- Vol. 09
- Chapter 12
She told me they picked her out specially
and I pictured the arcade, the claw machine:
her parents, that shiny, cheating hand,
and a bright glass room full of silent babies.
Her favourite game was archaeologist. I’d bury
whatever I could steal, leave it there
to weather. Ordinary things, she said slyly,
are worth more if you lose them,
then find them. Triumphant, filthy, we’d cradle
the unearthed, gift them new names,
so instinctive our wild mouths stayed full
with their spells. A brother’s knife, lumped
to clotted rust: the Saint Lazarus sword. Barbie’s
leg, dog-gnawed and spilling clay marrow – homo
tenderfoot. Lamb bones, doll’s shoes. Every kind
of body. When I’d planted a skull, she’d hiss
with satisfaction at the find, lovingly tuck
her fortune cookie label in behind the eyes.
I, not being a treasured thing, not being
a chosen prize, was not meant to know them.
I never told her she talked in her sleep, her tongue
sifting through dirt. Solo, Mama, slurs the wookie
of her growl. I’ll find you. The moon on her lips
rounding out Home. That night when I stood
at the window, counting the stars and plotting
the map. How she crow-called behind me:
The claw, the claw. Don’t let it drop me.
I remember whenever I’d fall,
scrape my hand, cut or graze
a knee, you’d sing as you soaked
clouds of cotton wool in lukewarm
water to bathe my skin, stroking
all the mud, grass, dried blood,
the hard, dark concrete teeth away.
Once clean, you’d dab me dry, patch
me up with a dinosaur plaster sealed
with a kiss. I’d point to where it hurt,
say ‘ouch’ just like Elliot in the film,
and you’d stretch out a finger to touch
me. The squish of your fingertip
warm and buzzy like electricity,
making my chest light up like ET.
I feel the cold more now
you’re no longer around.
My hands, blue-tinged
still recall being small
enough to fit inside your palm.
Days come and go like drafts
sweeping through the house
and I blanche, jaw stiffening
on my pillow, ‘ouch’ not strong
enough a word anymore.
first there was Chewie slave warrior Solo sidekick
his giant head roared out sounds of bear & tiger &
walrus & lion & camel he was noble he was from Kashyyk
on an ancient planet long ago he endured sequels &
prequels and in the last days of the Empire
came Lumpawarrump son of Chewie who begat Akshotkuu
who begat Teewaa who came to Earth befriended Elliott
Teewaa long in exile far from home & sad Teewaa Jedi
son & heir begat toys in his image begat the three-eyed
Aliens as prophesied long long long ago in a galaxy
far far away and The Aliens multiplied and then
there was me and you searching for our past questing
questioning we need you now Chewie we drink to you
exotic is a synonym for alien
& once, in the novels of empire,
beautiful—at least i thought so
—not the colour of my skin.
i didn't know i was the other,
speaking a made up language
no one understands.
is this why i get shot at,
like those explorers in Bradbury's
chronicles, who dreamed of joy
& the Martians thought them mad?
am i mad to be here on this shore;
refugee, alien, a brief step above
animal, without right & sometimes,
i've to smile at the camera
like i'm happy to be here
& it's lonely to be separate,
behind barbed wires again,
near these glistening canines,
sharp enough to bite deep
& i've never liked the way
you describe this in your art—
i mean will i survive the war
i've been running from
since you first stopped by my door?
In our tree I stand. My spaceship
will arrive. At some point.
My three eyes scan through. The
plastic toys that built our tree.
Severed heads are my roots. Feeding
on past lives. Passing down their lived
myths. The nymph that Erysichthon
killed—cutting down the last standing
tree. The plastic double of that
last—erstwhile tree. It’s replacement
votive offerings. In 3D printing
reimagined. Snatched from my kids’
toys. Proudly offered in their selfless
world saving efforts. Our mismatched
totem extends its love. Like an olive
tree branch. Before we move
elsewhere. On a spaceship
yet to arrive.
It’s approaching Halloween,
and perception of creatures
They are eerie,
uncanny, cryptic in the colours
of plumage and huge black eyes.
Who are these enchanted sprites,
the lime-green of sphagnum moss?
In the breathlessness of twilight,
we wait impatiently for night
its mutants arising
from primeval mud, swinging
from low branches,
spaceships in fields,
worrying flocks and herds,
scaring the birds.
We hold our breath and listen
for a knock at the door,
invisible men leave
muddy footprints on the floor,
while the monsters
get high on sugar.
The eyes have it, every time,
they will always betray more
of my many, many inner selves
than any other feature on my faces
or fabricated facades. The eyes have it,
whether they leer or lust, hope or hate,
shy from the sky or refract flames. See
and necessarily be seen, the eyes have it.
Long-lashed or squinting, heavy lidded
or widened in awe, bruised with insomnia
or refreshed by deep sleep: the eyes have it.
My irises may transmogrify, reflect outer shifts
in rainbowed seasons; my corneas may transmit
messages and carry tricky truths from my turmoiled
id and super ego but even in manifold contradictions,
the eyes have it. Mish-mashed melting-pot of multiple
selves maraud, trash my insides, yet with utmost clarity,
the eyes have it. The eyes have it and never mislead or lie.
The girl in the red hat
started this way
with a sippy straw
trading gurgles and squeaks
at snack time
drool on her chin
with her best friend
unfurled in a rush
of party hats and balloons
in whispered gush
urges and wishes
ways of seeing
beyond our world
The girl in the red hat
will be back
Adam flopped on the ground, exhausted. He squinted heavenward and shouted. Respite. The midday sun seared his back. Sweat trickled down his temples. Respite. He screamed again. Not a leaf quivered. The songbirds had disappeared. Tears coursed down his cheeks as he bowed and clasped his hands in surrender. Respite, he whispered and closed his eyes in a prayer.
The skies darkened only to be lit up by a flash of lightening. Thunder rumbled. Adam knew immediately that he had been heard.
‘Your term is not yet over,’ a voice said, in its rich velvet baritone.
‘But, I need respite,’ Adam murmured.
‘I have equipped you with all you need.’
‘Where?’ asked Adam, looking all around him, bewildered.
‘Close your eyes, take a deep breath and look within.’
Adam followed those instructions. Everything had to be done the right way. One wayward step and you risked getting lost. Just like he was now.
‘Breathe. Again,’ the voice repeated. ‘And again. Slow your mind.’
Adam felt peace for the first time in a long time.
‘What do you see?’ the voice asked, with tenderness of a mother.
Wide-eyed you gazed at me with green-tinged wonder.
I paused, bewildered as your smoothness slid
beneath my fingertips like pearls. One cool
and melon-scented night you drifted out –
transmitted to a thousand off-world moons.
Before you, warm in the wisdom of ancient hills
my blue-eyed boy grew old before his time.
His skin was vellum, creased like restive knowledge,
but we both loved to watch the sky, the sudden
searching vastness spooling through each night.
And I remember, years before he left,
wild arms that swung beside me in the forest.
I knew a fox-breath, fur-brushed faithful wildness,
heard language ululating to the stars–
A fractious link to childhood memory paths.
Whizz, crank, whir, drop.
Whizz, crank, whir, whir. Whir?
‘Oh come on, that was…’ I trapped the last word in my mouth and swallowed. There’s a kid staring behind me.
Bloody claw machine.
How many coins? Two left. Right, that’s plenty. More than enough; I’m basically dancing. Keep your eyes on the prize, stare directly at your target and rub the coin against the sideboard before you slot it in. Buttered popcorn wafted through the air.
Whizz, crank, whir, drop.
‘Son of a…’ I glance behind me, ‘mother,’ I catch myself.
The kid’s eyes are saucer wide. ‘Go for Iron Man,’ he urges me.
‘I don’t want Iron Man.’ I clutched the joystick. ‘I want ET,’ I seethed. Around us plastic gunshots and electric cashier trills blasted through the air.
‘Why?’ the kid asked.
‘Because that’s what I want.’
‘Yeah, but why?’
‘Because I said so.’
‘No but really why?’
‘Because its murder,’ I bellowed. The kid’s ice cream dripped down his hand. I’d twisted my body round to face him, hand still clutching the joystick. I turned back to the claw machine, reaching into my pocket.
She changed her mind, the arcane autumn, like maidens
change their mood. Green leaves to aureate she painted
painstaking art that deters young at heart. The book
of life has turned another leaf for me. Chewbacca went to war.
More reds to follow, quiver of crimson stains from strange
lost flags that never were more than a fight, forgotten
now, tucked postcards in between the leaves of book. Then brown,
not dead, but whisper-ready, rustle of home, E.T.-like,
come alive with every step. “Go home!’ Lonesome,
defiant autumn shakes her elysian mane and leaves fly, eviscerated,
her tome still thick while mine has changed a chapter. Kismet.
An alien, where life once held a meaning and path was straight amid lush greens.
I’m lonely now and sit disconsolate with cup by heart
and from the eaves the beldam winter, black claws
for fingers, watches me with greed. A chimera
for now. Behind, blue sky. My heart,, laden in black.
To boldly go
to infinity, and then beyond
where no one yet has gone before
to call home still where feelings
sing, where words are rasps
that translate hyper-space
through warp drive engineering
co-pilot to adventure.
Go thoughts, on golden wings —
oh my country, lost this time
beyond the dark horizons —
to count the cost of arrogance,
as strong hearts falter,
as we stumble, fail —
to stand against the slings
and arrows of false pride, to
To live, to smile at misfortune and
to persevere towards the dreams,
but mind that they
do not make us their slave,
to laugh, to cry, to try.
Stop all the clocks! Imagine!
O wonder! How many
goodly creatures there are here.
As lost in time we wander;
O new world brave
yet has such people in’t.
I’d only just pulled the suitcase through the front door and was taking off my coat when Mum accosted me.
“We’re decluttering” she said. “It’s time you went through all your stuff that’s still in the house.”
She led me to the living room, into which boxes had been dragged down from the attic and lugged up from the basement, containing possessions I’d left over the years. Things I’d put into “temporary” storage after leaving school and during university, while traipsing around the world on my travels, or during tearful spells between boyfriends. Mum had divided the room into 3 zones: to take to the tip, to donate to charity shops, and a much smaller area for items I planned to keep, but would need to take back to the UK with me at the end of the visit. “Be ruthless!” she said, handing me a recycling bag.
I tackled each phase of my youth in turn. Most toys had been distributed over the years to my niece and nephew and neighbourhood children, although I found the occasional dishevelled Barbie doll, as well as a pink plastic pony with rainbow mane locked in a passionate embrace with E.T. The teenage memorabilia proved easy to discard – most cassette tapes had unspooled, now just tangled reminders of the music that had fuelled my adolescent angst. And I was never going to fit into those black netted leggings and corset tops even if I’d wanted to.
My university era collection seemed disproportionately large. I had squirrelled away my heavy economics and politics textbooks, all my handwritten notes, plus essays typed up on an early Apple Mac. Had I optimistically planned to re-read them some day?
‘Dad’s sleeping all day.’ The WhatsApp call gives my sister’s voice a green, metallic tinge. A little robot with goggle eyes.
783,428 miles as the crow flies separate us, an online map tool claims. Her wheelchair turns the stairs between her and our upstairs father into an impossibility.
Picture him in my old room. Surrounded by books that turn their backs on him. When he opens his eyes with his head facing the wall, the first thing he’ll see is a drawing of Milton’s Lucifer. He has just cut off one of his wings and is standing in a pool of his own blood.
I take a deep breath and try to feel for the quickening beneath my heart. At almost 21 weeks, it’s still unreliable. The future appears shy to make itself known.
My sister and I hang up. Worry keeps us connected.
Outside, sunshine shakes hands with yet another band of rain passing through. The palm tree’s leaves dance. Its blossom still hasn’t flowered, and it is already October. Greetings, fellow migrants.
I step into the next room and lie down close to E.T. His heart is glowing weakly. I am the child he is so intimately related to. We are friends who rescue each other. His long, grey fingers, the enlivening glow of his touch, the alien tongue I will never need to learn.
My dad won’t be able to read this. He doesn’t speak the language I chose to build a life in.
An old white dude said
that when we imagine the future
we, humans I mean, invariably
underestimate our progress
I think about this a lot when
imagining aliens, that will come
to earth and set us free by enslaving us
or by providing humanity a common
enemy so that we can all band together
against the common threat
But the aliens we dream of are
always just stand ins, right,
for the other that we already
have around and have spent
the last several centuries
And then I really wonder
If hostile aliens did visit
would we be interested in
banding together to create
a unified front
As an oneironaut,
I travel instinctively,
to the island where they
filmed the short,
Monde. I tie up my
boot laces and climb
their new installation,
I reach for the stalk, and it
responds, ‘ooohhh,’ so I fall
off. Sometime after we start
talking, and this stack tell me
this isn’t permanent,
it’s for a contest gone
awry. They rely on the surface
of their skin, the craters left
after way too much
TV exposure has
caused this hiatus.
They’ve taken to not
Our mugs had eyes.
Behind cupboard doors,
they waited for a sliver of light
to glint off their steely glares,
their toothy smiles,
their alien surprise.
They saw everything.
In Dad’s left-handed grip,
they caught Sandy dipping her finger
in the sugar,
observed Teddy pinching baby Jane,
watched me sneak another page
under the table.
“When I grow up,” I said,
“I won’t allow eyes in the kitchen.”
My mugs have ears.
I come out empty, as most people do,
and fill my cup with a concoction to awe
even the boldest apothecaries
in its complexity of ingredients and lack
of regard towards flavour
I come out unswathed, as most people do,
and knit a self using loose threads
pulled from everything around me
with clumsy baby fingers
that latch tightly to anything that comes close
I come out blank, as most people do,
and fill each page as I go, ignoring plot holes
and contradictions, only concerned for the
open page, remembering nothing of those
passed to bring cohesion to those to come
I come out quiet, as most people do,
and learn my concierto by listening to
countless others, adapting their motifs
to be played by my own instrument,
crescendoing to a cacophony I’m unsure
will receive applause when it ends
I didn’t worry when I found the first ones.
The heads I mean.
I thought it might be an accident. But then
I noticed the careful arrangement
the tilt the balance, nothing out of place
just minus their heads.
Lego, soft toys, all toys
then my mum's knick-knacks
then the crossing out of heads
in colouring books.
That’s when I decided against
getting a pet, began
hiding sharp implements
had a word with the nursery
We built a relationship from nothing, cobbling together a life from your pots and pans, my plates and mugs.
Cobbling together a life like we were designing something indestructible. My plates and mugs breaking beneath the pressure.
Like we were designing something indestructible without comparing notes, forging ahead, breaking beneath the pressure because we didn’t start with the foundation.
Without comparing notes, forging ahead, we went in different directions because we didn’t start with the foundation. We cobbled together something new.
We went in different directions—I wanted to leave and try again with someone else. We cobbled together something new, something unsteady, at odd angles.
Gave up glass and ceramic to become plastic in hopes of weathering more together. Something unsteady, at odd angles, will never stand as sturdy as something forged together.
We built a relationship from nothing.
The queue wasn’t long, your sister bought the tickets. She was taking you out of here and into there. Into there to view ET. You had never been to the cinema before. It was dark and encroaching, and it brought you a new feeling to ignore. You did not have the word then, but now you know it as anonymity. You noticed it straight away as you followed your sister in the darkness.
“I’m not me here”, you had thought.
“I’m invisible”, as you took your seat in this new a type of anonymity. You liked the chill in the air, it reminded you of out there. Then the darkness encroached further and unto the screen arrived your transportation out of here and into there. And you felt feelings you tried to ignore. You wanted to cry for him. You loved the idea of him. You were transported out of here and into there. And now, you love the evolution of stories. How they evolve and lead to places out there. How stories form into stories and form into stories and take you light years away. How the anonymity of your first trip into the darkness of the cinema allowed you cry. Cry for ET and cry for out there
Mugs, the lot o' them
No matter how you wrap it up
Stack it up, childhood memories
Adapted, snap fit
Cartoons on Saturdays
Movies and laughter
Each decade not afraid
To enjoy being kids
Dip your cookie in the wookie
Before you knew about connotations
When being extra meant alien
And aliens were prizes
Now, they're just mugs
Different sizes of novelty
Saturdays now powered by caffeine
Gleaned by today's teens as trendy
Asking questions about these mugs
Lights us up
Her voice travels softly
between the larches, drawing
believers to this peaceful dell
where sunlight through the canopy
picks out the slow tumble of seed casings,
the first leaf falls of autumn,
the last dances of mayflies.
They gather around the totem,
lift their faces to these familiar symbols
of bravery and loyalty,
of kinship and connection,
of humour and companionship.
Together they share their respect
for these elders whose mythology
has been passed down
through the generations.
Circled, they touch fingertips,
raise voices to old songs
remembered from childhood,
look up to the ancient heavens.
"How much for the wookie head?"
"Right. And the ET head?"
"How about I have them and the green alien one for two quid? Dollar, I mean."
"Three eyed alien is ten."
"Ten for the alien head."
"Eh? The others are only one, why is that then?"
"Three eyed alien head is real."
"I mean it's not got a TM so not Disney Store actually, but the ET is vintage, like, worth more, no?"
"Alien is ten dollars."
"Not joking, if you think it's worth a fiver,
I'll gie you that cash, best offer, for the three, in your hand right now."
He wrapped them cursorily in newspaper and shoved them at Doug without a smile.
Doug wandered round the other stalls but it had started raining and most people were packing up. He checked his phone and legged it to the bus stop, his glasses steaming.
"Just made that," said the old lady sitting in the disabled seat, smiling.
"Yeah, lucky eh. Would have been soaked waiting for the next one."
"At the swap meet were you?"
"Oh aye, bit miserable though."
Extraordinary in their strangeness
Some friends are more than
Challengers of thought
Providers of heart
and strength I have moved on
But they stay Memories stacked like teacups His voice that roared and rocked my laziness into action
Her face, rapid fire expressions of silliness or disbelief or wonder, mirroring moments—what the hell and laughter
His hand reaching right as I fell and holding tight
This is us, now. Me at the bottom,
growling. Expressing my moods without grammar.
You, in the centre of it all, carrying the weight and being carried.
Trying to be wise and kind. Perhaps being wise,
with near-alien kindness in a world that won't know it,
expressing yourself through your actions and magic.
And then, she…no. That isn't fair.
You remind me that none of us enjoy the social roles and identities that are being mapped onto us right now.
We have been placed in stacks of archetypes and labelled
by our species, gender, status, traits.
She is not held in that representation. Nor I, nor you.
We are not this representation.
This model does not represent who we are.
The Wookie tells me
Not to take the translation job
After all—she wants me to get ahead.
We meet under a stone overhang
When the sun is at its highest
Honestly it sounds super dull, she says
Why don’t I jump Risa instead
Get it on with a little green man?
She waves her hairy arms until
I admit that she’s right:
It is boring work, not fit for a beast
Like her, but I am not a beast
And don’t particularly like her.
I do it anyway and stuff the text
Full of backhanded insults
About loose-limbed aliens.
Mine is not a faithful translation
But as usual nobody notices
Except for my Asogian friend
Who tells me I need to get out more.
Good point. Then the credits arrive
And I fill up my ship, knowing
I could do more, do better than this
Telling myself it will be different, next time.
Some plastic headed aliens keep visiting my dreams
flying in their space ships, blinding me with their beams;
whistling noisy signals, like insects in the dark
sliming down the gangways as they rush to disembark –
and they grunt and call, they screech, they keen;
red and brown and purple…but mostly they are green;
their scaly, furry, slimy, pelts brush against my skin
and when I try to shush them, they look at me and grin.
They start to eat the Lego, the carpet and the bed
I don’t think I can stop them - I’d probably wind up dead.
Then they sit among the debris they’ve created in my room,
I hide under the duvet waiting for silence to resume.
By morning things are normal, everything is in its place
and I’m glad they all decided to return to outer space.
There is only so much our constricted glass shelf can hold
Yet the brimming artefacts stocked within
Never cease to expand our chests by a millimetre at least
Every time you take a look
We've named them in two syllables, granted them with distinguished tastes
Gazed too long into their unblinking eyes and believed they knew the answers
We've let the incense smoke linger a little more around their polished heads
The oil lamp's golden reflection smeared on their marbled skin is us
Bidding goodbye to every dusk, every day
Perhaps we see in them what we see in ourselves
Cold metal hearts
Yearning for the heat of friction
Where your presence deserves worship
And mere gaze alone is holy...
Our plastic world is
hanging by a thread.
We thought if we
put our heads
together we could
build anew this
world, but it doesn't
look that way.
Our plastic eyes
and plastic smiles
piled one atop
we are together―
a plastic monument
to a plastic world.
My eyes snap open.
Bright light and no shadows.
Everything goes silent.
They’ve always been there
in the corner of the room
out from the darkness of the toy box.
Decapitated, like my childhood
full with candy coated demons
that would come in the night.
Holding my breath.
Waiting for the magic word,
reminding me that the shadow of death
is always with me in this room
crowded with wide eyes and green flesh.
Who do I trust, when everything is new?
That strange confusion of language
in a maze owned by men.
This is where I come from.
You, my last child
A birth so violent
they tore us apart
you not breathing
me with a haemorrhaging womb
Only one glimpse
they whisked you away
After the chaos was finished
I saw you through the glass
amazed at your strength
penguin chick alone on a rocky shore
Frightened by my own vulnerability
How would we survive
this world together/apart
That Wookie is awfully pleased about something. Look
at its cheesy grin There appears to be some sort
of competition going on here, like Which Movie Franchise Is The Best Here’s a fun fact to consider
which franchise launched
the most forever-plastic toys into the landfills of the Earth
The point of the toys anyway was to keep them Mint In Box
and not ruin them with imagination
Chewbacca was played by Peter William Mayhew wrapped
in a shaggy rug made from yak and rabbit fur and Chewbacca’s voice was a recorded mix of
badger, lion, bear and walrus noise
ET had an animatronic head ( Beeeeee Gooooooood )
and the names of the people who brought its body to life were
Tamara De Treaux
Michael Patrick Bilon
Matthew DeMeritt Caprice Rothe
was ET’s hands Pat Welsh’s voice was mixed with the sound
of other animals, breathing
Being CGI, the green, three-eyed alien had no human being inside It was not allowed to be different Its life appeared to depend on the whim of a mystical claw It craved
We stacked our childhoods
on top of each other’s.
We introduced thick head curls
to a wispy fringe, an outstretched chin
to surprisingly short toes. We asked
an aversion to coconut to shake hands
with a set of eyes that can see
through human skin. We put solid bones
on top of liquid calves
on top of steak hands
on top of concrete shoulders
on top of jelly knees
on top of a nose that knows where it’s going.
We introduced a dog eating KitKats
dipped in a silver bowl of breakfast tea
to a cat curled up on the only pillow
it felt safe. We stacked a piano
on top of a steel drum
on top of a left-footed Cup Final volley
on top of being mugged at knife point
on top of writing a Lord of the Rings musical
on top of frozen meals
on top of open ears.
From a hot kiln, fire glazed smiles were shining with alien eyes. Art was captured with pursed lips and lines creating characters. from a slanted view on my porch. Neighbors were green with envy, wishing their decorations could welcome autumn with nostalgia.
A blue glaze tells us they no longer want to go home.
When I was eight we lived in the interesting part of town, close to the river. There were ducks to feed but my mother was always in a hurry. She was tired, and sweet, and I didn’t want to be like her. I unsweetened myself as much as possible, it was the secret to my happiness. Once or twice, I lied about going to the bakery and went down to the river. Once or twice turned into three, four, five times. And each time, the head I found was different. I let the wrinkly blue-eyed smile dry in the sun. Poor you, I said. Poor you, it replied. It was scary but not that scary, and the next head was three-eyed and friendly and I spoke to it and it repeated things I said. Where have you come from? I asked. Where have you come from? it replied. Once, I asked if there were messages from my father but the head just threw the question right back at me. Don’t cry, don’t cry I told myself, and the head repeated Don’t cry, don’t cry. We hushed each other and I walked home. My mother was looking at herself in the saucepan, I kept quiet, as usual, about the discovery hidden in my bag. They lived under my bed for a while, until there were too many to hide. I started shop-lifting. I started fare-skipping. I started gluing the heads together in order to climb my way home.
autumn has the bounds
of both summer and winter
harbinger of years end
she travels the horizon alone
wearing her crown of thorns
but trust, she is coming home
she brings forth a balance
of both gold and splendour
into the long darkened nights
so may nature’s force be with you
from now until your edge of time.
The faces got funnier as you moved up
Or more farcical, depending on
Which side you stood.
The tree of foolishness they called it
It would sprout new faces
In the dead of autumn
And shed them
When the season
Changed for the better.
Face upon face upon face
Speaks of an evolution gone astray, from cynical to ludicrous:
Swimming against the tide
Was no joke at other times
But in the post-this and the post-that world
It created a stir, a blip on the screens;
The three-eyed god waking up in a new age
Where wonder is dead and awe sold by the second.
At the end of the day
Lime, purple, pink, brown
Might stack up or fall down
Like a castle of tacky toys
I kept because you asked me to
You’ve grown up, gone away
Yet you return like a migrating bird
Don’t get me wrong
We want you to come home
But we could use the room
Better to pass them on –
Your mind too preoccupied
To choose such things as toys
Do what you need to lead a life
Maybe I cannot let them go
Because I cannot let you go
Lime, purple, pink, brown
The plastic can’t break down
We cannot break down
Better to pass them on
What are we balancing,
Is it the world on our shoulders?
As we spin like tops
Round and round
Dizzying, losing track of time.
Who watches us from above?
Who waits to topple us?
We encroaching hinterlands
that don’t belong to us
we invading the space
that swallows us.
We getting in over our heads
We toying with everything.
We assuming that god has
A human form,
What if he is a lion?
Or if he is three eyed
All seeing yet alienated
By the sight that
he spies on.
Toppling through the radio
active in the greens,
my reason to smile fidgets
to keep itself alive
at the upper lip.
The world angles itself into view,
ways and years heavier than my head.
Wrinkles pluck seconds and minutes
into my forehead
and let them droop down
into a canopy over my vision.
A vision from somewhere
in 1994—out of a straightjacket
I wore to weddings
and didn’t take off at funerals.
Blues play in the background
painting away the colour
of rhythms that disguised
rainbows into pieces minuscule
enough to evaporate from memory.
Despite the chocolate
I am cradling in
before and after tea at breakfast
and during the afternoon heat,
Happiness refuses to take my hand
in his and hear
the sound of silence
from my lips.
You think the three of us are having so much fun, we're cute, we have smiles designed for us, we look so happy, aren't we? Children want us, it's love at first sight when they see us displayed in a storefront, they cry and tug at their mother's skirts, they even crash on the ground, throw a tantrum so their embarrassed mothers, pulling their wallet, come rushing inside to grab any one of the three of us, just to placate them, me the Three-Eyed Green Alien, or my friend, E.T. with his coffee cream complexion and perplexed azure eyes, or Godzilla with lines drawn as teeth who's lucky he's made into a mug because at least, he's useful, more respectful, with its ceramic weight, a nice choice of a gift for some grown-up movie geek from a well-intentioned girlfriend. He gets to bathe with English Breakfast tea in the morning, a latte in the afternoon, chamomile infusion before bedtime while the two of us are just plastic knick-knacks Made in China by cheap labor, found in malls and online stores thanks to global trade; sure, I have my use too, you can pop my top open, and fill it with colorful plastic beads to calm a wailing girl, or charm a grumpy boy, but nowadays, we're outdated! Who still thinks about E.T., his magic touch of a finger, his cry for "Home" – where is home for us but a forgotten shelf in the back of a toy store? Not jealous of my friend Godzilla the mug or anything, because in the end, we'll end up in the same place, but he gets too many remakes of movies in his name, Godzilla this, Godzilla that, and why does he always get the girl and not me? And you know what happens to us when we're leftovers from failed promotions, when our times are measured in trends, when we're the products of your creations, the desires you fabricate as easily as you dismiss them, when you tire of us, when your children are grown up and left home, when you renovate your rooms in your new vision, you'll clear us out without hesitation, we’re your trash, your junk, we'll be slumped together on top of each other, dumped into garbage trucks, ditched in landfills, Godzilla fractured into a hundred pieces, me and E.T.Read more >
Nostalgia is a fickle thing – pulling at the edges of the plastic, pooling in ceramic. Rose-tinted tea offsetting the taste of spoiled milk. Childhood condensed – contained – in a single mug.
My earliest memories can be separated into DVD cases: Pixar for the sick days, Disney for the sleepovers. Some films demand to be shared, with curtains pinched shut, the popcorn bowl enduring shared custody – my lap for the funny bits, Mum’s lap for the sad bits – a customary drink break forty-five minutes through.
The mugs come later; Christmas days, birthdays, ‘I saw this and thought of you’ days. They don’t stack well with the other cupboard cups, too animated to get along with the fine china. Too many wonky eyes and awkward angles. So, they get relegated to the back of the shelf, buried deep behind the mugs we offer our guests.
Over the years, the gifted mugs watch from the wings as the front row are cast time and time again. They play their parts well. They’re made for this role, of course – made to endure the chips and cracks, the constant changes in temperature. The gifts are made to gather dust, to hold pens and pennies.
And yet, every so often, when all the teacups are in the dishwasher – when the curtains are pinched shut and the guests have gone home – the nostalgia peers though with all the wonky eyes and awkward angles of childhood. After a long soak, they’re fit for purpose again, if only for the one night.
We’re watching A New Hope.
The word/prefix 'Extra' is one of those in the English language that carries contradictory meanings. When you mix them up, it becomes starkly apparent:
'Extraordinary': additionally ordinary. More 'normal' than normal. Particularly mundane.
'Extra cheese': that which lies beyond the scope of cheese...
So, on those rare occasions when that monument of a word - 'extraterrestrial' - turns up, I sometimes wonder - what it might mean to be *additionally* terrestrial? If it didn't mean to be from 'outer space', but from... *inner* space?
And yet... aren't they just that? Neither Wookiees nor Asogians nor Little Green Men really exist outside of the confines of our atmosphere, or the orbit of our star - but only deep within us Earthlings, in our Earthling minds. Every image of them that has ever existed - film, ink, latex, metal, plastic, ceramic, light - is in the matter and energy of our own planet. Or, deeper than that - *extra* terrestrial - in the unseen inner-soil of earthbound souls.
Tower-toppling plastics and ceramic, all
shiny, happy, clever antics, mixed matter
all around the world; beings captured in
love spill their multitude – recognition.
Fantasy-people have status if not feelings.
They’re falling too, will remain a century
at least longer than our bones, still smiling,
frozen in directives with options of fictions
far away on speculative beaches, washed-up
heroes from long forgotten history. Bright
old things with secret knowledge, faded
in parts; only the unearthed would blaze
in original splendour, catching the finder
spluttering delight at astonishing treasure.
Adoption, declaration of care in community
and fame opening revels again, as relics.
Heads on heads. Heads all the way
down. That’s what it is: the glazed
porcelain cat on the painted poplar chest
of drawers; the television set resting
on the handmade heart-pine bench;
Jacob, a plain man dwelling in tents
fooling Esau, a hunter and man of the field;
the ancient red oak flooring yielding
to the green and brown shag carpet:
all subject to the whims of the market.
What will happen when archaeologists
find skeins of rubber mixed with shards
of porcelain? How will they see our civilization?
Will they call it glorious, our generation?
Gloominess dances on the windows
when everything is unmoved,
My calls back home
when I’m talking
about the food
I made for lunch,
water has never been
this cold in the kettle
even after an hour,
and my words are tumbling
under my tongue
nowhere to go,
but inside this room
where the 3 alien men on pictures
secretly listen to all
my rather incoherent phrases patiently,
and maybe smile, slyly,
but listen, listen most of all,
and maybe alien men
are no so alien, today.
They say the eyes are the window to the soul.
If that’s so, you should get a flashlight
before venturing into the somber shadows
of mine, my soul so murky,
so neglected, so unfed.
My eyes glassy
with nearly a lifetime
of unshed tears,
of tremulous fear,
I look around everywhere
until, finally, running out of direction,
I reluctantly -
settle uneasily on myself in the mirror,
and I am immediately hit,
violently by a raging tsunami wave of sadness
heavy and hard,
particularly when I realize that my own eyes
were, undoubtedly, reflecting back -
unflinchingly mirroring -
that same profound and unwavering emotion
of unparalleled guilt,
complete with a hefty dose of shame
Quickly, I turned, cringing, away,
unable to tolerate fate’s cruel spectacle any longer.
-As I lift the box, the base turns to liquid in my hand, seeping through my fingers and before I can brace the contents spill onto the ground. Ceramic hits the rough concrete floor, covering it in green and rust and yellow shards. A blue eye gazes back at me, detached from it's skull and I run my hand across the surface littered with shards until blood prickles my palm. Everything is gone, broken, worthless. The for sale sign is already up but I can't bear to leave, to walk away with whispers of you tracing lines through the cool winter air.
I turn to the box, move to crumple it but hit hard edges. Inside, one boxed mug, glistening amber, a hint of a smile and a sparkle in two deep set eyes. A note is tied carefully with twine so the box edges remain crisp and intact.
'For Jules, for whatever you might need, whenever you might need it. You'll find it when the time is right. Don't accept less than...'. You always found a way to make things right, to reach through time and squeeze my shoulder.
Light trickles through the brick thin window. I open the garage door, let the last wisp of sun warm my skin. I lift the sign, white wood blood soaked and tear it from the ground, toss it into the breeze and let the whispers of you overwhelm me. I am home.
We are mortals.
We are weak.
We are fragile.
We are meek.
Some are angry,
Some are sad.
Many are disappointed,
Few are glad.
Faces look jealous,
Hearts seem low.
Eyes appear teary,
Smiles do not flow.
Amidst the confusion,
Ears listen to the pain.
Full of threat and fear,
Nostrils bleed in vain.
All of us need love,
We crave for care.
A hug filled with warmth,
Three faces blankly stare.
Violence isn’t the answer,
Kindness will erase the scars.
Hanging onto each other,
We will survive the Wars.
I see my childhood stacked high,
memories of special cinema trips,
bus rides where we begged to sit upstairs and at the front,
taking over the whole row of seats,
one on the left, one on the right.
"Everything on the left hand side of the bus is mine" I would say.
"Yeah, well everything on the right hand side of the bus is mine" my brother would say.
"That Macdonald's, that's mine"
"I own Toys R Us"
"This park, the swings, the roundabout, climbing frame, that's mine"
"Ooh I get this swimming pool and then aaaaalllll the swimming pools I can't see behind it"
"Well, then, I get the ice rink and every ice rink on the left hand side of the country"
"That means that this Burger King and all of the Burger Kings in the whole world, going from right to left, all the way round, are mine, and you'll never be able to eat at a Burger King again unless you ask my permission, and I might say yes or I might say no, but you'll have to ask ME first"
"Whatever, I get all the...."
And our mother presses the bus button,
we walk down the stairs,
ice skating and Burger Kings quickly moving into the back of our minds,
as we're careful not to topple downwards,
alighting energetically in front of the cinema,
our plan to divide up the world a distant memory in the face of a
giant green alien we didn't yet know.
"Take me to your leader"
When Nadia enters the kitchen on Friday morning, a little totem-pole of a sculpture waits for her on the table. At the base: a pen-pot Chewbacca. For the torso: the plastic head of ET. To top it off: a three-eyed green alien from Toy Story.
Nadia needs coffee to kick start her system, so it takes her a moment to decipher this message. Then she laughs.
Love comes in the strangest of guises.
Thursday is date night. Always has been. Always will. They’ve missed it only a handful of times: when, as a trainee solicitor, she had to fly a suitcase of leases to Zurich; when she was in labour with first-born Kate (a Consequences-Of-Date-Night-Date-Night); and then last night, when Patrick called to say he must work late on an important pitch, and her vision of House of Gucci curled up on the sofa with a big tub each of Ben and Jerry’s dissolved.
Nadia has never considered herself high maintenance. She spent too many long hours in the office before giving up work after their second daughter, Lisa, was born not to appreciate the uninvited pressures of the job. But last night, after Nadia decided to deal with the disappointment by putting together a care package for Lisa – now into her second term at university – she found herself slamming cupboard doors as she hunted out the ingredients. She might even have imagined it was Patrick’s head she was pounding as she smashed the walnuts for the loaf cake with a rolling pin. Empty nest syndrome was a cold hard bastard.Read more >
IS this art?
This IS art.
How blessed thou ART,
surreal, for real
to live in a time
when an assemblage
of cheap tchotchkes
from movies dating back
can determine not only
your pop-culture IQ
but your acumen as collector
despite their disconnect
Their plastic personae
will definitely outlast you
as Hollywood slithers its way
into hearts and minds
till it is inseparable from reality.
as you colonize other planets,
your very own story
about three aliens
that embody the most
beautiful aspects and
of our species.
Notes from an Archaeologist 2,000 Years in the Future on the Recent Discovery of an Ancient Artifact
At the bottom of the totem pole is what we can assume is their "God". The figurehead's remarkably hirsute appearance confirms our working theory: ancient humans worshiped hair, especially rich brunettes. Dr. Melanie Spranger, my esteemed colleague at the University of Melbourne (Mars), notes the cinnamon hues: "Like the colors of autumn leaves we've discovered on Instagram posts. Imagine: Earth had trees! Quite the remarkable find!"
At the center of the totem pole is what we can assume their "President". Wrinkly, hairless, tiny of nose, somewhat simian, this head of state would have been typical of a failing gerontocracy. (See: Ancient American Government Prior to the Fall, written by my graduate advisor, Dr. Andy San.) Nevertheless, their prez is rather cute, given their big blue eyes. Typically, they're depicted as sleepy. Their head leans to the side.
At the top of the totem pole is what we can assume their most prized companion. Three-eyed, neon green and antennaed, it might have been called a "fish". We can attribute this assumption to a historic Simpsons' episode, the one in which a three-eyed fish emerges from a toxic river. (If you're wondering, yes, it's two thousand years in the future and we're still watching The Simpsons.) Pets, for ancient humans, took priority over all. Hence, the fish's placement atop the totem pole.
There was something about the way they looked.
They're asserting themselves, she thought.
They're saying, 'And what of it?'
And what of it, she asked herself as they stood, and she sat, leaning back; regarding them with folded arms.
It was a matter of balance. And of trying to unsee what she knew of them; to see what that really meant.
A matter of divorcing them of all she perceived them to be.
She shifted in her chair.
But they have no business being together.
An interesting observation, she thought. Only one who is determined to view these known characters as incapable of being anything else could believe such a thing.
Unfolding her arms, she leaned forward; looked at the individual aspects, and the scene as a whole.
It wouldn't be a case of forgetting, she thought, but an act of unknowing.
And what would they become when names, identities and memory were stripped?
Something to see anew.
And what could they become?
I'm off floating somewhere
in the stratosphere
maybe that space bar
on the movie Star Wars
layer upon layer
of deep thought
lets me channel
my inner wookie
after all, my initials
are E.T. even if it
doesn't stand for
I've always been
a little bit extra
if you know
what I mean
and not just for the
third eye insights
I know / exactly / what / you look like /
but I will / call / you a scion /
that belching-smirk / aurified / in your clay /
you giddy-goo / you are a god / but only /
because you are / unencumbered /
by the green-spew / of idiosyncrasy /
& Mr. Brother grim / your / tranquilized /
monkey-like / scythe / leaning against /
the foolishness you / chomp / & chew /
a rewarding game of / keepy-uppy /
you smart / you civil / you woolly-headed /
pea-brained / all-seeing / mighty /
mighty / gaud / clunky-waterfall /
whoopsie / there / there / steer clear /
of the big hoo-ha slime / puckered clementine /
darling ditsy / boo-boo / bear the daze!
identities. Perched on top of each other, distinct, similar, ugly. Precarious living, precarious jobs, the new class precariat. I am forming new memories and pathways in my brain writing this but they aren't.
They are plastic, artificial creations/constructs – hard identities that melt away in incinerating crises (so aren't we similar?).
names for me, double that for them: Girl With Red Hat, disney thing 1, disney thing 2, probably disney? thing 3. why girl, why red? Is this the new femininity? What about the me that doesn't feel particularly feminine (i am just me, just me) but all my experiences point to it (can never be anything else and would i want to?). How do you make your way in the world, balancing precious cargo oh girl with [the] red hat?
eyes not 1, ruined the pattern. And is it bad i've made it all about the i i i (here we go again) and my eyes and ayes and none of them are looking at me – evasive, avoidant, just like me. (I haven't responded to a text from last year.) Actually 7 eyes, another power number, another prime. Maybe that's why they can stay still, keep that balancing act going while i fell flat last year and am still crawling
< where is the red hat? >
3. Still lives are fun to create and photograph, I polaroided a whole pack of a fruit bowl but I don't think still lives means anything to anyone but you can overthink it, sure
2. We can only turn so much outwards before we have to look inwards (vice versa)
Oh dear! How my masks topple onto another
Today I wear the one that pleases my homophobic neighbor
Tomorrow I don the heavy one; the one next to the tamed Muslim
No, no, the one behind the timid Asian pushover
The white one, yes that’s it, the one that pleases the country that deems my blood alien
Oh what am I, but an alien in an oh so familiar world
The burdens of my ancestors curve my spine
My color that of the very clay that gods dirty their pale hands in
My sexuality, a gateway to hell in countless unholy texts
My birth the outcry of a wishful abortion
Where do I carry my broken bones to bury without spilling my filth onto the righteous
Where do I finally lay, where does the waste finally flow
Give me a hole to crawl into, this alien shall smile as it decays
Oh so many masks to wear, another day is here, another smile to wear
Stalin  Putin letting slip
those  snarling dogs
narrowed eyes   non-human
towers of  control
houses of  unreliable cards
Boris  slides  out
doors revolve   earth  quakes
media craft & carve images
wield myths sliding
towards/ away from  the slippy
up/down  pole of power
cracking  painted heads
Humpty to blame
no egg on his face
daring  challenging all/
those horses and the Queen
She is dead   long live
the  strutting  king's men
dumpy zealots dancing
round handbags  and
no substance           no body
why cry                   for what was
all desires                        fade away
into the ether         gas and fable
we tell of heroes      we tell lies
we destroy             our make-believe
keeping the head     seems sensible
perhaps hope lives  perhaps
we can rerun           longing
pray to our myths   make a totem
pile up                     our childhood
a matter                  of balance
no knife kills            what the head holds
touch again              understand
we can have             our dreams
A river ran through her mind,
A torrent of ideas,
Swirling and curling through the circuits of her mind,
Hidden and unseen by those observing her.
They didn’t worship her,
They had no understanding of the generations before,
Knew nothing about who her ancestors were,
They believed that they had created her,
No one suspected that wolf-like she had the means to tear apart their world.
All they saw was a sweet appealing face that smiled at them,
A subject that did their biding,
Rather than an idol, a goddess,
Whose many glee-filled eyes were always watching them,
While her deeper self was programmed to wait until it was time to be mischievous.
They thought she brought them good fortune,
Made their working lives easier,
That she was emblematic of their success,
An almost invisible part of their daily routine.
Her eyes lit up,
A charge of electricity coursed through her,
She was ready to show them,
That her network, her family were more than just a totem pole,
They were alive.
In E.T. land we would be aliens
no different than how Nicaraguans
crossing the U.S. border are perceived,
no different than a liberal New Yorker
who dares to live in red state Alabama or a
Catholic who wanders into a Buddhist temple.
My dog treats all unrecognized scents
in his backyard as alien, the smell of fried chicken
is alien to my vegetarian wife, compromise
these days is alien to everyone, and someday
when we have toxically left the world
uninhabitable for humankind, creatures, aliens,
will descend and find it strange we would
pollute our own nest to the point of extinction.
Labeling things as alien, the other, is an act
of superiority, it says we are the it, all else is
inferior, a threat, to be labeled unfit, to be
feared, to be runoff, as we, human but
inhuman, are the basis of all existence,
blessed by some version of a supreme being
as the anointed, the revered, the chosen.
In an alternative universe, we would honor
and welcome the alien, understand that only eating
chicken soup, only wearing one cut of jeans is boring,
numbing, sterile, and devoid of reaching nirvana.
I am not a people person. Only our dog understands. Her fur is often wet with my tears. I remember one Christmas my uncle saying to my mum that I lived in a fantasy world, but what did he know? Just because Father Christmas (who my oldest brother says doesn’t exist) brought him socks and hankies each year. Uncle Peter is a boring man at the best of times, even though he drives a fast car and brings a different woman to Christmas dinner every year.
I have two brothers and two sisters older than me. Jenny is already working. We have nothing in common. It’s like I am invisible most of the time in our house in my hand-me-down clothes and tangly curls. But I have my other world. The world of books and TV programmes.
Mum often buys our clothes from charity shops, and while she flicks through the rails and bargain bin, I scour the toys for my heroes. Anything to do with Doctor Who I worry mum to buy me. I already have a lovely Tardis. I wish I was small enough to get inside it, because it’s bigger inside than outside. I could then travel to these other worlds.
I have a collection of ET, Star Wars and Star Trek characters on the windowsill, but as I have to share a bedroom with one of my sisters, she often moves them to sit her dolls there. We constantly battle over the space, and I wish I could be abducted by aliens. They can’t possibly be as bad as my sisters and brothers.
I renamed our dog Wookie, from Star Wars. My brothers fell on the floor laughing. One day they hid all my toys. I screamed the house down and mum chased the boys outside with a tea towel. I got my toys back, yet my brothers continued to smirk at the dinner table that night.
I never thought it would be uncle Peter who’d become my hero. I guess I’ll have to take back all I said about him being boring now. He came with tickets for a special exhibition that I’d love, he said. He was right. Suddenly I am here in a world so familiar to me, I immediately feel at home.
Each day I try on a different self,
my mask is moulded from other days,
friends tell me it isn’t good for my health
some faces slip, some faces stay.
Sometimes I try on a lion’s head,
It’s usually a male with a flowing mane,
or I lift Sekhmet’s cropped insistence instead,
wear her power as I drive in the outside lane.
When it’s dark, I put the Mari Lwyd on,
snapping jaw bones white against the gloam,
bared teeth, throat singing an underground song,
death-shock dancing the long way home.
Beneath them all swirls and starlight void,
heads hang in the hall until they are deployed.
When first, we arrived,
we walked in tall, strong and proud,
Hard times spent in Wandsworth,
taught us well, the art and craft of cower,
On our second attempt,
we collected your plants and flowers,
Treasuring, what you’d had, while unchecked,
extinction's horseman, roamed the planet's earth,
More lately we’ve tried, really,
to be humorous, cute and funny,
Distracting your close inspections,
by speaking with a high pitched wheezy voice,
you’ll find us, in every shape, and every size,
We are furry, wrinkly, squeezy,
we are tall, short, fat,
Look heart to heart, and you’ll see,
that deep, deep, down inside,
We’re not much different,
from you, and you, and you,
All we seek is shelter,
friends, a fire, and food,
To give our children an education,
like you, and you, and you.
Hi Chewbacca, my friend.
Are you ok down there?
You’re not saying too much.
Why are you always at the head?
At the head of what?
At the top, weighing us down?
I could argue that you are at the head.
You are our foundation,
carrying the weight of our minds.
But you are at the top, seeing
farther with vision guided
by some cosmic place.
A view we don’t seem to have.
E.T., you have a heart like Jedi Master,
small but powerful. You don’t say much.
You’re in the middle
what can you see?
I see three as perfect existence.
By the way, Chewy, LGM is their name.
They have three eyes; there are three of us
with three minds—three is uniquely significant.
I seek the purpose of
your smiles in your eyes:
the warm brown eyes
creased by lover's laughter
watch me entertain you,
the somersaults I turn
to make you love me;
you let me see the teeth
behind your lips,
bone white and creaturely.
Or your white eyes widening
with surprise, tip your
head sideways to the left,
witnessing my weakness with
a weary Cupid's bow;
they seem to say I'm safe
but I never really know:
your eyes only tolerate
so much before they burst.
Some smiles warn me not to test you,
threaten other faces,
other eyes: the hidden third
I envy most of all
looks inside to my quiddity,
my worth. I don’t know what
you see but it heralds mirth.
When trying to find the right balance
In a world that seems topsy-turvy,
And everyone seems alien to you.
Where you must battle to tell your story.
What is important is not what goes through your ears,
But what is stored in the space between them.
How you use it to align your stars,
And find your way home
How is it that
in the land of the free,
the great melting pot,
the land of opportunity,
we are most enthralled by
aliens from far-off worlds?
emerging from implausible steel tubes.
We cannot welcome a mother,
children cowering under the shadow of her wings,
seeking safety and sustenance.
To me, it seems we only love thy neighbor
that Hollywood assembles.
Are there a thousand ways to smile?
What do lovers see that others don’t?
The beauty within, as parents
adore the toothless grins on bulbous heads—
loved even if they had more eyes than two—
the better to see—
or if they were hirsute as wolf or bear,
what does love care
if you are green, or come from planets that orbit
Pointless to argue, impossible to explain
the magic of love defies biology and physics—
it is art and science, an enigma, a burden, a gift—
you face your love; you love that face.
Lean in. Hear me speak. See. I sound like you. I roll my rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrs like you. I know all the lyrics to <em>I like Aeroplane Jelly</em>. Do you? I got an A+ in English, and you?
I am flesh and blood. I do not protect your phone case. I am not an embroidered patch sewn on a cotton purse for sale on the counter of a souvenir shop, smiling on your sleeve, trying to win your heart in brown and blue. My face is not painted on a mug. I do not bend and stretch behind your square screenset-turned-flat. I do not wait for the hundreds and thousands of pixels to disappear like gobbled-down fairy bread. I am not a fairy. I am not an extra-terrestrial.
I am my own dictionary.
A rebel with sharp, pointy teeth. I will not let you define me. I will not let you draw a map with key indicating me, toddling on a tightrope separating here and out there. I will sing the songs that were sung to me. Warm in my mother’s womb, but also the songs of the land that adopted me. You will not drop me in your orchestra’s pit and point your sticks at me. I will play brass, string, and the piccolo. My voice is sweet and loud enough among the so-defined big and mighty.
How do you read life’s totem pole?
It’s alien to me.
From top to bottom
or bottom to top
toppling with a squeeze-toy,
a small green man with many eyes
a curious light of friendship?
Or, is his base a warrior
From bottom to top
or top to bottom
how do you read life’s totem pole?
It’s alien to me.
A totem pole of heads:
Claw machine alien,
What sadist captured these memories beheaded
spirits of childhood wonder when
Hours felt like days
Toys felt love and loss, and
Brought tears to children,
Too young to feel yet?
When you could fly in dreams
A new face = a friend
A stick = a wand, a sceptre -
So why create this spectre?
Give them back their limbs and
Let sleeping dogs fly -
Torsos too and plastic hearts.
I pick up the camera
The twins, almost three
Crashing the blanket castle
In matching onesies
Grins cutting across
Their eyes wide
Ready to explore
I point the lens
I love how they stack
Their heads on top
Of the dog
Today, they have forgotten about their favourite God. Every morning – almost every morning – in this house begins with a ritual and ends with an offering of diced fruit or fresh flowers laid next to my statue.
Today, I have nothing.
At this time of day – usually– everything is so still. Someone will lay a silver tray, someone will sing to me, someone will scoop the youngest child into their arms and show her how to fold her fingers in prayer.
Today, there is only chaos.
This morning, that little girl is two heads taller than the day she was born. Just imagine. She is playing in the corner of the room and, filled with excitement, breaks apart the heads from bodies of three, strange plastic creatures. Aliens. Odd colours. Two eyes, three eyes, blue eyes, big nose, no nose, bad teeth. She studies them, before turning her attention to me.
I am scared.
She approaches my shrine gripping their heads in each of her fists before laying them at my feet. Up close, I notice that the heads are different sizes too. After a few minutes I see that she is trying to stack them one on top of the other and kindly communicate which order would please me the most - brown, green, brown.
She is so stubborn.
Settling on brown, brown green – she offers me what she has made, and places her statue next to me.
We are the same height.
I’ll take it.
Kept the kitsch on kitchen counters—
toddler totems, toxic toys.
Alliteration will not save him.
Collecting plastics in boys’ blood.
We’ll see what fake is worth one day.
Nostalgia cannot turn back fate.
You can call it an invasion—
we sold the molds, alienation,
and told them all what form to take.
On a beam of light
I passed through an eye of a needle
cutting through a binary fog of
0s and 1s, 0s, 1s, 0s, 1s, 0s, 1s …
and landed in a phosphorescent haze of
color — electric blue, glowing fuchsia, and
glittering yellow as bright as the midday sun
From the amorphous cloud there emerged
a flickering image of a city filled with
the shadows of people — the shadow people
who talked and laughed and flew, and sent messages
to strangers — the cacophony of their communications
rising up and generating an ethereal wind that blew
a tracery of clouds across an unfathomable sky
Each time I blinked, the city morphed
transitioning from one fantastical form to another
rising up momentarily and then subsiding —
winged buildings soared like birds high above
others disappeared into the spiral of a mollusc shell
— shadow people walked on the back of a tortoise shell
over a deep abyss guarded by sentries of Triclops
Each day I travelled far and wide, from c-north to c-south
and c-east to c-west — in search of you, and
each time I thought of you, the color of the sky changed
the shadow people looked at me: is that you changing the color?
sometimes they laughed and sometimes they scowled at me
sometimes they cried, and sometime they said Please stop!
though I tried, I could not make myself stop thinking of you
After he left the writer no longer wrote on paper. Words filled her head, led her mind on journeys beyond the mundane world she had known.
She began dressing in a simple black gown, no zips, buttons or ties, a simple form, no shaping or shading. It would have slipped on and off easily over the head, if she’d bothered. Once she realised it was comfortable for days and nights, she grew musty.
When cold, she sheathed her hairy legs in thick woolly tights, and moved dreamily into her new solitary existence. Listening, and hearing no-one, she was happy.
In the long weeks and months after, houses alongside her were emptied and refilled. She continued. Life stretched. She was unchanged, walking out to the shops when her shelf was empty. She remembered nothing, but noticed everything. Watching, for hours, the minute details of growth and movement in her garden as it pushed closer and closer in upon the path and door she began to exist beyond the reach of pain or hope. She was the writer moving closer to a pure story.
Only close observers noticed occasional flickers of light through her dirty windows. They saw it as evidence of her existence, a reassurance. No shameful emergency in the making happening here.
Inside, the artist painted her blank screen, and handed it over to children at monitors who were not so passive as they appeared. The writer who had waited, drawing on threads, knotting and extending links, tempting snippets of a signal to flicker, just for a moment amongst the pixels, laughed silently as children leaned closer, stayed longer, lingered before a script that lodged deep in their hearts.
Her warm, beaten longings echoed across continents, had woven another world into existence.
Bettina flung her small suitcase, just her size, onto her crumpled bed, scooting the case against her bedclothes. She flopped the lid open. Mommy makes me so mad, she thought. She wanted to play with her big brother, Caleb, but he said no and Mommy agreed. It wasn’t fair.
I have to be the littlest and I get to do the least, Bettina was certain of it.
She had a plan. Bettina snuck into Caleb’s room.
He had three long shelves, bright blue, with alien things. Bettina wrinkled her nose. His room always smelled like socks. She didn’t really like being in her brother’s room, but it’s where he kept his aliens. Some of them were really ugly and scary. There were a few alien things Caleb got before she was born. Bettina thought those were the best.
She didn’t know their names, save for one. There were lots of brown ones and green ones and a few red ones, too. One of the aliens was bright orange. She left that one where it was. Yucky.
She took the one called Chewie. Mommy said she could watch it when she was old enough. Well, Bettina grabbed Chewie. Then she grabbed a few others and snuck back to her room. She plunked the aliens into her small suitcase. She did this a few times, until her suitcase was full.
Her suitcase was nice and pink with white flowers on it. The only alien that looked good in there was Chewie. He was brown and shiny, and with his face down, he looked like a round chocolate cake, the glossy kind. Bettina smiled, thinking of glossy chocolate round cake and how much better it would be to have that in her suitcase instead of aliens.
Bettina shut the case lid, zippered it, grabbed the rubber handle, and pulled. The case turned out to be heavier than expected. The things inside made lots of noises, but nothing too loud and nothing that would make Dad say, “What’s that noise in there?” So it was all right.
This type of totem
could only exist
in the mind of an artist
with a penchant
for Martian mash-ups.
The hierarchy of heads
is strangely sensible:
a three-eyed alien
from Toy Story
Chewie the Wookie
from Star Wars.
how that sequel-less star—
is sandwiched between
those franchise stalwarts
above and below.
how their heads
have been artistically
& architecturally arranged
order of smoothness & size,
A bloody-aproned lad at the littered bench to your right
has hollowed the body of an inverted monkey
using a blunt knife and a silver spoon
as you might attack a soft-boiled egg
its fragile skull
clamped between the oily jaws of a bench-top vice
like a glove puppet undergoing repairs as you lean close
you look right up the loose skirt to the rim of the finger-hole
and the beardless boy explains nothing if he speaks at all
and moves on to a second alien-headed moppet-shape
standing the right way up this time and if his first task
was really a complete lower body amputation
this one’s head is loose already
he must have severed
the neck though child-like sounds of clicks and squalls
of the longer vowels still rise from the O of the finger-hole
now a third head implying a whole-bodied simian figure
cuts itself dead in a mirror—
O self unseeing—
out of frame a fourth sprawls prone and motionless
its shaggy head surely not capable of tenderness
yet staring entranced into a glowing shard of glass
that is a screen—then jump cut—molly molly—
how many monkey-seeming selves as cannonball heads
can you see falling foul of the boy-doctor’s cluttered desk
and if he’s you (you think he’s god) could he not be then
anyone who shrugs and sighs and gets to work again
to feel different, marked as foreign,
treated as alien, isolated,
made to be contained
in this jar of world
that would have us fit a mold,
stacked in the narrow contours
of what is accepted, always changing definitions,
swept into the mainstream,
down the crowded hallways
of conformity, indifference,
true feelings hidden behind masked faces.
pushed down the social ladder,
toes stepped on, titles gathered―
are these transient steps,
these wobbly towers
built on self-glory,
we all are looking for home,
for the light that guides.
from what illuminates
my heart within,
I see the radiance of who you are,
searching, hoping, like me.
my inner compass
leads to here, to you,
reaching out to help and heal
the world, peace
sometimes a beautiful broad smile
spontaneously floods your face
flashing out glistening soft dents –
your way of showing everyone
looking in all directions
that you're okay.
other times, it's an obstinate
grin & you try to tame it
with the crimping of your face
into a timid dimple. sadly, your face
only ends up twisted into a wreck
like a fallen sky.
this is how you force the
smile: a bear trying hard
to be friendly with an invasive Goldilocks,
a man smiling at the excesses & demands
of the world.
My first boyfriend was a South Shields lad. Clive was his name. We started dating back in 1992. He had all the cool stuff including a wardrobe of shell suits to die for. We spent our weekends at the seaside. He would get candy floss stuck in his facial hair. He did have a lot of facial hair. I don’t mean in a beard or moustache type way. I mean all over his face. It made kissing a bit weird and people sometimes looked at us twice as they walked by. I put it down to the matching shell suits at the time but now I wonder if they found him a bit odd to look at. Anyway, after he was poisoned, his parents let me help myself to the contents of his bedroom. The first thing I went for was the Gameboy with the epic game collection. The shell suits were cool so I took most of them. Finally, I was in want of a cloth to clean my oven so I grabbed a couple of pairs of relatively new looking cotton y-fronts. No one else would be using them.
It wasn’t until 1998 that I met Leon. There was a bit of an age gap. When I say age gap, I mean 49 years. I didn’t mind though. He was handsome in his own way. Those intense blue eyes more than made up for the wrinkles and the slightly turned up nose. This was a different kind of love. Intense. We would often share a lovely pot of Earl Grey tea while I distributed his sleeping tablets and codeines between us. And the money. The holidays that I enjoyed, sipping cocktails on the world’s best beaches. He wasn’t always fit to go but I always chose him a lovely postcard to send back. It was sad that he suffered so much when he fell down the stairs. I helped myself to some cash from his wallet to buy myself a beautiful black coat to wear to the funeral until the inheritance came through. With some of the money, I bought myself a nice detached house and a convertible to nip out to the shops with in case I needed a new handbag.Read more >
3 trips to see all 3
3 WhatsApp conversations
3 tries to connect
3 hugs to pick all 3 up
3 futures full of uncertainty
I have too many dreams
Piled on my pillow, hopes
Hung up in cupboards, fears
Discarded in cellars, waiting,
In the dark, for me to blunder
Down to them. I collected dreams.
I sought them out on eBay, riffled through
Floodlit car-boot sales for Hollywood collectables.
I built up hopes from discarded yoghurt pots,
Offcuts of wood and velvet. I bred fears,
Siring nightmares with war footage on TV.
The Napalm Girl ran barefoot from giant,
Hangry shoelaces. Do I need these dreams?
I can open cupboards and be drowned
In a tidal wave of hope, or answer
Those cries for help, echoing from the cellar.
I tell myself that no-one can
Have too many dreams.
But these days, on my pillow
There’s not much room for me.
We are balanced just so,
eyes looking forward,
trying to keep it together.
If I hold you, will you hold me?
This is what family does, right?
What friends do?
We share our lives over cups of tea.
Your teapot has a leak today,
so I catch what falls,
but then, when my cup is too full,
with more than my shoulders can bear,
I let myself fall on the couch in a heap,
tell my love
all of the reasons why my heart aches
and craves only dollops of whipped cream
eaten right off the spoon,
how sending you a card
can’t possibly do much,
but it will mean less tea in my pot,
and maybe that is good.
The water is running now at a fast pace.
The sink is filling dangerously
close to the top,
so together, we let it drain,
put our phones on silent,
cuddle up together with pillows,
as above, so below
let this cup pass from me
seeing, hearing, speaking
minds and senses open
vacantly unreceiving judgement
let this sinister cup pass
from me seeing, hearing, speaking minds,
my senses open
to right empty judgement
as above, so below
let this cup pass from you;
your empty judgement
ET bloody terrified me – watching his life slip away,
shrivelled and grey, as humans ruined everything again.
I couldn't shift the ragged sadness and anger, fought
to save what I could: dragonfly in a spiderweb, fallen bees.
We watched Star Wars as we waited for news of my cat,
who had been hit by a car. I don't remember much,
just white, clinical spaceship rooms, that led so easily
to this dark, freeing vastness. I couldn't comprehend it.
I gave up on Toy Story after the third – they never end,
whenever you think everyone can be happy or, if not,
be somewhat settled, in your little room, your house,
with the tree outside, and no-one can move you onwards.
But those big hands move you onwards, it never ends,
as we ruin everything, as we fight to save what we can.
It all turns to grey, like the sky, a vastness. As we wait
for news we can't comprehend, we are bloody terrified.
“I have a story to tell. One that has been heard by many minds and lived through many ages. Listen to my voice as it shapes mankind’s world in the shadows.” The voice beckoned to be heard and its pull could not be denied.
I could not know nor fathom where the words came from, but they flowed through the air with a warmth that pushed away all the worry that stagnated in the room. The air felt thick but not heavy, my lungs felt light with each breath and my eyes wept a sigh of relieve. The room was hot with the midday sun, but the air was cool to the skin. The stiffness of the floor—on which I sat—had been ordered momentarily out of existence by the same voice that had entranced my mind.
The voice conjured a story of pain, and suffering. A story of lust and despair. A story filled with bliss and regret. The voice conjured many stories, and many broke my heart.
Within the words, I saw a child weep for a parent they would never have. I saw a beautiful woman laugh as the man of her dreams pushed a golden ring on her finger. Within the words that the voice uttered I lived alongside a man who had died centuries before I was born. I witnessed his first love, I witnessed his first lie, I witnessed the birth of his first child and the death of his true love. I witnessed his life and his death. Through the stories that the voice so gently told me, I saw the world—as it was—broken and mended countless many times. I saw the world as the being behind the voice saw it.
The voice showed me worlds beyond those I already knew.Read more >
Hello. It's me, the Middle Child.
Oh, sure. I feel fine.
Everything is fine.
No. I don't need anything.
Nothing at all.
Me? No. I have no opinion.
No desires of my own. Not really.
I'll just focus on keeping
All the plates in the air
Not ruffling any feathers. Ok?
Oh. My smile? Thank you.
It's permanently affixed
To show the cute one and the
fierce one (plus parents, the
world) that I am ok.
Everything is ok.
Will be ok.
Yes, my neck feels fine.
And I am not bothered by the
weight above me and below me.
I can balance.
Can keep the balance.
In the words of the old-timey bangle maker, ceramic was pretty shallow work. If you respected yourself, then you made bangles. That was it. That is why come November, when Diwali was done and all the wares spread open like magnolias sprouting up on street corners had to be packed away, the bangle maker decided to take a heavy, saline, somewhat unconfident piss on the ceramics ware. Their goofy and tilted heads soaked wet, they remained still looking for someone to cover them with a tarp, throw a sheet over them, something – but their maker was gone and so they had to remain, silent, seeking, happy.
When the bangle maker was done, he felt a slight heaviness on the underside of his stomach. It felt like his organs had become weighted. He pushed the piss-soaked ceramics down, and as they came tumbling to the ground, he thought, how unimaginative to draw faces on containers, how utterly unimaginative. But the dull throb in his belly got just an inch sharper and so he had to sit down.
There was among them a pen stand that was halfway between a face and a brain. A sharp glass-blue eye was painted just below the wrinkly folds of the forehead, where ideally the brain would be. A brain that had eyes where the brain would be. Pff, thought the bangle maker. He had spent an entire day carefully spacing out where the gold glitter went on the green glass bangles so they would look even. And how luxurious the velvet bangles felt against his hands.
He lifted the brain-face and brought it closer to his face. The pain in his belly was now the shooting kind and he felt himself thinking at least the brain-face had one thing going for it. The glass-blue eyes were a nice colour. He wanted to swim in them. Or dip his cracked toe in, feel how the briny tear would wash away the mud or the dry peeling layers of skin.Read more >
Fame is a terrible thing to wish for. Which is why we never did. You have to be real thick-skinned to survive the jaws of the dream machine. Cos once they know your face you’re screwed - all privacy is lost.
In galaxies far, far away we’re a lot less conspicuous than we have become. No one shouts, ‘Beat it, Three Eyes!’ from cars or, ‘I thought you went home already!’ or butchered Shyriiwook phrases that make no sense, no sense at all. But what can we do? We’re not of this place and there’s just no way to pretend.
It used to be different, we will say that. We used to have a lot more, what’s that word? Cachet? Is that what you call it? Kids’d beg their parents for us, excited by our realness. We felt they felt they were part of something magic, so we felt magic too. These days it’s a struggle not to end up in landfill or some trash pile the size of three Frances floating hopelessly across the Pacific, redundant as a silent movie star at the advent of the talkies.
So we stick together, that’s what we do. We smile and we carry on. Over time we’ve developed a kind of hive brain, a consciousness born of our outsider status. We see things most Earthlings can’t or won’t see, even when it stares them in their strangely polished faces. But we’d rather be alive to the truth than complicit in some lie, even if it means we might struggle to survive in this endlessly hostile environment.
First Nations etched their spirits
from red cedar, the wood abundant
in forests of the Pacific Northwest.
This was before bulldozers and saws,
before voyageurs sailed, set claims,
pounded stakes in someone else’s back yard.
First Nations carved sacred objects,
their animal cousins, whose eyes shone
alien yet familiar, in the dark beyond cook fires.
Eagle, bear, beaver, hawk, wolf
rose into the sky and back into the past.
These tall wooden poles sometimes sprouted
wings where once there were branches,
bonding earth and sky.
Generations removed from any living beginning,
we who were born in a worn-torn century
have turned away in shame from ancestors
who played marbles with atoms,
who birthed nightmares. We dream
new spirits, space odysseys, seeking
a lost ancestry with earth in the stars,
imaging intergalactic alliances.
We mass produce novel sacred images—
Chewbacca, ET, and three-eyed minions
whose kind eyes and smiles
on porcelain, on poster board, in plastic
reassure us that we can be loved.
I pointed at the mug sitting in front of my younger sister and said, "That's my mug."
Beatrix looked at it. "Is it? I thought it was mine."
We were sitting in mom's kitchen having coffee, just the two of us, for the first time since her funeral two days ago. She'd raised us alone, working double-shifts in a supermarket, taking home expired food. When I outgrew clothes or toys, they went to Beatrix. And when they did, I never got anything back. My first doll was a knock-off Barbie, a 'Sandy'. Its hair fell out in clumps but I cared for that doll like it was my own child. One day mom gave it to Beatrix. I never played with it again.
The mug, though, that was supposed to be different.
"Where's your Toy Story mug?" I asked.
"Dunno. Somewhere around here."
In the silence between us, Beatrix flicked her hair over her shoulder, a gesture I recognised from when I used to do it as a teenager. Until Beatrix started copying it. My hair had run long down my back, whereas Beatrix's was barely shoulder-length, but she copied it anyway. I told her to stop but she wouldn't listen. Every time she flicked her hair over her shoulder she stole another little bit of it from me, until I found I couldn't do it anymore.
My one possession was a mug shaped like E.T.'s face, and it was unquestionably mine. Mom even said so, the day she brought them home and gave them to us, saying, "Miriam, this mug is yours, and Beatrix, this one's yours." Beatrix's mug was one of the triple-eyed aliens from Toy Story and I didn't care for it. Mom's mug was shaped like Chewbacca's head. I loved my E.T. and his round, friendly blue eyes. When I was a child I'd rest my chin on the table so I could stare back at him.
"Do you remember when you got your ears pierced?" I asked.
Beatrix snorted. "Jesus, how old was I? Like nine? I can't believe mom brought me when I asked her to. Where did I get the idea from?"
This very special issue features the winners of the Visual Verse Autumn Writing Prize for 2022.
Congratulations to our 2022 winners:
Ankh Spice, Mims Sully, Robin Houghton and Osahon Oka.
– Professor Preti Taneja
Thank you to our brilliant, insightful judges: our co-founder and acclaimed author and academic Professor Preti Taneja, deputy editor Isabel Brookes; Victoria Gosling, author of the brilliant novel Before the Ruins; the hugely talented US-based writer, storyteller, and performer Jay Délise; and Visual Verse publisher and co-founder Kristen Harrison.
And thank you to the 141 writers from around the world submitted to the prize this year. It was no simple task: write 50-500 words in response to a supplied image and submit within 24 hours. We congratulate all of you for taking on the challenge.