• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 02
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Blue Sky Thinking

Interviewer: What is your party’s policy towards tackling the climate crisis?

Politician: We promise to turn it down, to turn down the heating of the climate.

Interviewer: How do you propose to do that?

Politician: With advertising. A huge, national advertising campaign that targets everyone.

Interviewer: With the message being…?

Politician: Stop polluting the climate with all your household rubbish.

Interviewer: Are you saying the public is to blame for the crisis?

Politician: Of course, through their mass consumption. So our advertising campaign will highlight this culture of waste by replacing fish with plastic bottles. Instead of fishing for fish, we’ll show people fishing for plastic bottles instead, because of all the plastic bottles in the oceans.

Interviewer: But plastic waste is obviously low down the list of human-induced carbon emitters. Surely the energy sector, as the single largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, is the much bigger problem?

Politician: No, I think you’ll find it’s the public who aren’t doing enough to lower their personal carbon footprints. That’s the real problem in this eco, green debate.

Interviewer: But some climate experts have suggested that the debate about plastics and recycling is actually a distraction from the much bigger crisis, to do with the accelerated burning of fossil fuels.

Read more >
1

Milk in Venice

The bottles have no milk. And no, the clouds have no rain. I've looked. They promise a quenching when all they will do is deepen my thirst. I think then of thirst. When did I last experience it? Not an everyday thirst, but the kind that burrows like an animal and lays bare all our droughts? I was on a dinghy, crossing the Ganges. No water, and yet only water. The oarsman laughed and said, "Dip your hand in. Take a sip. It won’t kill you." I bowled my palms and raised the river and there, in that cupful was a brownish tinged liquid that all but promised an intestinal infection. I looked up the river and down the river and then at the ghats and then at the people – the hands raised in prayer, the heads lowered in prayer. Is it forgiveness for which we ache? And that October we spent in Venice. When the canals flooded after the rains. St. Mark’s underwater and we had to paddle from the hotel to the restaurant. A bottle of wine we could not afford, and plates of steaming pasta served by twilight. It’s not that evening for which I thirst, and not even the night that followed, but for the canals of the heart – so desiccated by the years – suddenly flooded. I drank it. I looked up. The oarsman nodded. "See," he said, winking. "You didn’t die."
2

Washed Up, Washed Away

My great-great grandfather’s ivory shoehorn
sits with the jetsam of bills and keys –

of others I have only hints: Unity Flynn,
miner’s wife. Tuberculosis, Inchigeelagh.

But my great-aunt gave me sky,
home-made dresses, soup – her, impatient,

kneeling patiently to tug off my rain trousers;
afraid, soothed my wheezing panic.

For a child not hers and always hers –
could she love me now? She brought me the sea,

to the cup of cloud reflected there,
milky curls of froth on concrete

slicked sheer as ice with algae. Sewage
flowed thick and rich, gulls gathered,

oystercatchers, a kingfisher concealed
at the outflow speared flounder or mullet

feasting – this place of bounty. Moments when I knew
love in anemones, carrageen, razorbills, turnstones.

3

non-dairy alternatives

the milk revealing itself to be off in the morning is always a surprise
an alchemy of a thing
as heat makes roiling lumps from cream

I did remember it later when I was coming back from town which was
mainly because I was starting to get a headache
but my bag was so full
I had to hold the plastic bottle in my hand which was too cold
for winter with no gloves

the man sitting opposite me on the bus saw I had given it it’s own seat
and asked me what it was for
which felt such a personal question until he explained coffee or tea
not that it mattered what I said and he listed all of the milks he had tried
and why each one worked or didn’t
which is mainly a list of milks that all go well in coffee but not in tea
except for cow’s milk and goat’s but not sheep’s apparently
and I knew he was right particularly about the oat milk
because that’s why I had skipped tea this morning
because sometimes an oat milk back-up
with sinking oaty clouds is a bit much
and then my boyfriend rang me


Read more >
4

Condemnation

Heresy and hypocrisy hide in broad daylight
Become the red-capped soldiers
The thought police
Standing uniform beneath
Perfect skies

They do not see, do not
Hear, do not speak
Blind obedience to the
Mantra bleated by sheep

Would you be a soldier, blind and mute
Unable to dispute, refute
Or speak your truth?

Would you be the one
To condemn the world to silence?

5

Blue Truth

Not even the fact
of what you have witnessed
seems able to compel
you and your vision
into making the right assessment
of this picture.

You want pop. Ice cream.
You want to be beside the seaside,
not the torment of the oceans,
the bodies dumped like spent teabags,
the wet sky full of cotton wool
and surgical gauze.

You clean up, of course,
killing all known germs,
wanting everything aligned, tidy but
the rest, skittled again and again and again
by your truth, your truth, your truth

6

Recycled Dream

I awoke in my dream
the sky so blue
and never ending
wrapping beneath me
as solid ground.
I found a large fiery ball
in my hand
and plain, white milk bottles,
labels removed painstakingly,
stark, red caps the only other color,
stood erect, racked and ready.
I took a running stance,
flung the ball forward
and watched the tiny white cotton ball
clouds suspended on thin filament
waver above,
indifferently.
The ball would never
connect but return,
back in my hand
my movements repeat
endlessly
without connection.

7

Artifice

Sky, a perfect blue.
Clouds, the milkiest white.
We stand in formation,
Faceless in the light.

We seem solid, strong.
But we’re not, inside,
Where our liquid selves
Shift like the ocean’s tides.

Those milky clouds,
That stunning blue,
Our tight formation—
These seem true

But aren’t. They offer
Security’s illusion,
Proffer a momentary
stay against confusion.

8

The Sky Is Not A Metaphor

Look up at the clouds. What do you see?

Some people point out gloomy grey shapes,
heralds of the prevailing mood,
disaffection drifting round the atmosphere.

Some see hope, faces, laughter,
all reflected in the living shapes
and never settling too long to cause worry.

Some foresee the apocalypse,
not in the symbolism of dark, angry smoke,
but in the weather, in what it means.

Some see nothing at all,
don't look up and ask questions,
but keep their eyes tight on the pavement.

Some tell you there's nothing to see there.
Don't look. But if you do, it's all in your imagination.
The sky is a conspiracy.

9

Cruel Weaning

it seemed modern and advanced once upon a time
this facsimile of skies and kind milk yield
now it sits beneath crystalled dome
museumed for posterity
reminders of lost worlds
and ways of being
before greed
swollen beyond
any notion of restraint
pumped air with noxious gas
and waters with noisome toxic waste
today remainder humans long for life unplasticised
seek scant food from our doomed mother

10

A Brand New Day

Late at night in the chemical lab. Robots
move around freely. The whir of cameras
observe everything. Silence layered over
the bubbling of tubes containing all manner
of gurgling chemicals. There is a sterility to it all,
the never ending depth of it, and nothing else,
nothing human, no hint of anything but the product.

Ah, it must be a commercial for an as yet
unnamed entity, all red, white, and turquoise.
We could call it by the chemist’s call number,
or we could call it A Brand New Day, which will
include, free, the promise to fix what ails you.
Camel’s milk for the thirsty, paint that blends
and never peels for the aesthetic painter.

Cloudlike tufts of cotton hang from strings
like dishevelled tampons. There is no problem
this can’t solve. The wish, the demand for
cleanliness screams and the tri-dimensional
shadows give the impression of rows.
If I were a tuft of cotton I would want to be
bathed by the solution inside.

Indescribably, it is very attractive. White bottles
throw light shadows disguising what the contents
might be. Red caps signal caution or the closed haughty
lips of an opening. When the camera swerves out into
the periphery, we see the robots succumb, tipping
the flasks to sip as if were oil for their mechanical joints.
They smile, make click-like noises as the night wears on. Read more >

11

The Red Arrows

The Red Arrows loop a heart above us,
and I muse: nice, but it could be neater,
you know what I mean?

I like the colours, though, all for us, by the sea.
I am small and weary, got sunburnt
for the first time recently –

it stung, but hey, it is sunny here,
so I found a kind of comfort in its sense…
you know what I mean?

My kite keeps getting tangled. Dogs scare me.
I climbed right to the top of a lighthouse
with the weirdest tiny stairs,

but couldn’t manage the helter-skelter at the fair,
trotted back down, silent, to my family and
hoped they would know what I meant.

I could never be a Red Arrow, am not cut out
for curling up tight in a tiny machine
to hurtle all around and upside-down

but I want it, you know? That recognisable,
undeniable achievement, to be able to fly,
to carve a message into the sky,

and then reappear proudly at my mother’s side
having gone through with something –
you know what I mean?

12

mother’s milk

mother’s milk came in bottles
a stinging freeze on the lip
an anonymous, generic
taste in shaped plastic
doll-like reassurance as if
a simulated mammary gland
cooled on melted ice
were close at hand
a genuine source to nourish
and sate a never-ending hunger
as we ever wish
for skies a kindergarten blue
laced with clouds spun sweet
to shield our bared skins
from ultraviolet violence

13

The End of The World

Once upon a time
the end of the world took forever
but not anymore.
Those days are long gone.
These days
the end of the world comes quick.
Before you know it
it will be over.
Like a shooting star at 3am.
"There! There! There it goes!
WOW! The end of the world!"

14

Plastic Perfection

Here’s a sweet little picture
Of plastic perfection
All the pieces aligned
In perspective precision

No: it portrays a problem
Caused by profiting powers
That’s prudently sidestepped
By corrupt politicians

I see legions advance
Of pale polymer soldiers
And predict our apocalypse
Because of their numbers

At this point so precarious –
Is there time to replay?
Plan a plastic-free future?
Or just ‘Last Post’... and pray?

15

Milkers

It needed blue sky thinking
to get more of the white stuff
down the throats of Joe Public.

The scaremongers had panicked
consumers towards alternatives,
but the cows still needed milking.

Dairies were awash with the stuff,
farmers threatened pitchfork battles
if their livelihoods turned into silage.

The government made promises
while fields were ploughed for soy
by new-thinking farmers.

In the yard cows relieved of their calf
milk lumbered out into field unaware
their offerings were political.

16

The Ten-Year plan

It's all plain sailing until one notices
there isn’t a bin nearby to throw all this plastic away.
Save it and wear it like a jacket that was worn once –
no-one really liked it anyway.

That bottle there, that can here, are loathsome pieces.
They rattle about the place and carry a sort of weight,
a sort of weight that amounts to nothing.

Instead, the taciturn, corporatized, licensed item builds up
       somewhere
that isn’t seen in any reality
and builds contacts with lichens and irritants.

'Pessimist' has become a byword for
'socially adept', someone who wouldn’t know
if there was a plastic-free alternative,
or how to spell Pinocchio, the upper class would have one believe.

Is this what climate has become, a talking point?
A class war where bulk and impulse buys
have become a way of life,
where consumerism has to be compressed to a list.

It's all Black Friday sales instead of a ten-year plan
before the damage is irreversible,
and a next day delivery instead of being carbon neutral by 2050.

To the producers burning, casting, and melting away,
will you perhaps broker a contingency plan knowing that deep scars never really fade?

17

LID

If you had to live your life
using only five colours,
which would you choose?

I’d pick mine
from the sky-blue sky,
and a milk-white cloud,
and that stop-light red
at the heart of the sun,
and that’s me done.

What?
You want to see the other two?

I’m keeping those hid,
capped, under my hat.
I’m saving those up
for a rainy day.

18

William Blake dreams of London in its current condition

I made a makeshift game of skittles,
   at which the carefree clouds descended;
they viewed my neatly chevron’d bottles;
   their mockery was all too candid.

A chorus issued from those vapours,
   a jeering travesty of hope.
“Do you not mark the evening papers?
   The time, they say, is overripe

to look and see things as they are –
   to see beyond your carelessness.”
And as I stooped to bowl, I saw
   a plastic-towered wilderness;

the skittled lane I’d made gave way
   to London choked. As in a dream,
the wasted river throbbed; astray,
   I stumbled from that toxic stream.

Perhaps I woke – I cannot tell –
   but thick-aired day revealed the worst.
My plastic game went on while all
   our innocents expired of thirst.

19

LONDON NEEDS YOU

This is what all the posters blaring read,
Dingy-up the tube lines, plastered.
As if it is supposed to make them heed
Us, the young, when we asked them

About blue skies and futures new.
As if Venice wasn’t acqua alta – alta,
Already, the grey sea up dewing
The Tintorettos in the galleries.

As if you loved him like Ruskin did,
The shadows the crowded drapery,
On gesso and hope and katydids,
Tintoretto, that you could lately

Live for him, and him alone.
But look, this is Kentish Town,
The rain has inward blown
The tiled stairwell and the round

Red caps tempt on bleach bottles,
Bike throttles, throat catches all is.
A downed pill in perspectival mottles
White in a dark pit; but Haydn, Tallis!

The dirtier epigrams of Martial!
Looking westward we hope you see
That we ask you to live for what is partial,
Hoarded, lode-stones like steps in Galilee

Read more >
20

Sister

When he roots in, open mouthed for latching, his cheeks smack my breasts
and his belly settles fat at my chest.
I am Hathor in motion, my nipples his new world umbilical.

The pump-time, pump-time, pump-time demand of my electric breastpump
churns out some distant relation of the milk that flows to his touch.

I bottle my breastmilk and leave it with him in the arms of my neighbour, Angela.
I drive to work, meeting a farmer hunting cattle on the way. ‘Get up the yard, ya bitch,’
he bellows at a round cow stopping to take a shit.

Her tail spatters shit around the road. My sister cow, separated from her newborn
calf, bays into the bleak. Clouds struggle through the March sky.

21

The meaning of an avalanche

Seeing the five bottles, a flock of blunt geese, flying towards me in a V-formation, the sky a perfect Pop-Art blue, and their beaks filed to bottle-top smiles, thin underneath as skimmed milk; as if they knew all the while they could not escape, and this was Zeno's paradox in art, not life or philosophy; I drew a deep breath, amazed at what an image could do; and wondered at the character of clouds, children's cottonwool clouds, suspended on twine so fine it almost fragmented. And this was rapture, the "first, fine careless rapture" that some poets knew. But then I thought again, and wondered if each bottle were a bomb, filled with gelignite, and the blue were a cold climate, mute with the hate of those threatening shapes of white, not formless, but anonymous; and they descended, abseiling on floss strings, into my consciousness. And multiplied: first four, then eight, then twelve, then a countless number, an infinite series of white. Is this what it is to be dead? To be stripped of every feature you once had; and are the obsequies in red, but written in whose blood? I cannot decide. Maybe the image will speak, develop a mouth which opens on the screen, till I can see behind it, as if the shattered mirror held a secret. All the time, we attribute our thoughts to what we see, forgetting to look, and so pass by, on the other side of meaning, where everything resides except the truth. Ah, Freud, how you let the comet's tail stream out, forgetting that the head was empty space, and all the asteroids pursuing it hastened, only after a dream, with no more substance than the closing of the eyes.

22

Four Five Wondering

The lone viewer awoke to a stark image of know-not-whatness. And behold— the blueness of the floor and the background and the sky above were one and the same for a wedge block of five members or a pentagram of sorts: five white thick plastic bottles with red caps but sans labels (with expiration dates et alia) and over them four small clouds of cotton suspended on strings: a 4/5 ratio. So, one might ask oneself, how to account for the imbalance (the discrepancy)? To which container does each swab correspond? Or is there a competition? And one might surmise that the caps will come off (with outside intervention?) and the cotton will descend into the assumed liquids within and absorb. They must all be milk alternatives, beverages made of pressed almonds, oats, rice, soy, hemp. But in this not-really-a-shell-game must one emerge untested as a default victor of a mysterious competition? Not necessarily the one bottle at the tip of triangular configuration for so much can happen between the uncapping one assumes must occur and the lowering of the white invaders and what if instead of healthy drink the units are empty?! Devoid of content. Indeed what if? what if? what if? what if? what if? ***** ..... -----.

23

Probiotic Season

It is the season for probiotics
to cheer up the good bacteria
and dispel the cotton-wool
in everybody’s Santa gut –
and there’s a glut of them.
Little white plastic bottles wash
up on a sea of rubbish
that ebbs and flows from year
to year, their merry tops
swallowed by marine creatures
unaware of the significance of red
or that probiotics will be their end.

24

The unbearable lightness of being

Ears half in,
I'm afloat, undulating      on the minute
waters gush.

For clouds strung pendulous,
lightness comes with a duty      at the end of the noose.

What is a freefall
when not poisoned      by a drop
of doubt?

As a spider squatting upside-down,

how will I bear the silken weight of the web?

The final poem comes

holding on to the eaving
breath in a susurrus
without punctuation
perhaps
the only secret in a life
unwritten,

the sweetness of first milk hovers like a presence

among the various ominous aerial metaphors

for air-borne diseases like forgetting

if there was a choice, as if.

25

Misadvent

On the Second of December I gave to Visual Verse...

Twelve minutes thinking,
Eleven lines of nonsense,
Ten minutes wasted,
Nine pictured objects,
Eight failed ideas,
Seven lines rewritten,
Six words abandoned,
Five cold drinks,
Four fluffy clouds,
Three colours,
(Two minutes left)
And a title to round it all off.

26

M.A.S.H. 2020

Surgeons stand poised
over exposed deplorables,
while well-connected brokers
hold phones on sunny beaches.

The sky, a cloud, the sea.

Sucking chest wounds,
intestinal spills contained,
flak jackets and scalpels
jackals and other rascals

go, go, go, go

Antiseptic units operate,
blood spilled like milk.
Complex systems reign
over every f-ing bleep.

The sky, a cloud, the sea.

Bombed beyond their borders
oblivious to thundering mortars,
generals, drones, micro-chips,
red-crossed units operate.

go, go, go, go

Thoughts of home on hold,
suspended in theatres of the absurd
nurses swab to blot the wounds,
Mozart plays myths of Greeks.

The sky, a cloud, the sea. Read more >

27

Message

I wondered, how many people standing on strand and cliff, have cast hopes, pleas, position or place to the sea. How many stood and watched their bottle drift away to be caught by a tide and swept out, until it was lost to sight.
How many have returned home to begin a waiting game, noting that day down in secret places.
What happened to those bottles, those messages, those lives.
The past is gone, innocence long lost to memory. All tales of the golden age mythologised, scorned by critics.
Until one day the tide returned those bottles, containing a message that failed the hopeful and the stranded.
No message in a bottle, the message was the bottle. White-bodied, red-topped, washed up on every shore seemingly overnight turning the strands of nations from fine ground stone to plastic.
Our actions, that equal and opposite had become a reaction. Our manifold gods and deities had returned the offerings. Choking under the volume of prayers beyond their ability to answer.
The weather on the day of the message bottles was the most perfect anyone could remember. Ominously perfect, it portrayed a world now lost.
Our future was plastic, is plastic. All reality, all nature, all life suffocated to silence. Scanned and replicated by machines in 3D forms.
The world now lives through a variety of screens, large and small. We have stopped looking outwards and instead build our reality inside our screens, we own our worlds. Filling our reality screens with plastic and cottonwool clouds. Within this landscape we play out our lives.
And the bottles, when did we notice them. Not it seems when the first arrived, not until the strands were clogged and rivers choked. Not in fact until we had to wade our way to work. The debate has begun, the future, that strange unknown country, is a place we are yet to discover.

28

Bottling It

I’m looking for the doorstep
where they should be standing
as bottles of milk always did.
I can see their shadows and reflections
but nothing solid beneath them.
It’s as if they’re suspended,
suspended like the cotton wool clouds
hanging above them
unable to abate the sun,
just melting in to air
as everything solid will do
under these bright blue blue skies.
Marx saw it coming
but our eyes were closed.
Now they’re blinded by the light.

29