• Vol. 05
  • Chapter 01

The Dead and Their Stuff

It was once thought there were two types of stuff – properly called ‘substances’: physical and mental. It is fashionable now to think there is only one.

I tend towards two.

To believe in one substance – the physical (and such is the fashion) – you must believe all life is reducible to properties that don’t in themselves contain life, and that somehow a certain volume of impersonal properties can create a living thing – in this instance, a person.

Some very eminent people no longer believe in personhood. Which means you can’t logically have dead persons, or their stuff - you just have things that are more or less that thing.

Other eminent people say you cannot believe or disbelieve in personhood without first agreeing a framework of personhood.

It might be that the collecting of stuff, whether from the living or dead, is proof of personhood, or at least stuff that is decided upon because of meaning or value – mental stuff.

*

In church halls, youth clubs, community centres, foldaway tables are arranged in a rectangle and the stuff of dead people is sold alongside the out-grown and the unwanted.

In galleries and bookshops physical stuff is sold that contains, either within or on its surface, mental stuff. And much of this comes from the dead.

There is a lot of ‘dead peoples stuff for sale’.

Read more >
1

Tag

Towns cry without bells, in banks of
rattle shake the names of invisible bodies

Second hand retro vintage clothes
off your back

Drape their lives around you

let skin cells

Fall on your tongue

talking off-brand price tag

Hidden in peat bog fragments

of bone teeth bar code

Labels in a lab

of false understanding

2

Stuff You

You haven’t yet realised, in your ignorance of life, beauty (and grammar) that the owners of what you so dismissively call Stuff have begun to take yours. Your precious iPhone 8, your £445.00 Balenciaga black trainers and that bottle of Louis Roederer Cristal you were planning to open for your girlfriend. The Dead Peoples, as you call them, have taken them.

And they will continue to take everything you hold dear until you learn some respect (and, some of them say, until you learn better English). They laughed when they saw your sign because they know better than any living person that Stuff is exactly the right word. You can’t take anything with you when you die: in the end it is all Stuff. But they want you to understand that while they lived their Stuff mattered to them just as much as yours matters to you, now.

Remember the piece of creased paper you took from that faded floral dress and threw away? Well Rose, the owner of the dress, would like you to know that you tore up a finger painting she’d kept for sixty years. A finger painting of a rose made for her by her daughter, the daughter who didn’t live beyond her fourth birthday.

So you see? All kinds of Stuff has value. And Dead Peoples Stuff should be respected by the living. Because different people value different Stuff. Including Dead Peoples.

The Dead Peoples will continue to take what you hold dear, what you value; they will continue to, they tell me, Stuff You, until you understand the value of Stuff. (And, some say, until you can produce better signs.)

3

Peoples Stuff for Sale

capital is dead labour

on barren soils cloven

for shopping pavements

in to wattled stepping

to deter a wheel chair

as if a movie of death

were situationism lite

under the sidewalks of

a hipster charity lane

upcycling ethos as art

and pathos for mustard

by the artisan brewery

denims and trust funds

washed down after toil

but stuff is not stuff

that alteration frames

for the consuming eyes

even as slipped vowels

Read more >
4

Stuff and Sales

I wonder whether you’ve seen the sign already, whether I should cover your eyes. Or whether that would just alert you to the fact that there is something to see. Of course it would. Stupid me. So, I keep walking, keep you walking, your slim hand in mine. You seem peaceful, staring ahead. You tend to look ahead. Sometimes you are beaming at butterflies in the future and run into a rock in the present. I have to stop that, be your guide, which isn’t easy. I was not designed for looking any way but back.

It is not even the word “dead” that might trigger some kind of pain in your sweet soul. It is more “stuff” and possibly even “sale”. Years later, assuming that you are still here, you may hear this story and think, what on earth’s wrong with “stuff”? It’s the animals, you see. At the museum. The elephant, and the foxes and even the round little squirrels. I had envisaged a kind of dead zoo. It wouldn’t be that different to a living one, they just … wouldn’t be moving. Or making noises. Or able to see us or communicate with us or know we were there.

Well, they were still and they were silent. But their blank dark eyes – plastic, or glass? – stared into mine as I stood holding you and they did not like what they saw. The elephant’s anger chilled me to the bone. The foxes’ scorn made me turn away in shame. The squirrels looked confused. Why do you not love him? He is perfect, is he not? He is hers, is he not? I ran out, clutching a confused baby you. We must have looked ridiculous.

“Sale”. The word makes my mouth shrivel up. Depending on accents, it can be either salty or dirty in French. I remember the shortbread, how careful I was. How I measured out everything perfectly, took my time mixing instead of charging around being angry as I usually would. It was actually quite therapeutic to just stand still, do something mundane and repetitive.

Read more >
5

Dante dot com

I took it all with me, but apparently there’s no room.

The tenth circle of hell is exchange and return.

This is punishment for too much shopping, I presume.

I took it all with me, but apparently there’s no room.

There are no decorations allowed in my eternal tomb,

so I suppose it’ll be easier if I just let it all burn.

I took it all with me, but apparently there’s no room.

The tenth circle of hell is exchange and return.

6

Matter of an Unspecified Kind

Dear Shop Owners at No.28b Fore St,

Once again, I am writing to you concerning your advertisement printed in the Blemingfield Times. Last Saturday, as I was drinking my breakfast tea, my husband Gordon placed the aforementioned paper on our kitchen table saying, “Doreen, breathe deep, they have done it again.” When I saw your advert, Dead Peoples Stuff for Sale, I dropped my teacup and almost scalded my poodle Cherry who was asleep under the table. Next, I screamed, wept and consequently developed such a throbbing migraine that I was obliged to retreat to a darkened room for over 36 hours.

As I mentioned in my previous five letters (of which I have sent copies to Madam Mayor of Blemingfield, the editor of the Blemingfield Times and her majesty the Queen) I demand that you remove your advert. I repeat: dead people cannot be paired to the word stuff. To stuff is to gorge, to fill up, and to stick inside a meat pie. The word stuff describes matter of an unspecified kind. Our ancestors bequeath personal property, as my late mother left me her Persian lamb coat (though I would have preferred the china.)

In the sole answer I have received from you, Shop Owners, you write that Dead People’s Stuff For Sale is a “joke”. You claim, it is “funny” and requires “ a sense of humour.”

Shop Owners, must I remind you that I once brought an entire flower-arranging session of the Women’s Institute to their knees when I quipped that, “I had been put in an orchid situation.”

Read more >
7

People for Sale

Dragged over broken concrete
behind closed doors
just in, another bin bag.

Jacket, not waterproof, torn yes
but in my pockets half a can
and that smoke that fell from me.

Earring trapped in the lining
cosy in its own fur coat, more
rollies in the bashed baccy tin.

Sleeping bag, was blue.
White tin mug, few stains I admit
but well handled. Blanket nicked.
Socks none.

That wet grey jumper needs to weep
some more on someone’s radiator,
couple of tops, one logo might fancy you.

Take it, no name, no label, just leave
mind the broken step and straighten that
fallen black letter ‘cos I’m funny
that way.

No one will notice the passing.

8

The Stink

it's not that I mind crypt buggering like this—
the vermin rooting through all that will

only disintegrate in measurements of minutes
or geological eras, no, that I don't mind at all

let vultures plunge their bald heads beaks first
into these rotting flesh banks let them

attempt to coat all putrefaction and canker
with unctuous sprays cloying at each passing nostril

even that blight will eventually fade and the fats
from alkal alcanoates will break down like the bodies

these worn woolen jackets once housed
all traces of this stuff will vanish though

I cannot scrub the space where the missing
apostrophe should be—that eats away at me

in realtime the white space that reeks
of our current skullcaps' mephitis

9

they brought and bring, we all buy that stuff

stuff
for
sale

from the
dead
we

lay it
out.
It is

within
us,
the

dead
are
within

us:
we
remember

them
the
stuff

they
brought
and

Read more >
10

Unpleasant on Pleasant Street

Over a year and a half of going through almost a decade of accumulation and a lawsuit with "relatives"
Family has brought a new meaning to the word
Underhanded scheming
Embezzlement
Manipulation
Nastiness
All synonyms to our new definition
You hear stories where greed tears families apart
Never thinking it would happen to your "family"
$700,000.00 for a Saks bill and expecting your spinster aunt to write a check due to entitlement issues
Really?
Expecting your son to have the classic car passed down to him from your dead uncle just because
Thinking all the schmoozing will get you "everything"
Guess what, notes have been taken all along
Very good notes
You aren't the smartest person in the room
Karma
It's a thing
You've ruined your chances, you got nothing
Lost family and fortune
Let me guess which was more important to you?
I guess it's all "relative"

11

Deluded

Recycler or vulture?
My pulse quickens when I see this sign.
The bargain culture
has always been, first and foremost mine.
An honest statement,
not dressed up, feels almost sublime.
Vintage garments
remind me of another time
an escape route
from this time of Trump and crime.

Then at back home
I'm damned to see a pile of dirty rags.
Rose-tinted specs
won't let me magic dross into dream swag.

12

Can I be immortal?

Only if you could place your life in your possessions after you have gone.
And one day someone finds you so dear,
That they live their lives through you.
And long after that someone has gone,
someone else may find you and
this cycle will go on till the death of your possessions.

13

Emma Jane

Mothballs and dust take me back to a time
growing up in Missouri on a flea-market budget,
when Sundays were spent rummaging through antique shops
with my sister, my mother and her mother.

I meander through the jam-packed maze
of depression glass, lace doilies
and primitive potato mashers,
before landing in the vintage book aisle.

I can hardly resist the smell of aging pages
as I blow off a layer of dust, crack
the crumbling spine. Sometimes I close my eyes,
run my fingers along the typeface trenches,
titles embossed in the leathery covers of classic
collections of poetry.

Turning each page, with its coarse thickness,
reminds me of construction paper greeting cards
my kids made in kindergarten, the ones
with tempera paint handprints and
crayon squiggles.

Today, I found a hidden memento tucked snugly
into a book’s crevice, marking a love poem
by Emily Dickinson, this edition
once belonging to a true romantic soul.

Her personal bookmark, a photo of a man,
quite slender and somber, his drab brown suit
matching his melancholy smile.

Read more >
14

Threaded Wonders

There is a delicate ring with carved roses on the band
and scarves that float and descend
like dandelion puffs,
when thrown into the air.
There is even a black velvet
and blue satin cocktail dress,
which looks like it is ready to dance the night away.
Without their stories though,
these are just things
lacking the luster of life.

The carved roses belonged to a very old ring
from the 1920s.
The silver base had become soft
and the original stone fell out,
to be lost in some far-off corner
under a coach.
This she would not sell.
This will be saved from the STUFF pile.

The light as a feather scarves belonged
to a great aunt with an even greater sense of style.
There was a leopard print, a burgundy swirl, and a silky black scarf
with sequins that looked like stars.

In the end, she could not bear to part
with most of the things meant for the sale.
Perhaps it was the sign on the sidewalk that felt too final.
Rich with adventures,
she decided to keep the treasures of those cherished.
Read more >

15

Life Becomes Inventory

Before bones grow cold
the greedy garage sales a life
into bins marked, “Priced to Sell.”

Memories ghost photographs,
wrap Paris in broken pearls,
and scent love letters bleeding
from a heart shaped box.

History crumbles into a burden.
Verbal stories no longer have a home
only the mold of forgotten murmuring
among stitches of a tattered quilt.

A corpse has a price, her clothing a steal.
Life becomes inventory as soon as
an obituary advertises a sale.

16

Dead Peoples Stuff For Sale

I don’t think Albert really understood the concept of marketing. If he had he wouldn’t have put those words on the placard outside his shop. I passed it every day on the way to work. The place gave me the shivers, and as for Albert himself, well he couldn’t be far from the grave. Wiry white hair stuck out in all directions. His face was pale and had more track lines on it than Clapham Junction. With a frame thin and unsteady he ambled in and out of the shop, washing his windows and sweeping the step as if that would bring customers in.

Each time I passed my eyes strayed to the piles of clothes and knick-knacks in the window. He hadn’t a clue about window display, how to lure customers in with a tantalising colour co-ordinated hang and drape. And the baskets! There were baskets outside the shop stuffed with socks, ties, tights and underwear.

I wondered about the widows and widowers who gave Albert their dead relative’s clothing. I hoped they washed them beforehand because I couldn’t see Albert putting them through a wash cycle and extra rinse. Many items were so creased and faded the only place for them was in the bin.

The shop overflowed. Clothes spilled out of the door. Thermal vests, shirts, dresses, trousers and jackets. It was a complete mish-mash of fashion. Anything from the thirties to the present day. The paraphernalia of the others’ lives packed shelves and boxes, every corner and every space. Albert certainly didn’t have any competitors in the village, yet the shop suffered the same sadness as his goods. The paint was faded on the façade and the gutters leaked.

In the old days, when he was a young man, Albert had owned a horse and cart and would go from street to street taking away what remained of the dead. He’d just taken over his father’s rag and bone business but he’d changed the criteria. Read more >

17

Tell It How It Is

"Tell it how it is," the manager said,
when she asked me to write the sign
and design the promotional material,
"something eye-catching
and straightforward."
Well,
I generally knew the owners,
and the people who were once owners.
I've lived here long enough,
longer then she has.
So I should know.
Yes,
I knew they were no longer with us.
I didn't know if their past possessions
were antiques,
or nearly new,
or even used,
or slightly soiled.
But I knew the one time owners,
knew they were no longer with us.
So I did as I was asked.
It was a snappy caption,
I thought.
Certain to grab the attention of
potential buyers.
Yes,
I always follow instructions,
I explained at my next job interview,
and I know how to tell it how it is.

18

True Vintage

Granny was so particular about her things,
dresses hung with tissue and pomanders, housed
them in closeted cedar, sanded annually,
to discourage moths and to release
the story of a tree whose body was shaped
to fit the nook of her chimney-breasted room.

When she died, there was no body
to look after her things, so her space
was cleared.

Men came, overalled and gloved
with gaping black bags, mouths hungry
to swallow St Michael, Norman Harntell
and Selfridges, all pristine, as if they
had only just alighted, paper birds,
chosen, saved for, sent for, nearly
seventy-five years ago.

White vanned to another place,
turned and fingered, hung together
for the last time; true vintage,
on a charity shop rail, Granny’s garments
are now for sale.

19

WHEN YOU’RE DEAD

It’s good to know
there’s a place you can go
when you’re dead.

Forget rounding with a sleep
guest appearances at Ouija boards
churchyards or Halloween.

Here you can buy the stuff
of your dreams, be whatever
you want, for a little piece of soul!

See that shining silver sheath dress
with fairies dancing all around?
Be Titania for a price, pixies are free!

Or maybe your taste is more
Darth Vader? The Dark Lord suit
comes with inbuilt heavy breathing!

No-one here cares about your spelling
and grammar or if you
drop the occasional vowel.

Make new friends at our café
meet up with old ones, or chat
to the quivering newly dead.

It’s good to know
there’s a place you can go
when you’re dead.

20

Caveat Emptor

Oh, misaligned, maligned, malignant
A throwaway comment
Compressing a life, lives, a whole nation
Into mere bric-a-brac
Bring out your dead, bring your dead
Only dead people here
Remaining remnants, remainders, remains
All that is left of stuff

Through the blue door—
Not the end of the tunnel—
Up the worn-out steps, cutting corners
Taking you into that other world
Of stuff, of yellowing cotton, sweat-stained, neck-grimed
Imprinted with dead people, by dead people
Dead for sale, death for sale
Come and buy
Everything’s going cheap, sold as seen
A bargain, but—as always—caveat emptor

21

Diamond in a Vitamin Jar

You hid a diamond in a jar of old
vitamin E, a glimmering secret that
you showed me only once a year.
You said it was valuable, payment
from a client who was suspiciously
low on cash and lacking in character.
As the years passed, it took on the
amber hue of the vitamin jar, the
distinct scent of fish oil slick across
edges that cut grooves into the moon
and sparkled against the tips of fingers.
It was supposed to be a legacy, passed
to me on the bitter tongue of death, but
I sold it to pay my rent and buy wine.
The diamond was polished and
displayed under glass, in a case with
stuff from other dead mothers.
I hope it still smells like the vitamin jar,
and that you forgive me for letting it go.

22

Dadi

What I cannot sell off is how your crooked thumb held the knife to cut slices of apple for me when I was sick.

Or how your bent back looked as it plodded around the kitchen, trying to cook in an almost empty house.

I wonder if cruel-looking kindness is something we should sell. Maybe people will buy it if we trade it for 50% off.

23

Divided – by a common language

We are stuffing black bin bags, destined for a charity shop.
In goes her houndstooth jacket – small, revered, nipped-in,
the red paisley skirt, cable twinset, cobalt suit – pleated,
that emerald brocade – so unsuitable for a son's wedding,
white lace gloves, kitten heels caked with Meltonian.

From the back of the wardrobe, his suit – mothballed,
described as lovat but more akin to cowpat, mustard
cardigan with buttons like mini footballs – badly scuffed
that cousin Wilbur from Ohio insists are li’l soccer balls,
handfuls of ties, pairs of braces Wilbur says are suspenders.

In the top drawer, a round box of stiff collars, a small case
for studs. Lower down, his huge grey underpants,
her tiny lavender suspenders Paige claims is a garter belt.
And in the chest, a heart-shaped box that my US cousins
and I hesitate to look into. Our loss, the thrift store’s gain.

24

This house doesn’t sell

My winter garden is plush
with memories of summer cherries
and so is my house
with echoes of my children’s play-names
the kitchen smells of the curry
and love that blossomed
in its four corners
the mirrors are too outdated to look into!
the portrait of my beloved
dated 1857
half hung, half falling
speaks of the youth and its promise
declined

after I died

everyone went to a nowhere
while I am still here
hanging about the windows
waiting for their return
sometimes I turn and overturn
the garden by my grave
with the same spade
in case they lay asleep by my side
When I ask news from occasional passersby
they run away frantically
like I did once from the murky mirrors
Read more >

25

Attic Sale

Come in, come in! We have sorted
what’s on sale and put it up front.
We’re not selling the letters
to my great-grandmother Annie Dunn
from her brothers and lover
as they fought for the Union
in the Civil War. Lots of mud
and bad food. Illegible, the ink
has faded to the color of blood,
we feel we must hold them.

The stack of what we are selling
is small. I’m wearing the fifty-year-old
Irish wool fisherman’s sweater
my mother knit for my father.
Excuse the missing buttons.

The furniture from their marriage
I can part with because our own stuff
has grown beyond our means
to keep. Our children’s artwork,
the Barbie Corvettes and rock
collections, and their Ph. D.
dissertations take up space.
The children are still alive.
Not a day goes by without gratitude
for our kids, but we can’t sell their stuff
yet. Not without quarrels.

Read more >
26

Yard Sale for the Dead Guy’s Things

I’m sitting on my lofty white cloud with my annoying halo glowing above my head.

I can’t believe I’ve been dead for only two months and my wife is having a yard sale. The last few months before my untimely heart attack, we weren’t getting along, but this! It’s all my things!

“How much is this blue-striped tie?”

“Oh, that’s a bargain, Miss. Ten-dollars and the color goes with everything,” says my wife.

She’s selling my favorite tie! Ooh, if I was still alive, I’d sell her favorite painting right now. That ugly purple flower that hangs in the entrance hallway for all to see. What was she thinking? I wish I could jump down from this cloud and give her a piece of my mind.

“This is a beautiful watch. I love the black leather band and it’s practically brand new. The man this belonged to kept really good care of his things. How much do you want for it?” asks the same woman who bought the tie.

“This is an even greater bargain. It’s from Japan and it’s a genuine leather band. Not those synthetic ones. This cost five-hundred-dollars, but I’m selling it for one-hundred-dollars.”

“I’ll take it,” says the woman.

My watch! That witch! That’s it, I’m taking my chances and going down.

I leap off my cloud into mid-air, spread my arms and fly.

I can’t wait until I get down there. She and everyone at the yard sale will be so spooked, that’ll be the end of it. Oh, no!

Read more >
27

Half-Price

I haggled like a regular
at a Turkish bazaar,
who pays top rate
for used things anyway,
see that verdigris
inching around the bottom?
He gave it to me in the end
in an oily brown paper bag,
the smell of the past
still trapped in it.
It wasn’t until later,
the wine still warm in my hand,
the moon in my throat,
that I let the tears fall.
After all, alone can be lonely
even in the company
of a battered
half-price soul.

28

Living Dead

I lived long ago –
On a land where Gods themselves walked,
I lived in all the rituals and
Each day was marvelously led to a fruition –
I thought.
Because I believed in karma –
The living people's stuff;
The philosophy that everyone believes in here;
And thought that I would survive for eternity;
But one day he came –
Riding his bull and
holding a whip in his hands.
We talked for some time as I lay on my bed – my death bed.
He saw me – all goods, better and bests of my karmas,
And then it was time to go along with him.
So we departed.
Behind me they cried – the near ones I held dearer.
But lo! They forgot me on the tenth day.
And now I breathe in the eternity of
dead people's stuff.
Actually, the breath is not the living people's stuff,
It is dead people's stuff that
They leave behind and then
return to the realm where
everyone is born, dead and reborn.

29

The Collector

He couldn’t believe what he’d just read.
The sign stood outside a garage: ‘Dead
peoples stuff for sale’.

Tut-tutting at the missing apostrophe,
he muttered darkly, ‘Items for me’,
and ducked inside

to delve into well-worn trousers and blouses
for souls of deceased parents and spouses
clinging to fluff

deep in pockets and stuffed up sleeves
like forgotten handkerchieves.
There were enough

to satisfy his need for angry ghosts
and sentimental spirits, a jumbled host
to usher to the other side.

30

super-presence of death

A future so determined, it breathes
presence more than
the noise of this immediate now,
cutting through the crystal
lattices of my neighborhood's bones.

On my stereo, Nick Cave
was singing a sad ballad:
"Death is not the end"
but I can't stop thinking
about "would-be orphan" moments

and all the laughs
which are yet to be laughed,

and all the drinks
that I am supposed to buy for
the whole universe
during the weekend's happy-hour.

31

The Sad Sign

It is you now who is dead and your stuff has legs, your
favorite coffee table lamp has hands but they are empty;
they grope for the fingers of a human to turn them on.
Your favorite suede jacket has almond eyes filled with grief-
tears because of your absence, and the photos of your family
have wings, they are birds slamming into the walls
of your departed home, they splatter to the floor, done for.
Your laptop is a mouth chomping at the air, its meals
of your information finished forever, it is famished.
Do you think your soul will be salvaged when your time comes?
Don't disparage things. They are the children of your body.
They cost you everything.
Don't even think your time will never come.

32

Trying it on

The late owner (Australian, it seems)
Wore it only once, out on the town.
One detects, from that occasion, receipts
In pockets, mashed down as if in rage:
A pint of Worthington; a G&T.
The suit was new. Today I pick it up
By cash-strapped chance, and so we meet,

Across a certain gap of years.
One of us an imitator, in the
Market for a bargain, for fresh ideas
Keyed to his lowly station – the other gone
But not all gone. I try his life on, here
In the shop (“DEAD PEOPLES STUFF FOR SALE”).
I wonder how it complements my ghost of a beard.

Or does it show me up? Does it belong
Back on the rack of sad donations –
The pinstriped relics (two- or three-piece ones),
The leather jackets (fake) and denims (real)?
Or maybe I myself, with shopping done,
Am soon to glimpse myself in a Soho glass?
A penny-pinching poser thrust among

His fellow posers, waiting at a bar,
Our cheap smiles wearing terribly thin ...
I’m no Antipodean, no. But aren’t
These threads, abandoned, pretty much as new?
Reckoning thus, I make my choice. How smart
Of me to smarten up my act! I’ll pay;
And you’ll see. I can change. It’s not so very hard.

33

Another Life

It seems a meagre hoard
now that it is all boxed in uniform brown cardboard,
lids taped down and labelled
with square letters –

Your stuff –

And I wonder if there is any person
more lonely than me
who would care to rifle through your old books
and records, who would read your poems
late at night and find there your heart and mind,
marvel at the quickened pulse and sad smile –

Give in to love –

Know what it is to possess
the intangible objects that belonged to someone,
rendered meaningless in death,
or worse, as they resolve themselves
into a bitter totem of all that was abandoned
when you moved on, seeking another life –

34

The Mount Methodist Jumble Sale

legs like dowel rods scuffed at the joins with big wet blanket coats or small ones leaving wind gaps at the throat grab hands the hands like mucky crabs or spiders we would snatch at silk and rayon to feel other peoples’ lives of corduroy and crimplene carrying our popcorn smell of unwashed beds and tidemarks like the one around the bath we never used because the cellos in the pipes in arctic blow and concave stomachs pimpling against the cold oh cover us over with blankets and coats a skirt that needs a tuck a button gone a blouse like Lisa had last year our bitten nails and hands and gloves hid up our sleeves we’d dream our different lives while grabbing crepes and ironed jeans that would not fit there’s lots of wear left there they’d say layering us up like pillows stuffed just so our angles wouldn’t hurt their eyes 'til we were smaller rounded parcels that reminded them of how they looked back in their dishonest memories of childhood and out we rolled wrapped in a dozen other peoples’ smells.

35

Severing ties

It was the O that did it.
That simple O, pushed askew, symbolised me, after the surreal events of the past month. I had been content, in a complaining sort of way, with my existence. Husband who worked too hard but didn't realise that I did the same. Two kids — teenage, stroppy — with belief systems that put them centre of every stage they moved onto. A good enough house at a good enough address, with neighbours who understood precisely where we sat in the financial hierarchy. I'd been rushing home on Friday, briefcase in one hand, two supermarket bags in the other, checking my Friday night dinner list in my head. Roast chicken, prepare vegetables, set table, prepare for Mum's criticisms...she had never forgiven me for marrying out. I was surprised she deigned to come to us on Friday night — our observance didn't go much beyond Friday and the chicken.
She did arrive, over powdered and over dressed, glittering ostentatiously, a certain sort of wealthy Jewish widow. I definitely took after my father.
Halfway through the chicken she put down her cutlery.
'I have news.' Dramatic pause.
We dutifully stopped eating.
'I'm going to Israel next week. For good.'
Her timing was perfect. We all looked at her, chicken forgotten.
'But Grandma,' the children were first to speak, together.
I found my voice.
'Mum, how? Where? Have you got somewhere to live?'
She waved her hands at me.
'Just be quiet and I'll tell you. I didn't want to say anything until it was arranged, didn't need you interfering.'
Her look preempted any response.
'I've bought a nice apartment in Tel Aviv, and we're flying out together.'
Read more >

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Brennan’s Burden

When my brother Brennan eloped out of nowhere he left me a note, Biro on binder paper folded into an airplane on my desk.

Dear Al,
I can't tell you the reason I left because it'll make you an accessory.

The hairs on my arms couldn't decide if they wanted to stand. It seemed like a completely Brennan prank. Still, it was a pretty bold way to up his stakes.

Under my bed you'll find a box.

Just to humour him, I went to his room—musty—and knelt on the floor—dusty—to peer under the mattress. There, as promised, was a box with a padlock.

In my Walking Dead box set, you'll find the key.

I found it buried in a drawer, sacrificed on the altar of PirateBay. It was missing a disc, but had a plain silver key wedged into the slot.

I fit the key to the lock and twisted. It popped open smoothly, and slid off the clasp. I sat there apprehensively.

There are things in the box you need to help me get rid of. Think of somewhere inconspicuous.

Wasn't that accessory to crime?

Don't worry, they're not body parts.

It could be drugs.

Or drugs.

I flung it open. Read more >

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ALL SOUL’S DAY

Sign on the sidewalk.
Ashes and concrete.
When the wind blows down the street
And the bones rattle in the storefront windows,
This is what you get:
Dead Peoples Stuff For Sale.

Everything I have is hand-me-down.
I'm not sure I'd know how to act
If you gave me something new.
It all looks so familiar on Christmas morning—
I've seen it all before,
I've had it all before,
I'm tired of the same old shit I get
Every time I shop for something more.

I'm afraid that's all there is:
Your grandfather's old pocket watch,
His farm in Connecticut,
His facial features—
Something about his sidelong glance—
Such as these are not only your inheritance,
They are you.

The sign on the sidewalk says it all:
Dead Peoples Stuff For Sale.
A little insensitive perhaps,
But it's the truth.
And we are the dead people.
Read more >

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Titanic Deckchairs: Farty Towels

Rearrange world orders:-
Trump, Brexit, Farage, Le Pen...
Satirists as mothballed as malts
In dust-strewn disused distilleries,
Awaiting upturn in global economy.

Psychosomatic allergy,
Conscious uncoupling,
Collateral damage,
Age of anxiety;
Sobriety society.

Sandwich boards:-
"Tis nigh; end of the world".
Fluttering flags unfurled...
"For God, Queen and country";
Unique, unusual, ordinary...
Recycle bins: grey, blue, burgundy.

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Between the Pages

She died last August. We found her wearing orange bed socks and a tiger-print flannel onesie. She looked happy, smiling, which made it easier for us — death is never a happy occasion, but she seemed happy about it. After the funeral, we cleared out her flat, gave her clothes to a charity shop along with that mink coat that shed all over the passenger seat of my car when I drove her to meet with the bank manager. It took me a full day with a lint roller and a DustBuster to depilate my car after that. But it was the bouquet of daffodils by her bed — those brought me to tears. It was probably the last thing she saw before she closed her eyes and fell asleep. Those faded flowers standing there in a green smear of water, stems cut at a thirsty angle. They were yellowed and transparent as the fragile skin stretched across her old hands — paper thin, like those hundreds of cigarette papers leftover after she quit rolling her own on her 85th birthday. She folded those squares of paper into origami pygmy swans. Hung them on the Christmas tree from red embroidery thread. I took one daffodil though, and pressed it between pages in one of her photo albums that I kept. Superstitious on my part probably, but I can’t bring myself to throw out any photographs.

 

It made the sky hurt
looking at those daffodils
cut down in their prime 

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Who Will Buy My Stuff?

Who will buy my songs
When my breath has whispered its last sigh
And flee my empty bones into the long silent night?
Who will tinker with my pipe
And try a smoke of foggy tobacco from its stem?
Who will take Jimmy for his morning strolls
And let him pursue and sniff Coco with the pink bow?
Who will recite my verses in the candlelight,
Taking rapt ears along the torturous paths of my sordid heart?
Who will shelter my bookshelf from the winnowing claws
Of the old landlady that called poetry lazy
And made me work for lunch?
Who will buy my stories, when my urn is upside down,
Tickling the brave sea I never saw, with the ashes of my leaving?
Who will buy this dead man's stuff?
Put the signpost where they can see it;
We will make a sale, darling; you and I.

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I Die in a Sense

It is pretty weird, how every time I sit down to write a piece for Visual Verse, I realise that I am feeling a strong un-happy emotion. Either the coincidence is uncanny, or writing for Visual Verse is one of those few times when I take cognizance of the intensity of my emotions.

DEAD PEOPLES STUFF FOR SALE

The line made something inside me cringe – it could either be a physical organ, like, say, my liver (or, gut!) or it could be something non-existent living in one of the cells of my brain manifesting itself into a dense whirlpool of tar in my chest. Either way, it hurt.

There is no pain. There is denial. Maybe that is what hurts?

I feel, but do I?
I fell, but did I?

Can you name one person whom I can always believe in? Just one?

DEAD PEOPLES STUFF FOR SALE

What is it, after all, that even dead people would not want?

Or, What is it that only dead people would not want?

I recently read someone say that you can drown in the air – the more you breathe in, the deeper you get, the heavier.
Maybe, it was not gravity all these years.
We are all dying. Drowning.

Night is my only solace. I cannot see the misery on people’s face. Misery on dying people’s face who have forgotten they are dying, along with me; we are living in each other’s funeral and eating and dancing in there, hoping, no, waiting for a revival.

Read more >
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The Final Verdict

I am embraced by the warmth of your love
I feel like I am holding you
I can almost touch you
The layers of separation
The great divide between us
Seems almost ... conquered

What belonged to you
I hold dear now
What made you special
I preserve it still
In perpetuity
For all eternity

You, my dear have not passed
You still survive
And every day
I get to strangle a little bit more of you
Making you lifeless once wasn’t enough
Dead people are not dead
If those that live still whisper to them

All your stuff is mine
I made sure I have it all
No wonder, now I relive the act
And feel like God
What could be more extraordinary?
What could be more incredible?
I have given you lifetimes
After death
And I have pronounced you guilty
In all of them

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Dead People’s Stuff For Sale

Now we have calls and angels.
With my whole heart I will
Meet the end of all men,
A meeting at the border
And a long night to confer.
Sell my possessions, I will not need them further.
Without you, I am left alone,
But at the same time in heaven—
Memories of a happy slave.
And when you have waited long enough
We shall walk into the hand of summer.
The tree-scent is sweet
And above on the wild mountain
There grow, blooming,
All the wild flowers of the mountain.
Then go through the wanton
Dreaming and deep valleys,
Because I will be with you.
And if you belong to the truth of me
Then we will decide to go together.

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Goodwill

I don’t know where they went,
his thin polyester pants, the ones he wore
to work and home, at the table,
leaning over his crosswords, cigarette smoke
filling his mouth—

or his sweaters, even the ones
we bought him days before he died,
when he’d wasted into knobs and angles,
unable to sit up,
drooling even—

or his shoes, his shirts, his shorts—
where did they go?
a dresser full of fifty years—
the things we knew him by
his whole life,

which, in the end, was just
a uniform—
emptied out

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Christmas Presence

After the cars, and flowers, and hours
spent in solicitors' offices, are over,
Or after the cards have been sent,
(out of sympathy, maybe, but obligation, more likely)
all that is left is possessions.

Reams and reams of books, thirty-two shelves, cumbersome like geological strata;
where unturned pages and unread lines and un-lived lives
contain little that would have
saved him now.

And try not to look at those calendars,
‘Appointment, 11:30,’ written, hesitantly, among the birthdays and anniversaries;
three or four weeks left
before they expire, too.

Or there's that gift book from a once-loved one,
the product of a rash decision and strained relations,
flicked through in their grinning presence on Christmas Day, 2002, now
just getting some rest.

All now finally resurrected from their clinical storage sleep, gifted with a
price tag, that obscures the title, and a
carrier bag. In green boxes, designed for transporting bananas,
they wait

and wait, and wait; good job they’re used to it.
The price tag is amended,
downwards.
And, as if on command, Read more >

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House Clearance

the cupboard dredge
the winnowed drawers
the rout of boxes
the ransacked attic
oh! the harvest of poverty
patina of skin and sausage-spit
grey dust-flock of neglect

the sift of cheap china
the prospect of pockets
the unearthed whatnots
the sad, marred leavings
oh! as surefire as metaphor
the one good piece holed up
trussed in yellowed sellotape

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A breath of new life

Ether gave an angelic smile. His work was challenging and endless. Unlike the lawyers and families, who sorted out the effects of their dear departed as well as those they were delighted to part company with, Ether was responsible for shifting through their memories.

Even though his job was an eternal one he could still envisage the pain of those who had lived tragic lives, and who carried into the next realm the mental scars inflicted through war and famine. It was the hoarders of memories that he found the hardest to separate from their spirits, weighed down by insignificant and countless memories. Usually, these were the same people who had filled their houses with things that they had bought and saved to comfort themselves. The person who would not relinquish 30 years’ worth of bills, letters, birthday cards, was not easily separated from their overgrown and rambling memories. However, for him the most unpleasant to deal with were those minds crammed full of petty grievances and spite. These were the hoarders of viperous words and thoughts that were often gangrenous, and so none of their malignant memories could be preserved.

What he enjoyed the most was reading the sweet remembrances of true love, loyal friendship and kind intentions. Wisps of deep and intoxicating moments like lingering summer sunsets that inhabited the hidden corners of generous minds. They were ‘the stuff that dreams’ were ‘made of’. These were the recollections that Ether allowed to be remembered and carried forward with the earthly dead.

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Going For A Song

If you think life is full of disappointments, you should try death for size. Less than 24 hours after my fatal heart attack on the Virgin Intergalactic flight back to Heathrow, my older sister Aggie had got that cowboy company ‘We Buy Any Dead Peoples Stuff’ round for a valuation. It was bad enough seeing them poking around my tiny maisonette before carting off all my prized possessions within the hour (leaving only half a loo roll behind), but even worse to see them place a paltry £155 in her greedy mitts for the lot.

By the way, I had no idea; I thought when you snuffed it, that was it. No, no, not a bit — I’m still here — but invisible. I can make myself pop up anywhere, which...err...hmmm...was fun at first (although I can’t say I was chuffed to learn what people really thought about me. Jeez, talk about two-faced).

So here I am inside the Village Hall in Bicester, the one with the crummy sign outside. I overheard someone just now say they deliberately leave the apostrophe out of ‘peoples’ and make it look rough and ready — it’s part of the image. And buying dead people’s stuff (DPS) is so on-trend, it’s seen as the ultimate authentic recycling. No wonder stars are queueing up to be in their ads, like the one, ‘Your outfit is gorgeous. Is it DPS?’ starring Lady Beckham. Of course, charity shops are going bust every day now that buying plain second-hand has become such a faux-pas.

Anyway, I noticed no sign of my posh telly and furniture. God knows where that lot went. I did see plenty of table tops piled with my old clothes and shoes, music and dvd collection, mugs, glasses and kitchen utensils, all decent quality mind — unlike some people’s stuff.
Read more >

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Gaudy Florals

The flowers had faded
with autumnal sun.
Sharp plastic leaves
poked out from rusted holders,
the holes gaping orbs for stems
never needing water,
at odds with the smooth cold marble
and inscriptions, hundreds of them
chasing my eyes.
I walked briskly by, as daylight
crept off and my crisp breaths whispered
like momentary pockets of steam
as I looked for ancestors,
in the wrong place.
The rummaging through closets
and drawers, suits and shirts
neatly folded. Heirlooms and
magpie pickings sifted and sorted,
shared out and hidden in deep dark
corners, some underground
in their rightful owners' pockets.

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LEFT BEHIND

the silk nightgown in silver
for their first night together in the captain's cabin
other clothes and accessories
that children could use for dressing up
or amateur theatricals for period drama
a feathered boa of particular interest
offered too is a set of ivory handled
hair brushes used without guilt or thought
for the original donor – how he died
how the herd in distress had to flee –
though the captain was brave and his guns
can be looked at by special request
as can his souvenir spears and zebra skin shield
bought in a native market at Mombasa –
too there are examples of cruise liner
table linen somehow acquired when he retired
along with his presentation carriage clock
that has stopped though only needs wind-up –
we must not forget the Dartington Crystal
decanter and glasses presented on his twenty
fifth year of service and from which he would
pour and drink his single malt Scotch
when off duty – she might join him with
a gin and tonic as they sailed to New York
or traversed the Indian Ocean –
now they are gone and have left behind
these few tokens that they once lived
and appeared to enjoy life with – no regrets
even when they watched ships on the sea
from a bungalow on a promontory above Eastbourne

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After death

There will be no light
Silence will shroud me
No birds will come to sing
On my shop's window sill
Undertaker will be busy
Gathering my remains
To bargain me with soil
But my love
You'll be there along the clothesline
Displaying my attires
You'll be blessed with buyers
But my love
Don't tell them those were mine

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Clothes For Sale

Lots of nightdresses and pyjamas.
Lots of best suits, casual clothes
or summer shorts, pretty dresses or scruffy work clothes.
When the Grim Reaper strikes there
is often no warning.
No time to change into suitable clothes.
You just have to travel in what ever you
are wearing at the time.
It could be at night in you pyjamas or
on holiday wearing a skimpy bikini, or
even overalls covered in paint.
No time to prepare.
You arrive at the Gates of Heaven
in the last thing you dressed yourself
in that day.
So what happens to all these clothes?
Heaven has a Jumble Sale!

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roost

every November 10th I remember
selling the bassinet, diaper pail, and car seat

because you didn't come home
except as bagged ash.

you now belong to twenty years of dust
layering a cantaloupe-sized urn

and to my stone heart
though I marvel at finding your silence

after all these years
still sets roost in my throat

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For Sale: An Upright Piano, Off-Tune

An upright piano, off-tune,
Still working.
A song, out of key,
Unlocked:
The smell of coffee. Schumann for beginners. Her hair golden in the morning sun. The holiday in Greece, her nose peeling from sunburn. The joyful, tearful wedding vow. The recital in the community center, her hands shaking with stage fright. Driving to the hospital, and the doctor’s fake smile. And Mozart in the morning. Buying a pink dress in Rue Garonne, and high-heeled shoes she never wore because they hurt. And the wedding vow. The over-salted omelette she served for breakfast in bed. The swollen legs, and the pale face. Singing “Singing In the Rain” under the shower. The sunshine outside and the sticky air inside, and the white coats drifting by the open door like sails, like ghosts. And the wedding vow. And Mozart in the morning. And the tears and the doctor’s fake smile. And her hands shaking. Schumann for beginners.

For sale: An upright piano, out of tune, still working.

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TIDYING UP

Dead to me now let's call it clutter
Peoples need lessons in tidying up
Stuff stacks stuff racks flashback panic attacks
For what we are holding onto the senseless
Sale debris of oneday someday schmatte

How it gets squirreled away or drawn together
Fleeting flurries of desire in Add to Baskets with
Joys forecast on arrival & dopamine bends with
Sparks & benchmarks for the numb white sharks who
Flit through data inspired by your shopping trends

Still hungry see ghosts quarry for ever new currents
We cannot it seems but worry if Y gets X before we do
Say early adopters say disposable income say credit score
Thank the GAFA gods of capitalism & unlimited bandwidth
You will never know enough you will always want more

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Estate Sale Fiesta

Doña Alegría Bonita de Milagros, a patron of the arts, died in her 18th century compound in New Mexico, with her family and cherished canine companions, Lolita and Chico, by her side. She was 98 years old. At her request, there would be no services. Her ashes would be spread in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains.

Tim and I received a formal invitation and tickets to a private sale of items from the estate that would be auctioned off to the public the following week.

***

LAS PLACITAS

The Estate of the Late Doña Alegría Bonita de Milagros requests the pleasure of your company at El Rancho de las Paloma – the Ranch of the Doves (see Map for directions) – for a private sale fiesta.

A treasure trove of collectibles and mementos from around the world: Spanish colonial furniture and art, Pueblo pottery, sculptures, paintings, prints, photography, indigenous weavings and rugs, Seville vintage feria dresses, castanets, traditional flamenco hair combs, lace mantillas, hand-embroidered silk shawls, and much more.

2-5pm Saturday, by invitation only

Attire: Southwest Chic
Libations: Special Grand Gold Margaritas, Sangria
Music: Las Mariachis de Frida Kahlo

***

Read more >
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In Collaboration with


This image, along with several of the written pieces published here, first appeared in the October/November 2017 issue of Creative Review Magazine as part of their storytelling special. Read about it and how we came to collaborative with them, and grab yourself a copy from the Creative Review website.


The image by Alicia Bock has been selected by Creative Review reader, Stuart McFerrers, via Stocksy United.



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