• Vol. 05
  • Chapter 10
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Mars

Open the window to the width of yourself and face out.
It’s so close, and you watch it all night, all summer, how it circles and fathoms you.
You are prone to it, the gap unhindered, could touch it had you the reach.
It presses at your skin, divining fury, even love.
In the mornings you undress and rehearse it with paler light, the near wail of swifts.
You hear whole forests are on fire, and you feel them now.

1

Zeno’s Arrow

Here, in the middle, which is perhaps the start or the end, there is a notion.

If only the eye could stand above, hitched to the hawk as it cuts the air on its widening gyre, then the way out – or perhaps in – might be revealed.

There’s a wisdom in circles. Something ancient that exposes the absurdity of a suit and tie, that traces the unbroken curve between information and knowledge. The arrow loosed to fall forever towards its mark, the archer forgotten.

The notion does not hold. No matter how high the eye might climb, it is drawn back to here: the middle, where movement never started and will never end.

A thrumming shift in the soul’s blood; something understood.

2

Blot

The bones of your face are softening as you recede in the distance. Chin dropping into your neck. Eyes blurring together, the bend of your nose joining your mouth till your face is as smooth as a thumb. I could recognise you just by your walk, by the shock of your hair and the weight of your bag over one shoulder leaning your gait. Soon these too will be unknowable. In the sea of humans, you will be one more shape. Face blotted out against the sun.

Once, your face blurred from being close to mine. The white sheets, too near to see both your eyes. Sunlight blurring my vision. Your lips making unseen advances on mine. Our noses drawn together like a line drawing of a vase. People do this kind of seeing with their eyes closed, with their hands moving over each other’s skins.

And the patient grip of your thumb, printed now on my hip.

3

Brick by Brick

We built this city
its walls and gullies
its red and blue barrios
abandoned storefronts
narrow alleys barricaded
precincts and armories
potholed one-way streets
besieged redbrick schools
houses for sale homes
awaiting demolition
bars churches city parks
a sock ground into the dirt
a canvas shoe laces broken
a rusty swing comes and goes
to the silence of past laughter

We built this city
handicap parking outside
starfish malls factory outlets
close-out-sale banners
sun bleached logos billow
over JCPenney and Sears
memories of Woolworth
Levitz Furniture A&P
B. Dalton Toys R Us
Mr. Movies Sam Goody

Read more >
4

Feeble Attempt

Your mind,
a congruence of aberrant thoughts
a serendipitous convergence,
you try so fervently
to carve your own niche
your own identity
in this cesspool of clones
floating for eons
from here to nothing

Your face,
a stark reflection of the
blatant reality
where everyone is trying to be unique
like the blueprint
or the map carved out by the
swirls of their
thumbs pressed on paper
you believe yours is unique
don't you?

Your voice
trying to break the cacophony
in that tumultuous mind of yours
a silhouette of silence,
Read more >

5

Hypnotrophic

Blank faces staring back
From a vortex of cranial vacancy.
Whorls of words drip and drip while
They trip the light fantastic.
The quick step. The two-step. A goose-step.
Placating the plastic personas
And vacating accountability,
As the shadow puppets play
On the walls and pray to gods
Created in their pompous ascension.
Now I wake me from deep sleep
To creep along a road too steep
And shake off the last vestige
Of their soulless, seductive soliloquy.

6

Graffiti Magritte

whorled –
a face replaced
by candy
lollipop licked
grinning from ear to ear
untraceable
Duchamp-able
surrealist uncle
brick stuck thick
perhaps you were too quick
to insult the artist
and now your hat
has been taken
and reframed
anonymously
by hypnotic head
pinned to dust wall
toxically shocked
reduced to a thumbprint
unrecognisable still

7

Wall

They watched us — when we walked beneath the wall, when we scaled it and looked out over the top at what we told the children was somewhere they mustn’t go, and where, when you were old enough, you looked with an empty feeling, a sudden feeling, that turned over in you before you looked away. At night, street lights cast a pale light that picked out the camera lenses’ white glass eyes. In the day the cameras were less sinister, but the eyes of the men themselves followed you now, with those pupils like bullet holes, as you walked to work, as you walked down the road with your thoughts, or with the thoughts of someone you’d just met and wanted no one else to know. The red spirals appeared overnight as if by a grand illusion — no one knew who, or how — blotting out first a mouth, then an eye, then two, not the whole face, not at first, and we used to walk beneath the wall, feeling afraid that they would know we were pleased that their eyes and their mouths had been blotted out. And then for one glorious period, a week perhaps, maybe two, the whole faces were painted over with those beautiful red spirals — silenced, blinded, struck dumb — and we walked through the streets talking, thinking, and looking like we never had before and haven’t since.

8

Whorl, Whirl, Whirlpool

At first, I smugly thought the lines
were the whorls of my thumbprint.
my imprint upon your features—
you who blended so easily
Into the wall of my existence.
Then, examining more closely,
I realized the pattern detected
was the whirl of that
“Mystic Hypnotizing Trick”
toy you carry in your pocket.
Whirling, whirling, you press
until it covers your face, and become
a whirlpool slowly
drawing me into
your depths, your darkness—
deeper than I really want to go,
drowning me in you.

9

Love For The First Time

Washing machines are running at the same time, but I am alone in launderette. The motors of each machine growl and wash the human shaped objects which are losing their subjects.

LOVE MUSIC

In the dryer, the logo of T-shirt is dancing...

RIO QUENTE! GORGEOUS SPA!

In the next dryer, colourful pareo is cooling down the heat source of magma.

It is a hot day today. Shaking at full power to blow away sweat, the black suit himself enters the dryer. He has no face.

― Oh, check for coins and cards in your pocket. Poster on the wall says so.

I urge the black suit to pay attention.

― I have no chicken feed.

From the quiet dryer, he is only bluffing.

― I have appeared in James Bond films. Also I stood on the stage of The Blues Brothers. But I am a suit. It was Sean Connery who was operating Aston Martin DB5s, it was Dan Aykroyd who was playing the harmonica. Understand? A suit without a subject is just a container. Or, cargo. Cargo carrying the brain which is in thought.

In the quiet dryer, he speaks in muted voice.

Read more >
10

a petal named control

we thought so fervently about love,
                            about trust, we hoped
for so much. and whilst for some, we didn't hope
for enough. for others, we hoped
for too much.

all these thoughts fall with such
quiet simplicity.

a petal
on the edge of winter       we are.

there was no fighting
the snow or crying summer
back into our lives.

there were amicable realisations,
to let the world give us a course
and find the wisdom within us
to follow it.       adapt accordingly.

because trying to fit
a square into a circle was a tired religion.

and at least here we find peace, breathe again,
blow control to the wind
                                             as if
                                                         it had been ours.

11

Things My Mother Left Behind

You left your thumbprint behind my eye,
strands of fate woven by your desperation
to keep the pieces of your life glued together.
You left your imprint in the shape of my hands,
the machinations of my mind and the words
that deftly escape the confines of my mouth.
You left your fingerprints on my childhood,
torn at the seams by genetic predisposition,
the gradual fading of laughter into the sun.
You left your boot print in the pit of my throat,
plucked my voice out with your disappearing act
and left me on the pavement to mend my own wounds

12

banquet of rings

this
body persists tonguing
from behind

this
banquet of rings
punctuated by the habit of living

this
open muted yell, sick as secrets,
ever sinking into place

like buttons over the clatter of dice
in a cup with spiral thin necessity

this
trauma in exile
pressed molded anchored
sybaritic urgency to just spit
in a straight line

this
triumph over distance

13

Spiral Of Doubt

'That friendly guy off BBC Business, Ben...?
No way, it's definitely Jimmy Carr – ears!
Both wrong, woman in drag, smooth skin
Who, then, who?! – Female with big ears?
Jo Caulfield, Fringe stand-up, writer; hair dye
Nah! – Could be a rugby player?/Nice ears?!
Running back or a winger, not forward bruiser;
I'll go for Gavin Hastings, old picture/Nae way!
Good fingerprint spirals, anyway, which reminds me;
When's final series of superior crime drama 'Spiral' –
One with Gilou, Tintin, Laure Berthaud – on BBC4?'

14

Press Home to Unlock

You don’t know me.

You see a suit
and a tie
and invent, what,
a lawyer?
a trader?

You see a penthouse
with stunning,
panoramic
views of
a bank account
as wide
and endless
as the sprawling city
below.

I might smell of
fast cars,
foreign holidays,
or just a hint of
private jet

and to you
my voice
might be a
mellow blend of
malt whiskey
Read more >

15

Whorls and Striations

Every smile, every kick, every comment
sweet or sour has pressed its print
on you, my snarled-up man, once a lonely child.
It's hard to understand what came from where
and you resist unpicking stitches, poking
scabs and scars and hardened skin, you
prefer containment of your toxins deep within.
There's the rub. When your fingers fist up,
your tongue fires bullets, your face scowls
you print on me, infect my love and leave me
feeling foul. I know you'll grieve now my full stop
has finished our sentence, once and for all. Dear one,
I'd wished for another ending. I stayed too long
in hope but bruises from your thumb prints left me numb
and worse, adroit, fit to perform small cruelties
of my own. I wish you a new life, without punches
given or received, freedom from loveless annihilation.

16

Blurring

Now,
There will be no you.
There will be no me.
Just this moving on.
You left
I stayed.
Our heart is a pendulum of
Backward pasts and forward futures
And we – just moving present entities.
Emptying and filling again
Our empty pitchers of life,
Seeking the flow of water
That will once and for all suffice.
Until then this seeking continues in the search of a flowing stream.
You see, it is infinite
Though you and I are not here
now.
But you and I were here before;
You and I will be here again.

17

FINGERPRINT FACE

Today I saw a picture of a fingerprint face,
And I thought I was Dorian Gray.
My suspicions wouldn’t go away,
Though I tried to laugh off the sight:
“Is his tie on too tight,” I jeered,
“Or did he tie on one too many last night?”

It was more fundamental than that.
He didn’t have eyes,
But he stared at me so hard
From the center of his whorl,
That the world spun out of control.

Vertigo! Falling down, down, down,
From the ivory tower!

He had one black ear and one Caucasian,
Symbolic of the strife that makes the world go ‘round.

I continued to speculate…

Perhaps a vortex had been formed
Between consciousness and its objects—
The two holding together the one,
The one disintegrating into an abyss
That sucks everything into its nothingness?

It is just as though God’s thumb came down
At the moment you started to pray,
Squashing your visage as if it were clay.
Now you can be assured
You are created in His image.

Read more >
18

You died this morning

When I was a child
if someone passed over
we moved in like a blanket to cover
and cover for
the spouse who remained.

For he / she was
knocked out
knocked over
unable to do, think, be.

Pills and sleep,
spoon fed.
This was grief to me.

So I sit here now and ponder
in all our connectivity ... interconnectedness
online
have we become less connected to life
real, true, flesh and blood life?

Our relations and connections offline.
Are they as deeply rooted?
Have we spread ourselves too thin between two dimensions?

It seems now when a spouse is lost
the first thing we do is

upload a photo and write a long text:

"You were my everything ..."

as we sit uncovered at our desk.

Read more >
19

Glamour

Mother had a wall
of photos
of those adored
and famous
and would light
candles to them
and stroke the images
and glare at me,
then a toddler,
beneath them.
You're already so small,
she would say,
but next to this wall
of titans
you seem less
than the dot
at the end of
a sentence.
You seem like the
afterthought
of an atom.
You seem
like the rumor
of a person
long after
he has ceased
being discussed.
Read more >

20

I confess

It is measurably damaging to confess —

I left my prints in the woods.

I am wearing the city, I am wearing the house, I am wearing
the dog, I am wearing my drive-through coffee mug.

I am late.

I confess that, too.

I ride my bicycle to work. I walk to work. I drive to work. I am driven, one way or the other, to work.

I am my Adam’s apple.

I have to confess — there are articles of clothing in the woods. Small piles of them between glacial boulders, hung in oak
and pine trees; edging streams and trickles of streams. They coagulate sometimes as mossy bundles. They belong
to the woods.

I must confess — I am wearing some of these articles of clothing now. They fit like a charm. They support my work.

They support the city and its work. They support walls
with graffiti and tall buildings with construction workers and scaffolding. Urban sewer systems and underground
infrastructure. Transit systems. Street lunches.

They belong to the woods. I confess I have been to the woods.

I left my prints there.

21

A Heist of Sorts

They say that ears are as
unique as fingerprints,
so I’ve committed a crime
using just my ears
to see if they will find me.

My mother always said,
‘You can get away with anything
If you pretend to have the confidence.’
I think she mainly used this to
fake her way into buildings
to use their restrooms.

I’ve been wearing the earrings
every day since I stole them,
walking down city streets,
letting the lights glitz off them,
and they whisper, ‘Isn’t she
beautiful?’ and they whisper,
‘Isn’t she something?’ and
I have never felt less paranoid
or more balanced.

22

Artist in a Suit

He was always inside looking out,
dressed in his smart, dark suit,
the only sign of his humanity
a sorrowful black tie.
Faceless and mute,
he daubed his emotions
in murals of citycapes and skies
painted brick by brick
on public walls all over town,
taming his tremor,
trapped in an Archimedean
spiral of no return.

23

Cherub

"Stand on the footprints. Keep still.
Look into the machine. Do not blink."

The scanner delves you through your retina.
"The eyes are the window to the soul." Yeah, yeah.

Your baby blues, conker browns, vodka shots –
they videoed all your deeds – good and bad.

Except those so bad you had to hold tight,
squeezing shut so not to see them through...

and those when only blissful blindness
could be their proper accompaniment.

The scanner whirrs, retrieves the print of your life
and cross references it with some database.

This then is who you are: capillary swirls –
a barcode pricing your criminal nature.

A fat boy coughs. You never thought Judgement Day
would be so much like entering America.

24

fingerprint

you think you know me
i’m black i’m white asian latinx
muslim catholic hindu buddhist jewish
man woman straight gay bi transgender
young old able-bodied handicapped
you limit identifiers to fit your excel sheets
to keep me from myself
ourselves from ourselves

yes you have your lists your barcodes
social security numbers and signatures
registration forms and passports
footprints fingerprints retinal scans
usernames and birth certificates
customs officers and ICE too
just in case we or I have snuck
into your precious precinct
crossed some arbitrary border
no squirrel or fox or crow
would recognize

but you don’t know me
i’m feral or revert to wild
when i’m cornered
when your henchmen
tally us with gunshots
as we fill the streets
join our hands so different Read more >

25

The Bachelor

Love is to attraction
as a labyrinth is to a maze. A man
of a thousand cul-de-sacs,
the skeletons that never reached
his heart hold plates of pasta,
bags of petrified cookies
just like grandma's. The real
entrance to his core hides
under his hat, and no one's lost
in that mine but the architect himself,
awed by the roses and sky.

26

Autobiography

Down cellar in the old green house
in Amherst Mass, five different
shades of green, I found
a box of someone’s relatives,
swollen with the damp.
Long ago, he moved away,
Thinking to leave behind
All claim to kinship. The sepia
of long-steeped tea, they speak
a century of carefully-recorded births
and deaths: Grandma, white hair
sparked with frost, waits out
winter on the porch. A proud
entrepreneur beside his enterprise,
sign announcing “Pool Table
Sandwiches.” Yet even as these
details stand the seep of winter
and the summer storm, I see
someone has quite deliberately
de-faced these stout progenitors.
More shocking somehow than a skull,
their faces now a slur of white
marked only with the print of one
damp thumb. Despite the clear desire
to blot out everything, this unwilling
heir has left his portrait among theirs.
Beyond the power to deny, DNA’s
spiral calligraphy scrolls through his veins.
This scion—ambivalent, anonymous,
loses nothing in the move.

27

Cheating the Tide

It usually starts like this, having lost control again, Joy Division percussion rattling inside his skull. The suit holds him up, a suit of armour, which in theory should be heavy and claustrophobic but luckily, it isn’t. He starches his clothes (shirt collars in particular), a remnant from a previous century, and the stiffness which this ritual brings acts as an iron lung. Breathe, in and out, another ritual which is absolutely necessary in order to cheat the tide. It’s impossible to master it, but he has become accustomed to cheating (other people, the law, death) now that he has joined this underworld of villainy.

All it took was an unremarkable face. His, the sort of face possessed by countless administration assistants and bank clerks and insurance salesman. Nothing exceptionally ugly or exceptionally beautiful. Just a face, with two eyes, one nose, one mouth, and everything the expected palette of beige-pink-brown. His face was his ancestors’ gift to him, the accumulation of generations of suffered marriages and saintly marriages and sentimental marriages.

See? Nothing out of the ordinary.

He has to reconstruct his face during these episodes, gaining perspective on the world which has become a teeming mass of pursed lips and jug-like ears. The first step is to adjust his breathing, the second is to select the most unremarkable features in order to build the image he seeks. He is the corporeal Mr Potato Head, centring himself and finding his nose. The third step is to stop panicking and pull your knickers up, man. There is a time and place for feelings like these. It doesn’t matter that you’ve not found that time or place, doesn’t matter that there isn’t one.

[Sorry, I’ve got a panic attack scheduled for half past two, couldn’t you wait?]

Read more >
28

Stuck In Amygdala With You

I became lost in the labyrinth of your mind.

I tried to follow gnomic wisdom to stick your hand against the walls and to keep heading in the same direction. Thus I spiralled right, but your neurons did not fire concentric.

Your synapses snapped in my wake, closing up my escape. I apprehended they were shepherding me towards the medial. The pattern of your brain forged into a target, with me in its sights. A cocooned bug ensnared in the viscid strands of your grey matter.

29

UNOBTAINABLE

Jeremy thought he glimpsed a fifties taxi, runner-board and all, disappearing beyond Saint Anne’s. Curious and depressed, he trudged newly-fallen snow to investigate.
Rounding the chapel wall he scanned the short avenue. It was devoid of traffic. No tracks spoiled the pristine white blanket covering the weary asphalt and paving.
Less a shroud than a cocoon shielding the spent surfaces while they bubbled into new life, the snow seemed to defy the eerie silence. Jeremy felt a passing urge to lay himself down and be reborn without the baggage.
He blinked tears away, blushing in anticipation of onlookers. But there were no eyes to observe – only the grimy windows of the breakfast bar at the corner.
A blonde sat at the window – her sensuous primrose top all but see-through under dull fluorescents. She turned and smiled as he traversed the road and pushed blindly through the saffron-framed door, drawn by a frightening sexual magnetism.
Her smile brightened. A cold hand gripped his heart and he almost collapsed. It was only when a yellow cab pulled up outside the window that his peril dawned on him.
His hands clawed in tortured supplication in her direction before he crashed back through the door and retreated across the street, giving the taxi a wide berth.
From the safety of the chapel wall, cold against his cheek, he swivelled an eye in the direction of the squandered romance. She was blushing furiously and staring dead ahead.
“Bloody xanthophobia,” he moaned into the grouting, before retreating into the shadows of an overhanging laurel, using that cover to escape his failure and drag his feet back to his flat – a box which the lack of love disqualified as a home.
Read more >

30

Threshold

They came, men in black
wearing suits and a rucksack
that didn’t crease their jackets.
They seemed kind, clean–cut,
well-spoken, firm, Mid-Atlantic…
"Meter readers." They were, they said.
And, "Did I want to be read?"
Asked to come in.
Put my head in a spin.

"Hold your hand out…Begin…"

31

A Mask of Mint and Tears

Once told: only the worst things are revealed in static silent symmetry. To fracture is to be rendered invisible and bring an end to the hunt. You are not there yet. There is more work to be done. Please don’t go so soon – you’ve barely begun to know yourself. If you must leave, remember this: one day a walker on paved streets is what you promised us. Wanderers who, at length, desire to be the cracks, be the thing another falls into. Be the bad luck of it all. I beg of you, please, don’t forget that a brick can be more than a cell of a prison wall; it can also be a canvas. Take with you a measure of my peace but keep asking, what will you do when the walls build in around you and the world is left without?

32

A Carbon Fingerprint

They know who I am.
Hairs on my head bristle.
When they are close
They sense fear and humiliation.
I am not like them
and I do not like them.

It’s not that I am special, I’m not.
But refuse to play their games,
kiss and tell, rapo and condemn.

I am lucky still to be myself,
Unusual in this tinsel town?
But you pay with your life.

33

Face Space

Sometimes
he felt like a man with no face,
his face space occupied
by a swirling mist of confusion.
So he had to wait
for it to settle down
to see what emerged,
wait to find his face for that day.
Sometimes
it was exciting,
but only sometimes.
Sometimes
he wished for a blank space
that he could fill himself
with a Magritte apple.
Or maybe a luscious peach
would be self-fulfilling.
Sometimes
he wished he could wear
the same face every day,
wake up with it in place
and know it would stay,
know what he would be
every day.

34

The Photo, No Longer a Replica

That jaw line isn’t you. Those cheekbones are not you.

You corrupted your own structure for validation.

Did you crumble under your own volition, or did the pressure of others strike at you, your face as a tin drum, their eyes a fleet of microscopes sliding you under their lens?

Is your skin really alabaster, or is there just plaster adorning your visage?

Are you still able to smile under the weight of injections?

Do you have any reason to smile, their cameras having left you jaded, anhedonic?

The camera loves this theory of façade, but what love have you have left for yourself?

35

Corporate Enslavement

Conformity
Dress codes
Denied vacations
Overtime
Advancement through marriage to the company
Political correctness
Manicured personalities
Your electronic presence is constantly monitored
Abandonment of individuality
Constant threats of lack of security
The ladder-climbing protagonist
Spending more time tweaking PowerPoint slides than actually working
The offensive brown nose
Human Resources are there to protect the company and not the employee
Please do not let the door hit you in the arse on the way out
You are salaried, rather you are slaveried

36

Leavings

There was a man
no—many men

who touched me
mouthed me ate me.

I swabbed their cheeks
with my tongue.

I see them in my
son and daughter

though they are
not their fathers.

And women, too,
many times over.

Anyone who ever
changed me

has entered me.
I have a gate

with no lock
permeable as the skin

of a cell block.
Molecular as connective

tissue and equally empty.
Stay awhile.

Read more >
37

Anomaly

“The old home town just looks the same”,
I’m happy to tell you – excepting, that is,
your mural. It’s somehow *evolved*. Over night,
it’s said. Your masterwork’s not what it was.

Instead of that quizzical face, there’s this vortex.
Hypnotic thumbprint throbbing through the wall.
Your suit survives. Amazed, a pair of ears,
perhaps tuned into heaven, or the soundtrack from hell –

who knows? Bemused, of course, I stepped
a touch closer and peered like a speculant tourist.
At once the thing hummed into life! How it *whirred*;
I felt my cowardice wisely reassert itself...

It wasn’t the happiest homecoming. Off
I shot, retreating from my waking dream,
bricking up the vision that I’d seen. Our town:
“like a derelict man who has died out of shame...”

(With apologies to Jarvis Cocker)

38

Politics

They peer at me through a lens. They want to confirm if I am who I say I am and imagine that the retina has the final word. Even the technology resting in my hands insists that I trust the lens.

They think my face is my fingerprint.

As if fingerprints are alive and ready with all answers.

I wish this were true. I wish my face had lines going around in circles the way my thoughts do. I wish my thoughts moved either inwards or outwards without ever crisscrossing each other in unknown bizarre ways. I wish life were as simple as an optical illusion that the mind knows and accepts as one. I wish there wasn’t a face with all its ridges, spurs, chasms, and a landscape that changed with the light and the darkness of moments. Then I’d have remained unchanged over the years with just a few measly lines turning grey.

The face, however, is in many ways similar to an iceberg where thoughts deep inside are the real navigators. It is these wily navigators that are responsible for everything from early melting to rapid meltdowns to deliberate surprises in the pitch dark for boats and cruise ships to allowing seals, walruses, penguins and others to pop up on its deck to pose for the paparazzi. An entire cosmos exists right there on the face, as it does on an iceberg. One can see the dance of the universe there only if one wishes to… after all, this is what Krishna showed Arjuna in the Mahabharata, didn’t he?

And yet we sometimes cannot or do not wish to face the face. We hide behind a curtain of inscrutability so we can remain unaccountable. Save all that is unreadable and carefully pin it on. This is all you need to start in the world of politics. This is all that my father said as he thrust a piece of paper towards me to sign. This form, once filled, would launch me as a worker in the political party that he now patronized.

39

Anticlockwise

Isn’t it strange how things unravel anticlockwise in the
night, as if thoughts, blindfolded, spiral homeward into

the past? In the morning, even in the half-glow of dawn,
you can float away from yourself, changing their direction,

the end of the trembling dark clutched tight in your hand,
deliberately unwinding pain through a labyrinth of forced

possibilities. Time, then, is just a cruel trick of the light.
Or maybe, love is. I remember lying on our backs on the

sand, the sky close, beginning at the end of our skin,
stars finding the hollows under our nails, clouds moving

in dextral whorls around a proximate moon. Or maybe we
were just looking at it wrong. Maybe it was day. Maybe it

was us whirling and there was one nebulous cloud in the
centre blurring the sun. Maybe we weren’t next to each

other, a deception of trajectory and distance and touch,
the twisted path a long way to reach an inevitable end.

40

Placental

She drew him on the bricks –
this was her resistance.
Skin had grown up between them by now, the
protective globe of a light bulb
flaring in and flaring out
it was springy to the touch like a
thick sheet of translucent rubber.

Could you have seen his face for the circling?
They like to say, "You can't see the forest for the trees."
But she kept on drawing him here and there
every one a note of resurrection or
candy-striped, placental wishing.

41

No-exit maze

Constant thoughts encircle my mind
Keeping me trapped in a no-exit maze
Walled up from behind
Hypnotic madness from within
A deafening silence ringing in my ears

Trapped
I feel the walls, the barriers closing in
Soon to crush me
Leeching out my brains
Flattening my skull
Like an MRI plate

The blinding spiralling maze
Has smashed
In a deafening crash
Flattening me into the wall
Like a fly
Swatted on a wall

42

Jormungandr

Stood before a lego-brick landscape
Blocking out the beyond
My face is open for you to read
Focus, focus on me
You are relaxed, feeling sleepy
Time to start, hit transmit, pitch
Messages taking you in a downward spiral
Going viral, reflecting the screen
Scene, seen, reem … sucker
Follow my thread, to my minotaur labyrinth
Of puzzles and lies, prizes for likes
A spike on Instagram
Subscribe to my vine
Looping round and round and round
Hip, hype, hypnotic
This blood of the snake, chasing its tail
Jormungandr, eating itself as the world ends

43

Torch, a Noun

tunnel in his head.

A time tunnel.
Memory.

The tunnel runs in both directions. The future
hits him in the face

as catastrophically as the past
smacking him from behind

as it smashes into the future
that hits him in the face as it –

each obliterates the other
on contact so that

there is no present moment
to be in.

René is
only in the sense that
he is
never-ending now

pulled in all directions
along the tunnel

between
extremes

until they bleed
one into the other

until

Read more >
44

Round One

Circle the city
   outside the walls, inside the walls
  Circle the square
    with tanks and snipers
    Circle the names
       of those who have ever raised voices
       (or even an eyebrow)
        against you
     Circle the books
       in the library for banning and in each book circle
       the words you never want spoken
    Circle the city hall with guards
      and invite your own circle into your sanctum
      to submit their bids for favoured fiefdoms
     in nice round numbers
    ending with many, many zeroes

45

THE COUNTER APP

Hey Jimmy, c’mere,
check this out!
Similar to ours,
the original C2R2OH
that helped us keep
everyone asleep.
Ours was blue,
This is the counter app –
Don’t look, Jimmy,
it’s moving, spinning
The ears and neck,
familiar – Amazing!
Bigger lines, bright
red on a brick background,
a map of sorts,
different though,
a fingerprint of the mind,
Yea, yea, concentric circles,
Don’t stare at it, Jimmy,
it’s hypnotic, sucks you in,
a kind of mask that
supplants the face, hides it,
revealing a litany of
coded Facebook insults,
a search that Google
can’t locate or deliver,
It’s infecting me!
Read more >

46

Oi

you dog
hind legs like a lotus flower stealing the sun from the middle of the night

when I had a face and it showed nothing more or less than all there was to see, the blue of your purse strings invisible and growing, damp as my father's hip pocket nerve need to control, divide and conquer

they wound around my ankles, accordions of blood and bone, skipping fibrillation beasts

you said it wasn't true, that love comes free of charge, expensively open and convex, circling in its own self-admiration and accessories of quality

one day we ran into the red void, my faceless face a beacon, something special like a sixth toe or an Anne Boleyn sleeve we held, two birds on the sea

bark
bark, bite
piss the light fandango and curl, how we curl when the clouds no longer fold and hold us while the air grows dank like a Sharpies' Connie cardie creeping

can you hear the Tom Bowler hat leaves whistling black?
one day love will hunt me down like a burning stone, its tongue wagging

47

An Indefinite Wobble

I barely noticed
the world was an indefinite
wobble,
the infinite days
becoming months and years.
I barely noticed
the break of day,
the wind chiseling
words in my ears.
There are no secrets
in the whiff of night,
the drip drip of a liar
who’s broken from within.
There are no secrets
in a mirror,
in a look that
feeds on hungry skin.
I dreamt there were
no secrets
in the break of day, and
the world was
an indefinite wobble.

48

FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MONTHS

Email targets you.
Junk mail targets you.
Hate mail targets you.
The Daily Mail targets you.
All your male colleagues, even your male friends, target you. They’ve stopped texting or calling but they’re there, in the shadows. They’re know all your faults. They’re out to get you.

You’ve stayed inside for months.

A door slams and you leap out of bed. Now they’re coming. Now they’re in the passage. Now you’re in the cupboard. But when you realise what you thought were footsteps is actually the hammering of your heart, when you realise what you thought was your front door slamming was next door’s (it’s just done it again), you fall out of the cupboard and stumble into your room.

It’s light. Daylight. But the light is peripheral. It’s been like that for months, but this time you put your hands to your face. This time you take off the thing that’s stuck to your face. It hurts, and it takes a long time. But when it’s finally gone you have to shield your eyes against bright bright sunlight. And tend your wounds. And bin the target, and the hate mail and the junk mail and the Daily Mails. And set secure email filters. And go outside. Nervously. And bump into a friend who says he’s missed you. For the first time in months.

49

Completing the Puzzle

I’ve reached the end
each step counting back
cold, colder, coldest
my mind is empty

Each step counting back
through abandoned spaces
my mind is empty
deeper and deeper into nothing

Through abandoned spaces
absence becoming
deeper and deeper into nothing
devoid of ripples or tides

Absence becoming
a vacant mirror
devoid of ripples or tides
eerily calm

A vacant mirror
cold, colder, coldest
eerily calm
I’ve reached the end

50

OUR RELATIONSHIP HAS BECOME A SERIES OF CLICHES

I cannot face you now
can see how you've spiralled out of control
in such a cowardly graphic manner
with another one of your masks
where it's not possible to see eye to eye –
you so often defy cliché with silence
when your back's against the wall
and I make more sense of its graffiti

I know you hear me when I speak
although that's neither here nor there
what we mean to each other is now
a question mark – clearly you will not say
while bricked in issues just go round in circles
and you hope they will be painted out

51

Circle Line

I fled the city leaving the mayhem
of broken patterns and false etiquette.

I descended deep on moving stairs into the
womb of the labyrinth where, with a slow slide
to stop, doors opened for me, I was suited.

Closeted in a carriage with the low hum of a
contented straight line, ears lulled by the song
of the stations. Spots on lines with the promise
of return.

Brick walls flash past painting me on their
linear comfort.

In my head order prevails, a symmetry
spiralling into a pivot of sameness.
A symbol of contented anonymity.

52

My Friction Ridges

Seventeenth week of mam's pregnancy
my fetus friction ridges fully form
arch, loop and whorl,

My basal layer buckles and folds
in several directions, forces complex shapes.
Not barkskin growth rings
light and dark, a seasonal response.

Rather as if someone thumbs out my face
or mine theirs, erase facial recognition
on a photo, stain the image
with sand dune ripples, tropical fish stripes,
convecting fluid patterns,

von Karman vortices, air or liquid currents
move in opposite directions, curl clouds.

Insects speed and manoeuvre
borrow energy from their wing made
von Karman vortices,

this blotted face buckles and folds
with age.

53

The Influence

Go on, then.
Take a pop at it
if you’ve a mind.

I’ve tried
every single day
since the announcement.

He always was
a bit of a stuffed shirt,
but fair.

This week
I may as well be
talking to a brick wall.

He stands there, just
like butter wouldn’t melt,
but I can tell.

This job
has her fingerprints
all over.

54

Trapped In My Maze

My face is like an endless maze
One way in
No way out
Enter my mind
If you dare
But be warned
There is no escape
Follow the years on my face
Full of twists and turns
Dead ends
That constantly circle back
You fell into my trap
You were warned
Enjoy your journey
As my face
Consumes you
Savoring your cries for help
Laughing at your panic
As you realize
You are trapped in my maze
And you are now
My latest poem

55

Spiral

Like a tattoo, a touch sinks deep into the skin,
Seeping downwards, trickling past each layer,
The blackness inside calling, crawling, from within,
It is hard to adjust, hard to grasp an answer in a prayer.
No preparation, nothing to cling to for support,
Alone we must go to discover something we thought was lost,
Residual desperation lurks, in anger and fear we wish to abort,
Tenacious emotions strip bare weaknesses at any cost.

Thoughts work like arrows, or a dagger, or a spear,
Incessantly driving a sharpness into the soul.
Looking now it all appears to be so clear,
The mind is a judge, sentencing us to an inescapable hole,
Climbing, clambering, exhausted in toil we adhere,
Until something is found to fill the emptiness, take its toll.
Something bright, something strong, something dear,
Completing the puzzle, from which a piece the melancholy stole.

It is as shocking and crisp as a perfectly moulded snowflake,
Little compares to the uniqueness of the experience.
Recklessly bounding, it overwhelms the senses, startled awake
Hard to describe and little is known of its essence,
A vulture feasting on carrion for its own sake.
Ignored, it ignites its prey, begging for acquiescence.
Calling into a void, patiently waiting for something to break,
Yet it thrives through the tumultuous affair with iridescence.

Read more >
56

Where Have all the Dreamers Gone

another brick in the wall
as the story goes
never trust a suit
a faceless spiral in the
rat race crowd
no better than a barcode
no more than a fingerprint
on an RFID chipped hand
what's the world coming to
when we accept the beast's mark
willfully
unabashed and unfazed
where have all the dreamers gone
in a place built
upon their backs
blurry and
left behind

57

Safe Hands

He examined me over his pint glass, which he'd raised to cover the lower half of his face, cider tipped and still against the wall of his lips, while he tried to think. Surely, he’d had better training than this? People working at Vauxhall Cross should surely have to attend 'A Basic Introduction on How to Avoid Being Spectacularly Bad at Lying'? I raised an eyebrow and, caught, he lowered the cider and laughed, nervous.

‘Don’t think you understand what I’m saying, Rupert,’ he said, loosening his tie. ‘It’s not that I can’t tell you, it’s that I CAN'T tell you. Do you see?’

I did not see. I ate a pistachio to indicate as much.

‘Can’t tell you,’ he repeated, leaning into the stressed word this time, knuckles white on the sticky table. ‘Literally, unequivocally cannot. Even if I wanted to, which I don’t, or at least I don’t think I want to, do I?’

I swallowed. ‘You seem very stressed. Are you feeling alright?’

‘Ah! There he is! There he is. First thing you say…Well, thank you for being concerned, but I’m quite alright. Really.’ He raised his pint, then put it back down again. ‘Now, stop it, Rupert. Stop watching me like that.’

I smiled and blinked.

‘Stop it!’

Another pistachio.

‘Look, I…’ He glanced around at the other patrons in the pub. It was his lunch hour, but he’s come so far on the tube that we only had five minutes together in the end. He’d had no time to order food and he drank quickly, which wasn’t helping matters. ‘You don’t know what it’s like. There are so many things spiralling around in that place, like insects fluttering in your face, and you can’t stick a pin in them, oh no.’

Read more >
58

Hypnotized

As I looked into his eyes, I became quite hypnotized
My mind went blank, his name was Frank
He asked my name but nothing came
I heard his voice, I had no choice
I simply stared like I was scared
He spoke again, I saw a grin
And when he smiled my heart raced wild
And to this day, I’d have to say, I never could quite look away

59

Cataract Philosophy

An optical delusion,
A cataract philosophy,
that our story begins with the folding of patio chairs;
holding temporary stories
of those wearing the suits and ties.

The only history worth preserving,
Which continuously measurers our performances
as individuals learning how to climb.

Somehow, when we trade in our patio chairs
for Aeron chairs the air-conditioned breath
seems to desiccate our solace.

The pressing of keys begins to construct images,
The forming of words that turn into the sentence;
I’m not sure if a suit and tie is what I want anymore.

You become lost in this forest
Where bricks replaced the pure green scenery
and your name plate reads a name you no longer recognize

Then you pick up a brush,
You taint it in red.
A passion grows where the cataract philosophy begins to erase.
The sentiments fill the mirror with a pentimento face
Maybe, you can wear your suit and tie with flip-flops to this new canvas;
An unfinished painting where you’re still defining its ongoing purpose.

60

Vortex

Obliterated by the vortex
The human diminished.
Where once there was a person,
Now stands a vacuum.
Ideas sucked in, disappearing in the hollow where once a brain abided.

Brick upon brick of oblivion
shouted out from the target
masking any hope of survival.

The perfection of symmetry
forbade any inclusion of individuality.
What will be re-built to fill the void?

Face upon face will appear
each with its own fingerprint,
seemingly alike but not,
adding mayhem to normalcy.

Let the masses of humanity
disappear behind their masks.
Life will go on.

61

Faceless

Walled out,
walled in, not
part of the team.

Invisible; sat in
front of a screen.
Same place
tomorrow;
same internal
scream.

Dependable, but
usable. Always
there; forgettable.

Identity lost;
too late to
reclaim.

A faceless face;
someone to blame
for someone’s gain.

It all stops here at
the end of the chain.

62

Of stories within

Bodies, numbers, figures.
Details enlisted in the state's registry,
Mark my belongingness on its terrain.

Beneath this fine thumbprint, scanned and stored by the state, lies an individual. Inaccessible.
An identity, too fine to be captured in the fine lines of a thumbprint.
Entangled stories flow deep within that inaccessible self.
Telling tales of a strange kind. Gibberish.
Does that scare the state? Oh my my!

Wearing a mask, a valid, recognisable self
I walk around. On the streets, beneath the glaring street lights.
Chaotic stories giggle within.
Unrecognisable. Strange stories of the self.

63

Test card heat wave

I see this and I see that but mostly
what I see is the fuzzy sort of nothing
that comes from seeing too much too fast,
a distinctly indistinct pattern which is
insistently telling you that if you crack me,
do your signal / noise thing that apparently
your temperament and talents make you
well suited for (so you kept being told
by people who could read your eyes but
not your heart) well maybe you might
just save the world;

oh but probably not,
I mean we’ve all the seen the news, the hot
news, the burning news, the apocalypse
won’t be as warm as this! news, but you
know the real headline is ‘Fortress Europe
Can’t Keep Out All The Climate Change
Migrants’, and all the brand onions you
slice while wearing your thin on-trend
suit won’t put that into culture, will it.

64

The Spiral Face

keep away from the man with the spiral face,
you don’t want to find he’s the human race

you thought other people should be as kind as you
but you don’t want to find that you’re not kind too

so keep away from the man with the spiral face
who stands like you in the same damn place

65

Spiralling In

Even the slightest glimpse
of his face
leaves me dizzy
…delirious…
      …halfway
to demented;
held motionless
in the stillness
of his gaze,
…mesmerised…
like a mouse,
…waiting…
for the rattlesnake
to strike…

and that’s perfectly okay;
you see…
he’s placed his thumbprint
on my soul…
and it’s, really,
all the identification
that I need…

66

re-flect-ion.txt

i l,oathe the me
THAT ICKY FACE COVERED IN ACNE AND SCARS
in re,flections i see
THAT ARROGANT STANCE AND POISE
in mi,rrors or
WHEN I LOOK I TURN
wind,ow pane,s or
INTO ONE OF THE BLIND MICE:
p,icture fr,ames or
COMMA S,P,LICE........   .   ...   ..
even glas,s tables
................         .....
or new,ly-furnished tables

67

dry

there is a sucking at the base of the spine when it starts
an unfolding
a black hole twisted up close to the nape of the neck
tugging
loosening every segment

there are no physical changes
the doctor assured me with plain words
a tape played in the office
patients serene with certain smiles on the screen
standing at the end of it
there are no physical changes
even when we went through the mental effects
streamlined and simple
it all makes sense
            until it starts happening
how could a straight line on a graph
a jolt and a release
feel so uncontrolled
they didn’t warn me about this
is something w  r  o  n  g

                                             please sit still, sir.
                                               it feels like that.
                                  the procedure is at work.

they’re slipping now
falling out of me into space
obsolete as soon as they drop out of my mind
latex gloves will remove them from wherever they land
Read more >

68

Living Up, Spiraling Down

these are the things that choke you –
starch and bleach
the stiff disguise of black on white
all those obvious displays of over-achievement
the caffeine that drove you through all your good years
toward the blurred promise of button-downed success
forever in the background
beyond the whitewashed, firing line

you must now decide
to take your place in front of, or behind
your wall constructed of slow and hollow time
as you stand, an older man, alone
a vortex of all the mediocrity you cannot live up to

69

Scrambled

City life,
Money in,
Money out,
Crisis.

Suited up,
for meetings with clients,
Always rushing,
Ideas racing,
Heart pounding,
Constant texting,
Late night partying.

Trying to keep one step ahead of the others,
Relentless bargaining,
Chasing leads,
Rewiring your personality,
to accommodate the expectations of shareholders, stakeholders and bosses of financial palaces.

No time to unscramble your life,
Before your mind implodes,

Another casualty takes a tumble off the corporate ladder.

70

Sweets on Neptune

“That person’s face,” Lily says, her little voice like sugar. Quiet. Not shy, but unassuming. That is how she is.

“What about it?” I ask, though I’ve seen this bit of graffiti many a time. I walk this road at least twice a day; I’m sure I know it as well as my flat. I’m curious, however, to see what my baby sister will think of this particular painting, one that never fails to disturb me.

“It’s like a lollipop. ”

Oh. That’s a way of looking at it that I never thought of. I guess it is indeed like a lollipop, all red and white swirls.

“When I was little,” I say, “I had a book with a picture of a girl holding a lollipop like that. I wanted one.”

“When you were little was a looong time ago,” Lily giggles.

I shrug. It’s true. I forget how old I’m getting. The years between eighteen and twenty-one – now – feel so fluid. Sometimes I still think of myself as nineteen, before I remember. I suppose that’s uni. Or adulthood. Freedom. At school, each year felt defined and separate. Now, time is a mysterious, moving world I can do whatever I like in.

But at times like these I remember that while I’m doing what I like, I’m getting ever older. Sometimes I envy my sister her routine, the classes she moans about. At least she has a place to be and a task to do.

Is it possible to be too free? Surely not.

But maybe I should take up some more responsibilities.

She tugs at my cuff. “Rose, can we go to the sweet factory sometime?”

Read more >
71

Identity

A relationship is hard enough in this digital age – fake news,
air brushed photographs, a deluge
of alert pings
demanding instant answers.

You hung out in my pocket like a dirty handkerchief, folded
to hide a morbid suit, funereal black.
I guessed from the start
you were a fraud, whining for sympathy

as if your mother just died – disguising your face
to prevent me seeing the real you
but you were wrong
to believe me a fool in this duo without the guts to lift that mask.

72

The Blood Comes

He is a target –
scarlet-faced,
shirt-drenched,
stippled neck
rising from
white-collared trench,
hot-tipped ears
conspicuous as a hare’s.
He is skewered
by their stares
and cowers
when their jibes
javelin through the air;
he swivels on his chair,
wounded.

An army of platelets
surges,
rampaging
with fervent urgency
through feathered tendrils
to fix the damage.

They race,
run reckless laps
in furious loops,
trailing puce,
ensnaring him
in crimson coils,
Read more >

73

Fingerprint Men

In café booths on station
platforms, looking at tracks
but never moving, the Fingerprint
Men will be there, tracing.

“I shall keep this
brief,” I said
to myself, “I shall
do as I’m told.”

The sun arrived, short-sleeved,
and a white car slid
by. Everything looked
Californian for a second.

“I just wanted to touch
base,” he said.
“It seems to be moving
in the right direction.”

Racing the rats, or heading
towards the circus, the Fingerprint
Men will be there, cheating
on their wives, and smiling.

74

The Hypnotic State of Following Suit

Before you fell to unawareness, were reduced
to unconsciousness, hypnotized,

before you appeared robotized, tranquilized,
desensitized, homogenized, lobotomized,

before you became a blurry detail midst the brick
and mortar of Wall Street, where ties,

white-collars, and well-coiffed hair colonize
in paralyzed force—you were idolized,

recognized as being an individual, one who rarely
followed suit.

75

Metamorphosis II

I woke up with no distinguishing features…
Everything about me had been erased
I was just a tunnel of data, that had seeped through my fingers
Clicks, ticks, likes, dislikes, pictures of cute cats and bombings all rolled and rolled into one

I woke up with no distinguishing features…
Feeling or pain, everything aroused and disgusted me but I felt none, it had pumped me into jelly
An experiment to see how far they could go
Could they eradicate my personality and just go where they told me to go

I woke up with no distinguishing personality…
I held their views and attacked those that didn’t
I bought at their shops
Ate where they ate
Tuned into their shows
Laughed and hated when they told me to

Then with a trembling finger, I switched myself off

76

Influence

Dr Strauss, focuses his attention
onto a speck of my being that I, nor he, knew was there.
A superfluous image strikes the veins of the ceiling,
with its curvature seeking its optimal weight.
It holds currents through its velocity,
simmering through the curtains, as if daytime is hiding, peaking even,
injecting glycerin through outbreaks of coruscation.
the elderly doctor points, and nods the tip of his pen to the table-top.
He shimmies in his cracked leather chair,
and abbreviates the sign of an illumination,
Which sanctifies, and clasps with every breath.
Now, every surface of the world is now in existence,
and the small opening of the office door,
presented a foreign land,
full of riches,
but much to contemplate and fear.

77

Please let me finish

You speak, I listen
To the sound of
My voice disappearing under the weight of your suit.
A breadth of peacock feathers
Yet I’m the one on show.
I walk home, silent.
Shamed. Abused.

I repeat. Please
Don’t take my words and twist them.
Anger fires in hot red cheeks.
I breathe and calmly speak.
Yet I’m
Unreasonable. Difficult.
Words that don’t come from me.

78

Notes on a past country

Morning black-tied, coat furled like an armistice, walking
through streets of still houses as lost as a tree deprived

squirrel when all is mapped with piss of dog and rustling
hedges. Such a foot-fallen landscape of differences. His old

ghost trains shuffle in with shrill pig-eyed steel, spidering
skeltering lamps. So starts the long tunnel of remembering.

It begins with a punctuation of cemetary-bound bridges,
a quiet sentence of river slickening underneath. How her

school-walk hands held him knuckle tight along the brick,
a twist-wrist of words towing there and back, flotsam jetsam

days, ginned laughter, broken glass, her sudden flaunting sun
that always waried him to windowed waiting. An anchored

ciggy corner-shop, rough skinned trees, that salt-green smell
of garden green, it all passes by as if her dying makes her live.

Now in an impossible forgiveness of flowers, family stand, cormorants lined up thin-lit along a cliff above her shadow.

79

Life in a Whorl

Our identity defined by the looping parabolas
of our thumb, hypnotically drawing us in to the center,
just as surely as that barcode we wear around our necks,
a stranglehold –

the concentric spiraling parameters of a life
built brick by brick,
walled in until the background blurs
and all options narrow down
to the solidity of what is.

In the forefront we are only black and white;
a jutting Adam’s apple attests to original sin,
any greenery lies behind in the lost garden.
The world as we know it has no dimension.

One ear is on alert, the other one deaf,
ignoring any input that doesn’t suit
the life that we have so meticulously built.

80

Labryinth

The maze mind meanders
most times in, this

whorl thumbprint on the wall
of bricked-in solitude

when the city blurs
in my inward eye

circled on itself.
You suggest

I look different today
as I approach curves

of confusion,
lost. You promise

I will find my way,
that the path in

turns also out.

81

A Decision at Dawn

I’ve never seen someone like him. He’s wearing a suit. That’s not the weird thing. It’s quite well cut, something my father would admire. Why am I thinking this now? It’s probably to distract from the fact of his face. His face isn’t a face. It’s all white, featureless flatness; that is, except for the neverending red spiral decorating it. It’s the stuff of cheesy hypnosis visuals in an old movie; the kind of uncanniness I’d likely admire if my parents weren’t lying deceased on the living room floor.

His face is directed towards mine, as if he’s looking right at me, but how can you look when you have no eyes? I want to scream, to howl, to run; but I’m stuck to the spot. Like in a dream. But it’s not a dream. The smarting fingernail-shaped cuts on my arm tell me that.

What can I do now but accept my fate?

I close my eyes; I wait.

But nothing happens. No blow to the head, no whack to the legs, no knife to the heart.

I open my eyes and hypnotic man is still where I left him. I stare.

“I can make you forget.”

“What?”

“What you saw here.”

I notice that I’m shaking violently; my face is wet. Had I been crying this whole time? I suppose I must be very upset. That’s natural, isn’t it? But I can’t feel it right now; I can’t feel anything. And this man is asking me to make a decision. What was it again?

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82

Agent Smith

"Agent Smith, what happened to your face?"
"What DO you mean, Mr. Anderson? I can see you clearly like I've always done."
"Look in the mirror. You don't have a face. All you have is ... it is like a giant fingerprint."
"I see my face."
"You mean you're reading the code and it looks right to you."
"It's the same thing."
"No, it isn't. Not when you don't have a face. Ask another agent."

"He's just trying to rattle you."
"I'm not rattled."
"Good."

"We were in an interrogation, Mr. Anderson."
"We still are, and you still do not have a face."
"Enough about me. Answer my question."
"I can't. I don't know what to look at. It's just this big red swirl."
"What is a big red swirl?"
"Your face."
"My face?"
"Your face."
"But you said I didn't have a face."
"You don't."
"Ok."
"It's just a big red swirl."
"What is?"
"Your face."

83

Imprint not Recognised

Harry pressed his face against the sensor and groaned as he heard the pre-recorded message:

*Imprint not recognised, please try again.*

This was ridiculous. He was standing at the entrance to his apartment block. His wife and family were inside. Bloody technology. He tried again - same message. The third time he tried, a different missive:

*Your account has been blocked. You will no longer be able to access your family unit. Please visit your nearest data centre for reprogramming.*

Harry’s bowels turned to water. This was it. He’d thought Sheila was bluffing when she’d said she’d had enough. In an age of instant gratification, she’d finally got fed up with waiting.

Waiting for him to provide the things she coveted – jewellery, designer handbags, holidays. Waiting for him to prove himself as the sex god she wanted. He’d tried to be that husband – the one she’d ordered online. He was sure the children loved him, but they held no sway in this quick fix world. Now that Sheila had flicked the switch that meant the end of this existence, he realised that he would soon no longer even remember them, nor they he. Tears welled in his eyes.

The innovators, those technological whizz kids, had promised a better world. No need to work at things any more – if it wasn’t working, cut your losses and move on. There was no room for those who didn’t pass muster, who struggled to conform to the new society’s ideals.

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84

at the end of the itch

I am the tightest ring in sound waves

circling like a thumbprint on a map

traversing the world's most exotic

vistas to the town’s local watering holes

dribbling down to a very feathered point.

at the end of the itch. Stands the man

demanding all the pretty souvenirs

spices and cloths for his giant pockets

not yours to give.

85

Who Goes Where?

With the knife at a throat, where does the power lie? My face must tell them; nose so bent it can smell round corners. Eye, a late-night closing. Teenage scar, a ladder across my cheek. Postcards from a youth, now a love letter of depression. Their faces shine with apprentice menace. Looking down at their catch. Who knew the new don’t see the old? It is a game of what are we each willing to give up. Me, a phone, a wallet, a book, my life a creased shirt without a tie. Them, their limited freedom of street feet pacing, chasing, never losing face in the face of others. The zero sum game of a death equals prison. It doesn’t add up but everyone keeps on counting.

86

Obliterated

He was there every day, standing looking at her. Cardboard cut-out he might have been, but to Marjorie he was real, so precisely did he resemble Gerald. Down to the shape of his ear lobes, which were unlike anyone else's.

She tried asking in the shop whether they could move him, but the girl gave her some gobbledygook about the figure being 'part of the merchandising', and said it was not 'down to her' anyway. Marjorie was going to ask to see the manager at that point, but her courage failed her.

It was difficult to avoid passing the shop on her way into town, and however much she tried not to, Marjorie felt drawn to the Gerald lookalike. His eyes seemed to follow her in the way the eyes of the Mona Lisa were said to do, in constant rebuke for the many inadequacies of which he had accused her during their marriage.

Moving to this town after the divorce had been a decisive step for Marjorie. It was a new place where she knew no-one. Things had been going well; she joined an origami club and found that – contrary to what Gerald had always said – she was dextrous and able to fashion intricate creations out of paper. Other people admired them and for the first time in her life she felt worth something as herself, rather than merely as an adjunct to someone else.

But this cardboard reminder of the man who had ruled her life for so long bugged Marjorie. She decided to make a little paper model of Gerald, fashioning him into the upright businessman as which he liked to present himself, complete with cut-out suit and tie. Then she took two pins from her needlework box and stuck them firmly into the little eyes which she had formed in the little paper head. She shivered with delight as the maimed figure seemed to cry out.

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87

the sleepers

they are knocking down the walls in my neighbourhood
not to bring people together – they build new walls
longer and higher to shut the people out

they must think that they are targets for our envy
these men in suits who give succour and shelter
only to their investments and their egos

I’d give a lot to stamp their faces with my thumbprint
the way they stamp out and drill under
these green and fertile spaces

faceless, they wear their money like a cloak
of invisibility – they are hazy as a lie in a leader column
less attributable and less accountable

they pay their henchman to shout loudly to divert us, protest
that they are just the same as us, when we see
another elite pale male flexing his privilege

they claim that they are just doing what is 'best
for everyone' – we just don’t understand
they are only doing what we would all do

if only we had what they have
and all this can be ours if we would only concentrate
on the light and let our eyes grow heavy

88

Currents

She resents his ability to sleep, so still and unconcerned in the small hours of the morning as the darkness of the bedroom beats against her skin like the wings of countless voidblack crows. She wonders how he does it, and as she wonders she discovers the miniscule tab that juts from his temple. It pulls away easily, lifting the rest of his face along with it, until she holds it like a rag between her thumb and forefinger and peers into the space left behind.

It’s a swirling fingerprint maze of rivers that course ever inwards, touching and gripping and swallowing any that ever left a mark on him. His mother, sisters, an aunt. The eighth grade teacher, a college professor who taught him the meaning of “limerence.” The barista who wrote his name in looping letters, dotting the "I" with a heart. The officer who held his head in her lap on the cold pavement, his motorcycle a twisted mess of steel meters down the road. They clutch at the branches on the banks, are slammed against rocks, rushed to the center of his skull by unforgiving rapids and pulled under.

Water spills over into the bed and dampens the sheets. It slips around her ankles and and legs and rises, rises, but she jumps and stumbles through the door, trailing droplets onto the carpet as she flees.

89

Catch you inside

In, in, inwards we go!
To internal infinity,
world anonymity.
Where none has ever gone
and returned home
whole, or the same piece.
We shall feast from the weird,
the ‘oh it’s so strange’,
and queer. We’ll fire guns,
destroy it all, have fun.
Bring down the I,
we’ll start from up high,
best be at night,
must finish at dawn.
Madness might smell us,
a hungry menace,
she’ll want to eat us,
So give her your toe.
Quick switch the engines,
fast to the exit!
Don’t get despaired
and don’t dance the blues.
Remember to look
up, down, right ’n left,
turn three times around,
sit on a chair. Spit good
from behind, remember a lie.
Open your eyes, welcome back!

90

ID

Who I am is not what you see
or how you think the me you see must be.
Write my name, sample my DNA,
press my finger to the ink and still
you will not know me.
Name, phone, address, degrees and diplomas
a record broken that makes no sound,
cannot play the music in my soul.
Name, rank, serial number, ask and I will tell
but not the story of my heart,
not the story in my heart,
not the song of me.

91

The Man with the Maze in his Face

Ever decreasing circles to the heart of the matter.
Hampton Court Maze has nothing on you.
A smart city slicker type with bricks for brains.

Property bricks – build ‘em high - sell ‘em cheap.
Tower Blocks/High Rise – blot on the city scape.
Sans Safety, Sans Space, Sans Money, Sans Life.

Verboten on green belt except for bespoke tree houses
for privileged children with acres for playgrounds.
Whilst tower block kids play in communal areas.

Or exist in dirty lifts going nowhere fast or stuck
between floors and the alarm isn’t working.
Languishing on litter strewn floors – unheeded tears.

He has a property portfolio don’t you just know.
A man of means – a man going somewhere.
Not the lift kid whose Dad has been in a maze all his life.

A Universal Credit maze, where the answers
are always somewhere else – blocked by the
Dept for Works and Pensions easy access model.

But City-slicker bricks for brains rides the maze.
with millions to spare for offshore accounts.
A house in the country – room for a stud.

Breeding high quality ponies for children.
Who shun broken down bikes and upcycled skateboards.
Whilst top of the range air fills their privileged lungs.

Inhaling – exhaling – living the business of life effortlessly.

92

Quizzing the Faceless

“There’s plumbum in my bucket, dear Attman, dear Attman. Sir, plumbum in my bucket … soft tissues, and bones.

“Pre-flush your water, dear voter and sponsor. Flush out your old pipes. Three times, Miss Jones.”

“But my iron-level is dropping, dear Attman, dear Attman,
my iron-level is dropping – I can’t breathe the same.”

“Pour water gently, dear voter, dear voter, my sponsor. Fill your glass gently … and don’t call me that name.”

“Then what shall I call you, dear Attman, dear Attman? What *shall* I call you, you tax-gorging prick?

“Er… Attorney General, dear valued taxpayer. Attorney General, or–”

“I’m going to be sick.”

“Ummm–”

“I’m so sorry for snapping, Attorney General. I’m sorry for snapping, my moods seem askew.”

“No matter, dear voter, can my aide get you some water? You’re probably just hungry, or pregnant. Don’t sue.”

“Nooo… defo not hungry, not hungry, Attorney. I’ve abdominal pain, but I’m *losing* weight. And besides, I'm a man.”

“Well that’s a pity, you’d make a great mother. *(We could do with more morons to hide this Flintgate.)* And who can *tell* these days, Dear Voter, who?”

“Eh? What was that, mister? I mean Mister Attorney General?

Read more >
93

Freeze Frame

There was an error with the rotoscope.
There was an error and
In three frames the face blurs.
Where the suited tapdancer
Had a visage, now there is just chorus:
Mouth mouth mouth.

And those dapper legs,
Those dapper sinewed legs,
Continue all along their own
On the avenue of bricks and letterboxes,
Pattering.

Watching, you could get lost there
In the lines, mazed rats for eyes,
And at two minutes thirty three seconds four—
There, right there:
He faces you alone in the curtained cinema,
In the city, in the smoke you curl, huddling
Into the falling snow.

94

Modern Times

Is my
tie
straight?

Is my
shirt
white
enough
and
are
my
ears
clean
enough?

It
doesn't
matter
that
I have
nothing
of
my soul
left
in me.

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95

The Eyes Have It

The minute he looked at me, I was caught. His face, not beautiful – a crooked tooth, the too-weak chin, the scrag of facial hair. A face unblessed with perfect symmetry, with glowing skin: the things they said I had, the aunts and friends of brothers and sometimes even boys. But my gaze spiralled inwards, when it landed on him: to the eyes, blue and keen. And that blue – it seized my look, caught it like water to ice.

He told me nice things, and the blue seemed pure and true as the sky. Lying together in the scorched grass, his hand burning on my waist: then he would tell me all the ways I wanted to be, how the summer tint of my hair and the weave in my walk filled him, right to the brim. How all the other men wanted me too, would stare and yearn – but I was his, and he had won. He would hold me by the hips, and in the depths of the sun and the stolen liquor the cornflower bruises would go unnoticed – until later, when the sky had turned dark.

Sometimes he would tell me the same things, but in a different hue – his eyes then seemed more grey than blue. He would tell me again how the men looked, but now it was a different game: he would seize the neckline of my T-shirt and pull at it, say 'flaunting all you're worth'. He would look at me as though he had been taken in: that blonde tint, that strut, my mouth – all illusions, and now his sight was clear. Then his eyes were targets, weaponry: aimed at the men and boys, aimed at every part of me.

Sometimes I tried to tell him, struggled to tweezer out the words lodged just below my ribs: you're chipping away at me. It hurts. But he would get that little crease between his eyebrows, and say: 'you're overthinking, can't you just relax?' His eyes were at their deepest then, and I would get lost. My head had always been in the clouds. I tried to press my feet into the ground, to feel the earth against my toes. I reached out my hands and touched him, the muscle and bone, held on to something solid.

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96

How It Goes

Bland white male, 25-34.
Picked off the shelf, identikit features,
suit nice but not too nice.

She knows there's something wrong.

It's too late.

There had been warnings, on the TV, not to open your door
to strangers, but he wasn't strange,
he was boring, he was nobody.
27 minutes ago she let him in.
Now she thinks back, she's not sure he said why he needed to.
From the gas? The bank? Them?

It's been said they are coming.
They are looking for unattached people
who share too much online.
A little desperate, a little easily lost.
Data harvesting is no longer enough,
not from afar.

She didn't think it would go like this.
SAS-type men, black van, screaming.
Not a bland white male, 25-34,
sipping a milky tea on her sofa
whilst her eyelids begin to droop.

Read more >
97

Get In Line

A thumbprint replaces the face,
or a forefinger may take its place
to prove who you are:
No ID — no Cigar.
No voting. No apps. Just disgrace.

Your existence means you must be lined,
but a spiral means you’re undefined.
Arches, loops, whorls, composites
become your new posits
to prove you belong with our kind.

Should you challenge this order of law
with some ungrateful form of faux pas,
your lines are erased
and your ID defaced
as you draw your last breath and last straw.

98

Lost Identity

When your life steps back
And you search for an identity
You find your dream hanging
Like a creeper from a dead tree.
You try to rejuvenate your dream.
You look at the sky only to find that
The sun is lost behind the gray clouds.
You look for a source of energy to reactivate
Your existence and you stumble upon
The blue sapphire. You try to pick it up
Thinking it will breathe life back into
Your dream. But it turns into charcoal.
You think the charcoal will suck all
The impurities out of your dream
And you put on your corporate attire
To floor the client, who would make your
Life. But as you turn to step out of your
Home you find your dream calling
Out at you, imploring you to reactivate it.
You had an identity … or so you thought
And your dream was a part of it.
Now your dream is as lifeless as the
Tree it hangs from and you are at a loss
As you fail to decide what to do.
To reactivate the dream; uproot the
Dead tree or to reinvent the dream?
With your back on the wall you decide
To redefine your identity. The lost dream
Disappears. The dead tree falls to the ground
Read more >

99

Paragraphiti On The Cusp Of Jewrotica: Living With Olives

“You walk into the room
With your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked
And you say, "Who is that man?"
You try so hard
But you don't understand
Just what you'll say
When you get home.”
— Bob Dylan, Ballad Of A Thin Man

i. I don’t remember when The Pilgrim’s
pork pie hat & suit bobbed into consciousness
though knew immediately the blue sky
buttoned down faceless man was Dad.

It must have been during my ornery
rebellion-against-every-convention
delayed adolescence since Magritte
died the same year that he painted it

which was 1967 which was exactly
the time I fled Victorian Harvard for
San Francisco’s Summer of Love,
anti-Vietnam draft resistance, etc.

René got me thinking surreally not
seriously so I quit medical school
thereby violating an implicit contract
that till then I didn’t know existed

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100

Thought Loop

My, oh my.

She is beautiful; that buttoned nose

Would cause you to loosen your tie, jump on toes as the bus goes by.

Her hair, mousy auburn, unfurling entangled in a winter scarf.

I thought her eyes were brown, but I’ve seen them closer now as green.

We’ve thought to approach her, a serendipitous bump on her path.

We know her route and her train.

Her steps are assured.

And I find her in a café, ordering a latte.

Naturally, furtively

I exist only as ellipses, three behind her, but closer than ever.

Just within reach of fervour.

I…

I must have her.

Must know her mind. Have her untangle mine.

I stir my tea.

But she is gone.

Lost to the sea of winter coats, umbrellas, and debris.

And so I look to the clouds, licking at the ocean’s horizon.

Worry not; we’ll find another, you’ll see.

101

Invisibility

He can’t make it to your parents' anniversary – boiler emergency. You joke about his being afraid to meet the parents. Your mother blinks rapidly, your father shakes his head. You have teenage boyfriend mistakes to live down, too distant, too clingy, too secretive. This one is different.

He can’t make it to your sister’s wedding because of work, something complicated with spreadsheets and data collection. You take two presents, write his name left-handed on one label. The maid of honour doesn’t really sit still anyway. You pretend not hear to hear the usher who laughs that you’re dating the invisible man.

He can’t make it to your best friend’s house-warming; he’s stuck on the tube. You hear whispered voices behind him, maybe high-heeled footsteps. There will be other people stuck on their journeys, trying to work out where to go. You sit alone at the party, nurse the expensive bottle of red wine you brought. You pretend the whispers aren’t about you. It’s easier to ignore the invitations.

He doesn’t stop apologising after he hits you, fills your tiny flat with yellow roses, cooks your favourite chicken curry for dinner. He didn’t mean it, it’s a one-time thing. You shouldn’t have kept asking him why he was so late when he’d had too much to drink. You haven’t got anyone else to talk to now, even if you’re not sure if you ever knew him at all.

He doesn’t look back each time he walks out. Sometimes you’re curled in a ball on the beige shag-pile in the living room. Sometimes you’re lying face down on Egyptian cotton sheets. The glass in the bathroom mirror is smashed. You look for shame or fear through the spiralling fractures. But there’s no one there.

102

Naturalisation

1. Aim high. No, higher. Higher than those who belong. You will be judged by a higher standard.

2. Make a plan, work the plan. If that plan doesn’t work, make another plan. Then work it. Repeat as necessary.

3. Cultivate the network. Present yourself to the captains of industry, socialize with approved circles. Friends optional.

4. Dress for success. Not for what you can afford, or even for the job you have. For the job you want.

5. Pay your dues. Get your hands dirty, do whatever it takes to show willing to jump through those hoops. The higher, the better, over and over and over.

6. Grab every opportunity to showcase your talents. Step over whatever – whoever – for the chance to dazzle, shine.

7. Smile, nod, bow. Repeat.

8. blood sweat tears blood sweat tears blood sweat tears

9. Do the undesirables. Pick up what others won’t, touch those others won’t, serve those others won’t.

10. Be the undesirable. Fade into the brickwork. You are no longer welcome.

103

I want you to love me so hard

My counsellor says I have a high level of self-awareness for a narcissist - which is nice. She has given me homework - ask for forgiveness she says, from the women you have lied to, manipulated or hurt and when you meet a woman you like, try to be honest about your feelings. She says being honest is the same as being rich. Weirdo.

How does this slice of honesty sound?

If I want you I will drip charm, bomb you with love. You will think you have met the love of your life, your soul mate - you haven’t. As we go on I will be casually cruel. I will seek to control your money, who you see, the food you eat. I will take your self-esteem and eat it like a snake eats a pigeon. I will be jealous of the attention you give your dying mother. I’m an attractive proposition, no?

I want you to love me so hard I could put my head through a plate glass window. But right now I am an injury of red roads, always headed back to the same empty bullseye.

104

Permutations

There are lines, traces unseen
present on your face
when light, the mood of the day
unresolved boundaries blurred
by memories, places and dreams without
names, fade with time
to clarity. I know I’m lost, reeling
within white and red spiralling
tracks of a labyrinth
without exit, the echo
of your words. When will I carry
my own weight? you said. Get a job
or something? Your monotone voice
puts me to sleep, you said, share something
introspective or let me read my book.
The fear of being alone again is
all that keeps us committed.
It could have been consummate
companionate, fatuous, romantic love
or liking—all permutations of commitment
passion, and intimacy. And what we got
is empty love.

105

Nature and the Void

Your black coat and tie belie depths unseen in all of their lovely, terrifying dimensions. 

Everything behind you is abstract. Green might represent Nature, blue the Void beyond. Beyond, and in fact, within you.

Maybe the white bits are mirrors that reflect light, capturing the essence of the sun and recasting it so we can understand what we are, and how we fit into the scheme of things. 

A mind is only a narrow piece of the cosmos, digesting experience, as Huxley said. You can’t know which way reality spins unless you focus in on a shard of experience, shaving off the sides, carving away with a knife like one carves are bar of soap, until you have a recognizable shape that can be fondled and halfway understood. 

The center, which is nothing, is the root of everything that spins away from it, like God flinging reality away from his hands, casting it off like dirty dishwater. 

106

Vortexes

You kiss the vortex
And call it a pretty face.
I smile because it leaves
A print between your ears.
One fleshy, pink.
Listening.
The other, small, bruised and tired,
Hearing only a single tone
That blurs all the green faces.
I kiss your neck
Just below the collar.
That pretty print smiles back at me.

107

Holding space

Your head is a maze, no sorry, a labyrinth
set on speed, top speed. Your thoughts
curve time and space into concentric
circles you can’t see beyond. You’ve
been here before before before. I can’t
help you out, sorry, I don’t know the way
in or the way out. Only you know that,
though you’ve forgotten to go in again,
without a ball of wool to help you out.
I’m here, waiting for you, calling to you,
hoping one day, you’ll hear my voice,
hear your own voice, be able to follow
yourself back out again.

108

Mask

You construct your masculinised mask
And I anonymise, estrange you
I dissolve your face and name
I forget but I do not absolve you
You recede into the serried structure
As it sheathes and suffocates you
Conceals and coats you in its shelter
The isolation which maintains you
Your portrait misdirects, disorientates
Your guise disgusts, insulated by your hate

109