- Vol. 06
- Chapter 01
For years you told me your dreams
A falling body looks
for these thermals, is borne up.
I'm always running.
I'll visit you.
It's only in memory,
that twisted bridge,
that we meet this way:
with an eye for composition
sharing the two halves
harmonising cut edges
For years I ascended the stairs
which led to no better understanding.
Just to your door. I can hear the radio.
You're singing along. My body waits
to be told off
and on again.
*Read more >
It was decided to fold up my town, and forget its creases, and the lines I had been running thumb-nailed into it for some years now
we were asked to take a corner each of the lake and fold it in like bed leaves, changing the sheets for a stranger, we imagine
I will take you round, I will walk you down the quay and I’ll hand you off the folding in, it is agreed my past will be posted off.
Lick these stamps together, hold my print down and pull the lapel of my envelope across the room, seal this up with me.
We didn't always live here.
We came in ones, in threes and in fives, until we didn't see the point in counting anymore.
Every evening, as the sky turned, we gathered at the wall.
It was an ordinary thing, the wall. Stark and grey and pathetic - if we do say so ourselves. But it had an odd way of drawing you in, so we made it into something grand, something worth being drawn into.
We sprayed our names on the wall: Dalvin II, King K, Obinna Da OG.
We confessed our secrets to the wall: I love Lipe, I like Lanre.
Sometimes, we shot hoops. Other times, we hung around and gossiped. Who was sleeping with who, whose mother-in-law came to visit and refused to leave, which of our daughters had gotten her first period. Oh, the things we talked about. Oh, the breath of our stupidity.
Now that we think of it, we should have seen it coming. And by 'it', we mean everything.
First came the bulldozers. Ugly, rampaging beasts that tore down the handsome buildings surrounding the wall.
Who did this? We asked.
Instead of answers, we got questions. Who are you to ask? Do you know who I am? Who is your father?
We shut up and watched the new buildings go up. They were like science fiction. They were unlike anything we had ever seen. One was an unsettling shade of pink, its roof shaped like a queen's crown. Another, an orange cardboard cutout, a lone black window across its middle.
And just when we thought we'd seen it all, a lighthouse appeared in the heart of our neighbourhood. A lighthouse of all things.
And so we left.
We left in ones, in threes and in fives, until those we left behind didn't see the point in counting anymore.
is a packet of chips
and a couple of cans,
pressed up against
the harbour wall
for the wind
or when it rains,
the shelter down
on Drever Street.
Anywhere but indoors.
to join up
in a couple of days
because it’s either that
or the F-words -
fisherman, or farmer -
and he couldn’t give a
He was born
in the imperial pink wash
of British Accra
where Daavi's endeavor
hawking corned beef stew
crowned him first boy ever
with new school shoes
identified him as other
robbed him of friends
boys gave chase
for that is their way
to test the mettle
he learnt to wrestle
fought foes away
with still time to play
on the famous Bruce Road
that birthed a nation's future
see the grounds
a tribal gathering of shorts
muscle, sweat, tears,
laughter: manly vibes
too soon early evening grows late
with the backhand and whip
a predictable fate
Read more >
So this was about a year, or maybe an hour,
before the end of the world – I bumped into
a holographic projection of Guy Debord,
walking around Las Vegas with a dodo on a
feather boa leash. He was chuckling inordinately
to himself, so in my very best French theoretical I
asked him, “Guy, what gives?” Gitanes extruding,
he paused his laughing to blow smoke in the shape
of dollar signs and then said: “It was a warning not
a blueprint chaps, but there we are. You all stopped
believing in God and started to believe in architects
instead without realising it’s the same thing. Anyway,
on with the show, right?” The dodo flapped, winked,
smiled, knowing what was coming up next.
These are monuments
in miniature, inked
parchments in colour
curated to commemorate
our rites of passage: births
Bar Mitzvahs, marriage.
Our moments of gratitude
and of lament are traced
along our pilgrimage
in homes and dwelling
places. In the days before
we lived our lives online
the books were opened.
The chambers of the heart
and the impediments
of the mind were pictured
on a map; we could read
the stories of the countries
marked by plains, decipher
valleys laced with riverbeds,
interpret grainy oceans.
The thrall and gaze of lit
space aches but still there is
a lamp-stand in our midst.
The name was quite funny, if you were in on the joke ‘Elculodelmundo’. How I ended up there is still the subject of much speculation among the fish box community and, some say, wider. I know how I got there but I have sworn (to myself) that I will never share it with a living soul. Last night, after a couple of inches of patxaran, I told the old woman that lives in my couch. She didn’t really believe me, so I retook my vow of silence on the matter. The town had its own language, lots of Ks and Zs and plurals all sounded like a jackdaw had made them up. The people from Elculo met every Friday beside the sea wall and sang songs they all knew about their souls and mornings and the visitors from the hills who had sweet breath and came down at the new moon to throw fine coal dust into the faces of children. I watched from the lighthouse, the houses scattered randomly below me like a collage – rich house, poor house, cardboard box. No planning, no thought given to a plan. Some of the houses were tiny and made entirely from domino boxes. There was a girl there, her name was unpronounceable but it meant ‘seashell’. She was dark and we would walk in the Lord’s grounds. She would talk without drawing breath and I would try and make the right expression. To this day I have never understood a word she has said. There was a bridge that joined the two halves of the town. The old man who showed me how to make red eggs said it was built by the great Eiffel, before he started on his tower. I only crossed it once, I was sobering up at the same rate as the sun was rising and I chanced upon a little cafe, nothing much to look at from the outside but it was open and the coffee I had made me cry. I remember it to this day.
Elculo wasn’t built to last, from the hill it looked like it had been made out of scraps of paper and as I had expected I woke up one morning and it was gone. Not a trace. My lighthouse stood out like a sore thumb. The sea wall was there and of course, Mr Eiffel’s bridge which now joined two ends of nothing much at all.
We used to do this on the old wooden tray, kept in the garden for the purpose –
make landscapes using collage of anything at all that took our fancy
but always used a mirror for a pond and tiny buildermen as characters
in a variety of scenarios; depending on season, what was to hand
and the ephemera collected on days out.
Those were pre-mobile phone days so no images remain
just memories of you all laughing and I’m certain,
that on that day of the Turner sky, we must have
made one in shades of pink with a lighthouse
this is a world of tiny folk against a backdrop of billboards
no it is a mantelpiece of spoiled birthday cards
no it is a seascape without water
or a dismantled rainbow in shades of autumn
one turret holding a defiant giant activist
a humble clock tower the gun port of a ship
its bow like the curl of an Arabian slipper
its flimsy plank a tongue not a bridge to the shore
for this paper will not take a human’s weight
the crown prince is absent in his pristine robe
no arms visible at rooflines but the wall is bleached in heat
a wilting disneyland palace in pepto-bismol pink
scissor technique is key to neat points and smooth edges
and this is a fortified desert of folded miniatures
waiting for puppets and a new plot and sirens
or an angry enough gust of wind
When did my life become like folded paper, an unreliable bridge leading only to
cardboard cul-de-sac and misplaced lighthouse
It feels so flimsy and rough-cut, a random
throw-it-up-in-the-air to see where it lands
sort of arrangement I never planned.
And the other people are too few, too distant,
like none of us deserve to be more than a blur,
ready to be mown down or cut out altogether
Everything is fracturing and yet, it is coming together,
falling, I guess. A lighthouse is a clocktower with bees:
it is always there but sometimes the time seems wrong
to me, as I hop into the little Sainsbury's, waiting for my
train to come and take me away again. Can this ever be
my place? I scan magazines about Princess Eugenie,
look through Halloween chocolates that get smaller
every year - don't think I don't notice. Gaze over leaves
of gelatine, think how pretty they manage to make meat
look on the packet, how delicate. I wander out. The clock
still looks wrong, but oh, so right, those bees. Up to the
station, past the cluster of silver pipes pointing to the sky,
maybe singing, and the big bee that will soon be gone
for the winter. I have its photo; I do not need another
but I almost want one, want to keep this place and
everything it has, my city that I dance in and out of, that
I sometimes dare to see as mine, as a home, however
small I am within its furry, nectar-wet arms. I am a pollen
speck, being plucked up and carried, again and again, to
rainbows and snowy nights, to lights in darkness, voices
reciting poetry. Onto the train I hop, the doors closing,
the city becoming a dark paper outline. Still unfinished.
I am still trying to learn origami, still trying to make stars
and cranes, to tentatively add my own tiny touch to life.
I can tell you how to get there
Easy-peasy lemon greasy.
It's simple, really.
You see where I'm pointing?
Just follow my hand thataway
no more than seven minutes,
then take a dog-leg turn
to the left. You'll find two
cats sitting beneath an old willow tree
who look like they're deep in conversation.
One of them is a sweet puss,
and the other will scratch you up,
but I can never remember which is which.
Go around the tree and exit
the first street you see.
Or maybe it's the second?
I only usually come out at night.
Isn't it funny how different
everything looks in the day?
Ha ha, honestly, it's no bother,
from the tree you go three rights
and two lefts, past a tower
with a smug expression,
and then do the reverse southwards.
You'll be feeling a moment of distant
sadness then, but that's good,
because it'll mean you have the cemetery
wall to your right. Put that behind you
and try not to think about the friends
you haven't seen in a long time. Read more >
A boy in a bow tie sings out of tune
and dances to the tune.
Ladies in white dresses bubble with laughter.
Bubbles in soda water burst
and evaporates like a daydream fast.
I look at the sunlight through a glass
filled with the orange juice
reflected the blood in red to your face.
You bite the dried sunflower seeds of vase
after the blossom of youth.
The sky about to rain.
A screen of the window gives
a lonesome shade to your eyelash.
Longing for the shiny raindrops,
you blink your eyes repeatedly.
Who can tell your story?
Deep sigh of an old woman blew
her curly wig under the beret and
made the fire of matches off.
One more cup of coffee and
Oil lighter for cigarettes.
Warm drizzle makes him moist.
Mojito like a potion makes him sad.
Old woman dreams of two young lions.
a child with safety scissors
snips media from magazines
fine motor skills respond
to visual cortex stimuli
these puzzle pieces make
in an un-walled mind
images folded and glued
free of an aesthete's idealism
contours and colours blend
despite hard edges
in this paper pueblo
pilgrims need not wait and wail
the road is open
inviting all into an implausible
seussian universe where
lighthouses appear inland
and dwellings canter at odd
yet stable angles
We started to feel
on the edges
concrete days/ cold
shared/ cut lips
spoke mixes of
saliva and hard
slips of lip
against lip and
the burnt plastic
and aerosol air
inside, we felt
cut out of
it, like card, so
layered and frail
talking and our feet
our social theories,
our political standings,
our religious musings,
are all made of.
Threaded in the pulp are the stories of truth
that holds the flimsy fabric together.
Meshed in its core is the integrity of humanity
that glues the pieces together.
Presented on its surface is the hope
that gives it strength,
to overcome all:
that destroy us.
So that we may keep rebuilding
The train trip races, rips through scenes
along the tracks. Speed splinters views,
unfamiliar vistas fill vacated memories,
worlds I lived in, souvenirs I used to own.
I grab a rough rush mat from a helter-skelter child,
leave her to stare as I whoosh down to meet the ground.
I scissor buildings, yielded by their owners to my eyes,
replace pieces one by one to restructure, resurrect
every house I ever lived in, with Mam and Dad,
with him, with them and then alone. I fill holes,
confabulate my tapestry to hang where facts once stood.
I don't know where I'm heading or where I've been
in my imagination. Are you a stranger or my own? Please, hold my hand. I'll sleep now,
and dream until the final station.
Only those who dwell within your walls know
Tales they relate belie your scrappy nature
The truth is out there, or in here
A junk town, an abandoned place
Brimming with stories as yet untold and perhaps never to emerge
Secrets, lies, but wait, illumination beckons and we are drawn, like moths
They told us to build a city,
from nothing but cardboard cut-outs of
houses, a lighthouse, half a crown,
2D buildings with no soul or heart
but the sweet whisper of colour,
a flash of orange, pink and blue.
What are bricks and mortar, if nothing else
but the body?
What is colour, if nothing else
but the soul?
So we keep on building as if there's nothing
more to do
We trust in glue and people,
and all the things that bind us,
till we can no longer see what's in front or behind.
We twist and fold and push our memories of a city,
of hope and joy
into a life, we never knew.
A time we only ever dreamed of,
A single moment.
That's me waving from the back of the boat as we leave the shore that did not welcome and did not expel. We expected nothing less. Watch me untangle myself from the past fifty years, unraveling away from the island. Have we said enough goodbyes? Those are the chimneys and the rooftops. Bye-bye, chimneys. Ha, the novelty of a chimney, after so many lands lived in and then we arrived, clamouring to shore. Hello, island. That's me emerging from the water like the fish they say begat us. This is from whence you came, fish in the sea, the offspring of those who dared to walk. Travel back far enough and you'll see our ancestors, fish on dry land. Hello, shore, hello, rocks, hello, sand. Hello, island. You cannot imagine the languages I've gone through to get here, a velcro of tongues, manoeuvring my way through crowded markets and the back streets of shopping malls. Say that in Xhosa. Say that in Russian. Say something in your language. What is my language? Goodbye, English (language). Goodbye, English (people). There's a limit to. There's a limit. Bye-bye, island. I write to you from this side of the ocean to admit that there are days when I miss your chimneys and bridges, the straight lines of your existence. This is how I came to you on my belly, a serpent out of Eden, terrible things witnessed, so close to the action. We are all witnesses [hello, English (people)] no matter how isolated, no matter how jagged the rockiness of our shorelines. We are all standing in the concentric circles of immorality. Watch us pull away from the shore. Goodbye, shore, goodbye, island, who knows what language we'll land up in next. Thank you for coming to wave us goodbye before you head back to your sofas where the wood crackles reassuringly behind the grate and smoke rises – hello, chimneys – to cover your cities in a veil of. It's hard to see from this distance. This is me extracting myself. Floppy disk from drive, video cassette from player. I have it all on record. I arrived with nothing and now I leave with a memory stick under my arm, tucked away to avoid thinking about you. It's cold here in the middle of darkness so we huddle closer. Read more >
The planning committee decided,
in their finite wisdom,
that the cranes could go,
replaced by new apartments.
Next went the lighthouse (more apartments)
which is redundant now that
the ships don’t come here anymore.
Even the street behind the factory
where your grandparents met
will be overlooked by a penthouse.
It looks good on paper, someone said.
you never came straight home from work.
you had a car but would not commute
and each weekend preferred in pubs to lurk
only cosplay-father seemed to suit
one who stank of alcohol
and woke his kids for goodbye kiss.
racehorses had your loyalty.
they reaped the benefits of your toil
while mother scrabbled for aunt’s ‘charity’
running paid errand in meek turmoil
biting back the rising gall
of being treated like dog piss
to feed her children and pay rent
to landlady-granny, daddy’s side
who’d then feed it to your worthless hide
and you wondered at the big resent.
Their world has
turned upside down
in this paper town;
amidst the broken images
a bridge can’t connect,
and the lighthouse can’t warn
of a lurking threat;
the massive walls can’t protect,
the rooftops look bleak
and people vainly seek
a missing messiah
an absent antidote.
The saw-toothed, jagged horizon
without sunlight or sun
can’t bring an end to their suffering.
my exit wound bleeds doha,
a sandcastle growing taller
keeping up with the rising gulf.
the fast food restaurants and hotels,
look to forget the miles of desert
great spacious houses stand firm
by infinite empty highways; only dashes of cinnamon dust
blend the colour scheme...
no stars today, or yesterday.
in the foggy night sky we only make up red
lights scattered in every direction;
the cranes abundant, ever moving, ever changing...
when the malls dripping in gold hues
no longer blinds us.
we turn to the corners of our home
to remember where we are...
a place where the sand collects inexplicably.
doors locked windows closed.
a call from the dunes surrounding the city.
... we're coming ... we're here ... in your lungs...
it's no threat, no question, just reality...Read more >
We have dreams of escape
To run from the noise
The endless construction
That requires constant destruction to feed
The insatiable demand for progress
The rich escape
Run from the human infestation
Where do they escape to?
The coast, the countryside
The escape requires construction
Which necessitates destruction
Only it’s the natural that drove them there
That they destroy
They seem to be blind to the irony
As they run we pursue
Not so rich, following a dream
The construction and destruction escalates
Until that which drove them away
Becomes the grey reality they must now escape
And so the cycle continues
Nature forced to yield to concrete and steel
Where will they run when there is nowhere left to run to?
When she was young it wasn’t so noticeable.
Her exuberant energy was a positive force,
At work she was a powerhouse,
And could build cities of creative ideas overnight,
Relationships were sometimes fiery,
But her Marilyn Monroe physique and an aura of naïve vulnerability,
Forged a bridge for her friends to reach her.
Her existence was one of grandiose projects and exotic places to live,
Unable to stop planning for herself and others;
The gap between her ‘higgledy piggledy’ world,
And reality widened,
Incessant chatter, non-stop activity,
Began to exhaust those who loved her,
She loved the exhilaration that her ideas gave her,
The buzz, the high that tired her friends and left them feeling;
Debilitated and depleted,
They tried to accommodate her mood swings;
Justify the swearing and anger that had they were subjected to,
But the damage was done.
Only a few loyal, caring friends clung on,
Unwilling to let go of their friend.
The bridge of friendship became more fragile and twisted,
And because they could no longer cross into her world,
No longer believe in her outlandish projects,
They had to cut the last links,
Now if they see her, they hide or cross the road,
To avoid the person with delusions and manic behaviour,
And yet still longing to meet the joyful,
elated friend who had once charmed them.
From this height, the city has the ugly visage of failed
possibilities, scraps of dystopia sequinned on her
colourless blouse, an aging matron who still walks the
streets in her high heels, her lips the desperate pink
of what might have been. I stand at the edge, counting
all the reasons to live. Below, the city murmurs even in
her sleep. Trying to fit her frame to the warm undulations
of the morning sky. Somewhere in her breath is the
poetry of those nights. Somewhere in her embrace is
the smell of heated passion, the taste of your skin on her
tongue, the beat of your heart in her urgent rhythm, the
shadow of your gaze in her underbelly. Somewhere in the
line of her upturned chin is the path we never dared to
take. Somewhere in her soft lap is everything we were.
Everything we lost. Have you watched this city disrobe
at sunrise? Today, her hand feels deathly cold in mine.
Every street in
these few blocks
the tour guide
Here, as an example
and some nights
it is still
to see flames
and hear screams.
on this corner,
and you can
brown and flaked
to wash away.
Read more >
The modern lighthouse is automated:
no more oil lamps to trim, clockwork to wind,
for when we think of light and lens and night,
we conceive the keeper, perhaps awake,
perhaps tinkering at whatever keeps
the keeper distracted from their shelter.
Because we all know a person sometimes
needs a place to hide away the world,
this world with everything that should be left
unspoken of, left in the dark, away
from the all-seeing eye of adulthood.
Now, where are our outposts? Our high castles
that promise that most abstract of being:
safety, the safety of the surrounding sea.
Some people don’t understand that not everyone wants to be led; sometimes you need to find your own path forward. If that path leads to ruin, then it leads to ruin. At least it was you who forged it, not some arbitrary commonplace notion of what’s right and what's normal, implemented by God knows who and who knows when.
People just love having any excuse to turn their noses up, saying things like, “Why is there a lighthouse in the middle of the town and not by the water? A lighthouse over there won’t be leading any boats to shore.”
How do you explain anything to a person with such a closed mind as that?
To outsiders, ours was a community that shouldn’t have worked so well, but it did. A hodgepodge of the fundamentals of most towns – houses, walls, a bridge, distant mountain peaks – though not necessarily ordered in the fashion one might expect. Houses were scattered, walls unfinished, as was the bridge. Our nearest mountain was pink, not green.
Outsiders never understood it, but that’s only because they didn’t really try.
In a normal town, bridges are finished so that people don’t fall off, and can get to where they are going, allowing you to cross over things like a body of water with little effort. In our quirky little town you had the option of stepping on a bridge and getting absolutely nowhere, or else going to the last place you’ll ever go. It was placed right over the deepest part of the ocean, so really, it would have been quite a feat finishing it at all, if we were that way inclined (which we were not). Perhaps you could have extended it hundreds of miles to the next island over, but, like I said before, we’re just not that way inclined.Read more >
a mish-mash of the talent brimming
from every corner and crevice of the world
and scattering like
a white light from the prism
sacred mouths speaking in the
the surreal poetry,
but piercing hearts and souls
A potpourri of emotions,
a litany of worries and angst written across our faces
still singing songs of beauty
this arresting beauty spreads
everywhere through words
the absence of pain
hides the indifference
a confederacy of poetic hearts
this ebb and flow of thoughts and opinions
thoughts always forming
slowly and surely
Read more >
look at us, aren’t we fragile?
with our folded faces, creases
that never fully iron out
sitting in our paper houses, our
cardboard towns with
sheds made from paper party hats
our buildings are celebrations –
even those with
pink roofs constructed from bills
red unread final invoices
doors lined with eviction notices
receipts for blankets and cloths
lost lotto tickets for curtains
and dog beds, numbers adorning
every surface, there are more than
enough of these to go around
pages of essays possibly plagiarised
make sturdy tables and chairs, furniture,
plates, other small wares
appointment cards and letters
leaflets from paracetamol boxes
(and the paracetamol boxes)
Read more >
I fortify the foundations of my mind,
shellac the cracks to keep the ghosts out,
but I will always be breakable.
I paint my eyes with shards of cherry blossoms,
pull the aching memories from my belly,
weaving them into the soles of my feet
to make myself hollow,
but the weight of grief stains my hands.
I hide the burdens of sorrow behind my teeth,
sew the taste of loss into my tongue
to keep the truth imprisoned,
longing to feel the fullness of being alive,
but I will always be empty inside.
James recognised the old box on the kitchen table. It had originally housed a Peter Rabbit china cup and plate he’d received when he was baptised. On the lid lay a bundle of folded sheets of cream Basildon Bond addressed to him.
I thought you might pop in. This collection belongs to you. I saved everything I’ve ever found in the pockets of your trousers. Most have been through the washing machine, some have been through the dryer. I’ve listed them in order. I think you’ll find everything is there, though I’ll confess, there were more coins. I thought it might be a good time to let you have them back. I’ll be back on the 21st – there’s pizza in the freezer. Love Mum x
a teething biscuit,
a Hot Wheels car,
a wet wipe,
a green balloon,
a halloween sweet in its wrapper,
a thousand tiny pieces of tissue,
a Lego man head,
a 2 pence coin,
screws (flat heads and cross heads),
a folded drawing of a scull,
a milk tooth in a plastic orange mouse,
Read more >
In a world that saw in two dimensions, Jane was three-dimensional. She didn’t know anyone else who saw the world she way she saw it. She didn’t know what 3-D was. She’d never even heard the term. All she knew was that she saw the world differently.
In class she looked out the window and swore reality was not the way others describe it. But when she told her teacher he only said, “That cannot be. There’s no such thing. Your mind is playing tricks on me.”
“’Tricks on me’?” she asked. “You said ‘tricks on me.’ Don’t you mean tricks on you. I think–”
“I know what I mean. Don’t interrupt.” He turned his back and walked away, and Jane knew she wasn’t wrong. She knew what she saw.
The world is not as others say, she thought. I will make them see. I will turn them upside down. It is up to me.
Huddling against the wall, not for support, but for comfort of concrete. A street brittle with silence. Sleep glues the eyes. Mouth stale with dryness. Limbs stiff from stillness. Reminders of the hours trickle by with waiting, wanting. The night so dark but for the lone street light casting a moon on the pavement.
vengeance seethes teems grows
consuming all in its path
leaving empty shell
Dawn broke on the morning of the first of November, 2018. It was the day after Halloween, and the night before the townspeople had put aside their rising fear and anxieties at the state of the world, and partied into the night. The media would later say that Last Land Fall had been ripped up, torn asunder. That it had been the work of their neighbours over the sea, aliens, global warming, every politician they could name.
But, there’d been no tearing involved, the schisms were cut, sharp edges. The pier had been sheared from its watery foundation and now pointed up and out to where the sea should’ve been. The air smelt of sherbet and the lighting of matches, and the scent of spilt Southern Comfort liquor wafted on the breeze. Some areas had been become pastel. The townspeople themselves had become sepia versions of themselves. Tea-stained and frightened, they gathered outside to point and look.
Huge shapes had appeared. Circles of orange, aubergine, and black—targets, or eyes, there was much speculation. The red-and-white lighthouse from the point now towered where the town square had been.
It was the pink party hat crown hovering on the inland horizon that gave the culprits away, that and the chanting from the viewing platform on the lighthouse. Soon, everyone who was able assembled round the lighthouse. The door had vanished, several people walked round and round its perimeter, puzzled, then angry. There was shouting.
High above the sepia crowd, the figures of seven teenagers stood looking down at their parents and friends. Their pink party hats were rumpled. Fox, rook, owl, deer, eagle, spider, bee—their faces were still painted from the past night’s revelry.Read more >
You can’t see Seascar from space, but you can see space from Seascar.
I haven’t been to space. I’m just assuming. The other thing I haven’t done is brought Jay here with me. He's not bothered about going to things. He prefers having been to things. Ticking them off. I've bought him a stick of Seascar Rock though. He won’t eat it, he’s got a drawer for things like that. Usually Jay would have come with me, he just didn't want to go somewhere cold and stupid on a work night. Also, I lied.
I’m supposed to be here to take some photos for a thing. Which I am. As well. But first I just wanted to see.
I came because I was born in Seascar, and I don’t know why. I can’t really remember being here, just that it was cold and loveless and stuck in the past. I remember the fishing boats stinking in the shadows of the chemical plant. I remember when there were shops in the high street. But I can’t remember me. I came because I wondered if normal people could come from here.
I thought for a minute a bloke on the beach had recognised me, but I look different now. He just wanted to ask about my camera. He wanted to know how to take pictures of the clouds reflected in the sea. He wanted to show his granddaughter how it worked.
No one had ever shown me how anything worked.
But I was glad I met the man. He did show me. He showed me that I wasn’t this place.
Maybe in some black-and-white old past, but I couldn't get there any more. You can't get to Seascar in a spaceship. You can get out, though. There are loads of ways you can get out.
When they broke our phones, we tried to mend them. That’s us on the beach under the wall, telling ourselves we’ll make a working phone from the bits, telling ourselves not to think about the terror of the end of all communication.
It didn’t work.
When we got back to camp, I curled up in my stinking, shredded sleeping bag. When I heard the children, I knew I was dreaming.
Despite broken limbs and dysentery, despite hunger and not knowing where most of their parents or siblings are, the children are making each other laugh. They play hopscotch and skimstones in the dust. They tell each other stories. They talk about a lighthouse that signals a welcome. Talk about blue skies and safe ships and harbours. Talk about a bridge that leads to villages with houses that have rooves and windows and running water. Talk about people who give them food and kindness and clothes.
Their laughter rises and I dare to look out. I am not dreaming. The children are sitting in a circle with their eyes closed, talking. When I settle in the space they make for me, their talk turns serious. They’re preparing for their arrival in the world beyond the wall where people live in higgledy-piggledy colourful towns and houses get built, not bombed.
A small, dark-haired girl tells me they’ve already had replies to their eees. When I say I don’t know what she means, she pulls out a cracked cobbled-together phone from her filthy sleeve and says, "Emails. Eees. From the people on the other side. They’re real," she says. "Not stories. And they're coming."
Once it was you and I.
I remember the way your tongue traced the remnants of our treat sherbet; your eyes laughing with malice. You always let me lick the packet. I shut my eyes and tasted the stars. In the evening we’d emerge from the doorways. Children from the embers, crawling down smokey streets, searching for a crust of bread, a sliver of cheese. We couldn’t go back to Mother’s. Her moods bloomed and died like the cherry blossoms in the posh folk’s street. Your bruises reminded me of autumn apples. Still sweet.
About to rot.
At night, on the sand, we’d watch the lighthouse.
“Each time the light flashes, that means you’ve got another chance to be good. Will you be good?”
I nodded. I wanted to please you. I never stopped.
In the evening we’d watch the sun run away from our little town. If only we could learn its secret. You talked about the future. The chimney smoke bled into the violet sky. At night your skinny arms wrapped around me. If I snored you’d give me Chinese burns.
In the day, you’d stealthily slip between the stalls at the market; an apple here, a smoked eel there. I made you mad, but you wouldn’t see me starve.
The morning you left me, I was on the harbor. The fishermen hauled their catch off the boats. The salty wind temporarily blinded me, and then you were gone.Read more >
The regenerated harbour
grows, fruiting structures
of pastel-coloured papers
and the towering pink
of craggy cardboard cliffs.
Gulls and gannets wheel
around the lighthouse, spear
clouds and splatter strollers
and beach combers
as they land on idle cranes.
It’s getting hard
to tell the difference
between the damp thud
of corrugated card
and a half-hearted wave.
I am not reacting
I stay in a house made
Of paper, spit and the arrowed
Light of a tower guiding my fears
In the mirror of shadows.
Outside the boys play ball
Before knifing bodies
Their teams grow smaller
Bloodied blades and clavicles pile up
Under the rubble of mansions.
There may be happiness lurking
Somewhere I can’t see
The bricks keep out everybody
Our castles collapse into us
We continue to put the kettle on.
I found a yolk-coloured board once
It rode under my arm, for a brief
Moment I was all sunshine
Then the chimneys blew smoke
Uncolouring it all again.
giving rise to the mental mischief
before waking early to the durational droning
of water lapping and the spasmodic traffic
it is not the least bit random
confessing in still air, I think of you
when I see your gray weather or a light house
in the blur standing in the fallen doorway
there you are
echoes what I see moving in the distance
at this very moment I hear what you ask of me
the distance greater than red from green
I am simply aging sending home snapshots of chaos
with no escape circling around me
as if I were buried in sand up to my hull
while wrestling a half-tamed demon
and there you are
drenched in reality
a salvage squat with deep scars on its hull
buttressed by rusted steel struts jarring
gaping wounds raw cold imposing
dominating the other ships but still
if I speak princess words to you
you appear solid
as tides move in and out
graced with intention
and I can recall when your body
became a substitute for desire
yoking the past to this moment
Spidery webs of gangland crime
Infiltrate, corrupt; historic lighthouse
Overlooking a gunmetal North Sea,
Ruined medieval castle turrets awry.
Coast houses quaint, old-fashioned,
Derelict dockland cranes' decay,
Intermingled with limestone walls —
Peppering of child-age/youth figures
Milling around to no great purpose.
Ragged St. George's flag, UKIP area;
"England for the English" graffiti grime,
Post-industrial, pre-tourism ghost town.
My face is wet;
does that count?
Use up the scraps, she said.
I look at what is left.
I drag a nail
across a love note
and blink –
Such a positive negative…
I make a boat;
inked words are spliced by the prow,
and the smear of
‘leave you’ jeers at me;
it’s what you wrote.
What you did.
I stroke thin paper
and feel the sheen
of newborn skin.
When God was finished assembling the world
she brought the leftovers home.
"Look children, you can make a world,
a little world, just like Mummy."
She gave them safety scissors
and snatched a moment to herself in the bath.
They cut out jagged pink skies, orange chimneys,
aubergine domes and invented a town with houses.
"Can we have some people Mummy, please?
Just a few, we’ll be good and go to bed on time."
Being a working mother and always guilty
she gave in, reached out from the bath
plucked a handful and placed them
in the cardboard pen the children had made.
"Don’t trap them there darlings, build a bridge
or make them a boat or something," she said.
They made a lighthouse but forgot about a sea
or a river, or a boat, stairs were too difficult.
They got hungry before the bridge was finished
and God, in her dressing gown and fluffy slippers,
made them her signature ambrosia
with extra nectar because it was Sunday.
‘It’s a condition,’ said the man in the white coat. "Dysplexiphagorhynia." It means that things look to you as if they were models or made from paper.’
I know my Greek, and there was nothing in the word he used that had anything to do with models or paper.
‘Are you sure about that?’
‘One hundred percent. I am a specialist in the condition. I see cases from all over the world.’
The oddest thing was that to me, he appeared roughly two centimetres tall and his hair was made of string. No, the oddest thing was that I did not find his appearance odd. I picked him up and balanced him on my forearm. He didn’t seem to mind, although he seemed more comfortable sitting down.
‘Is there anything anyone can do about it?’ I asked.
‘I’m afraid not, though we suspect that avoiding all food with an "n" in it might help.’
‘So cheese is okay?’
‘Interesting question. We think it’s the precise name of the food that matters, so you can, for instance, eat cheddar but not Parmesan. The other question still to be settled is whether language counts.’
I raised my arm for the fun of seeing him lose his balance.
He clung on to my sleeve as he spoke.Read more >
We were talking and I said that well if you hate this city so much, and if you could perfect this city that we live in, then what is it you would do, anyway? And you said, Well, we could maybe cut pictures out of magazines and newspapers and stuff and make a little city that showed the way it could be, and I said, Ok, that’s a good idea.
So we got the magazines out from the magazine rack, all of them years old because no one gets magazines these days, and we started cutting out pictures of this and that and then we cut up a cereal box and we were gluing the pictures onto the cardboard of the cereal box, then we got toothpicks and glued the toothpicks to the cardboard so the pictures would stand up on the kitchen table.
And we built the little city this way and we were laughing and I said, Are you really adding this? And you said, Are you really adding that? And when you put the lighthouse on the table I said, Oh, what? And you said, What, are you not going for the lighthouse? And after I asked you how many cities you knew with lighthouses and you said that that was why this city, our city, was so much better than the actual city we lived in, I told you that you were a genius.
And our city needs geniuses, I said. That’s when you said, What city? This city? And you waved your arms in the air, indicating the city all around us, outside this kitchen, outside the warmth and light of this kitchen, Or, and you waved your hands towards our little city, the one on the table, the one with the lighthouse, the perfected city of our imagination, and said, This city?
I felt sad and you looked sad and all I could think to say was that this is our city, carefully leaving it ambiguous which city, real and unsatisfactory or imagined and perfected, I meant. I’m like that. I just thought I should explain.
Our lives were rock, paper, scissors
A myriad of cut-out encounters and decoupage dates
Pleat-folding our hearts into creased concertinas
Only to spring apart under pressure
Super-strength glue not enough
To bond us, prevent us becoming
Insignificant others to each other
Hand-crafted strangers in a pop-up town
Waiting to be made into something new
Waiting for something behind the façade
Of cardboard emotion
Waiting for the cut to make it seem real
Draw your house in crayon triangles and squares.
Build it with cereal boxes and photos of family members.
Write misspelt lines about your hometown
Until you learn where it is you come from.
Etch your name on lampposts and fences.
Make your teenage mark wherever you can.
Ragged belief in the rubbishness of this place
That is yours, full of familiar streets.
Tear out the annals that document your existence.
Crush your past and scratch out your name.
Home is a container for the young,
And you can be contained no more.
Go back and rebuild those paper dreams.
Cover up with old memories rewritten.
This town is not your town any longer,
But you keep its picture in the back of a drawer.
a fragmented sight
in pictured strife
of a three-dimensional life
by the bricks that bind
where snapshots stand their ground
in a misty haze
beyond the horizon
scraps of fright
clearing a turn
beyond the walls
now cemented slabs
flares calling home
It's been a long time
since I left
and days have gathered
like a curtain tucked behind
the window's ears
and the years
The view says "enter me –
for today you have gone too far
in your head"
So I walk away from the cliff
where my heart and its waves
Salt drips, memories fade
And the day
open-palmed like the sun
brings me here and here is away.
The time had come to open that old box
Of paper clippings, pictures and old things
She had collected over years and years,
Though she knew from the start she never would
Arrange them in a scrapbook or review
And choose the ones worth keeping, then discard
At least a few – but no: there they were all,
In black and white and faded colours, too!
My mother’s life popped up in front of me
As if from a child’s book: the tall lighthouse,
Austerely looming under a white sky,
People in her street after the bombing,
Small scraps of tweed a young seamstress would keep,
Her parents’ smiles, her children’s birthday cards…
A collage – or a patchwork – of her days:
Her senile mind could not take these away.
Ursula and Tom live out of town, in the god-damned middle of nowhere – though they don’t ever say ‘god-damned’. The view from Ursula’s kitchen window is all fields and far-off lumpy hills and sky. She hangs her washing on a line strung between two poles and she says the air is clean and real and the clothes smell of outdoors when they are dry. She tells me to breathe so I can taste it like she does.
If I’m honest, the air smells as if something’s missing.
And the quiet, Ursula makes a wonder of that too. She holds her breath so I can hear it, and that’s like something’s missing also.
We sit on the back step sometimes and I offer Ursula a cigarette. She says she shouldn’t, she’s given up, but she takes one anyway. I turn the kitchen radio up so loud the music is a little distorted and like that it feels like we are somewhere.
I visit Ursula and Tom once a month, though it’s really Ursula I go to see. She’s always pleased when I call and she shrieks when she opens the door and throws her arms about my neck and holds on tight as though we’re not just friends but survivors of some natural disaster.
She says she doesn’t miss the city – how could she, she says and she gestures to the fields with nothing in them. She says she doesn’t miss the city, but she always asks me to tell her how it is and when I do tell her she interrupts and adds to the things I say, adding from her own memories so it’s like she’s still a part of the cut-up city carnival.Read more >
In our papercut world,
you crafted this sandstone
wall between us.
One blowsy breath breathes
life and panic into tiny toys
attempting to mount the
wall between us.
Panicked ants. I resent them.
Last night I forgot
to glue the foundation
and now my escape ladder
I know you are there.
The beacon is unnecessary.
The sky is bleached with light.
I see you.
You wear the crown
or it will wear you.