- Vol. 05
- Chapter 06
One day, probably soon, every advert will look like this. Because they won’t even be adverts. Just reminders of where we sit in the metropolis, pedestalled above the mist, looking down, at our phones. After narcissism loses its saleability, after the self becomes banal, we’ll pan out to something wider, mid frame, positioning ourselves as a silhouette almost camouflaged in the skyline. A faint reminder that we’re still, you know, important, but, you know, small.
I think what I’m trying to say here is that they’ll have to find new ways of getting us to buy into ourselves. Animojis and studio lit selfies will only go so far. I mean, the script for World War 3 has arrived and these bad actors are actually giving it a read through, so mastery of a post apocalyptic realm might be the next hot sell. Higher than the high rises, jet black on rose gold. When the future finally looks old. When the whole world becomes a game of Don’t Touch the Lava, leaving you standing on a totem pole wondering when it’s time for dinner.
I read somewhere once that the top of the totem pole isn’t the most prominent position. Something about the bottom being the top because it’s the most foundational piece. Ok, full disclosure, I just googled it and yes, as I thought, the bottom piece is often the best carved - the low figure has the most value. Ok, real full disclosure, I didn't read that somewhere, I remember it from a lyric website in which some internet user somewhere explained that Jay Z was wrong to say he’s on top of the totem pole if he was trying to intimate that he’s more important than you are. The song in question is ‘Clique’ by Kanye West. Music might be on the ground floor of totem pole knowledge. I don't believe in low art. I wonder what's propping him up.
with your back to the wall
the room humming and clinking
at your beck and call
the entrance in view, cut glass in your hand
when danger strolls through the slow yawning door
the sweet on your tongue prickling away
how do you flee? is there a back way?
a car in the alley revving and ready
what if it’s a stranger spinning the wheel
watching you in the rear view
hand in a pocket, locks sliding home
buildings slip by a crushed velvet sky
exit the car, cue the next scene
it’s an empty road, no one in sight
hollow housing on the left
lots on the right
there on the corner under construction
someone might wait
camouflaged by concrete
smooth runs of slate
so many ways to crumble and stun
so many fewer to rear back and run
Today the sun was signalling its arrival by flooding the sky with graduated layers of orange as Martha rode the intercity to work. Dusky near the earth’s surface, getting lighter the higher her eye rose. She caught a glimpse of something startling. A figure, standing on top of the needle monument – a man, a silhouette, black against the glow, an outline like the skyscrapers behind him.
Evening. She’s alone in the apartment. She’s eaten her portion of the noodle salad she made with chillies, spring onion, and cashew nuts in front of the large-screen TV. She dozes before CNN.
The sound of the door wakes her. Dan walks in, shrugs off his shoulder bag, and opens the fridge. ‘There’s noodle salad,’ she says. ‘I ate at the bar.’ ‘I’ve forgotten who you were meeting.’ ‘I didn’t tell you. The Austrians. We did the deal this afternoon, all sealed.’ ‘What time is it?’ He doesn’t answer, but walks towards the bathroom, carrying a beer. She listens to him pissing, not washing his hands, coming back into the room. ‘Can I have a beer?’ she says. ‘No.’ They hold each other’s gaze. ‘This is the last one. You should’ve drunk it earlier.’ She continues to watch him. He continues to drink the beer. ‘I saw a strange thing this morning,’ she says. ‘There was a man on top of the needle monument. Just standing there… I wonder how he got there.’ Read more >
Standing on the precipice Flying into the sun Wondering about my life When my days are done
Spiraling out in endless circles Like a stone cast upon a lake Images flash before my eyes Are they real or are they fake?
Once I cross that river And pay Charon his toll What will remain of my work When I am a wandering soul
Finally, I can see above the smog of Satan and glimpse the rose horizon, filtered and new. I am still marked by the long days below, silhouetted dark and bent, as I wait, brow furrowed, for the bright dawn of innocent, clean intent No more drunken, shrunken days – hidden in corners. My upright spine will stretch to the light source, and force my blinking, blinkered eyes to see the skies. I look across at towers, steeples, minarets erect and understand the need of human kind to rise above the dross and reach heavenwards, owning all the toss and turn of months to come.
it was right here i was standing when the moon came out from behind the door where it hid most of the night, and they say we are not automatons, that we have our own mind if which we're all aware and which guide us through this world, but some mornings it feels as though our greater fears might just be confirmed: we are only accidents with consciousness running through this existence giving life and taking life where our collective id demands… have you seen them, by any chance, the ones frozen for all time, the ones planted in the same, the tides overtaking them twice daily?… have you seen them, the ones aimed at the east so that it appears as though they're welcoming the dawn when, if you ever asked, they wouldn't really know why they were there?… oh, i think you have seen them, we've all seen them, it's just that at times our memory won't allow us to access what it knows might send us all over the edge for once and for all… but do you see how beautiful the colors, how busy the scenery? –do you see how it all distracts from the question implicit and yet so obvious, it's just a farce of a farce that we're all not struggling with it: our bodies disintegrate a little more every day, yet there's the biological imperative to make us think we'll live on through our children, in our bloodline… we die and there's nothing at all can be done about it, so look up at the moon that inches every more slowly out of orbit, that will one day be gone, but no worries because your children's children's children might just be where we are now and struggling with the same question of consciousness, of existence… and what might they discover that we could never in our own lifetime?…Read more >
Sometimes I need to be out of the fray, above the drama and the darkness, look down on it all, be part of the scarlet sky and the jagged skyline. Sometimes I will climb so high that I'll have no way back, no wish to go back only to stay above it all.
I can’t talk about how to stand and stare from such a height that stomach flies up between lungs in shock and tongue halts in its tracks and fear is 350 degrees of air; there’s nothing to hold onto while thinking in overwhelming gasps that falling is death.
And yet the evidence of human existence in a waking world when dawn lights rooftops creating skyline, not war-torn, myriad forms mingling before breakfast side-by-side, tall and gangly looking down at smaller family checking to see if all is well in their world.
People use ta sit atop flagpoles didja hear about that granpa told me once said he saw it back I dunno years ago the twenties or something says he saw a guy just shimmy to the top a one and sit there for a week perched there like a little danged bird folks sending food and drink and such up along a rope and how did he bathroom but granpa didn't know thought maybe he did it at night when everyone was asleep like little danged birds do he said sometimes it was popular, yeah popular enough that he had a dream once where he got up to go to work and every pole he passed had a fella perched on top of it waving down at him and when he got to his job his desk had been moved to the top of a pole and he boss told him ya know what can you do that's how it's done now and you just can't fight it.
there's something about feeling on top of the world especially when you get there even if your pinnacle is not quite the highest not quite totally above all the rest
of manmade detritus – each pillar its own point of no return to the murky ground far below where everything else is alleged to happen
while the main life decisions are here always about to happen as you poise yourself above it all at last – search in your mind for a jaunty tune
once well known – on the tip of your tongue – soon you will remember and begin to sing
Philippe Petit drew a string from one end of earth to another. Then he risked it all. To look down would leave him with nothing. Worse, it would take down hope, from the millions who look above, for little mercies. The New Yorker once profiled him: 'The wire is life', he said. 'All else is waiting...'
This is about the all else, the waiting. No strings attached, just the sheer drop from here to eternity, in a matter of seconds.
But what grace. To stay on top, with the calm of a mermaid in Copenhagen, perched above, made to wait for dawn before beginning afresh.
Look how she looks down, at the tremors below, at our little heartaches, in our little houses, when the beast is fast asleep, still a few more hours before it springs to life, on the street, inside the stock market, with its bustle and the manic bull runs
But for a moment, the sun too takes a pause, and wonders, with her, what makes the buildings stay where they are
and what makes us, all, all bones and spirit, move, a moment at a time, without any thought of eternity.
Looking at the city from above, This isn’t how it was supposed to be. Living in half light, the place I love.
My home that I once felt unworthy of Is sinking now in mist, away from me. Looking at the city from above.
The shock comes hard at me, a boxing glove. Apocalypse that makes me want to flee. Living in half light, the place I love.
The buildings now may fall with slightest shove With orange carbon all that I can see: Looking at the city from above
A cataclysmic gloom that none speak of, Suffocating nature – every tree Living in half light, the place I love
If only we’d let fly the mournful dove, Made leaders listen to our desperate plea. Looking at the city from above Living in half light, the place I love.
When I used to pray, I imagined I held God's ear in the palms of my hands.
I hoped for a better world.
Later I saw my palmar crease as a telegraph line line to simian ancestry.
I prayed for better beginnings.
Now when I clasp my hands, I try to reach a future life to ask them/her/him,
Was I remembered, loved?
All he wants is the sound of a voice a hello, how are you, how is life in the city?
All he gets is unavailable, the chance to leave a voicemail message, he tries to make it witty.
He dials the house phone just to hear his mother’s voice, a recorded message in bitty
hesitant speech. It’s a comfort in this lonely place where there is no pity
for a new face trying to fit in. He is a silhouette, a needlepoint in the darkening towers, dizzy,
from it all and longing for contact, a voice from home to warm his chilly heart.
With a clear sky I can see for miles. I try to catch the bread and wine
thrown upwards as if the lobbers feel – once caught – all their prayers are answered.
What is it about folk who decide to be alone in caves, on mountains, on tall pillars,
cut themselves off from the nine-to-five, regular grind blistered in sun,
buffeted by gusts, hailstone pelted, rain sodden, bloodied by ice,
and oiled young bucks in gangs who wang stones to dislodge me from this precipice,
seethe at my chosen difference, see a hoity fella puts himself
above others, show off, poseur, while others try to tempt me
as if I'm in a desert, promise money, fleshly pleasures if only I come down
off my pedestal? Close my eyes, hear city hawkers and hustlers, ice-cream
vans musical wind up and down streets, prayer call of mosques, toll of iron bells.Read more >
In the pink, on top of the world, Ma The shepherd’s sky is my delight And I can almost touch it, Reach out to pluck the rose Blooding the world As its petals drift down Confetti flakes congealing Into a blushing pillow Waiting for me to close my eyes And fall into that final sleep
It was not you but your pedestal that stalled me, foot on the pedal, knotted my tongue with flame
You above the city candles burning at your feet marble and smoke-smudged
It was not your arms but your inhalation that pulled me up above the purple mist, wingless
You in my arms without a safety net breath of oranges
and me afraid to exhale
I spent hours in front of your alter ego at the Kunsthalle, that hot summer in Hamburg, trying to see through the mist and to interpret those peaks one by one, and trying to imagine his expression: wonder, awe, concern, excitement, or mere relief, after the long and strenuous climb?
His light shades of grey and blue have turned red and black for you, his day is your sunset, he stands straight while you’re curved: tell me, urban wanderer, what is it you see in those peaks, through the sea of fog? Is it your past or your future? Hope or despair?
Two dark-cloaked wanderers above two misty seas— Neither will reveal what he thinks, or what he sees.
Who could have foreseen that the wilderness Would evolve into this metropolis? You know who. I stood here at the top of this pillar Thirty-seven years before I died. When I woke up in Heaven I found myself here, And the multitudes followed me, And believed in me, And they had to have somewhere to live, And one thing led to another In a linear causality. They worship their own reflections. All of their skyscrapers are like this pillar. All of their works are geared to my fixity. Now they have forgotten me, Though I tower over all they have done. I don’t know if this is wrong or right. I don’t know if this is dawn or sunset. I once believed in God; Now I believe only in standing here, My head bowed toward the abyss of the Machine. Vague ideas of souls grope in the darkness; My own soul lingers Like a mist that bewilders the city that never sleeps.
A dull lull ... The airborne copper chokes.
A slight green blip, you note, resists extinction. Throats and throttled heights cannot.
No superhero swings or swoops through town. No sirens summon help.
It’s your dry dream in which the gaze snags on a lofty silhouette,
appalled at what it sees: boomtown darkened. Humanity blacked out.
And yet how obvious it is: that aghast figure, and the rest.
You’ve had this dream before. you woke and watched your neighbour mow his lawn.
You woke (perhaps you’ve dreamt this much) and watched commuters sway and snore.
You’ve had this dream. You’ve had this dream already. Dreamt this stifled park.
You dreamt it all already, this arid scream in amber. So you call
the future: *déjà vu*. Somehow, it still sticks you to your plinth.
He will not fall He is on the mantle of power, even if the city is oblivious, hidden under smog don't disturb him he wants to be left alone and take a bumpy ride on the cleft of the city if he does (fall) the morning rooster will signal otherwise sleep you city this is a man carved out of stone?
In my brief time upon this earth I learnt of great things done and felt souls’ tendrils gather, swell at wonderful tales sung.
Through all the wanderings I breathed the air which The One spoke and, after each bejewelled night, supped of it when I woke.
But bickering came upon my kin so petty that I wept over which chief should be kingpin. I drew my cloak and slept.
My slumber broke upon this shore, stirred by malignant curse – watched wisdom and evil grow; world’s ears to truth averse.
But as I sadly walked the beach, I heard sea-shells chuckle. Beyond death their tan and peach still held beauty muckle.
I see as from the tallest pole a future without net where some will strive and some will fold beneath crimson sunset.
There are no lilacs. Lies, in April – forgetful ashfalls delay us.
Everywhere, elegies quicken in the dead land that I stand above.
My dull eyes in the ombre evening surprise me with neon.
Pinpricked, the towers are a horizon suffused with my vertigo.
Heap of broken images the last sun beats on.
I don’t read just words on screen, but the wind’s message: the ferrous tang.
I am the shadow on the red rock, rising. Hope of rain.Read more >
There are few blossoms in the city yet, save a misty cerise-tinged sunset; one can only imagine a haze of cherry flowers pinking up the skyline, defining sooty silhouettes. Who am I to criticise a city dweller who climbs high enough into the sky to smell the distant scent of the trees in my garden?
When you are ready to plunge into a new life in a new city you must:
surrender to the dread in your gut, now writing daily letters to your head outlining every single way in which this could go wrong
accept you will be lost far longer than it takes to know the streets around your rented room with the bold strokes of mould you were never introduced to when you viewed the place
reach for the rose-tinted glasses that will cloud your vision whenever the hell of that sketchy walk home or tourist-crammed train carriage slip over into physical torture
know, without reserve, that one day looking down from a high window or up from a grimy pavement floor you will look at this city and think "what on earth am I doing here?"
The man on top of the tower says he doesn't know how he got there. He's been there for as long as he can remember – all his life. His father and his father's father and his father's father's father before him each took up the post. The man on top of the tower complains of loneliness and tells us that we don't know how hard it is, that he never asked for this. But as he surveys the city and the world beyond it, the view is spectacular. All that is his, bathed in orange. Make no mistake, he'll stamp on as many fingers as necessary to preserve his spot. The thing is, from up there, he can admire the view, but he can't see the people below, on whom the sun is yet to rise. He can't see them or hear them or know them. And for a man in his position, surprises can be fatal.
It’s our time. We are trending. In that moment we own our city. We are explorers on the edge. The city is fast but the shutter speed is slow, pausing time to capture the illicit perspective, the discovery, the truth. Placing us in our version.
Every day the sun goes down and they choose to be in the dark. We show you the city in light refracted by particulate matter. Isn’t it beautiful? We are wide awake.
They take away our liberty and we take it back. The heart stopping height distils life into its purest form. We press up against the boundaries of freedom and become omniscient. We steal our agency but our children inhale the rose tinted view.
In the sinking play pit Clutching tightly might be Might not be inevitable Path crack piss sinking pit sand Avoid steep drop Bulge rung empty ladder Self-inflicted perilous divinity Cherry-pick cherished thrills Sea thrilling infidelity Preferring shifting ground Totem obscurity to low tide Kite high fidelity precipitous Grasping clutching hills Vinegar piss waterfall
From where I stand Greed runs rampant in the streets Knocking on doors Stealing the joy of all it meets Careful, don't look it straight in the eyes The evil cold stare Will take your soul as its prize For it gives no thought to the pain it might cause The hungry mouths that cry out Sick children dying to live, filled full of outdated, overpriced drugs It cares not for inequalities: The poor become poorer The wealthy pocket what's left at the poor's expense As greed smiles sadistically, a blissful agonizer When will the people of the world see through its charade? They're signing deals with the devil Meanwhile, greed's got it made.
We woke to witness the second dawn after the collapse of the moon and felt the grit beneath our tongues of all that had once been.
We collected up each scattered part in chunks and pebbles and dust recognizing each fragment as grains of self only the dregs that remain.
We knew the earth would realign no less stable underfoot but seasonless, no turning tide and days raised like blisters on the palm.
We few survivors of the second day after the sky fell down must scratch our story on broken walls and go to ground in early graves.
At the twilight hour, standing atop this fearful symmetry I contemplate the palaces of art and the stairway to heaven, feel the air’s buoyancy as I watch the traffic tail-lights three thousand feet below: this world, a miniature menagerie.
The forests have been decimated, no tigers roam there, the hawk is just an outdated fighter craft finding a corner in a museum basement. The naked shingles of the ocean is a distant sound. The dolphins call no more. Forsaken and desolate are the gardens. Only, cities catacomb end to end: towers, tunnels, bridges, roads, connecting nothing with nothing. People swarming, jostling, running, clenching, clinching, filling, pushing, shoving, tripping, falling, connecting nothing with nothing.
The vision is fed into an auto-run machine and locked. The brain, the nerves, the heart are scanned and wired and clocked. The future prognosticated and docked. In short, the clock chimes of nothing else but good times. Read more >
Each day begins with me standing high on my pedestal Looking down on shadowy morals murky ethics exotic mores foreign values questionable principles of so many others Small people in my mind Invisible in their worth My lofty ideals dwarf their being set me apart high in my own esteem and leave me standing all alone in solitary solidarity at each day’s end
All night long, after dainty dusks the city lights blink telling devious stories of handsome thieves and studious cab drivers who wonder absently which foreign language – uncurbed ambition, avarice – will enter their ears each time they pick a man standing listlessly by a crane which forms an elegant line of defence in the early morning skyline of their youth.
you can only dance so far on the head of a pin, right angel? fall closer to the left of the edge – the cusp of dawn's twilight won't be cradling you tonight – too many tongues are licking flames in this glow you only remember the long shadows of a tequila shot bleed your eyes pleading pale pink hibiscus tea tears stagging for staggering as your mouth stuttered itself into guppy "ohs" then shrieking, birding itself into a tinny siren wail "noooooo!"
now you find yourself twining to a mother-of-pearl translucence it has reversed itself like a wet t-shirt a second skin you can't peel away standing in thisonthis outpost feathering a tongue thick in your mouth in this scraped scrapped landscape – you don't know where you are for the vertigo high below, above down a shattered pocket mirror on the right edge silently screaming echoes to the forgotten dead preaching to the no one of yourself
there are too many nails here but first skin bleeds into a second coming scented with moss roses you'll dance with the only now you've got dive-inely clutching the promise of any . how time cracking itself open like a freshly laid egg coming to rest on a pin's head this sizzle cusp crust, before you fly away
The high and the low Of the tiny Upgraded world – Swiping through the needles Of these sky towers; And jumping through the masses of Clustered apartments; It travels: Here and there. It moves: Forward back; And returns: To its origin. This huge dusky sky And the infinite dusty roads: Stand still – the humanity Rising and falling From dusk To Dust.
I was a child who could fly, a wisp of bone on the wind. Dreams delivered me into the clouds, weightless above the loneliness of coming in last and failing to be beautiful.
I was a teenager caught on a spark of emptiness, a witness to lives picked apart by disease. Nightmares crept under my skin and altered the rhythm of my pulse, as I watched the memory of laughter sink into the ground in a bruised casket.
I was 21 and stumbling into catastrophe, a rage of self-destruction in combat boots. Nights without sleep led me into the arms of strangers who fed me lies and shots of whiskey, elixir for mastering the art of forgetting.
I was 32 and going blind, chosen at random by a mutation passed like a dirty secret through the blood. Darkness crept quietly behind my eyes, slowly giving me the courage to see.
I was 41, a character in a love story I believed would never be written. Comfort soothed the ache of decades spent searching for fragments of myself, chipped away by the teeth of loss and grief. Read more >
I know a boy who's magnetic. Steely. Has mettle. But he giggles at rocks. And stones. Sees the joke of them. In them.
Laughs his head off when he holds one.
Says you can suck water from a rock. From a stone, too. That made me laugh my head off. He says rocks and stones aren't the same thing.
It’s like toads and frogs. I refuse to suck either, but
that boy walks in our ankle-deep. With a shuffle. In what everyone thought was recyclable. Rubbish. Recyclable excrement, he calls it.
One person’s garbage is still a spreading stain.
Plastic. Cups. Bags. Straws. Combs and curlers. Pens and picture frames. Window casings. Radios. Watches that won’t tick and tock any more.
“I’m better than all this,” he said. The sky sighed, “I’m above all this.”Read more >
My grandfather barely left the ground. He stumbled his whole life, dragging knuckles, head bowed, his body a question mark, always asking, is this safe, is this prudent? Scrounging for the left-behinds, he worked the streets and fields of his hometown, a metal detector, ear to the ground, hoping for some indication that treasure lay under his feet if only he never looked up. He shuffled his shoes, scuffing the dirt, and before he knew it, his spine shrunk, each disc dissolving, floors flattened by earthquake. One year he stood tall, the next, a pile of rubble, though in all honesty, it was such gradual demolition, we hardly noticed the dust.
I fight the gravity of any situation. There's nothing beneath me worth more than the satisfaction of climbing to heights that appear to be just out of reach. I'll defy every harness, all glue and weight meant to affix and tamp me down. As long as I fight the insistent pull, I have sway over my life. I ascend, climb, refuse to look down until I reach the top. Read more >
People walk on tip-toes after the electrical storm enveloped this city built on volcanoes in rose-colored smoke.
A man who’s not from the city climbs a high concrete spire and stands with rounded shoulders, watching the entrance road –
No lights, no cars, no one sane seeks entry. Only old skyscrapers breathe this kind of toxic air. Their bony fingers reach through the dust; claw the sky’s eyes.
Sometimes he tells the lookie loos that he’s searching for his lost dog, sometimes, his wife, sometimes, his lost life.
this is where i met you. this city. remember how the pink clouds fluffed out like cotton candy and along these empty streets do you remember listening – click click click – we could hear our breath settling in amongst the morning’s dawning. you could call it a chorus of cold water noises; the sound of other people’s voices rising as we padded past all the little shops and temples and houses with only our bare feet and open faces, past narrow narrow roads.
i’d suggested tokyo you’d said no – i want to go to shanghai. oh. oh, well then... in rome i’d liked the river most – there were far fewer tourists just the hot bodies of the homeless and large, unscalable walls. it doesn’t sound nice at all but it was quiet it was something it was just the city was too small too crowded but in china somehow i let myself go. i didn’t mind a crowd. china is allowed to be very very busy, all of my geography lessons since childhood will prove it
when you live amongst so so many people moments of silence are liquid gold you hear them in the morning, early, if you press yourself up against your bedposts with both of your ears against flat stones. i did that often, when you were sleeping, or pretending to sleep but texting other friends. i kept them under my bed, specially selected for the purpose – and a nice snug fit for each of my ears. my mother always used to tell me – richard, you are naturally profoundly sensitive. (if a word is in italics your tongue must bend it around your ears. but then again, i do not want to get side-tracked by ears)
the fact of it is this is where i fell in love with you – my mood for the whole time was paper thin, paper thin and open it’s disgusting really, it’s really something else. i remember so much stress amongst the mess of open cities – i grew up on a farm. Read more >
Shanghai smog surrounds precariously perched bystander. Daring if reckless camera stunt; telegraph pole top he surmounts – illusion of overtopping Centre Tower. Still humid, broiling, sticky heat sunset. – Peaceful interlude; CBD cacophony. Unperturbed by impending darkness, 'Telegraph Pole Man' stares into abyss above the stresses of pulsing city life. Zen meditation, concentration...oblivion.
Cutting the ropes was easy They were frail anyway: Not free, not terrified. Having to pull the words like milk teeth from a child's gum was so much harder, My scream became a whimper. The light was weak though, No one could read the stories carved into my skin when I crushed the raw words with both hands. Like this frightening city I am calm and empty now. Waiting for my words to grow back I smile toothless into the foggy dawn.