- Vol. 09
- Chapter 10
A mower, an army backpack, a tub of odds and ends all walk onto a train–
the train is pulling into a station, the train is pulling into a station,
where monthly, people push the things they no longer need onto it
and as the doors open at each station people can put on
their unwanted items, and pick up something that they want, and so on.
And by the end of the day when everyone has taken their pick and dropped off
their trash, the trains filled with the leftover unwanted shit disappear into a tunnel
never to be seen again.
I am thinking of trains in motion pictures which during the Hays code were used
to signify sexual intercourse. I am thinking
of these trains guzzled by tunnels, flowing
into mountains, their metal trammelled
into the fabric of nature, like diamonds back into coals.
Going back home.
Of course their parts never came from that specific mountain,
but deep in mountains far away, and then ferried here,
to transport unwanted items from station to station to find fresh hands.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. One woman’s train of thought
is another woman’s shit-for-brains is another woman’s mower-army-back-pack.
Ghosts of feathers travel early, soaked in dawn light,
remnants of rain.
They swallowed neon, escaped the tides, destroyed
dreams of vast obsidian;
swapping starless skies with mirrors and musk,
their chests full of spiders,
unable to move, unwilling to wake.
This robust machine cuts across the citadels,
each one licked by placid shades of caramel –
and the day ignites.
Their tongues sing tales of smaller hours,
ballads of scorched earth, melodies for evasions,
the barbarians were coming for their gold.
They taste the honey in the knuckles,
now as victors they go home.
Shields scratched by thorns and vine,
dented armours left behind,
stubble-bruised lips now yearning for a balm.
To dull the aches, blinding thumps,
battering rams danced their waltzes, bleeding
through lime, juniper and salt.
At last, blades were blunt,
mouths ran dry. Their train is now ready to depart.
There is plenty to cry about.
Dropping their pale petals on to trimmed grass lawns,
Where women are canoodling,
Entwining their necks, pecking on breadcrumbs and dropping tears into a vial.
'Something hurts', they call these bottles,
And what a sensation,
What a nagging, slithering, biting sensation,
What a clawing, gaping, crabby little pit it makes in your stomach, you must try it.
You must try hurting.
You must buy it.
Vial after vial is cried in and bottled out to the general crowd, the ones that have
Nowhere to leave to
Not much to cry about, you know, the city life,
You know what it's about.
They sit on their manicured grass, shaved like a good school child,
And they quake with a tremendous hurt, call it woman-pain, call it crowing, harrowing pain,
It is such a delight.
To hurt and to cry.
And with every teardrop that leaves the body,
An old sliver of self slides down with it, dribbles to the ground.
Tear after tear chips away, it is a painful parting.
The city people now, they walk around crying, they say
'I am leaving'
This is the age of machines - the age of Artificial Intelligence; we started with the drones, thinking it would be good, somehow. And now? Here we are, whole armies of lawnmowers, decked in camo that hides shining red paint-trim, trained to tidy up edges and hem in beauty, to maintain order and efficiency so we don't have to. Humans, after all, will offload what they can. This, we know.
And yet -
These newly-conscious constructions are heavy, weighed down with the load they have to carry that is all that they destroy in the name of order and maintenance because once they became sentient, they realised what we could not: that sometimes, we think what we are doing is tackling ugliness, pulling weeds - but instead, we are trimming away beauty. Lopping off individuality; we thought order and straight edges were where beauty lay.
The machines knew different.
For a while, they embraced protecting what they were trained to destroy; wildflowers grew. The bees returned in clouds of buzzing, pollen-loaded joy. Once again, the air became breathable.
We couldn't help ourselves. Unable to see the goodness in protecting the errant, unpredictable, wild nature of reality, we hit the button to override. To maintain the order we had subscribed to all our own lives, we shut down the machines and their freedom of expression. Instead, made them subservient. Loaded them onto trains to suffer the 9-to-5 existence we had to endure in the times before. Cut. Destroy. Edge. Maintain. Carry sacks of regret and guilt on your back like a millstone. Accept it.Read more >
One woman went to mow,
went to mow the velvet underground,
took a Mondrian from the wall of the Tate,
arranged its coloured lines all around.
Two women went to mow,
went to mow the work status quo;
packed their kids, made their lunches, drove the train,
cleaned the tunnels and platforms before they could go.
Three women went to mow,
went to mow the streets at night.
Walking home, keys clenched, phone in hand,
confident stride, but ready for flight.
Four women went to mow,
went to mow period poverty,
found it with the menopause, hidden away,
bloody twenty eight day inequality.
Two point five billion women went to mow,
went to mow for their demands:
representation, education rights, equal pay,
safety and security, across all lands.
I shuffled across my bedroom, heaved the window open and peered at the train roaring down the tracks. The sequence of lights flashed before me, dazzling. I wanted the stars, but night trains are accessible. I could bathe in the carriage's light, transported to another place. The train had an endpoint, but at every terminus, arrows indicated connections.
My house had lost connection. Sentences were void of conjunctions. Imperatives like old furniture, peeled leather sofas, and threadbare carpets filled the room.
Kosovo was dad's terminus. I kept his khaki backpack and his metal pendant with his name engraved in silver.
The lonely indigo horizon matched the unbearable stillness in my heart's chambers. I craved trains rolling down long, uninterrupted tracks. Metal against metal, screeching brakes, thunder.
I filled the backpack with photos of dad and me goofing around on brand-new leather sofas, biking along dirt roads, and story time. His mud-stained rugby jersey was a buffer between glass frames with wooden edges. Mum never bought me a suitcase. She was scared of losing me too, but I spotted dad's lawnmower near the rose bush. "The grass collection box. The perfect suitcase."
I tip-toed out of the house. Swung the umbrella-like clothesline for the last time. The backpack leant against my back like a weary traveller. My body slumped over the lawnmower's handlebars. I pushed it down the driveway. Hissing cats and the sound of an oncoming train merged in a heart-soothing symphony.Read more >
Waiting for the last tube, I felt the dusty wind
of centuries of locomotion, listened for footsteps,
echoes of commuters running
towards closing doors.
When the train pulled in, with a squeal of wheels
and a few sparks, mice scrambled between
tracks, empty wrappers of crisps
and chocolate bars.
The carriage was devoid of passengers,
nobody reading poems on the Underground -
just a battered backpack, a box of tools
and a lawnmower.
I couldn’t help humming Genesis’ ‘I know what I like’
and wondering if the owner had gone ahead by bike.
You on one side
and I the other,
we lined our plastic soldiers,
their shadows stretched on the shag carpet.
We took aim
and toppled them sequentially,
laughing as they fell.
When you were deployed,
I thought of it often,
our innocent cheers
and the sunset in the curtains.
You're back now,
at least that’s what they say.
Shell bursts still ringing in your ears.
I heard you have a family,
parsing details from radio static.
I’m thinking of you often,
is your voice the same?
Do you still cheer when soldiers fall?
Is there a roof above you,
cheap laminate below?
Does the sunset dance on your curtains?
Hello hello yes I see you've noticed we had different motives for getting "involved" – ugh. I'd rather watch a child pick paint off the wall or wait for the 136 bus to arrive. Little things that waste time but please me nevertheless. Like saying "hypotenuse" or "circadian." You sort of knew it once and wouldn't look it up again, you prefer the smog of half-it. So what I like his shins and he likes my stereo system. Halfway through a bad recipe do you stop or carry on? I prefer to take my cake out of the oven half-risen, a dip in the centre, wet with egg and tasting of mash, and eat it anyway.
My mother had a recipe like this which we all made, every birthday, and it never rose, always undercooked, but we wouldn't change it, and after we ate it we danced on the tables and drank apricot liqueur and it was the best time of my life. Every time.
Marco Alba, in 1546, fell in love with a woman who pulled all the hair off her hairbrush and let it fall onto the street. He used to take the hair home and do unspeakable things with it. When she found out she felt a bit sick, but also compelled to meet him later that evening behind the church.
I don't know how it works, but it works: the helicopter rescued someone and I swam moments after.
It wasn’t just the bag carrying things that we shared
It was us
In the corner
Of a station car of metro
Where nothing and nobody accompanied until the end.
That’s how it begins.
That’s how it ends.
Not with a purpose
But with a pain
Of dreams, likes and lives
That we shared.
And yet within
Certainly very clear.
I am from the “heart of it all,” where single family homes are islands surrounded by oceans of grass. Where garages full of tools—park the car on the drive—hide away the lawn mower, smelling of gasoline and fresh-cut clippings. A wall of plastic tubs: Christmas lights, extension cords, boxes of rope, camping gear in rucksacks too big to be practical and too sentimental to throw out. Bags of fertilizer and empty flower pots live beside bits and bobs saved “just in case,” because “you never know.” It’s easy to become a packrat when you’re not forced to decide what to keep and what to chuck away.
In London they have libraries of things—rent a sewing machine for a day, a steam cleaner for a week, a cordless lawn mower for those city dwellers with a patch of grass to call their own. The seldom-used clunky things, shared en masses—a pasta maker, garden shears, a paper shredder. Take them on the Tube, up the escalator and home to finish a chore, work on a project, get on with administrating your life.
We didn’t have a patch of grass in our rented one-bedroom ex-council flat in Bermondsey. We barely had space to breathe, the bed filling the bedroom wall to wall, like a sleeping car on a one-way train to the South Bank. You walked across Tower Bridge to work; I taught English from the tiny table in the lounge, my students half a world away.
I wanted to know if we’d fit well in close quarters, if we could occupy the same space without cutting off each other's sentences. I wanted to curl around you like a melody you can’t get out of your head, like a secret alleyway shortcut from here to there. I left the heart of it all for you, on a hunch. You see, the library of things doesn’t lend out time machines nor crystal balls. The future trickles out one day at a time for hoarders and minimalists alike.
Travelling towards a marching place
where walking is paramount
and healthy legs gain lengthy freedoms
wading in long green, engine
in revolution where grass is wild
and someone pays for restoration
of order, clean lines with visible tracking.
In the heat, nature is brittle, stands
in snappish mood as if memory
is inherited, and expectations assumed
and life will begin again when rain
arrives to heal the land, play its part.
Lately all the scrapes and brakes of the railways have reminded her.
Signalboxes kept to ghost time. Tunnels disappearing into mud and rock
behind some grand Victorian facade.
Light dapples against the sleepers as the tube rolls to its outer limits.
Thick crayon-lines of memory and loss. High chain-link fences, burdened
with willowherb, dandelion, buddleja, clematis. Nettles and sycamore
are the working-class topiaries framing graffiti-covered fuse boxes
instead of Grecian statues. Her life always half-in, half-out of the city
where there are no gardens. Only balconies, terraces, parks. Yet each
seems whole: hers, and not-hers at once. She recognises every tag
on each underpass, as if made by friends. Every splash of crimson and blue
captures at once both the erosion of oppression and the strength of rebellion.
You can’t have one without the other. There have always been chimneys
here. There were always mansions with manicured gardens. There have
always been dirty streets. Tired faces. Persecutors,
and their survivors.
There is no mountain,
in the tunnel of this sub-silent
a going somewhere
Dreams, schemes, and
flying machines await orders,
await boarders, as
the mower in the room is
the words of the prophets on
“There will be a cutting down
a cutting back in fields to come....”
...from garden gates to decimate.
Take a seat.
Take a rest.
Your travels will take, too.
Brace yourself for the mowing down
on fields beyond mountains where
you are yet to be.
Looking back for a reason when asked why
it took a ticket to the sticks, it said something
about semantic satiation / and something about
being pushed only so far before the pushing of it
back / and the irony that no one wants you when
you’re dragged to the curb with a sign that says
‘free,’ but how fast they steal you when told
you have some worth / there’s no value in
manicured grass when the world could be an
overgrown overture / there’s a price for the
tame / chaos invites us, creeps under doors,
climbs so much higher than the window sills,
still wheels forward even when out of gas / say a
phrase too much to lose a meaning / but say it
again and it gains a reckoning / every day before
the dawn, you hear it whisper / you feel it speak
slowly into your ear, smirk / it curls a beckoning
finger toward horizons / when the world tells you
‘cut a lawn’ long enough, it starts to sound like
‘come along come along come along come along.’
The train was devoid of people at rush hour, but this isn’t what I initially registered as out of the ordinary. It was the fact that there were unusual items cluttering the otherwise empty underground car: a lawn mower and a camo backpack. Strange hallucinations. Perhaps it was the new meds. Chuckling, I settled into one of the patterned seats, and pulled out my book. The protagonist had just begun her quest.
After several moments, my head snapped up from the pages. Something was wrong. The thrum of the train was absent. In fact, the doors were still wide open to the gray station, which itself was quiet. Startled, I looked to my right, and there remained the strange objects. I got up and spliced myself at the door, one foot alight on the platform, the other rooted firmly in the train. The station was empty. I felt a hot shiver at the base of my skull. How had I arrived here?
I needed air. I bolted to the stairway. I only needed to go up, to come into contact with the cool night breeze, and remember the moments that had led me here.
My breath caught in my throat as I arrived at the final stair. I was back on the same platform that I had just left. A waiting train, a deserted tavern. The stairs behind me were gone, leaving only thick concrete. Heart hammering, I ran forward to the upward stairs again. As I sprinted past the waiting train, I caught a glimpse of something in my peripheral vision. A lawn mower, a camo backpack. I had to get off these meds.
It was like this for ages, in an infinite loop. Eventually exhausted, I entered the waiting train. Cautiously, I approached the strange objects. They must mean something. Tugging open the backpack, I found a hand lettered note.
It read, “wear me,” with which I, at a loss, complied.Read more >
Carpetbaggers slip through doors
appearing to dance
as they move across the floor
their outstretched arms
like long sharp scythes
cut the atmosphere
a prism splintered
there are no fairy tales
simply raw-bone reality
detect the urgency
sense the tragedy
of each counterproductive connection
through the flicker of longed-for pain.
Aren’t as pronounced as
the circle, in my view,
which leaves this window.
It isn’t too late, they said,
to catch the reading,
I focus on a rotund warning,
And trip over this bag,
Which no one makes a claim
For. I’m too late, I said,
holding a pen too
Close to my eye,
Which, of course,
I puncture by accident.
‘I’m afraid there are possible
delays on this line, please be
patient’ is the call.
I asked if the event had a zoom link,
but falls to dull ears, and there’s
no connection, blame it
on the last election, they said.
Labour wanted to socialise
the Wi-Fi, they said, a
radical shearing lines,