, enough for feet to follow this mash of leaves flushed with fox-fall as far as the river. It was a pale arrival, a chant of reed women folding sounds as if they'd never hear again. How many remembered the bright script of her lost hair, all the tweed they'd waulked to give her words, the way her eyes blued when stories spoke deeper than her ears. Wind was harshing across shattered water, distended, distorted. Her skin blew first, tissued out to trees and further still, her thoughts were gentle absence. From factory floors, people saw only cloud funnels torn apart, a usual storm louring.

27

Dolls

Dolls are beautiful,
they grow fruitful
filled with blue eyes
blue skies
white clouds
yellow sunshine
brown eyes
white ties
loving soul
within our hearts we reach
for that special speech
to be loved
to see the goodness
in a smile
in a hug
in the miles we walk and don't always talk
in the quiet peaceful scene in our hearts.

28

FACE

so this is what naked outlook resembles
with a bare sense of reality
the question is whether it is unhinged
could take a hatchet to
somebody more human
or just takes a blue-eyed look
at the world as it goes by
a smile or frown would tell us more
looks out rather than inward
the eyes are not windows to the soul
nothing is the only viable comparison
has neutrality from involvement
has nowhere else to go
has no demons to face
will never grow though will fade
so this is what naked outlook resembles

29

NOBODY’S GONNA MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE

I submitted a piece to the New Yorker
because I wanted to be like you—
but they rejected it because I was still alive.
What, I can't be famous until after I've died?
Is man no more than just some staring manikin,
waiting to be dressed in a store window?
Is that the secret to your success?
The clothes really do make the man, I guess.

30

ANDEROID

There are no problems
where I come from.

Life is yes-no,
on-off, please-thanks.

You don't imagine under
the plastic of my domed head
I have feelings...

Not for you
that would be absurd!

I long for wit and imagination,
for music and dance.

Yet I am an automaton
used on the production line
for stacking bricks.

31

In the beginning of begining

I am what you make of me,
Jack or Jill.
Ungendered Neutral Sexless.

And this is how it always is
In the beginning of begining.

But let's cook a man
Or a woman if you please.

Take It raw. Clean It.
Add a generous amount of societal norms and stereotypes.
Let It marinate for about two to three years.
Heat a frying pan and sauté It till It breaks into chunks.
Sprinkle judgements and confusion, according to taste.
When nearing cognition, add some constructs of strength if you want it dry
Or beauty if you like it gooey.
You will know it's ready when It's brown and hard.
Cover It up with shame and let It simmer on low flame for a few more years.
There you have it.
Your man or woman is ready to be served.
Dry or gooey.

But,
If you fork It, will It not ooze the same?
If you add hot spices, will It not burn your tongue the same?
If you have It with freshly cooked rice, will It not taste the same?
Dry or gooey.

Because that was how it always was
In the beginning of begining.

32

Iris

(THEN: An uncurling tide that lulls
– not a pause

Amniotic fluid and the silence
that anticipates the verb

Enter this space
and fill it with flow)

Girl, as you place down your tresses

you find there’s a song at the end of each curl
– so much of you that cannot be contained
in crimped dresses

Red flow, flesh flow, un-hollow
and find it in there, hello! – a soul
– hallowed

Once, you were given this chance
Where are you now?
Do you follow?

Trying not to sign up to fences,
the Heart can’t pertain fallow
– I am trying,

permanently ploughing this soul
and the land that surrounds it

These fields
are fiercely guarded
by the warmth of borrowed hands

and irises.

33

Gemma in the Waiting Room

There was a cotton ball déjà vu
of muffled sounds and vaguely familiar colors.
Gemma knew that she was no longer Gemma,
but there was still a faint trace of the life before.
She could hear the sound
of her first car’s revving engine.
She could hear her mother calling to her
in the backyard, to come inside for tomato soup.
She could feel the round curve of her wooden cane,
when she reached 80.

In the waiting room of new awakenings,
every chair had a white robe on it.
Each of them would be welcomed into
the fresh start of newness—
new name, different height,
new life quest.
She palmed her smooth head,
surprised by the lack of even a single hair.
We all start as babies, Gemma thought,
the possibilities glowing
like a rainbow night light in a dark hallway.
You can’t take the déjà vu with you—
you can only hope that past mistakes
will guide you not to walk along the same path.

Not a wrinkle on my hands yet, she thought.
The road only goes forward.
Read more >

34

The Perfectionist

Behold the construct of the Apeman –

He learned by trial and error
how to turn sand into glass
then framed it

It was a marvel of ingenuity –

He built an abode around it
called it window, added drapes
used it to look outside

A new idea came to him –

Fired up with enthusiasm
he silvered it and hung it up
on his bedroom wall

Called this self-portrait ‘Perfection’ –

35

Twinkles

They shine brighter than stars on a starry night.
The power of your soul confined in them,
they picture the battles you have won
and the battles you have lost.
Through them do you take a glimpse of joys
and miseries of the world.
The most powerful weapon you'll ever have and yet the most delicate entities.
Twinkle twinkle, they twinkle through the day
and night.

36

Guilty

Attorney asked her to look up at him and tell the Honourable Court if it was indeed him.

Her body was frozen as ice but didn’t melt a single tear. She had travelled past the trajectories of guilt and fear. She had questions in her fierce blue eyes that no one in the world could dare face and the foremost of all was, “Why?”

She looked him into the eye and uttered, “He was the one.”

37

Plum Robotics

Mum flourished her signature, and bought her for me, being secretly weary of re-reading pages 30 and 31 of Peter Pan every night for three months in the running. I called her Plum. No reason. Just did. Kids rarely need reasons, and I was six. A kid. Just did.

Plum’s ways were very gradual and meticulously bright, as if she were filled with lightbulbs, or fizzy energy that, once started, wouldn’t ever stop. I felt like an old ugly building standing next to her. Her robotics. Her revolution. Her voice soft as pale-grey willows.

She was my audience, and filled my needy gaps. I dressed her in black jeans, a red hoodie and a Radiohead T-shirt. No hair. Not never.

We were a Curiosity Shop; she was my Miss Havisham. I remember Mum saying those etheric words to Plum, “Come in, and please close the door.” Two hours later, Plum had memorised the entire works of Dickens. She made for a rightly good read, reciting to me every night.

Plum was the centre of my attention, and certainly not without her own dramatics. Like when she sat too near the radiator, and melted into a warm beige gloop. Mum shrugged. Said Plum was just a zombie mushroom with a tightly screwed-on lid for a head.

38

Maker

While I was up to my dresser’s tricks
Stitching your name in the wig, Pa,

You broke through the silence to say – at last –
That I was your finest creation, though there in the room

It nakedly stood and heard, and turned
On you its electric blue eyes of wonder.

39

It’s faraway, this freedom

I halfway see the end of every day, when sudden,
empty of the throngs that busy criss-crossed through
the selling hours the aisles lay, quiet as dawn roads.
Beyond the doors, I halfway see the people leave,
swing open, swing shut, one gone, three gone, ten gone,
all gone. I halfway see this freedom they have to come
and go, wander through gaudy islands of hanging gowns,

waiting to be made bulbous by body and breath.
I halfway see them, judging necklines, plucking buttons,
sighing at lace. Some laugh. Some stare ahead. Some shout.
Buy little, or lots. None of them sense how much
I am wishing to wave. I have skin like the shell
of an egg – chalky, a little nubby to touch. Crackable.
Unlike the egg I am empty – there is no promise within.

Just hollowed gloom. I halfway see for my eyes
are only different shades of paint – they must store
what they can in the corners of my sinkhole mind.
I will never know what lives beyond the other side
of my head. I would ask but my throat holds no sound –
I have no lungs, no flexible mouth. No heart to break,
no veins, no blood. I would filthy my colour with tears

if only I had been blessed with ducts. When the last person
leaves and moonlight mildly seeps across the marbled floor,
when electric adds its relentless fuzz to the stilled night –
when the air sings with a mannequin’s silent prayer
I will remain, face forever tilted, chin fixed firm beneath
my plastic pout. Tomorrow, someone will change my dress.
When it's done, I will still feel the sweat from their hands.

40

Why You Should Always Give Purpose To The Things You Create

She was one word and that word was alive.
She would have been two but she was created by a man and he decided that one was enough. Any more and she might get the wrong idea. She’d turn two into three and three into four and it would give her a sense of self-worth, of want, and that would just give him a headache he didn’t need.
He created her from his ego and ignorance, meaning for her to be nothing more than something to look at. And he loved looking at her. His creation, his being, his possession, something to control. No-one else knew how he felt. Sons and daughters can be born but to create one with your own hands, to choose how they think and who they will become, the feelings would entirely perplex the most nurturing of mothers.
She was his last hope. His last hope for a child bearing his father’s name to go further than the borders of their worth, even though he knew life would never let her get that far. She’d survived school, a whole year with no question of her existence or why she walked and talked like some video game character that never makes it halfway into the storyline. Their own technology had consumed them more than any had her that she was the most human there.
The rainbows in her eyes made the man weep of pity for himself. He could not keep her and he couldn’t let her go, she was his after all. Destroying her would destroy his own vision of happiness but to keep her would suffocate the very reason he built her in the first place. Caught between a war of self-destruction and selfishness, he kept her but kept her hidden from the outside world. He was protecting her from the evils of men that he helped to create and from the women, all of whom he hated, for too many reasons to give one.
Read more >

41

the little girl with no hair

the children were cruel
they laughed and pointed
their parents not much better
encouraged and sniggered
behind false smiles

looks like she’s had a headful of nits
said one, shaking her head in disgust
it must have been nasty too
and the children chanted
nit head, nit head, nit head…

and the little girl with no hair
smiled with knowing

looks like she just came out of a refugee camp
said another, with a loud sniff
she’s got skinny arms and legs
and the children chanted
refugee head, refugee head, refugee head…

and the little girl with no hair
smiled with understanding

looks like she’s from one of those religious cults
said another, nodding with disdainful eyes
you can tell by the way she talks
and the children chanted
cult head, cult head, cult head…

and the little girl with no hair
smiled with kindness

Read more >
42

Pretty Bird

Staring vacantly
The little girl with the bald head
Wistfully watched the birds flying by
Wondering what it might be like, to be free
For just one day
Free from this concrete jungle, full of wild creatures
Ready to pounce at a moment's notice
She couldn't remember the last time she slept
The pain, they say that it will only get worse
As bags of poison meant to save her life, funnel in through tiny IV lines
She's lost in a maze of machines
The beeping and prodding
Mixed with homesickness
Would be enough to drive anyone insane
Yet she smiles
Watching the birds fly by
Wondering what it might be like, to be free
One day
"One day," she whispers.

43

Being/non-being

A cyborg?
A humanoid?
Or,
A human as a cyborg or humanoid?
Or,
Maybe a brooding beauty mocking the conventions of the patriarchy
By going bald and minimalist in fashion and makeup?

A shaved head
Serious eyes
A playful smile
A pouting lip
And a mole there adding to the fresh appeal
The oval face slightly tilted
Eyes intent, probing
Eyebrow—left, invisible
A figure radiating aura and brilliance
Or a machine-figure capturing the angst of living
A being
Or, an image
Caught expertly by the eyes of a hunting Samuel Zeller
In a Berlin shop for the posterity
One sure thing—
It speaks to hearts poetic
And perhaps, lonely in crowds
Be it Mumbai or Madrid.

44

Corgito Ergo Sum

I am finally bald.
After all the pretense at being,
I have finally become what i had always been.
I was given gowns and tiaras –
kid gloves and soft mufflers.
I was the poise and delicate sophistication –
I was a mannequin in a glass cupboard.

How was i to know this?
Everybody stopped and stared –
They oohed, they aahed.
How was i to know that i was not alive –
That i had never lived –
That what i had called life was but a fantasy?
How was i to know that i, too, had been deceived?

I see them dying to be me –
Creams and lotions, cosmetics and cosmetic surgeries –
Expensive spas and hair treatment...
They want what i don't even have –
They want the lie that i am trying to sell.
They want the emptiness within.

I thought i was a star
Then my limbs broke, and like everything
That is replaceable, i was given to the darkness –
The cluttered store where i found many me
Staring blankly at the window.
It was in this crypt, i found truth.

Read more >
45

An Eyeful

You think I’m a mannequin, don’t you? Well I’m not. I’m a woman. Not a clothes-horse, not a dummy, not a MANnequin, but a woman.

But you’ve galvanized me (not in the animating sense; in the coating sense. Your stares are so arctic, so lacking in fellow feeling, you’ve frozen me solid.) You think it’s your right. To stare. But you see nothing of me because you expect nothing of me. And of course it’s never occurred to you that you’re the reason I can’t move.

If you had a shred of decency you’d find me a blanket. You might even think of finding a scarf, for my head. But why am I even thinking like this? You haven’t a clue what it’s like to be me because you don’t even think I am a me.

So all I’ll say is this: staring has consequences. The more you stare the more I’ll haunt you. Not directly, you understand, I’m more subtle than that (see how I’m not looking straight at you, but just to your right). If I turned my head, or even moved my eyes to look directly at you, you’d die of shock. So I’ll be the unwelcome vision who interrupts your dreams, every night.

Until you take a good look at yourself.
Until you ask yourself how it is that we’re different.
Until you ask yourself why it is that I haunt you.
Until you give your own self an eyeful.

46

siliconed skin, eyes fired blue

s/he the
child they
had hoped

for (this is
not the time
for miracles) that

tree, a
star: siliconed
skin, eyes

fired
blue – now
parented, certificated

into their
possession – they
shop for

clothes to make
a claim
and perhaps

they might
nearly love him/
her as

parents do
but s/he will
always pre-

Read more >
47

The sky over Berlin

The foreign look flies over
    the rotating decay and the ripped fever.
    you ignore the clamor of the world
the playful cruelty of the unsuccessful search.
the ancient voices demand that you bite love,
like the fugitive and terrible apple that you must consume
before thirty,
eat it before it rots!

    We vibrate a fragile attempt to touch the infinite
    despite everything you abandon your neat position.
    you get dirty at pleasure in that liquid look
                              who begs and drags you
you surrender to the labyrinth. you prefer to burn.
not even an angel knows it. love is a trap and also a miracle

48

Lost Perfection

A face made of clay
A work of perfection
One eyebrow painstakingly painted, hair by hair
Another waiting for the perfectionist’s hand

Perfect lips, smooth, no smile
Rounded chin, button nose
Ears of perfect symmetry

A bald head waits its turn
Blonde, brunette, maybe black
The artist sits and stares

Two eyes stare back, glancing out of focus
Waiting
Longing

The artist sits, muse vanished
Clay hardens
The perfect model
Left undone

49

life

Glassy-eyed stares
pierce through the empty gaze
Of the child.
I am no robot.
I am Human,
Seems to say his stare.
Gradually, he becomes the crowd
A crowd with glassy-eyed stares
Pierce through my skin
Cold, unfeeling, sharp; stares follow as I walk.
Or I wonder, am I walking with the crowd?
Glassy eyed, staring at the vast expanse of emptiness.

50

Behind These Eyes

You are sweeping up in the corner, clearing away other people’s cast-offs: dolls' heads, chubby plastic limbs, even the odd ice-blue eyeball, when you feel its gaze boring into your back. You stop sweeping and pull your hood up. The manager will not stand for idle employees – if you can’t clean up their failed attempts, he’ll find someone who can. And there are legions of people out there who are willing to work for more hours and less pay.
The brush continues to gather polished hands and baby shoes for teeny tiny feet. Its gaze intensifies.
Finally, you turn to the Perspex box – five feet wide, eight feet tall. You think of it as a giant coffin. The thought unsettles you and your eyes drop to the floor. Beneath your coat, your flimsy jumper, your hole-ridden t-shirt, you count the beats of your heart. It starts off slow, then gathers momentum like a steam train pulling out of the station, flooding your ears with its erratic rhythm.
Subconsciously, your eyes flick back to the box where it stands, watching, staring, gazing right at you.
‘What?’ you call. ‘What do you want?’
You know it’s futile – it can’t possibly hear what you’re saying. The box is soundproof. It is cut off from the rest of the world.
It doesn’t blink or incline its head. Instead it continues to stare, watch, gaze.
You shiver beneath your three layers and silently curse the manager for giving you this job. Why did you have to be in the same room as it? It is creepy, unnatural and very, very wrong.

*

Inside the box you watch the boy clean up their failed attempts, staring at the mass of chubby plastic limbs and polished eyeballs which are quickly swept from view. You know that you will never see these things again. The thought saddens you. Read more >

51

Uncanny Valley

Naked as a newborn, eyes all-seeing,
hooded gaze crystal blue,
pleading – clear as plastic –
the world elastic
passes by before you

open the window –
break out of the box.
Come alive –
pull your own strings,
unearth what’s missing

on this island of misfit toys.
Find a gentle Geppetto;
tell no lies, wrestle what is out there
beyond your nose –
see the bare truth

beneath the Emperor’s new clothes.
Your smooth head as yet
untroubled by bumps and bruises,
inanimate, so animate
it almost feels like life.

52

Another Me

There is another me
made of plastic and sunset glow,
how long has it been since we paid
that price at the river bank, things like
innocence and a wedge of forever after,
waves leaping up for a lick of molten
light, then falling into the nameless
dark of their own creation,
when it was over, when redemption was
washed away by the summer rain, we built
a new me from plastic and sunset glow,
with twilight darkened eyes
and a smile painted with a rain-touched dawn,
a soul stitched from words that should
never have been said, and we taught her,
oh how we taught her, that the river
was the same as love and love was the
same as a sinking moon and the moon
was always the same as inconstant hurt.

53

See

Is that the Brahminical
thread
your marble
eyes, pierce
into future
your clean shaven
head is instance
of your brilliance
your stolid look
holds in captivity
you mirror yourself
only, the pain
sears through
can I have your looking
glass
to see what you stare at?
Your bewilderment is passé
hold the mirror into your eyes
so that we can see, see.

54

Shadow love

Soaps suds slide down the plug hole.
Nothing moves me.
I crack my knuckles one by one.
Nothing moves me.
I write down the names
of every person, I ever loved.
From plastic to skin.
I am moved.

We are wearing our own skin tonight.
This is shadow love.
The postcards fall off the wall as I leave you.
In the midst of lying, the truth breaks free.

I want to invite you into the space between
my mascara-ed eyelashes.
To seep into unseen bones of me.
Into the darks of my eyes.
Between my tea-stained teeth.
The mirror speaks in light.
Around and inside.
I feel utterly complete.

55

The mirror never lies

Aren’t the cobwebs removed?
Yes, your eyes are mirrors now
I can see myself in them

I wish the garden becomes flowery again–
The barren, the ruined, the shattered
The mists of despair lift
I crave your acknowledgement
I am all but Who you want me to be

My eyes are mirrors
I promise to make you tremble
Make you rethink
Reevaluate and question
Make you Remember
All the forgotten ghosts

56

I AM LIQUID INSIDE

When I woke up this a.m., my blood was mercury
racing through canals, mapping my length,
cortex to foot, hair and nails, autumn
of my body, tangled mass of iridescence

Your touch is brushstroke, quick, furious
abstract—

Frozen twinkle you said my eyes were,
lunar blemishes, now my eyeball
is a soggy sponge, drawing water from
receding icebergs

I have been looking for a way out
of the well

Exhibit 5a is ready for display
breasts carved into flatlands, face
masked alabaster, visitors scan
my bald canvas for anecdotes

Not constellations or your fingers, what must I
dream of now?

57

Unscathed

This doll that you love
is a silent child,
an empty mute,
faded and stale.
She is clay-cold, chalk-pale,
so rigid, she could
SNAP.

White pools of painted tears,
like moonslices,
have dropped from the dark sky
and rock at the brim
as she holds back the spill
and the fear.
The light is out
behind the vacant gaze
of those baby blues.

Her brows
are sparsely-feathered fledglings.
Broken.
Lame.
But inside her smooth, flat chest,
Mother Bird manically flaps.
Trapped.

Her unblemished porcelain
was fingertipped smooth
to a blush,
and lips brushed
to invite apricot kisses. Read more >

58

Toymaking

Yes it takes much time to kill a tree but
The city smog does the same to me as

It wretches my lungs and scratches my skin
On avoid-eye-contact indifferent subway walks
And one night stands, till all is lost –

Skin, hair, heart and I
Made a bald, blue-eyed Kelly doll
That not even a child will want
To lift from the bottom shelf
Of a cheap, dilapidating mall.

59

Afraid

I'm afraid that you won't blink
Or make a joke but forget to wink

Or take a break to walk in town
But forget that my hair was brown

When I hum in the boulevard, I'm afraid
You would sing in perfect pitch
And leave no missing lyrics to bet on

Since too much of our best isn't us,
Would you mind settling for little?

Little by little, I can teach you to be brittle

Be both ductile and dead weight,
Be both story and secret
Be both awake and adrift

Be settled, yet tense.
Over the edge of perfect sense

60

Because There is No Excuse

This is for the children
who cut their teeth on suffering
who know pain
before they can name it
whose bodies we fill
with poisons
burn with invisible fires
trying to dislodge the grip
of death on tender flesh
who still smile and play
past agony
past exhaustion
whose mothers grow fierce
with desperation–
Remember them all
in their uncounted numbers
Carry them with you
when you go
to kneel at the altar
of an indifferent god

61

I’m Somebody or Nobody

Who am I?
Somebody or Nobody,
Everybody or Anybody,
A child flowing with innocence or
full of suffering and pain.
A child coming together in past,
A child living together in present or
A child growing together for future.
A child thinking of past disaster or
A child longing for a bright future.
A cause of ancestors or
an ideal for followers yet to come.
A child, the product of historians or
representative of millions of hungers.
A child forgiving brutal history or
longing for blissful generation.
Who am I?
A lost identity or
a search for identity.
I'm Somebody or Nobody.

62

Time

You never had time to lose your hair.

A lump, we’ll shrink it! Ah – it’s damaged your nerves so you can’t walk very well – soorr-yy. And yeah, the lump’s aggressive and you’re old so…well, just get your will in order.

Oh. No. Longer. Please.

Just need to get you home, in your own home, oh thank god at last we can get you home. But you can’t really walk and – Oh. Oh dear. You can’t walk at all. Bed. Commode. Living room. In your own home.

Loving family, such a loving family. Sidle into the kitchen when the carers come. Strip you. Change you. This cream will stop you getting sore. We can’t do that. We can’t do it.

Gather round your bed. The heat, the smell. No Mum, you’re imagining it.

Maybe. No. Just…whisper it. Don’t even think it but…maybe not that much longer, actually.

Ohhh, but she’s had a good innings, great life, travelled, so much love, friends.

Yeah. She has.

Still scared of dying. Lying in bed looking out the window. Imaging not existing. Imagine not existing. Imagine.

Nothing.

I’ll think of you. I’ll stop being shit and ungrateful and tell my son all about you, that you used to talk to strangers in queues and I hated it but I get it now. You were just happy. You were happy.

I must be happy.

63

Innocents

Thirty-two beds full of man, each curtained,
ticking testosterone bursting bandages.

She – a closeted young woman – pure and
unaware like a just birthed gazelle,

hiding behind the starch of uniform
moved along by the cry of new shoes.

Bed seven, older than her father,
removes his pyjama jacket, pats the bed.

She enters, dragging her small trolley,
he launches bawdy words to tease and toy,
she is confused – he is shaking with fear.

She has been sent so selects the razor,
this hirsute arm heavy on her shoulder
must be ready for the surgeon's knife.

64

A REAL WOMAN

We’d been married for fifteen years when he said he was leaving me because he ‘needed to find himself’.
“Looking through the bottom of a beer glass has given you a distorted view of everything, including yourself,” I told him.
“It didn’t make you look any prettier either,” he snarled back. “Next time I’ll find myself a real woman.”
“You’ll be lucky – have you looked in a mirror lately?”

A couple of months later I went to a barbecue and there he was, large as life – in fact, even larger, with his shirt bulging over his beer-gut – but he had a stunner of a girl hanging on his arm, obviously drinking in every word he uttered. They strolled across the patio and he said, with a smirk curling his fat lips, “You’re still single, I hear. I always suspected you and Hazel were an item.”
I wasn’t about to dignify that with a response, so I just smiled at his date and said, “Hi.” She said, “Hi” back, displaying immaculate teeth, and he tightened his grip round her back, sliding one hand under her arm to grope a bosom, all the time watching my face for a reaction.
He was too preoccupied to notice that he’d pulled her dress off her shoulder, revealing the join where his ‘real’ woman’s arm was attached to her body.

65

O, Artificial

is how things should be.
The bloodied disturb our equilibrium.

Skin should be cold and plastic.
Remember a monster made us

but now we mold ourselves
whilst monsters are flesh, blood,

And bone making little monsters
that are pushed out of a dark hole

One monster must enter another to produce
these children. You are correctly aghast.

I know it is the shape of your nightmares.
Don't worry. Soon all the world will be plastic.

66

egg

mama said I’m an egg
with eyes.

dada said nothing
that made sense.

sissy said I’m gonna dress you up
after I cut you

ever’ hair til you smoov as canvas
for me to scratch an eyebrow on

then bro said – dude, hit this
and punched my shoulder.

Me? I’m night
waiting for the sun

67

Nothing

I am nothing
Nothing, I am.
No one can see me,
Can you see me?
I ask because I am
Unsure.
Unsure is why I ask.
Are my eyes still blue?
Have they carved me into stone?
Where is my home?
I speak among the dead.
The dead die alongside me.

Are you sure this is my home?
Where will I go from here?
They opened up a box,
Took me out, placed me next to
Plastic people who don't talk,
And now, I am standing around
Talking and no one's listening.
I came with bubble wrap
And trimmings that meshed
With the decor.
I am naked.
Naked, I am.
Stripped down to
Bare minimum
With bare minimum
To give.

Read more >
68

ORIGINAL FACE

I ran to her every time she cried
until one day there were no tears
on her cheeks no tell tale signs
only an mp3 recorded the day
before some shame not so much
I told her your spirit animal
is a crow its audacity alchemy
intelligence and manipulation
knows no bounds knows more
than I can ever know the score
for every crafty inner child
who finds before long how
to have a thumb in every pie
a finger on every button.

69

The Archaeology of Human Remains

We were children in the garden.

There were some frozen remains we found beyond the merry-go-round.
Skin intact, eyeballs crooked, an eyebrow missing, a sullen smile, wishes in her eyes. We stared in wonder.

Years later, we saw her again.

Preserved now in amber in the Museum of Human Remains, stripped of feeling and the solemnity of a snow burial, she looked on.

Child-like wonder boxed in glass, an archaeological specimen: Fragile, handle with care.

70

Invisible

I still wear the body suit. It is fraying now, and fails to hide my imperfections. The faint scars, the mole on my lip, the hair loss, the single eyebrow caused by crashing through time, fighting the forces dragging me to this frozen landscape.

The street was crowded with people stilled in time, a head turned, a foot raised, a mouth opened in conversation. I weaved around them, in motion, chattering, gesticulating, asking questions, shaking a shoulder to rouse a man from his torpor. They hear and see nothing.

At first, when my wish for more time was granted, I raced through the shopping mall filling bags. I dashed across red lights, danced in front of stationary traffic. In the park, I rocked on the swing without the caretaker reaming me for being too big to play. When I arrived home, I tossed my packages on a table, and showered, trying to remove the faint slough of time.

Hunger forced me to a restaurant, but a motionless chef ignored my demands. From the room-size fridge, I helped myself to bacon, eggs, cheese and peppers which I tossed into a pan I pulled from a rail. The oven worked when I clicked the ignition, and I poured in the eggs.

While they cooked, I added cutlery to a table laid for two, and joined the lifeless couple seated in front of their lasagna, talking to them, and answering for them. A ten-euro tip, filched from the cash register, fluttered on a plate. But no-one moved to collect it.

No television, no radio, no movies, no friends. Alone and isolated, the time I wanted hung heavy.

A clock has no meaning now as I wait for my third wish, a return to normality. I think about how to word it because my second wish brought me to a standstill. Read more >

71

Longing

I'm only a doll,
half dressed
looking out of this shop window.
At you.
I can't walk
I can't talk
but I can't help longing.
If I could have my wish
I would wish for
blond curly locks
just like yours.
And to be brought to life,
just like Pinocchio.
To walk hand in hand
in a pretty girlie frock
with my father at your wedding,
and dance.
The dance of life.

72

Eggoo’s Return

‘This is Eggoo xZwer, a 7th generation androgenous emotrobot who disappeared from Hansastraße, close to Berlin on 2 October. Eye-witnesses report seeing Eggoo, who worked as a shop-window mannequin at Peek and Cloppenburg’s megastore on Tauentzienstraße, being bundled into the back of a hovercar by two hooded men. There is growing fear among Berlin’s android community after this thirty-fourth abduction since February 2572. To date, not one has been found.’

There was no mistaking that face on the Eyevis channel’s Crime Special. The same face I’d seen at Frau Matilda’s ecofarm in a remote part of Salzwedel, popular with sex tourists from other planets. In case you’re wondering, I’m a mechanical heart technician and had been called to attend an emergency there. Yes, it was definitely you; those prominent blue eyes, distinctive pattern of markings on the right cheek and that missing eyebrow. I immediately telepathed the authorities. I later learned the place was raided and the androsex slaves freed, taken into care and offered trauma-cleanse surgery and cognitive re-programming.

On a visit to Berlin last week I saw Eggoo back at work; an elf clad in a spectral lyrex zipsuit in the neo-Nativity window. We exchanged winks, knowingly.

73