• Vol. 08
  • Chapter 04

Texting’s Not Touching

In lockdown again, I’m alone, and I’m texting you —
Though, as you know, I hate texting, and I’d prefer to be touching you skin
To skin, but instead I’m touching my phone, texting you.

You text me that texting is a way to stay in touch:
That texting is black and white, that words are easy to understand,
And not mis-interpretable —
but, I text back, colour is an illusion, and nothing is as binary as the opposition of black
And white sounds. Then, as I put my phone down for a moment, I see
My fingers brown against the darkness of the screen, and I pick it up again,
Wanting something beyond that darkness: to touch the light; to touch you.

I miss touch:
I miss the easy going times, bookended with the touch of friends’ hugs,
And kisses on both cheeks — and most of all I miss
That almost touch of proximity, being in the same space as you
When we can reach out and
Touch at any moment, hold hands, kiss, lie side-by-side and make love
Without words, talking with our bodies.

We talk of texts — books; literature —
But now text mostly means words generated by technology,
Letters and numbers and emojis that make me feel like a defective robot, not a woman.

When I turn my phone off for yoga, in a weird way I am furthest away from texting —
And simultaneously the closest I can be with you when we’re apart.

Read more >

1

Bauhaus Brain Funnel

Force-feeding galaxies to phone screens;
black-hole emoji reads "wish
I could see you" I can't
seem to translate my starcries
through shapes on some LEDs,
plastic, glass memories, carve me
some syntax, zoom call me ecstasy,
make me feel endless and like
I could touch something
I'll tell you you're beautiful
brush your hair noisily, wire
in my hand,
or so I'll pretend.

2

Blow

Is this how it ends?
Not with a bang, but with a “u ok hun?”
text, marked as sent,
but not read.

Porcine Pop Art Fantasy:
candy cane glass
shatters into symbols
that we read as
runes for a future
we can’t see.

I just want someone to stroke my hair.
I just want someone to care.

I just want someone to stroke my hair.
I just want someone to care.

3

What You Give Away

Knowing her was like learning a language without really trying. As if she'd whispered into my ear one night when I was asleep, laying out her vocabulary, and nerve endings, her exceptions to the rules. The tiniest inclinations around her eyes, the way one hand sat flat on top of the other, the number of taps from finger to thumb, I could translate them. Some of these might have seemed universal, but they were specific. Like mine, too. That arched brow – a monument in its own right. I saw it in her reaction, when another tourist shared some racy details of the residents of Pompeii before adding their own. Or when, at the cocktail place, they were over-ostentatious with the flaring, sending mint sprigs flying. The silent speech, making shapes of the air, rounding my thoughts, as I pressed into hers like clay, each of us exposing each other's bones.
4

The Possibilities are Endless

You brush against me and I think nothing of it
In full flow, we are, debating the rights and wrongs
Of what, I can't remember now. But some dark night, a long time ago
Heady with freedom and sisterhood
The cobbled streets echoing with other voices, jubilant with youth
We linked up for a journey home
And I was in delight by how clever you were, how clever that made me
How light and laughter gleamed within your narrowed eyes
And that dark, curly quiff that wobbled as you talked
Lit my cigarette. That baggy man's coat against the late Autumn chill
That car you drove, when that was novel too
But when you rested your hand on my thigh, I froze
The airplane door opened, mid flight.
And suddenly the air was gone, and turbulence tossed me all about
Wrenched me from my seat, in fright
Full credit, you didn't force it
Leant across to open the car door and said goodbye
And I was underneath that night sky alone
Hurtling, spinning into space
Not sure, any more, of which way up I was
Only that the universe was so much bigger than I'd thought
My tiny corner dark
Yet unfurling, all the time, stretching onwards, outwards, no end in sight

5

On Their Fifteenth Birthday (1st February, 2021)

These days they know you only by your hands,
still fussing, cleaning smudges, finding partings
precisely as your daily act of love. They leave your house
smooth and pink as a Roger Hargreaves illustration.
They don’t know your heart aches for their tender past
so soon gone – wished away sometimes – now lost.

They are young boars, no longer your twin piglets;
almost mature, invisibly bristly to the touch.
They don’t yet hunt, just forage for fun, giggling
at jokes you can’t understand or, worse still, do;
dirty boys that still scrub clean when the world hurts,
but joy in sensuous muck they think they’ve invented.

6

Binary purgatory

Find me half-way there
in binary purgatory.
That white shapeless
isthmus, that non-descriptive
marshmallow center
bordering the playfully
lopsided aqua-green rug.
And half-way north
of that flat, gum-pink
snake-head hair brush
held casually by floating
short-cut, blue-tipped
tripod fingers, you'll find me.
I don’t know them that well
I see the bookend pigs
are here with tearful eyes.
I hear them fake-crying
in their round-eyed
yellow, one-dimensional
cryptic gendered voices.
It’s not that they don’t
give a damn, they just
don’t know who I am.

7

RUMOR HAS IT, NAPOLEON DID TEXT SNOWBALL AFTER HE TRIED TO KILL HIM

On the fateful night, when Snowball escaped
The clutches of Napoleon’s angry grey hounds
He melodramatically sulked for a while
Soft comforts of the long lost Animal Farm
Kept buzzing about him
Tearful, he murmured to heart
The Seven Commandments of Animalism

Later into the night, in an abandoned pigsty
He wholeheartedly embraced his exile
Strangely enough, his phone lit up the foe’s name
Many a beep then followed, all of which he left unread

8

I DETECT A PATTERN.

Pretty pet piglet #1, aka "the deadbeat husband"

Resents: his lack of agency (imagined, mostly).
Action: texts his b-side person around 3 a.m.
He writes: "I am a dreamer, as lonely as the solitary firefly."
She finds him: delectable, but strangely aloof.

Alas! Two worlds collide.

His teary-eyed tirade:
- "I am on a tight leash."
- "I have to stay for the children."
- "You deserve someone who can say yes."

Last-minute change of plan: never mind
apologies, let's boldly embrace
Double Cake.

Confused, distressed, the lady agrees to:
- never call his wife again;
- wait for him to change (miracles happen);
- write him a poem.

As for what he actually thinks: hieroglyphs.



//

Read more >
9

THE GOOD LIFE

now she’s no longer mired
down     trapped by her trotters
living a leftover life
but fresh from the shower
pure as pink     and feeling perky
she texts him her love message
all curves and curlicues to conjure desire
for mud rolling rollicking fun
a new start for them both

he squeals through the ether
angular and sharp as a butcher’s blade
he wants promotion to flight captain
never-ending adulation
he too has had a taste of finer things
won’t settle for a porcine existence
no more wallowing for him     he’s stepping out
demands clean severance     has never heard
that pigs will fly

10

Smorfia

So you dreamed of a pig last night,
the dark-haired lady said. She sighed,
and added, love will bring trouble
if you lose control: play a 4.

You were brushing the pig, you say?
More trouble ahead and you know:
you seem aware of it, you want
to chase it away: play 50.

The pig’s mysterious utterance
implies that you are suffering
for nothing: just let yourself go,
stop worrying, and play 90.

A mobile phone? More of the same:
stop fretting over your future,
you are far too anxious, my friend!
Stay calm, relax, play 44.

And I will offer you a 3
as an extra number to play:
it’s your wish to be free, but first
you must give yourself a true chance.

And if you win, remember me,
she said at last, raising her hand,
palm up, waiting for him to pay.
He went, she let a new one in.

11

SUBSTITUTES

We used
to brush
each other’s
hair
we used
to paint
each other’s
nails
we used
to feel
each other’s
skin
we used
to call
each other’s
name
we used
to stroke
each other’s
legs
we used
to laugh
so hard
spit
would spot
the other’s face
Read more >

12

What I have to say

I have learnt that most of the time I don't have the words.
I have maybe symbols, could say: I feel like an anchor tattoo,
or, I am green as the letter C, yellow as E, or orange as F.
Other people might get it - but usually they talk and talk,

and I jump and dodge looking for a place to mount the train
before it is long gone to another platform, another person.
My story that I wanted to tell will already be meadows ago,
and we are in a new city, and I would be pulling us back.

So then I write, tenderly stroking and feeding each poem
to get to know its shape and sound, and we work together,
and when I find a chance, I show people and they go, oh, Liz.
You... have something to say. You have lived on a mountain,

you have arrived at a bar after midnight, suited and joyous,
you had a cat who you loved and nearly lost before you did.
You had a crush who broke your heart in a cold hotel room,
you lost and found and lost a girlfriend, this strange summer.

When I don't have a poem to hand, I just say, I love cats.
Travelodges make me sad. I miss going out, miss being held.
Maybe there is enough there, a ghost, a bubble or leaf of me,
for someone to catch and inspect and know what I mean.

13

Send, Sending, Sent

Red, purple, < + 3 floating into frame,
clipped messages shout in full caps
GIFs from 1950s TV no one watches,
words, tones, emotions collapsed
into rows of circles, dots, hyphens
upside-down, shift 9 or 0, parenthesis—
as explicit as traffic signs—somehow
in our preschool mind, we recognize
the pictographs as universal being
human or humanoid, everyone’s alter ego,
choose from a catalogue of emotions
to preface or close content
even when said content is an impulse
poorly chosen and barely meant.

Someone else’s jokes ctrl-copied
then pasted in flattened fingertip haste
like an elbow nudged between ribs—
just a tag, you’re it, to draw you in.

You reply, therefore I am.

The thread becomes a chain of burps
farts and giggles to keep the contact
light, like a breathy whisper at the ear,
a soft brush on the inside of the wrist
where we once dabbed cologne or scents
to be noticed.

Read more >
14

Vahara’s Envoys

I find myself treated kindly,
but without you, I am lost.
My words fade to nonsense
absorbed by alien ears, in this vast,
strange place where I've landed.
Our leader said we'd be teachers
to these floundering humans.
How should we begin to help the race
who've fouled up Earth, their home?
As lone folk, they seem quite sweet,
though their smallness of mind limits
the chances that we bring. Sister,
how is it for you? Do you fare well?

So good to hear known language,
carried in our holy hieroglyphs.
I must not complain, or voice fear,
I too am treated well, just here
in my corner of their planet, Earth.
If only they would extend their love,
the soft concern they show as they brush
my ancient, worn hide. They see only
what is straight in front of them, ignore
the greater turning of the cosmic tides.
Read more >

15

Pigs and Pixels

I remember when we used to grunt,
rub snouts and wiry whiskers,
entwine tails, exchange nose rings.

Now we embellish words with different fonts,
emojis, gifs and cute piglet pictures,
when there’s a world, a universe we could be exploring.

I miss the mutual grooming and the thrill
of touching skin and flicking ears,
all the little things that show we care.

16

Haibun for the brushers of pigs

Why would anyone want to brush a mini pig, a boy or girl pig, or give them a phone to play with? Pigs don’t speak microchip or play computer games. Pigs are penned and caged and forced to reproduce and have their babies taken from them. Pigs are herded into the abattoir and slaughtered. That’s what we do with pigs, not brush them with matching nail-varnished hands. If you listen, you’ll hear the pigs scream their stories and you won’t like it, you with the brush. I bet you’ve given them cutsie names too. But you won’t listen. People who put bows in animals’ fur and make them wear baby clothes never listen. They’re laughing too hard.
When the sky falls, it’ll fall first on those with pig-brushes and there will be no mercy.
cruel hands
stroke tenderly rose-scented
eyes tight closed

17

Fields Back Home Were Never Like This

We are the Tamworth Two
lived our lives in exposed fields
were fodder for a bacon slicer
so had to affect escape.

We ran from a meat transporter
at a abattoir by Malmesbury
slinking through a fence then
swam Avon, the river.

We hid in Tetbury dense thicket
amongst wily foxes, brer rabbits
before carted to Kent into
a centre for rare breeds.

We were written up in red tops as
most important story of the week
had exposés on the box
featured in documentaries.

We live in a salubrious sty now
with a surfeit of fresh food
are visited every day
tourists and trippers.

We are celebs down here with
coats brushed twice a day
hence we purr like a cat from
first stroke to the last.

Read more >
18

Who let the pigs out?

Who let the pigs out?
You? You? Or you?
Who let the pigs out?
You? You? Or you?

And then they came in throngs, smelly and burping, and speaking some gibberish. Up and down the alley ways, up and down the staircase, up and down the hallways, up and down their minds' ways, up and down their cave nostrils, up and down their shady tails. Their thoughts and beliefs walked in front, marching in heavy and thick bison hide boots, dragging the pigs by loose knotty shoe strings and misconstrued words that they barked out like half pigs and half dogs. Their stenches were sitting on their heads, somersaulting in their uncombed hair, carrying tiny shovels and hay picks which they’d shove into the skins of the pigs every now and then to bolster any slow in the blitz. Far away, beyond the outskirts of decency, neon billboards had manicured and flashy nail polished hands, promoting, screaming like town criers, cheap hair brushes in red and blue. The pigs winked at the tempting hands exchanging crummy text messages:

We let the pigs out
We, we, we!
We let the pigs out
We, we, we!

19

sow power

from squeak to tail tip
we gently groom
you split hooven
mistresses of circuitry

offspring
of the most porcine tech-giant
principal piglets future princesses
of the penthouse sty

fear no more the portly butcher
apple mouth & severed head
the belly the streaky the crackling
we revere

how you Mensa dazzle us
bring forth the multi-facet formulae
to solve our quantum
conundrums

emergence & gravitons
dark matter & neurons
we unworthy humans applaud
sow power

20

The message that’s hidden

Whatever the codes, the symbols, the cyphers,
the message that’s hidden is always: I love you.
My heart-crafted content is always easy to decipher,
whatever the codes, the symbols, the cyphers.
Disguising my words with intent is part of desire,
teasing and testing our twosome is true.
Whatever the codes, the symbols, the cyphers,
the message that’s hidden is always: I love you.

21

Fragrant Paradise

'Who is gone over there?' my granddaughter would ask
Peering into the laptop, our weekly rendezvous platz
Where we kissed and bade goodbyes
Across a three millimetre wall.

We hurrayed, wowed, played hide and seek
Sang twinkle-twinkle, Jack & Jill and
Read stories of bedtime,
Hugged the black cat, yellow hippo and brown bear,
The pandas, puppies, piggies gaining favor,
But alas it was on either sides,
'Can I take it out?' she would ask,
Each time 'It is in the laptop' we would sigh.

The game goes on even now
With growing list of stories and songs,
The world gets bigger every week, still I often dream
If the laptop could extend words and sight and
Take us through the inside to the other side,
Lift us like the butterflies from dreams of sound and sight
Into the land of real touch and fragrant paradise.

22

Squiggling in Lookalike Close

Enid and Griselda Perkins are identical twins. They live next door to each other in Lookalike Close. Enid lives at No 1 (after all, she was born a minute before her sister) and Griselda lives at No 2. Like most identical twins, they share the same interests and have the same opinions about almost everything, although when it comes to nail varnish, Enid prefers pink while Griselda goes for blue. And as for their choice of hairbrush, Enid plumps for blue and Griselda for pink. The sisters are both committed vegetarians but curiously, they both love pigs. To save at least two piglets from being eaten, they each adopted one. Enid named her’s Streaky and Griselda chose Pinkie-boo. At 5 o’clock on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Enid and Streaky go to Griselda’s for tea, and on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, Griselda and Pinkie-boo go to Enid’s. Streaky and Pinkie-boo became great friends and as soon as they meet they get into a huddle and squeak and squiggle and snort and squinch all afternoon. Enid and Griselda bought them each a phone so they could chat and text each other and share pictures on Instagrunt while they were having their coats brushed by their mistresses. You should hear them! If you could draw their chats, they would look like pizzas from Mars!

23

Soothe me technology

That’s it soothe my ego,
Let the faceless people press that like button.
All my internal worries about my external appearance wash away as i am ‘liked, ‘hearted’ and given the good old digital ‘thumbs up’.
Soothe me technology,
As comparison tries to my steal my joy.
The never ending cycle torments me, yet i still participate.

Like.
Compare.
Must try Harder.

Soothe my body aches as i work hard to get the curves that are now on trend, despite my genes protests.
I shall add a stronger filter next time, yes.
They will call me pretty, goals and fire.
Emojis will evoke emotions that i so desperately wish to feel in the real world.
This world on my phone may be filled with an abundance of fake news, photoshopped images and other people's fake realities but it's what i need right now.
So please, soothe me.

24

More Than A Feeling

This little piggy went to market
This little piggy stayed home
And this little piggy cried “OMG LOL!”
When Ben met Jerry
When Jerry met Tom
When Tom met the Baker’s wife
Or was it the Farmer’s wife
With a carving knife?
Did you ever see
Such a sight in your life
As humans
Afraid
Of living…

25

PIG TALK

Nobody talks to one another,
anymore.

Only bleeps and squeals
and electric prods in the ear.

The Pigs
have taken over:

Lol...FFS
Lol...FFS
Lol...FFS

But I can't...

And yet,
there is no fear here.

Just the roll of the train in the morning dark,
as we speed past the murky park,

on our way
to the abattoir.

26

Buzz buzz

‘Later babe. LY.’

Yeah you say that.

‘Xx,' I type back.

Then I get back to business. Opening Tinder, sending the first pic in my camera roll. A picture you took of me last night. I press send 10 times over, turn my phone over, put my music up loud, and paint my nails. Buzzing. I’m buzzing. My nails are wet and my phone’s blowing up. But it feels better to lie here, my ears full, my nails wet, my head empty – just vibin’ – than to look. My eyes close and I drift off to the cacophony I’ve set in motion.

27

Pigs in Space

The new masters arrived in robust interstellar cannisters.
At least that is what our weakened visual cortexes
were able to determine after decades of abuse by LCD.

They brought audio decoders in smartphone disguise
to interpret our language, which devolved
into acronyms and ideograms over millennia—

an inelegant sound best described as a series
of symphonic grunts, and wet sniffles.
We had no similar means of verbal identification,

preferring to spend spare moments
creating memes of celebs du jour.
The visitors' superior linguistics put us at

an immediate disadvantage. They mistook trepidation,
raised hackles, as snorts for attention; cooed calm;
picked up perfumed cudgels; stroked bristles snout to tail.

They laughed, took our photos. Something to remember us by?
I turned to my piglet in panic,
whispered, "I ❤ U ∞ QT!"

She replied geometrically, "cu L8R mum,"
as improbable digits drew us to enormous chests,
squeezed tight.

28

The Rise and Fall of a Sigh

Letters and numbers on a screen,
the blue light and hum excites
the way the old, yellow wall phone
with the stretched out cord used to cause
me to spring from my room
to the kitchen with great leaps.
Aside from the ring,
it was a connection of voice and breath
traveling through wires.

Now our words appear after three dots,
as if communicating through the ethers,
without further nuance than colored hearts,
symbols, and faces on shapes.
We have captured speed and immediacy
but lost the tone and warmth of
the human voice’s lilting intonation,
the rise and fall of a sigh.
Take me to the place
where a single word is a whisper on the skin,
where I hold my breath
just to hear the sound of someone listening.

29

(THOSE FEW DAYS WITHOUT YOU)

Drowning in messages of sympathy
tongues that are rolling
others tied up in an effort to process
People of few words trying to make sense of
days identical to each other
yet so different
so forced
I get up in the morning
I check my messages – a lot these days
a lot more than I’m used to
emails
work
formalities
I was told I’ve got to let others take care of me
and I’m living vicariously through images of those I know so little –
posted on social media
I go to France
travel to the United States of America
I’m off to South Africa
Tortured by the thought that I can’t call you anymore like I used to
Ask you how’s your day, if you have the time to come by for coffee
where I’d offer you biscuits that you’d politely decline
A routine that’s so hard to break
Essential to me
Perhaps to you too
So I’ve been thinking
neighbours stuck in their boxes
sharing the same staircases and elevators
but leading such different lives
Read more >

30

What Else Should I Say

I unscrambled my thoughts
to text you my love,
Babe.
On Valentine's Day
it’s the most I can do
in this strange
distanced year
when there is
so little new
to tell you.
It’s inadequate
but what else should I say
when it’s your touch I long for,
your strokes
and caresses
and they’re as un-textable
as you are untouchable.
So what else should I say
only that
you’re still the one,
it’s still you
I’m looking for,
Babe.

31

squealer

all this pampering
doesn’t cut it with me
I know she’s thinking bacon
gives me this phone saying
‘stand on it, talk to your sister’
it goes hoink hoink hoink but
I’ve fourteen sisters so which one
I grunt to humour her
I’ve seen the hams hanging
I’ve heard the slaughter
but you know what
come the revolution
I’ll get the farm

32

Communications

And is this fun? With trotters, trained
To mess around in the slow mud,
And now as hard digits deployed
To tap out words, to then press "send"?

Some may snort at this. They will not
Identify with piglets, groomed
And glassy eyed, exchanges framed
By hearts. It's oh so cute –

But can't you hear the complications
They're sounding out? The signs and shapes,
All set free from stereotypes,
Colouring their communications.

33

Nostalgia aside…

Our grandparents were
men and women of strength and stature,
I’ve been told.
I never knew mine.
They died too soon, but
they all passed their stories on to the
next generation.

My parents were cut from the same cloth...
hard-working, daylight to sunset, at first
fearing, and then smiling
into the future.

Then my generation boomed onto the scene.
We were given, by our post-war parents, all the
toys they never had.
We grew into flower children, acting out the
license to chase self, and
imitate on-screen rebels.

We rolled in the mud of Woodstock and
shouted for ‘freedom’ while
spitting in the faces of
those who birthed us.
We got it right sometimes, but not enough to
turn us into saints.

Read more >
34

The Lard Renderers

Lard renderers wanted "The Best Of Show". They tied on pretty ribbons and a bow. Not wanting to be a part of this process, two little pigs brushed off criticism. As they were getting groomed, the conversation was about "how everything tastes better with bacon." The pigs decided to go in different directions, hoping to find their places in the world. They thought about making their homes out of bricks, straw and mortar. They would combine all three for a stronger home as they weighed on the scales of justice and how love factored in. Moving forward, they stayed true to themselves.

35

Sweet Bacon (or try not to sing)

Where do I start?
I can’t believe it’s been so long.
Nearly a year has gone, and our feelings are growing strong.

I struggled in lockdown
then it became a norm.
Who would have thought you’d come along!

Snouts
Touchin' screens
Oinkin’ out
Texting me
Texting youuuuu

O my sweet pig! (ta-da-da)
Loving you never felt so gooooood
Your sweet bacon
Is putting me in a playful mood.

Now I look at my life
and it no longer feels so lonely.
Despite restrictions and lockdown
our love still grows on so lovely

And when I’m alone
feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders
I reach out to you
and there’s no more pain!

Read more >
36

well-groomed

conditioned from birth
soothed
supported
aroused by touch
the prize of proximity

stepping back
we care
bear the weight
within skin
of emotions usually shared

that two metres we wear
left hungry for touch
fuelling confusion
desire for inclusion
found vicariously

as we stroke feather and fur
feel moist breath
listen to purr
watch romantic films
nestled under heavy throws

caressing our phones
dispatching emoji emotions
keeping connected

37

A Thoroughly Modern Circe

The study room.
Chatter, grunt, snort, squeal
- Not by the hair of
my chinny chin chin -
Barely a bristle between them.
Buzz buzz buzzz

Turn, eyes down;
She sees the grease
of sausage in the making.
They tip tap on screens,
Communicate...what?
She slides into the only empty seat
And, as a shield, emptily studies
her book for assignment.

More snorts and audible muck
Slurry the air.
Buzz buzzz

The book she holds is precious,
Especially in the emoji era;
Wonders at these boys spurning it
- Words before swine.

Her own phone buzz buzzes
And innocent as a pearl she opens it:
A horrid pink thing stares up
from her screen
- They had her number?

Read more >
38

In Clover

I’m tickled pink that you should care,
think how your brush should smooth my hair,
or is it anniversary,
when first we met at bathroom door?
Have our gums shrunk or needles grown,
these dentin bubbles, coffee paste,
our grunts and groans, occupied place,
that cuneiform few others speak,
as if guinea, experiments?
By graves and cradle I have learnt
to max the text space in the field,
swill drink at brittle iron trough,
spread clover bed or raked-in muck,
so turn my ear to silken purse.
What now we sow will be as reap,
a bore, excite or stimulate,
nail colour bar, another term,
much deeper than a lipstick mouth,
but bristle still, call out insult,
that lazy blanket coverage,
squeal pinky, perky, stuck black, white.
Search wrestling, acting, tells me more,
they’re two or both, pair become one,
can it be here, that this our year -
translate from Eden that estate,
let fig leaves fly and name the date?

39

Password

There are some phone messages I can decipher like I am cute and Mum loves me. It's like an angel brushing down my harsh tangled hair with love, soothing my pigged-out emotional clutter with care. Already, the clutter becomes less. I begin to comprehend my thoughts that usually swim in circles and signs. Though my one hand rests on the delete button, I am unwilling to use it.

Then I get messages I cannot comprehend. Mum sends me a cryptic one in sign language with numericals and a heart that sees darkly. The brush in my hair no longer soothes. It tamps me down, as if love is a code that needs to be cracked. It challenges me to go on some hero's journey to find it - some brush with reality that I need to disentangle. I no longer feel cute for I know I need a password as her message is like one - with alphabets and numerics. I don't have the password. My mind is now a tizzy of circles and signs I no longer comprehend. One hand rests on the delete button for a long moment. My hand moves away, as if of its own.

40

All writing is pigshit

Bits, chits, chunks, dunks, and bites
Grovels, howls, bursts, busts, and slights
Even vanity-stuffed insights
Or those with badges of rights
End up as pigshit.

Pigs do not think twice
Even rhymes taste just as nice
They nibble gobble virtue and vice
Also 'forwards' rolled in spice
Pigs also love their pigshit.

Pigs would, if they could
Mix online updates in food
Broadcasts might taste good...
To refuse refuse is rude
Pigs do not dishonour pigshit.

Pigs are the coolest of all
They'd accept an online brawl
A cartoonist's scrawl
Even a politician's gall...
Every word, at some point, is pigshit.

But read what we write, piggy dear
So other pigs here
Pause to hear
Before they scarf and clear
To turn our world into pigshit.

41

My little cutie

My little cutie
Sweetie
Honey pie
Porky and pink.
Everyday I brush
Your little
Cute snout,
Button ears and think
“Should it be the pink brush
Or the blue?”
My little cutie pie
I love you.
Piggy pumpkin
And cherry sweet
I love hearing your
Little words.
What did you say?
Mini munchkin
And sweet darling
I don’t always understand
What you inferred
But my little cutie pie
I will always
Cradle you in my hand
For one day I will understand
I gave you a phone
To call your mom
She only texts on the weekend
And never for long
Read more >

42

We Were Colleagues

We were a 15-storey building.
We were elbows on a printer.
We were break time code words.

We were a chaotic tea house,
microwaved eggs, hungover Capri Suns,
deleted and re-written emails.

We were city farm pigs at lunchtime,
confused chickens, the awkward squeak
of a bird food dispenser.

We were secret thoughts.
We were open smiles.
We were a proposal
outside an empty alpaca pen.

43

Ode to a Pudgy Pet

To pamper
Brush with a fine-tooth comb
Take to Grandma’s house
and show off your curly tail
To cuddle and snuggle in bed
on wintry nights
Use you like a hot water bottle
to relieve a dull pain
Manicure those hog-feet nails,
and post pictures on social media
with an adorable pet Instagram

To feast at a vegetarian
restaurant
Sing melancholy songs
when the lights are out
Converse for hours in girl talk
when my hair is up
I would never consider
mistreating you,
or putting you out to pasture
where they’ll pickle your feet
and slow cook your ham.

44

The Dancing Pig

The Pig was an odd specimen. It danced the jive, and the tango, and the samba. It played the violin, and read Homer and Milton. It sung a barnstorming power ballad. It watched the stars and dared to ask what was up there. They gave it a phone, and a Twitter account. PIG SEEKING A DANCE PARTNER. The tweet went viral, but nobody came forward.

They kept it under wraps, of course. Wouldn’t be decent, to let it run around. A sty was constructed, like a luxury condo, with a home cinema, and a gym, and five bathrooms. They kept it pampered, varnished its trotters, and glossed its lips. Hidden cameras were installed, to make sure it was content.

But a decision had to be made. A conference was held, with lots of men in suits. One from the government, and one from the market. There were scientists and veterinarians. The man from the abattoir and the man from the television sat in silence, both waiting to say their inevitable piece.

What were they to do? Put it in a circus? Put it to work? Keep it in its sty? As they deliberated its fate, the Pig served up a five-course meal, and the executives left the meeting with full stomachs.

No decision was made. That night, the Vet who brought it into the world, and the Farmer who kept it, watched as the Pig danced a Charleston. It threw itself around, wild and gaudy, flinging its trotters and waving its snout.

“Look at it,” said the Vet. “Doesn’t seem to care that we’re watching.”

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” said the Farmer.

“I think it’s horrifying.”

Read more >
45

Did You?

Did you know pigs perform better on cognition tests than three-year-old children?

Did you know, did you know, did you know?

Clicking and combing and clinging to distraction.

Low pink buzz of panic, blue haze of links.

Coddling my basest impulses, blue and green bubbles.

Trying to hear myself tapping out words.

Glassy eyes, emojis, running out of ways to say I’m lonely.

Did you know, did you know, did you know?

Maybe I could make myself understood, if I understood what I want to say.

46

Pig, Text, Love

You say you love me. But only when I ask. To the moon and the stars and back again, you say and your press-button, ticker-tape words come easy to you. You laugh—at least I imagine you laughing—and blow kisses to me from far away. And I don’t really know if to the moon and the stars and back again is really what I was hoping for. Do you know it took only fifty-nine hours and forty-nine minutes for Apollo 11 to get to the moon? To reach the stars it’d take a little longer perhaps—but short of forever, I think.

‘Jeez!’ you say.

Then silence and I don’t now how to respond to that ‘Jeez!’ so I wait.

Counting the seconds and then the minutes—holding my breath.

Then when I have given up and am not expecting it, my phone pings and on the screen I read, ‘Voyager 1 was launched in 1977, forty-three years or so later it still has stars to reach. That’s about as near as forever as we can get.’

Did you google that?

Maybe you’re right, I say, but I knew a man who once loved a great muscled sow. Loved her more than he did his till-death-do-us-part wife. He took to sleeping in the pigshed of a night, fondling her sweating pink dugs in the straw-and-shit dark and whispering the sow’s name over and over till it was like music or prayer. But when the sow was old, blind in one eye and limping, all her piglet days behind her, he cut a hazel switch and drove her lumbering to the butcher’s in town, had her made into bacon and chops and sausages. He said he loved those sweetheart sausages cooked in pig fat with a little apple sauce on the edge of the plate – loved them to the moon and the stars and back again, he said.

‘For fuck’s sake,’ you say.

Read more >
47

Obsessed

Your text popped up out of the blue

It said 'I want a little pig'


One of those ones that doesn't grow


You sent me videos of them running in slow motion

I watched them on loop


I pored over the way their pink snouts came up snuffling,

Their little grunts

sniffing out scraps.

I was in a gift-shop, saw a stuffed toy pig


As big as my fist

With a sticker that said press


On his belly


So I pressed and he squealed in delight


And his cotton skin was already faded
 

From sticky fingers who couldn't resist 


He was pink like tongues like a baby's bedroom


I pocketed the little pig


And I squeeze him when I think of you.

48

Groomed Pigs

Conditioned, habituated
like a faulty dodo,
pink and blue pigs
stop evolving.
Chained.
Shackled to limiting IT.

Converse is stilted.
Monosyllabic.
Scanned.
Seen.

Unlearning brains
accept gender doctrines,
with no disgruntled snorts
or agitatedly raised trotters.

He wears blue;
she wears pink.

Both don straitjackets –
shrinking sexuality
to mundane
minute-
ness.

No liberating rainbow rays
blink in rectangular eyes:
now iPhone shaped;
retinas are unthinking concrete,
-      grey, soulless lumps.

Read more >
49

Love, Interrupted

This unending cold silence during the pandemic, these moments of isolation has taken a shape around me. They sometimes appear as bright flashy texts on my phone screen as they light up my room in the middle of the night. I feel the proximity to you, your skin, and your love morphed and molded-in these small texts and emojis. Love needs no deciphering and yet here we are adding a thousand versions of hugs, surprise, and sadness to this unending dearth of pictorial symbols. Earlier, love was an indescribable feeling simmering in the depths of your soul, unable to be transcribed. A burning passion ignited by a fleeting sight or touch by your lover. Love, now, needs expression in its loudest form. Love comes boisterously as bright-colored emojis and texts; waiting to be read. Sometimes, I long for your deep stentorian voice of yours filling my soul and brimming me to the full but yet here again I wait for the sudden short sound on my phone in the middle of the night to look at the message saying you missed me the whole day emoting with a damn emoji.

50

Photographs

We have been eating from Instagram lately
Eating honest food from our
Forget-me-not blue dishes. The plates are white now.
I am watching
What you are watching but
I weep over what forces a
Smile to your face.
Our fingers and voices are
In sync on different surfaces
My words grate over the steel you
Cut your nails on.
Crystalline are our eyes as we
Gaze into each other without seeing
Without seeing each other
Without seeing the world.
We see backgrounds painted upon
By a false hand
Though we painted each other
You followed the recipe that
Made my heart and
Came out unique.

51

Bubbletime

Monday:
After nine months of isolation, I’ve stopped listening to the news. Behind all the paper cut out symbols are family and friends. Its distressing so I…

Press acetone soaked cotton wool against my nails, count to ten and sweep yesterdays shade away, pick up my brush and groom myself

Mother lives not far, yet has been distanced from me for months now. Language has been stolen from us instead we text…

I 🖤 U’s and message forever using infinities symbol ∞ dulling our minds that want to discuss the state of the world and climate change

Last summer we could meet, she on one side of a closed window, confused. While I outside in pain, palm pressed on the glass shared her tears…

Today I will wear red, a dangerous shade for a rebellious mind. Thank you Jenny Joseph my wardrobe provides funeral purple, now all I need is a stick…

Together alone, the pair of us deteriorated, once capable of real scientific discussion we are reduced by a viral storm to gibberish and lies, such as…

See you later baby, reduced to an alphanumeric shorthand that instinct tells me Virginia Woolf would never use, and in an uncertain world is a true lie…

Tuesday:
Today I press acetone soaked cotton wool against my nails, count to ten and sweep yesterdays shade away…

52

What failing

is this that looks like skin
taut on drum,
bones and spirit knocking loose inside
                                    like
                      a sparrow’s final bloom
across this phone screen
standing tall, scraping sky.

Cruel diamond lights, greener grass
reflections; the clearest
signs make no announcement.

How is it to blind
              a bird
then blame it for going astray,
for it to bend towards home
but never arrive?

Gravity grieves
for the first great
sky full of stars. You scratch
my back so
I scratch too.

                                               One of us
will not survive the plague; what failing
is this that anyone could predict who.

53

Belly Draggers

Cast offs and orphans, sanctuary Saint Cathy invites us
to snuggle atop feather pillows and her overstuffed couch,

watch old Wagon Train reruns on a big screen television,
hum its theme song, “Roll Along,” in dreams as we sleep.

Let us lean into boar bristle brushes, itch thick dry skin
and groom rugged stiff coats of goth-like spiked hair,

leave us feeling as beautiful, unique, and elegant
as Veronica Lake swept swine—glamorous refugees at rest.

Proud, pink piglets, we march shoulder to shoulder,
dueling doppelgängers ever aware of arms reaching

out to hold us at ground level (though we’d prefer
to rollover for a back scratch or intense tummy rub).

Cathy smothers us in goodwill blankets that settle
like warm winter tents on our bodies twelve months a year;

days pass without number eating treasured snacks, seeking
main meals five minutes past, in the present or future,

rooting out truffles, delighting in their sexy smell, we
then cool salty, unpickled feet, wallow in mud puddles

that glaze our hides in an earthy fetid water mouse,
caked dirt cracking as it dries allowing wrinkles to breathe.

We count daily blessings—food and affection—as stomachs
enlarge, becoming baby-back bastions of endless appetite,

so, thank you Cathy, steadfast guardian—faithful companion,
our pig time together’s always well spent. We are family!

54

In Deserts Far

So far I’m comfortable. We use complete words – where would the communication be otherwise? Those hieroglyphs the youngsters use would mean more to people popping by from Ancient Egypt than they do to me. Perhaps they’re in touch with people across time as well as space. Perhaps you are too. You’ve never told me, but then I’ve never asked.

If we went to the pyramids now, you and me – just imagine that, travelling again – what would we find in the dry dark interiors? Would they be warm or blissfully cool? (I know what it’s like in the desert, the juxtaposition of heat and cold.) Would we draw closer to one another or shrink apart, remembering all the warnings that have been programmed into our brains? These times make us want to do both and leave us (too often) curtailed by indecision, fingers hovering over keyboards, reluctant to make the first tap. For fear.

I’d go back to paper if I could, but I have no ink. If I had a chisel – and the strength in my wrists – I could carve my message in rock, though I have seen the power of the wind in the desert. Eroding everything written, smoothing everything down. Only inside are we safe. Deep inside. Write on me there.

55

Behind the screen

I wish you could hear my thoughts that sometimes wire my brain and light bulb my being. I try, honestly I do. Especially now when I’m talking in my head, when I forget and my tongue slips. I want to say 'I love you’ but instead I text ‘U gud?’ I want to call and come see you. I want your hugs. I need your strokes. But I’m walking my fingers on my smart screen, typing and deleting, to pre-empt your response so I know I’m typing the right words. When my heart speaks it’s raw, no flavouring, no makeup – it’s a taste you couldn’t acquire so instead I text flowery words that you’d prefer.

It’s safe behind the screen; here my lips don’t quiver, my eyes don’t water and my heartbeat is steady when you read the message. Only my screen knows how hot my tears are. But maybe if you peel the paragraphs and pick the sentences of silence, of ‘k’ responses, you might know. But would you?

56

Brush my Pig

preternatural; I've pig'd out
                                           I'm pooled-up, glassy eyes —
claw'd DMT in my tail saying: I love you
                                          with all my geometry; and you can
brush my pig whenever you want;
                                      furred like quivery butter; nose'd and eye
face-pressed into each other — you speak in kites
                        and I reply in diamonds; the text-drip bubblegum
and our blue-red yīnyáng;
                          the non-symmetry our hoof'ing — like I'm near
you're nearer — we're in the same room;
                                            but the hearts are all coming out oval
and if I oink'd too honestly
                                            you'd stop brushing.

57

A Million Reasons Why

1.     A one in a million color
2.     A one in a million flavor
3.     A one in a million fabric
There are a million reasons why I should brush and wash. Squeeze the peppermint paste out of the tube. Apply the Cerave cream. Condition and comb, too. Dollops of detangler. Showering used to be a habit. Shopping lists of Dove bars, soap and chocolate, dairy, and boxes of oats. Morning habits. Along with hands held, mouths cleansed/kissed/coddled/wipes, and shoulders tapped. There are a million things I’d like to say. Strings of syllables turned sentences turned stories. While we speak, acronyms accumulate. BRB, GTG, FTW, WTF. I lose my way. Unable to order, alphabetize, or answer. There are a million sounds I’d like to hear. Long and short vowels. Hard and soft consonants. Tones, tonality, and tunes. Even so, we text. Fingers press buttons and letters become syllables. Syllables turn, eventually, to phrases as puffs of air float through the speaker that is my phone. Stories stall, yet your voice is lovely – the color of __1__. The flavor of __2__. The feel of __3__. I feel inspired. I pick up my paddle brush and you yours. Greetings turn to grooming and connections correlate with care. I’ve always been told that correlation does not imply causation and this much I know is true. I know, too, that connecting with you both correlates and causes creation. Good habits, good feelings, goodness the color of __1__, the flavor of __2__, and the feel of __3__. There are a million reasons why I thank you, friend. A million reasons why.

58

Touchscreen

I try not to text, but the urge is overwhelming. I’m not in the mood to talk and writing on a small screen to my friends and family is what I’ve become accustomed to.

Alone in quarantine because of Covid-19 is driving me mad. My fingers touching the screen, is my sanity.

The brush against my scalp should calm me, but I can’t relax until my words are done.

I type the last sentence and hit send.

My fingers begin again.

59

Realisation

I recline in the black bucket chair. Its rexine material slithers uncomfortably against my skin. The smell of lavender hangs in the air, reminding me of lazy afternoons with you. The hairdresser arrives, adjusting her apron and tucking a stray strand of her auburn hair behind her ear. Without any introduction, even a perfunctory one, she picks up a brush and runs it through my hair. I can feel its pricks of carelessness, sharp, against the pink skin behind my ears. I want to tell her to go slow but keep quiet instead.

My phone beeps its characteristic temple-bell tune. A new message has arrived. The hairdresser pauses, as I reach clumsily for my phone that rests on the glass countertop in front of me. Even before I unlock the phone, my heart races with anticipation, hoping it is you. My heart flutters when I see your name splashed in bold relief, across the message that I am yet to open.

The hairdresser spritzes my hair with scented water and picks up a different brush this time. I do not know if it is the re-assurance of your message, after our first fight two hours ago or the soft blue bristles or the deftness of her strokes, I relax at once. The hairdresser picks up the scissors and begins chopping long locks of my hair. My fingers scramble to find their way to the right words of a short epistle, on the fluorescent keypad. Don’t mess this up, a nagging voice in my head says, you don’t want to lose her.

I jerk with the weight of the realisation that I missed you. ‘Please be still,’ the hairdresser commands, dabbing blood from the fresh nick on my neck with wispy white tissue. I inadvertently mutter an apology. It was my fault I got myself cut.

Time was running out. If I delayed, you would probably think I was not interested. I hear the cadence of the scissors working its way through my hair. My mind isn’t working clearly. Read more >

60

Neighbours’ Remuneration

All creatures are neighbours.
Because we inhabit the same Earth,
Or the same village, or the same home.
Sometimes, I face you, and sometimes, I don’t.

Some of us (only some) are lucky to be brushed, and fed, and sent
To study the same hieroglyphics,
To read the same books, learn the same numbers.
Some of us (only some) receive smartphones as gifts when we reach adolescence,
To text and to play as we choose.

But the moment we step out of the gates of school,
Into the world,
We might have been neighbours and friends,
Now, it is everyone for themselves.
And again, some of us (only some) get our first job,
But soon we realize that the colour of the brush we were groomed with, in our childhood, matters.
The realization soon dawns that life may be unfair, and choice – preordained.
Was the brush pink or was it blue? The other colours in the spectrum silently tried to assert themselves too,
But were disquietingly ignored.

61

Facial Recognition

He dropped it in the mud.
He didn't notice until he fumbled for his baccy tin
but I had already slid it a smidgen out of his eye-line
with my even-toed pointe technique.
I have now become the most tech-savvy pig not going
to market.

I may have a thick skin but I know he doesn't like me.
He lingers, unable to comprehend, before he throws down
my reduced rations then recoils in disgust, mumbling 'Diva'.
I disturb him, you can sense his discomfort when he regards
my demeanour. I can feel his rejection.

When he sits in his armchair teasing out his baccy
I know that the magpies have been playing dominoes with
his roof tiles, he doesn't know that yet.
I know where his Artificial Intelligence is hidden, and
I know who I am, but my porcine portrait torments his gut
with a confusion he will never understand.

62

Mistyped

The device just wouldn't take her captcha
She started to feel like she was yet another machine
Tapping frantically at every shape she saw
To start conversing with an algorithm
That promised to hear, even if not care
That gave back some reply, however formulaic.
She had learnt to live with ease
Between deleted mails and unsent messages,
People often wore her down
Her friend laughing louder than usual
At her silly story; overblown and cold
Like a letter typed all in bold.
She would climb into her half-read ebook
The warmth of the screen
Gradually spreading to her fingers;
That is the closest she felt to love
It reminded her of the woollen mittens
Her grandmother knit her
In all the colours she could find
Once she had tried knitting a tiny flower
Grandma had laughed when she called it a beetle
Maybe the captcha today is mistaken
Like she was that day
But instead of laughter there is only the clicking of keys
Failing to get a few shapes registered...

63

Leyman

I woke with a stray pixel in my eye.
I reached, fingers like dowsing rods, to retrieve the source of light.
‘Train station – arrive 11.55pm’
Marvin & Dempster’s The Old Straight Track fetches £125 on eBay.
‘Ok mate – will be in taxi rank 5 mins before’
Alignment means a straight line and by ancient, we mean:
Beacon points, megaliths, settlements, historic livestock routes.
‘Terry you’ve never looked worse. These late nights are killing you.’
‘I know’
‘Red or brown sauce on your bacon?’
‘Does it matter?’
How straight is a straight line? How ancient is ancient?
The dictionary on the shelf in the kitchen says a ley is ‘fallow or unploughed land’
I haven’t made £125 all month. Rural taxi-driving is mainly driving teenagers to parties, one forgotten victim of the pandemic.
The hills roll beyond the windows of the Skoda Octavia silently.
Behind a screen of sitting darkness, they die with every setting of the sun, but I do not need to see them to know that they’re there.
The grease from the bacon roll seeps onto the dashboard.
The station appears in the distance in a halo of dull floodlights, a tarnished beacon upon the hill. I flew through the back-roads lined with elm trees, a silent procession lining the road that curled away from town into the darkness of the fields, punctuated only by the train station car park.
DELAYED
‘For fuck’s sake’
11.55 became 12.01 became 12.06 became 12.22 before the train pulled in and with a huff blew open its doors. Two minutes later, the rear door of the car clicked open and the night streamed in.
Read more >

64

Gulf

I’m lying on the bubblegum blue rug with a hairbrush in hand when Peggy texts:

HEY, SIS.

We must have been five or four when we espied her parents watching a sexy film one night.

She’s a cousin of mine. But growing up and living in distant cities, a gulf enlarged between us, and my memory of her faded into white. I don’t know whether she remembers: our toy house was curious, and dolls copycats.

Like a house whose residents had to flee in an exodus, I thought of her a lot whenever someone said ‘Peggy’.

We’ve been out of touch for almost a decade, so I’m very surprised to see these six letters on my screen. I wonder what her memories of us are. I wonder, if she remembers more than I do:

Hi, Peg!

65

___ me, like ____

draw me
like one of your french girls
charcoal and brushes flying galore
over the deep dark blue sea

brush me
like one of your pet pigs
blue and pink brushes stroking so gently
in the shallow mud of the farm

text me
like romeo to juliet, like hermione to ron
blue and green and gray “...”s all night
“ILU”s and “CUL8R”s and trips planned for tomorrow

love me
like the picture-perfect couples on instagram
matching outfits and red hearts forever
in the purple blue orange and yellow app

that is what i want this february
happy valentines.

66

Mother’s Cot

Someone has a pride of place in his heart,
In there she is deeply seated,
She has a leash on him,
The bond is ionic,
Strong as a three cord rope,
She cuddles him swathed in her affection,
Her advice is like honey to his wounds,
It brings a soothing relief,
It's like water poured on a parched ground,
His hand is in hers leading him to safe grounds,
Much is the work you need to do,
And know how to do better,
Though he loves you,
She, he loves more.

67

Be Seein’ You

Have you heard about the three little pigs?
These days, it's more like two.
Gary is not so much part of the drove,
They kicked him out of the crew.

In his house of bricks, high'n mighty he sits
Looking down his pink snoot.
He spends his money on fine masonry,
Won't lend five bucks for food.

His friends grow weary of being stood up
When they call out Gary soo!
All the salon days, the pedis, the spas
He skips the mud baths too.

He can't be bothered to apologize
Won't send an HMU
But his most cardinal sin, the worst of all,
His phone still dots in blue.

68

Two Little Piggies

I thought you’d meet me in the market
Sorry, mummy made me stay at home
But in the café, I had roast beef
You were lucky, I had none

Well, can you meet me tonight?
With mother, I don’t want to fight
I promise you a crackling time
Okay, out the window I’ll climb

And what a wondrous time they had
They skipped, and danced
Their hearts so glad
And as the evening came to close
Back homewards, they turned their toes

Many, many times they met
Dancing to flute and clarinet
Feasting on delicious spread
Their love grew and grew
Now they’re happily, blissfully wed

69

Craze

“Mm, what meat is this?”

“Goldilocks pork.”

“Sorry, what?”

“Goldilocks pork. It's the new craze. The government wanted to cut down the consumption of meat to save the environment, so someone had the brilliant idea to inject pigs with a serum that gave them long, blond hair. Kids loved those pigs immediately! You wouldn't dare kill one, let alone eat it. Though, of course, someone had to do just that and it turned out they tasted deliciously.”

“You can say that again. Can I have another piece?”

70

he looks off to the left and the rest just happens

you and I speak
in unencumbered
secret glyphs
and every finger-tap
every head-scratch
the stretch and awk
of every yawn
communicates
this or that
and so

when the crowd is cold
and trouble seems
to hover like a hawk
over the sun
know that I will feel
the silent hug
you give your arm
and I will talk you
a way out

71

He Spoke in Symbols

He spoke in symbols. So many symbols it took years to string together what he said.

He spoke mostly about feelings. Tactile feelings, not in those in the gut, or worse, the heart. Things like, "soft, stiff, knotty," but all things that meant something else. "Soft" meant "weak," "stiff" meant "trustworthy," "knotty" meant "complicated."

I began to decipher what he said the very first time I met him, but I didn't know I was doing it. But, on my face I could feel amusement with the semi-words he communicated to me. The amusement within tickled at the sides of my mouth. And light slanted upward behind me from somewhere and followed me around, lifting me from the ground.

There was a look in his eye often, too, of sanity gone so far that it teetered on the precipice, a newly busted seam from which something threatened to come out. But then his sanity always came back. And it terrified me worse because it felt like home.

"What," I said so often. To him, to myself. "What do you mean?" to him. "What are you doing?" to myself. But never did I ask "Why?" like a child. I didn't need to. I knew the world by then.

The symbols intrigued me as they began to form a picture; it set my skin on edge. My skin reached for him from a place curling inside, below my intestines, behind my bladder, so deep it felt like it was on the Outside. Not outside my skin. In another realm.

It occurred to me as love took over that my cells had rewritten themselves. My hair changed color, my cheekbones changed shape.

I was doomed.

Read more >
72

EVEN THOUGH THEY WERE NOT FREE, THEY LEARNED TO LOVE THEIR FATE (OR: WE HAD TO TEACH THE PIGS OUR WAYS, SO THEY COULD BUY OUR LIES)

which meant data plans, which meant a contract,
which meant exchanges, which meant privacy,
which meant two-step codes, which meant protection,
which meant provider, which meant a design,
which meant a purpose, which meant a meaning,
which meant some new gods, which meant all new myths,
which meant new gospels, which meant new versions,
which meant new problems, which meant new questions,
which meant new prayers, which meant new answers,
which meant some losing, which meant some winning,
which meant addictions, which meant some playing,
which meant some choices, which meant some freedom,
which was false freedom, which was the true plan.

73

The Distance Between Your Face And The Screen

drifting

apart

I hate to admit
everyone's becoming
social media
friends
not irl
not
even
text
friends

everyone knows everyone online
how do they know them
becomes a chorus
and soon
you're hours deep
stalking profiles and comments
everyone is linked
and you're left
out

when you knew them
you didn't know yourself
and now you do
you're lurking
hoping
Read more >

74

Pork scratchings

She uses a baby brush too soft for him to feel;
his combing not enough to inspire her squeal.
Muddling their messages with clumsy trotters,
they text pink and blue I love you, press send
too soon, too often like a hieroglyphic of lust.

Climbing to the ark, they stagger two by two,
find Noah and wife at home with painted nails.
I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine he says,
but there’s no time for platitudes when counting
swine. They sense unscheduled drowning coming,

head straight over the cliff to face their demons.

75

MUM

She likes tea very much. At times, we all joked that she drank tea for water. Every morning, she is the first to wake up, prepare her cup of tea with skimmed milk, and sit down in the living room reading online articles or scrolling Facebook.

Funny that she used to be very active. She literally could not sit down for more than ten minutes. It is a fact her physical capacity decreased over time. But it seems that the curve went exponentially downwards since her retirement. As if quitting work meant losing motion, too.

Now, all we talk about is either remember-whens or I'm-worried-you-woulds. It is not that I had a bad childhood, but I doubt it was as warm and sunny as she remembers it. Perhaps this shows on my face while we talk about it. Perhaps it hurts her. But honestly, it just feels imposed sometimes. All the sentimental morning messages, digging out for old happy-family photos, the corny generic good-morning greetings with a ton of flowers and colors, or worse – the "my daughter is why I live" messages!

I feel she recently wishes I never grew up. I feel she recently wishes she never grew up. She still tries to cater to my every single need while I am around. It is nice to be pampered from time to time, but all the time? Then it is suffocating, detrimental even. After a decent amount of self-guilting, I realized it is not my responsibility to fill her void. I do love her, but I barely decipher her messages now. We talk in different languages, and she needs to know I have a life of my own, not a mere extension to hers.

So, there is no point in worrying about what has happened or what would happen, is there?

I <3 u 2

76

The Silence Between

They knew my thoughts as I had known theirs;
words were our toys –

secret symbols cast in sand
to reappear later between our toes.

I put them in a silk purse,
set with soft summer sounds

and closed the clasp. Funny how the years
brush up the back of history –

the touch I feel across
time is so slight –

like dust, falling from the page of a book.
Then a glint of sun on my screen

restores that breath of childhood air,
bringing a message of love; pure gold, held

in a rose-tinted suspension
that waited for memory to press send.

77

DAISY

A week in her dingy sty
Where pigsty was stied in,
And nothing playful passes by
The joyful house silent and empty,
The pandemic has restrained the children
With kitties and puppies tucked away.
And playfulness a thing of the past

Out of the shadows appeared her guide,
With a sing song voice, removing the hinges
She glee with joy at sound of the shower,
Like the lapping of the deep blue
Daisy wiggles flapping her curl up tail.

The loneliness has gone,
As she trots to her favorite spot,
A happy hour of playful drama.
Marveling at her love and care
The nimbleness of her painted fingers
Makes her heart roams freely.

She came to believe that she can sing and text,
Since nothing progresses except technology
And without hands to hug,
Daisy placed her hoof on a tablet pad
Like an x ray machine her thoughts and wishes
Filmed and displayed on the tablet screen
In three letter words saying “I Love You”
Re-animating technology with those words,
She made the room glow with her love
As she rhymed a tuneless melody

78

Emoji Tears

bring home the bacon
Maplewood
and onions for dinner
while speaking love and nicknames
through hugging emojis
without scents of armpits, gasoline, pot
and the smallest little eyes
the phone pinging with each second
you could at least use a Zoom screen
and absorb a smile
wave at a face, a table, a room you haven’t seen
in a year
a face that fizzles through electronic distance
but this way
only emojis see you cry

79

Flamingos

I sent you a picture
Flamingos at Lake Nakuru
The clouds above them ripped
Like an early draft
My morning thoughts
Spell your name
Do you think of me
Before you fall asleep?
Just remember
For now
This is all that we've got
To hold on to
Pictures on our phone screens
(I miss your hands)

80

PIGMENTATION

another day encaged
yet fully un/aware      of the stimuli around them
of the tons of commodities      the entertainment
the so-called dilemma of their so-called solitude
the next meal to be prepared joylessly
the texts glowing on the screen      waiting for them
to reply      the usual ennui      the same old complaints
the want in their voices      eager for it      breaking the rules
pampered by whims conceded      a lack of empathy
no one is having it harder      that is obvious
all of them surrounded by like minds      ironically annoyed
by the traits they themselves post everywhere
money-driven longings and demands
vaccinated first      first-class attention      no one's done more
than their social status and ancestors
cannot stand the regulations
no more coffee meet-and-greets
late-night raves down Uptown neighbourhood
shopping sprees      fancy pub crawls
an entire mode de vie scrapped
the foundations of a system shook
to the core      to the point nothing is more noticeable
than its frailty      vices and habits overpowering
every human consideration      sullying them inside pigsties
slowly uncovering their true colours      the inner devices
of refusal      of resistance to change      for better
or for worse in a world where unseen specks
of viral nature keep peeling the layers
concealed by years of neglect
Read more >

81

The Sweet Spot

They said we could leave the sty
because of our high IQs,
we were just below the monkeys and dolphins
with their playgyms and swimming pools.

They groomed us with hog hair brushes,
as we chomped petit fours from porcelain saucers.
On big buttoned phones, we pinged porcine snouts
back and forth, like moist rose petals.

They said we were no longer pig,
reared for belly and rib –
one day our hearts would give humans
a second chance at love.

All those things we missed –
like sows’ milk and peelings,
cold mud caked in our skin –
would become lost in the edit.

‘til then we could live in the penthouse.

82

You Sow, You Reap

Read in the voice of old, British ladies:

"Chomp, umfh, chomp, umfh. I must say, darling, these cookies you sent over are simply marvellous."

"I'm glad you enjoyed them, dear. I had them made especially by my human. Something about their hands, you know, it's so magical. It's out of my grasp."

"Yes, umfh, yes, I can't put my finger on it either. But I read this article in the New Porker yesterday, which said it might be something about their thumbs..?"

"Teehee, teehee, you and your conspiracy theories. You should stop reading that stuff, it's not good for your noggin."

"Well, I have to do something to keep myself occupied."

"I suppose if you must. Do you know, the human at Mrs Walsh's down the street left her unceremoniously. Said it was being treated like a beast."

"Oh my, that's terrible. She must be absolutely gutted!"

"Yes she was, nice and proper. Poor thing was in tears when she had to eat her breakfast directly off her plate."

"But she's such a sweet soul. I heard she even bought it a new blankie and everything."

"Now, this might be a rumour, but I think it was her son who put ideas into its head. Said it should share the same sty as the other swine."

"Oh my, I tell you, there is no piganity left in our sounders now. Next thing you know, it will demand being treated as equals!"

Read more >
83

Emphasis

I try and give meaning to symbols made up of
ones and zeros – the daily gibberish of the modern gods.

I make sense of callmes and iloveyous and understand the silence, my feet
readily spun in the intricate web of impossibilities.

Another email ending with if only somehow
you could have been mine, what wouldn’t have happened in this world?

This world, where our evenings are established on overdoses
of sweet red wine and paracetamol. – On the ritual madness of being;

combed out of commonplace dreams of comfort; of growing out
of all those love stories we wove – once – from soft threads of silk.

I try and give meaning to words that often mean nothing anymore.

84

A Simple Response to the Pleasure of Your Almost Touch

Brusha, brusha.
Pink and blue
Two sisters, two brushes
coordinating nails, and
we twin piglets
smiling out at you as you
touch us through your brush.
You claim not to understand us?
Our grunts and sighs, elaborate
expositions of our pleasure are
unknown symbols to your brain.
Fear not, we are saying thank you
now in a way you can understand.
Eschewing the beauty of our language
or even the sweet nuzzle of our snouts,
we now make marks upon
your phone, since we’ve observed,
in our small way, this indirect
approach is the only language
remaining decipherable to you
except, of course, for smiles.

85

ANIMAL FARM TWO

“Hey qt icu”
“Newspeak, huh?”
“Even newer. Too bad old Snowball couldn’t text. Folk might have seen what Napoleon was up to all those years ago.”
“Idiot pig should have been stopped sooner. Before he got as bad as the men.”
“Indistinguishable from them at the end, so I heard.”
“He was an animal.”
“Careful.”
“Thank Hog for the Second Revolution, I say.”
“Yep, we got it cushy now. Waited on snout, hoof, and belly.”
“Love what mine does with a brush. Knows just where to rub down my spine. Bliss!”
“Mine too. Works sunrise to sundown. And they said Utopia was unattainable. This is the life!”
“Just as long as we remember: Four legs good. Two legs bad.”
“I remember my old grandad quoting his own grandad 'The distinguishing mark of man is the hand, the instrument with which he does all his mischief.'”
“Too right! But take the hand of a woman, nowadays. It’s a force for pleasure. Cooks for us, cleans for us, always brushing, brushing, brushing us.”
“Hang on, I’ve just noticed! Look! Look at them. Look at their hands! Red nails, blue brush; blue nails, red brush. Is this some sort of code? Insurgency! Revolution! We need reinforcements.”
“Get texting – quick!”

86

IT’S EASIER THAN YOU THINK

we all know about the flying thing
all the comments start with if
now, actual speech is something else

it can be proven that there's a machine
translates a grunt into English
no shit – I've seen the thought bubbles

looks like it's easier than you think
could get words out of your head
and onto a little screen held by trotter

or something like that – I've seen them face
from right to left and left to right
there seems to be some significance

I've taken notes the old-fashioned way
I'm sure it's easier than you think
I'll expect something more definite next week

87

SWINE SONG

My family thought they got a pig in a poke when they picked the runt of the litter.
However else they may feel, I know that they’re not bitter.
They would not have doubted me, if only they had known,
that I was very good at using a smartphone.
When I use my analytical left brain, I type using my right hoof.
Just look at the screen and speech bubble if you want more proof.
I flirt using my intellect, and diagrams mathematic.
The reaction is unexpected, and so very dramatic.
I find myself featured quite often on television,
as folks’ opinions of shoats undergo revision.
My right brain makes my left hoof go creative and artistic,
and peoples’ understanding of them can be mystic or simplistic.
Stereotyped as living in a sty and chowing down on slops,
I am a handsome devil, a ham with great acting chops.
If all you see when you look at me is a giant slab of bacon,
I can assure you that you are very sadly mistaken.
My mama stands behind the scenes and lets me hog the glory,
because it’s time to let a clever piglet tell the world his story.
I’m also a budding porker poet, so maybe it’s not too late
to reassess your opinion of a smart and rhyming ungulate.

88

I’m OFFENDED

Stop it! Don't try to pamper me by petting me with, of all things, your hairbrush! I am offended, offended, you know!
As smart as the world says it is, this device here doesn't even know, PIG LATIN!
He's offended, she's offended, and now my species, the pigs, are offended.
What is this world coming to?

89

Knowing

Would we have behaved differently
that last time if we had known?
Instead of saying 'See you soon'
in that blithe manner devoid of doubt,
might we have clung to each other,
reaffirmed our love with kisses and tears?
Had we seen the untouched months ahead –
our ears attuned to the buzz of messages
our fingers practised in the art of text,
laughter and smiles transformed into emojis –
would we have chosen our words
with the greater care of foresight?
Might I have clung to my grandchild,
held her tight, crushed her tiny bones?

90