- Vol. 06
- Chapter 01
For years you told me your dreams
A falling body looks
for these thermals, is borne up.
I'm always running.
I'll visit you.
It's only in memory,
that twisted bridge,
that we meet this way:
with an eye for composition
sharing the two halves
harmonising cut edges
For years I ascended the stairs
which led to no better understanding.
Just to your door. I can hear the radio.
You're singing along. My body waits
to be told off
and on again.
*Read more >
It was decided to fold up my town, and forget its creases, and the lines I had been running thumb-nailed into it for some years now
we were asked to take a corner each of the lake and fold it in like bed leaves, changing the sheets for a stranger, we imagine
I will take you round, I will walk you down the quay and I’ll hand you off the folding in, it is agreed my past will be posted off.
Lick these stamps together, hold my print down and pull the lapel of my envelope across the room, seal this up with me.
We didn't always live here.
We came in ones, in threes and in fives, until we didn't see the point in counting anymore.
Every evening, as the sky turned, we gathered at the wall.
It was an ordinary thing, the wall. Stark and grey and pathetic - if we do say so ourselves. But it had an odd way of drawing you in, so we made it into something grand, something worth being drawn into.
We sprayed our names on the wall: Dalvin II, King K, Obinna Da OG.
We confessed our secrets to the wall: I love Lipe, I like Lanre.
Sometimes, we shot hoops. Other times, we hung around and gossiped. Who was sleeping with who, whose mother-in-law came to visit and refused to leave, which of our daughters had gotten her first period. Oh, the things we talked about. Oh, the breath of our stupidity.
Now that we think of it, we should have seen it coming. And by 'it', we mean everything.
First came the bulldozers. Ugly, rampaging beasts that tore down the handsome buildings surrounding the wall.
Who did this? We asked.
Instead of answers, we got questions. Who are you to ask? Do you know who I am? Who is your father?
We shut up and watched the new buildings go up. They were like science fiction. They were unlike anything we had ever seen. One was an unsettling shade of pink, its roof shaped like a queen's crown. Another, an orange cardboard cutout, a lone black window across its middle.
And just when we thought we'd seen it all, a lighthouse appeared in the heart of our neighbourhood. A lighthouse of all things.
And so we left.
We left in ones, in threes and in fives, until those we left behind didn't see the point in counting anymore.
is a packet of chips
and a couple of cans,
pressed up against
the harbour wall
for the wind
or when it rains,
the shelter down
on Drever Street.
Anywhere but indoors.
to join up
in a couple of days
because it’s either that
or the F-words -
fisherman, or farmer -
and he couldn’t give a
He was born
in the imperial pink wash
of British Accra
where Daavi's endeavor
hawking corned beef stew
crowned him first boy ever
with new school shoes
identified him as other
robbed him of friends
boys gave chase
for that is their way
to test the mettle
he learnt to wrestle
fought foes away
with still time to play
on the famous Bruce Road
that birthed a nation's future
see the grounds
a tribal gathering of shorts
muscle, sweat, tears,
laughter: manly vibes
too soon early evening grows late
with the backhand and whip
a predictable fate
Read more >
So this was about a year, or maybe an hour,
before the end of the world – I bumped into
a holographic projection of Guy Debord,
walking around Las Vegas with a dodo on a
feather boa leash. He was chuckling inordinately
to himself, so in my very best French theoretical I
asked him, “Guy, what gives?” Gitanes extruding,
he paused his laughing to blow smoke in the shape
of dollar signs and then said: “It was a warning not
a blueprint chaps, but there we are. You all stopped
believing in God and started to believe in architects
instead without realising it’s the same thing. Anyway,
on with the show, right?” The dodo flapped, winked,
smiled, knowing what was coming up next.
These are monuments
in miniature, inked
parchments in colour
curated to commemorate
our rites of passage: births,
Bar Mitzvahs, marriage.
Our moments of gratitude
and of lament are traced
along our pilgrimage
in homes and dwelling
places. In the days before
we lived our lives online
the books were opened.
The chambers of the heart
and the impediments
of the mind were pictured
on a map; we could read
the stories of the countries
marked by plains, decipher
valleys laced with riverbeds,
interpret grainy oceans.
The thrall and gaze of lit
space ache. But still, there is
a lampstand in our midst.
The name was quite funny, if you were in on the joke ‘Elculodelmundo’. How I ended up there is still the subject of much speculation among the fish box community and, some say, wider. I know how I got there but I have sworn (to myself) that I will never share it with a living soul. Last night, after a couple of inches of patxaran, I told the old woman that lives in my couch. She didn’t really believe me, so I retook my vow of silence on the matter. The town had its own language, lots of Ks and Zs and plurals all sounded like a jackdaw had made them up. The people from Elculo met every Friday beside the sea wall and sang songs they all knew about their souls and mornings and the visitors from the hills who had sweet breath and came down at the new moon to throw fine coal dust into the faces of children. I watched from the lighthouse, the houses scattered randomly below me like a collage – rich house, poor house, cardboard box. No planning, no thought given to a plan. Some of the houses were tiny and made entirely from domino boxes. There was a girl there, her name was unpronounceable but it meant ‘seashell’. She was dark and we would walk in the Lord’s grounds. She would talk without drawing breath and I would try and make the right expression. To this day I have never understood a word she has said. There was a bridge that joined the two halves of the town. The old man who showed me how to make red eggs said it was built by the great Eiffel, before he started on his tower. I only crossed it once, I was sobering up at the same rate as the sun was rising and I chanced upon a little cafe, nothing much to look at from the outside but it was open and the coffee I had made me cry. I remember it to this day.
Elculo wasn’t built to last, from the hill it looked like it had been made out of scraps of paper and as I had expected I woke up one morning and it was gone. Not a trace. My lighthouse stood out like a sore thumb. The sea wall was there and of course, Mr Eiffel’s bridge which now joined two ends of nothing much at all.
We used to do this on the old wooden tray, kept in the garden for the purpose –
make landscapes using collage of anything at all that took our fancy
but always used a mirror for a pond and tiny buildermen as characters
in a variety of scenarios; depending on season, what was to hand
and the ephemera collected on days out.
Those were pre-mobile phone days so no images remain
just memories of you all laughing and I’m certain,
that on that day of the Turner sky, we must have
made one in shades of pink with a lighthouse
this is a world of tiny folk against a backdrop of billboards
no it is a mantelpiece of spoiled birthday cards
no it is a seascape without water
or a dismantled rainbow in shades of autumn
one turret holding a defiant giant activist
a humble clock tower the gun port of a ship
its bow like the curl of an Arabian slipper
its flimsy plank a tongue not a bridge to the shore
for this paper will not take a human’s weight
the crown prince is absent in his pristine robe
no arms visible at rooflines but the wall is bleached in heat
a wilting disneyland palace in pepto-bismol pink
scissor technique is key to neat points and smooth edges
and this is a fortified desert of folded miniatures
waiting for puppets and a new plot and sirens
or an angry enough gust of wind
When did my life become like folded paper, an unreliable bridge leading only to
cardboard cul-de-sac and misplaced lighthouse
It feels so flimsy and rough-cut, a random
throw-it-up-in-the-air to see where it lands
sort of arrangement I never planned.
And the other people are too few, too distant,
like none of us deserve to be more than a blur,
ready to be mown down or cut out altogether
Everything is fracturing and yet, it is coming together,
falling, I guess. A lighthouse is a clocktower with bees:
it is always there but sometimes the time seems wrong
to me, as I hop into the little Sainsbury's, waiting for my
train to come and take me away again. Can this ever be
my place? I scan magazines about Princess Eugenie,
look through Halloween chocolates that get smaller
every year - don't think I don't notice. Gaze over leaves
of gelatine, think how pretty they manage to make meat
look on the packet, how delicate. I wander out. The clock
still looks wrong, but oh, so right, those bees. Up to the
station, past the cluster of silver pipes pointing to the sky,
maybe singing, and the big bee that will soon be gone
for the winter. I have its photo; I do not need another
but I almost want one, want to keep this place and
everything it has, my city that I dance in and out of, that
I sometimes dare to see as mine, as a home, however
small I am within its furry, nectar-wet arms. I am a pollen
speck, being plucked up and carried, again and again, to
rainbows and snowy nights, to lights in darkness, voices
reciting poetry. Onto the train I hop, the doors closing,
the city becoming a dark paper outline. Still unfinished.
I am still trying to learn origami, still trying to make stars
and cranes, to tentatively add my own tiny touch to life.
I can tell you how to get there
Easy-peasy lemon greasy.
It's simple, really.
You see where I'm pointing?
Just follow my hand thataway
no more than seven minutes,
then take a dog-leg turn
to the left. You'll find two
cats sitting beneath an old willow tree
who look like they're deep in conversation.
One of them is a sweet puss,
and the other will scratch you up,
but I can never remember which is which.
Go around the tree and exit
the first street you see.
Or maybe it's the second?
I only usually come out at night.
Isn't it funny how different
everything looks in the day?
Ha ha, honestly, it's no bother,
from the tree you go three rights
and two lefts, past a tower
with a smug expression,
and then do the reverse southwards.
You'll be feeling a moment of distant
sadness then, but that's good,
because it'll mean you have the cemetery
wall to your right. Put that behind you
and try not to think about the friends
you haven't seen in a long time. Read more >
A boy in a bow tie sings out of tune
and dances to the tune.
Ladies in white dresses bubble with laughter.
Bubbles in soda water burst
and evaporates like a daydream fast.
I look at the sunlight through a glass
filled with the orange juice
reflected the blood in red to your face.
You bite the dried sunflower seeds of vase
after the blossom of youth.
The sky about to rain.
A screen of the window gives
a lonesome shade to your eyelash.
Longing for the shiny raindrops,
you blink your eyes repeatedly.
Who can tell your story?
Deep sigh of an old woman blew
her curly wig under the beret and
made the fire of matches off.
One more cup of coffee and
Oil lighter for cigarettes.
Warm drizzle makes him moist.
Mojito like a potion makes him sad.
Old woman dreams of two young lions.
a child with safety scissors
snips media from magazines
fine motor skills respond
to visual cortex stimuli
these puzzle pieces make
in an un-walled mind
images folded and glued
free of an aesthete's idealism
contours and colours blend
despite hard edges
in this paper pueblo
pilgrims need not wait and wail
the road is open
inviting all into an implausible
seussian universe where
lighthouses appear inland
and dwellings canter at odd
yet stable angles
We started to feel
on the edges
concrete days/ cold
shared/ cut lips
spoke mixes of
saliva and hard
slips of lip
against lip and
the burnt plastic
and aerosol air
inside, we felt
cut out of
it, like card, so
layered and frail
talking and our feet
our social theories,
our political standings,
our religious musings,
are all made of.
Threaded in the pulp are the stories of truth
that holds the flimsy fabric together.
Meshed in its core is the integrity of humanity
that glues the pieces together.
Presented on its surface is the hope
that gives it strength,
to overcome all:
that destroy us.
So that we may keep rebuilding
The train trip races, rips through scenes
along the tracks. Speed splinters views,
unfamiliar vistas fill vacated memories,
worlds I lived in, souvenirs I used to own.
I grab a rough rush mat from a helter-skelter child,
leave her to stare as I whoosh down to meet the ground.
I scissor buildings, yielded by their owners to my eyes,
replace pieces one by one to restructure, resurrect
every house I ever lived in, with Mam and Dad,
with him, with them and then alone. I fill holes,
confabulate my tapestry to hang where facts once stood.
I don't know where I'm heading or where I've been
in my imagination. Are you a stranger or my own? Please, hold my hand. I'll sleep now,
and dream until the final station.
Only those who dwell within your walls know
Tales they relate belie your scrappy nature
The truth is out there, or in here
A junk town, an abandoned place
Brimming with stories as yet untold and perhaps never to emerge
Secrets, lies, but wait, illumination beckons and we are drawn, like moths
They told us to build a city,
from nothing but cardboard cut-outs of
houses, a lighthouse, half a crown,
2D buildings with no soul or heart
but the sweet whisper of colour,
a flash of orange, pink and blue.
What are bricks and mortar, if nothing else
but the body?
What is colour, if nothing else
but the soul?
So we keep on building as if there's nothing
more to do
We trust in glue and people,
and all the things that bind us,
till we can no longer see what's in front or behind.
We twist and fold and push our memories of a city,
of hope and joy
into a life, we never knew.
A time we only ever dreamed of,
A single moment.
That's me waving from the back of the boat as we leave the shore that did not welcome and did not expel. We expected nothing less. Watch me untangle myself from the past fifty years, unraveling away from the island. Have we said enough goodbyes? Those are the chimneys and the rooftops. Bye-bye, chimneys. Ha, the novelty of a chimney, after so many lands lived in and then we arrived, clamouring to shore. Hello, island. That's me emerging from the water like the fish they say begat us. This is from whence you came, fish in the sea, the offspring of those who dared to walk. Travel back far enough and you'll see our ancestors, fish on dry land. Hello, shore, hello, rocks, hello, sand. Hello, island. You cannot imagine the languages I've gone through to get here, a velcro of tongues, manoeuvring my way through crowded markets and the back streets of shopping malls. Say that in Xhosa. Say that in Russian. Say something in your language. What is my language? Goodbye, English (language). Goodbye, English (people). There's a limit to. There's a limit. Bye-bye, island. I write to you from this side of the ocean to admit that there are days when I miss your chimneys and bridges, the straight lines of your existence. This is how I came to you on my belly, a serpent out of Eden, terrible things witnessed, so close to the action. We are all witnesses [hello, English (people)] no matter how isolated, no matter how jagged the rockiness of our shorelines. We are all standing in the concentric circles of immorality. Watch us pull away from the shore. Goodbye, shore, goodbye, island, who knows what language we'll land up in next. Thank you for coming to wave us goodbye before you head back to your sofas where the wood crackles reassuringly behind the grate and smoke rises – hello, chimneys – to cover your cities in a veil of. It's hard to see from this distance. This is me extracting myself. Floppy disk from drive, video cassette from player. I have it all on record. I arrived with nothing and now I leave with a memory stick under my arm, tucked away to avoid thinking about you. It's cold here in the middle of darkness so we huddle closer. Read more >
The planning committee decided,
in their finite wisdom,
that the cranes could go,
replaced by new apartments.
Next went the lighthouse (more apartments)
which is redundant now that
the ships don’t come here anymore.
Even the street behind the factory
where your grandparents met
will be overlooked by a penthouse.
It looks good on paper, someone said.
you never came straight home from work.
you had a car but would not commute
and each weekend preferred in pubs to lurk
only cosplay-father seemed to suit
one who stank of alcohol
and woke his kids for goodbye kiss.
racehorses had your loyalty.
they reaped the benefits of your toil
while mother scrabbled for aunt’s ‘charity’
running paid errand in meek turmoil
biting back the rising gall
of being treated like dog piss
to feed her children and pay rent
to landlady-granny, daddy’s side
who’d then feed it to your worthless hide
and you wondered at the big resent.
Their world has
turned upside down
in this paper town;
amidst the broken images
a bridge can’t connect,
and the lighthouse can’t warn
of a lurking threat;
the massive walls can’t protect,
the rooftops look bleak
and people vainly seek
a missing messiah
an absent antidote.
The saw-toothed, jagged horizon
without sunlight or sun
can’t bring an end to their suffering.
my exit wound bleeds doha,
a sandcastle growing taller
keeping up with the rising gulf.
the fast food restaurants and hotels,
look to forget the miles of desert
great spacious houses stand firm
by infinite empty highways; only dashes of cinnamon dust
blend the colour scheme...
no stars today, or yesterday.
in the foggy night sky we only make up red
lights scattered in every direction;
the cranes abundant, ever moving, ever changing...
when the malls dripping in gold hues
no longer blinds us.
we turn to the corners of our home
to remember where we are...
a place where the sand collects inexplicably.
doors locked windows closed.
a call from the dunes surrounding the city.
... we're coming ... we're here ... in your lungs...
it's no threat, no question, just reality...Read more >
We have dreams of escape
To run from the noise
The endless construction
That requires constant destruction to feed
The insatiable demand for progress
The rich escape
Run from the human infestation
Where do they escape to?
The coast, the countryside
The escape requires construction
Which necessitates destruction
Only it’s the natural that drove them there
That they destroy
They seem to be blind to the irony
As they run we pursue
Not so rich, following a dream
The construction and destruction escalates
Until that which drove them away
Becomes the grey reality they must now escape
And so the cycle continues
Nature forced to yield to concrete and steel
Where will they run when there is nowhere left to run to?
When she was young it wasn’t so noticeable.
Her exuberant energy was a positive force,
At work she was a powerhouse,
And could build cities of creative ideas overnight,
Relationships were sometimes fiery,
But her Marilyn Monroe physique and an aura of naïve vulnerability,
Forged a bridge for her friends to reach her.
Her existence was one of grandiose projects and exotic places to live,
Unable to stop planning for herself and others;
The gap between her ‘higgledy piggledy’ world,
And reality widened,
Incessant chatter, non-stop activity,
Began to exhaust those who loved her,
She loved the exhilaration that her ideas gave her,
The buzz, the high that tired her friends and left them feeling;
Debilitated and depleted,
They tried to accommodate her mood swings;
Justify the swearing and anger that had they were subjected to,
But the damage was done.
Only a few loyal, caring friends clung on,
Unwilling to let go of their friend.
The bridge of friendship became more fragile and twisted,
And because they could no longer cross into her world,
No longer believe in her outlandish projects,
They had to cut the last links,
Now if they see her, they hide or cross the road,
To avoid the person with delusions and manic behaviour,
And yet still longing to meet the joyful,
elated friend who had once charmed them.
From this height, the city has the ugly visage of failed
possibilities, scraps of dystopia sequinned on her
colourless blouse, an aging matron who still walks the
streets in her high heels, her lips the desperate pink
of what might have been. I stand at the edge, counting
all the reasons to live. Below, the city murmurs even in
her sleep. Trying to fit her frame to the warm undulations
of the morning sky. Somewhere in her breath is the
poetry of those nights. Somewhere in her embrace is
the smell of heated passion, the taste of your skin on her
tongue, the beat of your heart in her urgent rhythm, the
shadow of your gaze in her underbelly. Somewhere in the
line of her upturned chin is the path we never dared to
take. Somewhere in her soft lap is everything we were.
Everything we lost. Have you watched this city disrobe
at sunrise? Today, her hand feels deathly cold in mine.
Every street in
these few blocks
the tour guide
Here, as an example
and some nights
it is still
to see flames
and hear screams.
on this corner,
and you can
brown and flaked
to wash away.
Read more >
The modern lighthouse is automated:
no more oil lamps to trim, clockwork to wind,
for when we think of light and lens and night,
we conceive the keeper, perhaps awake,
perhaps tinkering at whatever keeps
the keeper distracted from their shelter.
Because we all know a person sometimes
needs a place to hide away the world,
this world with everything that should be left
unspoken of, left in the dark, away
from the all-seeing eye of adulthood.
Now, where are our outposts? Our high castles
that promise that most abstract of being:
safety, the safety of the surrounding sea.
Some people don’t understand that not everyone wants to be led; sometimes you need to find your own path forward. If that path leads to ruin, then it leads to ruin. At least it was you who forged it, not some arbitrary commonplace notion of what’s right and what's normal, implemented by God knows who and who knows when.
People just love having any excuse to turn their noses up, saying things like, “Why is there a lighthouse in the middle of the town and not by the water? A lighthouse over there won’t be leading any boats to shore.”
How do you explain anything to a person with such a closed mind as that?
To outsiders, ours was a community that shouldn’t have worked so well, but it did. A hodgepodge of the fundamentals of most towns – houses, walls, a bridge, distant mountain peaks – though not necessarily ordered in the fashion one might expect. Houses were scattered, walls unfinished, as was the bridge. Our nearest mountain was pink, not green.
Outsiders never understood it, but that’s only because they didn’t really try.
In a normal town, bridges are finished so that people don’t fall off, and can get to where they are going, allowing you to cross over things like a body of water with little effort. In our quirky little town you had the option of stepping on a bridge and getting absolutely nowhere, or else going to the last place you’ll ever go. It was placed right over the deepest part of the ocean, so really, it would have been quite a feat finishing it at all, if we were that way inclined (which we were not). Perhaps you could have extended it hundreds of miles to the next island over, but, like I said before, we’re just not that way inclined.Read more >
a mish-mash of the talent brimming
from every corner and crevice of the world
and scattering like
a white light from the prism
sacred mouths speaking in the
the surreal poetry,
but piercing hearts and souls
A potpourri of emotions,
a litany of worries and angst written across our faces
still singing songs of beauty
this arresting beauty spreads
everywhere through words
the absence of pain
hides the indifference
a confederacy of poetic hearts
this ebb and flow of thoughts and opinions
thoughts always forming
slowly and surely
Read more >
look at us, aren’t we fragile?
with our folded faces, creases
that never fully iron out
sitting in our paper houses, our
cardboard towns with
sheds made from paper party hats
our buildings are celebrations –
even those with
pink roofs constructed from bills
red unread final invoices
doors lined with eviction notices
receipts for blankets and cloths
lost lotto tickets for curtains
and dog beds, numbers adorning
every surface, there are more than
enough of these to go around
pages of essays possibly plagiarised
make sturdy tables and chairs, furniture,
plates, other small wares
appointment cards and letters
leaflets from paracetamol boxes
(and the paracetamol boxes)
Read more >
I fortify the foundations of my mind,
shellac the cracks to keep the ghosts out,
but I will always be breakable.
I paint my eyes with shards of cherry blossoms,
pull the aching memories from my belly,
weaving them into the soles of my feet
to make myself hollow,
but the weight of grief stains my hands.
I hide the burdens of sorrow behind my teeth,
sew the taste of loss into my tongue
to keep the truth imprisoned,
longing to feel the fullness of being alive,
but I will always be empty inside.
James recognised the old box on the kitchen table. It had originally housed a Peter Rabbit china cup and plate he’d received when he was baptised. On the lid lay a bundle of folded sheets of cream Basildon Bond addressed to him.
I thought you might pop in. This collection belongs to you. I saved everything I’ve ever found in the pockets of your trousers. Most have been through the washing machine, some have been through the dryer. I’ve listed them in order. I think you’ll find everything is there, though I’ll confess, there were more coins. I thought it might be a good time to let you have them back. I’ll be back on the 21st – there’s pizza in the freezer. Love Mum x
a teething biscuit,
a Hot Wheels car,
a wet wipe,
a green balloon,
a halloween sweet in its wrapper,
a thousand tiny pieces of tissue,
a Lego man head,
a 2 pence coin,
screws (flat heads and cross heads),
a folded drawing of a scull,
a milk tooth in a plastic orange mouse,
Read more >
In a world that saw in two dimensions, Jane was three-dimensional. She didn’t know anyone else who saw the world she way she saw it. She didn’t know what 3-D was. She’d never even heard the term. All she knew was that she saw the world differently.
In class she looked out the window and swore reality was not the way others describe it. But when she told her teacher he only said, “That cannot be. There’s no such thing. Your mind is playing tricks on me.”
“’Tricks on me’?” she asked. “You said ‘tricks on me.’ Don’t you mean tricks on you. I think–”
“I know what I mean. Don’t interrupt.” He turned his back and walked away, and Jane knew she wasn’t wrong. She knew what she saw.
The world is not as others say, she thought. I will make them see. I will turn them upside down. It is up to me.
Huddling against the wall, not for support, but for comfort of concrete. A street brittle with silence. Sleep glues the eyes. Mouth stale with dryness. Limbs stiff from stillness. Reminders of the hours trickle by with waiting, wanting. The night so dark but for the lone street light casting a moon on the pavement.
vengeance seethes teems grows
consuming all in its path
leaving empty shell
Dawn broke on the morning of the first of November, 2018. It was the day after Halloween, and the night before the townspeople had put aside their rising fear and anxieties at the state of the world, and partied into the night. The media would later say that Last Land Fall had been ripped up, torn asunder. That it had been the work of their neighbours over the sea, aliens, global warming, every politician they could name.
But, there’d been no tearing involved, the schisms were cut, sharp edges. The pier had been sheared from its watery foundation and now pointed up and out to where the sea should’ve been. The air smelt of sherbet and the lighting of matches, and the scent of spilt Southern Comfort liquor wafted on the breeze. Some areas had been become pastel. The townspeople themselves had become sepia versions of themselves. Tea-stained and frightened, they gathered outside to point and look.
Huge shapes had appeared. Circles of orange, aubergine, and black—targets, or eyes, there was much speculation. The red-and-white lighthouse from the point now towered where the town square had been.
It was the pink party hat crown hovering on the inland horizon that gave the culprits away, that and the chanting from the viewing platform on the lighthouse. Soon, everyone who was able assembled round the lighthouse. The door had vanished, several people walked round and round its perimeter, puzzled, then angry. There was shouting.
High above the sepia crowd, the figures of seven teenagers stood looking down at their parents and friends. Their pink party hats were rumpled. Fox, rook, owl, deer, eagle, spider, bee—their faces were still painted from the past night’s revelry.Read more >
You can’t see Seascar from space, but you can see space from Seascar.
I haven’t been to space. I’m just assuming. The other thing I haven’t done is brought Jay here with me. He's not bothered about going to things. He prefers having been to things. Ticking them off. I've bought him a stick of Seascar Rock though. He won’t eat it, he’s got a drawer for things like that. Usually Jay would have come with me, he just didn't want to go somewhere cold and stupid on a work night. Also, I lied.
I’m supposed to be here to take some photos for a thing. Which I am. As well. But first I just wanted to see.
I came because I was born in Seascar, and I don’t know why. I can’t really remember being here, just that it was cold and loveless and stuck in the past. I remember the fishing boats stinking in the shadows of the chemical plant. I remember when there were shops in the high street. But I can’t remember me. I came because I wondered if normal people could come from here.
I thought for a minute a bloke on the beach had recognised me, but I look different now. He just wanted to ask about my camera. He wanted to know how to take pictures of the clouds reflected in the sea. He wanted to show his granddaughter how it worked.
No one had ever shown me how anything worked.
But I was glad I met the man. He did show me. He showed me that I wasn’t this place.
Maybe in some black-and-white old past, but I couldn't get there any more. You can't get to Seascar in a spaceship. You can get out, though. There are loads of ways you can get out.
When they broke our phones, we tried to mend them. That’s us on the beach under the wall, telling ourselves we’ll make a working phone from the bits, telling ourselves not to think about the terror of the end of all communication.
It didn’t work.
When we got back to camp, I curled up in my stinking, shredded sleeping bag. When I heard the children, I knew I was dreaming.
Despite broken limbs and dysentery, despite hunger and not knowing where most of their parents or siblings are, the children are making each other laugh. They play hopscotch and skimstones in the dust. They tell each other stories. They talk about a lighthouse that signals a welcome. Talk about blue skies and safe ships and harbours. Talk about a bridge that leads to villages with houses that have rooves and windows and running water. Talk about people who give them food and kindness and clothes.
Their laughter rises and I dare to look out. I am not dreaming. The children are sitting in a circle with their eyes closed, talking. When I settle in the space they make for me, their talk turns serious. They’re preparing for their arrival in the world beyond the wall where people live in higgledy-piggledy colourful towns and houses get built, not bombed.
A small, dark-haired girl tells me they’ve already had replies to their eees. When I say I don’t know what she means, she pulls out a cracked cobbled-together phone from her filthy sleeve and says, "Emails. Eees. From the people on the other side. They’re real," she says. "Not stories. And they're coming."
Once it was you and I.
I remember the way your tongue traced the remnants of our treat sherbet; your eyes laughing with malice. You always let me lick the packet. I shut my eyes and tasted the stars. In the evening we’d emerge from the doorways. Children from the embers, crawling down smokey streets, searching for a crust of bread, a sliver of cheese. We couldn’t go back to Mother’s. Her moods bloomed and died like the cherry blossoms in the posh folk’s street. Your bruises reminded me of autumn apples. Still sweet.
About to rot.
At night, on the sand, we’d watch the lighthouse.
“Each time the light flashes, that means you’ve got another chance to be good. Will you be good?”
I nodded. I wanted to please you. I never stopped.
In the evening we’d watch the sun run away from our little town. If only we could learn its secret. You talked about the future. The chimney smoke bled into the violet sky. At night your skinny arms wrapped around me. If I snored you’d give me Chinese burns.
In the day, you’d stealthily slip between the stalls at the market; an apple here, a smoked eel there. I made you mad, but you wouldn’t see me starve.
The morning you left me, I was on the harbor. The fishermen hauled their catch off the boats. The salty wind temporarily blinded me, and then you were gone.Read more >
The regenerated harbour
grows, fruiting structures
of pastel-coloured papers
and the towering pink
of craggy cardboard cliffs.
Gulls and gannets wheel
around the lighthouse, spear
clouds and splatter strollers
and beach combers
as they land on idle cranes.
It’s getting hard
to tell the difference
between the damp thud
of corrugated card
and a half-hearted wave.
I am not reacting
I stay in a house made
Of paper, spit and the arrowed
Light of a tower guiding my fears
In the mirror of shadows.
Outside the boys play ball
Before knifing bodies
Their teams grow smaller
Bloodied blades and clavicles pile up
Under the rubble of mansions.
There may be happiness lurking
Somewhere I can’t see
The bricks keep out everybody
Our castles collapse into us
We continue to put the kettle on.
I found a yolk-coloured board once
It rode under my arm, for a brief
Moment I was all sunshine
Then the chimneys blew smoke
Uncolouring it all again.
giving rise to the mental mischief
before waking early to the durational droning
of water lapping and the spasmodic traffic
it is not the least bit random
confessing in still air, I think of you
when I see your gray weather or a light house
in the blur standing in the fallen doorway
there you are
echoes what I see moving in the distance
at this very moment I hear what you ask of me
the distance greater than red from green
I am simply aging sending home snapshots of chaos
with no escape circling around me
as if I were buried in sand up to my hull
while wrestling a half-tamed demon
and there you are
drenched in reality
a salvage squat with deep scars on its hull
buttressed by rusted steel struts jarring
gaping wounds raw cold imposing
dominating the other ships but still
if I speak princess words to you
you appear solid
as tides move in and out
graced with intention
and I can recall when your body
became a substitute for desire
yoking the past to this moment
Spidery webs of gangland crime
Infiltrate, corrupt; historic lighthouse
Overlooking a gunmetal North Sea,
Ruined medieval castle turrets awry.
Coast houses quaint, old-fashioned,
Derelict dockland cranes' decay,
Intermingled with limestone walls —
Peppering of child-age/youth figures
Milling around to no great purpose.
Ragged St. George's flag, UKIP area;
"England for the English" graffiti grime,
Post-industrial, pre-tourism ghost town.
My face is wet;
does that count?
Use up the scraps, she said.
I look at what is left.
I drag a nail
across a love note
and blink –
Such a positive negative…
I make a boat;
inked words are spliced by the prow,
and the smear of
‘leave you’ jeers at me;
it’s what you wrote.
What you did.
I stroke thin paper
and feel the sheen
of newborn skin.
When God was finished assembling the world
she brought the leftovers home.
"Look children, you can make a world,
a little world, just like Mummy."
She gave them safety scissors
and snatched a moment to herself in the bath.
They cut out jagged pink skies, orange chimneys,
aubergine domes and invented a town with houses.
"Can we have some people Mummy, please?
Just a few, we’ll be good and go to bed on time."
Being a working mother and always guilty
she gave in, reached out from the bath
plucked a handful and placed them
in the cardboard pen the children had made.
"Don’t trap them there darlings, build a bridge
or make them a boat or something," she said.
They made a lighthouse but forgot about a sea
or a river, or a boat, stairs were too difficult.
They got hungry before the bridge was finished
and God, in her dressing gown and fluffy slippers,
made them her signature ambrosia
with extra nectar because it was Sunday.
‘It’s a condition,’ said the man in the white coat. "Dysplexiphagorhynia." It means that things look to you as if they were models or made from paper.’
I know my Greek, and there was nothing in the word he used that had anything to do with models or paper.
‘Are you sure about that?’
‘One hundred percent. I am a specialist in the condition. I see cases from all over the world.’
The oddest thing was that to me, he appeared roughly two centimetres tall and his hair was made of string. No, the oddest thing was that I did not find his appearance odd. I picked him up and balanced him on my forearm. He didn’t seem to mind, although he seemed more comfortable sitting down.
‘Is there anything anyone can do about it?’ I asked.
‘I’m afraid not, though we suspect that avoiding all food with an "n" in it might help.’
‘So cheese is okay?’
‘Interesting question. We think it’s the precise name of the food that matters, so you can, for instance, eat cheddar but not Parmesan. The other question still to be settled is whether language counts.’
I raised my arm for the fun of seeing him lose his balance.
He clung on to my sleeve as he spoke.Read more >
We were talking and I said that well if you hate this city so much, and if you could perfect this city that we live in, then what is it you would do, anyway? And you said, Well, we could maybe cut pictures out of magazines and newspapers and stuff and make a little city that showed the way it could be, and I said, Ok, that’s a good idea.
So we got the magazines out from the magazine rack, all of them years old because no one gets magazines these days, and we started cutting out pictures of this and that and then we cut up a cereal box and we were gluing the pictures onto the cardboard of the cereal box, then we got toothpicks and glued the toothpicks to the cardboard so the pictures would stand up on the kitchen table.
And we built the little city this way and we were laughing and I said, Are you really adding this? And you said, Are you really adding that? And when you put the lighthouse on the table I said, Oh, what? And you said, What, are you not going for the lighthouse? And after I asked you how many cities you knew with lighthouses and you said that that was why this city, our city, was so much better than the actual city we lived in, I told you that you were a genius.
And our city needs geniuses, I said. That’s when you said, What city? This city? And you waved your arms in the air, indicating the city all around us, outside this kitchen, outside the warmth and light of this kitchen, Or, and you waved your hands towards our little city, the one on the table, the one with the lighthouse, the perfected city of our imagination, and said, This city?
I felt sad and you looked sad and all I could think to say was that this is our city, carefully leaving it ambiguous which city, real and unsatisfactory or imagined and perfected, I meant. I’m like that. I just thought I should explain.
Our lives were rock, paper, scissors
A myriad of cut-out encounters and decoupage dates
Pleat-folding our hearts into creased concertinas
Only to spring apart under pressure
Super-strength glue not enough
To bond us, prevent us becoming
Insignificant others to each other
Hand-crafted strangers in a pop-up town
Waiting to be made into something new
Waiting for something behind the façade
Of cardboard emotion
Waiting for the cut to make it seem real
Draw your house in crayon triangles and squares.
Build it with cereal boxes and photos of family members.
Write misspelt lines about your hometown
Until you learn where it is you come from.
Etch your name on lampposts and fences.
Make your teenage mark wherever you can.
Ragged belief in the rubbishness of this place
That is yours, full of familiar streets.
Tear out the annals that document your existence.
Crush your past and scratch out your name.
Home is a container for the young,
And you can be contained no more.
Go back and rebuild those paper dreams.
Cover up with old memories rewritten.
This town is not your town any longer,
But you keep its picture in the back of a drawer.
a fragmented sight
in pictured strife
of a three-dimensional life
by the bricks that bind
where snapshots stand their ground
in a misty haze
beyond the horizon
scraps of fright
clearing a turn
beyond the walls
now cemented slabs
flares calling home
It's been a long time
since I left
and days have gathered
like a curtain tucked behind
the window's ears
and the years
The view says "enter me –
for today you have gone too far
in your head"
So I walk away from the cliff
where my heart and its waves
Salt drips, memories fade
And the day
open-palmed like the sun
brings me here and here is away.
The time had come to open that old box
Of paper clippings, pictures and old things
She had collected over years and years,
Though she knew from the start she never would
Arrange them in a scrapbook or review
And choose the ones worth keeping, then discard
At least a few – but no: there they were all,
In black and white and faded colours, too!
My mother’s life popped up in front of me
As if from a child’s book: the tall lighthouse,
Austerely looming under a white sky,
People in her street after the bombing,
Small scraps of tweed a young seamstress would keep,
Her parents’ smiles, her children’s birthday cards…
A collage – or a patchwork – of her days:
Her senile mind could not take these away.
Ursula and Tom live out of town, in the god-damned middle of nowhere – though they don’t ever say ‘god-damned’. The view from Ursula’s kitchen window is all fields and far-off lumpy hills and sky. She hangs her washing on a line strung between two poles and she says the air is clean and real and the clothes smell of outdoors when they are dry. She tells me to breathe so I can taste it like she does.
If I’m honest, the air smells as if something’s missing.
And the quiet, Ursula makes a wonder of that too. She holds her breath so I can hear it, and that’s like something’s missing also.
We sit on the back step sometimes and I offer Ursula a cigarette. She says she shouldn’t, she’s given up, but she takes one anyway. I turn the kitchen radio up so loud the music is a little distorted and like that it feels like we are somewhere.
I visit Ursula and Tom once a month, though it’s really Ursula I go to see. She’s always pleased when I call and she shrieks when she opens the door and throws her arms about my neck and holds on tight as though we’re not just friends but survivors of some natural disaster.
She says she doesn’t miss the city – how could she, she says and she gestures to the fields with nothing in them. She says she doesn’t miss the city, but she always asks me to tell her how it is and when I do tell her she interrupts and adds to the things I say, adding from her own memories so it’s like she’s still a part of the cut-up city carnival.Read more >
In our papercut world,
you crafted this sandstone
wall between us.
One blowsy breath breathes
life and panic into tiny toys
attempting to mount the
wall between us.
Panicked ants. I resent them.
Last night I forgot
to glue the foundation
and now my escape ladder
I know you are there.
The beacon is unnecessary.
The sky is bleached with light.
I see you.
You wear the crown
or it will wear you.
Under the nebulous grey sky, where the smoke rises to the firmament which ingests the fog. The dust settles on this derelict papier town. As specks of hydrogen and oxygen embrace and its coolness torrents in this cosmos. Our concrete construction crumbles and we watch it dismantling in the similitude of an eroding rock till it finds form like a sand dune. Power not nature eroded this landscape. When bulldozers presented devolution as gifts unravelling the memories of what remains. Under this nebulous grey sky, a papier town loses its footsteps imprinted on the pavement where generations have walked. When you see it in the future, under the nebulous grey sky, remember its significance.
I don’t remember much. I remember bits and pieces. I remember the way certain things felt, the way certain people made me feel, I remember the half-timbered facade of a house in a sleepy town with tall brick chimneys and a dog with fluffy ears and a superiority complex, I remember dad’s lack of humor and mom’s absence of light and sister’s castle built as protection against the Saxons, and I remember another house in another town facing cobbled streets glistening in the moonlight where we could be whoever we wanted to, I remember scraping our knees, roughhousing on street corners and the smells, the first smell of wakening roots, a change of smell in the air before the first snow, the scent of pleasantly burning beech and maple in granny’s kitchen where we pricked potatoes with forks, learned how to knit and laughed at pictures of the olden days, and the sweet and salty smell of her pie with cottage cheese and eggs and how her rough hands felt on my smooth cheeks, and playing hide and seek, with us hiding under the bed or behind grandma’s back and grandpa seeking our extradition (boy, did his butt-pinch hurt!), and I remember our first kiss under the big mahogany sun when you called me your princess because of a pink daisy chain in my hair. I don’t remember when I first saw bulldozers and excavators but I remember the smell of something burning, and the ground violently shaking beneath my feet, I remember them dissolving into laughter, a metal hand the size of granny’s kitchen, crooked teeth and pointed nails clawing at my playgrounds and my trees. I remember having to face something I didn’t know existed with its ebbs and flows, ERs, motherly instincts and dirty laundry as tall as a house I once knew, I remember how pennilessness felt in my stomach, unpaid bills, missiles swooshing by, bombs thundering day in day out, I remember move-ins and move-out cleanings, changing friends, skies, currencies and job markets like socks, callous comments and flawless public facades hiding private despairs.Read more >
Across the Damp Pampas we reach the edge,
the whipped Atlantic lifts its southern face.
Grey blue, sand filled, it surges beyond
whale-backed dunes. It crests foam frothed,
distant from the shanties of Buenos Aires.
Here the prosperous promenade, well oiled
they adore the sun, worship each other.
In rented pods they squander days,
lounging, checking the dollar’s progress and
their toned, honed mistresses. As the sun tumbles
they waft back to the alarmed villas, all windows
barred, to quaff high-altitude Malbec.
Below pungent pine and eucalyptus,
emerald parrots bicker.
I’m living in a paper town
There’s card where mortar used to be –
I’ll huff and puff and blow it down.
A seamless shift from coastal crown –
From sun kissed beach and glinting sea
I’m living in a paper town
Where once it sported ermine gown
There’s now a dearth of industry
I’ll huff and puff and blow it down.
A slow, relentless shutting down
Of shops, of bustling dockside quay
I’m living in a paper town
The subtle fall from high renown
Has been, to most, a mystery
I’ll huff and puff and blow it down.
Now sombre hues of grey and brown
Contrive to mask prized history
I’m living in a paper town
I’ll huff and puff and blow it down.
we jumped through the waves
a lighthouse as a beacon
constructing a paper bed
littered with feathered white doves
as sheets –
we believed we could fly
but only if we pared ourselves down
into stainless steel girders to bridge
the gaps between soul and world –
you suggested pink sunset skies and I
chose the round black back
of the moon and we hung
these two framed and hand-coloured prints
opposite the bed
where each night we slipped into
the other, forgetting our names
if only for a few hours
until the yellow yolk of day broke
into our tangled dreams and we had to rush
back into the paper cut reality
marking our fingers
as we locked the door behind us
That story you told of our farmhouse last night disturbed me;
don’t know why you keep dragging these stories into daylight.
Stop rewriting our past, won’t you?
It’s like fooling with particle physics. Next thing, the ceiling
might fly off, dishes will fall from their shelves, roads
leading to this dump could disappear from the maps.
Knife wind, stone-cutting wind, butt-biting wind
I’ve often wondered if that's Grandpa growling from his grave.
He wants to correct your trash talk, set things straight,
like his best plow line. If we’d remembered how that bridge
could rattle and shake; how the old man’s bifokes were shattered, stepped on, for fun.
You’ve stopped listening I see. Put down that pen, won’t you? Look up from the table, please.
After artist Hannah Coulson that collaged a set of objects with a feel of toys, but which shed light on the invisible, opening up new ways of thinking of the world beyond.
A record player skyline with maroon sun
looms in the neighborhood with shades of
all-wrong. But a street-size box of sunshine
yellow crayons are ready to color their world
after the storm subsides and tides gently ebb.
Politics and religion had bad weather too.
It all left a church & belfry on its side, inside
a box coated with words like asphalt-tar—
its grit black banded with magenta-orange
and streaked with nonbinary pinky-gray
make it all right like any roofing shingle should.
An electric ribbon-walkway connects to another
world of a surreal cartoon king standing behind
flimsy sheetrock nestled among the displaced
lighthouse and a working’s house with outdoor
tables and chairs now lying disheveled by wind.
And a few dark-skinned men, but mostly women
and children separated from a very long caravan
of hope are left standing by a surge wall mottled
with seashells and disposable plastic. Hurricanes
didn’t get them and can’t keep them out from
where the true meaning of life blurs with fantasy.
What started it? What word, what silence? What look, or what blindness? Where there were once the smooth contours of bodies, the cool or warm shock of flesh, a story nestled in the the places where skin met; where there were once beautiful structures built out of nothing except the timidity of our first words; where there were once memories that were as alive as the moment they were lived; there is now only this. A strange metamorphosis gripped us. I felt myself box-like under your gaze, made out of card. A card face and card hands, card chest and card arms, a foldable heart and a hole for a mouth that could not even say your name. If at one time we felt our bodies bionic, electric with what we could be, the air had now left us; our lungs had become paper, shredded and pulped, compressed in a factory. And now they collapsed. We stared at each other from out of our flat, incapable eyes and swayed in a draft as something we once were stood up and left us. We toppled over; we lay flat, good for nothing except to be flatpacked. Then a collagist snuck in under cover of night and snipped at us and sliced until all that was left were these pieces – one-dimensional, oblique, in complete disarray – hinting at things that had once made us but which would now disintegrate and fade.
Woke up this morning, saw the card featuring
bits and bobs of architecture set out
in an allegedly meaningful arrangement. Pastel coloured,
the impression was of an art pack in a primary school —
embryo town planners, attempting to create a model
of a city somewhere in the North of England.
You had to hand it to them — it was a good try,
displaying a definite vision. But I wasn’t fooled:
life is rarely so neat as to conform to a model,
and I lost my rose tinted spectacles years ago.
When I looked at it more closely, I saw that a structure
something like Stockport’s famous viaduct
had been included. Nice one.
As expected, no trees or green spaces
were suggested, and the whole thing was set up
against a convincing pewter skyline suitably dotted
with factories and Industrial Revolution chimneys.
Oddly sanitised in pink and apricot,
there was no trace of the grime that miners
had to live with until their lungs gave out.
Dickens had a few things to say about that.
'Hard Times', right?
There was also a dome which could have been
Manchester’s old Central Railway Station —
sorry — 'train' station is what’s its called these days, isn’t it?
A train station then, or a mosque — take your pick.
... deep breath, candlelight
a beacon enlarged from a thumbnail painted in a fancy salon
religion dressed in pink halloween wigs has taken a knee and
is doomed by dwindling light that casts dark reverberations on
shadowed bread-crumb colored bricks
is it the bell tower tolling? the adjacent cemetery walls weeping?
the record inside the dust jacket perpetuates circles coming home
like a ticking clock hands moving time backwards forward-moving
time now is collected mish-mashed items of a poetic collage with an
artist’s splashes of rain colored by earth dyes saviors of the planet
... float with yourself
bright light shines through windows rainbow-ish stained glass which
cannot absorb the mutant strains of belief where we are all supposed
to forgo individuality, told to blend in, to wear black and white so absent
from this photo album where spots of deep blues, spacious turquoise
and earthy love-and-peace colors
... balance yourself
signposts are missing but perhaps the tiny humans here are more lost
than the setting sun doubting its return, morning's light is a jazzy puzzle
in four dimensions like those rare episodes of Mulder and Scully reciting
Shakespeare’s sonnets in strange gray dialects
return to the candlelight
the bright blinding lights from above are not always angels
dreams look much like these words mixed with fantasy horror running
from doom's shackled light
acknowledge these thoughts
Read more >
When they move house, Lucy needs to dismantle her town. "Before the men get here," her mother says. "They won’t know what to do with it." Lucy lies on her belly under the bed, collecting pieces to box. The elevating bridge, the factories, the Cliftonwood multi-coloured houses, the lighthouse. The smell of dust makes her dizzy but she mustn’t cough. Many pieces are much too delicate, too worn by time.
The people in the cardboard town are always terrified by the visits from the giant hand. This latest disruption, this earthquake, goes beyond their nightmare imaginings. Their screams are cardboard silent, their fear is fleshly real. They want the dark, the dust mites and dust motes. They want to be left in cardboard peace. Instead they are held too tightly, divided up, confused, isolated. The giant does not tell them where they’ll be going. The giant hums in a thunder voice.
The cardboard people miss their friends and children when they are put in different boxes. They miss their cardboard dogs and cardboard cats. They miss their elevating bridge, their colourful houses, their lighthouse. After the move some pieces will never be found, some will be damaged beyond repair. Some of the cardboard people will say all people are playthings of the higher gods. Others will never believe in gods again and declare the giant hand was a vision created by their own impossible dreaming.
In the new house, Lucy will look at each of the pieces as she thinks about where best to place them. But she is already too big for the model town and once it is built under her new bed she will never play with it again.
Slowly, softly, Lucyville will suffocate in dark and dust and no one will hear its cardboard weeping.
The heat of the tube was comforting at that time of year.
At 7.47 a.m., he tapped at the barrier and fell into the quilt of damp heat created by congested bodies, his oily eyes sliding shut as the carriage doors hissed and shunted behind him.
His thick black Puffa jacket, which had been such a valiant barrier against the cold on ground level, was, down here near the city's boiler room, the creator of a slick layer of sweat around his neck like a noose.
The tips of his thinning hair slipped onto the rim of his jacket like the greasy tips of paint brushes, spreading his morning sweat in staccato brushstrokes.
A swift change at Fenchurch Street and with a bump and a shunt, the city spat him out along the expanse of the Thames Estuary, expelled matter, no longer needed, river as garbage chute.
The train bobbled along Essex’s southern border, the window framing a moving canvas of seaside towns and the future dreams of property developers horny on hyper-gazumped IPA dredged from the casks of oversea investment. The casks had rolled down flimsy boards of wood from the ships that Samuel Pepys would have seen, into the seaside pubs where sailors let rip.
He could ride the train as far as Shoeburyness but Pitsea or Benfleet were more appealing. Appealing because they were not the destination, they were not where he had to be. The Estuary has always been a portal, Ghent or Amsterdam via Limehouse, exiled Eastenders boarding an express train to the future. But for him it marked an end, a completion of a circuit.Read more >
Sedimentary rock is formed from the particles of things that once lived. The rock is fairly soft and may crumble.
In the chair beside the bed, Antony waits for them to take his mother. Not long now, he says. It is cold in the micro-climate of this make-shift refrigerator. He is wearing three pullovers.
The room is plain, apart from the postcards lining the mantelpiece: a sun-bleached Turkish wall; London Bridge with its jaws open; a coral reef; a lighthouse with scarlet stripes. One, he has cut into the shape of a crown. It made his mother laugh, the sight of her grown son playing dress-up. I am your prince, he had said, kissing her slender hand as if the act might bestow magic on her shrinking, yellowing self.
He places the crown on his head and chooses a video from the pile beside the telly. His mother had the colour all wrong. A too-pink Doris Day sings about windy cities but it doesn’t seem right, all that smiling and sunshine, so he turns to the snooker instead.
Metamorphic rock is formed under the earth’s surface due to intense heat and pressure. It may have ribbon-like layers.
The green baize of the snooker table is almost phosphorescent, like something scooped from a pond. While the snooker man chalks his cue, Antony strokes his mother’s still-warm hand. Just him and her and the sound of snooker balls being pocketed in some far off room.
Their world has always been small; no one else has dared step inside. Trips to the corner shop for tomato soup, a string bag swinging at his side. Evenings cataloguing his collection of rocks. Reading the latest postcards. He asked for them, when each class left. I want to see you out in the world, he said. And they obliged: the Great Wall of China, the limestone pavements of Malham Cove, the excavated city of Pompeii, buried under dust for so long. Sir, they said, you would love it here! Read more >
The collage looks random but she thinks long about each element. Which bits to use, if they need trimming, where to put them, how to make it look right. It has to looks right.
She is taking too long. Isn’t she always?
The scissors in her hand are trembling again.
It’s the photo’s fault. She doesn’t want to look at it, but not looking at it is not the way to go. She’s tried a few times to cut it to size with eyes closed and each time she dismembered someone.
She pushes the images of stray limbs out of her mind.
The images come back. She mustn’t take this long – the sooner she’s finished, the sooner she’ll get rid of the unwanted images.
She wants to lose herself in her creation.
Once finished, the collage will be a recreation of the minutes before the carnage. She doesn’t need to remind herself of the scene afterwards – she sees it all the time. No, she wants a reminder of what it was like up until then. She wants to pretend time stopped then, and everybody and everything still looks the way it looked then.
She wants to drown out her own useless shout. She’d taken too long to get down there. If she’d not dithered… But she had, and the warning came to late, and the first thing her cousins knew of the bomb was when it exploded.
She’s taking too long again. If she’s careful with the scissors this time, nobody will lose any limbs at least.
The vent was soldered into the hole he had cut in the roof, and the wind had peeled the solder away, so the vent was beating itself to death. Thakthakthakthakthak. Through the tearing sound of the wind, he could hear it was cracked already.
The city is as good as paper now. What man joined together, wind puts asunder.
He stretched his fingers a little further up into the top of the vent. A piece came away in his hand, along with the furred alveoli that lined it. His face was close to the air outside for a moment. He listened to the powdery sound of the wind, thinking he could hear splinters of glass, caught up in a huge crystalline whirlwind, pounding into the brick of the squashed Victorian pub next door. Probably not as bad as it sounds, he thought as he came slowly down the ladder.
Standing with the piece of lung in his palm, he thought if only it could mend itself. He put it into a bag of fluid and tied off the top. Then he rummaged around the rest of the workshop, stepping over his barbells where they had been left on the floor, running his hand over the alcoves he had built from leftover juice packets. Nothing will have a chance to set with the wind as it is. There was a soft bag of fibre under his left hand. I could just push that in there. Might last about five seconds.
He heard the trembling of metal under stress and then another unwanted cracking sound from the vent above. The concrete floor at his feet was dusted with brick. He grabbed the fibre and tore it out of the bag as he climbed over the barbells onto the ladder. The fibre was wet with its own mucous; it began to cling to his fingers, and as he pushed his arm up into the vent, he stuffed it into the gap where the piece had broken away. Read more >
Today, all day
I've been constructing loss in a lexicon of paper, scissored scatterings of this town where the living pause. I've cut our photos down to shadow, appreciate how you and I are neither here nor there, like estuaries and sea. Only that brazen lighthouse takes my grief hostage, its soaring searching light, that poignant blue. As it should, the bridge goes nowhere and a crane is lessoned in stillness, but above all, that blank walled space is most important, it resonates of us. Listen to my careful collage of sound, your pale name drifting like a bird, some low tow of fading sea, and his voice in counterpoint, taking you, taking you...
We are leaning into a point.
Over rushing water.
Over cold tracks.
Our heels ache from balancing.
The city has risen around us.
We have all of the things.
We have streets and chimneys and flagpoles.
My body is a house.
Your fingers are bricks.
We have a wall.
It guards the way.
We pretend no one waits there.
Should we close this bridge?
I don't remember building it
And it would be nice to cross.
To see the city.
I heard that there is a lighthouse and a tunnel here, built first.
But they have been pushed to the back.
Out of focus.
And there are no lights in either.
But beyond them is something.
Something half formed.
When Maria can be sure his breathing has slowed enough and he is securely held by sleep, her work begins.
Padding gently downstairs, one hand on the bannister, the other cupping her slowly swelling belly.
How many years has she been here? Yet this late at night, alone and surrounded by silence, she is still slightly unnerved by the thick carpet she finds her toes in.
“No one at home has carpets,” she had told him, what feels like forever ago. Smiling over the rim of a glass of red, settling into his sofa.
His reply, typically practical. “You don’t need them. It’s warm. We’re a people who need to think about the cold here.”
A brief stop in the kitchen to collect the big scissors, before another flight towards the cellar. Slower. Suddenly becoming very conscious of her steady heartbeat, of the growth of the other heart below it. The cool concrete against her soles, and quickly shrugging on a cardigan, waiting for her over the back of her chair.
She quietly waits for the bulb to warm up properly and show her the details of their world.
At first, she couldn’t work out why she had kept it hidden down here. It wasn’t as if it was anything to be ashamed of, anything improper. But maybe dredging up so many memories and remaking them, turning them into something you could touch... Maybe it was somehow wrong. Maybe these things shouldn’t be tangible.Read more >
Fingerprints pasted in replica of non-existent. Stuck with overlap of cherubic
Scraps of when
Acts of reminisce were impossible. Tense only present in diaries made safe in dark brown hessian of deep inside illegible.
Then miniature houses for shoes studded with unquestioned animals.
Would your box of now still float on water.
I laughed at you.
There I was cock-of-the-walk, cigarette smoker,
down by our wall, kicking around.
We owned that lamp-post, didn’t we?
I mocked you.
sitting there, square.
I didn’t know you were figuring out a way over,
While my back was turned you saw beyond the wall
The colour and texture of a different life.
High heights and bright lights
Bridges to cross, towers to climb – how does it look from the top by the way?
Can you still see me standing here?
I mocked you
And now you should mock me
For my cocky small-mindedness
Because you are there
And I am still here
Because I was looking away
while you looked for a way.
I don’t remember any of this,
and I can’t see all that well.
How many candles on the birthday cake —
or is it a wailing wall instead?
I give up. The boys are playing basketball,
the old women shuffle past them
clutching prayers, scrawled on scraps of time,
to stick in a crevice as balls bounce by.
If it wasn’t for the lighthouse,
I’d be totally out of it.
I cannot accept modern civilization,
though it’s all I have to work with.
I think of a crane with a chain
and demolishing ball swinging
into the haphazard buildings.
I think about clearing the path,
getting back to the basics,
starting over from scratch.
You tell me I have to transform the mind,
because the situation is mind,
and mind is the situation.
What comes next? You reply,
“Stop trying to be the one in control.”
I’ve stopped counting candles on the birthday cake.Read more >
A pink giant strides toward us waving his fists
against the blank sky
crane arms casually threaten the fragile paper house
trapped or hiding behind stone walls
it's become so hard to tell a lighthouse from a missile silo
hard to understand how tiny the yellow-turreted castle has become
why arches do not now and may never again signify a coliseum or duomo.
I was born under a bridge.
I was born a bridge, steel
girder, steel blue eyes, stolen
from the sea. My mother
was a lighthouse and my father,
sand. Or my mother was a beacon
and my father, an hourglass
pouring. I was born anywhere
but Pittsburgh; papyrus
and banana leaf. I can fold
in two. I can cut like
a scythe, pulp and grind.
I can develop ink on matte
finish, finishing line in sight.
I was born not out of dark.
I was born running out of time.
Even on her deathbed, she wouldn’t tell me. “I did my best for you, Georgina – that’s all you need to know.”
But it wasn’t. If my horrible half-brother hadn’t been hovering I would have strangled her, the mean old bat, cancer or not.
She shifted in discomfort and Jeremy flew to her side. “Can I get you something, Mother?”
“I’m in a draught,” she said petulantly. “Move the screen closer.”
As he repositioned the screen, my gaze roamed over the decoupage which had fascinated me throughout my childhood. A hotchpotch of Mother’s life in photographs, invitations, birthday cards and theatre programmes. She glanced at it before giving me a surprisingly tender look. “I’ve left you the screen – you will find your answer there.”
She would say no more – in fact she barely spoke again – and a fortnight later I inherited the screen.
I pored over it for months, scrutinizing every photograph with a magnifying glass, researching every event she had attended, tracing each name on the cards – all to no avail. Eventually I accepted that she’d played one last mean-spirited trick on me, and consigned the bloody thing to the shed.
The following spring, with the grass growing so fast I could hear it, I went to take out the lawnmower, and the screen almost toppled on top of me.
A winter of damp had done its worst, and much of the decoupage had peeled off, revealing a second layer sealed with clear varnish. Love letters, dozens of them, written in a strong masculine hand. Some made me blush, others reduced me to tears, and the last one finally gave me the answer I’d been seeking for decades.
Read more >
Every day there’s talk about
the wall. They stand back,
admire, add another brick, another twist
of spiked wire. To keep us out,
or to keep them in? Such a fine wall.
The biggest wall, the best wall.
Made of the finest cardboard,
to match this paper world they
live in. A world in two dimensions.
Paper walls, paper roads, and
little paper people,
led by a paper king.
The weatherman says
a mighty wind is coming.
A mighty wind to
blow it all down.
I am sybarite with small insects,
Sideways from basilica aslant
I populate their papery steps,
With these my little sycophants.
Not enough for me was this: the world’s
Zebra stripes and tiles and walnut burls.
Full satisfied only in fictions,
My bestuccoed predilections.
Architect to the bleating fleas,
I built their obedience a scene,
Ensorcelled them by urbane means,
No lover’s blood they stole from me.
I shut the curtains, drew the blinds—
That no breeze could fell this city mine.
The mind is a jumble sale of images now:
memories tangled like winter scarves, fingerless gloves,
and empty handbags tumbling inside a box
in the back seat of a vintage car speeding through
the countryside I loved as a child. I can picture
the hinterland so well, grazing my skin
like summer salt: the smell of tree-sap, warm as blood;
the ancient buttonwood where I fractured a limb;
moonlight tattooing my bare shoulders as I swam
as I swim
in the lighthouse beam that peeped
through praying trees…
or preying trees?
the jangling of a bicycle chain slipped
in the rain…
the clacking of a record player
of Side A. I try flip to over it but something
gets the in way.
Like leaves dry falling from trees,
they disappear before they touch the ground.
tongue at low tide under hot sun dry and heavy
try to speak & words sink in thick-soled
awkward squelch to pull them up and out
to speak toward the island of your ears
somewhere between the mind and mouth
scissors sharp & hungry
cut these thoughts to pieces
to paste together & you, my lighthouse, do
I perfected it. The anchor under
tow, pointing poised to your soft
neck. Went from line to shaking
plane in search of any horizon’s
grace. The lighthouse at dawn.
Out the window and over the
score again, roasted chestnut
with mechanised coals. What
was the point again? Reaching
out to whose unbleached skies?
Acid free, of course. Creases
made to last. Shifting polarity
left me unbalanced. Squatters
by the palisades wouldn’t stop
for any tide, not least this last.
Where should I find you
once the dust is clear?
Suppose a city’s lungs
from under construction
breathe again sometime.
We reach toward sky in many ways;
our towers are powers of great displays
to prove we can’t be chained to earth
where we began, our source of birth,
the place we rest to gain our strength
so we may stand and at full length
ascend the stairs we build to reach
some summit, where we’ll find a breach.
And so, we keep on building higher;
watch guards o’er our sea whose fire
lights the night and pierces rage
of storms which seek their mortal wage;
parapets where cannonade
ensures invaders are dismayed;
bell towers, steeples, great cathedrals,
vaulted, high-pitched tall trihedrals
screaming to the heavens above
that we are worthy of god’s love.
While back on earth, we build walls, too,
to keep within and out of view
those others who don’t understand
that all the Earth, and all its land
is ours, not theirs, to have and hold,
to build upon, to mine its gold,
to reach beyond, escape its grasp
by building structures without lapse
so we can prove and earn the praise
of reaching sky within our days.
Exhilaration and danger join hands,
as I trawl through this journey of
opportunities and pitfalls.
Friendly faces emerge from shadows
to help me on my way.
A warm light, a dominant sight,
steers me on course.
Others will trip and hold me down;
deter me from my latent talent.
I swirl around, always confused,
on this ever-revolving ball.
There were trees, once.
I remember waves … and a little park, with railings.
I used to live here.
There was a war...
And we left.
Many of us survived.
'Come back,' urged the government.
'We want your energy and ideas.'
The children stayed behind–
Well, they're young people now, not children.
They overcame the muttering,
Refused to be defined as migrants.
My grandfather grew vegetables over there.
And Gran had one rose bush.
It had huge pink flowers.
I'm not sure if this government wants roses.
A short way past the House of Fiction
and down towards a bright-lit bay,
we spied a town called Contradiction;
there, we agreed, we two would stay.
(First, though, you had to take a selfie
beside the perpendicular belfry.
Serenely I stood in the sun,
and would not speak to anyone.)
A guide, for one fistful of dollars,
escorted us behind the scenes,
between quaint rows of lost machines
and into cafes rich in scholars.
“Do not”, he hissed, “disturb the dons.
One day we’ll purchase fresher ones.”
Seizing our bags, our guide ascended
the umpteen steps the lighthouse had.
Pay as you like, the tour was ended.
(Alas, our tip was all too trad.)
The windows round that umpteenth storey
displayed the town in all its glory:
the giddy colours, roofs of slate,
the square where locals perorate.
Tickled, you cried: “Would they believe us,
if we should send a postcard home?
That after Moscow, Paris, Rome,
a sojourn *here* is hardly grievous;
indeed, this collaged, close-knit place
imbues its own fine hybrid grace!”
They came for the people first. There was no bloodshed, no protest. They simply chose three of the children playing in the square and sent the others home. I remember the little faces. One boy, two girls, silent and terrified. The people gathered up only what they could carry. Some chose to take wealth - gold coins, jewellery - in the hope of being able to barter. Others took family mementoes, preferring the comfort of photographs and treasured trinkets. One old woman (I thought her foolish then, though now I recognise her wisdom) left her home with only the clothes she wore, knowing all was already lost. At the end They released the three children, who ran to their relieved mothers; the villages mistook this for kindness.
After the people had boarded the trains (we had no idea where they went, despite the rumours) and the streets had fallen silent, They returned for the houses and cottages. They swept them aside, jumbled up like wooden toys. I glimpsed a shop where I'd bought sweets as a child, and the vicarage which had overlooked the green. I looked for my grandmother's old cottage, glad that she'd not lived to see it destroyed, but couldn't spot it from my vantage point.
We crept home and told our friends and neighbours. Some didn't believe us, said it was just another of our silly stories. Others started to pack, discreetly, quietly. A small prayer group began meeting at the village hall.
It's our turn next. Soon. Now. It's barely light and I'm curled up beneath my blankets. It's warm, but no longer safe. I can feel the ground reverberating, hear the distant footfall.
When the panic rises,
when the steel inside my ribcage sings,
I turn to paper.
Train carriage, coffee shop,
doctor's waiting room –
these are the places I have sat and held
a clean sheet in my hands,
Out in public, where the eyes of others roam,
I do not fold.
Only at my desk before the window
do I sit, hold something yet-to-be:
and then my hands begin.
The certainty of each sharp crease,
the crisp fall of each fold –
like standing barefoot, woken from sleep,
looking at a cold sky.
A spindle bridge, a lighthouse,
a tiny swan:
on my windowsill a paper town,
fragilities all in a line.
One day they will blow over, rip –
but still I will return, relapse.
Into another square of nothing,
so white, so matte;
into another shade of blankness
Ticky-tacky pieces of my life peel away, and the fact is
I haven’t the glue to make them stick anymore.
See this haphazard arrangement of my years in coloured strips?
A mix of bad timings and poor choices have encouraged cracks to form.
The foundations I built my life on crumble, and open wounds gape
leaving fragments of my past scattered in random images.
Grey spaces form as parts of me fade and disappear.
Soon there will be nothing left to show that I was ever here.
Behind the wall I live
tormented by phantom shapes of Utopia.
Behind the wall I hallucinate,
creating a crazy collage, cutting and adding
of a city where new colour is wanted
bridges build themselves and fun might live.
I trap the light in a tower terrified that my vision
might fade while I wait in darkness.
Behind the wall I wait, holding the rock
I will not throw
halted by the stonewalling and waiting for
the cutting of the red tape
waiting for the papers to cover my rock.
wearing the bones
of a once-proud city
doomed ship impaled
on flaring pink
kiss of yellow
smear of beige
on the march
outside the walls
reduced to shadows
one dimensional truths
twisted at right angles
the lighthouse has lost its eye
Old match boxes grey photos
Bits of bright paper
A dream of scraps and shadows
The textures rough and smooth
Each shape cut sharp
And clean against the blank
We read as empty sky
Over gray buildings
Their faces cold
As drear November rain
The only life a few
Before a great wall
Rising white and wordless
As Ahab's nemesis
A flat denial
Of all our flimsy
Pink and yellow hopes
Not so much memories of a lifetime
as some kind of collage. Not even
a collage, more just bits of paper
propped up, shoved awkwardly together
like strangers at a party. Who's got time
to get out glue and scissors? Much easier
to shuffle things around and try to make
something you can live with, even
if nobody could live here: the bastion
tumbled to the ground, the lighthouse
that emits no light so little wonder
all this stuff is crashed up here together
like wreckage from a ship, like plunder.
Here's all the houses that I ever lived in
but can't remember now. Here's a paper crown
bigger than the whole world, to stand
for my lost dreams. Here's a tiny figure,
one-dimensional, crouched beneath a wall.
It's probably me although I can't be sure.
Maybe it’s the yoga studio on Fifth St. for you while for me it’s the Bagels Are Better on Main. I’ve seen you walking past the construction site abutting the florist’s shop, foam mat rolled like a tight braid under your arm, going to and fro. We might bump into each other at the library. This is what I imagine because, you see, I don’t really know anything about you except that you do yoga and walk rather than drive between studio and home. Even so, the collage of my town has a place for you, between Main and Washington St. in mid-stride.
Does the world flow for you? Do the edges bleed into one another—the studio and your house, the streets and intersections? The world—that is to say, my town—does not flow for me. It is a configuration of still shots pinned to a blank canvas, including home, which sets my particular view of town apart from yours.
Wherever you go after your yoga class is not the same destination as mine when I’m done with my bagel and chai tea.
Two banks, where I keep my savings and pay my bills, stand side by side in my mind, despite the fact that one is smack dab in the center of town while the other is a fortress built off the highway that bisects east and west. Lately clinics loom large on the collage of my town. The hospital that they built outside of town proper is pinned to my clipboard, not far from the university where I teach, the bagel place where I lunch, the grocery store where I buy nearly the same items every weekend to replenish fridge and cupboard, the clinic where a team of doctors convince me that I am no longer young.
The collage has shifted over time. Some scraps of paper yellow and curl; they are taken down and tossed into recycling, like the bookstore and the old-fashioned department store that closed earlier this century. Read more >
When I look at it all clearly,
there was an unwarranted certainty,
a surety that I knew how to parent,
that a maternal instinct would shine
lighthouse bright, from within me.
I could be crowned, mother
to reign over all mothers in the kingdom.
But really, my crown was paper thin.
The protective wall that I tried building
around them was easily climbed,
they could escape during their teens.
The home I had studiously created
with instructions from all the manuals
fell into a model of topsy-turvyness.
I had no idea how to put us upright again,
had no idea what lay in the far landscape,
no idea of what directions to follow.
But we did move forward, passed every
random obstacle dropped into our family life,
survived their teenage years. Made it through,
heart-tussled but still held together.
There are ladders to nowhere.
There is an endless beach of emptiness.
But there are lighthouses leading us to
a calm, blank white,
if we look for them.
Our buildings are falling apart.
Our castles are toppling down.
But we are reaching.
We are reaching.
Whether made of brick or sand—
stone or wood—
we layer ourselves
between building blocks.
We become one with the source.
Our bodies are the mission.
Our voices rise with the mist.
We become the bridge
between then and now—
between them and us.
Small footprints appear in the sun
Wet outlines evaporate.
We were never here.