• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 04
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Cross Over

Papu said that she had crossed
over the road shimmering
in squares of bronze and gold
and told me I should imagine it
a precious carpet,
laid down and spread to offer
a touch of comfort on her way.

Papu said that she had left
and taken a shard of recollections
too sharp to touch again
and told me I should imagine it
a secret mirror,
only special people could
see beyond its surface.

Papu said that she had chosen
the road that led
to clouds of burnished silver
and told me I should imagine it
moist as freshly fallen tears,
their vapour misting distant skies
with her old hellos,
her new goodbyes.

1

The Pact

It always happens like this at a threshold. An edge where one place ends and another begins.

Stand at a border and you may decide where you wish to belong. Even if you cannot go there.

Look in one direction and you will know that there is another.

She stood at the shallow well. Laughing at the wet colours, singing a thought. The sun's lamp lit the clear water in which she saw her likeness as in a dream, and as in a dream she was pleased. She stared at her face, her skin a shade too dark perhaps. Her eyes were too round but sweet. Her image found favour. She saw her self. The truth held.

But truth is as a mirror we have an uneasy pact with. There is always an image we may or may not care to see. A reflection that is open to influence. A deal that can be broken.

She thrust in her jar shaking the reflection and as she pulled it back up, her smile came to meet her. She looked down into the well as if to give thanks.

The shocked water simmered and foamed, and in each foaming bit a new body took shape. One became a hundred. Each reflecting a barely perceptible image of her. Again she laughed. Then looked away.

Staring into the distance she waited for the water to settle. Hoping to see one truth.

Just one.

2

Time

Ula stopped at the edge of the water.

The bus would come soon, she thought. Then she remembered that time had not been behaving lately.

Ula stared into the water.

Time had taken today away. She went shopping for just a few hours but as night fell she realised she had no idea where she’d been or what she’d done. The bag on her arm was the only clue. Maybe she’d managed something. A choice. A transaction. An interaction.

Ula saw her reflection in the water.

She wondered if CCTV had captured her day. Maybe it had watched her move around the shop like a snake in a maze, trying to find this and that, always ending up in the same place. Maybe she had just ridden the escalator up and down, up and down. Maybe she’d just sat on the seat at the front of the shop. One of the boys.

Ula stepped back from the water.

The bus was approaching, not a minute late. Minutes had slipped through her fingers like sand but now they returned to deliver her home.

Ula stepped over the water.

She boarded the bus and disappeared as fast as the day.

3

Reflection

Life is a contradiction
A journey of denial in light that casts a shadow
from now until then
Lived on an infinitesimal time scale
We dare not glance at it
Ultimately incomprehensible, beyond the known
Without meaning unless in aspiration and in the living of love to each other

4

Below/Above

In this parallel horizontal upside down universe: snow
is a mirage below/above my shadow self and me, sky

a sea of listing openreach in this saturated place
awash with broken slabs, disbelief and endless rain

where we are cut off at the knees, so very oddly painlessly
in our hijab, our trousers and our new H&M raincoat

and I am wishing with every wit my two selves have
for a brolly big enough for us to sail away Jumblie style

while our disappearing hands leach knuckle-blue
into the cut and pasted blue-begetting sky below/above.

5

The Stand

Even when the world is upside down
and grief lies in red puddles,
she will stand her ground.

Sometimes the sky is a blue mantle
lending warmth to her vigil,
clouds lend kindly shade.

She waits, enduring weather; abuse
from the mindless, anger
from the ignorant and danger.

Always there are women waiting, carrying
the needed, collecting the wanted
trying to bring it all home.

6

Grandmama’s Alway Been

Grandmama’s always been an independent. Keen
on reminding us she raised seven kids on her own
after Grandpa passed, working a job at the same time, too.
So we don’t need to hover. “I’m getting old,” she says,
“not useless.” She’s got a stubborn streak, Grandmama does.
But she’s also losing her mind, forgetting more and more
with each day passing. Like God sitting up in the sky,
a pair of scissors in His hand, taking snips at the thread
of her memory. The snipping’s also made her suspicious.
Like the world’s out to get her. Why you looking at me,
boy? she says to me, eyeing me like I wanna snag
an old lady’s pocketbook. Scoot, she says like she don’t
know I’m her favorite boy. Today, she announces
she’s going to market. Market’s been replaced
by the big box store a long time ago, even before
I was born, so I put my shoes on, my jacket,
too ‘cuz it rained last night, clouds hanging grey
overhead, threatening more. She shoots at me
her side-eye stink-eye, but puts on her head cover
and coat. Grabs her pocketbook. I hang a good
10 to 15 feet back from her so she won’t spot me.
We stop at the corner. Waiting on the bus, I guess?
I got no clue where she thinks she’s going, but I got
my bus card ready. Between us there’s a puddle
of rainwater. I see her reflection in the middle of it
clear as day. She must see me there, too, but I don’t
look away. She does, though. And I know she’s losing
more and more of her memories because she never
passes a puddle without splashing in it. I wanna go grab her

Read more >
7

Sea of sorrows

Sometimes you can cross a sea, an ocean even and never wash the sand of home from your shoes. The smells and tastes caught in the folds of your clothes surprise you, bring tears to your eyes. Looking back, inwards, you will find the place where memories lie, deeper than the tragic near past, like masterworks beneath the placid waters of the sky. Sometimes the past feels like a tear in the fabric, a crack in the stone of the new world that holds so few promises. Sometimes it feels as though you could fall or jump and the cool waters would catch you and enfold you in the dreamtime again. But only sometimes. That way is closed, strewn with unnameable sorrows. Ahead is all there is, with its dark mesas of grudging inhospitality.

8

In the Rusting Sky

All around me, clouds are leaking
and turning the cobalt to rust;
even the shimmering glass of high-
rise buildings has an orange crust.
I am suspended between broken sky
and a pavement soaked with tears,
afraid and unsure which way is home.

I hug myself with drooping wings,
listen to the friendly blackbird sing,
and wait for a sign of hope, a word,
the fluttering of my avian heartbeat
to stop. And then I find my fickle feet
on the solid ground of a strange city
and begin to wander closer to sanity.

9

Conference of my reflections

Imagine a navy of me, setting sail
on the sea of all my selves, satellites
ahoy as we try to find new personas,

undiscovered horizons – and behind
them, the true diving-bell-bottomed
depths that might make us out as

real. But no. So instead we tack back,
to tesselate the cargo that is our lives –
the ones we could have lived, the ones

we have, the ones we will. Reflected
or not, we will always remember the
beauty.

10

A PEDESTRIAN PAUSES ON THE PAVEMENT IN REVERIE

This morning a heavy, heavy thought
seems to be weighing down on me.

I took it for a walk in a plastic bag,
and everyone I met seemed to feel it too.

I said to them, apropos of nothing:
“Forgive me, I’m not myself today.”

We presuppose a massive solidity
above us, below us:

Concrete slabs covering dirt and clay,
The waters of the firmament there in the Bible.

You have often walked on this street before,
but the pavement never fell beneath your feet before.

How many times must one look down
before one can see the sky?

We live our lives spontaneously anyway,
even at the risk of plagiary.

But is it theft to breath a breath of air,
like everyone else does?

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,
maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to take me to court!

Read more >
11

Surprising and Distressing Things

There are three sorts of
reflections, according to Sei
Shōnagon, I am told by
a very learned man who

also happens to be a
compulsive liar; you see,
I have scoured The Pillow
Book, the only known

work by Sei Shōnagon, and
have not found this
list, but my friend main
tains that there is a

second book, largely
unknown, a poem diary
that is held in the collection
of the Japanisch-Deutsches

Zentrum Berlin, uncredited;
this may be true, and may
be another fabrication, and
if a lie, why? But anyway,

the three sorts of reflection
are the common, the
distorted, and the accidental;

Read more >
12

Failed Refuge

Darkly defined under clear blue skies, she shifts
her weight, understands nature's promises
are not for her. Her legs are tethered
beneath pools, spread over wet slabs,
rooted in underworlds, a stranger
in this hollow, promised land.
She fled here, in dire need
of chances to breathe,
to heal, in freedom.
All she found was
skyscrapered rules
and scared folk
who turned
away.

13

call it dreaming

it is not much trouble walking on heels digging inwards. sidelong glances confirm my long held assumption, he is a bird.

as if a mesh of well-placed guilt slowly dissipates unannounced freeing my soles when i lend my wrist. this is reaffirming.

amidst the blaring, honking madness, a kind of green and grey, blurred as only possible with too many bodies tamped down together in a soft spot. slow marination before the heat from their bodies render them supple. imbalance firsthand, tight roping through the crowd, my over-sized handbag.

again, nondescript roadside chatter, the kind that dismisses all my gumption. except the wisp of soft drawn meaningless in the ear. certainly these lights swimming on the road can hear my thousand questions. what is this hot air ballooning in my chest, this tongue laced in aspirin turned too heavy, where are the answers. i need a smoke, the hair is a nest of what it is.

on the topic of weather then, sure and comforting, a cloud of deadpan resets my expressions to human. i don’t feel nothing. yes. yes. yes to all he asks, this is easy. yet this waft. this origin of disproportion that smell of cinnamon? custard? three day old flesh hashed and now drying by the flies? i want to sit with it and talk. i have so much to say if only i could rise above this skin and itch.

Read more >
14

Will to Dream

My grandson in high school
has taken to poetry.
I tell him its a hard life.
Seeing things.

I'd rather see him making bridges
and rules and programs
than dreams.
But he is too young to know.

Back then, I read my Darwish and Adonis,
I can tell when the sky breaks
in two, on the broken pavement
and which side will go to the sea
Never to return.

But he keeps telling me about
the road not taken, some Frost.
His high school teacher is inspiring
him to make things happen.

I do not know where it will all take us
This wing to dream.
I never knew I would reach this far
When I set out

With a broken bundle and
the next day's dinner in mind.
Today, I cannot go back
Where I came from

Read more >
15

Harbinger

Stop thinking so literally—you're not a kid anymore. And yet… your world is upside down, isn't it? How can you deny what reality is screaming at you?

No more questioning your senses—now it's time to question your choices. Or are you afraid of falling into that other world--all the other worlds—that "might've been?" You know where all that goes…

You're impossible with your hoping and dreaming and wanting. None of that will ever equal change. That alone is why you should abandon all those inner machinations—they're only going to make you helpless and hopeless.

Why would you want to be ruled by a dream? Just because you think you can control it?

Your words, your actions—these are all you'll ever have control over! How many more times must you re-learn this lesson? And all the while as this is going on, you're getting older and older, and your situation isn't improving because you're just standing there…

Are you truly caught in a haze of confusion… do you really not know what to do anymore? You can't have convinced yourself you don't feel anything. If that really were the case, you wouldn't be so scared.

They've robbed you of your confidence, that's all. They've ruined whatever self-esteem you had. Between these two things and all that self-realization, how could you maintain all that gusto for life?

So many mistakes that left them hurt, and, yes, you were hurt too. But it's your refusal to forgive yourself, that's why you're so confused and so unhappy.

Read more >
16

together

what connects us is water
jellyfish to parrot
lettuce to tumbleweed
my breathing out
to your flash flood
the sand shining with sky
on the long flat beach
where the tide runs
an inch deep for hours
fall and leat
the tidal ditches
in the watermeadows
the uncomfortable alongside
of alligator and kneedeep cow
when the river has spread
the Everglades beyond
the danger of a pavement
inviting you to dive
skull to concrete
collarbone snap
the delight of dancing
on air
meeting yourself sole to sole

17

City Blue

The sky, so clear, defined your silhouette
as the wild ocean rains deposited into puddles
found themselves disturbed by only your boots.

I was wittering about something or another
chattering to fill the solitude in your eyes
as yawning chasms of maritime industry

thrummed like the nightclubs just out of sight.
You asked me where I'd be sleeping that night.
"With you,'' I wanted to say, but didn't.

Instead I brought up our moral balance sheet,
red and black, equations weighted cell on cell
trying to calculate what you might want.

The streetlights created another you
and another me, living down in the potholes
of the road we couldn't navigate. My reflection

almost smiled as I poured all my heart out.
You looked pained. "Sure,'' upside-down-you
cringed politely. "Like I said, I love you too.''

18

Insight

At night time when dimensions shift,
the rules lie ruined, paradigm,
collage or is it collagen,
main body parts that no one sees.

The clouds I know are solid ground
but, are they slabs now climbing sky,
poor cuneiform and glitter spray,
puddles, gold-leaf, shopping bag,
imagined, upturned go-cart wheel,
pram before the c was k.

Impressionism here to stay,
chop-logic as the bard would say,
but what is it, uneasy mind,
that wants to leave those fears behind?
Repeat performance, frequent steer,
if only I could leave the mare,
where cumulus predictable,
and settle into daily round.

19

Sight Lines

We never see each other
dead on. There’s always
some reflection, refraction,
stray ray of light, or softening
shadow that makes us
stranger, each to other.

You are someone I think
I know. I am also an image
in your eye and wonder
how I look there. The dark
within me—does it shade
my features? And when I

see you, your back to me,
your eyes and smile mirrored
but miraculously angled
at me, who is seeing and seen?
So familiar—that glass ghost.
So fragile—the love of strangers.

20

Reflecting Pool

Here after the rain
sky pools at my feet.
Surfaces wet turn glass
slick and chromatic.

I stand in water and sky.
Here I am myself
upside down a repeat
through prisms of light.

Do you see me?
A thin tissue of humanity
mounted on a slide
as light passes through me?

I am no more than the pulse
against your retina
waves crashing against cones
inside your eye
shadow of a doppelganger
the patina of life on wet pavement
turned reflecting pool.

I stand in water and sky
shimmering in refracted light.

I am as real as the stamp
of clouds and concrete
on a mirrored street
a damp sidewalk
as substantial
as a city’s dream.

21

Refugee

She waited.
In rain; in the rudimentary sharp reflectionsv of just-before-dusk,

she waited,
rubber booted, her good, warm coat
turned up at the collar,

the familiar
headscarf covering her hair,
tightened at her throat,

its coarse knot
squeezing her every breath
to tethered clouds.

She waited
as the cold sunk into her,
trembling like a waif,

despite the western
burnish of the dying day
charging the eye

with its pretense of warmth.
She waited,
first outpost of the night,

hugging her bag,
as if to reassure herself
of affection.

She waited,
like a ghost, burning and drowning
at the same time.

22

The Seeds of Creativity

I know the sky
will eventually open;
the sun will show its welcoming face.
I have to be hopeful and patient
during the hungry season,
continue to rely on family and friends
to brace my fall.v I have to stay away from people
who don’t have faith in my work,
and who say that my intuition is not real.
The seeds of creativity abide in me.
If I keep reaching for my soul,
the song will come.

23

The Woman Who Waits

And the men who wait with her.
We look for things that spark
something in us, that shift our focus,
turn our quotidian life on its head,
coaxing us to move away from our dull
repetitive expectations.

If alert almost anything can strike us
as beautiful. The sun gleaming down
on bale of hay making it seem to be
a bundled pile of golden straw;
a lonesome daffodil might draw your
attention as it rises to seek light,
standing tall in the window ledge
of an abandoned building.
Almost anything contains within it
a mystical component; the way a person
walks or the impression left by unrelated
objects cast haphazardly together like dice,
but taking on new meaning.

Today it is she. She’s out there again
as she has been many times before.
It has rained. It is clearing. The sky
throws light in all directions.
She is at the crosswalk, heavily dressed
with coat and head scarf, shopping bag in hand.
She and her shadow, toe to toe, sole to sole.
Read more >

24

Pavement Postulations

The sky above
A highway to her mind
Disastrously careening towards
Collision
A whistle stop canopy
As she stands stern in
Her resistance to the
Emotional churn
Waiting for a hand to stretch out
And pull her in from the storms
Raging within.
An Alpine resistance that
Builds up
Like serpentine fetters across
Her jacked up disposition
To push her into her
Darkest fears.

The scars reflected in the
Rain-washed pavement
Pooled in the antiquity
Of her swirling regrets
As the traffic buzzes by
Staccato
Halting, speeding and not
Even stealing a side glance
At her.
Her predicaments come to
Haunt her like a nip in the
Morning air
Read more >

25

Composition

The suck of feet on water
sends you helter-skelter once again.
You can’t look down in case
you see yourself for who you really are.

So, better tilt your aging chin towards
chameleon clouds, for they take on what form
they wish and never have to contemplate
their nature, path nor end.

If you would only come with me my love,
to blue beyonds, to birdless appetites
of space, you’d have no need to traipse
these cold reflective streets.

Instead you’d see yourself in all
the composition that you are —
the water and the sky, the clouds
and every bird that drinks beneath your feet.

26

Between Worlds

between two worlds, or are there three?
On reflection, although she cannot see
the hidden depths beneath her,
there are four. Below, the unexplored place hidden
by her perfectly inverted image. Above, the mysteries of space.
Spanning the chasm lie the past and present.
The past, its panel of blocks, densely inscribed with hieroglyphics, encroaches on today, with its promise of bright future.
She does not know it
her next step will disrupt this perfect balance.

27

A Thousand Words of Three

There’s a thousand words /
buzzing like summer bees /
can’t say one of them
/ words strung together
like pretty white garden
lights that when it gets
dark burn too bright /
without escape / hiding
behind pearly white smiles

Everything’s fine as
I look askance at my reflection /
thoughts streaming
/ pulsing / through my veins
/ that’s what pure dread
looks like while making the
morning coffee and
dressing for the foggy walk
into the world that’s
not as nice as last year
or ten years ago when
I thought there’s still
a chance for salvation

Read more >
28

Impossible Dialogue

Looking straight into the eye
Of a laughing white cloud:
Unshaven, unkempt, the pale
Face seemed surprised by her bold
Stare, unprepared as it was
To hear her firm human voice,
Unable to formulate
A plausible response.

When the woman insisted,
Fragmented, ethereal
Ideas erupted from
The white head and turned into
An archipelago of
Wild thoughts yet to be expressed,
Floating in the blue expanse
Of a finite, captive sky.

29

A FIGURE IN THE ABSTRACT

you wonder why you have arrived in this upside down world
as if it is some kind of fashion
a chiaroscuro you stand outside

wait to enter and cannot see any portico among
the faded paint and solid stones
that imitate the Aztecs' finest buildings

maybe that's where you're about to go though soon appears
nonsense and holds no reality
no content like that of your plastic bag

your real feet stand on hard and solid ground as a notion
beside a puddle like a lake to cross
as a suggestion to travel

as a way to go somewhere else step off the kerb into
out to an unknown
and explore the other dimension

outside the stasis of ennui that demands its purpose
to be acknowledged -
will arrive as a bus before long

30

By the Vale of Distances

In the newer decade, winter rain fills the coloured
streets. I’m home, away from you; I’m not with you,
your home isn’t mine yet. Somebody

has (secretly!) sent me your photograph: standing,
in your father’s shoes, uncomfortably, as if tired of
waiting; a plastic bag in the left hand of your reflection

reads three illegible letters (inverted, of course) –
yes, yet, new, raw, aim or air, and for a while
none of the letters might mean anything

but (our) distance. In the cold silence of my room
a song plays softly – I’ve used four letters to name you,
with love – and I think of you:

my fingers, running, over your light headscarf, resting
with an embrace of a gentle part of your left cheek.
I pick my phone up, add this photograph in our chat-

box and (agitatedly) caption it: I miss you.
You’re busy; I’m yet to hear from you. I’ll wait.

for Abeer Ahmad

31

Ablutions

Dear Sister of the Sidewalk Stain. Dear Sister of the Upside Down and the rust and the slanting light that chills. Your head sheltered from blows, your peripheral delimited by dark visor, your gaze stalwart. Sister, my aunt in Beirut says the covered head puts us 1000 years behind. We’re in the times of veils, we’re in a Ghirlandaio, we’re trapped by oils and colors and mystery. Sister, what did you buy at H&M? Sister, is it cold out? Remember the Blue Mosque, the small girls there posing like Marilyn Monroe, hands on straight hips forced out to make curves, fairy lights stretching behind them like those surrounding old Hollywood dressing room mirrors. All the men in the center praying behind the rope, in the best seats in the house, under Allah. I wanted to feel that awe of walking in and rising up, that you feel in St. Peter’s, that you feel on Sunset Blvd, you small and something big and beautiful and silent – silent, thank god! so I could brainwash you – towering above, gazing benevolently upon. I didn’t think to lift up the rope and just go.

Remember my German mom and my Lebanese dad? (How on earth? says my Italian mother-in-law. Only in America.) Remember my dad who reduced us to women? Who reduced and reduced and reduced us to our shoes. Who said, two decades before 2016, a woman will never be president. Who also said, never underestimate the stupidity of Americans. As though we weren't both.

I sit in a small uneventful corner of enemy territory, Sister of the Rippling Sky. I reach up for you with both arms.

32

standing there

she stood there
waiting for the cars to go by
waiting for the road to dry
waiting for her life to begin
waiting for the pain to pass

she stood there
with her head in the sky
with a smile on her face
with love in her eyes
with hope in her heart

she stood there
reflecting on the past
dreaming of the future

she stood there
with a tear in her eye
waiting for the cars to go by

33

Reflecting Relation

I can only see the world for what it is because of the way you viewed it. The wrinkles in your skin showed the age of many struggles, but the skin itself is soft and warm. The struggles may have marinated through your pores, but your ability to comfort me stayed a priority. Your eyes consumed the horror and the dangers of the world as I glanced over to you but when you looked down at me, joy and love is all you let me see.

I wonder if the world can see and feel the way you do. I wonder if they absorbed the hardship you did and only allowed me to see the beauty of life. I could stand in this puddle all day knowing the sight of you was always going to make the world better.

As I search for your hand that was once here the wind mocks my hand, sweeping through and passing my palm. Although you may be gone, this puddle right here an always reflects and relates to my grandmother. If it was ever to go dry, I’d cry the puddle back to see you all over again.

34

Life In Another Place

Sometimes a moment comes
When elements collide
And earth and water and fiery light
Reveal a place far less substantial
Than we had ‘til then assumed

Such a moment is this
And such a place is here

We see a life before us trying
No man-made sculpture this
The work of nature’s hand alone
With all its imperfections
Yet still breathing

We see another place revealed
Its perilous edges evade our grasp
All tooled stone, asphalt and concrete
Here are torn – scarred shards
That now can barely hold their form

In this place there is no sea for purging
No tide to smooth and reconcile all parts
However tightly wrapped this life stood here
It is not made of stronger stuff than flesh
And so will pass and all too soon

35

Standstill

She steps up
to an imaginary, blurry line
historically defined
by happenstance
& bloodshed.

It is here she finally halts.

She exists
in the here and now,
rugged up and frozen
in this time and place
in historical geography
for a mere melting moment

that’ll inevitably shift, refreeze
and melt again.

She is another lone traveller
                            at the global maxima

of a complex character arc –

this tumultuous life trajectory
into the ubiquitous unknown.

She is another unyielding victim
of others’ self-serving
agendas.

Read more >
36

THERE SHE IS

The world’s not aware yet but she’s forming
a bridge between this and the next, standing
above herself hanging beneath, catching her
breath before she breathes, pondering the
properties of place and displacement, of
poolside and pool, she can feel the wet
pavement through her waterproof shoes.

She likes how it feels at times like this when
an internal dialogue debates the duality of
being, straddling a line that defines where
one body ends and another begins, hand
in her pocket she’s holding the key of the
door to it all, which she fully accepts may
not be there the next time she looks.

37

Thwaites Glacier

It was all over the news, last Tuesday,
a glacier the size of Britain,
                               melting
where it’s licked by the sea’s warm tongue
until it smooshes like a slush puppy
and is swallowed.

I stopped walking
when I read about it on my phone.
Five days later, I’m still standing
where I stopped

like Icefin, the robot,
when it found where ice meets land.

I keep checking my phone.
It tells me about Brexit and the Baftas,
China and the coronavirus

but I’m waiting for instructions.
So, I’m standing beneath
a sky the colour of the Mediterranean
with clouds that could be snow

and the sun is so bright the pavement glistens
like ice and I don’t know if I’m standing
on the road or a frozen lake

in the middle of London
that is melting around my feet.

38

Appreciation

The ordinary person would walk by and not see something special.
They would not see the happiness she held within tight like the belongings in her bag.
They would not smell fear on her as she no longer carried it free from a country of war.
The storm before was nothing but an inconvenience for most but for her she had stood and enjoyed the rainfall. Each drop raised the corner of her mouth.
Drip drop, drip drop.

She thanked Mother Nature for it and now relished in the blue skies.
To stand out in the open, to take in that freeing fresh air was a blessing to this woman who could now live life without a care.
She could only hope others who have had this feeling long before her could relish in it more.

39

Flat Line

Help her to understand
this scattering of light,
how blue travels in small,
short waves and the sidewalk
seems to swallow the sky,

sometimes

                and she is left

to wonder if her shadow
will ever free itself
from the slick surface
of the street where twice

she stopped

                breathing.

She wants

to know if this is what
she’ll carry with her, always,
scars of a stranger’s battle,
her body a map of someone

else’s mistakes

                and destined

Read more >
40

clock in / clock out

Work is made bearable by stealing lots of small things of no consequence and the odd large thing of medium consequence. Sometimes she walks 75% of the way to the door at 5 p.m. and then stops, ah, need to pee, turns and heads towards the bathrooms. Totally inconspicuous. She puts two rolls of toilet paper and a half full soap dispenser into her bag, flushes the toilet, washes her hands and leaves the office to get the bus.

She picks odd times to go for coffee breaks. Either before or after everyone else. A slice of one person’s bread, not enough to miss, toasted, buttered, track down jam. She knows she is the worst possible person in every office situation, yet she pulls a banana from a bunch marked with a post-it saying Kate. She fashions a salad and pockets some coffee pods.

In the limbo of a midweek afternoon, she flouts the health and safety rules of the warehouse simply to taunt an industrial accident that might put everyone out of their misery. You’ll thank me later, she thinks, imagining ramming a load bearing pillar with a forklift.

She’s been cultivating the personality of someone who has a really good home life. A wholesome and healthful existence outside of this strip-lit hell in an industrial estate off a motorway. She put an old monitor in her gym bag once. She doesn’t even go to the gym.

41

Reflecting future and past

Caught on camera, snapped as a shadow in reflection, infinity above and life’s limitations about me. In reflection, you find me reflecting on what to do. Should I take the step that will begin a journey? Cross to another world, another life, one that holds my future presently balanced in it’s scales. And will that future be fuller and richer or will I fall to an empty end?

For you have captured not me, but my shadow self holding tightly as it always does my baggage. Baggage containing all the joy and laughter and loves I have felt, watched and wanted. Shoved alongside them, hidden beneath them are my sorrows and tears, my sadness and loss. The stepping stones along the lonely path I have taken in life.

Having taken steps I have brought myself to this point, a crossing, gaudy shaded in orangey gold. A warm, bright inviting shade reflecting all my hopes back to the sky.
And yet I hesitate, I find at the crux I am not quite ready to leave my past behind.
Fearful, that should I take another step forward my baggage, my past, my life will be taken.

Taken from me, to be unwrapped, assayed and judged by strangers that stand within my sight at this crossings end. Strangers who will judge my baggage to be worthless or priceless. Will they conflate and confuse my baggage, will they try to understand the why of me?

Why did I walk away from all I had, why did I set my sights on a future in a different place?

I have on my stronger days hopes filled by comforts both large and small. Set against these are weaker days, days where I watch my hopes dissolving like rice paper, hopes that are pointless and worthless.

Read more >
42

The Metallic Taste of Grief

The slabs are erased by gold leaf,
and, where there were cracks,
silver thread is stitched;
the widow is groundless,
pared,
riven into slivers,
adrift in reflection,
sky-drunk in the spill
of broken blue,
sheared in two.

She is beguiled
by the sweep of dreams
and echoes
of roaming souls
who whisper
in passing clouds.
But a slice of her is lost,
submerged
in ageless space,
and in every mirrored plate,
she sees only part.

43

Hailing

the sky has fallen
it lolls up from puddles
a jam smeared child
expecting applause

up you get sky
off with that jam
you silly crumpet
let's get ourselves
together again

sometimes we drop
a part of our soul
the letting go lost
like receipts floating
to January mulch
as we cram hands to glove

then we pause
in the waiting places
feeling lighter
short changed

unlike the child or sky
who are adding shifting
tumbling seasons round

not loosing when we rush
then seeing when we wait

44

Dry paths, from pooling traumas

I arrived a screeching terror of crimson smeared flesh
screams to voice fury in displacement’s misery
I could afford to be loud back then,

hurried to grow tall and breath adulthoods empowering air
to find bodyline curves equated to narrow expectations
from those with archaic perspectives,
still avenues sprouted, painfully marked out by sisters
that never shirked suffering
to inch progress one smashed barricade at a time;

as birds sang for me and petals strutted to catch my eye
horror came to greet:
black inking of my clothing bled its darkness deep within me,
memory’s skyscrapers flatlined within momentary flashes
eardrums suffocated to silence by obscene explosions
eyes lost to realms beyond existence, morphing to choking waterfalls.

Blessedly, maybe? Part of the few stepping over pools of my crimson kin
to crossover and be rebirthed, once more displaced
only now without naivety’s screams,

innocence’s entitlement replaced: with a survivor’s steely defiance!

45

Put Away

The kerb across the street looked promising,
Dancing to golden rays of a winter sun
She sees her reflection in the pool of water
That edged her side of the street.
If a leap of faith was as simple as left, right, left and cross
As they taught in kindergarten
Perhaps she would have taken the plunge;
She would have made the distance
Between rain and sunshine,
Between shadows and clear light.
But the face in the water draws her
And she stands transfixed,
As if her feet were one with the asphalt.....
For now the leap will have to be put away
The sun has to rise once again
To vie with shadows for yet another day...

46

I Stare

The rat race whirls
world clamoring loudly...
For me, an
endless parade of noise.

I stand staring
alone, I take it all in.
Bag - plastic, careless.
And scarf... cashmere, caressing.

I stare
it's rude mama says
My mind a'blur
eyes darting frantically.

Hapless circumstance
brings me to the crossroads.
of life. I stare
into a puddle, I stare.

47

ON REFLECTION

I never got on with my twin sister.
I loved my mother and
Adored my father.
My little brother and I were very close.
But Kayla was always a stranger to me.
Was she smarter, prettier, more adventurous, more rebellious?
Was I jealous?
Was I affected by her three minute seniority?
She was popular enough.
She had her own friends.

I haven't seen her for thirty years.
She lives thousands of miles away in Australia.
But this morning, I looked down at my reflection
in a puddle and saw her.
Our feet touched, bonded.
And I suddenly wanted to be with her.
I wanted to hold her in my arms and
Spill tears together.
Is it too late?
Tell me, is it?

48

Female gutter reflection

mixes with sky blue sky
in opaque rain water
palate post-storm.

She waits for orange
hand of hesitation to transition
into a permissive white-bulb man.

If you stand in front of a puddle,
she reasons, you may get hit
but you won't get wet—

an important distinction
when another eight aimless hours
await. She does the transpo hub shuffle—

meets the buses,
introduces herself,
rides to the end of a line,

and back again.
Tries to decide which route
best suits a Tuesday afternoon.

When darkness signals
sleep—the seductive
killer of time.

49

The New Scarf

In the mirror of a rain-slicked street, the ground rusts at her feet and a shot of cobalt spills from her head. The metallic paving slats Tetris up around her, chipped like Braille. They match the sheen of her carrier bag, which she clutches under an arm. The bumps on the road glisten like new stars, the white markings like fresh Tipp-Ex.

Naked branches clamour at her back. She stands, a silhouette in a lacquered pool, wondering if she should take it back. The peak of her hijab and the corners of her coat are compact and sensible, like her shoes. But she is bold on a highlighted page. A capital letter in the wake of a full-stopped rain. Planes and lines and horizons criss-cross, perspectives collide and (sub)merge. She waits, mouth open.

Perhaps she’s spotted a rainbow. But the pot of gold is in her bag.

50

What the puddles tell me

It all started the day of my daughter’s wedding. Actually, it started long before that. But that was the day I couldn’t hide it anymore. It was the rainiest day of the year. So, of course it was the day that everyone found out about my strange affliction.

I don’t think it’s too unreasonable a problem. Can’t I be left alone to indulge? Can’t I, for once in my life, be the awkward person? I’ve never been too fussy, I’ve always been sensible, quick to bend to the needs of others and their particular anxieties, all the while staying quiet about mine, not wanting to be a bother. Somehow it all counts for nothing. The one time I show a weakness I’m the one who needs help. I’m the one with the problem. I’m the unreasonable one. And I know it’s true, because that’s what the puddles tell me, too.

Sometimes all it takes is a small pool of water on the ground to make you realise who you’ve become. Have you ever walked around thinking you were someone completely different, only to have a puddle shatter everything you thought to be true, everything you thought you were? Have you ever suddenly and rudely been jolted you out of your peaceful slumber and forced you to face the great change that has occurred? That you are not who you once were. It leads one to wonder if you ever were that person at all. Different to mirrors, which you can learn to face at the preferred angles—the most dishonest, the ones you know will work best for prolonging the illusion—puddles provide a sudden, unexpected, candid view of yourself, from the most unflattering of angles. Just a glimpse can be enough to give you pause, to make you stop, reflect, and experience the most horrific realisations. Just a glimpse is enough to tell you so much more than any person would.

Read more >
51

Shift in Perspective

It was like any other puddle — its reflection
mirrored clouds, sky, cradled between cracks,

settled within dips, echoed its surroundings —
though this one appeared inverted,

became sky itself, where woman stood
as if totem. Sometimes, seeing things upside-

down, bottom-side-up, in reverse, can alter
the image we have of ourselves and others.

Amid reposition, strength illuminates shadow,
summons silhouette to switch direction,

views displacement as opportunity
for grounding. It was like any other puddle —

its reflection mirrored clouds, sky, where flip,
turn, shift changed our view to right-side-up.

52

Displaced

I look down at the pavement,
Washed by the winter’s rain,
Water puddles reflecting faster clouds flying over my head.
It’s not my face I see floating inside it,
It’s the face of a stranger.

She has been taken away from the land,
Where she first learned her name;
Where she first bled and became a woman.
Where she first sowed her seeds
And watched them sprout towards the sun.
The same place where her roots grew downwards,
Reaching the centre of the earth,
Giving her strength and wisdom,
Just to find out that she didn’t belong.

She was not welcome there.
Not there, not here
Not anymore

She walked endless roads,
Within herself, endless paths…
Trying to find a place to be
Away from the shadows
She was hiding from.
She kept moving on,
Even when she did not know where she was going.

From time to time her eyes would peep from behind the dark curtains.
Acid rain fell over her eyelids, burning them.
It ran down her cheeks, like an old scar, touching the tip of her tongue.
(She remembered that taste.) Read more >

53

SOMETIMES IT’S GOOD TO MISS A BUS

She puts the bucket on top of the dresser to catch
the drips and heads for the graveyard. Each day she
sits in the same seat, rides on the same bus, stares
off into the distance, waiting for the right stop to come.
Each day she is more like the graves she visits,
silent and unresponsive, less like the sky that takes on
shades of orange or bluish grey or whatever it feels like
that day. Today she’ll miss that bus, though she won’t
know right away what to do with the time given.
Waiting for another one to arrive, she’ll remember
where she’s been.

54

We Breathe the Same Air

My lungs fill and fly with the wind.
My heart is this fast-moving cloud.
With root chakra energy,
I step into the daylight—
unsure of the welcoming I long for.
I thought this land promised
open arms.

In a newfound place to call home,
I pull my coat tighter—
every button secure.
Holding a bag of hope,
I look out at the open space
of possibility.
The pavement I walk on
is streaked with burnt orange.
The sky above
is a cornflower blue.
The sound of beeping horns
does not hamper my ability
to see what could be.

We breathe the same air—
shop at the same stores.
We scramble eggs in a skillet—
serve them up to our hungry families.
My children—
your children—
they are all just children.
We are all just human.

55

3959 miles down

One woman,
caught in the split-second crash
as the last raindrop but one silently
transforms on a glass roof miles
from the boiling centre of the earth.

The air, faintly smiling,
smells of cherries and iron.

For me, the past gleams
slantwise, spins on the bevelled lens
of foxed glass. A catch on the edge
of the glitter-plane.

It’s like a snatch of echoed song
when water turns to mirror-glass
and the world’s pace is caught
by a passing photographer.
Time-stealer, moment keeper.

A stilled reminder that underneath
our mundane feet lies water, stone
and metal ore. Time-travel;
the wonders of Byzantium
spilled from a gilded street puddle.

56

Bag Lady Pastiche

An enduring fixture on a multi-colored cellophane, city collage, the 21st century Madonna clutches a canvas book bag, reflects on yesterday’s sunrise, seeks disparate solutions to society’s cancer. With dignity and grace, she lifts the metal lids of Dixie-dumpsters, deftly skirting through the trash like an archaeologist, discovering treasures—remnants of a throwaway lost world—artefacts, buried in youthful debris.

Abstract memories, recaptured, collected and arranged like a Smithsonian exhibition, become addressed individually with monologues assuring her past a place in the present before the former slips from her visage forever, without acknowledgement or recognition.

This woman who owns the streets, parks, and alleyways clings tightly to her cotton home—a bedroll she carries by her side: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Regardless of season, she invites people to cross her most recent threshold, swept clean with a counter brush, hanging like a medallion around her neck.

Wearing her closet as proudly as Inanna, Queen of the Heavens, she absorbs the odors of smog, subways, factories, and the streets, reminding everyone she's the city's child—its messenger, its product. After blessing all children and potential benefactors, the bag lady's cryptic phrases and gestures anoint pedestrians with her pain, yet in return, they offer her only stares and consternation.

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