• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 03
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The Planet Spins on its own Axis, Regardless

It's out of your control. Realise this, and everything is easy. Also much more difficult. Because you'll put your efforts in, dial up to the max, then wait. Nothing may happen, something may happen. It's out of your control.

One day you will wake up with the will to eat, and the will to walk, but not the will to care. Take it easy as you go into the new year. Where does it start for you? January? Or some other date that’s important to you? Unsolicited advice: select the other date as a re-set date. This is solid advice; it works. Don't join the resolution frenzy in January. Let everyone else turn over a new leaf; watch kindly as they stop drinking alcohol, give up chocolate, take up bouldering. Help them download their fill of health, fitness and mindfulness apps, if you must.

The will to better yourself will return. Feel free to rest until it does. Free yourself this January. When asked for your resolution, say, 'Taking it easy. What about you?'

1

The Ballad of the Accountant

He wakes up next morning in a black and grey world.
Reduced to a matchstick figure in a Lowry painting.
Sucked clean of breath and bone, he feels
Entirely made up of memories. Of her. Of them.
The empty pillow by his side carries the weight
Of her absent head. She has stayed and been gone
A few hours but he has already
Built a lifetime with her. The wedding altar.
The kids. The summer holidays on the beach.
It is a mistake he will keep repeating.
With every one-night stand he picks up.
‘You have a homesick heart,’ they tell him.
Cupping his baldhead in their hands. Stroking his cheek
And his face where the wrinkles run deep
With absent minded fingers and upset voices
They plead
‘This is a business transaction Mister, please, don’t anchor your heart in us.’
His heart. He sees it like a balloon-untethered, unmoored, flying aimless.
And him running after it, outstretched arms and weeping skin.
That was it – the dream that startled him awake.
Him skipping and tripping
And falling as he chased his heart; it floated out of view.
The alarm clock shrills into life.
He checks his watch, and dresses in a hurry.
And reports for work
Where he spends his days filing returns for sad-eyed divorcees
And gas utility companies.

2

Scream through nature

No orange skies
No blood-red clouds
No sun screaming through haystacks

I wake I wake
I ask why
I work I work
I ask why
I walk I walk
I ask why

for this scream through nature, in my head, in my bones, in my blood, caving in, exploding out, within the veins and the arteries and asking me why, especially when it’s morning, when that sun rises every day, expected to rise every day, and with that, I do too, to have the same, do the same and walk out where I have been to before, every day, and I think I mustn’t, I shouldn’t, for surely there is a sky above, grass to run on, there is somewhere to escape, walk out and you will be free, open the doors and there you are free, yet free to do what, free for what and whom, and then there is nothing, and while the thoughts and I try and the screams stop and there I am walking out again, the same path the same way the yesterday and today and tomorrow joining hands together in some macabre dance and I do the same as yesterday, and over and over and over again
and again

3

The Ticket

She hefted the suitcase down from its place on top of the wardrobe and wiped the dust off her hands. She really should have booked earlier. The ticket was costing her an arm and a leg. It had been half the price when she had looked online a month ago. There was a pile of ‘What ifs’ in her stomach. What if she fell sick and wasn’t able to travel? What if she got a plum assignment at the same time as her holiday dates? What if the airplane’s engine failed and it came tumbling down the sky like a cartwheeling child? What if what if what if. Next time. Next time, she would book well in advance.

The old handbag was lying inside the suitcase. She rummaged through it to see if there was anything useful. A few coins, a nametag from a conference and an old boarding pass. From another flight that she had booked too late and paid too much for.

4

The Second Coming

Yesterday,
Upon a cliff I stood.

Yesterday,
Upon a cliff I stared.

And pondered.
And as I did, I was gripped with fear.

The fear of falling. But also,
the fear of nothing preventing my fall.

What’s worse? I wondered.

"Anarchy is loosed upon the world. The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."

Brexit. Trump. Immigration. Walls. Borders. #Metoo. Crisis. Famine. Floods. Tsunami. Genocide. Drugs. Financial Decline. Intolerance. Populism. Climate Change. Terrorism. Illness.

Nothing hinges upon my existence.
Nothing hinges upon my death.

"Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.


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5

Free Will

  • I don’t even like Paul, bloody American schmooze! Why did I let him drag me to that dive bar? And why did I end up paying for the tequila shots? I’m probably in overdraft again. And I HATE tequila! Ugh and now I’m late for work. And of course Paul will be on time: not a crease in his stupid seersucker jacket.

  • I don’t turn off the lights because I hate my rippling thighs. Or because I’m shy of him seeing my orgasm face. I insist on the dark because I don’t love him. And it’s a little easier to hide when he doesn’t get to see my dead eyes as he thrusts over me, trying to dispense his duty and muster his desire all at once. Maybe his eyes are dead as well, who knows. It’s been two years of this. My son is five. This isn’t post-partum. Or a phase. Or work stress. When will I stop bullshitting myself?

  • It can’t be 6am already, WTF! It’s too cold, too dark. Maybe I can lie in just this once? No. No, no, no. NO! You’re a suet pudding! And puddings don’t get lie-ins! Why are you paying Kayla that monthly subscription for if you can’t follow her even a little? Look how she’s up bright and early on Instagram every day; with her rainbow salad, 100 burpees and Nike power-whites. She’s practically pleading with you to just do it! Yeah yeah, yesterday was crazy at work, I’ve heard that one before. You want to delete Instagram? Fine do it once you erase the cellulite first! Now run, Pilates is in 10 minutes!

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6

Ad Infinitum

I can no longer focus, on the task at hand.
Life sucks.
Yes I’m talking to you
In the red jumper and jaunty hat.
The eyes turn to me, clouded by confusion.
Or it might be alarm?
This, I say, my voice growing louder
I’m tired of this,
I point to the cubicles,
the LED lights, the square office space
that quietly surround us.
All of a sudden,
I’m no longer invisible.
People stop what they’re doing
They stop and they listen.
I am emboldened. Drunk and empowered
with my own voice.
Eyes roll upwards
and heads shake from side to side
but for once they stand rooted:
The pencil-pushers, the tech-geeks.
The grey suits and paisley ties.
Sooner or later we’re all going to die
I can hear myself shout.
So show me the meaning, the purpose
Surely there’s more, more than just this

I wake up.
The grey suit hangs in its usual place.
The day is
And I begin again

7

On earth, looking up

I decided to give up on being a graphic novelist, just like I gave up on going to space. I am nearly twenty-five, and will probably never be a professional athlete now. Maybe I could still master a skill, like chess or guitar. Though sometimes I think I am too late even for that.

I am not sure whether it is a relief.

My mother used to tell me not to get my ears pierced because it would affect my balance if I ever did sport professionally. She treated it like a real possibility. I tried to keep that door open. Now it is fairly much closed. I can breathe out. Move on. I don’t have to fly around the world training, go to the Olympics, give my blood for testing.

I could get my ears pierced, now. I could do anything, really.

Did I ever truly want to go to space? I used to love space. Stargazing. Learning the constellations, and being sad about Laika, and squinting to see galaxies. Did I ever really want to be in it? I don’t think so. I liked being in my little spot in the universe, on earth, looking up. Is it okay to accept a life that is not everything? To not want to reach for the stars, fill it with every beautiful thing I ever dreamt of? To accept ordinariness?

I guess I should devote my life to service, to some greater good. I do try. When I write, I hope I am saying something meaningful that will make people love the world. Sometimes I think I don’t know the world, and never will, however much I travel it, however much I study.

I have never felt any pull towards driving a car. The thought scares me. It opens up the gap between me and those around me, though—it is one of the things, like not eating meat, like not drinking, that makes me remember that to some people I am strange.

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8

bare and brave

supine
waiting for warmth

for the effete blues
to turn to action

but for now recumbent
a fungal outcropping

at the root of
a barren trunk

do humors
circulate through me

what gives me the
strength to move

through this rectangular
world, angling for

signs of greenery
the flush of a sexed

winterberry clustered
on a twig

asymmetry to muscle
me forth and back again

9

Resolution

New Year’s Day. And there, in my greyscale chamber,
I dully contrived a booze-botched self-rebuke,
conjured up from sleep’s strange panorama,
that mess of signals, that can seem a joke
sometimes—now knotting up to make me sick.
I came to in a blue despondent blur,
concerning nothing much, and hollered: “EURRRGHHH!”

Up I lurched to pose the classic poser:
“Why do I keep doing this to myself?”
How you’d’ve scoffed at that, you early riser,
whose side of the bed remained my wiser half.
“Airy stuff,” you cried, my eavesdropping sylph:
“Must your melodies mope at this dreary tempo?
There are other keys, you know, besides distemper . . . .”

The mirror only showed me further cause
to mope: an egghead lined with dreadful care,
that, mockingly, last year had made much worse.
Of harms and the mensch—well, who could keep that score?
I’d caught life, for which there’s but one sure cure,
the merest hint of which entrenched the dread;
and made me think again of what I’d had

by way of blessings: city living, friends,
all the normal stuff. Enough, perhaps,
to force the black dogs to throw in their hands—
enough to stave off, say, absolute collapse.
The year had begun, and roared “APOCALYPSE!”
But there I was, out in the greyscale street,
at least—ready to meet, if not to smile on, fate.

10

De-Atomized

We’re of, at the very least, two minds these days,
Tormented on the one hand, and simply observing on the other.
So says our therapist. He may be right. Who knows?

One day all our disparate selves will reconcile on a desert beach somewhere,
Or in the reflection of just-squeegeed skyscraper glass.
The ocean’s shout will drown out the scream we all heard again and again
And felt we’d never forget, even after death.

The ocean will swallow us up,
Embracing without rancor my selves and your selves,
And everything in between.

11

Broken Binding

The spine on the book has been broken
Bent too far by others seeking answers
Dog-eared pages of recollection
Lost in the pile for future inspection

Missing pages holding the answers
Sleepless nights seeking insight

No longer a human just a mere token
Questions taped together like the toes on a dancer
Lost in spirit with no conception
Just going through life’s motions to keep the deception

Missing pages holding the answers
The book of knowledge beyond repair

Once having a purpose it was contrived
Deliberate purpose providing a way
To avoid insane questions that would be asked
Destroying your days, living in the past

Missing pages holding the answers
Providing guidance for your existence

So here you are having never arrived
Down the same path through the haze of another day
Faking happiness behind a jester’s smiling mask
What was once useful is gone oh so fast

Missing pages holding the answers
Sleepless nights seeking insight
The book of knowledge beyond repair
Providing guidance for your existence

12

Wake-Up Call

I was dented in the night.
Something passing at speed in a dream
smashed into me then flew off across the fields
before I could get a better look.
I’m in the kitchen with a bitter coffee, fighting
for breath, checking everything for bruises
before it rolls up outside,
chirruping and dolled up in feathers.

13

Doing Nothing

If happiness is doing nothing
lie back and enjoy it.
Watch the rush
to earn more.
Watch the rush
to spend more
from your window on the world
or read about it
or dream about it.
Lie back and enjoy it
while the moment lasts
turn your nightmares into dreams.

14

Lacking the will to get the ingredients for a smoothie

he looks already dead to me
cheeks sunken, skin fifty shades of grey
that suit the day perfectly—
he could rise above it, push on through it
light a fire, make a smoothie
think about all the new, good things that could be done
be in the moment
but there are too many moments
anyway, it's all about that empty space
pillow undented
void unfilled
perhaps he will just pop to the shops.

15

Round round

that stuff I did with the cement
all those spades      spades shovelspades
not going to pin me any more down
not anymore anyhow
I’ve been that frog that rat
on the dissecting board
I’ve been the hand dancing
over the trip-switch
worn the white coat      shivered
when the whitecoat came for me
all smoothtalk and sharksmile

those circles circling I’m stepping away
that’s what I’m stepping away from
all that stuff I did with the cement

16

Poisoned Personhood

light breaks sleep into conscious darkness
crystalline salts emerge from souped unbeingness
I cannot escape what     I am I am I am
creviced light slices through dense mountain fog
I eye unknown heights define my lack of form
by pained escarpments
slope scaled in my imagination behind closed eyelids
I cannot unsee what I fear     sensory death
fights interminable life-span     palmed out forever
me-ness trapped in solipsism     outlooks     untreasured
invade the space between my ear canals
I am invaded     awash with uncontrolled otherness
     vessels of     a catholic lust for order
my lacunas ricochet obscenities
          across the deity's dead brain
Om Om Om and Hallelujahs pickle sardonic irony
in my stomach's acid     to dissolve angels
again and again     my ego's vertigo stings refrains
from liturgies of lost faiths
and my certain doubt

17

EXISTENTIAL DREAD

Some live in the fever, scratch the heads
off spots, aware of the gathering scars.

No need for panstick make-up, blanket
disguise of a pox-ridden, bell-ringing

through their daily grind. The evidence
drives itself in and in so they’ll ignore

resolutions...stay away from revolution
to trip the same old light fantastic year

after decade until epiphany weds age
and wisdom can pierce the surface.

These are the marriages that last longer
than any party – keep bubbles rising.

18

Nothingness and Being

Does Death ever get out of the wrong side
of the bed? turn to the wall and wonder
whether it’s all worthwhile? sit up and scratch
his head, lie back down—covers pulled high to hide?

Is Death like us—exhausted by routine,
day in, day out, showing up unwelcome
on your doorstep or mine or theirs, longing
for a break, a holiday? Why then so lean

and mean, slave to quota, ledger, numbers?
Consider rather what existence means,
the relevance of Descartes’ cogito,
Berry’s simple life, the taste of cucumbers.

After all, Death already knows or should:
Your stuff stays here—and only here is good.

19

How much sleep do we really need?

My body won’t allow for eight hours, not the sweet spot between the headline suggestion of seven to nine. More often it lies down at 10.30pm and clicks on a slideshow of the future with a side-dish of worries and a sprinkling of memories and feeds on its own exhaustion until 3am and then maybe the eyes will close

If I prime for sleep with alcohol or orgasm, that’s a 40-minute nap and then wake up and freak out about the black out and wonder who it was or who I am and where and why as if why can be answered from 10.30pm onwards my mind will shake every nerve and try for the answer and try and try and

Oh regrets but the whiskey tastes good but the gin tastes good and I never order shots but the shots taste good when someone else insists and spit the taste out with the toothbrush that night or the morning after

Which will begin at 6.30am because it does, because that is when life comes into focus and must be faced, even if I can’t move even if I can’t or won’t or don’t want to face it, the pets need feeding the job needs working and the hours trickle by shot by shot by stop by stop by slide by slide the news keeps rolling and the world is folding in on itself slowly slowly

Never fast enough, if it must, and never small enough, never small enough to be swallowed whole and tasted and enjoyed as if we could enjoy that bitter centre scented with what we know and what we do and what they do and the way it all burns down in every wakeful brain every day and night

And repeat

20

Dimensional Reduction

It was decided.
That raindrops would be flattened
into disks
and rainbows folded up.
Like hand fans.

That I would wake up the next day
lacking all perspective.

Unable to tie knots in my stomach
the spaghetti from last night
had folded into sheets
and gave me a migraine in four different sides.
Of my head.

Alphabets clamored around
in the vacant spaces.
Of my head.
Bouncing off each other from random collisions
in all directions.
Like billiard balls.
Unable to stick,
only two words remained.

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21

the day after

a lengthened shadow shapes one dark day
                          my short life imperfectly mended

my breath worn bare beneath this single
                          day after the day after

stacked one on top of the other nobody
                          I mean nobody can keep count

crowded shoved over the earth beside me
                          the whole time pressing down

each one darker and heavier than the others
                          drifting unguided it always finds

me cocooned in a hard wooden chair
                          traversing this unseen swelling
                          this doomed sea
                          this world of dreams at
                          my back waking me

wandering the fence line with the same sensation
                          of distance

and I still feel indifferent to it all and suddenly
                          the sun is standing in my face

only by accident

22

Turn this corner

the liquor store is gone—
history rolling over again
sunny-side up
with populist prohibition.

Send forth bare bones,
everyday, into the streets—
one metatarsal set in front of the other.
Social norms in stark relief.

I feel terrible,
close my broken-blind eyes at night
for the briefest increment of space-time—
gentrification walls grow.

Mini van soccer moms
park legally outside sterile,
faux brick cannabis retail clubs.
Every low-rent Rick’s Pipe & Pawn,

where we once hawked
parents’ Christmas gifts to purchase
dime bags from Jimmy Parking Lot—                                                                 displaced.

23

THE DAILY GRIND

You wake up in the morning,
desiring someone who can never be.

Born anew with every waking moment,
when will you awaken without being born?

The terror of consciousness screams
you are perpetuating a fraud.

Existence clings to the bathroom mirror,
like steam from the scalding shower.

The name you scrawl on the glass,
is neither yours nor someone else’s.

Aging, decaying, dying down the street
of a deserted city—there is no one but you.

A sheet of paper lies on the curb.
You have read what is not written there.

24

Maw of Kites

I woke today to forgive
the gum under the
table that fell on my jeans.
                       It the was most food                              I’d seen in weeks.
Skin still feels similar to the
the pocked kitchen tiles,
a-one-two-step-hop
down the stairs and a swing
around the banister.
I sang damn close
with the birds
on the window sill
                       (crackled and doddery).
Run around dawn and
tap its other shoulder,
to gleam and cheep,
to sail acorn caps in a pothole,
to get a whiff of a dumpster skunk,
the same drink.
But today,
so drunk –
Who knows what woke me?

25

Makeover

I’ll colour this in,
brighten stale sheets
with turquoise, stipple
grey walls with yellow ochre,
stencil a patchwork quilt
at the end of his bed. I’ll place
a cup of steaming coffee
in his right hand and change
the font to Comic Sans MS.
If I turn his head upside down
he’ll smile, before he steps out
into the street, enjoys the sun
stroking the top of his head.

26

Just Sip

The heavy steps of January
leave footprints in the snow—
the shadow of shoulders
carrying a cast iron pot.
We look up from our feet
to see a street light winking
in the early twilight.
Our eyes then drift to
the bus stop bench
and the pretty girl
wearing the faux fur, hooded jacket.
The lead heart lifts.
The snow becomes a mere dusting.
These feet could take you anywhere—
or nowhere, if you let the mind win.
The grey filtered life
walks with us
in these darkened sky days.
The bright lights of now
offer a parachute of promise.
The next street over
might possibly offer infinity,
so, we believe in it—
and the whipped cream topped cocoa
waiting for us to sip.

27

NIGHTLY MAELSTROM

The drop of a ring-pull on the pavement outside
is subjugated by the manic stevedore
hammering at the inside edge of my ribs.

Intentional smothering of my face as I cried
Into the pillow sends booming right to my core
Rattling foundations of puerile self-fibs
We use to anchor our sanity
To what’s left of our humanity.

It is only a matter of time, a short ride
on Merry-go-round Animadversion before
life’s passing glamour falters, as will my grip.

28

You Made Your Bed

You made your bed and now you lie in it
A double but only you remain
Keeping to your side
Leaving the other untouched
As you were when together

You made your bed and you lied in it
Falsehood and fantasy
Fuelling the greyness of marriage
On a repeat cycle
Until everything came out in the wash

You made your bed and pour lye on it
Strike a match to the covers
Bring colour back to your life
Banish memories
Of trouble and strife, all gone now

As are you, onto the streets
Preferring concrete beneath your feet
Stone for a pillow
A roof full of sky
Air free from dread words

29

One Day: A Ghazal

Who knows the sun may not rise one day
There may not be any butterflies one day

The leaves of calendar, the hands of clock
Machine survives while man dies one day

Why do I keep doing this to myself? A new
Theme of life I need to improvise one day

‘To be, or not to be, that is the question’
Hamlet’s fix will surely paralyze one day

If you keep walking along the beaten track
Conformity will surely fossilize one day

Her exit without a word has cast a gloom
Will it prove a blessing in disguise one day?

Why did you risk all in the game of love?
Your folly will open your eyes one day

Nothing grows in this barren, bleak world
Truth will amaze as a pack of lies one day

The rut of routine is a recurring refrain
Why doesn’t my soul rhapsodize one day?

30

The Morning After the World Cup Soccer

There once was an Australian stock broker
who stayed up late watching World Cup Soccer.
He woke and massaged his head
to sounds of regret and dread,
then wandered to work like a sleepwalker.

You see, this tired Australian stock broker
believed that his life was mediocre.
He kept walking straight ahead
while daydreaming of his bed.
He got to work and found deals to broker.

31

Where your ghost at?

I wake up, a familiar rumble begins.
Oh lord, please not that again.

Cranial volume cranked, inescapable din.
Oh lord, please not that again.

My ghost says: chuck your life in a bin.
Oh lord, please not that again.

My ghost says: you’re Icarus, forever falling.
Oh lord, please not that again.

My ghost says: not even a note in the margin.
Oh lord, please not that again.

My ghost says: is this the extent of your wins?
Oh lord, please not that again.

My ghost says: I’m playing a tiny violin.
Oh lord, please not that again.

32

A Table at The Blighty Café

I’m sitting at one of four tables
designated for smokers. Outdoors.
I’m drinking thick hot chocolate.
I don’t smoke.

And I’m watching a woman who’s
watching me. She’s lean. Slim.
Bracelet-thin. Not quite pretty.
Unless you admire narrow bracelets.

She’s … maybe thirty, maybe married,
maybe body piercings. Belly button.
The sort who has all her documents
in order, and for her next trick – she’ll

set about organising the universe.
All of it, including the blue sky caught
behind the sun, caught there thrashing
about on the horizon, like a landed fish.

She probably solves problems, too;
plastics and policies, plastic policies,
and recycling. She’s a think-tank of ideas …
ideas, but not enough time. You see,

I watch people. It’s acceptable to do that
in Europe. That’s why there’s so many
outdoor cafés. Smokers have the best seats.
As a kid, Dad always slapped me up the head

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33

Rime

Curling up on the bed under a blanket and watching the snowy caped mountains and streets covered with the swathe of white blanket.
Walking in the snowy path feels like needle in a haystack yet, the fragrance of mulled wine gives warmth.
Yet, the perspectives leads to a new path
Veering away from the frolicsome breeze
Winter days has made day desolate
Lurching from one direction to other
Threading the way out of dreary days
As the winter has begun to wane.

34

Forgetting My Name

I pour the first drink to settle my nerves,
throw it back with quick determination.
I snatch up the second to take the sting
out of the nagging bite of self- loathing,
swallowing temptations that flourish
in the amber depths of a tequila bottle.
I gulp down the third to loosen my tongue,
delight in the way it scalds my throat
and burns up the roots of inhibition.
I indulge in the fourth to feel beautiful,
drown in the seduction that warms my belly,
spreading like a potion beneath my skin.
By the fifth, I lose count and forget my name.

35

All That You Could Do

all that you could do
all that you might have done
was that which you did

change comes
when those propositions you entertain as visitors
scintillate within you
resound in the the organs to such a degree
that by some miraculous shift
the trap is sprung
and reason moves atoms

36

Automaton

He stares at the ceiling of his room.
A deep, long stare.
A dull ache flashes through his hollowed eyes.
A strange emptiness caresses his mind, pulling him out of his bed.
A spiralling darkness from within greets him.
An automaton. He tries hard to be one. A good robot.
How do you cling to emptiness he wonders. Automaton like he walks along the lane.
Uniformed human bodies move past him, staring at nothing. Hurrying along.
All of them move in a synchrony almost.
He too walks like an automaton alongside the uniformed human bodies.
Trying to cling onto something.
Walking the same path, each day.

37

Draw Me A Tomorrow

I feel like I’m living in a cartoon
The bald guy said
A freeze-frame comic strip
Just me and a bed
It’s the old recurring question
“Oh why do I feel so bad?”
Is it some bleak existential crisis
Or all the whisky that I had?

Though of only two dimensions
Of this is what I’m made
It don’t ever stop me bleeding
Or from feeling betrayed
And sleeping alone
Sure makes me blue as well as grey
So, easy with those speech-bubbles, now
I ain’t got much to say

Maybe this shall be the last time
And I’ll see tomorrow no more
My name but dust forgotten
Till they come smash down my front-door
It’s not like I ever mattered
Except to the cat, my only mate
And she’ll soon find another schmuck
To lick and fill her plate

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38

Night shift

EURRRGHHH.....I hate alien words sneaking onto
my pillow, sixteen capitals that graffiti my blank wall
stating the ....... obvious.

In the small hours while my body is sleeping with
the small moon I dwell in my orbital universe
in conversation with my head.

I fear the infiltration of a question that demands
the calibration of an answer

I slide beneath bare sheets to ruminate,
cast characters, eyelash tick each numbered
syllable.

I vocalise in the spotlight of the shower, lingering
long enough to face the moon's fade.

Exhausted, cleansed, I send my dormant body
to work.

But the haunt of alien words have created
a transient fault to this automaton
requiring storage for nocturnal debate.

39

Mutability

The colour of my eyes and the clicking
        in my chalky bones,
the falling asleep and the nodding off,
        the recurrent cough,
the weariness, the modulating tone
        of my speaking voice,
my inelegant poise and how my mood
        shifts like Birnam Wood
when my body leaks: a ruptured gutter
        that loves no other
more than my young self when vim and health
        were so plentiful
and drawing breath was not the death rattle
        that it is today.

40

They too are whirling

There is a cyclical monotony to remorse. We fail,
we fall, we begin again, hoping each time for a
different ending. We learn this from the sky.
It turns murky and desperate. Cleanses its insides.
Weeps. Finds itself unchanged in the morning.
Resets its congenital angst. Wouldn’t you like
to look up and find something different, it asked,
in all seriousness, one night. There is a surreal
potency in telling the sky about the waning
moon. In seeing its eyes widen. In watching it shift,
uncovering a few more stars. Unveiling another
moon. Will this make you happy, it asks, bemused.
Does it matter, I counter, in the sudden light,
but it can no longer hear me. I follow new stars,
they too are whirling. In the morning, they will be
gone. Hidden from different eyes. I will sit by the
window, waiting for the sky to turn dark again.

41

Miss Life Lost Her Finger

The forefinger of
Miss Life
Wandered away last week

She has searched for it
But she saw
Only
Pale-blue-snail-like-trace
on the edge of
the spring garden

Mr. Death
A handsome pale man
told her
(while they were drinking coffee at a café)
He saw her finger
in
Black shirt
Walking the empty streets
Yesterday
And

the day before

and
the day before
and the day before…

And he laughed.
(Mr. Death has a strange sense of humor)

Read more >
42

The Next Day

With cat-like tread
I exit from my bed
Synapses snap and quiver
A dark cloud descends
Thunder inside my head
Whyfore art thou dread?

This existential threat
Life’s meaning much unmet
I cannot stand and deliver
How can I make amends
For all the things I never said
All the books I never read?

What comes next?
A day without the hex
Nothing but the shiver
Of certainty and dead-ends
Where’s the life I don’t expect
The con without the context?

43

Angst

Each morning life is just the same
Relentless, pointless, spinning wheel
I only have myself to blame

Amazed that I still know my name
In circumstances not ideal
Each morning life is just the same

A poet, once of some acclaim,
I’m lost, my muse holds no appeal
I only have myself to blame

My solace only brings me shame
The altar where I always kneel
Each morning life is just the same

Extinguished hope, like candle’s flame
Not sure I even want to heal
I only have myself to blame

Alive, yet dead, I have no aim
Continuing has no appeal
Each morning life is just the same
I only have myself to blame

44

You Wake

And the world has been replaced
by its own drab shadow.
Not trees but their flat
cardboard imitations
no birds but crows
ink black against a white sky.
They have stolen all the shine
of morning
swallowed the sun
the way a snake
swallows an egg
taking down the future
in one smooth gulp.
You stare back
with eyes so dry
they can’t close
on the world stripped
to bone and ash,
even the oceans gone
into the abyss
leaving the earth behind
a barren waste
without a trace of rain.

45

Blue Monday – On Repeat

"Alexa, play 'Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?'!"
Kafka-esque weekday daily battle, mad jobsearch;
Stumbling out of bed, blue thoughts, blue Monday;
Self-loathing, angst, misery; job interview some day?
DWP cuts, threats, sanctions; feel like going under,
Socio-economic links with the real world asunder.
Universal Credit? Monstrous regime; to UK's discredit.

46

New Year’s Resolution

Danny lays on his bed. Outside, snow floats down under an orange, yellow sky. He thinks about lying here in this bed, in this small room, joined as it is on to all the other rooms, cellular, forming rectangles, joining other rectangles, spreading and spreading until they reach the edge of the earth.

He can’t move. He hears the others. There’s Sam’s voice, then another, deeper voice. Ed. Tall, bearded Ed, relentlessly clever, sporty, cool. Danny thinks of how hard he has tried to compete with Ed’s mellow, confident tones and endless surefire retorts. He burns with shame as certain memories crowd in, moments where he had tried too hard, where Ed had orchestrated the others to ever so subtly leave him out. Too late now to get it all back. His girlfriend, studying, his future.

He imagines magical arms, two huge hands coming in through the window and lifting him up from this bed cradling him gently out into the yellowy snow-clad day, taking him over the university city, past icy hills and up amongst forgiving white clouds.

He lays there paralyzed. He hears the others buzzing around, preparing for their day ahead. Songs come to his mind. "Help!" by the Beatles. He is trying to make himself laugh. He used to make the others laugh, or he thought he did. Did he? Shame burns.

“Falling behind? Come and talk,” say posters around the uni.

“Feeling depressed? Not sleeping? Mental health concerns?”

Read more >
47

A Sketch of Declining Promise

Thumb out, squint down.
You are a scrawlbler
who would blush
to be called an artist.
What a wide white expanse
of Bristol Board you have—
a sheet to the wind of promise.
Implements are laid out neat:
that sophisticated brush—
a sacrifice of sable,
every grade of lead so sharp
that they almost pierce skin,
and in pride of place
the refined nib pen
(shipped over oceans and plains
by unceasing mules and dauntless pigeons)
the metal tip glints knowingly
like a wry surgical tool,
and it's enough to draw a tear.
This unmarred blank part is fragile.
Hold breath and rule them panels.
Damn. Lines are somewhat skewed,
and you have a pencil scratch
that you can't remove
no matter how you scrub.
That distinguished pen
gives you a few good lines
and then bokes ink splatter
when you look away for a second.
Read more >

48

Dark Days

White sterile walls. No sound, only the pounding of my heart. No birds chirping, the windows soundproof. No humming of tunes, no radio or news broadcasts. The Whittle Clinic beats to its own rhythm, one of death and isolation. Each patient sequestered in a white room with nothing to accompany them on their final journey. Plagued by fear and rejection – their families cast them aside like worn shoes. No one visits them. No one is allowed.

I take my seat at reception. No phones ring. No feet tap across the marble floors. I am alone as I shuffle through the stacks of paper and my task of inputting the names of the dead into the database. Katherine Ann Cooper, 59, cause of death unknown. Robert Maxwell, 42, cause of death unknown. It’s always unknown.

My watch vibrates. Lunchtime. The roar of car engines, the chattering conversations – they assault my senses – so loud and I almost run back inside. The clinic was a reprieve from the world. An escape that I relished. Silence and isolation. I enjoyed it – no, I loved it. Now, I’m not so sure. It’s changing me. I flinch at a stranger’s voice. I fumble over words; my own voice sounds haunted. The clinic has gotten its claws into me. I dream of those patients, the names I add to the database each morning. How did they die?

Lunch is a sandwich and coffee I take back to my desk. The noise in the café too much for my sensitive ears. A voice whispers, 'Come find me Samuel.' I try to block it out. I always do, but today it screams. 'Save me, Samuel. Only you can set me free.'

I don’t know the voice. It could be a patient. It could be me. The isolation is getting to me. I’ve forgotten how to socialise, how to communicate with others. Soon I’ll forget how to speak at all.

Read more >
49

Dishonourable Heft

headache unbidden
heartache contemptable
of no substance/grit/fortitude
of decision/regret/
duress
not defendable\
unworthy heaviness.

one crunch to get up
no external danger
internal terror.

i wish
i want
to learn/desire/not regret
my struggle
to get up
to go stand under the light post drilled into concrete
to sit in the park and watch birds sing.

minimized duress/existential dread/mocked trepidation
not the
straights and strangulations
of my mothers/brothers/strangers/pioneers/refugees/others
an impasse/burden/weight
colourless/stretched/sketched/
excruciating heft equal
to
their abyss.

50

Egg Timer

I want to go to the desert and wake
baked flat down on the ground.
The desert is dry and unforgiving and the bathroom is too far away from my bed.
Why do we go where sandstorms blow and bury us? To blast our features away?
Now we look like everyone else; like people that have let their time run out.

51

Tick Tock

Light streams in as the sun rises,
My eyes refuse to open,
My legs fail to support my body.

My head feels like it is about to shatter,
Veins in my temple pulsate,
All I wolfed last night, fighting to escape.

Somehow I get out of bed,
Somehow I make it to work,
My boss screams, work piles up.

At last the day comes to an end,
I vow to go home straight,
The path goes past my watering hole.

Just one glass, no just a few drops,
And I will be on my way.
Promise is false, one leads to two,
Two leads to more.

Then darkness, i know not where I am,
Light streams in as the sun rises,
My eyes refuse to open.

Tick tock, tick tock,
Like a clock, one day into another,
Tick tock, tick tock.

52

Fight

You can punch me down,
Drop me in the dust.
You can kick me to a curb,
And leave me there to rust.
You can shove me to the wall,
And knock me to the ground,
I’d be bruised and beaten,
But still, I’d be around.

You may call me a loser,
You may call me a fool.
You can make me the subject,
Of your ridicule.
You can make me feel worthless,
You can make me upset.
Though I’m weak and helpless
You can’t make me forget.

Why do you detest me?
Please don’t shut me out.
Still I’m yet to recover from
The shadows of doubt.
To this day I am uncertain
Who and when to trust.
Which person would receive me,
Or like you; leave me in the dust.

Read more >
53

The Clothes Line

A line. Taut, about to break. It’s only visible because of the kitchen light. It’s all I can see. The concrete ground beneath me is vaguely uncomfortable, but the thought disappears as my consciousness is covered with something like a heavy duvet.

Then it’s there again – that line. A clothes line, now. Still strained. Still close to snapping. Now it’s illuminated more so by the morning light. I blink. There’s pain now, as the duvet smothering my consciousness lifts and my body forces itself onto elbows and knees. I stay there for a while as my limbs and muscles scream at last night’s mistreatment. I shut my eyes and try to stretch out my neck and back before standing up and stumbling to the half open kitchen door.

My head throbs. The house is February-in-Ireland-cold. I notice a thawed pizza on the kitchen counter. Pizza sounds good right now. I turn the oven on and pop it in. Thank God I didn’t turn it on last night. The thought springs up like a bad habit. I don’t really care. Nor do I believe there’s a God.

I stumble upstairs and take the first door on the right. A hot bath will fix this. Or, at the very least, it’ll take the edge off. I turn the taps and lean against the tub, trying to not think about any of it.

Towels. I needs towels. I get up to get them but the linen closet is so close to our room so I pause. Our room. No, don’t think it. There is only my room, in the back, with all my stuff strewn across the floor. A friend – I can’t recall who – went and got all my stuff for me from the other room. I can’t remember why, exactly. But now all my stuff lays on the floor of the back bedroom. The smell has gotten bad in there, but I haven’t figured out where anything goes, or if anything should go anywhere. Not yet.

Read more >
54

What’s it for?

'But what's it for?' asked the small boy, looking up at his mother.

'It isn't for anything,' she replied. 'It's a nettle and if you touch it, it'll sting you.'

The boy rubbed his arm vigorously where the white lumps were already swollen and itchy.

'Yes, but what's it for?'

'Things don't have to be for anything,' she explained. 'A pen is for writing, and a bike is for riding, but other things just are. A nettle is just a nettle, just as a little boy is just a little boy.'

And every morning for the rest of his life he held onto his mother's words. Even on days he couldn't see a way forward, he tried to remember that he didn't have to be for anything. It was enough to just be.

55

Living

Every morning it’s the same
the different stories in my brain
all fizzle out as I remain
in this: reality.

I act as though I am okay
and I can last entire days
but heavy on my shoulders weigh
the Existential Dread.

There are too many thoughts in here
too many steps and words and fears
too much in space and time and years
for matter to much matter…

But soldier on I must, I must
immerse myself in life and trust
one day I’ll forget that it’s just
hopeless and I’ll live.

56

Shades of Cement

Mama said there would be days like this. Days when you wake up with sawdust clogging your throat and last night’s nachos gouging your gums, when you try to recall what day it is and can only vouch for the season of the year, when you aren’t sure why you’re wearing one sock and not the other.

No one forced you to live in the city or forged your signature on the lease to the apartment overlooking a pigeon-filled downtown street. The job that pays your rent and buys the groceries was one that you celebrated when you got it. You’re good at the repetitive tasks that graph the eight-hour shift. You’re so good that you can do them in your sleep. The problem is that you’ve begun to snore with your eyes open. The woman in the next cubicle has complained. You’re freaking her out with that dried-eye stare of yours.

The first sign that you were screwed was when you woke up every morning two minutes before the alarm went off. You tried messing with the clock, but no matter the wake-up time, you opened your eyes and watched the second hand revolve twice around the fake analog dial before the radio turned on to enlighten you about the world’s latest woes.

Then the news began to sound familiar. A sense of rhythmic return orchestrated the reports. Soon you knew that someone who used to be someone would have died the previous day or night, another shooting had stripped a school, a mall, a concert hall, a movie theater, a college campus of the veneer of normalcy it once had. Gridlock bounced bills back and forth between the house and the senate in a game of amateur ping-pong where no one remembered who was keeping score. A despot always and forever had jailed a foreign correspondent or ordered tanks to roll through a crowd of protesters. Another coral reef had perished. Your team lost the game.

Read more >
57

Ask the angels

We are all, always,
Heading for a fall.

Look, outside the window
Just there
Spare a moment from your inestimable pain
And look.

The pavement is littered with fallen angels
They too started with high hopes
Literally in their case
And of course they thought they were immortal.

Your learn the lesson
But there is always another one waiting to be learnt,
Another fall for us to succumb to
When we are not looking.

You ask the angels.
The world is full of
Them and their broken wings.

58

The Curator

He bites down to the nub of being—
Pared down bones bearing flesh,
Wired with the casino strip of stimuli.

Even in circles, there is motion—
Stories weaving muscle
And vice versa;

Such is the act of the curator;
Pleasures and pains
Blurring into one ball of emotion,
Moulding a sense of self
Outside of the three panels of persistence.

59

pathophysiology of preposition

it was not the ash, but the moment before.
the greenstick lens anticipating its own fall.
not suffering to move when the blade came.

it was not the ash, but the moment before.
when every waiting grain of sand lay still.
when the memory of fire bore no malice.

it was not the ash, but the moment before.
the cracks on the pavement gaping wide.
bronchioles bearing their own good weight.

60

The Real Me

After 40 years of excessive alcoholic imbibition, Drunk Me still has extraordinary powers of self-delusion.
"I'll just finish off this bottle. It'll be fine."
"No, I definitely won't be hungover in the morning, and if I am, then I can deal with it. Easy peasy!"
"If I feel this happy NOW, I can stay this happy if I just carry on drinking!"
"I only drink at weekends."
"It's just a cheeky Thursday drink."
"It's just a cheeky Wednesday drink."
"It's just a cheeky Monday drink."
"It's just a cheeky Tuesday drink."
"I can stop any time I like."

Sober Me is also practised in the art of self-deception.
"I am NEVER drinking again."
"I didn't do anything bad, did I?"
"If I can't remember it, then it didn't happen."
"I don't NEED a drink, I just enjoy one."
"I've had a terrible day. I deserve a drink."
"Oh okay, just the one."
"I can stop any time I like."

Drunk Me and Sober Me are liars. Dirty dishonest deceitful pieces of me that live between my ears, mangling decisions made of good and true intentions. Who on earth do they think they are?! They're not the Real Me.

Are they?

They're both liars.

61

Dissatisfaction

it’s Monday
M for meeting
                                                            and Mandy
            who'll be looking smug
the lift button still doesn’t work
Doors opening
twenty minutes late
tight        smiles all        round
                                                                 look down
and frown in the fuss of
unzippingbags and throwingmycoatoverthechair
switch on
                   sit down
                                     breathe—
tea

mug        teabag   milk spoon
                                                                 rinse
Mandy is telling Adam
how her cake raised thousands
                 stir
Adam gasps indulgently
he has a laugh like money
                 stir
they would make a good couple I need
to speak to him about the report only
one day until the deadline

Read more >
62

Have Faith

Waking up everyday,
To a feeling of despair.
An overwhelming atmosphere,
Of despair all around.

What have I done?
Where am I wrong?
A question I frequently ask,
From people all around.

Trying to be nice,
To one and all.
Still the depressed feeling,
Haunts me around.

Shake it all,
Wake up fresh.
The sound of inner voice,
Jolts me out of bed.

You cannot please all,
Just focus on One.
You Are The Best,
Keep your Faith Strong.

63

The Day after the Existential Vote – 16 January 2019

Or the ballad of a conflicted MP
(Loosely attributed to Desmond Decker)

“Get up in the morning” – searching for reasons.
Oh my party and my constituents.
Looking to me for answers – Oh Referendum.

“Get up in the morning” – searching for salvation
Oh my party and my constituents.
Looking through me – Oh Referendum.

“Get up in the morning” – awaiting retribution.
Oh my party and my constituents.
Looking down on me – Oh Referendum.

“Get up in the morning” – seeking sanctuary.
Oh my party and my constituents.
Looking everywhere for me – Oh Referendum.

“Get up in the morning” – looking for freedom.
Oh my party and my constituents.
Staring at the Situations Vacant – Oh Referendum.

“Get up the morning” – looking for tranquillity.
Left my party and my constituents.
Living in harmony – Thank you Referendum Aah.

64

Cultiver son jardin: don’t knock it

Life?
I tried to make sense
of complexity
and Bergson’s élan vital:
existence before essence
etcetera
read Merleau Ponty, Sartre J P
Heidegger re. Dasein, Simone de B
Søren Kierkegaard OMG!
found Hegel with his system
like Camus and lonesco
quite absurd
tried Friedrich Nietzsche for a bit
but when nothing seemed to fit
as an existentialist I quit
to howl with Ginsberg at City Lights
where I had the lucky hunch
that that screaming Norwegian Edvard Munch
had painted it.
Never looked back.
Since then I’m with Voltaire
and Descartes’
minimalist simplicity
has suited me:
I just pense
donc je suis
and run a hedge fund money tree
If you don’t like that
tant pis!

65

Remorse

From my chair in the lounge
I have hurled vicious insults
at you. I have left you humiliated
with a stream of astringent tears
coursing down your cheeks. I
have shamelessly stormed out
knowing I cannot pick those
words off the floor nor stuff them
back down my throat. So I have run
without thinking, towards the train
tracks, in the hope of finding direction.
And you have worried, forgiven
and loved more than I feel I deserve.

66

I’ll tell you why

it flowers at 5am
that seed you planted the night before
as you sleep its roots curl round the crevices of your brain

folded in good and tight

I’ll tell you why

its smell is in your stomach
settled like a fog you can’t breathe out
so you spray it with the perfume of a weathered promise

deodorant of shame

I’ll tell you why

the bloom unspilled but trembling
ripens in the breeze between your days
scatter in imagined gaze of imagined someone else

light breath on the mirror

I’ll tell you why

67

Pegs

The City is not the place for him. There are too many reminders here of what he should be, because the plague of people surrounding him is one which pulses too much. It would have been fine if it had been one continually screaming mass, a constant buzz of pain and pressure, but the lulls (night, a weak powdering of stars) offer a figment of hope which he clutches after.

He walks the City during these periods of respite, observing the treasures which he once saw regularly in the country but now regards as artefacts. He etches the scrunched curves of tree branches onto his brain, thinking that if he were to be lobotomised, the revealed brain would have vine tendrils and ferns and the flight paths of swallows snaking alongside his blood vessels. His now-tarmaced paths are heavy, too solid and steady for the [something something] of his [something something].

But in the other times, during the assorted thuds and screams and reverberating clangs of metal against metal and stone and various other materials which he knew existed but had forgotten the names of. Things like that went missing sometimes, jamming square pegs into a hole which wasn’t really a hole designed for ramming pegs into but is a manhole cover or the end of a gutter or a small tube of penne pasta or—

He has now decided that, perhaps, he will start walking during the daytime. He thinks that it will help him to see more clearly.

68

Frame By Frame

It will be necessary, today, to take things frame by frame.

But if I’m being honest with myself, that has been necessary for a while.

I’ve woken up to the washed-out light of what I suppose is late morning. I lie as still as I can. I think the jagged fangs of light glaring through the top of the curtain rail look like the teeth of a crocodile. I listen to the traffic beyond the glass — a low, repeating rush. Like waves.

I pull myself from the dirty snowdrift of bedlinen. I watch toothpaste marbled with blood curl itself down the plughole. I meet my reflection.

I’m not sure how long I stare at myself. I take in my sugar skull face, my slightly glazed eyes. I’m transfixed by my own pupils. Their blackness is staring back into me.

I’m taken back to staring into another black circle — the plastic bucket he placed in the bath, to fill with kettles of water, so we could wash. It was the first week of the new year, and naturally the building had lost all heating. Something to do with the communal boiler failing.

“Careful, keep back,” he warned, and I shuffled my feet away from him, closer to the little plastic stool I was perched on. He reached over the lip of the bath, poured me more hot water. I saw him glance down dispassionately at me, naked and pale and blemished and curled in on myself. The indignity of intimacy.

“Let me know if you need any more. I’ll leave the bathroom door open.”

I blink him away. I’m back confronting my own face, lined with all my failings.

Read more >
69

DEAR NEIGHBOR,

I regret that you saw me running naked through the apartment, screaming.
I took the curtains down to wash them but never got round to it because of the fire, the kitchen flood, and the ant emergency.
Forgive me,
I will try to do better this year.

Your upstairs neighbor

70

WHAT?

A mattress made of hardcore,
a pillowcase full of fir cones;
4 a.m. and a brain in freefall.
Thoughts, questions,
jostling to be heard, demanding answers.
Why keep doing this to myself?
To prove I exist?
To prove I am capable
of determining my own
bloody development
through an act of will?
Is this actually freedom?
All this disorientation and confusion
in the face of a absurd world?

4 a.m. and a brain in freefall.
Heisinger’s uncertainty principle
is the only thing I’m sure about
Kierkegaard, Sartre and Nietzsche.
did you bugger up your own lives
the way you interfere with mine?
Get out of my head, my bed,
and take Heidegger with you.
I was happier when I thought
there was a purpose behind my life,
that I had a right to be happy,
a right not to analyse.
Existence precedes essence.
I rush to define myself.

Read more >
71

The fever of the terrible tomorrow

He had the terrible expectations of the future,
but Russian roulette pulsating inside your heart
and whirling a thousand flamingos in the head
made him feel frustrated.

It seemed that all the sentinels of hell
they had embraced their sheets
and an army of mutant mosquitoes irritated his ears.

It was as if the snow of existence struggled against a summer of other people's lives,
and his fever was so unbearable that his bed would be the mantra of life.
He could not move! It could not be stagnant.

A statue of feelings in a cauldron of madmen,
and he, terrified, pretended to take one step at a time,
when he suffers the constancy of his being
he begged for everything to be just choice.

Between the blue and the shadows,
between the pillow and the street,
between melancholia and panic,
between sleepwalking and reality.

72

Someday I will comeback

In the embrace of ghosts sleeping in my bed
mind moonwalks to the half burnt wood and ash
as that’s the sign of looped sad feeling
Daubed on many faces
as blush and mascara
I talk to walls with ears; waking at twilights /
hoping for days
I dream /We dream /to dream that there is no purpose
Is that just a strained dream /
or our madness
Spilled onto our lives
Between many cups of tea sipped in blank lonely spaces
that clank with thousand men and women
so silent

Someday I will birth wings /fly to the poles
Build nests / hibernate
Someday I will comeback

73

STOP!

Work, eat, sleep, repeat
Work, eat, sleep, repeat
Work, eat, sleep, repeat
STOP!

Stop what?
Stop why?
Stop how?
STOP NOW!

Because each night you lay you out
And each next morning raise you up
To walk abroad among the legions
Of stones, all varying hues, unmarked.

We are all of us
Unmarked
Our efforts?
Un-reviewed.

Because no one of us is The Star
We are all bit-part players here
Too anxious to be thrown a line
Or two.

But still we strut and fret upon an empty stage
Before an empty house
Our ‘out damn spot’ and ‘summer’s day’ comparisons
Are pearls cast…

Read more >
74

Why is it like this?

There’s a certain rush, he knows, facing the day with particular expectations; knowing it will go wrong.

Today it was the shopping centre escalators. It was the usual route he goes day-in, day-out: through the centre, down the escalator, and outside to his bus stop, where the 193 bus that brings him to work is waiting.

But today the route was obstructed. The escalator was closed for repairs. Naturally, he threw his hands up in despair. Walking his usual swift pace, he changed direction suddenly, then stopped abruptly, not knowing the quickest alternative route. He was definitely going to be late to the office. And it wouldn’t be the first time this week.

“Fuucck!!” he meant to say under his breath, but did so rather loudly.

He realised he must have looked strange, spinning around and flailing his arms about while shouting expletives. But that didn’t give people the right to look at him like that. Fuck them all, they don't know what it’s like. They don’t know what he’s been through. He cursed them all, and he cursed the shopping centre staff for letting this happen. Eventually, he reached the bus stop just in time to see bus pull away.

His day was ruined earlier than usual.

At work he was accosted by his manager, Paul, immediately upon entering the office, his voice dripping in fake joviality.

“Alright, buddy?” he said brightly. “Sleep it out again, wha?”

“It’s not my fucking fault!”

Read more >
75

The Morning After

Yesterday’s wine still trickles through my veins. Its warm stickiness, resting dangerously in my gut, threatens the forced serenity of today’s breakfast. Its fogginess consumes my brain, slowing my feet and my fingers, prickling behind my right temple and sending occasional arrows to stab at my skull and my eyes. No sharp turning of the head today.

All my conscious movements are slow and deliberate, punctuated with long, slow breaths and small sips of cold, sweet water to cool and quench. My body is its own life-support system, It knows how to protect itself. It knows the dos and don’ts, the cans and can’ts. My hands, steady now, cradle my head and gently, so gently, rock it from side to side. My fingers softly knead the doughy skin of my forehead, bringing a temporary easing of the throbbing pain.

My feet move me. My legs say “No!” My whole body says “No!” But my feet carry me outside. I breathe, slowly, deeply. The cold air soothes and chills in equal measure. I can do this. I can face the world and none will see my struggle. None will know my pain.

It’s all about control. I can do this.

76

Transcending the night

Confused, disorientated I wake.
My mind is in a spin.
How much longer can I do this?
I question my existence.
My many lives are catching up on me.
My body aches as I walk painfully to the station.
This is the nightmare of the time traveler.
I must transcend the night

77

GREYSCALE

When Greyscale seeps into your life
he brings vistas of smoking crematoria
and ash that settles on sleeping trees.
A soundless howl of monochrome
cars and vans that stop at damp motels
on motorways from nowhere to nowhere,
where a tired girl sits behind the counter,
her armpits transmitting through the night.
Exhausted rest stops where sandwiches
curl and juice curdles. He smells
of newly emptied ashtrays and stars
dying unseen in unknown galaxies.
Like rats on Underground rail tracks,
he moves like dust and toxic smoke.
His colour is of dead fish and ghosts;
he sucks the life from potted plants
and clouds your eyes with cataracts.
His sound is the colonic gurgle
of radiators that need bleeding,
the creaking of cemetery gates.
To live with Greyscale is to die every day,
to sleep with him is to die every night.

78

Dread Locks

One morning, Wittgenstein, when he was getting out of bed,
feeling rough from over-thinking overnight just turned and said
to his companion (whom we only know as Fred)
‘You know what? This is existential dread’.

Existential dread, existential dread,
you know you’ve got a problem when it gets inside your head.
So when you feel your rationale is hanging by a thread,
you can label it as existential dread.

Schrodinger devised a test, imaginary, misled.
He put a cat inside a box to see if it was dead,
but then the RSPCA caught up with him and said
‘Even Thought Cats can have existential dread’.

Existential dread, existential dread,
you know you’re in for trouble when it rattles round your head.
So when you feel your rationale is swinging by a thread,
just tell’em that it’s existential dread.

When you’re in a burger bar or café, getting fed
and panic over what’s inside your multi-seeded bread
remember better brains than yours, including the undead,
have had to cope with existential dread.

Existential dread, existential dread,
you know you’re close to breakdown when it bangs around your head.
So when you feel your rationale is dangling on a thread,
like Munch, just scream out ‘Existential dread’.

79

scratch

I wear white cotton mitts
to bed, an archivist of sleep,
butter my trunk
with a glassy wax

dressed in gauze I slip
into unrest, chapped lips
slicked with grease,
sitting with the itch until
my skin starts to prickle,
something inside
working its way out

ungloved, I rasp the folds
between limbs, dream
stepping out of myself,
skin falling about me
like a peeled rind

I wake up inside a snow angel
the sheets blooming with blood poppies,
crusty crimson petals,
my body suffering the shame
of being legible, raised welts
read like braille betraying
these gristly midnight abrasions

80

The Moon and the Ladder

Tell me the story of the night before.
Did it end too late or too soon?
Did you wish on the concrete moon?

Tell me the story of the night before.
How your head made a promise that your heart can't keep.
Did the words still hurt you in your sleep?

Tell me the story of the night before.
Did you make a wish on the neon stars?
Did you mistake a metal ladder for more bars?

Tell me the story of the night before.
How you drank face to face with your fears.
Have you have haunted them for years?

Tell me the story of the night before.
Were you breath to breath again, neck to jaw?
Is it respite you want or something more?

Tell me the story of the night before.
How the light rained down from above.
Do you forgive yourself everything but love?

81

OLD ROPE FOR MONEY

I feel the sucking at my knees,
the draining of reality,
which claws its way over my thighs
to gnaw upon vitality.

Try as I may, I cannot catch
the demon so intent to squeeze
the life from me that it may snatch
my spirit with its smiling lies.

I know I’m just another batch
yet drag my terror out of bed
slow slouch to where the vampires latch
spitting universal credit.

82

Stew Morgue

While picking false strawberries I reached the hotel.

Morning dew forecast the revenge of the sea.
The corkscrew will destroy the breakwater.

Good Evening!
Voices of Vampire from the radio in the midnight.
Overflowing tide!
The bed has been eroded by red wine.
Room Service!
I got into a stew...

The guests are washing their bodies in the kitchen.
The ghosts go back to the attic wearing each gown.

83

Look Out

driving home from work
you swerve to miss the deer
    pull over    to the side of the road
    (loud deep gasps of breath)
    await the return of all your equilibrium
        alone    nerves tingling
        alone    heart hammering
        alone    trapped in boggy gray twilight
      like the night your mother died
    she was 50    you’re 50
the coincidence is like that deer

you hate    to be reminded of death
you hate    to revisit funerals
you hate    to imagine yourself in your one black dress
    you’ve defected from church
    you have no alternate way of explaining the end

when death comes        you want it to bypass all awareness
    damn deer    you curse
    damn road    damn car

you start up again at a crawl
like you’re trailing a hearse
part of a dark procession that passed this way
if your thoughts are any guide    you’ve merged right into it

Read more >
84

Thoughts on (not) letting go (v.2018/19)

Rues and woes like ankle-chains// Yes, it’s the new year and all that but the dark isn’t temporal, neither are thoughts and memories and pain and love and fear. I can’t be a different person the minute the clock announces the seismic midnight. The (re)constructive force of time is great, I agree – healer and hurler in equal measure – but my mental cogs don’t submit to it// The twelve-month expanse that lies uncharted is another well-disguised continuum. I seek the comfort of seeing the new year as a schism of new-and-old, past-and-future, progress-and-regress. Clarity has never been my forte though, the shift from “8” to “9” a close dyadic interplay// New beginnings, blank pages, fresh starts are too clean-cut; my broken mesh of thoughts has too many ridges from bits chipped off to not bleed a little with every scrape. Blood-specks and unclaspable ankle-chains aren’t the only things I carry across the proverbial threshold though// There’s one promise that time does uphold. The chains clang and tug as reminders of movement; a comforting weight for when my feet are too slow and chafed to register their motion// At occasional/frequent stand-stills, I glance back over my shoulder, the trail of red dots like measuring tape// The staccato of new year cheer and optimism makes sense when I see how far I stand from some of the larger specks.

85

Circadian

I sleep. My body
alive at night
reading with the blue light
filter. Time to travel
through stories. I never sleep
enough. The morning
late enough for panic
I’m resigned to traffic.
Off-kilter, each step
teeters on total collapse.

I sleep through the totalled
morning. My body
resigned to filter time,
traffics panic enough at kilter
to sleep. I travel with light,
never reading for night’s
collapse, each step
enough. The off-blue
teeters on. I’m alive.
Late.

86

Torrent

I stood there watching the stream’s swirling torrent. Sleet on the ground. The thick mud, my feet sinking.

The riverbank was too steep.

It was a bad idea, coming to Scotland in March, but Leslie and I weren’t getting on, you know how it is after 7 years? And her work and my work and being away from each other…

I wanted to go to New York – she wanted to visit Sutherland. She wanted to see a polecat. I had no idea she was interested in polecats. I had no idea what a polecat was…

Anyway, I didn’t mean to get into an argument, but she was navigating. The sat nav failed as soon as we went off-road – the placid woman’s voice telling us, ‘Turn around now and then turn left.’

I switched it off, said something brusque.

We followed a bridle path, then suddenly it careered steeply down a muddy bank. And that’s when the fog descended.

The SUV slid down the bank. I couldn’t believe it. The stream wasn’t deep but when we entered the water, we hit something. There was a shudder and we stopped. I revved the engine but nothing happened, the jeep didn’t move.

I’d promised myself that we wouldn’t argue, but she’d been the one navigating. I called her ‘stupid’.

‘Let me out’ she said. ‘Let me out.’

‘Don’t be stupid.’ I said it again. I mean I shouldn’t have called her stupid the first time, but twice!

Read more >
87

Blank-faced

What was wrong with him? It had happened again. He’d gone to the party full of hope. He thought that perhaps he’d find someone to share his life and bed with. He chatted with anyone who was unattached and tried to make suitable small talk. He’d learnt it was best never to be ‘too anything’; ‘too loud’, ‘too enthusiastic’, ‘too drunk’ or ‘too ambitious’. His lighthearted banter even raised some smiles, but everyone moved on giving a polite excuse and left him stranded; beached like a human whale without a pod to swim along with.

He certainly wasn’t good looking, but he was at least presentable. By midnight when fireworks lit the sky and people kissed and hugged, he was standing alone. He knew he had no chance of making a date for a New Year coffee, drink, anything. He felt he had quite a lot to offer including owning his own flat, having a fairly well-paid job and even a new-ish car, but it was as if everything he did had no purpose and received no recognition.

He didn’t think he was depressed, well no more than usual, but he couldn’t help wondering if he had any value for anyone, except his boss who couldn’t have survived without him. However, that wasn’t enough to make his existence meaningful. He set his face into its everyday expression of nothingness in readiness for the working day. As he closed the door of his flat a shadow of a smile crept across his face. He realised that if he bought a pet of some sort at least the he’d be sure of some form of affection and possibly even adoration and that might just make his life worthwhile.

88

BEFORE BECOMES AFTER

before was pure hedonism
a walk in the park in best party clothes
you walk arm-in-arm
smile at each other all the time
could easily transform into a dance
as both stroll along in your own movies
use stock film from every cliche ever written
effigies for the avant garde
epitome of a Dada experience
the music of the unimportant
later the real performance
as the movie continues with every cliche ever written
as you dance arm-in-arm
and imagine everyone wants to watch—
then a fade out
then it all goes black and time stops
then you finally wake up
and nothing seems important except pain
and she is not there
at the point where before becomes after

89

After New Year’s

As nerve-jabbing stabs of sound penetrate
his consciousness, Sam groans and wishes
he’d stuck to his guns. A quiet New Year’s Eve
at home would have been more sensible, surely?
He’d have signed his renewal contract, the one
deliberately avoided through Christmas.
Financial security but anxiety nightmare.

Working dawn till dark leaves no chance of social
life, so he was stunned when some old school
mates insisted he join in their big bash;
one even offered a bed for a couple of hours.
It’d been a fun night, the bits he remembered.
There was a girl interested but he brushed
her aside, no space for a relationship.

The crashing headache and heavy nausea
keep flashing up an image of a line of empty
beer cans. He doesn’t even rate himself
as much of a drinker, never has the time.
Clarity begins to dawn. The stabs are empty
milk bottles clanking as they drop into crates,
rattling him into realising he has choices.

90

Always blue

after he woke from the night before
knowing his head was big and sore,
vowing he’d never drink no more,
he noticed the room was blue

as he sat up in his bed
and questioned the stupid things he’d said
even as he put his hands in his head
he wished the place wasn’t blue

existential dread! he screamed
remembered the haunting ghosts he’d dreamed
and knew that his soul could not be redeemed
in a room that was lightning blue

so off he went along the street
past the lamp-post where the prostitutes greet,
his legs felt limp like slabs of meat
and the doors to the shops stayed blue

where he went I do not know
or whether he stopped his drinking too,
perhaps he discovered a world not blue
but I heard somebody say

that although he walked a million miles
and crossed a million field and stiles
(and maybe even walked down the aisle)
his nights were always blue

91

TED’S IDEA OF WHAT HAPPINESS IS

There’s this TED talk I heard the other day, see. It’s ‘bout happiness, what it is. They’ve been doing this study in America and they’ve got conclusions now they’ve been doing the study for seventy-five years. Jeez, that’s as old as my mam and thinking ‘bout that I pick up the phone and I try to tell her ‘bout the study even though I know what they’ve got to say, well, it’s maybe too late for her.

‘It comes down to one thing,’ I tell her. ‘It’s ‘bout relationships.’

She thinks I’m making a criticism of her. She lives alone and she’s not talking to my sister these days on account of my sister only calls when she needs something from my mam. Mam ain’t got nothing to give now she’s on a pension so that makes my mam feel bad, and my sister don’t call.

And this TED talk, it says guys – cos it’s a study of just guys! – guys that are happiest in their lives are guys that have strong relationships and they feel they can count on the people close to ‘em, are supported by ‘em.

‘Are you happy?’ mam says, and she holds her breath so hard it’s like she ain’t there no more. I ain’t got an answer to what she asks, not right away, so it’s like I’m not there neither.

‘I think you should call Livvy,’ I say at last.

She’s immediately worried, thinking I’m saying she should call cos there’s something wrong.

‘Just to say hi and to tell her you’re thinking of her, maybe to arrange to meet up for a coffee and a bit of Battenburg slice.’

Mam’s quiet again, on the other end of the line – is it lines these days when the phones are mobile phones and there’s no operator connecting you like they used to? Read more >

92

New Year, Same Fear

As I lie in bed, with the duvet swaddling me, the heating set to ‘cosy’ and the smell of freshly washed sheets in the air. I tell myself:
“This. Is. It!”
I think I’ve cracked it. Whatever ‘it’ is. Midnight is hours away, I am partied out... tired out... settling down...
...
...

Shit. ‘This. Is. It!’ I’ve not cracked it, I’ve cracked.

Good evening and good morning to you, Sunday night dread, old friend. You have arrived, though I’m not convinced that you ever left, and I’m not sure how you’ve done it — it’s a Tuesday for crying out loud!

That’s me too, by the way, crying out loud.

The duvet, once swaddling, is now suffocating me, the heating set to ‘wanna wake up in the early hours drenched in your own sweat?!’ and it’s now way past midnight...

Flashbacks, backlash — you name it and I’ll suffer it, worry about it. What have I done? What will I do?
WhenwillthisendandhowcouldIhavepossiblyeverdecidedthattomorrowwasever-
goingtobeok?!
...
...

Waking to the sound of my alarm, I could sleep indefinitely. Except, I can’t... definitely.

Oh well, it’s a new day, a new year. It can’t be all that bad... can it?

93

My Life Crawled In Front Of My Eyes

and I had to turn away from the misty screen.

Scratching the tire track across my chest
I looked around the rest of the cloud:
the other souls waiting in line were bored stiff;
the angels were humming and giggling;
God was yawning.

Apparently, I wasn’t going to
hell – hadn’t been naughty enough –
I wasn’t going to limbo (it was full)
and now, finding myself through happenstance
somehow ending up in heaven,
it seemed that no one wanted me here.

I realised at that excruciatingly slow moment of revelation
that my life and I had been really, really boring.

I sat there thinking about all those
special and unique and good things
and how I didn't feel I was any of those things.
The heavens must have been watching lives like mine
for an eternity: just average, just normal, nothing special –
I imagined having to sit through an endless run of
‘Based on a True Story’ made-for-TV films.

I turned my back to it all, too preoccupied
with my own life’s monotony to watch the movie of it.
But I couldn’t not hear, couldn’t get away
from that dull soundtrack.

Read more >
94

Morning Breaking

He wakes alone in a king-size bed
But he isn't a king,
Not even a jack,
Certainly not an ace.
His lamentations rise up in bubbles
Until they reach the ceiling and burst,
Spattering him with letters:
Ws and Ls and Vs,
Their sharp corners piercing his head,
Shuffling like Scrabble tiles,
Filling his mind with words he has never thought:
Like existential and dread.
He can't think for their chatter
So he gets up,
Gets ready
And goes he knows not where.

95

Grinding, daily

That's it. That's what you signed up for.
There's no escaping now.

Thank god it's Friday. Mondays, right?
Almost halfway there. Watching the clock tick.
This ain't no fucking way to live.
Count days, count hours, count minutes.
Become an expert in the length of a second.

How was your weekend? Got plans for this weekend?
Weekend, weekend, end this week, please.

Comes round again, like history.
Don't stop to think, or you'll remember:
There's years and years left of it to go.
Monday to Friday, nine to five.
Time off for statutory holiday and bad behaviour.

Fuck. Where's the time gone?
Sunday evening and you've not even relaxed yet.

Heavy limbs, dull head, alarm sound.
Should've gone to bed earlier.
Capitalist trade: sacrifice leisure time for sleep.
Go to work tired, hungover, barely there.
You're barely human. It's the daily grind.

96

New Year, New You

As you walk carefully
Along the glittering pavements,
Ice in the air, this New Year,
You ponder your past and
Consider your future.
You can walk away
From this cycle of misery,
Yes you can.
This repeat cycle of despair.
That’s what the gurus
Will tell you.
You can buy a book,
Watch a video,
Share on Social Media.
You can do it, yes you can.
Well some of it, anyway.
Maybe you’ll never be happy,
But you could be content.
Is that enough?
Do you want to start?

97