• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 11
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Eulogy Elegy

Friend, stay awhile!
The glasses have been filled and refilled and all

the old stories have been retold——comedies
and tragedies alike. You are awash in accolades

(the curses we keep to ourselves). Music
is playing and we are dancing out of time.

But there is only so much space in which to
remember——which is not to say we didn’t

love you. For now, your place is at the table
where we are gathered, though there is more

to consider than just the ghost of your glory.
The clock ticks and we have heard it

said that in six months’ time you will become
    a bell’s toll /
        lifting fog /
            an empty room.

1

Third-Floor Walk Up

A full seven days since my release. My sleep patterns
remain on jail time. Meaning, I haven’t slept.

Spent the past three months and 21 days
waiting to clear my name. Hundreds of hours
spent watching my shadow
dance
slow
waltzes
on cell walls.

Finally, I’m home.
Horizontal on a cot beneath a single window.
Watching my shadow dance on a dark ceiling.

Voices whirl, up and down,
from the street level café, three flights below.

Twinkling lights, strung in crisscross formation
across the first floor
room’s richly textured, high gloss ceiling.
Warm glows on the animated faces within.
And without.

Shadows and spirits. Spirits and shadows. Dance. Sway. Swirl.

Laughter drifts through floor vents,
unsure what to make of the sounds of silence within.

Scents of pub food follow. Barbecue tang.
Vegetable oil. Vinegar and burning wood.

Read more >
2

Make the Darkness

The night, a question I can’t

answer, subsumes me. It whispers,

Let’s make a deal. You can’t see

everything. That’s part of the fun.

I don’t choose so the party chooses

me. I only love a room once everyone

has left it, a crime scene in which I

search for clues, a narrative. You

can’t understand something until it’s

over. And what do I find? I won’t reveal

anything except to say I write to you

in invisible ink, my words bleeding

into the night with all the other ones.

And let’s face it, if this story has a happy

ending, I’ll be as surprised as you are.

3

Blood-Drenched Luck

They tore down the Victorians and corner stores that had made the community and put up big complexes with giant silver abstract statues and anti-skateboarding, anti-sleeping benches. They tore down private gardens for corporate gardens. At night, it is empty as an apocalypse. Few lights in windows to be seen from the balcony of one of the last houses. Few can afford to light those windows up. Ghosts, former neighbors, shuffle in the dark to find a doorway to camp. The theater close by only has safe shows now that won’t make you wonder too much about what’s going on, or what native people were moved or killed, or which people after were rushed off. The local bars, once for the working class to meet after work and where poets screeched dissatisfaction, now have hunting trophies, expensive drafts and adhere to noise complaints. You don’t know how much longer you can float, you and the parts of you that have lived here before any of this. You watch the empty advent calendar of the apartment complex that looms in front of your house. The only opened and bright box, a new family crammed in a room celebrating their bounty, their blood-drenched luck and the absence of gunshots, sirens, inconvenience or questions.
4

Leave the Light On

There are full rooms and empty rooms—
and a long stairwell leading to the beginning of it all.
Concrete steps lead back up
to where we are now—
where the light sometimes shines a warm hue
of gold, or burnished red.
Other times, I am reminded of aqua waves
and an otherworldly violet.

The people come and go.
It is seldom the same collection,
and yet, the gathering always has—
someone laughing
someone singing
someone crying
someone arguing
someone feeling lonely
and someone wanting to flee.

There must always be room for
empty compartments—
places only your singular heart
knows how to find.
If the rooms are always full—
too full—
the mind has nowhere to go.
There is no refuge from the noise and clamor.

Read more >
5

Remote Viewing

There’s nothing to do here except watch the neighbours. So many floors up, in these buildings there are no tree tops, no parks to see, no birds, just concrete and brick, balconies and windows. Lots of windows. And all curtainless. Well, most.

There is nothing to do when you have no money except watch the neighbours. I had to sell the music centre, my vintage vinyl collection, and the widescreen TV just so I could pay my rent. I was laid off from my job and the work I do now is on a zero hours’ contract. Some weeks I don’t have enough hours to make the money I need.

There is nothing to do once I am alone in this flat except watch the neighbours in the apartments opposite. I keep the light off (it keeps the bill down) and move my chair in front of my window. I can see several flats, lights blazing, people moving around. I’ve have seen arguments raging, children playing, and the sad looking lady in the apartment to the right who also stares out. I think she is lonely like me.

There is nothing to do when no one asks you to join them for a drink, or the cinema, or for a meal (not that I could afford it even if I was asked), so my entertainment is here. It’s my personal reality TV, a nightly instalment of Block 310 on Duke Street. And tonight there is a party I haven’t been invited to. I raise my glass of Savers lemonade and down the packet of outdated crisps I found at the back of the cupboard. I nudge my window open a tad, feel the threat of winter, push that thought aside and listen as music drifts across the courtyard. The thump, thump of a base beat, laughter rising and falling, and I am almost there in the heat of packed bodies, sharing the joke, the friendly banter, eating sausages on sticks, having a drink topped-up. They are making plans for tomorrow, next week, next month.

Read more >
6

Almost Love

On weekdays we leave at the same time,
open our doors, step out into the morning
she on one side of the street, me on the other
sometimes I have to wait in the lobby
to ensure our synchronicity.
I know she likes it, she sends me
silent signals on our daily commute,
the other passengers mere extras in our romance.

She usually gets home before me, lights the lamps
so I can see her relaxing in the blue room,
the colour of the walls is the same as her eyes.
She eats with a book propped open on the table.
and lately she looks out, as if to say goodnight,
before she draws the curtains and goes upstairs,
it’s almost as if she knows I’m here, watching,
keeping her safe against the night.

Imagine my surprise when I got home
and saw her in a purple dress, loud music
floating from her window, flowers in vases
and other people, eating and drinking and laughing,
I’m more disappointed than surprised, I suppose.
Tonight, when her last guest has left
and she’s alone again, I’ll go across,
knock on her door and when she lets me in,
and she will, I’ll let her know just
how disappointed she has made me.

7

Shoeboxes

Do you hear the red kite flying overhead as you wake
in your affordable shoe box? Do you?

Will you see the sun set from your shade of dolly-mixture
pastel painted third floor room? Will you?

Can you see the moon edge its way between the stars
in the burned out night? Can you?

And who has put the top on your last shoebox? Who?

8

Blinking out

I went from red room to blue room, weak, wild,
and the only thing that followed me were the eyes.

When I struggled in scarlet, when I pushed until
the walls wobbled, and I staggered in a lost body,

listening to sad old songs and counting pounds,
down, down, but still in the air, you were warmth

there, irises brown and tired, you said, get up, child,
then down; come and join us, bright on the ground.

When I found the other stairs, pulled myself to blue,
I could stop running, pedalling, rowing, starving.

I looked into eyes of cyan, eyes that knew sea, fire,
told me, be happy, kid. It will all be fine – just live.

And downstairs, this time, it all seemed like a film,
and I was outside, but I was me, and the music now

was a guitar that would one day climb up into my arms
like my baby would, and I sat and heard out the song

before creeping away to my room of cream loneliness
and mapping out a new route to where I could get

when all eyes closed and only my own wit would lift
me through, chasing the truths I borrowed from you.

9

Expectation

The man had excused himself from the party to have a smoke in the garden. Now he had finished smoking, but he was still standing in the garden. He told himself he would go back in after he counted to five, but he counted to five and didn’t move.

They’d bought the house together, him and the woman, and now the done thing was to have a party. He knew that. They’d agreed. So he didn’t understand what was making him stand there like an idiot, just staring through the window while his friends talked and laughed and had a good time. Maybe it just felt a bit like it wasn’t his party; the woman had decided the date, made the shopping list, moved the furniture.

A car passed by on the corner and illuminated a pair of eyes at the bottom of the garden. The man jumped, he reached for his phone. The roar of the car seemed to get louder instead of quieter in his ears. But it was just a fox. It was there for a second and then it disappeared into the hedge. The man sat down on the garden bench. He thought that the way the fox stared at him was like the way a colleague's child had stared at him, a few days earlier, when he tried to make a joke.

Maybe that was it. That was it? House is to party as marriage is to children? Dating is to marriage as marriage is to happiness. Spare room is to baby as smoking is to cancer. Fuck. He should really stop smoking. And swearing.

He had to stand up, he had to go back inside. The woman was walking with a bounce as she served the canapes that the man had helped her prepare earlier. They had been fiddly, he wasn’t good at fiddly, so he knew they looked a mess. He couldn’t go in there and look at the ugly canapes, he just couldn’t. He didn’t stand up. He sat there, very still, in the garden.

10

Fenestre fantasy

now is the autumn of dimming light
of ever shortening days
fires will soon be glowing

at night I see people
people through their
un-curtained windows
I am the unwitting voyeur
they are snug and warm
enshrined exhibitionists
I try not to look but
in the autumn of dimming light
it proves impossible

11

Window on the world

Twitch the curtain – show me the midnight gist
of the here and now. Rooms abandoned, best
framed in this almost-Hopper light (“Almost,”
you sigh, “but not quite.”). Neighbours who adjust
to social interaction. Shadows cast

like writing on the wall, as if joining in
(“Also,” you cry, “I think I know that woman –
that one –”);

then both phones ping. Duplicate letters
spell out the worst from another world (“Two shooters...
enough,” you say, “no more. No more of that.”)
The world as seen by a pair of curtain-twitchers.

12

a tripod of transference

All the neighbors fled to ground floor and I responded
by singing to them this mellifluous tripartite lyric:

"thrice you thrust these questions
of meaning into little boxes
and the ruts of sameness
you derived were
remarkably
alike

the rice that rusts and deprives
a gleaning of boards and ads
and their signals of self
and withers rows of
expectant grains
away

the ice for us will mark a dive into
melting solid boundaries towards
the south and the north
and the third pole
of seeming
aware."

13

Apartment 3B

No one lives above me.
Life happens two floors below.
Mostly I stay home and listen
to their parties. Sometimes I turn
the TV off and let their happy noise
fly in to greet me so I am not alone.
Once a pigeon landed at my windowsill,
but flew away just when I turned to see
if joy had come again to visit me.

14

Peeking in Windows

As days shorten into autumn nights,
I await the switching on of lights
with anticipation. Face cool with dusk,
I’m drawn to bourgeois houses just
to linger a while and get a peek
of strangers’ comfort glowing chic
in the encroaching darkness:
a welcoming fire, a bevy of guests
round for drinks or an evening meal,
to which I’m not invited. I feel
the heat and hear the gentle hum
of intimate and friendly conversation,
then continue walking on the leaf-strewn
pavement, bound for an empty room,
chilly with pixelated twilight
solidifying quickly into lonely night.

15

Three Storeys

I can hear the music, though I’m two floors up:
New Romantics mostly, with a bit of stadium rock.
Those years had hope, you felt you could make anything
with a synth and sequencer.
My last party was my wedding reception;
the icing on the cake was the icing on the cake.

I can hear Vienna and Heaven from here in equal measure.
The floor vibrates with drum pads,
it shakes my painting, upsets my layout.
I may have had better luck with OO gauge;
bigger wheels, heavier chassis. Must get on,
the 10:47 is due, those trucks won’t shunt themselves.

Quite surprised to be invited, only know the host.
Exchanged bios with a couple of people
almost like speed-dating. The archaeologist was interesting.
It’s very light and bright in here, very retro chic;
they knew how to make tapered legs back then.
If they play any more Ultravox, I’m walking home.

16

Travel idea

‘Will to preserve heritage,’ he read on the menu-card, and then added, ‘an interesting name for a cocktail.’ A nod in the affirmative and he was soon ready to join the group with a glass in his hands. The conversation seemed to be floating on a sea of terms that sounded as intriguing as a thriller based on a foreign locale. Baolis, mahals, maharajas, sultans, baghs and makbaras evenly spread on a base where arches, ruins, Mughals, Turks, Afghans, India, Shahjahanabad, Mehrauli and invasions marched up endlessly. There were stories about how only a single page from old manuscripts remained and the rest were probably lying unattended in some dusty attic in an old English home.

‘Yes,’ said one woman with kind eyes, ‘not everything that the officials of East India Company pillaged was ever documented.’

‘Sad,’ a few voices chorused, ‘sad indeed.’

An officious looking man then silenced everyone in the room with a wave of his hands and said, ‘We aren’t here to discuss how history was treated by a ruling force. We’re here to explore new itineraries for our tourist groups.’

They wanted more added to the usual Delhi-Agra-Jaipur triangle tours and their man sitting in Delhi recommended an involvement with preserving heritage because, he wrote, ‘this is what the new generation of tourism enthusiasts want’. Their man in Delhi had also insisted that the new tour details must include a meal with a local family, lectures on the heritage of less known spots, and a few walks ‘to know a bit of the real contemporary India’.

This may sound unreal, but a man working late in his office across the river that flowed through this town, looked out and thought, ‘Who could these people be and what could they be discussing? Why are the two floors above so seemingly empty?’ Read more >

17

The Watchers

At night they descend from the 3rd
and 2nd floor to drink and dance
and laugh on the first floor.

The watchers watch. The watched
are unaware of the constant whir
of the cameras, of their starring roles.

There is no privacy. We look in on you 24-7.
The watched are suspects for acts of insurrection.
from across the street we stare in shifts,

All paid for by the state, your tax dollars
working against you. It’s not a bad gig,
long hours, but high pay to play voyeur

You’re in your habitat, go ahead, relax,
carry on, be natural as if no one would care
or dare to peer so deeply into your life.

Your every utterance and gesture recorded.
We need to know what you’re doing in there,
what you’ve been up to, if you’re a threat.

The back and front doors are covered.
All who come and all who go are noted,
what they say, and how long they stay.

Nothing escapes the roving electronic eye.
The planted bugs record every whisper, every
kiss, and we lean in to listen for any slip-ups.

Read more >
18

First Floor Window

Scents of roast beef,
mashed potatoes swirled
with pools of melted butter
linger and tug.
Glowing cozy and bright,
faces are illuminated
and animated.
Clinking of forks
and scraping of knives
and laughter, so much laughter,
inviting and contagious.
Uncle Steve getting boisterous
as he refills his wineglass
for the third time.
Cousin Jill whispering
to Cousin Sue.
A heated political argument,
always inevitable,
at the far end of the room.
Tendrils of Sarah’s hair
softly framing
her lovely face
as she feeds the baby
and cuts meat
into tiny bites for Charlie.
Tearing my eyes away
and glancing up,
Read more >

19

These Three Eyes

                            I step out onto the balcony for
                            a breath of polluted Sydney air.
                            My three eyes – these windows
                            to what I am told is a soul – are
                            confronted with three distorted
                            mirror images that bounce blue

 

                            and red light back and forwards
                            across that Stygian gulf of night.
                            There was a time when red was
                            my favourite colour – it was the
                            red delicious apple of blue eyes.
                            The vehement vermillion burnt

 

                            out to a clear blue in the blink of
                            aging eyes. Now I see my people
                            all here together under cerulean
                            skies that conceal the depths of
                            timeless space. I hold my breath
                            for a time & breathe thru 3 eyes.

20

Seen, unseen

Seen, unseen
What if we threw our shade in colour?
Purple dyed indigo, red bled crimson.

And jollity?
Jollity throws no shade.

Below, on a floor unseen, a room dressed yellow
hears the jolly,
smells their meat,
imagines their feast –
and conjures antecedents.

Yellow light, its shade an upturned ‘v’
casts mud upon the wall,
ditch-damp shadow of clasping hand,
bayonet tossed away in a final tremor,
writhing, gassed, screaming with horror.

I know. I spend too much time alone.
Sitting. Staring from this window.
Living the lives –
the full,
the empty,
the shadowy –
that I can only see.
That only I can see.

I should be a Jolly.
I should cast no shade.
But I can only be me.

21

From Here to There

The angle of observation matters:
When I spy on the apartments across
the yard, I see those dead-on or beneath
me best and merely the ceilings and fixtures
of those above. The empty rooms depress
me, bring me down. A room full of people
fills me with dread and envy. How do they
find each other? How each other impress?

It doesn’t matter. I will not extend
myself across the court that separates
us. Though I witness what delight awaits
me, were I to stride across the way and join
the revelers, I dread too deeply the coin
they’ll wheedlingly demand that I expend.

22

The Picture On The Red Wall

The party's going on on the ground floor again I see, same people, same music, you'd think they'd get sick of it, wouldn't you?

Him on the top floor, he's out again, must be on the 10 'til 6 shift this week. He never gets an invite to the party anyway, not even when he's on the day shift. I don't think he really does people, he never looks at me, let alone says anything.

And as for her on the middle floor, I see she's split up with her partner again. I can always tell. that picture of her mother goes back up on the red wall.

Very disapproving her mother was, of everything, she would have disapproved of Puritans that one, so she certainly wouldn't have approved of him with the long hair and the beard.

I liked the quiet one who worked in an office, very polite he was, always used to bring my shopping in for me and take the bins back 'round the back.

I don't know why she's left her lights on. It's not like she's going to be going back there. I told her she needs looking after by a proper man. So she's best off staying here with me...

23

Postcards from Babel

Brief scribbles, trivial, even trite – what we write on postcards. We don’t tell the truth, try to find some titbit, some amuse-bouche, some anecdote to convey a whiff, a sniff, a taste light on the tongue, some tang of what we’re up to, what we’re seeing, feeling – but there’s not room for much, we can only touch on the texture, flavour, heat of where we’re seated watching the world in snippets, jerky sequences, idly constructing narratives for those who pass our table on the terrace as we sip a bitter-lemon, a spritzer, an Aperol, break pieces off a roll, spear some asparagus, a slice of sausage, calamari rings, under umbrella shade. Colours zing in sunlight – frozen segments of celluloid, video clips, digi-images stopped mid-frame. We do not really wish you were here – this way we can construct the story, spare you the ennui, the relentlessness of being in each other’s company.

Give me some space.

I’m cramped into this rectangle – one side bright scene, the other blank – not big enough to say… everything. Select some highlights, annotate with wit. Maybe elaborate later. Maybe not. It’s a snapshot – tells whatever tale you want to hear. Truth is, others have more fun. Their colours are more vivid, happiness louder - they know where to go. I can get in but everything is tawdry, tasteless, dust. Can’t get it right.

The space is tight. No one wants to hear the dreary details. Spice it up. Hubbub. Brouhaha. Hurly-burly, cacophony. It’s a place con mucha marcha. I’m sick of din, can’t begin to understand the babble. It’s Babel. Let’s boil it down. Weather‘s great. Food fab. There’s so much to see. I love it here. Of course you don’t believe me.

24

Doppelgänger

— Heartfelt Hatfield thanks to the good guy real McCoy

William Buchholz’s last name translated into English would be Wood Book. Raised in Chicago as 1st grade World Book rivals & 2nd grade 3rd base frenemies I tormented Woody bullying basement sewage Blind Man’s Bluff. Booked in the same college dorm the blotto schmuck nearly nailed me by dangling both feet from Dunster’s 3rd story window.

Then WB & I ended up at Stanford. A Billyboy bull session turned me on to a bulletin board advert to divvy expenses for a woodsy cabin half way to the Pacific which situation rescinded my graphic comic bookworminess because the pre-Silicon Valley CGI geek was also a gonzo head who headed the Free U. that matriculated nude parties.

Suffering more’n my share of bloodless wooden No Thanks, I got a quirky practicum in non-book female learning under the influence of humungous computers rigged to vinyl (fave was Winwood’s Traffic) synched to ceiling light-organ black-light psychedelia. Trusted Wm. in the clutch I had him repair my hernia so didn’t need to wear no girdle.

After enough lurid sex, drugs & rock ‘n roll almost this weekend dropout got hitched to my old lady. You know who was the best man, clued us in about groovy honeymoon opportunities? Where I could perform natural childbirth home deliveries from Russian River bliss to the Haight Summer of Love runaways’ miscarried Bosched LSD detritus?

Though divergent careers & coasts, many kids & decades later when I really needed a good friend, eyes sloooowly opening after a rough meditation, there was William Buchholz.

25

Top To Bottom

On the First Floor,
is everyone happy?
Nobody gets past the first floor.
I wonder why that is.
Is it too much of an effort
to lift one’s heavy feet up the stairs?
We have elevators these days.
I can come to no conclusions.

On the Second Floor,
I can’t see Nobody—
but that might be his picture on the wall.
He could be downstairs,
mingling with the in-crowd,
but I doubt if they could see him either.
Why did he leave his anonymity?
I can come to no conclusions.

On the Third Floor,
that must be where it all started:
the descent to the ground floor—
that “Happening Place”
where they laugh, drink cocktails, gossip,
enjoying the similitude of friendship.
It’s a lonely room,
where the force of gravity begins,
bypassing Nobody on its way down.
I can come to no conclusions.

26

Walking along 145th Street in the New New York.

Some of us are never invited even though we too live here.
The baubles and bangles sing
purple songs about your donations to help the Arts.
You think because you never hear anyone walking
in the apartment upstairs must mean no one lives there. I can hear one
of you narrate W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939” skipping the line: “obsessing our private lives.” Did I just hear a woman’s voice quote Robert Frost: "Good fences make good neighbors"? Everyone is laughing now. Is the joke on me looking in? Or on you for not seeing me watch you?
The laughter is a dazzling disco ball that spins and warms your night.
Out here it’s freezing. You are the border which divides all that won’t burn.
Some of us are never invited even though we too live here. I am the art you can’t hang
on your wall.

27

Peep

Your window. Mine.
Two ways we see
the moon silver on
the escape hatch.
across the street.
Don’t turn away.
This wind. The night
coming down earlier
at each day’s end.
Where the gunner
peers in at a birthday
party from his empty
open glass to the rest
of his life and ours
stacked like wasps
in cells where what
is vacant has possibility
within difficulty,
as light finds even
the wide open.

28

The Life of the Party

I feel as if I’m in the movie “Rear Window.” I’m sitting at my desk gawking out my apartment window instead of working on my novel. How can I concentrate when there’s a building across from me with windows easily accessible for one to spy?

The room through the top window is empty. The left wall is painted purple, the door with the half-moon window is white and the right wall next to the door light blue. What are these people thinking? Or is it the landlord who has hideous taste?

The room through the second window underneath has no movement either. Again, what are they thinking? Red walls, a white door and a lit light, with a grey wall to the right. No sense of decorum.

So far, I’m bored, until I hear noise coming from the room through the third window below. Ah, inside the walls all match. It’s a deeper blue than the first room, it’s fully furnished with a coffee table, a picture on the wall that I can’t see clearly, a television, a room full of happy guests drinking, eating and laughing. Now I’m envious. I want to join in, but I have to get this novel in to my agent within the week.

Wait, is this her? It is! It’s my girlfriend Tammy and she’s chortling with another man. I’m supposed to be her man! I’m better looking than him. He’s thin and short, I’m muscular and tall. Do I go over there and confront her? Then she’ll know I’m spying. Wait, she’s leaving and he’s staying.

I’m stressing so I grab a beer out of the refrigerator and gulp it down. I go back to my desk and stare at the blank computer screen. I can’t get the image out of my head. A few minutes pass and there’s a knock on my door.

Read more >
29

Blackout curtains, can’t tell it’s morning.

In every town there is one of those 24-7 hotels, you know the ones, it's a popular well-advertised company chain. Kinda like supermarkets but for people who are on business trips, or budget holidays, or an overnight stay. It's all the same no matter your location from the food on offer to the decor and colour scheme of the rooms. Same furniture, shower facilities, bedside lighting, abstract canvas prints on the wall. A small electric kettle and some sachets of coffee.

You get what you pay for and these places are cheap but tidy, easy access, accepting, few rules really, you are not to smoke in the rooms and they reinforce this by having the biggest smoke alarms you'll see, not just battery powered but wired up to the national grid and alarmed as well. But apart from that, the doors are always open, you can come and go as you please, order room service or send out for pizza, the bar is 24 hours, breakfast served at 6 - 8 am, self-service, eat as much as you like, Cumberland sausage, scrambled egg, sitting there in hot metal canteens, regularly topped up by some fella from the kitchen — presumably the chef, back towards him while you scoff your second plate, avoiding the gaze of the few other diners who couldn't sleep either and decided to get breakfast before random gas fitters stop by, or the families wake up and come down.

They have the look of office blocks, they are located normally near railway stations or motorways and industrial estates. On the exterior, the most dominant feature is the chain's company logo normally in bright colours of either purple or green. If it were not for these banners draped down from the walls you would drive passed them thinking they were office blocks. The magnetic swipe card key they provide you with is always problematic, there is usually some kind of contractual work being done by engineers, normally to do with the heating or air conditioning. Read more >

30

Anyone seen Marcus?

Sorry, didn’t catch that ...... I said we couldn’t believe our luck, the estate agent was just about to close and ...... Why must they have the wretched television on? Nobody’s watching the damn thing ...... mmm, but don’t you love that maple wood or whatever surround frame thing? Couldn’t we do that with ours? ...... Absolutely not! ...... Did you say there were more of those marvellous stuffed olives, Sally? ...... I’ll get Marcus ...... Marcus? MARCUS? ...... where is he? ...... Not sure about this blue ...... is it azure? ...... Look, can we move a bit, that bloody light is giving me the third degree ...... Fixed-rate mortgage, really? ...... Isn’t that Nigel with the blond gownless evening strap? ...... Let’s go upstairs, there’s no-one there ...... It’s a postcode lottery, isn’t it? ...... Sorry, out of prosecco ...... Marcus? MARCUS! ...... Wilson Pickett? Who he? ...... Oh yes, nearly forgot, the olives. Marcus? MARCUS! Where’s he gone for chrissake ...... So what IS Boris playing at exactly? ...... Well I feel sorry for Her Madge ...... what’s she keep in that little black handbag, that’s what I want to know ...... impressive though, 93 not out ...... did you see Ben Stokes? Unbelievable! ...... But it isn’t enough to be successful, one’s friends must fail ...... Christ, must we have every light on in the house! Marcus? MARCUS!

31

Things Always Come in Threes

Things always come in threes.
Bad luck.
Good luck.
Education, education, education.
Invitations to gatherings, drinks, house warmings.

By the time I'd made it to the first flat,
the party was over.
No one answered my knocks.
The music was off.
Just the faint sound of a conservative host
snoring made its way through the cracks
of the locked door.

I made my way down to the second flat.
I rang the doorbell
and heard a hushed silence fall on the inside.
Muffled voices.
Stifled arguments.
I quickly turned around –
I didn't need passive aggressive rows,
I was too buzzed off my face for that,
so I went down to the third flat.

The door was on the latch.
I stepped in.
The music started fading.
The lights went on.
Parents in the room put coats on kids,
conscientious guests put party plates in bins,
the host said they were "all out of drink". Read more >

32

Chronology of Man in Lower Frame

The center frame with red walls–
a photograph of a man on the left
and a faint outline of him on right
under shadow of the ceiling fixture–
transitions up to an earlier time
of violet and pale blue, to a woman
and man on a mattress on the floor
out of view except in the memory

of the man with his back to us
at the table. He is the one constant
not a shadow, but owner of the building
exerting more and more influence
through each frame until the strip
of negatives bursts into flames.

33

Outro

My mother’s late shift at the hospital meant I could stay up late. At 9PM I turned all the lights off in the flat and set up my den in the front room. Cushions, blankets and my fairy lights crafted the hideout fit for any explorer.

Life on estate wasn’t always the greatest, but the people who lived here made this watchtower a hub for people all over the world. Ground floor, we have Mr and Mrs Westcarr, who were from Jamaica. Second floor, Auntie Jundo and Uncle Hansamu from Japan. Eighth floor, Nuru, the boy who I walked to school with. He moved here a couple of weeks ago from Kenya.

At least two nights a week my mother would be working late. I would set up my den after she left and stare from my front room window at London City. The outside world seemed so bright and distant from me yet, it was contained amongst the people in my estate. The stories of people and their lives would start to unfold after 9PM. How ironic is it that my mum said that was the time for bed too? The opposite tower block always televised the many dramas of life; it taught me a lot.

On the seventh floor, Anika was hiding her secrets from Eli as she rushed into the bathroom when he came home. She hid the needles she was playing with whilst he was at work. I learnt the fear of asking someone for help to avoid hurting them. The deeper the secret gets, the bigger the depth of hurt. I learnt Jesús on the fourth floor, spent his life searching for his family and his mother. As an orphan, he had so many questions. The questions we don’t know the answers to are sometimes better for us. Mauricio on the tenth floor, hadn’t unpacked since he arrived in the estate. I learnt he was worried about immigration so much that he stayed ready to just move, rather than to settle and call this place a home.

Read more >
34

Testament

Across the street, the partygoers carry on.
Even from behind the winter windows, their voices
rumble a pitch equal to the L.
All the forecasters predict snow, snow bricks
and volcanoes and bikes riding up the sides
of cars, buildings, trees. Destined: the blowing, like air escaping
flat tires. The acrid taste of city snow outside their party,
outside my apartment. Yet, it’s the flat above the fête
that beats winter’s pulse. A single portrait, black and white,
left behind during the last snowstorm, during the final fight
the young couple swore they’d never lose.

35

Flocked Wallpaper

We sit, backs against the wall, the textured wallpaper dull against our heads and softer still as stolen whiskey swashes behind our eyes. I’d pulled a pair of fluffy socks on over the ones I already wore, but my toes are thick with cold. Ana rests her head on my shoulder and sighs, long and shallow, until her lips form a raspberry, then a giggle, blowing my hair across sticky lips. Her breath is at once medicinal yet masked with cheesy nachos and velvety hummus swiped from downstairs.

‘I can’t believe they haven’t noticed,’ she says, her eyes heavy under two pairs of fake eyelashes glued together. Each word tumbles into the next like she’s thrown the sentence down a wobbly slide at the fairground.

‘I can,’ I say.

The drink sits delicately in my stomach and I’m careful not to move my head for fear of the room shunting to one side. We’re both wearing old primary school leavers hoodies, the numbers on the back made up of names from now absent class friends we’d sworn fierce loyalty to. Now, it was only Ana and I.

When everyone else’s parents baptised their children ahead of secondary school selection, we’d followed the other estate kids to the local academy, swapping gingham sundresses for black skirts rolled up at the waistband. When the school flopped Ofsted, it was rebranded with a faintly regal name, but that didn’t stop chairs soaring across the canteen, or the teachers crying in lessons.

Earlier, the doorbell cut short an argument my parents were enjoying, at which point Ana and I were pushed upstairs with a copy of Anastasia on DVD and a bag of wasabi peas; one we’d grown out of and the other we’d yet to grow into.

Read more >
36

The Lease

How populous the lit dining room
of your past. Down there, the grandmother
your mother named you after though she
died before you knew her. And mother
dead in your teen years so who could sit
at the imaginary table to fill you in?
To one side your siblings stand, a sister
chatting about the house she will never
be able to buy back from her abusive
husband; your brother, drinking, talent
wasted. They are also dead. “Passed” too
polite when we are all past our due date,
sinking down with a ghostly drift up to empty floors,
listening to what’s under us, ear to floorboards,
voices from unworked jobs, unmentored career,
refused engagement, praise heard as okay for you
but not quite enough for the show “regrettably.”
Permanent shadows on brightly painted walls,
the upstairs vacant with what is left.
A red-walled single holds a photo and hanging lamp,
above that the violet chakra of truly empty enlightenment,
a lamp silhouette. Through uncurtained windows
a glow shows just enough of the unknowable. Where
is this place? Still they chatter, you make out
“didn’t,” “couldn’t” you recognize
the communal feast of deteriorating time,
and through it the TV’s dull roar, volume low
but exciting, the opportunity to vote for
the singing dancing winner.

37

IN THE FRAME

blue room
with lights from the street
illuminates the shadows
the shades of previous lives
and their empty interiors

red room
in daylight directed from unseen windows
will pan like a camera
until sundown in a movie where
no people appear and not a line is spoken

party room
lives and souls of — fill every corner
without light and shade
in a vast entertainment and enough
food and drink to continue forever

filmic
each frame a continuous loop
encapsulating the other

38

An Extra Guest For Dinner

She had taken the job reluctantly. She never liked taking on spurned lovers as clients, particularly men. But assignments had been fewer and further between this summer. When the call came, she accepted without too much hesitation.

The man told her to call him Mr. Smith. His voice was strained, squeezing itself through the receiver. It was deep, with a strong undercurrent of desperation. He instructed her to give particularly detailed reports of Friday nights and Saturday mornings. He would pay her a large bonus for this intrusion on her own weekend. Eloise thanked him; she was grateful for the money, but more grateful that anyone would suspect a private investigator to have a particularly full social calendar.

The woman’s name was Irene. Just over a month ago, she had told Mr. Smith to leave the house they had shared for the past five years. It was an end-of-terrace in an unremarkable area. Helpfully, it faced onto a park.

Eloise pulled her collar up against the chill, and repositioned herself against the tree trunk. She could feel pins and needles creeping into her calves. Below her, couples walked arm in arm, kicking leaves. Strolling into their weekends completely oblivious to the small woman perched above them.

Irene was sat at the table, perfectly in her line of sight. She was wearing a dress with puffed sleeves, like something a little girl would covet. Silky and pearlescent, like the insides of the mussel shells from their starter, carried away to make room for the roast chicken. The bodice was a rich cream, like the garlic sauce they had sopped up with chunks of crusty bread. Eloise had watched Irene cooking all afternoon; singing to herself, although she couldn’t hear the song. As the sky darkened, the rooms lit up like gemstones.

Read more >
39

Rock Bottom

Parachute personalities gather ground level,
drop in uninvited, drearily, drolly converse,
seek superficial game-changing identities amid
crowded corners, elbow to elbow under a Tiffany Feather
hanging lamp, shedding multicolored panels of
light over Harlequin card players and standing
stooges who talk in pairs, encircle the table
like groupies clinging to a common diaspora,
preferring claustrophobic fellowship to wide
open spaces threatening a solitary existence.

Alone, the second floor’s soft shoe exhibitionist
spreads salt across linoleum covered baseboards;
toe tapping percussion kicks life into the dead kitchen,
kindling fire below garish orange walls where the
hoofer commemorates humanity with a single photo,
neither menacing nor welcoming, just an imperturbable,
solo audience enduring riches to rags stories, as
Wall Street fortune tellers rub shoulders, compare notes
pinpoint precise moments where wealth and notoriety
parted ways, morphing like a Rolex watch losing time.

Between three open windows, ebon partitions
separate floor levels with soot-smeared planter boxes;
third story track lights draw down on pastel purple,
fading into lime green wall paint; a pale blue door swings
like a one-way portal to a minimal quixotic community,
Read more >

40

From Up Here

From up here, across the street, I can hear the party. Voices waft in the late summer air. Sweat trickles down my back. I’m staying overnight in this Airbnb. Booked it last minute, didn’t have a choice. Home soon, I think as I stroke my curved stomach, arched full like the moon in this ink-blue light. Softly, I whisper: “Baby, tomorrow we’re heading home.”

From up here, across the street, I can see two empty flats. The lights are on, but there’s nobody home. I will them to arrive, but no one comes. One room is painted red. The flat above has purple walls. When I arrived here from the hospital all three flats were empty. Months ago, when I discovered I was pregnant, my husband said, “It is extraordinary, they said you were sterile”. Inside, my fullness glowed.

From up here, across the street, I notice the party is buzzing. A couple dance. Cheek to cheek. Hands on shoulders, joined in what looks like love. Earlier, when I went to the toilet, I saw I was bleeding. The doctor warned me “You may bleed a little.”

From up here, across the street, I spot a picture in the red flat, possibly a portrait, on the wall. I feel my baby kicking, his feet through my skin. The push of life within me. I think of how today I went into the hospital with two. The nurses wanted me to see a psychologist, but I told them: “Let the psychologist help the women going home with nothing. I’m leaving with one.” I spoke so calmly they stopped asking.

From up here, across the street, the lamp flickers in the purple flat. It goes on and off erratically, the room flips from obscurity to light. I remember the hospital bed, the screen with the twins, both of them moving in blurred black shadows. The doctor gave the injection and then one stopped. The stillness felt so long.

Read more >
41

Three-window trick

Your best life is a three-window trick.
Open one – but what if it’s better through the others?
The uncertainty is feature not a glitch –
Your best life is a three-window trick.
Framing your years in a universal triptych,
but knowing you’ll miss out on wonders.
Your best life is a three-window trick.
Open one – but what if it’s better through the others?

42

Smothered by Consideration

Today, I was helped up to bed,
bedded in my final home, three floors up.
Below, I hear busy gatherings —
voices that once embraced me,
ears that sought my thoughts
canvassed my opinions.
Now I am shut out, safe in clean sheets
and suffocating care. I want to dare
to argue, join the fray, instead
my presence is tidied away, tucked
out of sight. My frail bones, pruned skin
might give offence to hale and hearty ones.
Sounds continue into night. I bewail
my own absence from hoarse arguments
and resent life's death in peace, desire
to unsheathe knives, pierce time itself.

43

When one Door shuts — it stays Shut

Life is always going on somewhere else.
In another town, city or country.
Icarus falls from the sky — stupid, reckless boy.
Straight down in a sunburst — quite unremarkable.

While other eat their cornflakes and moan about the glare.

Oblivious to the news about floods, famine or failure.
Safely bubble wrapped — until one pops loud and clear.
A woman cries when her home is washed clean away.
Her pain trickles through — tear by tear by tear by tear.

While others check the forecast and exhale slowly.

Doors close — windows close — isolation closes in.
Borders close — Countries close — impervious to the Refugee.
The stranger in our midst — his solitariness might infect.

We trap the moment as we descend the staircase.
And hover on the landing — unsure of our welcome,
Our lifeline is in their strong and unfeeling hands.

While texting frantically — LET ME IN!
Because you don't want a corpse on your doorstep.
To walk past and over on your way to somewhere else.

44

The 26th of June, 2016

We’d invited the neighbours over,
you know, a party. To celebrate
the Referendum result, but most
of these people I don't even know,
a few I’d never seen before... Some
might not even live in this building.

But never mind, we had lots of Stella,
pork scratchings, and sausage rolls.
The telly was on with the volume
turned low, and in a few hours we’d
know if we were all in or all out.

Alison was at the table, she lives
above me in flat 201. She brought
a litre of pear cider, kept the top
screwed on tight, hoarded the bottle
between her knees. She played

Hearts with Jane, whose husband
was leaning against the wall like
a tall spindly plant. And a man,
who nobody could identify, had sat
himself in front of the TV. On the floor.

Tripping hazard, Alison’s partner
whispered in my ear, he was nodding
at the man on the floor. I shrugged,
and opened another can of Stella.
The pork scratchings were already gone,

Read more >
45

Après moi, le déluge

I have been reading Deleuze,
Whose soul has two floors.

I am told this is a mistake:
For his inextricable interliminals
Two score, twelve more inclusions

/monads/infinities/impenetrables.
God, walking across Woburn Square
In the almost crisp end of summer,
The plane trees rustling, God

Tells me personally, God, that
The soul has three floors, actually,
That the bottom is a coffee shop.
Where they serve teas and lattes:
Doppio Franziskaner Einspänner

Which is a word for a carriage,
And the iterations of that bustle,
A span of a Mandelbrot sprawl,
Footfalls and pence horses thuds upwards,
To the flat on the second floor,
Rented by a certain pensioner.

Read more >
46

Raise glasses, rest ghosts.

Death brings us together. We shelter in the traditions and trappings of the funeral, the wake.
Raise glasses, rest ghosts.

We have filled the parlour with cut flowers, blind to their symbolism, or uncaring. They are bold but fleeting. They no longer stir our fears.

We have stripped the upper floors to bare bones. If naked windows spill their stories, if there is anything left to uncover, any secrets in corners where moth casts gather, they evade us.

There is, by necessity and custom, the empty chair. Those that are gathered take up their allotted places, play out roles that have long been assumed.

It is right and proper that it should fall to the youngest in this company to read the required words. The eldest sits silent, head bent.

Pass the bottle again. Remember our dead. We will remain here until we have fulfilled our obligations.

47

Why don’t you just ask someone for directions?

Does climbing
change to clinging when
the future
intervenes,
when the outside intersects
with the enclosed box,

when the days
are not counted down
but up?—who
tells the tale,
steps beyond the dream, catches
the stray wanderings?

Each sentence
contains an ending,
and yet we
continue
building paragraphs, entire
pages of nothing,

conjecture—
the holes we dig
are far too
deep to climb
out of, and so we cling to
artificial light,

Read more >
48

Personae in the Night

From the window in an empty room of the apartment
Silhouette of the girl is watching the seafront
Dancing in the particles of the moon light
Residents are scared of her shadow

Monochrome television

Frankenstein

Mannequin

Blow the candle off
The night has the same personae
Touch the cheek of her persona gently
Cold and solid wax would be imagined to melt

49

HOME ALONE

The lights are on but there’s nobody in,
no one else here but me.
I’m rattling around all on my own, bodging about
all by myself, raising a racket, acting the part,
checking security down in the basement,
disturbing the cobwebs, there in the dark.

Like Kevin McCallister when he set all those traps,
when he rigged up those dummies,
and put on some music to be sure those burglars
believed his whole family was with him.

I’m having a party, having a ball, convincing myself,
more than anyone else.
I’m surrounded by pictures, keepsakes and trinkets.
It’s my way of keeping the memories alive, keeping
them close, keeping them safe, to stop time
from stealing the best of my thoughts.

When I close my eyes, I’m here with them all,
with everyone I’ve ever been here with before,
seeing their shadows dance on these walls.

50

CELLS

When did we decide that this was a good idea, living like bees in little stacked cells? Boxes piled on top of each other, all basically the same but you get to choose the colour. You do at least get to choose that.

At what point did we give up, stable our exhausted horses and spend our days embroidering memories of the ambitions that once drove us? Reducing our lives to pretty canvases we can hang on our walls.

How long have you been trying to tell me you're dying to break out? Heave something heavy through your glass and let the dark rushing air bind with the red of your blood.

Now here we are, lying on the floor and gnawing our fingernails with clicking teeth. A faint blue light filters up round the edges of the floorboards. Listen! There are people down there. Something is going on.

51

MANTHOS AND MAGDALENA LIGHTS APART

It's polite to make eye contact when you say hello. Like I do. In the half-light, it's easy.

It's better to make eye contact across a room. Like you do. In the half-light, it's right.

(So lie with me. Or is something stuck in my teeth?)

*

You are sleepless when everything else sleeps. Sometimes it feels like heavily journeying into a white landscape. You know you exist by the traces you leave in the snow.
They speak a hard language in this country of yours; its poetry burns like ice cubes in your mouth, melts in smoky malts.

As for me, I imagine furious rains peeling me until they find, deep beneath my skin, that seed that lies wrapped in oblivion and silence, waiting for a ray of sun.

(Do you hate me a little when I dance?)

*

Me: Glass in one hand, sliding the other under your T-shirt, stroking your back. Jolts of electricity on my half-light fingertips.

You: Don't stop, Magdalena.

Read more >
52

Friday Night, Over Here

See that, over there? I used to be one of them before I moved over here. I used to live right there, in that apartment on the middle floor. That was mine. No kidding. I used to be part of the Friday night cocktail club for that’s what’s happening down below. Get home from work, shower, change into my best loafers and chinos, a nice polo shirt, then head down to Belinda’s and JJ’s with the ingredients for my cocktail of the week. That was the rule. Everybody in the building was welcome but you had to make a cocktail you’d never made before. Belinda or JJ would let you know what it was on Thursday morning. It was a sophisticated little scene. Finger food and Eighties music. ABC, Sade, Curiosity Killed The Cat – that sort of thing. Then, I lost my job, my car and my apartment, which to be honest was too expensive for what it was. Over here, quite literally on the other side of the tracks, I’m paying less than half of what I paid over there. Of course, I still don’t have a car and I couldn’t afford a cocktail even if I wanted one, which I don’t, because I’m strictly a barstool and beer guy right now, as you can see. Better company too. Why did I lose my job? See that woman on the left? It was just after eleven one Friday night when she developed an abscess. Of course, being the helpful dentist and always kind of liking her – she lived on the floor above me but at the back – I took her over to the surgery but – no, no, her friend drove. I was way over the limit. Far too drunk. I wonder what would happen if I crossed over there now. Not that I’d have any right to be admitted. It’s for residents only. You think I’m making this up? Just to get you to buy me a drink? Okay, then – I’ll prove it to you. Close your eyes and open wide. Don’t say ah.

53

We are the always on the right side of good

There is a gap in between the sheets of everything we had said and not said. I am following it with my fingers tracing the shapes of a future lives. We are always on the right side of good. It is that repetitive good good that I like. I am liking you in all ways. It makes my heart sing to know that the trees have started to grow again and she is on her way to us. The castle is green and covered in leaves that have fallen just in one specific place as though it was meant that way. The building grows around us and emerges just like in our dreams. I am whispering because I like it. I'm hearing all your secrets and you are happily sharing them whilst I take photos of everything that surrounds us. The breeze is gentle and calm and we are way beyond all the hype. I am singing and making shapes again, you are there just around the corner smiling. We are sovereign, my heart is light and the water is under the bridge.

54

Lavender Lady

High on the third floor, big sister Nancy and I try not to stare at the emptiness, the things Mother took. Lavender walls, once tender and held pictures taunt, tease us. Where is your family? What record do you have of existence? Beneath, laughter flies up, celebrations, people speaking love and highlighting connections. The birthday song rises, celebrating life, laughter interspersed. People laugh, call each other nicknames from below. Fake insults. Dummkopf. Idiot.

How wonderful they sound.

Nancy and I try to recall the last time Mother celebrated birthdays. Said I love you. We try to conjure compliments she paid us. We can't recall them. Only the moments with each other, Nancy at my piano recitals, me at her plays. Cheering, arms in motion, connoting our own lonely love for each other.

The walls take on deeper form, reminding us of the reality. We are alone, there is no marker of our lives, but each other. We collapse against the walls, surrender.

55

Safe house

She slides from room to room, prone, for her own protection.
Windows make hiding the hardest: Being seen. Seeing.
All that safety excludes.
A breeze through the screen. Her footfalls on the wooden floor.
Risk. Risk.
Somewhere reckless people fill windows like Christmas lights.
Garish with their chatter, the way they throw their shadows against the walls.
They are un-gentle. Plinking heavy spoons,
clattering cups onto saucers without a care for the sound.
Oh, they have saucers.
They have metal spoons.

56

Miss

In one bricked box –
Wide apart yet crowded together
Discussing the news, the garden, the weather –
‘How are you darling?’
‘How’s your Mum, the kids?’
Decoded as ‘I hate you’
‘I want to be you’
‘I’m better than you’
‘I win’

A box above in the colony tower
A single picture frame
Mounted by its lost owner
Departed, defaulted and gone.
Here too are shadows of sharp-toothed, sharp-elbowed gatherings
Now elbowed out.

The final box, the next shell above
Shell shocked, a glimmer of the future.
Paint peeling, no repairs to be done.
This one will let the rot creep
The landlord will smile with a profit deal done
As the darkness seeps downwards
The ivy grows upwards
The laughter dies down and the bulldozers come

57

Memory’s Blur

In memory's blur, I vaguely recall:

hearing the slap of the letterbox against
the door and the drop of the invitation
on the mat;

and being asked by others if I'd had the
invite;

and counting the days, then hours until
the time of the party, frustrated by the
clock's patience;

and choosing what to wear, avoiding
clashes of colour and stripe and check;

and staring at the red walls, bare but for
the photo-frame gifted by the previous
occupant;

and deciding if arriving early or late or
on time was the thing to be doing;

and worrying about kissing the hostess
on both cheeks in case it got awkward;

and concluding that a bottle of each was
better than one or the other;

and who else was there and what they
looked like.

Read more >
58

The House Where Love Boy Lives

Boy grows inside,
stares and smiles into space,
does not appear to think of Mum
at all. He is joyless and pale as salt.

Sometimes, Boy peeks through
the gaps of his bedroom blinds.

Boy sleeps like a cold stone,
mouldering without desires.
He wakes at noon and rages;
Uncle’s birthday comes each year.
Strange, how he stays thirteen.

Boy glides through the hall,
disturbs a hoard of hospital dates and licks
the oiled walls with his hands,
nothing left untouched
in this House of things preserved and kept.

Sometimes, Boy speaks. He says he can see
lungs, necks and eyes in the House.
Mum nods, agrees.

In the back room, Boy crouches with
blunt scissors cutting
perfect chains of paper angels.
He wears them like a necklace.
They are to treasure forever, never to be lost.

Read more >
59

Building/Sound

It travelled up the tower          concentrated
flame
blaze of voices in a bright blue room.

People gathered round a table
fireflies
alighting on the food
talking to a manic screech.

I       my neighbour up above
he told me later
huddled in our rooms
lights turned on to see
if real flames breached the walls.

It was only noise     sound
of humans being.

60

What We Heard Last Night

We heard the gunshots.

Feet scurried down the stairs,
stomps buried the sound of
war outside for just a moment.

Huddled on the first floor
We hoped to lay flat unnoticed.

Long expected silence
hinted at peace for the night,
Awake we met at the table
A glass of warm Merlot
To calm the nerves

The doorbell dings
Sets of eyes meet in mild terror
Who could it be?
Are you expecting someone?
No.
Who's at the door?
It’s a risk to answer.
One brazen drew closer
Who is it?
No sound, just silence.
Who is there?
No sound, just silence.
Who?
They must have given up.

Read more >
61

THE HOUSE THAT LOVE BUILT

Young love —
sweet intoxication
loud and bright,
wild and liberate.
It opens its heart freely.
Welcomes anyone.

It grabs fast.
Burns fast. Burns bright.
It’s smoke, a light cloud,
changes direction
with each puff of a wind.

Seasoned love —
Cautious.
It chooses it circles more carefully
Probing, planning, hoping.
It looks for perfection
and can't quite find it.

Weathered love
is private. Secluded.
Lights dimmed
and curtains drawn.
Hidden from praying eyes,
its savoured slowly.

Read more >
62

Nothing is ever truly silent

Nothing is ever truly silent.
My lonely apartment on the third floor may seem silent, but I can hear many subtle sounds.
I hear my breath, slow, calm.
I hear the quiet ticking of the clock, bouncing off the lonely, blue walls.
I hear the creak of my rocking chair. As I rock back and forth, back and forth.
I hear the wind, gently blowing against the trees, which cast spooky shadows onto my sad wall with its peeling wallpaper.
I hear the chatter of voices two stories below, the young family that lives there has evidently invited their friends and family again.
I can almost see them talking happily, munching on a hearty dinner, proposing toasts to good health.
Their chatter is loudest of all the muffled sounds I hear.
I lean back in my rocking chair, listening to the noises in the seemingly quiet world.
Nothing is ever truly silent...
And this night was no different.

63

Thirty Sixty Ninety

It’s 1959. Charlie calls me “the life of the party” and oh how I love parties! These days, cocktail parties are easy to find. Charlie even hosted one shortly after moving to a bigger apartment. I know he’s planning on proposing and that he rented the new place assuming I’d accept. I’m thinking about saying no. I love Charlie, but I fear the amount I have to give up to be his wife will drain most of the life out of me. I’m single, thirty years old, and living on my own. Messages that I’m abnormal come from almost everywhere: advertisements, movies, television. Mom asks daily, “When are you going to settle down and get married, Margaret?” I’m tiring from the fight of nonconforming and scared of the price for fitting in.

It’s 1989. Charlie’s retired and all three of our children are married and living on their own. My party days are now restricted to holidays, birthdays, and other celebrations of our grandchildren. We moved to a house after the birth of our second child, but have since moved back to the city. Our condo looks very similar to the apartment we first shared. At sixty years old, I stay busy just trying to keep up with new technology. My life before thirty seems cast in shadows. I try to share memories with my children, but they are too busy to listen. When I speak of those days with Charlie, he says I “shouldn’t live in the past” and changes the subject. I’ve begun to think he’s afraid I might find that part of me again. Was he ever really comfortable with me being the life of the party? I stay silent in my wanderings through the past, hoping to retain the significance of who I was and afraid that person is gone for good.

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64

Who I Once Was

I am everything I said I never would become
yet who I once was is not who I am now.
The party animal, sipping on my glass,
tequila pouring from my every gland,
never knowing which way was up,
which way was down.
Then here you came,
floating by like a feather in the wind,
slowly taking me in as if I were your new passion.
Calm, analytical and practical,
that is how I would describe the new me.
The newer, more advanced version of myself
that I hate a little less each day.
While I may have been the person I said I would never become...
I worked like hell to become her and never look back.

65

Nobody’s Party

The lights are on but Nobody’s home.
Across the street red gingham dress and corduroy jacket
Blue heels, leather purse, Spanish plonk in hand.
Watching the festivities, partaking from afar.
Over-dressed, wrong wine, overwrought.
Can’t stay inside when the floor is humming.
Fun seeping through the door frames,
Joy vibrating throughout the walls.
Open the windows and the celebrations engulf
1A is having a party again the whole house is invited.
“2A Please come,” He said. “Don’t stress, its nothing special”
Is that why you’re asking me?
“You don’t have to dress up or bring wine.” He smiled. “Just come as you are”
The little voice screamed into her ear “Don’t You dress up, don’t You bring wine”
Come as you are! Who’s that then.
NOBODY?

66

My Deer

You check the letterbox again. It's as empty as it was this morning before you went to work.

You wonder what the invitation will look like. Will it be what she wants; a beige, expensive affair just like she dresses? Or at least the way you saw her dressed that time in the restaurant when you ate alone to remember all the times you and him ate there. They walked in with intertwined arms as if arboreal and her hair shone, her tailored suit the colour of a deer.

You shrunk in the seat and watched because while you wished you weren't there, you were also glad to be because at least then you knew what he'd left you for.

Or, will the invitation be like him? Will it be white text on black, a font that nobody has heard of but knows when they see it that it's him? Will it be embossed, so his name and hers stand out like blisters?

'We cordially invite you', it might say. Or, 'We request the pleasure of your company'. You know that it doesn't really matter how he asks you, only that he does.

11 years you said to him when he told you about her. 'It's been 11 years.' He said he was sorry and shrugged off that time as if it was paper on a bench. 'We nearly had a child', you said. You didn't know how to respond when he told you that nearly wasn't enough.

''Course you’ll be invited', he said when you called to say congratulations. 'We’re still friends aren’t we?' he stated in a way that wasn’t really a question. When you hung up, you thought of all the times you wanted him to ask you to be his wife. You thought about it so much that when you woke up you believed it had actually happened.

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67

Extracts

(…) and there are rooms, left empty, like some people I have met along the way. The light shines on them for most part of the day, but at night they seem to weep, softly, so as not to disturb the room full of people below. Inside that room full of people there are people with empty rooms inside them. They will try and fill it with food or booze or anecdotes. But when it is time to go, where will they go? Back to the empty rooms left behind, to their homes. And once they have opened the front door and flicked the light switch, the empty rooms will be made alive by their human presence. There might be things in the rooms in their homes that will fill those people again, if only temporarily – photos and heirlooms might bring back memories that might give them hope; bookshelves lined with some sort of company and comfort; the dishes and clothing on the drying rack shall remind them of their most basic needs and reassure them that those needs are being met. The curtains will let the light in whilst trying to convince them that most unwanted things can be kept out (…)

Green Pendant Steel Lampshade. Lozenge-shaped. Made in China. Screw-on attachments included. Requires installation. Perfect for decorating and emphasising on-trend spaces for city-dwellers with refined taste. CE Certified.

(…) We should know beforehand where the matches are kept and the candles, in case of a power cut, in case we can’t find the torch or if it has run out of batteries. We should know where to find a match and a candle (…) a small flame to guide us through temporary darkness.

68

The Holiday Exchange

how long until they notice
i’ve escaped up-up-stairs
curled into a purple corner
with my dragons

i’ve always been the odd cousin
wishing telescopes and trilogies
instead of balls and barbies
for my holiday exchange

as soon as i saw book three
emerge from between the torn sheets
i designed my departure
from the chaotic carousal

why would anyone want
the press of people
when one can curl up alone
with their dragons

69

Light Causes Shadows

I have taken to walking the city at night,
Skipping through the shadows of other people's lives
Until my edges become blurred.

Their lights burn brighter than mine:
No low energy bulbs in their illuminated squares,
But something more beating.

I watch their televisions through the glass,
Become a hanger-on at their parties,
And let their intimate moments play out silently before me.

I walk until my feet start to bleed,
Finding lives to try on for size,
Become them for the blink of an eye.

It's not safe to be out so late
Without anyone knowing where I am,
But surely they can sense my breath in the darkness?

70

Suburbia

Bedrock, domed and crude,
Meets grey matter with a slap.
Overwhelmed by solidity,
Even a plague of blisters could not
Weep, or be coaxed from their
Bubble wrap sanctums.

It assaults veneer, smooth
Save for the feeble indentations
Of chirographic ghosts. Hopes,
Expressed by tiny, grasping hands,
Lie imprisoned in dead terrain
Like flies entangled in a spider’s web.

The residents of Urban Fabric’s
Birdlime surface stand
Eye to bough with the alders,
Existing as facsimiles. Their fleshy
Roots burrow deep beneath concrete,
Oblivious of their choking quality.

Here lives a race bred beneath the glare
Of hydroponic street-lights, their
Blanched mouths gulping fish-like
Upon ivory spoons. Clownish
And certain, carved feet tread this
Road of asphalt until the stuttering of time.

71

The Making Of The Quilt

Three rooms
Overlapping concrete and cement
Shadowy long cold empty corridors,
Ending into locked dark wooden doors,
Layered dreams,
Juxtaposed sur-realities.

A patchwork of unfinished stories
Pinned deeply into the stained walls.
Lives sewn together,
With very little consequence,
No witnesses box,
No testimony,
No self-defence.

Running threads intersecting,
They are constantly criss-crossing each other.
Lives embroidered into the building’s fabric,
With not much importance,
No trusting hands,
No scape,
No happy ends.

The rooms look at the same cityscape,
Watching the sun set in the West,
Where the edges of town are fading,
Watching the birth of another night,
Closing the curtains of day light,
While the sun falls down into the deep end,
Into the eternal abyss of the Twilight,
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72

Dinner Party

So this party
is for us, to prove it.

Chips & good beer,
taxi-colored cheeses speared like small sacrifices
to the dark gods we call 'family & friends'.

Great place! What a place!
they holler, & set to
scuffing the floors,
swapping noise about
traffic jams & weather,
comfortably far-off disasters.
With her eyes, your mother points out
the cheap napkins,
lack of smoked salmon,
wine stain I can't seem to scrub out.
I hover,
say in a bright & stupid voice,
Ice? Anyone, more ice?
Is the music           all right?

O visitors!
licking your fingers, eyeing my waistline,
I crave your benedictions.
I crave your loud advice,

& already I can feel my old self blurring
like an oil pastel
tossed into a public pool.

Read more >
73

The Loopholes

A search at a glance
Series of turnouts
The charades of a flashback
Imperfections withheld in ordered
thoughtless actions
Consequences of the unknown
Reality in rushing selfless acts
Slips and falls
Entangled in narrowed holds of
meandering paths
Decisions that meddle conformed
determination
Wake up calls that snatches the task at hand
Moulded oblivion in unending prospects
A grasp in an hour.

74

under the boards

the block is a hollow echo
lights on in empty rooms
illuminate the walls
a single photo in a lonely frame
a doorway opened
but filled with darkness,
as if their inhabitants have been scooped clean
these rooms left as a memory
of those that once lived within their walls
painted periwinkle, ruby, and violet across their surfaces,
installed the single hooded lamp encased in green glass
the trio of cones that have been left on in their absence,
there is nothing as lonely as an empty room
waiting to be filled, to be used, to be needed
there is nothing as lonely as an empty room
when the murmur of voices seeps in from the room next door

75

#1205

                Determined as she is to find her place
                in a colony,

                she will make her way
to this honeycomb built into the hill,

                though she has no aspirations
                to be its queen,

                to go from cell to cell
extinguishing the lives of her sisters.

                It is collaboration she seeks,
                the swarm guarding,

                tending, coexisting
in densely stacked prisms of glass,

                this idea of foraging, rooms thick
                with revelation,

                the kind of home
where everything chances to bloom,

                though she risks romanticizing
                this notion

                of the collective.
How she recalls the need for self-

                enterprise, the need to shift
                her attention

Read more >
76

Looking Through The Windows

The windows are all aglow.
A cacophony of colour
giving glimpses
of other people's lives.
Snapshots into different worlds.
Shapes still
and moving.
A little exposure
sometimes
a mystery revealed.
Stories to be told
from different imaginings.
A cacophony of colour
Tati-esque
as if Monsieur Hulot
has taken his vacation
with Mon Oncle
in the twenty-first century,
until the lights go
out.

77

Interiors

I stand outside a three-storey building. An open window on each floor presents a blind eye open to the street. Interiors exposed, ceiling lights dab the walls in one apartment with lavender, rose in another. The bulbs under plastic shades soften the dark huddled in the far corners into milky gray tints.

Each room, one above the other, recedes as my eye angles over the bottom window ledge. I peer inside one cubicle, then the next, as my gaze rises, from one floor to the next. Each storey, a new level, a new tangent, partitions space, bisects planes on the slant, forces me to see distinct aspects of the room.

Outside where I stand, at eye level, one window alone is not empty. It opens to an aquatic blue, a virtual aquarium of celebrants inside. Framed by the rectangular window, I watch these figures cast from a 1950s billboard, flanked by shadows larger than themselves. They cluster amid furniture within the circumference of the white light from the ceiling fixture, three lamps that spotlight and interrogate their withdrawal from the dark and empty space around them.

I enter the building. I turn away from the first-floor apartment, the muted conversations of strangers, the close press of bodies. Resolved, I climb the stairs, drawn to the soft lavender solitude of my own thoughts.

78

Courting Nothingness

I knew the address, so I drove to the building.
The party was taking place on the bottom floor.
I saw a human mall, an American Eagle, and someone asking the million-dollar question
through the window
The West Texas invitation shook in my hand,
so why did I not believe I was wanted there?
Celebration was not my strong point,
though my soul was on fire
Loneliness was the Black Friday of my soul
My demons have been lying to my head for infinity
I decided not to go inside

79