• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 12
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The Mundan

Sandalwood soap and flickers of LED light reflecting on black raindrops was enough to take him from the stark November-cold bathroom. The other world was a place of searing heat; it filled him. There, blue-skinned deities danced and he tried to dance with them; to meld into trees. The mirror sequins along the edge of Sapna Masi’s peacock-blue sari showed him stars instead of faces which glared at his naked toddler-body. Smoke rising from the havan itched the back of his throat, stinging his eyes until tears cascaded and trickled on to clumps of soft hair in his lap. And then there was the bright yellow turmeric paste, the consistency of toothpaste, slathered across his bare scalp to sooth the nicks of the blade; the odour of it made him retch. He jerked, nudging globules to the ground, staining his feet for days afterwards. His mother cloaked crisp white cotton around his shoulders. She whispered in his ear, drowning out the din of chanting and clanging bells. She said the tonsure was a liberation, that new hair would grow, appearing like blossom-buds in the spring, inching him away from the pull of the past towards the ultimate moksha. But then there were unfamiliar shouts along the concrete stairwell. He reached for his razor from the glass shelf above the sink, dragged it over parched skin and watched as coarse bristles scattered on icy porcelain.
1

Garden/Self

By one account, the self is a garden and we are the gardeners. We water and weed, hoe and harvest ourselves, from ourselves. Look at you there, gardener, with your past and future pruned and suckered and splaying out only into the furrows of everything that is you. You are far away from the raised beds of uncertainty, because they do not exist for you.

But, gardener, consider it this way. If I am a garden too, then there are things I must admit. The soil beneath me is not my own, but has been tilled and turned by the moss-green, peat-brown hands of the dead. My tools too are not my own, but are on loan from someone whose name I no longer know. If I break these tools, then I must replace them, like-for-like, though I do not know if I could ever make them again.

You are happy it seems, gardener, and bounded by nothing but a boundless, sinless white. My form though is bound with the bent light of Sunday afternoons in early November, which does not exist for you. My garden has chiaroscuro and veg I’ll never eat and the humus of unoriginal sins. It is a burden, you see, to understand what I garden, and what gardens me.

Gardener, I am so unlike you, because I am not my own.

2

Only one crop

It was harvest time
only this year, nothing had grown
no one knew why
fields like vast, bald scalps, one beyond the other
tractors still
rural sweatshops silent
stomachs hollowed out
borders long closed, no visible movement of people.

Rain was rare, just a few slivers of sunshine
where before the sky had always opened to the earth
like a generous lover.

Only one crop this year
planted from a cluster of tiny black seeds
like the cut tips of eyelashes
found in a blood-stained packet inside her dead mother’s pockets
amongst the charred remains of the camp
from which only she had escaped alive.

Running, open-mouthed and electric-eyed for days
the girl finally found refuge in the green depths of the eastern province
and there planted the seeds in the red chocolate earth of a clearing
making a bed for herself alongside it, soft and humid.

Swallowing the last seed herself, out of curiosity
with a quiet twist of the taste of her mother’s perfumed cooking on her tongue

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3

At least the rituals are aesthetically attractive

So tired of all this talk of
the corn god, all these tedious
     sacrifices. There's a salt
mine 25 miles from here that
     has been systemically depopulated,

fed to the corn, and why? Sure,
the plant grows tall, and, yes, newly
     rust colored, it sustain us for weeks,
sometimes months. But now the
     milk god grows jealous, and

the milk comes brown and stale. Now
the water god grows angry and the
     air dries and we have weeks of dust.
The elders have started to scout a
     nearby fishery filled with migrant

workers, all smiling, all friendly,
     all doomed.

4

Blessings

Daughter, I will water your brain,
and harvest the flowers of your mind.
I will give you safe places to sit and support you
to be steady as a lotus-sitting yogini, lovely
in your balance and true to your wild nature.
Be brave, as your ancestresses were before you.
I will pledge all my moons to be your lanterns.
May you sprout new branches and thrive
in all your sisters' rain-bowed lights.
Power lies where your elbows touch your thighs.

5

Nirvana is shit

I meditated so much
that flowers grew out of my head
i thought
to be unaffected by the world is nirvana
and i cut every chord, squeezed every emotion till
I reached that benign neutral face.
What did i know really
that to meditate is to ponder on our collective suffering
it is the name of compassion so that
day to day emotions don't get us caught up
and we can together work on addressing greed and pride and ego
which is ruining the bounty we have
and so i denounced the nirvana of my earlier understanding when
i ended up suggesting to a poor kid that he should
meditate his poverty away
accept it
and he looked at me dumbfounded
and punched me in the face
alas, a bit of pain is what was needed for me
to connect with the suffering of my fellow being.

6

Mid-life Meditation

I never managed the Lotus position
Sinking so far before I stuck
An apt metaphor for my life in general
It became one of those things
To do before I died
To be tried at intervals
To see if anything had changed

I tried again this morning
Whilst sat in the garden
In menopausal meditation
Failing just as the heavens opened
And my back gave out
Cementing me in the mud

So now I’m watching the grass grow
Thinking it’s time to mow the meadow
And wishing I had a dog

7

Everything Was Massive

His arms were skyscrapers
bulging with a thousand stories.

He smashed windows with his smile.
His veins were a staircase to the clouds.
His 4x4 was a camouflaged spaceship.

His legs were motorways
taking flowers from the north
to lemonade-boiled hams
and pickled eggs in the south.

His thoughts were too big,
even for the bowling ball skull he was given.

We all crammed our empty shells
into a bottomless church
and listened to strangers
sounding more like family than us.

There’s a woolly hat
in a charity shop
that never fit my head.
His frying pan sat
on my countertop.
I could never pick it up.

8

A wind blows in the West

Autumn clothes the woodland
in my head pictures of mirror lakes
yellows golds russets
a grown man plays childhood
gathers conkers, shells and gazes
fingers their brown sheen

with the falling leaves are scattered
all my withered tomorrows
bullies blow through the streets
thieves preached entitlement
light dies in the West
winter is coming

I water and prune
hope for a harvest
dance to my false Gods
but in my ageing
I fear Spring
will be barren

9

A garden is more than growing

How fine to have fair weather! – my grandmother grows sunflowers from seeds
of stories someone told her years ago – a
lady on a bus on the way to shop for her daughter’s wedding said that the only colour
for August is mustard, a swipe of gold, a man who carried the same shopping bag
each week until one day he didn’t and my grandmother wondered if
the handle of the new one carried the same weight – my
grandmother still serves tea outside in china, a turquoise stripe around the lip of each cup,
she swears that nothing tastes the same as tea in a proper teacup,
tells me that a garden is more than growing – is patience, waiting, watching – she
promises that her tomatoes will be plump this year,
that the birds won’t eat her strawberries and that the rains will
come unbidden – St Swithun be damned and all the rest of his socialist saints with him,
the summer will be for her, legs firm as the trunk of her cherry tree, fruitless,
fearless.

10

My own valley

See, there is still gold inside me, tight cells of honey,
that unapologetically bitter, dry snap of cinder toffee.
I would beg the stuff as a child at the sweet factory
when you were supposed to covet purple pear drops.

Sometimes my arms burst open, as blue as an ocean,
racing with gold flecks of fish, sparks of belonging.
I grow kelp, and it is all mine to tend to and harvest,
to kiss or push around my mouth, or let fall and rot.

I had just learnt how to offer myself, damp and misty
as a morning in the hills, to you, your human hands.
Now you are gone and I walk back to my own valley,
let in a coy smile, the joy of having spent a life here.

11

My Gardening

is mostly in my head.
I water shrubs and tiny filaments,
cut back wilderness thoughts,
plant fragrances to inhale
when it is their season.

Some weeds luxuriate, glorious
it is grief to cut them down.
I garden more in my head
when I am at work.

I cannot risk a lack of focus,
so prune without regret,
stifle unwanted colours,
curtail wanders into wildness.

When I retire these wanders
may multiply so that grandbairns
ask "Where were you?"
as I clamber back from reverie.

My wife says I spend too long
in reverie already when there
is neglected garden outside,
"Buck your ideas up!" she says,

so I tend to both, a little snip here
a little snip there, rearrange imagination
over a welcome cup of tea and contemplate
work yet to be done.

12

An intimate accordance with life

He shed the stiff, dead skins
That he once rightfully wore,
And let the universe move through him,
Turning the pulses of energy
Into life.

Perhaps suffering,
For this takes courage,
He became a tumult of ideas and emotions
Both sincere and worthy,
To be watered and nourished.

If you’ll come close to his face,
You’ll blink twice and then realize
That he is struggling,
As the waves swell and recede within his body,
Receptive to the ebbs and flows of life.

He is embracing, cherishing, protecting creation,
Knowing that when the time will come,
Death will not take him entirely,
And he will continue to exist,
As the universe will turn him
Into pulses of energy that will create life.

13

Skin Hunger

Wet. Get me wet. Let me feel
the droplets, a sacrament
that soothes my head.

Head. Trim my head. Cut
the hedge that grows on top.
Scissor sick thoughts at the bud.

Bud. I can bloom. Alone here
in my self-care state. I can sprout 
in places I never imagined before.

Before the alone time. Before 
the skin hunger, sweat and vapor,
anointed by touch and breath.

Breath of a lover, a stranger,
caressing the nape of my neck
in a grocery line.

Line up. Line up when this
blows over. Place your hands
on my cheeks, my arm, my waist.

Waste no time. I will be here,
maintaining myself, painting my nails, 
wearing the sunlight in welcome.

14

The Quiet Hum of Existence

Her limbs are made of lemonade.
She appears every night in my dreams
wearing circus pants to make me smile,
and watering my mind
with fertile thoughts of what is possible.
In March, we hit the pause button.
Tomorrow has become a challenging concept.
“Why not dance today?” she asks.
“Why not walk, even if it’s raining?”
My sleep time godmother
keeps offering suggestions,
and I listen.
She plants seeds for me and for many.
I start to see familiar faces.
Each strident walker and avid bicyclist
has the telltale signs of someone
who hears the same whispers.
A green sprout here, a dangling leaf there,
everyone is connected by the growth of hope.
We oil our joints like the Tin Man of Oz,
by walking.
A newfound agility makes taking new steps
much easier.
Some days we start from scratch
with a new patch of earth.
Other days, we water the same rows,
clip branches, help guide the new buds
reaching for sunlight.
Read more >

15

The Tree Which I Became

Growing is the mantra, they tell me
Rightly so. Was I not once just a seed?
A spark of life, a brief relief
As life sheltered in joined palms
Since then years have passed by
The changing seasons and belief
I have noted them all
Each of these curvy lines
Awaits narration to a gentle passerby
Besides,
Amidst creation and recreation
I often meditate,
To simply make and remake
Trim my errors and nurture my being
Also, to Scribe a few lines for my future leaves

16

Animate

Olecranon, patella patch –
as if herbaceous border blooms –
a Greenman from some Inca tribe,
the Tree of Life out on a limb?
With cuttings from the flower spray,
both supple and disjointed flail,
a one-man band from pointy toes
to stripes, the deck chair laid to rest.

A clown around without big top,
pair pantaloons from circus tent,
blue fingers for the garden plot,
a whitewash field, vanishing point.
Solutions patchy, not joined up,
some standout heroes, others slumped,
the ringmasters on other shows
as ice packs melt, though poles apart.

New primitive seen on the block
with sprouts erupting from the flesh –
phloem, xylem vessels flow throughout –
creative juices on the loose.
So limber up, skirt subject bout,
last chance saloon, holistic world,
Eve, Adam, Eden, integrate,
but how to wake, to animate?

17

Road Map

A road map to personal care
she grows nature from her limbs
offers sultry grins
of self-confidence.
She trims her own boundaries,
worries less about the journey
ignores directions posted by others
they're a footnote
on the page.
She's crossing coordinates of her own making,
follow her
if you dare.

18

Terrarium Thoughts

I have a garden in my head.
If you opened my skull, bouquets would sprout.
I sit lotus fashion, my center of gravity
grafted to the earth, trimming, irrigating, fertilizing
wispy weedy whims that flourish
with horticultural patience into projects,
strategies, and future deeds.

I cull and harvest thoughts that render
long, scintillating monologues.
I tend random images that my fingers
doodle on scraps of paper and table tops.

I raise my arms above my head
and with tentative fingers
trace burgeoning cerebral branches,
delighting in their crinkled or smooth leaves,
curling strands of vine around my pinky,
brushing a bud’s tight coils that are too new,
too naïve to risk exposure to a critical I.

From the terrarium of my skull,
green thoughts grow winsome
like the hairs on my arms and legs.
Some harden into bunions, others
remain cartilaginous like my ears and nose.
I exude universes and seed them
from my dreams with persimmons and rue.

19

The Body of Earth

That neck of the river
waters our leg of the path
through the woods.
Those fields that feed
our bodies regenerate
our minds. Our thoughts
flower, bloom. We cut
the blossoms, savor
their scents. The gifts
of this garden nourish
being. Even when we
fade and die, we return
to Earth, course through
the body terrestrial.

20

Chia Head

If watered enough
they will grow—

seeds
thoughts.

Submerged ideas sprout
from lives of learning—

they never stop growing
while books stay spread

facing the light of intellect
yearning to extend its base.

When a beautiful one arrives,
snip it—present it outside yourself

without dread of doubters
who believe it a waste

to sit upon the earth
under the sun

feeding a mind
with nose in a book.

21

Plants in my head

I was suddenly away from the din of work. Without work, rather. I would sit at my table refreshing. Refreshing Twitter, refreshing the inbox, refreshing the phone. And in those minutes of faint disappointments, they started growing. At first they were buds. Tiny shoots that I brushed off like powdered sugar stuck on lip tops. My days were different now. A new box of masks from Etsy had arrived—too big to use, too nice to throw. I was squirreling away sanitiser bottles in pretty pink, pretty blue and an elegant colourless. I cringe-watched Netflix, then binge-watched romantic period dramas. I cried. I washed dishes.

No notifications.

They grew. Out of my head, spiking my legs, stubble-ing my upper lip. Now they were big enough for me to notice them. They sent thoughts my way. Thoughts that didn’t let me sleep. Thoughts that gave me nightmares. They sneaked memories into my food that made me burp all day.

I refreshed. I wallowed in leftovers. I daubed sanitizer on book mail. The plants, were now growing everywhere—my head, eyebrows, knuckles. They peeped under the arms and caressed the fat between my thighs. They were always whispering. The hair-plants softly in my ears. The dotted upper lip clamorous on the bathroom mirror.

They kept me awake at night. They made me think. I sat, lay down, exercised. Thinking, thinking, thinking.

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22

Visual Effects

Thoughts were pouring
out of my head-
watered down, ready for growth.
Leaves were sprouting
in my mind.
I am covered up,
in need of a trim.
Scissors click and snip.
My nails are polished.
I miss my hairdresser.
Waxing would be helpful
but, winter looms.
I will be warmer, with these twigs
when the frost comes.
The effects were visual,
as I sheltered in place.

23

SUDDEN SPRING

Time to meditate
cross your legs
empty your mind
focus on this time

Ignore the spiky growths
branches sprouting
from your arms and thighs
all wooden with age

Stop watering
the shoots
fetch the scissors
shrink your thinking

It may be fall
somewhere else
but here is spring
with nurturing rain

Grow stronger bodies
steal smarter brains
leave home
walk plains

There’s folks to visit
livestock to feed
life to go on
true love to give

24

Sun woman

Sun woman,
the moon shining in her face,
walking on corn shucks,
barley-stalked,

brings the rain,
pours it free
and streaming
from fruitful hands.

Nothing, she asks,
only a song from every bird
and the silent thanks
of mice.

You, I, the world,
sigh in her embrace,
flowers spring in the pools
of her fiery footprints,

and the sky beams,
blue as radiance,
silver as fish scales,
in the arc of her enfolding arms.

25

Self-Cultivation During the Pandemic

I mix the colours,
blue and yellow,
rain and sunshine,
feel them stimulate
the growth – all mine –
the roots, the stalks,
the leaves, the flowers.
I paint a picture of myself
to fill the lonely hours,
water my imagination,
comb my untamed coiffure
and snip it into some kind
of shape with topiary scissors.
Despite the isolation,
I thrive on self-cultivation.

26

How does your Garden grow?

As an afterthought, they sliced her tongue and left her to sleep. Because the extremities of pain and pleasure must feel the same. The breeze was crackling through, lifting the dry red soil on a heat infested afternoon.

This was once a secret garden where knives and shears diligently whirred all day, and sprinklers kept their vigil till the whistling evenings. The garden was kept in better shape than the country’s economy and blossomed in the controlled beauty of an Avon catalogue. The paradise had no place for defaulters. A drooping rose was an abomination; a hybrid petunia experiment gone wrong was an unfortunate sacrifice. Perfection piled up in imperfect hues, odd shapes, parasites, weeds, irregularities, and inescapable knowledge. Not a soul was let in, lest they found out something amiss. Some mould, a dead bee, a discoloured leaf.

It was deep into the splendour of Spring when she wandered into it. She saw through the beauty that survived only on branches, petted leaves that were meant only to be still-life paintings. She moved like the devil in a frozen fairy-tale. Whatever she touched, lost its unearthly magic. The perfect potted cacti sprouted out in anger, the bougainvillaea creepers ran merrily outside their trained track, the ridiculously puffed out dahlias sighed under her brown hand and turned the colour of earth.

They found her when she was sleeping among the garden that was now grown. They took their time, and let their perfect hatred destroy her. As an afterthought, they sliced her tongue so that their secret was safe.

Perfection piled up in imperfect hues, odd shapes, parasites, weeds, irregularities, and inescapable knowledge.

27

God’s Honest Truth

I’ve got to tell you it’s not an easy thing being a minor ancient deity; subject to the misconceptions and capriciousness of the human imagination. Fair enough if your career takes off and you’re adopted by some ambitious city-state of empire builders. Then, as your pool of worshippers expands exponentially, your form becomes refined and enhanced through many iterations of artistic practice. But if you’ve sprung forth in some parochial enclave on the fringes of civilisation, chances are you’ll be stuck there, lumbered with whatever idiosyncratic aesthetic took the fancy of your creators. Even so, if your field of divine supervision has an air of solemnity, war or death say, the reins will be applied and your representation will allow you some semblance of dignity. Fertility however; that’s just a licence for free expression to run wild; indeed by its very nature it demands a lack of inhibition in its depiction. The child-bearing hips I can live with; they’re par for the course. And the foliage continuously sprouting from the arms and legs, though a pain to keep in check (particularly with nothing but a pair of scissors to prune with), is admittedly on message. But what’s with the tiny head ? I mean, you have to accept a certain lack of perspective – the Renaissance wasn’t due for almost a millennium - but this was taking things too far. The trouble is people think of fertility and it’s all about the body. It’s all about flesh ripening and swelling. The intellect disregarded in subjugation to basic instinct and primeval impulse. Is it too much to ask that it be made apparent that I do have a brain capable of thinking beyond the next watering cycle ? Capable of arguing for a proportionately sized container in fact.

28

Fire Season With Meg

We pass it on the way back to Santa Cruz county. You recognise it for what it is right away. I blink at the blackness roiling up into the blue.

“Can you see flames?” You take a glance, flick your eyes back to the road, flick the switch to local radio.

“No.” I slide up under my seatbelt and crane my neck, catching other heads in other cars doing the same. “But I can smell it.”

We have been listening to bluegrass, and the grass on the hills shimmers gold. When I say this your laugh is kind as you tell me that’s how they got their name. Hank is golden too, his glossy head against my palm, panting in the back seat.

The trees around the highway are taller as we get closer to home. The smoke-smell follows us.

At the bottom of your street, we watch fireworks that are happening for no clear reason. We make all the noises you make at fireworks, laughing with the taqueria owners as we all stand together in the dark, trying to capture the colours on our phones even though we know we can’t.

I keep gasping at all the health insurance and medication commercials.

I came because I was burnt out. Because visiting was something I didn’t want to just let drift off like smoke into someday, and I wanted to know I was going to see you again. Because I wanted to want to live again, wanted to see beautiful things.

I worry my head and my heart have been so scorched that I’ve become an asshole.

Read more >
29

Growth

With patience and kindness, even something that appears, on the surface, desolate, can one day support an abundance of life again. When we replace a firm grip with a gentler touch, we can begin doing good work. To right past wrongs is not always easy, true, especially ignored ones, that have festered for so long unchecked. Though we owe it to the Earth and ourselves to try.

From ruin sprouts the first green shoots of rebirth, if we just take a step back. Tending only as and when required and letting nature do what it does best – grow. In the absence of our detritus, vitality can return to the oceans too. Without humanity’s pollution, excessive waste, and careless discard; wouldn’t the whole world be a more beautiful place?

Let’s heal self-inflicted wounds, reverse the damage caused by our predecessors and, in so doing, discover something of ourselves. A niche we lost long ago and a better understanding of balance. After all, there is a harmony in the state of equivalence.

Re-spin broken webs, replant lost giants and return missing species. Maybe then, by saving the natural world today, we can save ourselves from a bleak tomorrow…

30

FOR MARY & MOLLY

There is a hidden place in the heart of something, a place where all poems you love go. Here, rain showers welcome you into their arms. You feel unashamed to need this, all of this, the touch and care of rain, the comfort of poetry, of readers, of Mary asking questions, of falling into those questions like a nest. Her partner, Molly, passed away, and she wrote a book. You imagine holding Mary’s hand in front of a fire, asking the questions together, welcoming the rain, protecting the fire from the rain. You imagine people you both love coming in.

"I am at a standstill, Mary," you say, still holding her hand.
"Never," she says, giving your hand a press with hers.

And you walk on. You walk through the swampy forest and into another, cooler forest, and then you make your way to a desert, and then a mountaintop full of snow. Those red birds you love come in, and then – you’re thinking too much – let go! Wide open space a few hours from the Pacific Ocean. You are looking for something; there is a hidden place. You cannot believe Mary has left this world, too. It feels different without her. You wonder who will carry you through fields of birds and grass now.

You wonder if there’s a book you can write, like she did. You wonder if the book can become something for those who looked to her, like you did, for a hand to hold. You wonder if everyone who softened their bodies into her work, was lifted up by her work, can write these books, will write these books, in some way.

Can you feel the rectangles of love and light, sprouting like trees and flowers?

31

Sweetpea

don’t pluck that,
you are not infinite
and will need it later.

You may climb every year
and grow awkward new leaves,
but how would you look in a vase?

Would it matter where it were placed?
Your abundance is not for the shears.

Not something to harvest
and feed to the grave,
but welcome, invited, belonging.

32

Denatured nurturing

We must enlist to nurture even when they denature us
Though they thought us weak and unaware, our resilience was building up to the knowledge of their ways
How small yet mighty they are, devouring the produce of our sweat. Plucking as we sprout with an affinity for the frail.
In hiding we fortify ourselves ready for a battle we know nothing about
Our perfunctory ways no longer possible. Now we must look and take in the danger, cloth ourselves with shields of hope.
When we return to stretch our appreciation with open palms and feel the heart beat of an embrace
Will we remember to nurture these denatured island of bodies?
They may prune us and take our most precious, so we must thrive and resurrect them in our souls
Isn’t it the same savagery that births a cure under a microscope? Promising to ease our pain and tickle our sorrows, to color us a rainbow once again.
When we open shop and count the hours, we must nurture more than they cut. When we dance and cross the skies to prior forbidden land we must not spite this gift with our restive ways.

33

In Bloom

Life is full of abundance.
And as I become older I am able to see.
It took me such a long way to allow the pain and grief be felt by my soul.
And let them be.
I let them rain on me.
The little drops were incrusted in my skin.
I developed scars from the flow of old storms.
But,
Nature just goes on.
She continues her ways.
And,
as I let so many rains fall on me,
my fur became thicker,
and my swollen heart became softer.
One day,
the rains were suddenly gone.
But it never became the same.
Now,
my soul was wiser,
my body more receptive.
After all the heavy rains,
I started to bloom.
My thicker arms and legs let flowers grow.
And I was ready to offer them to others,
and to myself.
Oddly,
the finest and more exquisite ones,
did not grew from my skin,
but from my soul.
Read more >

34

Jazzy Jiggy Love

There’s no dance I want to do,
than the dance of nature,
spreading my limbs out wide,
cutting the cake,
moving under a jive sun,
in the colors of the mind,
showering my little head
with excitement

There’s no sensation that I want to feel,
than life itself,
the fragrant early morning,
sounds of the pitch-black night,
lazy country afternoons
where I rock myself to sleep
in a hammock between two jiggy trees

There’s no universe I want to breathe in,
than the one I swing in now,
jazzy tunes I want to play
with my saxophone of love.

35

Trimming my best friend’s snake hair

You say you’re not feeling yourself and I say you look ok and you say can you not see the snakes and I start to say what snakes but then you tilt your head forward and, yes, in this light, but it’s just a trick, surely, only now you’re holding out some scissors, maybe the same scissors you sliced the top of your sister’s ear off with, not deliberately, of course, and when the blood had stopped it was really just a tiny nick, but still, she wouldn’t let you near her again with the scissors, and actually I don’t know how you got hold of them today because as far as I knew she’d locked them away in the painted bureau and swallowed the key, so she said, except, of course, she meant it figuratively – didn’t she? – although, truly, she does have the look of somebody who could unlock a secret from the inside, and lately I’ve been feeling something turning in my stomach when I see her, but now you’re saying so are you going to do something about these snakes or what, and I sigh a little, for effect, so you know that I’m doing you some kind of major favour, but I say ok, go on then, and take the scissors from your outstretched hand and make you sit on the old blue chair in the middle of your kitchen, and try not to think any more about your sister, with her hair like a sudden, wide waterfall, or how her fingers accidentally slipped onto mine yesterday on the bench outside TinBox Music, or how the dance beat buzz upstairs might be her getting ready to come down, and yes, they really do look a bit like tangled snakes, because of course you always did have trouble with your hair, even when we were boys and I had to tell Miss Gill that the other kids kept asking you what your octopus was called, and I guess it’s not your fault you haven’t been to a hairdresser for so long, and now you say just do the ends then, and I say ok and give one of the snakes a little tug, and you try to pass me a comb but I say I won’t be needing that.

36

I Wear

I wear everyone and everything now.

After the kids go to bed, I put on my husband’s old blue jacket. The suede patches on the elbows are soft, like his eyes. The coat hugs me, kisses my cheek, and catches tears. Peter says carry on.

Strapped to my legs, Josh’s big yellow goalie pads hold me in place. I have a new blue game to learn: how to defend the hockey net against a nine-year-old’s practice pucks, an angry boy yelling that I’ll never be who he lost.

I wiggle into my baby girl’s sunny stripy dress. To be like her. Cheerful and chatty and four, she brings me bouquets of dandelions and blue sky picked in the backyard.

I wear new responsibilities. On my arms are sprouts of things I haven’t done before—unplugging a toilet, climbing a shaky ladder, getting the car fixed—and in my head prickly orange worries. They don’t wash away in the shower or comb out of my hair, and only grow thicker, like weeds, when I cut them down.

37

Harvestman/HS2

Wheat sheafed hair locks, gaudy clothes:
Harvestman, ripping up HS2;
Scissors to iron road, snip snap!
A justified riposte to vandalism
Of rural economy, country life
Communities and property prices,
For dubious time saving of, what?
20 minutes from 'powerhouse' terminus.
Bravo, Harvestman, atop spindly legs;
Lead fightback through autumnal rain.

38

Kalanchoe Fingertips

I cultivate a haworthia hairstyle,
and opuntia earlobes that tune in to desert breaths.
Each year my bones grow rings, and creak, sway to the beat of bark
while my kalanchoe fingertips trace the roots of our species.
Prune back the years with an open mind,
fertilise the synapses,
I dance to bio-rhythms of tumbling seeds
from which new ideas spring forth.

39

after the dry spell

madame daphne tigris blue
sat cross-legg’d
scenting the air
let you be your own
rain       steady       nourishing
slow limbs
layering
self- rooting
into dark earth

let your words become
wood       their high leaps
& kisses re-form
into shoots
philadelphus
marigold & mustard
the vulnerable white
foxglove       sky stretch
madame daphne tigris blue

40

ATROPOSMAN

He is a fragment from earth’s inner – unfathomed – depths
and he has the light of sun on his face.
Shaped naturally with grace
he steps his toes on the ground
breeds life out of soil.
He is
the most wanted – desire
the cruellest – disaster
at the same time –
He holds in his hand
the delicious water of lust
to quench the eternal thirst –
And in his other hand –
the abhorred shears

ready to cut

the mother thread of life.

Atropos, in Greek mythology, was one of the three Moirai, goddesses of fate and destiny. She was choosing the mechanism of death and ending the life of mortals by cutting their threads.
41

Merry-Go-Round

Cut me off
from roads which lead
to beacons of
unsung glory.
Let me sail
on wilted wings
of bliss
and land on shores
so deftly-kissed
by dutiful
denial.
Cast me in
silver caskets
cascading with
porcelain-painted
grief,
with memories
of heroes
who breathe
the eternal
hieroglyphs
of hashtags.
Let me hold renown
in evocative
hands,
and cast it off
like pink
paper
cranes,
Read more >

42

Stop Splitting Hairs

Splitting hairs won’t do this time:
forget your method, or tradition,
stop worrying about it,
or fretting over nothing,
no need to be punctilious,
keep your fussiness at bay…

A little trim will just do:
pinch a bit here, shorten there,
make space for some fresh new growth,
and keep it light, always smile,
cultivate your real interests,
make your life more colourful…

You know life can’t be perfect:
keep the best, and make it work.

43

Cétshamhain – Empress of Stone

There’s a female icon, a multiethnic idol,
with forlorn eyes, blind to love’s idyllic
reputation; faceless stone, heavy breasted,
holding a crescent moon in the washed out
plains of vivid greens, all over vast distances.

She is one of the knowledgeable elders,
ceremonially charged by the Moon Goddess,
with the sustenance of inheritance. Her
foundation is found within the strobes of
lightning that tear up the Heavens,

twisting silicone lines into energetic pictures,
sketching out fertility symbols scrambled
by gusts of wind blown over phalluses, the
male half. In his dream she is his sex, and he
will want of her, a kiss,

that fills her empty womb with his bright seed.
Gray hands will steady over gray hands at
this one intercourse of primordial commissions,
where thunder pushes and pushes and pushes,
wailing life from limestone blue, into the world.

44

Our Woodstock Weekend, August 1969

we loaded up the Buick
’58 Riviera resprayed
psychedelic, rusting over
150k on the clock

five squashed into the rear
like Ligo sardines in a can
three spread out up front
excited, exhilarated

onto the Thruway on Friday
heading north from the Bronx
listen to rock on the radio
waved arms in the air

just like dudes in L.A. we’d
yellow flowers in our hair
still wet from the shower
cut long for the trip

clothed in chic apparel
yellow, orange, azure blue
just a shade too tight from
Sears Roebuck, the catalog

trying to look real cool
en route to Bethel, New York
unprepared for the zeitgeist
unprepared for the rain

Read more >
45

Ahead

You come home carrying a plastic bag
from a friend who wanted to share
some of her harvest:

Bright-red tomatoes,
much like the core in each one of us,
and the heart-warming head of a sunflower -

but this was no mere casualty,
for in it I saw, as if looking into the eyes of a child;
akin to the light from a magic lantern,

the way past our sorrows this year -
I saw the blossom that lives inside every seed, waiting
for the hands that will sow it.

46

To Find Heaven.

I know what it is like to be bigger than the world. Or rather, the world that has been made for me.
I ask where women like us go to. My lover says heaven.
Where is heaven?
A place where we are allowed to bloom without being cut short.

I am tired of being too big. Taking up too much space. In the part of the world, a queer woman is an unwanted plant. She grows in places she is not meant to be. She will not bear fruits for your enjoyment. She is stubborn. She will not yield.

My lover does not hold my hand in public. She says I am her sister. The officer smiles. So does her mother. And my family. We cut our branches. Bury our roots deeply.

I too am bigger than the world that I am stuck with. I kiss my girlfriend in small hidden corners and in each other's hands, we bloom. I water her while watering myself. A beautiful baptism. We do not want to cut our branches again. We want to water and grow and bloom and watch this world choke on our love. We want to go to heaven.

47

SOLAL

Solal the giant, guardian of the forest had arrived the day before. On his way, he had deposited brilliant colors, cut, pruned the trees to make them greener, straightened the flowers. Mia stood next to the sleeping Solal. Her feet were sticking out of the bed. Her toes with painted nails, her crimson lips, her hands with scissors were moving. He was dreaming, become an eagle, he flew over the land of darkness. Mia was waiting for Solal to transform her rebellious mop into a hair of golden colors. She threw glitter in the air. Solal opened his eyes, the glitter brought him back to his task of the day: to cut, embellish, color the beings and the surrounding nature to celebrate the light. This year, Mia would be queen.

48

In Hard Times

When thoughts snarl
Rife with treachery
And the heart
Is a well of sorrow
Remember you are always
Worthy of mercy
That the world stuns
With unstinting bounty
In wild places
And gardens both
Like sweet water
For every thirst
That we can find our way
Back to grace
In the work of making
With words and song
Seed and stone
Earth and imagination
Giving solace and shelter
To all who come
Into the open circle
Of our arms
The blessings of generosity
Our best foundation
Against the all devouring dark

49

Solace

The walls can close in no longer, there is nothing to lose.
Light ricochets through pine blinds, it is time to turn off the news.

All the mirrors are broken, but reflections are needed now more than ever.
We are fortunate to catch a glimpse of ourselves in a dusty windowpane, following the trail of a falling feather.

It may not be what you use to see, but nothing can change the past.
Looking inwards and onwards is the only way to make our bodies last.

Time has moved on, the world has changed.
So now we must lift the blinds, and begin to rearrange.

Others will be here soon, and they will see inside as clearly as we do.
No place to hide, and after so long - no want or reason to.

Soon enough the heavens will open, and the water in the lightwell will flow.
That is where we shall stand, under beaming rays, in a hope that we can grow.

50

Lockdown

grapefruit-yellow optimism exploding bittersweet
silting acid residue upon the tongue
some overgrown allotment half-strangulated by weeds
Gardener’s Question Time drifting from an Android speaker
—And will the Honourable Member please explain
why my hydrangeas are so stubbornly refusing to bloom
meanwhile, a commuter train rattles
half-empty to its terminus, and skittish clouds
scurry overhead: jittery, tannic thoughts
in an over-caffeinated mind

51

SUCKER

The nascent spores inside my head
Quickened with each word I read
I cultivated carefully
Until they matched each word he said

I thought he'd like my thigh-high boots
He whispered of forbidden fruits
And each obscene soliloquy
Penetrated deeper roots

Despite his boasts like Galahad's
Of gallantry beyond the lads
I ended up on bended knee
and elbow, grateful for those pads

An overgrowth of toxic mould
A cultured fear of growing old
Replicated wantonly
On all the fertile lies we told

And though I made the bed, it's true
My idle hands need work to do
I write pathetic poetry
And cast my spores for someone new

52

She takes a year to get ready

Spring dances in, bright and bushy,
green stems bursting from her core,
tendrils reaching for the sun.

She blossoms into summer, dressed
in her best, stretches branches
into the long evenings.

Maturing into autumn
she’s garlanded with golden bounty,
abundance entwines her limbs.

Older and winter, time to groom
and prune, accept the sky’s blessing,
preparing for the big sleep.

53

Propagation

Yellow cross legged limbs
With sprinkles of water:
From the watering can of life
In turn it helps
the hair leaves propagate

An orange comb to order
Scissors for trimming
The blue hair perhaps
Chalked knees and whiter elbows
Herbs growing from her mind
To fragrance the little life within

54

Will You Comb Your Hair?

Will you, won’t you, will you comb your hair?
My legs may be spindly
My arms maybe blue
But I bet my hair shiny all the way through!

Will you, won’t you, will you comb your hair?
My knees maybe bendy
My boots maybe striped
But I bet you could do it too, am I right?

Will you, won’t you, will you comb your hair?
My toes maybe turned up
My fingers maybe wide
But I bet your hair is shiny on the inside!

Will you, won’t you, will you comb your hair?
My eyes maybe narrow
My ears maybe wide
But I bet if you would comb it
Wash it and trim it
You would see I never lied!

55

Marvana // Sketches for a Future

Her dream scribbles have always been about returning to that past partnering, forgetting how toxic.
                                     Failures always have their way of creating false mirrors: you are the one to whom the breakage is faulted. You fault for the cracks.

Luckily, some women have the gracious benefit of another’s hands to show them they themselves can plant their legs in soil
and wait.                   Stow                   away those burdens, tend wounds.

                                     Some women will get merciful preambles to a foliage filled future that could be.

How not?
Does not blooming now mean never?
Blooming is always yours.

“what is yours can never be truncated but delayed”—

This is time being faithful to the gift that it is.

Some girls get the lesson early.             But i’m sorry to say i’ve learnt a bitter thesis that things can get truncated; i’m sorry to all the women who by the nature of nature
wilt so.

Her dreams were populated with objects promising more than that statis of socialized desires—

the daughter’s pink chair
the second son’s blue floater
that black water rubber drum keeping water when there was no rain.           But people always need the world to write to them when they can’t.

Read more >
56

Through a Fine-Tooth Comb

I look out the kitchen window
and mutter, I’m done with rain.

Such are my thoughts, as hot water
showers coffee grounds, and I pull
a fine-tooth comb through my hair.
Have faith, I say, as each white follicle
holds miserly against grating abrasion.

My dust is everywhere. Skin dry and
itching, even the air grates. Comes from
switching on the heating—October’s
too early, but my bones are cold and
my thick socks are poxed with holes.

I once had a Russian doll. She had six
of herself nested into her apple-round
belly. Layers, like petals in petals. Roses
in roses. I long for warm sunny yellows,
no shoes, and tall white topiary clouds.

When I look in the mirror, I wonder
about my own archeology. How many
years until I am topsoil, and disjointed
bones displayed next to my trowel
that I misplaced a few summers ago.

I smell coffee, and the toaster jumps to
life. Another burnt slice of bread that
needs scraping with a fine-tooth comb.

57

THE BLUE MAN

Mrs P is ancient and smells of cats. Because Mrs P has no teeth, Mum bakes a sponge cake for her every Thursday. I hate going with her to deliver it. I always have to sit on the pouffe so that Mrs P can see me. Unfortunately, that means there is no chance of avoiding the picture next to her chair. To my eight-year-old brain, it is terrifying.

Someone or something has a tiny, blue head, grotesque arms and legs, and sits under its own personal raincloud, brandishing comb and scissors. It’s wearing a dress just like the one I got last Christmas. It make no sense at all. And all the time it stares at me.

I thought Mrs P sat me where she does on purpose to scare me, so I am quite surprised when she calls me over to stand by her. She unhooks the picture from the wall beside her and lays it in her lap.

“Tain’t nuttin’ to be skeered of,” she says, running her hands over the glass. “Tell me what you see.”

I don’t answer. All I want to say is that I need the bathroom. I don’t like the way the thing in the picture looks at me.

Mrs P persists. “What do you see? Tell me.”

My tongue sticks to my palate. “Well … his arms are silly … like blue rivers full of fish and … and weedy things are growing on the bank ... and … and he’s got a blue-and-yellow striped dress like mine. Why is a man wearing a dress?”

“Why do you say it’s a man?”

“Because.”

Read more >
58

Her routine, her roots

Her roots, her routine.
Golden calm waves glinted
As she bathed in the early sun
Before the others needed her
Her strength settled
Into new places
Renewing and ageing simultaneously
Her memories filed away
To make room for more to grow

Roots growing
Never settling for less
This time before the world wakes
Before tending to the buds or
Pruning the weeds of others
Was hers

Her routine, her roots.

59

UNMISTAKABLE IDENTITY

she poses like a pictogram
              who has no roots
rounds herself off nicely
              with flowers that need tending
in constant trickles all day
some say it's a kind of magic
              others a prayer
for good weather, good fortune
              just all kinds of stuff
you could not even imagine
              by the next blue moon
of course it's not about that
telling fortunes, taking a rounded view
              now and again
to pledge herself some real significance
              her colours are yellow
              and sky blue
she will never be erased or recreated
              always in the picture
will never be mistaken for somebody else

60

Sahel

Tall man beneath a straightabove sun
makes his own shade with a blanket
and a stick and folds himself inside
to eat a few dates, close his eyes,
not think about the afternoon ahead.

Young woman beneath a water jar
sways past, stops, returns and fills
an old tin cup with no drop spilled,
exchanges it for a smile, refuses a date,
melts away into the haze and dust.

Tall man dreams he’s a tree, with legs
that curl deepdeep down into the cool,
with arms that reach out and out
across the sand, and no dust in those
breeze fingers through his hair.


Young woman returns, coils herself
around around around his trunk,
reaches upupup with her cupcupcup
and each sip is like the first rain
of the season, over and over.

Tall man is slow to wake, and hot,
but the afternoon, now not so bad.

61

Fountain Dust Combs

The porcelain mug, painted of navy blue enamel, mustard yellow
lacquer, and pumpkin glaze, rests on the kitchen cabinet shelf, nearly
out of both reach and sight. Weighted by thick butcher block underneath
and shaded by highballs, juicers, and plastic tumblers on all sides,
the mug simultaneously struggles to breathe and longs for both sun
and sustenance. Hunger grows daily. Her belly growls as she waits,
patiently, for the living. She beckons as best she can. Tiny sprouts
of life – emerald green, blazing nectarine, canary yellow – emerge
momentarily, linger, then ultimately lapse. Condensation breeds nothing
more than an endless cycle of hope, hurt, and squeaky hinges. Elbows
brush doorways, wells recycle then feign eternal youth, as fingers forage.
Yet the mug remains off limits. Her mouth open wide, her gait ready.
She snaps as scissors snip. Porcelain shards crumble
and her soul rests, finally, awash in clouds and combs of fountain dust.

62

Stories

a shower on the tree of life, in its autumn years, shedding its foliage
the stories in me, falling, like leaves, brown, red, burnished gold
weaving threads of silken skeins creating rich tapestries of
men women, children wound round like climbing ivy on the trunk
floral gifts or withered vines, poor or wealthy, lives that are
marked by events of passion, sorrow life and death in close proximity
stories, with words cracked, scolding or voices happy with laughter

singing like a river gurgling to the seashore, winding its way over rocks
the sea bears the story of mankind, ancient tales for millions of years
bruised by years of conflict, carrying the plastic cast by the uncaring
the sea weighed under stories rumbles, roars into a tsunami, a lesson
learnt or forgotten? Stories float again as surely as the leaves fall
every autumn and the wind blows, the sun rises, stories unfold.

63

SILKS ON A CACTUS

When many first moved to new homes which sprouted during the regeneration of the mid 1990s, they found themselves in the same boat as diverse families who had moved from areas tainted by either The Troubles or personal history, hopeful of a new start.

In the first flush of fresh new housing, they found the untainted children delightful: revelations to jaded hearts. Like their own carefully raised progeny, these were respectful and eager to take advantage of a bright new estate with wonderful housing and a prime location for facilities with access to the countryside.

As a consequence, neighbour adults didn’t scowl at them as default, but merely ushered them away if their games became intrusive. The gardens were open plan with no fences: the borders set by genuine consideration rather than anything solid. There were a few minor infringements, but these were dealt with by open and polite communication between neighbours.

Then the “Social Networking” policy was introduced. Using the hypothesis that a functional neighbourhood could have a positive reaction on “troubled” families, the latter were imported from ghettoes they themselves had formed in public housing elsewhere and salted throughout areas where the inhabitants could safely walk without being accosted, molested or otherwise targeted. At schools, meanwhile, children were being introduced to the dizzying power of preferential legislation.

Within less than a year of the introduction of these policies, squabbles broke out; respect for elders died and rumours were spread about anyone who didn’t fit into the new festering stereotypes. Read more >

64

In the garden of the self

It is now the season of harvest
and the sun shines bright, blinding me with its golden brilliance,
shining as bright as the golden strands of corn and maize bursting forth from my scalp

The rakes that are my fingers
comb through the lustrous golden stalks
as I sit cross-legged and meditate

Inner peace eludes me
so I reach for the garden shears
and trim away the unwanted excesses

The watering can too plays its role
nurturing me and sustaining me
just like the mossy peat beneath my feet

The peat that was formed from all the forefathers before me
has molded me well
and shaped me into what I am…what I wish to be

Yet, you could not stand to see that
could not let me be me
So what did you do?
              You planted a bed of roses on my heart.
              Untended, the thorns pricked through my skin.
              Blood seeped through, coating the already crimson
              petals.

65

Landscape

Arise to cultivate thoughts against a landscape void of distance.
Align the wheat fields,
shower with good intentions.
Exploring golden skin reflecting sun.
Snip the lines between yours and mine.
Perilous crossing of that tightrope.
I urge you take the path,
the one through the wheat fields home.
Into a landscape void of distance.
Align all the fields.
Rain down our good intentions.

66

Bright Harvest

Autumn patterns braid my hair my skin my years as they see them
I should be golden not grey
The sun catching the shades of orange, auburn, fool’s gold no more
Like a Russian wedding ring plaited with the colours that catch the light
From all the different angles that come with age
Wise, foolish, world worn, but still dancing like the leaves that fall from heaven
Sent trees, speaking their grief, or making their offerings
That children and dogs can play
In the crisp crunch of the leaves
Just as they splash the puddles
And my heart still plays with them
My smile reflecting in the wet tarmac
Or the car wing mirror—which is very flattering
Don’t fear autumn or winter, don’t worry that there won’t be spring again
This is your time for harvest
Pile your seasons high
In all their shades
From fair dawn yellow to the moon’s silver
Carry them in your steps
Splashing as you walk
And if you tire, you can lie soft on the bails of memories
Or beneath a tree of youth waiting to see an apple drop
And when it does fall beside you
Don’t just admire the colours—take a bite

67

The Gardener

It's about self care, isn't it? The watering – the consequent flow – the subsequent growth. The idea of it sends a rush into withered crevices. Spaces where the soil is powder, and leaves bear all of the shape but none of the life. That realised, what next?
Find a source, I suppose.
That's when I discover that I am my own fountain. That, although it is dry now, if I look deep enough, there is an underground stream to which I am connected. That any water I might permit to enter and emit could return to hidden parts afresh, and make its way through the darkness and up through the system to emerge, again and again.
Cleaner.
Stronger.
That realised, where to begin?
The head, of course.
Everything flows from there.
Even that hidden river which has been driven out of sight.
Beyond sensation.
I imagine the dusty earth within would make way at first intrusion.
It would likely pass the leaves.
There could be breakage.
But I can hear the water now, and it says that this is okay.
That loss paves way for new life, and I picture something tender and green without needing to have that dictated to me.
That's when it becomes important to make the choice.
The one that lets the water in.
And consequently out.
And so I open the valve.
The soil does move at first.
Read more >

68

Collage

I'm a collage of all I choose
to snip and clip from the world around me.
My yellow dress, blue of my arms,
padded elbows, knees to avoid scrapes,
colors blessed by my choosing.
Leaves and lights, rain from the pyramid
far behind, all conspire to
strengthen, my legs now able
to carry me anywhere I can dream
of going and beyond.

69

In Fall

In fall, Jack Frost’s cousin visits
trees and bushes,
coats greens with ribbons of bright orange,
burning reds, brilliant yellows.
He showers rain,
combs the branches,
creates storms of falling leaves
that pile and drift,
and crunch underfoot.
Finally,
with his bright scissors,
he snips the last
hanging nuts and seeds,
drops the last lingering leaf,
and lumbers away.

70

Wild Once

She never could bear gardening gloves.

Hack, hack, hack. Elissa had been at it all afternoon, clearing morning glory and weeds from the hedgerows. The great bouquets of green alkanet lay in a newly built compost heap, her hands sore from their subtly abrasive stings, the kiss of nettles.

It was the raw feel of plant matter Elissa loved, even though bare hands meant splinters, scrapes and blood. She found an oddly enjoyable primal spirit in tearing out morning glory, digging up dandelion roots. For a change, felt something.

Three months they’d been in this house and the garden untouched. A forty year old marriage uprooted from four bedrooms and children leaving, then returning, then leaving. The last garden had become an outlet for Elissa. They always left, but plants grew back.

Elissa was left alone in the garden, hours passing without request, comment or human presence. Secateurs became a weapon of sanity, a tool with which to re-establish some boundaries. Sometimes it made her sad to cut wildflowers, but they have to go.

The other plants need space, room to breathe, just like her. In domesticating the garden’s wild edges, the invasive plants became the uncomfortable unsaid in her, spoiling her general comfort and pleasing veneer. They were the question “what if I’d left” – pointless to entertain and too late to answer; this was not up for discussion.

After the garden hot water always ran welcome, barely scraping layers of dirt ingrained in creases of sixty-five year old skin and beneath well-shaped strong nails. A shower always felt good, although she liked how she looked after a session of digging, hacking and pruning. Read more >

71

Gardeners’ Question Time

...and if you live in a flat and don’t have a window box, you could swallow some seeds, unscrew the top of your head and water inside daily. Within a week or so, you’ll have a lovely display of your favourite flowers coming out of what’s left of your head, and with some more sprouting up nicely on your arms. A word of warning: don’t bother with weeding – it could be painful. Check yourself in the mirror for a good view of your cerebral gardening. Good luck.

72

JOY’S SEVEN DEGREES AND POCKET FULL OF STONES

Let me glory in the wilderness of pandemic hair,
its growing savagery, how it curls around alligator
clips and wide-mouthed bobby-pins. Give me courage
to visit Joy’s Seven Degrees over there on Main Street
where the homeless hang out, and I bring pastries
when I can. Where braidsbyjoy rule—not just
dreadlocks and cornrows, but box braids,
long lemonade braids, Nubian and Yam twists.
Where Joy turns healing stones into works of art
to grace hands, necks, arms, and hair, and where,
like the Berber women in Morocco’s mountains,
henna arabesques the back of hands, adds fire
to long and short locks. I once went there on Sundays
for the sheer pleasure of poetry, to take my words
out of academic straightjackets, to give them
a bit of rap and reggae, to let them fly in the breeze
of dryers, the scent of shampoos and dyes. Now,
I need to take this wildness to her for jangles and shells,
crystals and beads. Anything she can weave into a braid.

73

THE SPIRIT IN THE TREE

The spirit in that tree came from the clouds
A fascinating sight with tilted Olympic crown of purest gold leaves
Above his pyramid shaped head,
Whose sparkling rays pushes the dark clouds away.
With beam arms tattooed blue like ancient warriors
With a body language before 2020,
Wearing no mask, filling the free space

Sent to purge the contaminated earth
From the catalyst of our time,
Armed with a repellant shower spray
The cure for the pandemic terror
Of which earth secrets has no answer

His glittering curved legs of golden leaves,
Like a festive spring, rolled in a stack.
In yoga sitting position he looks like the Guru of all spirits.
His elbow sparkled like sculptured crystal.

Floating around the world with a pair of herbalist tools
Shredding the octopus fangs of the virus nerves
Annihilating the spiraling web of the Covid curse
With the mark of victory on its repellant shower spray.
He is a champion that won the Covid cure,
As starlight flowers sprout on his arms
As the tree whistled his mission,
That when spring rebirth in 2021
The earth will clock a free Covid 19.

74

Hapi reincarnate on the Lea (or, Lord of the Fish and the Birds of the Marshes)

It seems like a strange place for you to wind up, Hapi, if I’m honest.

And yet, here you are: a 4,000 year old Egyptian Nile god, bringing your still-fertile riches to the Valley of the Lea. Worshipped for bringing their annual inundation, we’re armed against you now, most often. Just here and there, you slip through.

Today I walk with you, Hapi, eyeing your sly delighted incursions on the marsh. You pool and spread languid over grass, settling in. Flood plains are your Hapi place. And these – well, to some they appear very plain. Unbeautiful even, growing the taut pylons that glint in the sunlight, looming overhead like wild steel giants. The pathways are spattered with lurid detritus in high-density polyethylene that will never rot underfoot.

‘Industrial’, they say. ‘Urban.’

So?

I walk with you, Hapi, as you get into your flow. I choose to see you amid the hulking pyramidic structures and the Lucozade bottles. So there may be power lines and plastic, but it’s the plants I seek; creeping marshwort and reed sweet grass and sedge shifting in the air. So there may be planes scrawling their way between clouds, but it’s the birds I hear; swans and geese and cormorants in noisy conversation.

I don’t know if you brought these vital things with you or if these vital things are what brought you here. It doesn’t matter. We enjoy them together. The pylons keep up their march, across the landscape, off into the far distance.

Read more >
75

Parallel

My pioneer self
Was married at thirteen
She had three children five years later
She wished for girls and
Birthed all boys.

My pioneer self
Lit her stove with fat books
The writing came in blood languages
She could read it.

My pioneer self
Buried her corset
Under the roots of the tree
Where I now stand.

76

Grow

Turn your face to the sun –
the light on closed eyelids
rinsing shadows from creases
of furrowed brows.

Drink deep from the well
freshened each morning
as sleep dissipates
and the day runs clear.

Reach down into dirt
and hold onto the parts of yourself –
too shy to be seen –
that make you grow strong.

77

mother earth

Mother Earth
The planet had legs of sand
dry, furrowed with white
lines, tracks, dead and fallow.
The last of the rain nurtured
where her head met the clouds.
Things grew there, ideas and hope.
But the arms of her landscape
were almost without crops.
Her thighs, still green but seedless.
The waste land began at her elbows
White, flat ovals.
Hope was in the scythe, the scissors
that she held in readiness
when the crops returned.
And made her body whole again.

78

Yearning Divine

Amma’s buttery hands are scorched      by the  clawing heat
of the    pot you call matka   and She stirs it with the   finger   that
bears   the rusting crown jewels;   feeding me  bits to taste 
my face curdles   and She knows
it lacks any brittle    mīṭhuṁ    and reaches to her elbows or knees
because salt  can make your dish whole;   The plants of eternity
are braided into Her    coarse fibers of   hair
  and if I were to grab a mouthful   they would smell
  like coconut oil which    She says nourishes    but I disagree
the rich oil  snarls at the edges of   the ashes from the last
time   She cooked    food  and my eyes   water from the linger of 
capsicum and onion;   yet the steam tears at corners of my eyes;
Her   chipping nails   are painted barely with the paste of  iron-oxide
   but is that too cultured?  She snips away at any of my
overgrown insecurity    with Her safety scissors   using the same ones
 to open    the packaged masala She made   when the
Sun was ripe;    Goddess She calls   herself because   she can
swallow the universe whole without gulping or regretting;
but   not in a patronizing way   after all she   leaves that to me
  and the humans 
because   somehow She remains  with a simper about it all
  though so easily    She can   thunder- raging on the    Gods who trample 
her Earth but She is Amma
   I know She gets sad sometimes    for who doesn’t? it counts
more than thrice when the  plastics grow but the animals ebb;
then She is   a royal blue with only bantam   hairs of saffron decorating
Her body; and I cannot help but wonder
if    the tapestries She paints are Her own skin;
Read more >

79

World ‘X’ Day

They give it one day in a year.
And for the rest, you struggle: yourself.

They give you one day to speak,
And when the day comes,
You expect to be heard,
You rehearse over and over,
Craft language carefully: to agitate, to assert, to express,
You seek audience, they demand compliance.

You open your mouth,
But hear their voices,
Disarrayed, in unison.

For every word that hurt me, put me down, I have a scar.
My soul, like a succulent, has evolved through experience,
I now have needle leaves to wear,
And yet, a bud, soon a flower, blossoms in my hair.

In the heat and dryness of the world’s winds,
My mind wanders, and is tended to by the flow of time, a drizzle of patience.

I wait.
I wait for the sea to dry,
I keep up hope till the sun shines.

I wait till the end of time’s garden,
I wait for someone to listen.

I wait, realizing that I am in a conversation of one. A dialogue with no one.

Read more >
80

Sunshine

Hello Nature. Can I have some sunshine please?
Roots cover my body,
I’m ready to flourish,
but something is holding me back.

I beg you, please.
All I ask for is a little sunshine.
Don’t worry! I’m not thirsty –
I have plenty of water to feed me,
to keep me clean, and to wash away the deadheads that I
Snip,
Snip,
Snip,
Away.
I’m grateful for water but I still feel drained.

I need sunshine now,
I long for that lovely warm feeling upon my skin.
Let the sun brighten our day –
please can you ask it to make everyone smile?
We all need a little sunshine once in a while.

People don’t smile as much as they used to
and we all know why.
I’m asking a favour – for the sun to appear,
because if it doesn’t, then I fear
we might all forget HOW to smile –
at strangers,
with friends and family,
at ourselves.

Please bring us sunshine and let us smile again.

81

Your head waits for your heart

Thoughts, always growing, untamed. Shower then with symbols, spiritual light. Cut and comb the loose ends.

Thoughts, reappearing, branching into movement, saturating every stillness. Roots, stubborn, connected to currents that travel unmapped, inside breath and blood.

Leftover thoughts. Edging along the outside, quiet, always waiting. Between intent and creation. Curved into the shape of what follows, lingering in the fullness of the not-yet-named.

Thoughts. Discarded, but not lost. Not false, but misunderstood. What can be owned is never complete. What is missing is always contained in what was never there.

The answer cannot be discovered by filling in the blanks.

What’s wrong? Tell me—
is there ever a short reply?
Nothing will suffice.

82

Self love is the best form of love

We are indeed a garden that needs to be tended regularly, plucking out our sins and flaws and planting the seeds of connection grown in the furrows. The fertile lands of our growth are borrowed from the ancestors whose stories are passed from ear to ear like fables, the fragrance passed from one bay laced fingers to another. The recipes of those gracing the sepia-tinged books of my granny. Love jumping hoops for generations. We are constantly keeping the sands moist, crumbled enough to grow those puny saplings of joy and abandon. If your heart is scorched and parched you cannot be a source of solace to anyone around you. Nourished and moistened through the love which emanates from you. The unfettered shower of kindness which should be pointed towards you first before anyone else. This ochre shade of kindness emanating from you is the glow of unbridled knowledge of your ancestors guiding you through their love, and like a firefly in the night burning and living through the trials and tribulations. You survive and you grow. The cerulean hue shines likes a patina on your skin carrying the warmth of the Gaia, the sustenance your soul desires. You as a whole exists, you cannot exist in parts. You need to be loved before anyone else. Growth can only happen if your soil is fertile enough to sustain anything. You grow through your desires, you exist because of self-love.

83

Unkept

I trim the edges of my fingertips hoping the remains of memory fall off. I carve my hands into stiff round peaks and trim off the branches rooted in my arms. I trace the way my roots take a turn and get lost in the inherent void. I carefully groom the harvest that lines the verge of my brim only to set it upright. I turn my eyelids upside down and store the monsoon in shades of blue. It seeps down my slender cheeks, trickles down the curve of my belly, and reaches my bottom in a faint tinge of yellow.

I am bent at odd places where the rivers of dye break-in. My joints are pale, heavy, and fused like limbs of a slim old statue fused with heat and glue. The shrubs shoot up when spring arrives but bear no fruit at the end. In ill-timed autumn, the flowers whither off into oblivion before they bloom at their best. They yield no crop, no scent, and no oil. The essence keeps feeding off its own.

I slice through the flux of time with hands as sharp as scissor blades; no produce manages to slide by. We are plants unkept, with roots unknown and, seeds unseen, grown like weeds, living off the soil of an empty being. Poking our stems with pointy peaks, wanting to wear off the length of our time, tear off the edge of the moment, thwarting right before the onset of blossom. We stand in the way, swaying with the wind, waiting for our roots to grow sturdy legs of their own. The soil keeps sliding off, and we eternally fail to cross the edge of bloom.

84

Storyteller And Word Weaver

I sit crossed legged, propped up on my bed
Cupping a mug of my favourite coffee to water my head
I gaze out of the window
You may think I am napping
But

I am mapping my latest story
Letting the ideas flourish in my brain
Before I snip them with a scissors
Like herbs from my garden
And place them carefully on the paper
Then

I move the words around
Let them roll across my tongue
Let my eyes scan them and play with them
Feel their sounds and their rhythms
Until

They form the perfect pattern
And can be stuck down
The final version for now
The right way to say what I want to say
Today

Tomorrow I may think differently
And chop and change the direction of my words
To tell a different story
Read more >

85

In The Cotswold, Together

self-care is scented lavender and camomile
self-care is rejoicing in our showers, my body and i,

communicating grief for the year in limbo,
gratitude for the day dancing our sweet prerogative
nurturing hope into a thing more tangible
than it was yesterday.

we sing whitney flatly, the shower head a spotlight,
this is madison square garden, the dead skin cells
my fans, plentiful and sun deprived, ever curious
for the lost summer, now sustaining the gold of autumn

the wind swerving its way into our home, shivers
claiming room in this stone abode;
no more salads you say, from here on out     roasts.

self-care is a language spoken in dialects, we reckon,
we cut each other's hair in a little ritual, a cost-effective
exercise. some couples say i know my partner like the back of my hand, but i think of your head,

driving the electric shaver carefully
with precision around your delicate skin,
change settings for the space behind your ears,
move my head with the light to spot flyaways,
blonde and free.

this is all i've got tonight, self-care like a religion,
inches of hair crowding the bathroom floor,
celine dion bouncing off the acoustic walls, i treasure
Read more >

86

Anthropomorphic Understory

The scientist’s inner poet peaks out as he names
her the understory – plants flourishing under her forest’s canopy.
Although most people simply refer to her as ‘the bush.’
A term of affection
extended from her thatched stubby underbrush
to her lofty canopy cousins.

She signals spring by brightening her red dogwood and yellow willow bark.

Birds, bears, and humans make canapé from her
spring green curls of fiddle heads,
summer blue berries and Saskatoons,
autumnal cranberries and rose hips.

While geese and water birds favour the open plains and water, some songbirds
migrate thousands of miles from her boreal to tropical understory.

She is sadly overlooked in the conversion of forest into lumber farms, but struggles on.

87

Reflow

play : chantepleure,
rings of allowance lull
in youth, stable unfurl
spring, attentisme, flower
ed badly, sung, born
influx & abysmal rites,
has been altered, known
the song only intimates
the earth’s edge, true
much has been lost, true
calathea bows in blue,
that in silent commune
to worlds mutter : sitio

88

Overthinker

Wee seed
burrowing itself in
cotton candy folds
sprouting from its woody casing
emerging under
pitter patter paranoia
and puddling panic.
Flourishing.
Rippling upwards,
gnarled trunk,
leaves broad and rubbery
pushing through an
egg shell skull.
Inching out
bejewelled with toothy buds.
Grimacing.
All canines and molars
feasting upon the buzz
of new moments,
sugary happiness.

89