- Vol. 08
- Chapter 11
The sweet-sour clementine balances on top
of a giant blue whale. Stuck
in position. Not glued on, and yet somehow
Somehow, even when there are earthquakes,
the sweet-sour clementine that is
sometimes too sweet and sometimes too sour
remains, lodged there, on a giant C-shaped
The sticky-blue whale does not see
what the sweet-sour clementine does.
It knows no magic.
It curves its tail up towards the sky,
as if bent in prayer.
a something it doesn't know but
feels in the weight of what lies beneath,
a something that lifts it up.
The sweet-sour clementine sees the something,
the magic of what lies beneath them.
A rich-black mound of earth,
of glitter and hope.
A black hole of never-ending possibilities.
An emptiness, that does not see its own greatness.
For the black mound only sees the sticky-blue C,
holding up the sweet-sour clementine
and marvels at its power.
She drips Essex sunsets,
Clambering ladders, breaking rungs
Slashing her savings in designer heels.
He preens for likes,
Head bobbing in a sea of tangerines
Pasting chalky smiles over broken hearts
He swipes to the left.
Stomachs taut, yet weighted in coal
Rumbling their innards in darkness,
Festering in the #reality
Which bubbles and burns
Their souls away,
Selling them up to their socials
To be buffed and primed in ads and fads
Like plasticine dollies
Setting to stone,
Static with shelf life,
Until crumbling clay
Leaves them to scour for familiarity amidst
A chug of orange soldiers
Marching in lines of youthful unity
Upon the news feed they once stood,
Before the algorithm strangled them.
and everything is made of light, from
the blackness of coal to
the hard edge of your thumbnail as it punctures the peel of an orange,
to those ten (count them) segments of meticulously organised sunshine inside -
to their juice, and even (oh!) its sweet red taste
as it floods your tongue
in the darkness of your mouth.
Your taste-buds, too, are made of light:
light tasting light
light consuming light
light absorbing light
light becoming light
(my dear) (where are you?)
in the spaces
(impossible and unknown)
I rest here,
swaying in perpetual breeze
yet grounded by love.
He is my rock:
My dress billows in the wind,
buoyed by hawkish uplift;
spinning as a captured shrew,
praying for redemption.
His darkness holds,
as I sit atop
eyeing his silhouette
against our bronzing moon.
Different becomes a hat
you must grow into perch winningly
disguising sharps declaring
It’s a funny place considering
its bright attraction – you can’t see
the red heart or feel the heat
No, everything is hidden inside skin
behind teeth and voice.
Tilt your head drop shoulders
and stalk with attention.
I think of cable knits, my Grandma’s arm
encased in pastel blue, the whirring click
of needles. We’d dream of fancy yarn; angora –
imaginary gasps of fineness. Tangles.
Acrylic’s best for washing and it comes
in all the colours. Her sweater shone with darns;
leftover twists of three-ply starred a plain
and serviceable boiled wool. Later,
we’d rake the embers ready for the morning,
tell our late night stories. Of my Grandad,
the coal miner, how digging wore him out,
lungs flecked with black dust. How she saw
her first orange after the war. It tasted
of sunshine, of silk velvet, glowing bright.
the sound of horns ratchets up
this is how sisters support each other
in these cortisol times
what is dark
holds without being seen
pushes into herself
to raise others up
muscles fold up into music
stretch and thin
bunch and thicken
ready to erase
to read, replace, realise
sits shoulder extended
leans over the edge
leaves glow up
Each midnight I am cursed with forgetting you and each dawn you hold me tightly until I remember again.
A clump of overgrown monsters rumbles under my bed, ladled into each dinner and hour.
My room with a view casts shadows over the clementine orchards your grandmother birthed decades ago, in a time where people were less moulded into expectations and time.
Now there is no room to breathe outside the hours we're allotted.
Now there is no space to taste.
I'm bent over the particles of your ancestors, trying to fit them back together again.
backyard wonky see-saws
mastered from discarded planks
and cylindrical barrels
my mother dispensing
tablespoons of cod-liver oil
followed by a Spanish orange
peeled and segmented for sucking.
Now I see anthracite gasses
to an already teetering ozone layer
fish full of microbeads navigating
tangled plastic-full seas.
In fifty years my great grandchildren
may speak of the last green leafed clementine
in a glass case ready for auction.
and a maker says of an earth:
a soft coal at root
and a pliable sea’s blue
and an orange
and a maker says of a sky:
a deep black putty of space
thickening gravity bends
a trickling glisten of
Hanna says she has prepared a meal and urges me to sit on the rickety sofa. There’s a small rose-patterned shiny-plastic plate on the low table in front of me. I pick it up and mime eating. ‘Mm,’ I say, ‘delicious.’
She rummages in her little cupboard and throws me an annoyed glance over her shoulder. ‘There’s nothing on the plate, silly. I’m getting it ready.’
I give her a quiet nod and wonder what she’s up to. That time we were at Aunt Mai’s, Hanna picked us all these green shoots from the garden. I thought we’d have a nibble to humour her just a little, but Mai kept on eating whole leaves, stuffing them between her nicotine-stained lips, so I started to think she was getting on a bit, perhaps not quite there anymore, when suddenly Mai slapped a green stem right out of my hand.
‘That’s hemlock,’ she said. ‘Poisonous.’
‘I cooked them, so they’re not poison anymore,’ Hanna protested and dug at the ground with her sandaled foot. But Mai told her to wash her hands and come sit with us.
Now, Hanna places a black blob on my plate.
‘What is it?’
‘It’s coal.’ She smiles so widely I can count all the gaps in her mouth.
‘First you are bad and then you eat coal and become good.’ She has one hand on her flat hip.
See, there are traces in the clay. A snake head. A pig face.
Sad old pig, ears drooped, snout merged with the mud.
There are snakes in the sky. They look like tyre tracks. Form an upturned bridge
between nowhere and white light.
The sun is pinioned on the sky’s topmost bend. Skin puckered – still citrus bright,
but beneath the pitted crust are blooms of mould.
It all comes back to this: the soil, the sky, the sun in fragile balance,
teetering between nowhere and nowhere, surrounded by light.
A state of matter
accepting the shape
allotted by man
Something to hold
hollows and curves
Sweet on the nose
overtones of cherry
and salt dough
And when it’s time
to put away your toys
leave her to crumble
with age and neglect
for the limber pop of new.
How did I get here?
Don’t ask. I’m just
Not unlike the rest of you
resting as you do
where and when you do.
I have a certain insouciance.
Note how bold my orange,
how deep the green of my leaf—
an appendage still pert, still straight
like the brim of a hat.
It tells a direction.
There is here and there.
As if I have somewhere to go. But
I won’t budge from my post.
I’m a good pointer, posed up here
precarious and nonchalant
on the etched curve of an elbow of putty,
atop a daring dollop of black clay.
You can still see the artist’s fingerprints.
I had a face once, but wanted another –
so scrunched it up tight and buried it
in the earth. The deeper the better;
soft becomes hard, bone becomes rock.
I doused my hair in water, built it
into a wave that rose but never
came crashing down again.
Pressure building, like overripe fruit
ready to burst. I breathe it in,
earth, water, life – an enticing cocktail
but so full of alcohol, it’s better
sprayed on the skin than drunk.
No fruit is safe; apples are too full
of wisdom, bananas turn to lead
after midnight, and oranges…
acid that rots your teeth, aches
in your back, and yet so sweet,
fresh and bright as a morning
after rain. If I can’t be young again
as least I can taste it.
Balancing on a rock,
With an orange tangerine ball,
Balanced on its nose.
Life, oh tattered dreams,
Wishing for it to fall,
But there it stands,
Oh for it to fall though,
To bounce off that hard counter,
To be smashed,
Oh dear pet,
Won't let it fall!
Is on that rock,
Holding a ball,
An orange tangerine,
On its nose,
Inside your head,
It is alive,
I expected diamonds. Not an orange.
The pressure should have yielded an object
to interest Empress Victoria,
not the man from Del Monte.
Yes, I know that diamonds are not
the only fruit of the mine –
but armed with a tangerine,
a lump of coal, and a strip of plasticine,
try asking someone
to marry you for money.
All the same, it just might work for love.
An orange is a jewel –
the transubstantiation happening right now
behind that skin,
as well as four billion years ago
in the dawn of a stellar nursery.
Although an orange doesn't take an aeon
to form out of plankton
as a diamond must compress –
both derive from sunlight,
fugitive at home on our old world.
things are not always as they appear.
on the outside, we are pure white,
a planet of peace, where war is absent,
where famine and pestilence are things
of another universe. but at the core,
we are hard black rock. a polished mirror
will show this, one that reflects through
the windows of the soul. look again,
see the blue sky ripped from a soured
planet, now orange, like hope stripped.
we need to see the future head back
to the garden before we were void
and without form, before deception was
as thick as greed slithering at our feet.
they bonded at circus school
all three rookies together
clowned ad nauseum
until they were dropped
they strived for unique
performing as one
frustrated with trauma
of too many close shaves
they went on the road
built up the big tops
run of the mill
odd-jobbed at will
until they discovered
close partner acrobalance
they formed a pyramid
one on one upon one
darkness at base
bland on its face
then right at the top
the orange of all light
This plasticine bridge is between fruits.
A lost forest of the paleogene
and still moist produce, fashioned
by hands in the anthropocene.
Flightless and unevolved, trajectory
is still evident in its form and
a yearning for transmutation.
The diamond destiny of coal,
of lead to gold or the gift of life
to inanimate things.
I’ve finally arrived in England. The journey wasn’t too bad. My crate was pretty full and the sea was a bit choppy but I am all right. I’ve landed up in Chelsea which is a posh part of London. So don’t worry about me. But it’s nothing like what I expected. Do you remember when you and I were looking at an article on fruit bowls in the Clementine Clarion? I expected to be cosily huddled together with some other clementines and oranges and the odd lemon in a pretty glazed china bowl on a solid dining table, perhaps within sniffing distance of a vase of flowers, like those photos we were looking at. But this is weird. I was sitting minding my own business on some fake grass on a market stall when I was bought by the artist Allegra Belisher-Flent who makes highly individual objects to support one individual fruit. She took me into her studio and perched me on a bendy clump of blue plasticine which balances on an amorphous lump of something black, I think. Next to me, a banana is poised on a green cube dipped in a bowl of pink jelly. I have a price tag of £250 which is pretty outrageous considering my limited life span. Unless I get eaten soon, which we were told at school is our natural destiny, my leaves will wrinkle and fall off, my firm skin will go flabby and lose its colour and my body is doomed to become really rather horrid. Still, I shall go to clementine heaven knowing that I was valued at £250. Not many clementines can make that claim, can they?All my love,
Everything is just on top
of everything and you
and me. Thoughts stack
like paper on a desk
nobody knows who uses.
If shoulders were built
to carry they would have thumbs.
I can’t look out of the window this week.
The shower is just a rain cloud
we’re renting. I catch myself
in moments enjoying the taste
of an orange or the feel of carpet
pretending it is grass. Grey is a shade
waiting to be painted. I need to get
rid of the tins of blue I can’t stop
piling up and up.
balancing the universe on an acorn
the thumbprint of time beguiles
departed echoes to encircle the debris,
alone, man's plasticine smile
lingers without form or substance
content in the knowledge that,
above all else, image endures,
fixed and voiceless for eternity
and painlessly recollects, that still,
nothing rhymes with orange.
I am a piece of coal.
At the base of everything, inside the ground,
A grim, dark matter composed of rotting plants
And too much time.
I give you power.
I give you movement and light and life.
But I take it too.
My skin sheds a thin layer of soot that creeps in the night
Covers your skin, inside and out
Until you are nothing but coal, too.
And who are you? A tangerine.
A beautiful globe of light and life who stands on my back
And laughs, with all your vitamin C.
I was a tangerine once, but now
I am a piece of coal.
You’ll be coal soon, too.
A boyfriend once called me his tangerine delight. Bright, round and ready to eat. Teachers filled my report cards with positive adjectives. And when I toddled curiously between giants, gripping wooden legs, falling on soft, woollen fibres, people would say, "what a happy baby she is."
I smiled even when my vegetarian lasagne slid off the tray and landed on my neighbours’ lap. I smiled when blue skies turned to black and when four hours later I woke to turbulent waters beneath.
Smiles fixed like a permanent feature until someone in this unfamiliar country said I smiled too much. Is that even possible? I beamed until other people did not beam back and my upturned mouth and defined cupid’s bow caused suspicion.
Midnight wannabe curve tried to run over me. Its success short-lived. I rolled upwards, bioluminescent as citrus juices dripped downward. Despite and because of its opposition to excessive happiness, I reached the summit where you can still find me today.
it would appear I have this
unquenchable need to fix myself
into something that could almost
be something else if you squint
fleetingly through the foliage
of the shy canopy and look
at me through the smoke
and mirrors I have arranged
amongst the dense clay trees.
my malleable self has learnt
it as a way of defence, twisting
the form into whatever offers
the least resistance and most
satisfaction as long as it’s
kept at arm’s length to avoid
the detection it’s a mismatch
forced together with nothing to
keep the seams falling apart.
Apropos of nothing,
as they say, as they say,
it’s a sign of health
of being able
to balance adroitly,
in the Void as void,
stamped with the stamp
of one’s own interpretations
as well as yours.
Tutti frutti (ah, Rudy!),
I’m yours, I’m yours,
It could be the ugly duckling,
into so much more
than a mere swan—gone,
gone, completely gone—
paddling o’er to the other shore.
(Check your ego at the door.)
I smell you - my childhood
You fill my nostrils first
Then all my senses too
‘Til strong and clear
My memory follows
I smell you -
Promising orangey heaven
But resisting my bitten-nailed efforts
To tear apart your parts
Then suck up your sticky juice
And gobble down your liberated flesh
Mind the pips!
You don’t want a tree growing in your tummy!
I smell you -
So nearly pristine plastercine
Worked hard to soften
Between urgent, ardent little hands
To mould rippling waves
Then mountain ranges
And finally, a rolled up, always-puckered ball
Keep it on the tray!
We don’t want any getting trodden into the carpet!
We were moulded
from the same clay, which puts
more or less work into disguising it,
And so we believe: a difference.
One a warm kneading of charcoal and
protein: its elastic, yielding
properties increased with each push
of the hand. Beaten in, not the white
of an egg, but the slate of November
One a bar of industrial calculations:
we must call it reason, reason,
as it parrots its numbers and pretends
no-one else has eyed the slight bend
behind its desire for levers
and clutches –
Out here is where I wait
to see how they agitate the landscape.
How they flutter through a tree's green mane,
and then poke the ground to feed their young.
I see paws that leave marks without scarring.
I am smaller than what surrounds me.
The tree with its roots far into the ground;
the stillness in its stance.
The silence in all timeless things.
Ferns that have been around for millions of years,
long before the advent of calendars, or shame.
The first human who found its way out of the desert
is in me;
so is the sea and its salt.
The distance is my sword and with words
I wage wars on what's been left unsaid.
And everything that already is,
everything that I long for,
everything that I have ever had
and that has been stolen,
I carry it all in me –
just like the sea carries its salt and gold;
just like a tree shelters the hunger of birds in its fold.
See how it bears fruits that it'll never eat?
There's nothing we can keep.
No need to dream of buying everything you see.
All we have is what we give.
A morning class, paid for by a friend. We are learning to draw better. We are learning to read the world as art and capture it on canvas. The artist tells me to close my eyes and blink a swift glance at the scene before me. The artist tells me to draw the shapes of the negatives before my brain fills in the blanks. I must not draw what I expect to see, only what is there.
I draw the little orange boat with its green sail, adrift on a sea both wild and still, and beneath it a kraken rises.
I try again, and this time I see the orange boat is foundering - the sea spilling clear from a hull splintered and caved by the pressing thumb of the waves, and the water beneath it is thick with turbulence and it grips the boat and holds it high. Water is strength, water is malleable, water gathers away from the rising dark beneath it and noodles off the notched lid of it. Water off a duck’s back, if the duck were dense and made of coal.
I blink and I blink and the scene shifts – the boat lifted safe away from the dark ball of the world, set soaring, filled fertile with hope and newness, and the sea remains to be whatever it will be, however it is pinched and folded and crimped and turned, and beneath it the dark stays balled up, crouched in, ready to unfurl just as soon as the sea is flat and unaware.
I blink and draw and blink and paint, and then there is the finished product, the outlines, the shading; clumsy splashes of colour. The little orange boat made of neither wood nor metal, beset by a beast of neither sea nor sky, adrift upon a sea of neither water nor salt, and all three at odds with the other. The artist looks at the scene and looks at my work and says, see, see how you saw and were not deceived by what you wanted to see?Read more >
at the edge of eternity
on a planet far away
a young girl finds a soft rock
she presses a finger into the dark
density a sound of a baby bird’s rick-ick-ick
comes from this clay
she turns the rock presses again
imprints her thumb her breath
a longer sound emerges
as if inside
a blue being moves a newborn
as if the dark whispers a secret
somewhere clouds become the sky
they shape a smile across white horizon
an orange sun sits atop the left corner
of the blue sky’s smile
a blue heron’s wings mistaken for dried leaves
float at the edge of eternity
when everything is plasticine
a smell/ and what do you call
a love to roll, mould, break
to swing in pale blue heaven
feet above fresh leaves
an orange sun
till upside down (such fun)
you see art
on a rock
(and everything is plasticine)
to make/ belief
in self/ creation
's see-saw on a lever
when everything is plasticine
(a thing of plasticine is a joy forever)
'By when is it too late
to have done anything in this life?'
is my 2 a.m. question to you. Always practical,
you say, 'Yesterday, because climate change
has us spinning along the dark
razor edge of extinction.'
I must have agreed with you
too emphatically, too quickly
unravelling woollen lines
of alternating knit and pearl stitches,
too vividly haemorrhaging
after a routine surgery.
Knowing I could have been
a doctor, professor, artist,
astronaut, spy, famous,
relevant, or even good if
I'd made the effort.
So far instead I have you,
and I worry that your practical
is like my horoscope
that I daily scour the papers for,
vague but hopeful, entirely relatable,
friendly in the fire of total disaster.
Creativity is it?
You need to learn your facts, not waste your time with creativity.
How can you get on in the world if you don’t know the capitals of every land?
And don’t pretend they’ll change before you’re old, that’s insolence, that is.
And take in the facts from the fine display across the room:
you’ll know which king followed which and queens, too, there were a couple.
And if you’re interested in Art, remember Holbein painted the portrait of the Flanders mare.
Don’t be worrying about creativity.
Now take back your cut-out triangle, the angles aren’t correct, it isn’t equilateral at all!
Can’t you cut out a straight line? Useless girl.
Sit there and try to get your blanket stitch even, yours are like horses’ teeth,
unpick and start again. Cut out the pattern as it is and
don’t take it to the machine to sew till I say so.
Stay in at lunch time to practice joined up script
your page looks as though a spider crawled out of the inkwell
and walked across your page. It’s a poem is it?
Where did you copy that from?
You certainly didn’t make that up yourself.
Your lines don’t scan or rhyme – learn Hiawatha off by heart instead –
it’s trochaic tetrameter by Henry Wadsworth, you know.
The peel will come off easily
Without needing to be coaxed into lucidity;
The layers will reveal themselves
Under gentle pressure:
A bit too much and the sores ooze.
The right words will arrive,
They're just round the corner,
Something tells you,
When you suddenly wake up
At two in the morning, slightly dripping
With mid-monsoon sweat:
A sultry interlude between two wet spells;
The right words are just round the corner you think,
Quite like the rains that will fall again
After their brief hiatus;
May be silently or in a noisy cascade.
Clumped cells of some unborn song
Lay knotted in the pit of your gut
Or crumpled under the bedstead,
Searching for a body to embalm.
Shapes have started crowding
The ghost-town of your thoughts
Waiting to reclaim the lost space
Before turning into balls of carbon
As all things born are meant to be:
Will they jump out of the closet
To haunt you in the dead of the night
Or will you exorcise them with the right word,
Just round the corner?
Oranges remind me of the Christmases of my childhood. They were very restrained affairs. Scotland in the 1950’s was a dour place where New Year was the heart of the festive season. Christmas wasn’t even a public holiday and life went on pretty much as usual. Only white-collar workers had the day off. Manual workers, like my dad, still had to go to work. The post arrived, shops were open, coal was delivered and only a few households, at least in the port of Leith, where we lived, put up a Christmas tree. We didn’t have a Christmas dinner of turkey and plum pudding, but to make the day a bit special, my mother would buy a steak pie from the Leith Provident Co-op butchers, and make a ‘clootie’ dumpling which, served with evaporated milk, was the treat of treats. As for Christmas presents, they were something of a token gesture. An orange, a bar of chocolate and a small toy from my parents and a shiny two-shilling piece, from Grandma.
A quarter of a century later my older brother Mike, would amuse his children, by telling them that all he and I ever got for Christmas was an apple, an orange and a ‘doot-doo-doo’ (the cardboard tube at the centre of a toilet roll). They thought that this was a hilarious fairytale but, it was closer to the truth than they could ever have imagined. Of course, by that time, Scotland had succumbed to commercial pressures and Christmas had superseded New Year as the main focus of festive season celebration.
The scent of an orange still conjures thoughts of those far off, more austere days when, after the pie dish had been cleared away and the ‘clootie’ dumpling eaten, I would sit by the black-leaded range with Mum and Grandma, while Dad and Mike played draughts at the kitchen table. The wireless would be turned on and we would listen to my favourite
Long before the fires burnt all the forests,
we hung tangerines and lumps of coal
from Christmas trees, and in December
we’d chase about the forest, and my dad,
with his shiny axe in hand, chopped down
an unmistakably perfect pine tree that
was as straight as a lighthouse. And,
on its branches, we clipped candles lit
with real flames, hung tangerines from
crimson ribbons, and black lumps of coal.
Those tangerines were gold in goodness,
and those sooty lumps of coal … so dark,
stood for everything that we hoped not.
And we believed in every blessed miracle.
In Prancer and Vixen. At least, until
all the needles fell off the tree.
But that was long before way-back-when,
when everyone whirled about in cars
without ever a thought. Grandparents
boarded an aeroplane, and always
celebrated every Christmas with us.
In all the world, there exists only three species of citrus
Mandarin oranges from the Far East,
Pomelos from Southeast Asia
And from the subcontinent, the beloved citron
All the rest—tangerines, lemons, grapefruit, limes—are hybrids,
Molded, and remodeled, bred and changed, evolved over time
Traced back to those three fundamental ancestors
Like the way reality splits white light through a prism
My Truth in the vibration of every atom
Your Truth spilled in half sentences and things unsaid
And, illusive, objective, indisputable:
THE Truth, to which we both lay claim
They say the truth is bitter and sometimes sweet
Like chocolate, memories, and key lime pie
It will set you free or drive you mad or break the spell
A balancing act in three parts.
From the Miocene era on land that would be called China
The fossils of citrus plants date back 20 million years
From a tree whose great, great, great descendants
Would be called Kumquat, Tangelo, Clementine
You smiled at me and I teetered . . . on the edge of maybe. I am suspicious of men who don’t blink.
I ponder the meaning of it all, the electric moment. I ponder whether I should stop pondering the meaning of it all.
Sometimes, there isn’t one. And words cannot transcribe what instinct always knows. My body is live with conduction. But look,
I have battle scars and war paint, see? And this is not really a mask. I’m just hiding in plain sight.
I see that you do understand. For you are hiding in plain sight too. And I catch a scent of something pure about you, like
the moral of a story. Like an orange knitted together from sun, earth, wind, rain. Eating it would be like eating a piece of the sun. Imagine that? Sweet tang sun.
You are both vision and shadow blur. This tells me you are real.
But you lay down your arms and invite me to give it my best shot. Which makes you win. Already. How could you? That was my move. Now I must comply.
Some artists go to town on their creations,
striving for realism and perfection.
They mould, shape, fashion, remodel.
Some might call it ‘crafting’.
Others wince at the word.
Certain creatives go the extra mile,
think about risking a cherry on top,
then settle for a witty leaf or whimsical stalk.
Some might call it finessing.
Others don’t overdo things.
They simply wrest the ‘raw’ material
from its packet,
give it a roll, a deft twist,
and allez-oup, voilà, job done.
Some might label this minimalist.
Others potter and fuss,
patting their product,
not quite sure when it is finished,
giving it another prod or poke,
standing back to admire it –
once they’ve decided what it is.
Some will assume it is impressionist.