• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 06
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Less than three hours to go until they get here.

As well to wait here as anywhere. I have all I need, for now. I think I can assume that no one has noticed, that no one is watching, for now. There is a massive silence here, tier upon tier of it.

I’ll just wait here.

I don’t even know what game we will be playing.

Really, what can they expect of me? That I should get to my feet and run? I’m tired and I don’t understand the rules, the scoring, and what I would have to do to defeat them. If that is the mouth of the goal, I turn my face away from it.

Some time soon they will be coming, bringing their roar, their noise, their flags and colours, their plastic wrappers. Some time soon I’ll be discovered.

I’ll just wait here, turn my cheek to the ground and let my eyes rest. I don’t even know which way I should be facing. If that’s the goal it’s way behind me. I have long since crossed the line. I won’t look back at ground I can’t recover. I can’t see a way forward either. I’m not seeing the whole picture. Something missing—a nothing. 20 to 30. If so I am way past the line that is ahead of me already. This is not the bracket I fall into. I am not part of any team, and certainly not this one.

I don’t even know what game this is, or what the rules are. Whatever it is, I’m not playing. They can’t make me.

Some time soon, less than three hours now, they will charge in, with their spiked shoes, with their armour, with their gums guarded and slavering; with their thoughtlessness and unity of purpose; and they will pulverise my heart into the ground.

1

Playpen

The air brings you novel sound, you sample its metal
You hear roars, heed the clamour
They are urgent, they say the world is your stage
You hope, seek, contend. You hear rhythm and song
You heave, snatch, fumble, sweat, slide
You tire, feel that first depletion, experience doubt
Yet still you thrust, claw, stretch, barrel
You heed the calls, listen to soft whispers. You wonder why they sometimes withdraw
They say this is all, your totality
You taste salt on your lip, feel blood pounding
You pause. Stand still. Wonder why the voices abandon. Finally, you steal a look
You see no faces, only folds of black, yet you hear their screams
They say this is a crucible, a test of your hopes
You know their urgency is empty. This a mausoleum, a trap for your dreams
You snap past the towers of noise and gaze forever upwards
They fall silent
You leap and reach
You make a claim upon the heavens. You smile. Your grasp claims nothing
You fall, taste earth, clutch the dirt.
You listen to muffled tongues, mutters that retreat. Before your closing eyes you see shadows lengthen and their darkness merge.

2

The Referee

The players will be out soon – you should really get changed. You should get up and move, make yourself known, meet the managers and captains, let the teams know that you are here and you mean business.

But you like it here. Lying down, facing up. The serenity of the empty stadium, the uninterrupted quiet of the cloudless sky. Soon these stands will be filled with the uproar of heated cheers and violent groans – jeers from old and young – but for now everything is calm and you like it. No funny tummy, no aching head, just peace.

The players will be out soon to warm up: stretch calves, ping balls, test keepers. You should really get changed. Plaster that sham smile on your face. Come kick-off it will be your job to control the jokers, the jostlers, the swearers, the divers, the whiners, the downright disrespectful but for now it’s just you. You, the stadium and the sky. You close your eyes and let yourself drift off…
               “Come on ref!” shouts a coach from the mouth of the tunnel. Silence broken. Not knowing what to retort from afar, you sluggishly get up, conforming to his instructions like one of his players might. You’re only the referee but you’ll need to show them who’s boss when the whistle blows. You’ve already got ground to make.

3

GREEN WATER

this pitch awaits a new champion
if only this man moves from lane 3
he’s lying on freshly cut grass
lines newly painted
equally measured
like in a swimming pool

he takes the right–hand lane
but a couple of yards to the left
and he’ll be in the middle one
he’s not even racing
not looking back
or taking a breath

his suitcase floats beside him
a writer with a manuscript
caught between paths
unable to move
like a character in the novel
he hasn’t finished yet

4

Between Twenty and Thirty

Life is a games-pitch.
Turf looks smooth from up above,
from rows of tiered bleachers, but down
on the ground ill-shod footfalls skid on mud.
Shoulders slacken and fold under unfair heft
of brute, burgeoned weights and regulation cases.
Plus, progress requires orientation
when way-markers disappear. Flummox
those too near to see
proximity to coming darkness.
In flux,
the lost and lonely pray.

5

Pastoral Turf

Lie beside me on green turf
under sun’s unblinking gaze
smell the polymer fiber
rub a palm against the flat
leveled playing field, this field
of emerald dreams, zone
of ancient rights, armored
knights’ helmets molded
foam-padded plastic shells.

Lie near the white chalk
line, rake your finger tips
along its edge and count
the yards from white to white
roll with me to the edge
of this bucolic meadow
watered with the sweat
of cleated giants who thunder
within these contested fields.

We will play at play, you and I,
rest on the arena of defeat
wonder at rectangular beauty
the symmetry of parallel lines
contemplate our end zones.

Let us take our ease on this grassless pasture, this bucolic scene.

6

Lens and rotor

I am the unseen eye in the sky, the fly by, the one who scores a line across the blue with my feelers out, looking for what you don’t want me to see, because you think there is no-one watching, no-one paying you any attention, but you will find, if you should turn your eye, that I am there on high, the fly by sky guy who knows your every move.

Even when you are still.

You are still, on the ground, your face turned cheek to grass, I can smell the fresh turf, I can smell the white paint which marks a three that sizes you up and outdoes you, that three, it outdoes you in width and height, and the arrow next to it aims directly at your head like a weapon.

Your head, with its headphones on top delivering noise to your ears, I can guess the beat of your music from up here. I feel it in my chest like a caress.

Your scarf wrapped loose around you, its wool feels soft against my throat as I watch you lie there, just lie there, not going anywhere, your body all angles and splayed legs and looking for all the world like you’ve fallen, like you’ve tumbled down
                                              and down
                                                  and down again

until you’ve become the man who fell to earth, the still point of a turning world, above which I hover, quiet as a bird of prey, a lover of slight movements of air and every care for what happens below my machine.

My machine. Lens and rotor and spinning blades and freedom to roam.

I am the unseen eye in the sky, the fly by, the one who scores a line across the blue.

Read more >
7

Floored

It was hard to leave. I had to leave in a way that wouldn’t be obvious, or else I’d have been stopped from going out at all. It took me a long time just to be allowed to go to school. I learnt very quickly that voicing what I wanted if I didn’t get it did not work. Sulking was out of the question. I had to be quietly manipulative, appear endlessly patient and make it seem as if any idea I had was in fact hers and that any benefit from it wouldn’t be for me but for her. I had to work so hard to bite my desire down, cover my tracks and continue to slowly, slowly inch towards escaping.

At no point did I say that I wanted to go because I felt so stifled, so hemmed in, so compressed. At no point did I say how much I loathed being near her. Instead, I talked of improving my employment prospects and improved employment prospects would mean more money coming in. The only thing that could compete with her desire to control everything from what I wore, who I saw and what I did, was her desire for more money. Having enough money would mean she would be able to keep things exactly as they were. As she cajoled the washing machine to stop it from spilling sudsy water, I’d muse about how if I went to school and got a job, I’d be able to buy us a brand new one that didn’t keep breaking down and we’d never have to go to the laundromat. She hated that place more than any other.

I kept to myself at school though oh how much I wanted to reach out and make a friend, someone I could have shared my secrets with. But she wouldn’t allow it, she wouldn’t let me stay after school for anything. I even had to go home for lunch. I had to start walking home as soon as the bell for the end of class went. She even timed how long it took me to walk home so she’d know if I was dawdling.

Read more >
8

oh I did this once

between the lines I lay (wo)manikined
top secret documents encased in briefcase
nestled with the wax wrapper from my free range vegan wrap
the turf of the playing field is close cropped
devoid of weeds, perfect in its own way

I was part of the play
in the game, the game of life as defined by somebody else
these are not my work clothes or my sports kit
I seem to be at the small end of 3
the big end of 20
and down and out for the count

I did this once
and no crowd roared
no one wanted a photograph
just the breath from a winding
the soles of my shoes to be available
and I played that part to well, without dropping the ball
there was no ball to drop or pass on to a team mate

9

area code 203

after the parade
I hurry on with a door I could not open
I laugh the way people laugh
spying from their phones

the rich commuters and strangers
board the train to New Haven
the home of plummy proudness
and steady habits

(where the pay phone was invented)
and their small nods of civility
through the train window
a bendy body in a borrowed bed

a man hanging from a rope leaning in to whisper
with an open mouth holding a megaphone
wide echoes of men unwashed
surrounded by cardboard                 white vertical lines

these porous boundaries quickly dissolve and
blur far behind me like a picture taken by children
from a moving car in winter
a brilliant stream of accumulated useless objects

souvenirs of the unforgiven         woven
into the steady sound of hammers droning
with my eyes closed in this shimmering
plain oddness of a wordless moment

10

Pencey Prep

Some time back we visualized you on the beach,
coolly holding out against the workaday world.
Welcome home, transfixed though you are to this fresh pitch,
abruptly put out to grass. How's tricks, friend? You weld

one hand to your bronze bag. Holden, how *is* the novel
coming along? (Stewie: "Gotta, gotta compelling
protagonist?" Also: "Gotta . . . Beginning, middle
and end?") Mockery. Sorry. Really, it's swell you're back, fulfilling

your destiny. You flat-out prince of a guy!
Now stay right there between the lines, OK? I spy
the teams, the teachers, the phoneys – 25 yards out

or thereabouts. They're asking: *who in hell is that?*
The head linesman wasn't looking for this kind
of scrimmage. He takes a knee; and offers you his hand.

11

GAME NOT OVER

It’s the dream you’ve been having for a while… Everything is green in your green dream.

A train whistles green in the distance; people get on and off. You need to depart first in order to arrive. Some can do it without an instrument, or so you've heard, like the green wind forcing its green breath out through the puckered lips in the green trees. You never learned to whistle properly.

You were so in love with life in your twenties. When did life fall out of love with you? Or is it the other way round?

All of a sudden, you hear a high-pitched, airy sound in your green dream.

You’re whistling in the dark if you think I’m going on without you. 20x3 is not the end of the world. Get your ass off the ground.

Anybody there?

I’ve started. You just catch up.

Who’s that?

I’m the only one who’s entitled to stop the match. (Blows whistle twice to resume play. On with the show playing.) The whole trick is to whistle along.

12

All that Remains

Dawn breaks early;
Sunlight dances on a still face.
A collapsed angel lies as if asleep,
sinking into the unity of existence.
At one with every blade of grass,
Sister to the birds in the sky.
Every living thing bears witness.
An off duty cheerleader lies,
In the camouflage of a New England leaf in fall.
From a distance, she looks at peace;
a mobile in one hand and a clutch bag in the other
Waiting to be found.
From a distance, the crime scene looks
more like an act of meditation.
Serene — as if she chooses to be there
To mock star players who never knew she existed.
A conscious act of placement;
Not just the discarded remnants.
One more victim on the field of dreams.

13

Desk Set

I went to the gym, the one in Charlotte Street,
With the electric rows of machines,
And the office girls in skim sleek
Tights, layered up to the holocene.

I bought a desk set, a tasteful nest
Of minimalist acrylate boxes;
And a plant, too, a fringe-tressed
Joke of fern whose soil-nested coccyx

Was the width my days should be,
If I could wear my hair in a messy bun.
Ninetofive not TenSixEightThree,
I would not lie awake in the dun

Pre-dawn little mornings wanting
Not wanting this ponytailed ordination,
In the aerobics studio mirror caught
Coordinate bouncing incantations

To the circularity of days:
Home, Work, Tube—normalcy.
Of which I, incapable, dormant

Dormouse death’s-head moth,
Too voluble for downers, too small-veined,
Too uncourageous for cocaine.

At Charlotte Street, I admired them
Aspired like potted aspidistra,
Like hipster Hackney Monstera deliciosa,

Read more >
14

The precondition

- Lie down in the field with the highest number. If the number is even, find the next-highest odd number. If the field has exactly two arrows, move two fields to the left. If the field has a yellow line, do NOT step on it and move to the field on your right.

This was their first set of instructions.

- The highest number of what? People? Pigeons? Potholes?

- You will know when you get there. Facing the number in your field, lie in a position which, viewed from above, could make you seem either dead or travelling. Hence the briefcase with matching jacket and shoes. If you end up in the wrong field or face the wrong direction, you will be terminated immediately. If you follow instructions, you will hitch a ride. It can get loud, so don’t forget the ear muffs. And remember, 0 is not a number.

- How am I to tell number 6 from number 9? Does it have a little dot next to it?

I was quite proud of my question. It sounded like one of those they might not have counted on. A question like that can be a matter of life and death.

- The numbers don’t go as high as that.

Damn.

- But above all, bear in mind the precondition without which you will be stuck there in that field, neither dead nor alive, until the end of time: Wrap a towel around your arm in the colour of your trousers. You must always know where your towel is.

15

3.

Not two,
not four,
a ‘big boy.’
Three.
Not shy,
not shy at all,
love knows itself
at three.
Unfooled by doubt,
unminded of decorum,
untainted by experience.
The ways of not being two
and the almost whys of being four —
the consequence of three.
The perfect consequence
of three.

16

The Arena.

The game is played between the lines.
The sun shines on the verdant field,
remembering the roar of excited crowds
as ancient warriors, almost forgotten
from a time of chariots and gods of war,
battle for victories and wreaths of laurel
but the time of ancient warriors are gone,
as the time for battles of new warriors has arrived
with new crowds roar for their heroes' victories.
The sun now shines on a more peaceful field,
remembering battles ancient and past
whilst the dreamer dreams of battles yet to come.

17

Stuck to the Green

The dream is always the same—
I wake up, fully clothed,
briefcase in hand,
in rush mode.
Only I can’t move.
Not one muscle will cooperate.
Instead of running to the tube station,
I am lying flat
on an American football field,
anesthetized by the scent of hot dogs,
stale popcorn, and turf.
It’s a hot, synthetic fiber scent
that shoots up my nostrils.
I must be awake.
What dream scratches the skin
through cloth?

No direction feels like the right direction.
So, I remain there, motionless—
watching myself from above
in this out-of-body experience,
where the air up here
can only be better than what awaits me below.
Earthbound—
this Velcro life existence
resembles that moment when you see someone,
and you can’t remember their name.
You also can’t escape the face-to-face meet up
that is about to happen.
Read more >

18

It’s the Emblem for Me and for You

Every straggling half-decade or so
I am dragged back reluctantly
to the old home ground.
We inherited each other, the team and I,
passed down through generations.
The best thing about living on the other side of the moon
is escaping the hooks of traditional barracking.

God help me, the cringe of the quarter-time entertainments
as a dizzied pair wobble kicks at the goals.
The sacramental pies made as they ever were,
and the holy cup fizzes flat with yellowing lager.
We take our plastic seats solemnly in the shady slice,
and I crane to watch them dash and kick,
no longer knowing a single name down below.

But even if the details have changed, the ceremony feels the same.
Red-tinged faces staring hopedrunk at a blue sky,
desperate for their lot to fly unerring to the mark.
You'd think we'd know better by now.
There's the proper heart-pain as they slip behind the score
until no one believes they can make it up anymore
and we talk about leaving, only part-joking, before the next siren.

A man behind us shouts down, seamlessly switching to work-phone abuse.
There's gnashing of teeth, mournful howls of outrage and despair,
and I realise that I'm part of the cacophony too.
Oh, arrogant chump! — to believe that I was too far away
to sink back into this raw ritual of lost victories.
Of course, as we leave, a blind optimist raises his head
and shouts out a profession of faith in the season next year.

19

Temerity

That dissonance
that cacophony,
those hushed whispers  
are trying you to clamor you 
they are trapping you, slowly and surely
and pitching an invisible fence around you

those loud cheers 
those blaring noises of excitement 
like something new is unraveling,
the air is thick with the smell of victory
with people busy lining

those placards are riding high in the air
heavy with the victorious smell 
that sweet musky fragrance
you can hear the foot taping 
that synchronicity 
how everybody aligns themselves to happiness,
the thick magnet pulling every one 
towards everybody

This tide of life
this elixir of happiness 
is pulling you in
you are getting drenched in it 
with each pore of your existed dabbed 
with this serenity 

Read more >
20

Nine yards

I went all out for you
once upon a time
Cloud nine —
the full nine yards

You took me to the moon
once upon a time
till I found myself trapped
mid-air free falling

These days
solid ground is that place
from which I roll
Drumroll — over you

Nine yards
played once, twice shy
No more
will I go all out for you

21

Smack Down

Memo

TO: Dan - editor, Sports section, Miami Tribune.
FROM: Jimmy - sports reporter, Miami Tribune.

I’m getting this in straightaway Dan before Twitter goes wild.
The game was going fine until halftime when suddenly this body falls from the sky - smack into the centre of the field.
People are saying he was a stowaway — a migrant? A refugee maybe?
Apparently they get up in the undercarriage before planes take off, freeze to death at altitude, then hours later when the gear comes down they fall to Earth frozen solid.
I guess this must be it because there was no blood no splatter he just hit the ground and lay looking up clutching a little damn case.
The terrible thing is everyone was silent for a second then gave an almighty cheer — a cheer for God’s sake! Like it was the half time entertainment or a goddamn Trump rally.
They didn’t know who he was, what he was or how he got there. We don’t even know he fell from a plane or what plane he fell from.
So I don’t know whether they were cheering the thought of one less refugee or just cheering death itself, but it turned me cold, chilled to my heart.
The crowd all stamping and cheering a dead man like a crooked cartoon on a painted field.
Dan tell me this isn’t what we’ve become?

22

Falling Through the Cracks

It’s a perfect world sometimes. But then things
Like this happen. You were simply making
Your way to your next appointment, briefcase
In hand (which along with your belt and shoes
You’d oiled the night before). That jaunty scarf.
It wasn’t like you to bounce out of the house
In such a manner. But there you went.
The front porch fell off into an abyss.
Out you walked, plummeting through a blue sky.
It seemed almost pleasant, then you landed
Like this, on the plush grass cropped perfectly
By half a dozen zero-turn mowers
Droning on as they do on sunny days,
Clouds like gray cattle grazing overhead.

23

Up Rising

Survival is overrated.
When you can bring yourself
to a pause or maybe a stop,
even when you're just three steps
up,
and there're twenty more to go
(or vice versa).
When it's easy
to cut the hands reaching for your throat
by thrusting
a silver jack into a port.
The music, the air,
when you can reclaim both
as your own.

Survival is overrated.
When you know
this will last forever (or not).
This green tenderness,
this soft, rhythmic flow
of the wind, the white light,
and that
nothing starts and stops with
you,
not even your faint heart
with its weak strengths
and strong fragilities.

Survival is overrated.

Read more >
24

Ten Years After

In 2020
the grass elongated
splashed a vivid green

By 2021
the air was full of scythes
to keep it in place

2023 saw
more lines, more demarcation,
a choice of font

2025 lead
to failures of initiatives
the grass was still lush

2028 was
the end of education
now lie down, sleep

25

TOUCHDOWN

It’s the last quarter, all to play for.
Time Out. The clock is stopped.

You called Time Out —
was that on the game,
or on our marriage?
The clock is stopped.
I claim injury time because
I can’t leave the field
with a broken heart.
The clock is stopped.

Should I appeal to the replay
official, the review panel?

Please. I’d like a replay.
Things were so good
at the beginning,
right from the kick-off;
every week we got the extra
point after touchdown.
You were my quarter-back
hero, calling the play.

Where did it go sour,
become an incomplete pass?

Read more >
26

The Mission Path

Is the man part of rescue mission
Or needs to be rescued himself?

Is any player injured and needs
To be shifted out of the field
Or just a first-aid will do?

Is he a medico, a physio or a
Manager? Or is he part of
Some peace-keeping mission
Taking a break on the pitch?

Or is he an official, inspecting
The pitch to find out made-in-a-hurry
Glitches or is he just a spectator,
Who has sauntered onto the pitch
After the match is over?

Is it a pitch where big boys play or
Is it a space from where you launch
Yourself in a mission, maybe to
The outer space or maybe to
Your inner space, unobserved by others!

Who can tell?

27

Between the Lines

Somewhere between here and there
and the enumerated nonsensical,
he fell straight down, landing on his side.
From above, he looks to be strolling
down the horizontal pitch.
Make no mistake though,
his fall was vertical and serious.
We don’t know if he walked off
an abyss, or was pushed off a plane.
If you were to approach him
he would not move for he is deader
than dead, his eyes wide open
as if were about to score a goal.
The music still blares from his iPod
filling his deaf ears with a new age
ambient dirge. The grass is soaking up
his blood as if it were real. The cops
will go through his papers, all blank,
and his wallet, identifying him as a
cartoon character (Mr. Magoo).
The coroner will declare his death
the result of a fall from on high.
People are holding vigils. They look
up to the sky for an answer but
no clue appears, only the clouds
calmly passing by. There he lays
Read more >

28

ABOUT TIME

whatever the urgency was it's over
a stillness after haste
large numbers on cut grass
mowed for speed                  long gone
the man on the grass is dead
has been shot                       no blood
is exhausted by work            was late
his briefcase is empty           is finished
time up at
20.03
three minutes past eight in the evening

29

Turf

It’s easier to listen when one is alone and cold. When one has no warmth to speak of or cling to. When one is out of hope, at least for now.

I ran here, to this field, not even dropping off my briefcase after work. I was breathless by the time I arrived but didn’t break a sweat because the temperature is perfect and forgiving, the kind of temperature that eases itself between your knuckles but doesn’t make you shiver. Not yet.

Andy died five years ago today. He would have been twenty-two, like me. He would have had a good job, like me. Spent too much money, like me. I ran here because I almost forgot it was today.

But now with my ears to the wet ground, I remember. I remember everything. His hands, his stride, his voice, the way he drove, the way he wouldn’t let anyone get through the day without enough to eat. He was 6’3” and 190 pounds but he always shared what he had. I didn’t. I still don’t. Maybe that’s why he’s gone.

I can hear him through the turf today. He’s saying, “Give until you can’t,” something he always said, and I can’t, Andy. I can’t.

30

God-given Talent

Above his desk are quotes he decorated in Sunday School.

Every day you’ve got to be your best self.

It’s a sin to waste a God-given talent.

His mother had put them into frames and nailed them to his wall, like Christ to the cross.

Irwin pinches the clay between his finger and thumb and rolls it. Already the heat of his body is making it soft. He breathes carefully, through his mouth, leans forward and selects the tool he needs from the array beneath the lamp. It illuminates his desktop like an operating theatre. The white clay is still too big. He uses the tip of his thumbnail to lever off a chunk and commences rolling and moulding again.

‘Irwin.’ His mother’s voice is raised up over the hymns blasting from the radio. He can picture her, face glazed with the pan steam, pinafore tight around her skinny frame. ‘Irwin, set the table please.’ He presses a little too hard. The tiny earphones snap. He sighs and balls them back to indeterminate clay.

‘Irwin!’ The edge is there now. He squashes the ball into an oval and stares at it, imagines it life-sized, tucked against his armpit and his ribs. He flies across the turf, legs like pistons and lungs on fire. He makes the line and dives in exultation. The boys crowd round and coach pulls his head in close. ‘See you for practice on Sunday. You’re looking good, kid.’

Irwin lays the ball on the desktop and squashes it flat beside the miniature briefcase, the tiny crumpled jacket and the minuscule pair of blue jeans. He reaches forward and switches out the light. He unhooks his earphones from around his neck and picks up his Bible.

31

The Frozen Walk

Football: where neither the ball is spherical
Nor is it kicked with a foot as often as it sounds.

I would not know, because in the glimpses I got
From the Youtubed (24x7) Late Night show references,

There were terms packed in pom-poms (?!), inert
Words, internet-shipped, gloriously spilling mid-air,

Weather ricocheting like a deferred delivery
As if we all wore the sweaters too soon, in the

American summer scorching across both the
Hemispheres, with ads like 1789 war-songs (on sale).

It’s 20th of March, 3:20 PM, I am 3 going on 20,
There is no way to finish this frozen walk.

Superbowl: was it Beyonce who won it?
NFL: is it close to IPL or EPL or LOL?

Pitch: was it a patch of grass with new ideas?
Home-run: is it where one runs home in words?

It is long since I was caught, mid-tiptoe to sheepskin,
I have changed tracks now. I’d rather stay iridescent

32

26

the age when I went to work one morning,
and vowed, "never again"

will I attempt to pass myself off
as a useful entity the day after

a "let's go for a beer after work,"
unintentional bender the previous night.

The dizzy nausea produced by
angry vascular kick drums in my temples

enough to bring indestructible,
early-adult exuberance to its knees.

I just need to lie down for a minute,
This looks like a good place—

at the back end of my age bracket.
I can feel the summit of middle age

looming. If I go horizontal
it remains in the distance,

and I can begin to slow my hyper-
ventilation at this imaginary altitude.

This stubborn insight comes
on the heels of another realization—

getting stoned prior to work,
no longer doable, either.

Read more >
33

SPILLAGE

Beneath a distant star

A signal from the Spiral Verse
A glimpse into another world
A multi-hued hieroglyph
What does it mean … what does it mean?
What are they trying to say to us?
Should we visit
Or is this a warning?
Linguists and cryptographers are gathered,
A probe prepared
For a closer look.

Earth

Owners of the spy satellite continue surveillance,
blithely careless
of microwaves crashing through the cosmos,
carrying the secrets they so covet.

34

Before the Torches

Martin’s bright lights appeared like torches in the rain — one to his left, one to the right. Umbrellas bobbed around as today’s cars and commuters slid by. A line of thick black clouds hung over him. Martin had twenty minutes to head home before the torches became acquainted and his latest migraine floored him.

Each night Martin dreamt of touch but touch lurked elsewhere: through walls, under floorboards, and so on. Instead, he slid his fingers across a glass screen and looked at photographs of other humans. Touch eluded Martin.

Home, and the door sealed off the sound from outside like a Mute button.

Martin lay down in bed and thought of a playing field. But he played no game. Instead, he lay on grass and looked up.

It was 1994 again, and Martin was studying clouds and dreaming of travel. He was drowning in retro and listening to his Discman: ‘America’ by Simon & Garfunkel. Nowadays, he lived his life in monochrome A4 portrait but those days traced landscapes in warm colours.

Martin woke. The torches had dimmed and his migraine was passing, until next time. Outside, the clouds had gone. Martin put on the kettle and waited to sip.

35

First Impressions

Landed safely.

Initial data promising. Their mathematics remains a mystery: seem to count backward and forward at same time. Perhaps species have discovered the formula to time travel? If so, I suggest more agents are dispatched.

They multiply in circles, and shed their skin in two colours only — blue where the sun sets, red where it rises. Some younger species point at me with giant hands. Their creator speaks from the skies, yet is never seen. May be comprised of frequencies, not atomic matter. I surmise this because his voice is powered electronically unlike his subjects. Two giant antennae built either end of landing bay likely to be transmitters for his instructions.

Their chosen delegate came to greet me in costume. Only the male species are allowed to represent them. Note: their welcome ceremony differs to ours in following ways —

- Species exhibit anger and rage as customary greeting.
- A gift of a soil-coloured egg is offered upon arrival. Still waiting for it to hatch.
- Any prospective visitor will be carried by the two largest of delegate on their shoulders and hurled into crowd. Purpose of ritual not yet discovered.

Food samples yet to be tested as subjects not prepared to share. Liquids fizz in mouth and turn to gas in stomach. Some escaped back out, even when swallowed.

After I left the welcome bay, delegates performed what can only be described as an elaborate mating dance. This pleases their subjects greatly, who lift up small windows in their hands to salute them.

Conclusion: species requires more research.

36

Shortcuts

The morning started with a numb pain. An odd confusion.
I finished my coffee, and set the cup and saucer in the sink.
Told myself I’d wash it later. Mistake. It’s like in the movies,

when a guy makes plans for the future — says he’ll marry
his sweetheart, well … the next thing you know, he’s
written out of the plot. But that’s movies. This is real life.

I took my usual shortcut across the football pitch to work.
No games played until Saturday. It was empty as a box.
I looked up into the stands, and on my life, there was
my old dad, seated high up in the cheap seats.

I waved. He waved back. That’s when that numb pain
shovelled through again. I fell on the still-damp grass,
still cold from the night. Me, dead-still as stone.

I watched the ground fall away below me. Watched
Dad wave at me. Watched a trainman’s torch swing
in my direction. Glowing, bright, brighter, brighter still,

and I walked down dusty lanes, and saw my mother
hanging laundry to dry on a line. She glanced up,
just long enough to ignore me. And there was Dad,

in his garden, an iron spike in hand, thrusting it
into the hard clay soil. He was never able to work
that ground into anything other than hard clay.

After he died, Mum started buying all her vegetables
at the supermarket. She said she had nothing to prove,
so she wasn’t going to kill herself working Dad's soil.

Read more >
37

Rule of Three

I
lay
down

on this
footy field
next to you

and muse over
your omnipresence.
I keep on finding you in between even numbers, in

the third planet from the Sun
the third dimension
the lowest level of the winners’ podium

that odd one out when three’s a crowd
the third try           –           that ‘lucky’ one
the fifth digit in Fibonacci’s sequence

pi’s first digit
the line count of a haiku
the third degree

the Holy Trinity
the third wise man
the third little pig

the third blind mouse
the third billy goat gruff
the third musketeer

Read more >
38

The unprecedented race

No start line nor finish.
Day in and day out you run.
Your feet run during the day,
Your mind wanders at the night
The path is set but not by you.
Sometimes you run alone,
And sometimes you are accompanied.
Some drop out, some stay,
And some move ahead of you.
But you never see the finish line,
In the near sight.
And only the ones who drop out,
Are the real winners.

39

Whose Pitch Is It Anyway?

Back in my stubborn days I often ventured to the school football pitch, parked myself in the middle and read for a hours. I felt so rebellious and strong in my silent protest. That great expanse of green was only supposed to be used for sports you see, so unless being a literature lover somehow made me an athlete, I was breaking the rules.

It felt good to be a rule breaker, even if my rule breaking occurred only at hours when people were unlikely to notice (early mornings; late evenings; some weekends). Apart from this field, greenery was practically non-existent in the city. The only ones who benefited from it were mostly male buffoons who liked to hurl spherical objects at each other and their mostly male spectators.

So careful was I in my mode of passive demonstration that I never stopped to consider what I might do or say if somebody caught me there. Like many a stubborn introvert, I had a lot of thoughts, but I wasn’t very good at expressing them outside the confines of my mind.

The day I was discovered, I was laying on my back, half asleep with my limbs akimbo and a book sheltering my face. Perhaps 4:30 a.m. was too early a start for a protest.

“Miss? Miss?” A gentle voice accompanied by a gentle shake of the shoulder. My book fell away, a view of concerned green eyes and floppy strawberry blonde hair replacing it.

I got the fright of my life. I yelped and assumed an upright position.

“Ah! Ah! I’m sorry!”

A hint of a smile suggested faint amusement, but the concern remained.

Read more >
40

YOU BET THEY’RE WATCHING YOU!

They’re watching you, see. No place you can go and they don’t know. Cameras on every street corner, in every shop and office. Why there’s even a camera on your computer and they’re likely watching you through that without you even knowing. I get it, see. There’s this friend of mine and she works for the government. Sits in front of a dozen screens and she’s keeping an eye on things. That’s what she says. Making sure there ain’t nothing amiss, not noplace. Like this one time she tells of – swears us all to secrecy first – and there was this couple and they was doing it at the back of Cooper’s bar. Out beside the crates of empty beer bottles and it's dark as shut cupboards there and they thought they was safe and unseen. Only, my friend sitting in front of her wall of screens, she sees what they’re about and she calls it in. Two minutes later and they was both in the back of a police truck and he hadn’t had time enough to do up his pants and she was without her underwear. And there’s this old lady they keep an eye on. She’s always losing her way and they have a pet name for her. They call her Lucy-Locket. And if they see her shuffling in a part of town she don’t belong, they call that in too and someone drives out and shows her the way home. They got eyes in the sky even and I’m not talking camera crews in helicopters calculating traffic flow. I’m talking higher than clouds and higher maybe than sky. I’m talking satellites. So far off they ain’t even a speck if you look up. They got hundreds of them circling the whole earth and all they’re doing is looking and looking. And there’s people like my friend controlling them and they can focus in on the smallest thing – so don’t be thinking you’re safe in the privacy of your backyard with high fences around you. Jamie, now he snuck into the football ground at the end of our street. It was a Holiday Monday and nowhere was open. He broke a quiet lock and crept inside. He’d made an arrangement with Lindy and he said it was a date but maybe it was just a dare. Read more >

41

Element

Walking against the numbers again
stuck in a sum
and the only important thing
is to keep the briefcase in front, the coat casual,
the body language upright, dynamic,
intentioned.

Still, he can’t help but wonder — what is his measure
these days? Days of white lines and arrows, blankly
pointing back —
and why did no one say the sides
would get higher, or that being a parent
is lonely, or that green can sting your eyes?

42

a patch of earth to call your own

He thought the changing room was the answer.

Questions about himself
laid out on a cold tile floor.
Hiding in a cubicle
because the body, toned and bruised,
wasn't the right body.

They all knew he hadn't found it yet.

Outside, laced up, facing up
to the truth:
he didn't want this,
but it was the only place to be,
wind in the hair, free.

The answer lay outside those crisp white lines.

He wanted them
wanted to be them.
Wrong in all the right places.
It wasn't the jersey,
but the removing it after a game.

He wanted to watch from the sidelines, still part of the team.

43

Playwerk

In your fresh air ideology of winning,
You are carrying the briefcase of losing.
The field is open, your time is up.

Floodlights on galaxies of failures,
Playbooks of deals to be done wrong.
The field is open, your time is up.

Every start false, every tackle a heartbreaker;
Pitch and roll shipwreck of selling souls.
The field is open, your time is up.

Crashspearjack into a concussive oblivion,
If only the light touch was the only touch.
The field is open, your time is up.

Empty horizontal caryatid in brown serge kit,
You’d be happy with a golden quarter.
The field is open, your time is up.

Under the Tuesday Night Lights,
Because of course you’d turn up
To a postponement of pleasure.
The field is open, your time is up.

44

Discarded Nachos

Seagulls dance above me, circling the feathered clouds. They look for discarded nachos and hot dog buns. Meat burning in oil leaves a trail through the sky. Seed-sized scraps fall as the flock of people rise from their perches and chant in chorus to the people on the field who run with a misshapen egg. Their heads covered in a nest of plastic. Faces surrounded by metal cages. Shoulders spread to display. They have migrated and I remain. Laying on a field watching seagulls dance above me.

45

Failing

Lately I've been feeling like I'm about to fall down. To the ground. Drop dead or unconscious. Faint in a fret to get out of this fast world, faster. Faster than I would get if I led a healthy life. And yet I keep running through the well-defined path others set for health. I drink my water and rebel doing yoga instead weightlifting. I'm nevertheless falling into the same trap. One day, another me will wake up to my clothes clinging to the bones that no longer belong to me, and I will run free, with no other possibility of falling. No matter if I'm high above the sky or down below water, I will be stuck on a certain level, and I won't be able to fall. This gives me a sense of security.

46

Numerology

Give me limits: sentence them
in formulas, paragraphed
as explanations I can
understand. Tell me numbers
that place my coordinates
in this endless time and space.
Give me proof that I’m alive.

Give me something new to see:
draw vast expanses that curve,
abstract yet real, imagined
and complex, self-evident and
true. Make fresh geometries,
variable and unsolved.
Give me shared infinity.

Give me clouds and rainy days:
hide the remainders behind
calculated cold fronts, storms
without algorithms, points
that exist without a line.
Save the secrets, unrevealed.
Give me magic in extremes.

Don’t bend my spirit with odds:
scoop my molecules and put
them back together again.
Hold improbability
at the center; maximize
common denominators.
Show me the spectrum beyond.

47

Over Me

Don't think for one minute
I'm their ball. Hands off.

Don't let them run me
anywhere, skirting opponents,

jostling, fighting
for the skin of me.

I don't need to be a goal post,
either. A temporary object

of desire, a future fantasy,
arms held up in a state

of endless hallelujah.
I can take the weight

of scrimmages, and sliding
cleats and scraped knees,

the bloodsplash
and resistant MRSA.

Field, make me a yard line.
Just one of many,

or a hash mark, or a number.
Some indicator to be of use

to spectators and players, both.
Make me anything that everyone

would need to make it through
the basics of the game.

48

The Game

Life is a field 20*30
And what I play is a game of survival.
This is the large field
And I’m given the small part
To win
Or
To lose -
It depends
Upon the terms and conditions
Devised by the referee
Above;
- Below;
- Besides;
Or may be Around!
I may run fast,
Or slow down,
I may fall
Or stand out
It depends,
Upon the terms and conditions
Devised by the referee
Above;
- Below;
- Besides;
Or may be Around!
I may survive or strangle
Live or die forever in the race -
Read more >

49

Slipping Beneath Time

If I slip beneath time, race back to seventeen,
will you stay with me,
spreading poppies on the wind with your laugh,
singing me awake on birthday mornings?
If I smudge out history, pluck the weeds
that death scattered between twenty and thirty,
will you save me,
pull me from the bottom of a bottle,
shatter it against the sky?
If I step into the sun, turn willingly toward fifty,
will you see me,
youth pouring over my fingertips
as the light is wiped from my eyes?

50

Under Clearer Skies

Incomprehensible, these lines
Overlaid upon a once soothing green.
Someone else's rules in play, I think,
And If I grasp them, it's at best imperfectly,
Sufficient only it seems
To define my alienation
Within close cropped fragments,
Soiled by all this sad impurity.

How then to escape the lines?
This tyranny of old thinking,
With the times, seeming so long fallen
From the clock,
Numbers adding to nothing,
Arrows pointing glibly to the past.

I can only lie here for now, quiet,
And close my eyes,
Imagine meadows of a purer green,
Under clearer skies.

51

Football Matters

They come here week after week,
Month after month,
Year after year.
Hair thinned, faces lined, coughs deepened
But words still strong
And hope still true.
Football matters.

I recognise their walks
The way they stand
With shoulders sloped or not.
I hear their voices
Through Acts One and Two.
Same script but different cast.
Football matters.

Just one heart beat drumming, drumming,
Just one breath held by many.
For one last minute,
Reaching a different plane.
Then its over. Washed through with joy.
They can leave now.
Nothing else matters.

The peace of the Lord by always with you.
And also with you.

52

“Out of nothing I have created a strange new universe”

Imagine
a line in a plane.
Now
imagine a point not on that line.
Through this point,
Euclid said,
at most one line can exist
that is parallel to the first
One.

This is the real universe
Euclid believed
and many others
that came after him.

Bolyai dared
to be a dreamer.
And gave it his all.
He went the whole nine yards
Not once
but twice.
And on his third attempt
Collapsed
just short of a full twenty seven.

Read more >
53

Yards to Go

we all know who wrote this deadly playbook—
‘boys being boys’,
their ‘natural’ impulses tackling their way
toward the end zone,
their only fear being ridiculed along the way

‘girls mature faster’, they always say,
but they never use that as a reason
to give more girls positions of power and authority;
it’s used to hold girls to a greater accountability,
all the while,
her greatest fear being acts of violence by a boy

clearly girls are still being double teamed,
and it’s time for a Hail Mary

or maybe we just need to get back to the basics:
girls have been told over and over they’re equal,
but boys just keep double passing—
and they have promises to keep

while girls have yards to go before they sleep,
yards to go before they sleep

54

The Bespoken

Of course, Dante had gotten it all wrong.

What did you expect of a poet? Facts are the least of their worries. So there were no nine circles to divvy out comeuppances; nor was there any Vestibule of the Futile to collect putterers and fence-sitters, divine or otherwise, either.

The Imagineers of this final resort prided themselves on their ability to tailor-make any eternal stay to fit the guest. Although no guest would later sit down and check off boxes on a satisfaction survey card, the work was done with great care and a sulfurous desire to make the client realize the Management knew the industry standards for eternal torment, and were prepared to exceed those expectations.

So Roberta found herself suddenly awake, lying supine on a green field of play. Again. Once more into the breach she went, wearing (as ever) the overladen outfit she had been wearing on her last day on earth. That was the day her heart had pulled that nasty trick on her, latte macchiato in hand, untasted, falling to earth, its coffee splashing all over the sidewalk on eternal loop like Roberta herself. "Hell hath no fury like wasted Starbucks," she whispered to herself.

But then she began to remember why she was really here on this playing field. Because each time she awoke, the memory came back piecemeal.

Read more >
55

Numberless

look at you, bright and unexpected
as a clementine in a winter tree

you could be anyone or nothing
you could be an octopus, deft

and unfindable on the pebbly
ocean bed, you could be the

one who got away or the one
who came to stay, you could be

wild as bees or mild as a summer
lawn late when the stars are

looking for you, the permutations
are numberless, numberless as

the galaxies and you are your
own whirling spiral yes you are

56

Pushing…

Pushing, pushing, harder...
All thoughts and deeds a'tangle in this search
As the hours wind down
Hard upon the head against
All we were hunting,
The exhaustion of the goal line,
And here, caught in our fragility
We collapse
Beneath the weight of: arrows, of definitions, of desires,
Always marching through,
Always having to rise up again
To the music, as we borrow and barter
For the next breath, and on
Weary legs tangled
In the web that stretches between: tomorrow, today,
We learn
To rise up again,
And push on,
A few heartbeats,
A few breaths,
A few steps,
More.

57

The Bleaching Green

I’m tired of being taken for granted, of feeding you, cleaning after you, doing your laundry and never receiving a word of thanks.

Friends and colleagues slung clichés at me – each one meaning a leopard cannot change its spots. But I had to try which is why I dressed you in linen clothes and pinned you to the bleach green. If the bleach green can lighten linen, then it can whiten your black heart.

No more cheating with other women; no more stealing from my purse for alcohol; no more lying in bed until the afternoon. No, you’ll find a job. One suitable for your skill set which will earn good money. Perhaps a gig in a pub. Just you and your guitar.

I dream of the new you – fancy duds, cash in your pocket, a bunch of flowers in your hand. A surprise outing, a meal in a restaurant, dancing until midnight. And I won’t turn into a skivvy and dress in rags.

Your three weeks is nearly up. Three days to go. So wake up. Don't die on me.

Or I’ll never know.

58

Who Stole The Digit From 20-3 A.D.

I see a running man – briefcase in hand.
Stealing a digit from a fateful year – one fat ZERO.
Level this playing field and listen and learn.

Why would he want to subtract one quarter
from an ill-fated year – three months to be precise,
prescient, prophetic – like a thief in the daytime.

Perhaps he subtracted the ill-fated Iraq War.
Now considered a mistake – an error of judgement.
Weapons of mass destruction went missing – WHAT.

Or were they ever there or in his briefcase?.
Secreted in the lining along with the missing 0.
The Bush telegraph working overtime – TRUE OR FALSE!

Trapped in the no-mans land of fake news.
Dropped into the black hole of social media.
Losing three months is a walk on the wild side.

I would pay running man to steal three months.
May, June & July 2016 to be precise – a divisive quarter.
A Brexit minus equals A Country united.

I will even carry your briefcase and run beside you.

59

The blindsight of hindsight

You can live in a town yet
never exist there.
You can exist in a house
and not live.
You can learn to love spaces,
Trust words and their faces.
Habits form and die
without choosing.
Give up, it's a game, and you're losing.

60

Thursday’s Game

I don’t know why I did it.
Why I felt I had to come back here every Thursday.
To be quite frank, I don’t even know why I still held on to him.
It had been 7 years ago, anyway.
His last game had been a disaster – bloody gums stretched into fake smiles and dirt-stained uniforms plastered onto broken bodies standing side by side for a forced photograph. The picture stripped the pain from their eyes, hiding the suffering each one had endured and creating the illusion of a successful game.
As I held that photograph in my right hand, splaying my body on the morning dew which covered that familiar field, I allowed my weight to sink into the ground and bring myself back to that day.
The screaming of spectators melted together into a disapproving boo as the other team was frantically getting ushered away by the useless referee. Angry fathers from the crowds jumped into the fields, their faces redder than the blood oozing out of the player’s heads as they screamed and waved their fists at the opponents. The sun scorched the ground in its overwhelming heat, amplifying the ringing in my head as I ran to him.
The music blasting in my ears couldn’t drown out the blaring of my thoughts.
The photograph had stood as a reminder that things would get better.
Things wouldn’t get better.
His helmet didn’t fit the same after his hair started falling out. His uniform hung loosely off his baggy clothes. His energy started depleting one month after the diagnosis, and it was only a matter of time before practices started destroying him.
Read more >

61

The Beat

3 minutes to eight.
I haven't met my goal.
My head is full of beats,
Thumping out this song,

“You're not good enough
You're not good enough.
You'll never be good enough,
You'll never be good enough.“

My legs finally falter,
My bag too heavy,
My coat is stifling me.

I am caught between failure and potential.

The beat continues.

“You’re not good enough
You're not good enough.
You were never good enough,
You were never good enough.“

I fall backwards to the ground
And lie there,
Still.
My coat no longer weighs me down.

I look up.

Read more >
62