- Vol. 06
- Chapter 11
Friend, stay awhile!
The glasses have been filled and refilled and all
the old stories have been retold——comedies
and tragedies alike. You are awash in accolades
(the curses we keep to ourselves). Music
is playing and we are dancing out of time.
But there is only so much space in which to
remember——which is not to say we didn’t
love you. For now, your place is at the table
where we are gathered, though there is more
to consider than just the ghost of your glory.
The clock ticks and we have heard it
said that in six months’ time you will become
a bell’s toll /
lifting fog /
an empty room.
A full seven days since my release. My sleep patterns
remain on jail time. Meaning, I haven’t slept.
Spent the past three months and 21 days
waiting to clear my name. Hundreds of hours
spent watching my shadow
on cell walls.
Finally, I’m home.
Horizontal on a cot beneath a single window.
Watching my shadow dance on a dark ceiling.
Voices whirl, up and down,
from the street level café, three flights below.
Twinkling lights, strung in crisscross formation
across the first floor
room’s richly textured, high gloss ceiling.
Warm glows on the animated faces within.
Shadows and spirits. Spirits and shadows. Dance. Sway. Swirl.
Laughter drifts through floor vents,
unsure what to make of the sounds of silence within.
Scents of pub food follow. Barbecue tang.
Vegetable oil. Vinegar and burning wood.
The night, a question I can’t
answer, subsumes me. It whispers,
Let’s make a deal. You can’t see
everything. That’s part of the fun.
I don’t choose so the party chooses
me. I only love a room once everyone
has left it, a crime scene in which I
search for clues, a narrative. You
can’t understand something until it’s
over. And what do I find? I won’t reveal
anything except to say I write to you
in invisible ink, my words bleeding
into the night with all the other ones.
And let’s face it, if this story has a happy
ending, I’ll be as surprised as you are.
There are full rooms and empty rooms—
and a long stairwell leading to the beginning of it all.
Concrete steps lead back up
to where we are now—
where the light sometimes shines a warm hue
of gold, or burnished red.
Other times, I am reminded of aqua waves
and an otherworldly violet.
The people come and go.
It is seldom the same collection,
and yet, the gathering always has—
someone feeling lonely
and someone wanting to flee.
There must always be room for
places only your singular heart
knows how to find.
If the rooms are always full—
the mind has nowhere to go.
There is no refuge from the noise and clamor.
There’s nothing to do here except watch the neighbours. So many floors up, in these buildings there are no tree tops, no parks to see, no birds, just concrete and brick, balconies and windows. Lots of windows. And all curtainless. Well, most.
There is nothing to do when you have no money except watch the neighbours. I had to sell the music centre, my vintage vinyl collection, and the widescreen TV just so I could pay my rent. I was laid off from my job and the work I do now is on a zero hours’ contract. Some weeks I don’t have enough hours to make the money I need.
There is nothing to do once I am alone in this flat except watch the neighbours in the apartments opposite. I keep the light off (it keeps the bill down) and move my chair in front of my window. I can see several flats, lights blazing, people moving around. I’ve have seen arguments raging, children playing, and the sad looking lady in the apartment to the right who also stares out. I think she is lonely like me.
There is nothing to do when no one asks you to join them for a drink, or the cinema, or for a meal (not that I could afford it even if I was asked), so my entertainment is here. It’s my personal reality TV, a nightly instalment of Block 310 on Duke Street. And tonight there is a party I haven’t been invited to. I raise my glass of Savers lemonade and down the packet of outdated crisps I found at the back of the cupboard. I nudge my window open a tad, feel the threat of winter, push that thought aside and listen as music drifts across the courtyard. The thump, thump of a base beat, laughter rising and falling, and I am almost there in the heat of packed bodies, sharing the joke, the friendly banter, eating sausages on sticks, having a drink topped-up. They are making plans for tomorrow, next week, next month.Read more >
On weekdays we leave at the same time,
open our doors, step out into the morning
she on one side of the street, me on the other
sometimes I have to wait in the lobby
to ensure our synchronicity.
I know she likes it, she sends me
silent signals on our daily commute,
the other passengers mere extras in our romance.
She usually gets home before me, lights the lamps
so I can see her relaxing in the blue room,
the colour of the walls is the same as her eyes.
She eats with a book propped open on the table.
and lately she looks out, as if to say goodnight,
before she draws the curtains and goes upstairs,
it’s almost as if she knows I’m here, watching,
keeping her safe against the night.
Imagine my surprise when I got home
and saw her in a purple dress, loud music
floating from her window, flowers in vases
and other people, eating and drinking and laughing,
I’m more disappointed than surprised, I suppose.
Tonight, when her last guest has left
and she’s alone again, I’ll go across,
knock on her door and when she lets me in,
and she will, I’ll let her know just
how disappointed she has made me.
Do you hear the red kite flying overhead as you wake
in your affordable shoe box? Do you?
Will you see the sun set from your shade of dolly-mixture
pastel painted third floor room? Will you?
Can you see the moon edge its way between the stars
in the burned out night? Can you?
And who has put the top on your last shoebox? Who?
I went from red room to blue room, weak, wild,
and the only thing that followed me were the eyes.
When I struggled in scarlet, when I pushed until
the walls wobbled, and I staggered in a lost body,
listening to sad old songs and counting pounds,
down, down, but still in the air, you were warmth
there, irises brown and tired, you said, get up, child,
then down; come and join us, bright on the ground.
When I found the other stairs, pulled myself to blue,
I could stop running, pedalling, rowing, starving.
I looked into eyes of cyan, eyes that knew sea, fire,
told me, be happy, kid. It will all be fine – just live.
And downstairs, this time, it all seemed like a film,
and I was outside, but I was me, and the music now
was a guitar that would one day climb up into my arms
like my baby would, and I sat and heard out the song
before creeping away to my room of cream loneliness
and mapping out a new route to where I could get
when all eyes closed and only my own wit would lift
me through, chasing the truths I borrowed from you.
The man had excused himself from the party to have a smoke in the garden. Now he had finished smoking, but he was still standing in the garden. He told himself he would go back in after he counted to five, but he counted to five and didn’t move.
They’d bought the house together, him and the woman, and now the done thing was to have a party. He knew that. They’d agreed. So he didn’t understand what was making him stand there like an idiot, just staring through the window while his friends talked and laughed and had a good time. Maybe it just felt a bit like it wasn’t his party; the woman had decided the date, made the shopping list, moved the furniture.
A car passed by on the corner and illuminated a pair of eyes at the bottom of the garden. The man jumped, he reached for his phone. The roar of the car seemed to get louder instead of quieter in his ears. But it was just a fox. It was there for a second and then it disappeared into the hedge. The man sat down on the garden bench. He thought that the way the fox stared at him was like the way a colleague's child had stared at him, a few days earlier, when he tried to make a joke.
Maybe that was it. That was it? House is to party as marriage is to children? Dating is to marriage as marriage is to happiness. Spare room is to baby as smoking is to cancer. Fuck. He should really stop smoking. And swearing.
He had to stand up, he had to go back inside. The woman was walking with a bounce as she served the canapes that the man had helped her prepare earlier. They had been fiddly, he wasn’t good at fiddly, so he knew they looked a mess. He couldn’t go in there and look at the ugly canapes, he just couldn’t. He didn’t stand up. He sat there, very still, in the garden.
now is the autumn of dimming light
of ever shortening days
fires will soon be glowing
at night I see people
people through their
I am the unwitting voyeur
they are snug and warm
I try not to look but
in the autumn of dimming light
it proves impossible
Twitch the curtain – show me the midnight gist
of the here and now. Rooms abandoned, best
framed in this almost-Hopper light (“Almost,”
you sigh, “but not quite.”). Neighbours who adjust
to social interaction. Shadows cast
like writing on the wall, as if joining in
(“Also,” you cry, “I think I know that woman –
that one –”);
then both phones ping. Duplicate letters
spell out the worst from another world (“Two shooters...
enough,” you say, “no more. No more of that.”)
The world as seen by a pair of curtain-twitchers.
All the neighbors fled to ground floor and I responded
by singing to them this mellifluous tripartite lyric:
"thrice you thrust these questions
of meaning into little boxes
and the ruts of sameness
you derived were
the rice that rusts and deprives
a gleaning of boards and ads
and their signals of self
and withers rows of
the ice for us will mark a dive into
melting solid boundaries towards
the south and the north
and the third pole
No one lives above me.
Life happens two floors below.
Mostly I stay home and listen
to their parties. Sometimes I turn
the TV off and let their happy noise
fly in to greet me so I am not alone.
Once a pigeon landed at my windowsill,
but flew away just when I turned to see
if joy had come again to visit me.
As days shorten into autumn nights,
I await the switching on of lights
with anticipation. Face cool with dusk,
I’m drawn to bourgeois houses just
to linger a while and get a peek
of strangers’ comfort glowing chic
in the encroaching darkness:
a welcoming fire, a bevy of guests
round for drinks or an evening meal,
to which I’m not invited. I feel
the heat and hear the gentle hum
of intimate and friendly conversation,
then continue walking on the leaf-strewn
pavement, bound for an empty room,
chilly with pixelated twilight
solidifying quickly into lonely night.
I can hear the music, though I’m two floors up:
New Romantics mostly, with a bit of stadium rock.
Those years had hope, you felt you could make anything
with a synth and sequencer.
My last party was my wedding reception;
the icing on the cake was the icing on the cake.
I can hear Vienna and Heaven from here in equal measure.
The floor vibrates with drum pads,
it shakes my painting, upsets my layout.
I may have had better luck with OO gauge;
bigger wheels, heavier chassis. Must get on,
the 10:47 is due, those trucks won’t shunt themselves.
Quite surprised to be invited, only know the host.
Exchanged bios with a couple of people
almost like speed-dating. The archaeologist was interesting.
It’s very light and bright in here, very retro chic;
they knew how to make tapered legs back then.
If they play any more Ultravox, I’m walking home.
‘Will to preserve heritage,’ he read on the menu-card, and then added, ‘an interesting name for a cocktail.’ A nod in the affirmative and he was soon ready to join the group with a glass in his hands. The conversation seemed to be floating on a sea of terms that sounded as intriguing as a thriller based on a foreign locale. Baolis, mahals, maharajas, sultans, baghs and makbaras evenly spread on a base where arches, ruins, Mughals, Turks, Afghans, India, Shahjahanabad, Mehrauli and invasions marched up endlessly. There were stories about how only a single page from old manuscripts remained and the rest were probably lying unattended in some dusty attic in an old English home.
‘Yes,’ said one woman with kind eyes, ‘not everything that the officials of East India Company pillaged was ever documented.’
‘Sad,’ a few voices chorused, ‘sad indeed.’
An officious looking man then silenced everyone in the room with a wave of his hands and said, ‘We aren’t here to discuss how history was treated by a ruling force. We’re here to explore new itineraries for our tourist groups.’
They wanted more added to the usual Delhi-Agra-Jaipur triangle tours and their man sitting in Delhi recommended an involvement with preserving heritage because, he wrote, ‘this is what the new generation of tourism enthusiasts want’. Their man in Delhi had also insisted that the new tour details must include a meal with a local family, lectures on the heritage of less known spots, and a few walks ‘to know a bit of the real contemporary India’.
This may sound unreal, but a man working late in his office across the river that flowed through this town, looked out and thought, ‘Who could these people be and what could they be discussing? Why are the two floors above so seemingly empty?’ Read more >
At night they descend from the 3rd
and 2nd floor to drink and dance
and laugh on the first floor.
The watchers watch. The watched
are unaware of the constant whir
of the cameras, of their starring roles.
There is no privacy. We look in on you 24-7.
The watched are suspects for acts of insurrection.
from across the street we stare in shifts,
All paid for by the state, your tax dollars
working against you. It’s not a bad gig,
long hours, but high pay to play voyeur
You’re in your habitat, go ahead, relax,
carry on, be natural as if no one would care
or dare to peer so deeply into your life.
Your every utterance and gesture recorded.
We need to know what you’re doing in there,
what you’ve been up to, if you’re a threat.
The back and front doors are covered.
All who come and all who go are noted,
what they say, and how long they stay.
Nothing escapes the roving electronic eye.
The planted bugs record every whisper, every
kiss, and we lean in to listen for any slip-ups.
Scents of roast beef,
mashed potatoes swirled
with pools of melted butter
linger and tug.
Glowing cozy and bright,
faces are illuminated
Clinking of forks
and scraping of knives
and laughter, so much laughter,
inviting and contagious.
Uncle Steve getting boisterous
as he refills his wineglass
for the third time.
Cousin Jill whispering
to Cousin Sue.
A heated political argument,
at the far end of the room.
Tendrils of Sarah’s hair
her lovely face
as she feeds the baby
and cuts meat
into tiny bites for Charlie.
Tearing my eyes away
and glancing up,
Read more >
I step out onto the balcony for
a breath of polluted Sydney air.
My three eyes – these windows
to what I am told is a soul – are
confronted with three distorted
mirror images that bounce blue
and red light back and forwards
across that Stygian gulf of night.
There was a time when red was
my favourite colour – it was the
red delicious apple of blue eyes.
The vehement vermillion burnt
out to a clear blue in the blink of
aging eyes. Now I see my people
all here together under cerulean
skies that conceal the depths of
timeless space. I hold my breath
for a time & breathe thru 3 eyes.
What if we threw our shade in colour?
Purple dyed indigo, red bled crimson.
Jollity throws no shade.
Below, on a floor unseen, a room dressed yellow
hears the jolly,
smells their meat,
imagines their feast –
and conjures antecedents.
Yellow light, its shade an upturned ‘v’
casts mud upon the wall,
ditch-damp shadow of clasping hand,
bayonet tossed away in a final tremor,
writhing, gassed, screaming with horror.
I know. I spend too much time alone.
Sitting. Staring from this window.
Living the lives –
the shadowy –
that I can only see.
That only I can see.
I should be a Jolly.
I should cast no shade.
But I can only be me.
The angle of observation matters:
When I spy on the apartments across
the yard, I see those dead-on or beneath
me best and merely the ceilings and fixtures
of those above. The empty rooms depress
me, bring me down. A room full of people
fills me with dread and envy. How do they
find each other? How each other impress?
It doesn’t matter. I will not extend
myself across the court that separates
us. Though I witness what delight awaits
me, were I to stride across the way and join
the revelers, I dread too deeply the coin
they’ll wheedlingly demand that I expend.
The party's going on on the ground floor again I see, same people, same music, you'd think they'd get sick of it, wouldn't you?
Him on the top floor, he's out again, must be on the 10 'til 6 shift this week. He never gets an invite to the party anyway, not even when he's on the day shift. I don't think he really does people, he never looks at me, let alone says anything.
And as for her on the middle floor, I see she's split up with her partner again. I can always tell. that picture of her mother goes back up on the red wall.
Very disapproving her mother was, of everything, she would have disapproved of Puritans that one, so she certainly wouldn't have approved of him with the long hair and the beard.
I liked the quiet one who worked in an office, very polite he was, always used to bring my shopping in for me and take the bins back 'round the back.
I don't know why she's left her lights on. It's not like she's going to be going back there. I told her she needs looking after by a proper man. So she's best off staying here with me...
Brief scribbles, trivial, even trite – what we write on postcards. We don’t tell the truth, try to find some titbit, some amuse-bouche, some anecdote to convey a whiff, a sniff, a taste light on the tongue, some tang of what we’re up to, what we’re seeing, feeling – but there’s not room for much, we can only touch on the texture, flavour, heat of where we’re seated watching the world in snippets, jerky sequences, idly constructing narratives for those who pass our table on the terrace as we sip a bitter-lemon, a spritzer, an Aperol, break pieces off a roll, spear some asparagus, a slice of sausage, calamari rings, under umbrella shade. Colours zing in sunlight – frozen segments of celluloid, video clips, digi-images stopped mid-frame. We do not really wish you were here – this way we can construct the story, spare you the ennui, the relentlessness of being in each other’s company.
Give me some space.
I’m cramped into this rectangle – one side bright scene, the other blank – not big enough to say… everything. Select some highlights, annotate with wit. Maybe elaborate later. Maybe not. It’s a snapshot – tells whatever tale you want to hear. Truth is, others have more fun. Their colours are more vivid, happiness louder - they know where to go. I can get in but everything is tawdry, tasteless, dust. Can’t get it right.
The space is tight. No one wants to hear the dreary details. Spice it up. Hubbub. Brouhaha. Hurly-burly, cacophony. It’s a place con mucha marcha. I’m sick of din, can’t begin to understand the babble. It’s Babel. Let’s boil it down. Weather‘s great. Food fab. There’s so much to see. I love it here. Of course you don’t believe me.
— Heartfelt Hatfield thanks to the good guy real McCoy
William Buchholz’s last name translated into English would be Wood Book. Raised in Chicago as 1st grade World Book rivals & 2nd grade 3rd base frenemies I tormented Woody bullying basement sewage Blind Man’s Bluff. Booked in the same college dorm the blotto schmuck nearly nailed me by dangling both feet from Dunster’s 3rd story window.
Then WB & I ended up at Stanford. A Billyboy bull session turned me on to a bulletin board advert to divvy expenses for a woodsy cabin half way to the Pacific which situation rescinded my graphic comic bookworminess because the pre-Silicon Valley CGI geek was also a gonzo head who headed the Free U. that matriculated nude parties.
Suffering more’n my share of bloodless wooden No Thanks, I got a quirky practicum in non-book female learning under the influence of humungous computers rigged to vinyl (fave was Winwood’s Traffic) synched to ceiling light-organ black-light psychedelia. Trusted Wm. in the clutch I had him repair my hernia so didn’t need to wear no girdle.
After enough lurid sex, drugs & rock ‘n roll almost this weekend dropout got hitched to my old lady. You know who was the best man, clued us in about groovy honeymoon opportunities? Where I could perform natural childbirth home deliveries from Russian River bliss to the Haight Summer of Love runaways’ miscarried Bosched LSD detritus?
Though divergent careers & coasts, many kids & decades later when I really needed a good friend, eyes sloooowly opening after a rough meditation, there was William Buchholz.
On the First Floor,
is everyone happy?
Nobody gets past the first floor.
I wonder why that is.
Is it too much of an effort
to lift one’s heavy feet up the stairs?
We have elevators these days.
I can come to no conclusions.
On the Second Floor,
I can’t see Nobody—
but that might be his picture on the wall.
He could be downstairs,
mingling with the in-crowd,
but I doubt if they could see him either.
Why did he leave his anonymity?
I can come to no conclusions.
On the Third Floor,
that must be where it all started:
the descent to the ground floor—
that “Happening Place”
where they laugh, drink cocktails, gossip,
enjoying the similitude of friendship.
It’s a lonely room,
where the force of gravity begins,
bypassing Nobody on its way down.
I can come to no conclusions.
Some of us are never invited even though we too live here.
The baubles and bangles sing
purple songs about your donations to help the Arts.
You think because you never hear anyone walking
in the apartment upstairs must mean no one lives there. I can hear one
of you narrate W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939” skipping the line: “obsessing our private lives.” Did I just hear a woman’s voice quote Robert Frost: "Good fences make good neighbors"? Everyone is laughing now. Is the joke on me looking in? Or on you for not seeing me watch you?
The laughter is a dazzling disco ball that spins and warms your night.
Out here it’s freezing. You are the border which divides all that won’t burn.
Some of us are never invited even though we too live here. I am the art you can’t hang
on your wall.
Your window. Mine.
Two ways we see
the moon silver on
the escape hatch.
across the street.
Don’t turn away.
This wind. The night
coming down earlier
at each day’s end.
Where the gunner
peers in at a birthday
party from his empty
open glass to the rest
of his life and ours
stacked like wasps
in cells where what
is vacant has possibility
as light finds even
the wide open.
I feel as if I’m in the movie “Rear Window.” I’m sitting at my desk gawking out my apartment window instead of working on my novel. How can I concentrate when there’s a building across from me with windows easily accessible for one to spy?
The room through the top window is empty. The left wall is painted purple, the door with the half-moon window is white and the right wall next to the door light blue. What are these people thinking? Or is it the landlord who has hideous taste?
The room through the second window underneath has no movement either. Again, what are they thinking? Red walls, a white door and a lit light, with a grey wall to the right. No sense of decorum.
So far, I’m bored, until I hear noise coming from the room through the third window below. Ah, inside the walls all match. It’s a deeper blue than the first room, it’s fully furnished with a coffee table, a picture on the wall that I can’t see clearly, a television, a room full of happy guests drinking, eating and laughing. Now I’m envious. I want to join in, but I have to get this novel in to my agent within the week.
Wait, is this her? It is! It’s my girlfriend Tammy and she’s chortling with another man. I’m supposed to be her man! I’m better looking than him. He’s thin and short, I’m muscular and tall. Do I go over there and confront her? Then she’ll know I’m spying. Wait, she’s leaving and he’s staying.
I’m stressing so I grab a beer out of the refrigerator and gulp it down. I go back to my desk and stare at the blank computer screen. I can’t get the image out of my head. A few minutes pass and there’s a knock on my door.Read more >
In every town there is one of those 24-7 hotels, you know the ones, it's a popular well-advertised company chain. Kinda like supermarkets but for people who are on business trips, or budget holidays, or an overnight stay. It's all the same no matter your location from the food on offer to the decor and colour scheme of the rooms. Same furniture, shower facilities, bedside lighting, abstract canvas prints on the wall. A small electric kettle and some sachets of coffee.
You get what you pay for and these places are cheap but tidy, easy access, accepting, few rules really, you are not to smoke in the rooms and they reinforce this by having the biggest smoke alarms you'll see, not just battery powered but wired up to the national grid and alarmed as well. But apart from that, the doors are always open, you can come and go as you please, order room service or send out for pizza, the bar is 24 hours, breakfast served at 6 - 8 am, self-service, eat as much as you like, Cumberland sausage, scrambled egg, sitting there in hot metal canteens, regularly topped up by some fella from the kitchen — presumably the chef, back towards him while you scoff your second plate, avoiding the gaze of the few other diners who couldn't sleep either and decided to get breakfast before random gas fitters stop by, or the families wake up and come down.
They have the look of office blocks, they are located normally near railway stations or motorways and industrial estates. On the exterior, the most dominant feature is the chain's company logo normally in bright colours of either purple or green. If it were not for these banners draped down from the walls you would drive passed them thinking they were office blocks. The magnetic swipe card key they provide you with is always problematic, there is usually some kind of contractual work being done by engineers, normally to do with the heating or air conditioning.Read more >
Sorry, didn’t catch that ...... I said we couldn’t believe our luck, the estate agent was just about to close and ...... Why must they have the wretched television on? Nobody’s watching the damn thing ...... mmm, but don’t you love that maple wood or whatever surround frame thing? Couldn’t we do that with ours? ...... Absolutely not! ...... Did you say there were more of those marvellous stuffed olives, Sally? ...... I’ll get Marcus ...... Marcus? MARCUS? ...... where is he? ...... Not sure about this blue ...... is it azure? ...... Look, can we move a bit, that bloody light is giving me the third degree ...... Fixed-rate mortgage, really? ...... Isn’t that Nigel with the blond gownless evening strap? ...... Let’s go upstairs, there’s no-one there ...... It’s a postcode lottery, isn’t it? ...... Sorry, out of prosecco ...... Marcus? MARCUS! ...... Wilson Pickett? Who he? ...... Oh yes, nearly forgot, the olives. Marcus? MARCUS! Where’s he gone for chrissake ...... So what IS Boris playing at exactly? ...... Well I feel sorry for Her Madge ...... what’s she keep in that little black handbag, that’s what I want to know ...... impressive though, 93 not out ...... did you see Ben Stokes? Unbelievable! ...... But it isn’t enough to be successful, one’s friends must fail ...... Christ, must we have every light on in the house! Marcus? MARCUS!