- Vol. 09
- Chapter 07
Pipes and trees and peeling walls, abandoned shopping trolleys, lonely tires and paths of desire, leading off beyond a hole in the fence to who knows where.
You see yourself in another life, clambering down the embankment between the bramble bushes to where the grass grew long between the sleepers of the dead railway. You see yourself pushing aside the loose plank (fourth from the left) at the bottom of your Aunt’s garden, a portal to a strip of land between the houses known only to birds, foxes and the children of the neighbourhood. And you see yourself following the public footpath out from the back of the estate, a plastic bag of cans clinking at your knee, trying to ignore the growing sense of foreboding as you stepped away from the terrain of dog walkers and early morning joggers through a hole in the concrete wall into what was once the loading yard of the bread mill, its windows broken but its chimney still standing tall as the landmark of the village you once called home.
These are the places you crossed a sea to leave behind.
They are here, too, but you work hard to avoid them. The dead railway and the copse filled with wild garlic. The abandoned buildings and the wastelands filled with dens and foot-worn paths. These in-between places. You never learned the adult trick of making them invisible to you. You know how easily memories can be triggered, and so you work hard in plotting out routes on your psychological map of the city so that you stick to the ordered and controlled, the observed and the observable, the smooth and the well-lit.Read more >
When the painter abandoned me to this place, years ago now, I was just excited to be here. My creation had taken three weeks of night parties, the painter and her boozy twenty-something friends laughing and chatting as she conjured me from a mere orange torso, adding arms, legs, and this glorious long tail. ‘Liz’ she christened me, raising a beer bottle to the sky. ‘Queen Liz!’ Later, she snuck by alone to see me at night, adding final touches; a blue frame for me to crawl upon, and two green plants with which to attract insects. She blew me a last kiss, before climbing back over the metal fence, as police sirens whirred outside.
I haven’t seen her since. But then again, I haven’t seen anything for a long while. The green glitter paint she used for my eyes wore away countless rains ago. Those emerald eyes had witnessed worms whorl their way through the plant and food waste of the compost bin, would-be gardeners using it for their plots, planting flowers and fruits and vegetables while their children squealed and played. Birds would locate worms in the new peat, flying their spoils up to their babies in nests. Butterflies and insects would buzz about the stench, conjuring such desire in me that I’d dream of God painting me a flickering golden tongue with which to devour them whole.
Now a suited man comes by. He says Berlin is full of ‘zwecklos’ places like this, that such useless parts of the city must change, that there must be progress. He brings with him planners and builders as if to tell me my days are numbered. If I could, I’d ask to borrow his eyes for just one day before he and his friends sent me on my way. I’d fill those pupils with the colour of sunsets and sunrises, of clouds passing by, lazy as they please. I’d show them the way goblets of rainwater glisten on blue tarpaulin, how a frost freezes colourless flags so they petrify in the wind. I’d show them the black-blue metallic sheen of a lone coprophagous beetle squatting on a fresh pile of dog shit, and the scrawny street rat who has just emerged from a pile of rubbish to race along my back as if launching himself at the moon.
When I moved to Berlin, I saw the devil all the time. I saw him in all the places you’d expect to see him. I saw him amongst his people. He wore an array of faces and he liked to give me the thumbs up.
In the early years, I got lost all the time. Stopping to ask for directions, I was told things like:
The secret police searched my family’s house, they even took apart the leg of ham that hung in the pantry.
We were at a student party when we heard they opened the borders, and we all went, all of us. We danced all night.
My mother was high up in the party. We didn’t get privileges. Well, only like a banana or something. She killed herself when it all ended.
I was good at sport so I went to a special school where we were allowed to listen to music from the West and every day they gave me a red pill.
In Berlin, I learned to never not wear a scarf and swim naked all year round. I learned to air the room and drink curative teas.
I still saw the devil, although less often, and looking more sad than bad. Trudging round Schlachtensee. Getting turned away by the security at Teufelsberg. I would have asked him how he was but I was deep in conversation with friends. We were having the kind of conversations that continue long after you stop speaking, that go on even if you don’t see each other, even if it’s for years.
Today, I saw the devil again. First time in ages. There was a small boy hanging from his wrist. A German lady was telling him off for throwing crusts of bread into the communal compost bin.Read more >
Where a blue seed is planted
A blue flower grows
Sparkling vivid in the blue hour
With the blue sky
Gardens glow with a light show
Planting life is a gift
A star lift from angels
Gliding with the clouds
Swaying with the bright sun
A fun filled day
To start in May.
a child is walking down the street
little stubby wings orange and curve-cut
face masked with rigid holes
for eyes and a hint of paper flame
just an ordinary sunny day in May
Philadelphia no holiday except that we are
out and he is out and his parents
dressed normally but out
together we will ride the train
you and I old people and pass the
piles of smoking tires and the pink
graffitied palaces of broken factories
community compost piles
I remember gardens all so neat beside
the tracks that first trip to Rotenburg
and there were all the neat small
gardens and sheds with tools stored neatly
and ancient people in ancient lawn chairs
smoking pipes here we pass Philadelphia
community gardens cold frames tarps
but never people working
just rusted cars and stunted trees
and I wonder do the train fumes
kill the produce but the dragon
Komodo was lost in Berlin
far from home
hungry and cold
he stood in his leathers
considering his options
on the wind
drifts the odour of rotting roots,
fear desires he stays
hunger urges him on,
a conversation with strangers
his feet fragment the earth
cut by broken bottles
searching this community
searching for a home.
such art in the casual balance
the gritstone considered hefted
then placed interlocked just so
delicate weighty it's only the start
firm weft-weave of ragged edges
a geometry from geology
igneous speaks to granite to blue john
remnants unburdened from glaciers
serve us serve the landscape
march over hills skirt valleys declare
this is mine stay in I will protect
My first cry was soothed by strange hands,
Strange hands of legs in close embrace with the land,
The lands not caged in boundaries,
And fear like raef – never existed.
Many eyes than four watched every child's step,
Every child step not to devour – to preserve,
To preserve in values of love, peace and contentment,
In tales, that would read "Once upon a time."
Broken goliath fences,
Empty streets and silenced playgrounds,
Suspicious eyes stinging each one the other,
Home is a burial ground with no befitting burial.
When we arrived,
we painted the wall
– as if shabby could turn glossy
with an oiled curlicue or two.
Now, there’s rubbish
piling up behind railings
that are either keeping it out
or holding us in.
The compost crate
is breaking down
faster than its contents.
At night, we piss on the pile,
hoping to produce a swift alchemy
from the rags of leaves and rotting logs.
But it’s a waste of time
– nothing grows here.
Even the plants are stencilled.
Funny how a place can inhabit your bones.
If we leave, will the scenery
collapse in on itself
until the stage is blank again,
waiting for the next instalment
to raise it from the dust?
The Ampelmann, green bellied, beckons me over
the streets I storm with visiting desperation.
My hands devour whatever else my eyes don’t take
in shutter bites, the camera cradled, that newborn life
a digital rebirth of the Berlin I roam.
I print Germany out in laminate rectangles, so sweet
to see, to taste
I squirt Coles homebrand tomato sauce in my mouth
and read Stasiland again
but the currywurst won’t return into my mouth.
I thought I took Berlin
in my tourist-wide strides, made it
mine in my potted Deutsch,
like two nights was enough to conquer a city
to grow Berlin home out of my pedestrian scraps.
I leave the airport with a suitcase
and my hands empty.
The yard is cracked open
by stray seeds, rooting
into pavements untrodden.
Bindweed furls around pallets.
Toadflax frills pink
in brickwork fissures.
Layer upon layer of city decay,
peels back communities,
revealing the edges of their stories,
as the crumbling dirt.
These stories get under
your fingernails, outline
your cuticles, as you
scrabble around in
the damp corners of rot.
Because when they are done with them,
we find them: discarded
words tipped at the park gate,
broken sentences dumped
by the canal, an entire paragraph
hung on a gatepost.
We gather them here, layer them,
cover them, turn them.
We mix them, add green and brown,
seek balance, allow warmth.
We punctuate with time.
Region shrunk up to locale,
city neighbours, cheek by jowl,
clipped, chopped, chipping, cage to soil –
Du not Sie, however sage –
take the best at move on stage.
Steel chicken-wire, clear measured space,
pallet box for managed waste,
slits, slats, slots to fix the air,
Kunst art near, graffiti catch,
half-hearted bunting, tatter batch.
What plots are hatched, allotted hier,
Spiegel im Spiegel, mirror clear,
repeated image, Droste effect,
in one small corner, brought to birth –
so guard your call for all it’s worth.
Wandering a rough back lane
A humid evening, skin and paint peeling
Rust blooms, as if emerging
within the joints, her pores, the bones, her ducts.
So much was once discarded
Yet kept, just in case. In case of needing
Scraps from the past, tight clutching
become present, not past, reeking compost.
She will make herself relive
That stick, this hurt, that grudge, punctured wheeling
Of life a still life making
a collage of the beauty of decay.
It was a summer spent on my wits. Following my gut. Complying to instructions I understood on some intuitive level, even when I couldn’t comprehend literally.
When I first applied to study abroad, they assured me I didn’t need to know the language. That I’d pick it up. And I suppose I did, though not in the way I expected.
Even now, on the other side of those three magical months, I can barely speak a word. But I can read a little, and know enough to be able to tell where to nod and smile in the right places, and be grateful that such a high percentage of human communication is non-verbal.
I told my mother about falling in love in a different language and she stared at me, uncomprehending. She wanted to know how I could trust anything when there were no words, but without words, there’s nothing but trust.
My love spoke to me of her childhood in sentences I couldn’t hope to relay, but I saw the tears in her eyes––sometimes joy, sometimes regret––and I could follow along with the parts that mattered.
And that final morning when I left her bed, having scrawled my details on a postcard to leave on her pillow, I trusted we’d get by without further explanation. That she’d find her way to follow my footsteps, track me down on the other side of the world, where we’d fall in love all over again, with my summer in her winter, and all language barriers reversed.
When cancer ousted composting, Bill sank into the wheel swing and aimed his blue rifle at cockroaches. Nightmares of gigantic cockroaches crawling across his body, devouring flesh swept away dreams of blue continuity. Breakfast became an unsuccessful game of spot the difference. Inverted cockroach in a crescendo of loud hissing or marmalade toast? “Go back to bed, dear Bill,” repeated Betty each morning until the gates to the fair finally clang shut behind Bill’s teetering gait.
Betty slithered her arm across the sheets. Forty years is a long time to share a bed, run a fair, and gather apple, orange and potato peels, coiled, purple-veined leaves, and cow dung.
A shaft of light brimming in fairy dust carried memories of blue. Blue night dreams, blue day-dreams, blue ink transforming into blue truths. Blue fairs crowded with running children begging for more, more, more, balloon strings gasping, locked within sweaty palms, butterscotch ice cream melting along sugar cone wafers.
Betty perked her head out of the crumbled sheets and redefined composting. She threw in Bill's straw hat, gingham red and white shirt, muddy gumboots, his blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifices in the compost heap. Inauguration photos, the most popular fair in town newspaper clippings, and the paintbrush that stroked indigo over rusted grey leaned against the planks of wood. Refining the soil with past fragments, expanding the narrow, stepping back, a nod, granting growth.
Betty hung up Bill's rifle on the brick wall, tied the tyre to a sycamore tree—debonair and practical—and even had a turn as if Bill were still giving her a gentle push daring her to swing higher. She always did.Read more >
Tired of modern living?
Wrap yourself in a Geschafft of bright plastic
Escape to the offbeat track
To a shabby chic des res
Metallic blue angled mural
With modern artwork included
“Grasshopper in Burnt Umber”
The bunting lends a festive commune vibe
An oasis in a woodland
Rail tracks nearby, convenient for times of change
Experience garden living
Make your bed and lie in it
A coverlet of leaves
Step back in time
Millennium, Victorian, Revolution
While your normal life is destroyed
and you wait for a visa.
The wheels on your face go round and round.
They roll across a broccoli floret wondering why
it’s not in the park next to the chip shop. I see them
spin through mornings, the space underneath
the TV unit, the handle of a knife you can’t hold,
the heaviest books on the bookshelf as you
pull them down on to bare toes. The wheels on
your face go round and round. Track marks stain
the gap between you and a stranger waving,
the head of a magnetic pig, fallen road signs,
a dog in the pub, an alleyway covered in broken glass.
The wheels on your face go round and round over
a cherry picker floating to the moon, a toilet roll
trumpet, the first cheesecake in your world.
Tyres will never spoil if you keep moving
across freckles you think are crumbs, the siren
of a fire engine, a leaf on tarmac, a tortoise
walking towards a dandelion, the wheels on a bus
you wish could drive into the kitchen.
Profoundly messianic, victory was hard to reach.
For decades crusaders fought one another,
Until the rock music from the Western world,
Reached through the Wall.
In a neglected yard that’s full of waste,
The hanging flags,
Most powerful, most lasting memory of the past time,
Exhaust the mystery of hands who wrote them.
It smells like spring and wishful thinking,
In lions’ dens babies are born,
Like everyone, they’re children of the new world,
Where not obedience, but truth and freedom are both sworn.
A word remade,
Inspired, without scruples,
Where wrinkles of the past are proof,
Of the moment when the beating heart of one nation,
Was brought from two halves into one,
And willed itself to live in truth.
We couldn’t take in the topography
of the city, though the scars were clear.
Too good at public transport and
getting around the city’s sprawl.
Too keen to use a travel card from here
to there and back, to the Art Hotel,
its pleasing prints and breakfast buffet.
So, when we left, we weren’t too sure
what lay next to what or how to walk from here.
But we’d seen the site of Checkpoint
Charlie, recognised from films,
the place that housed the Stasi,
and the museum recording centuries
of Jewish life, before that time,
An island of museums…would you believe?
One full of ersatz household goods
and Trabant cars: remember them?
Remember the exodus from East to West?
And the remnants of a wall, so huge,
so terrifying, so forbidding and so sad
to see; and the paintings on the sections
still standing, looking sad,
but we forgot to find the Kit Kat Club,
or dance to the music of Kurt Weill
in some seedy theatre or dance hall.
Never really learned the music of the place.
If I wrote a book, I'd call it Allotment, and
there'd be a young woman who tended
her compost bin as if nothing else mattered.
She'd wear a green frayed edge jumper.
And there'd be a young man who dreamed
of marrying her. They'd have lots of children,
grow their own veggies, always organic,
and keep hens that would eat all the slugs.
But the young woman made it clear – she
has plans of her own, and wants to put lots
of oxygen between him and her, more than
they'd need to breathe. And the young man
wants her, the young woman who's forking
over compost, the leaves and mown grass,
and pruned limbs from the roses, and yellow
leaf blades twisted off the daffodil bulbs.
And I'd also write in an old man who stares
at rows of wilting lettuces his wife planted.
She died a month ago, and until recently,
the old man wasn't allowed to hate salad.
And there'd be a woman with long hair,
tied up in a messy knot, her skin pale
and lightly blushed from the spring sun.
She looks soft and downy in this light.
As I walked down the Berlin sidewalks with my friend Luca, we came across an abandoned house. Curious, we discreetly went into the backyard and came across an old tire leaning against a rickety shed. Without a word, we surveyed the area to see if anyone was watching. With no one in sight we picked up the tire and brought it to Luca’s yard. His father kept rope in the shed, and we used it to tie around the tire to make a swing before securing it to the tree. We used a large old piece of wood for a seat. Impressed with our work, it was time to try it out. I jumped on and Luca pushed me high in the air. The wind whipped against my face, and I imagined myself a bird soaring above the clouds. Suddenly I heard a crack and then I flew mid-air, landed on the ground, with the tire and tree branch next to me.
Luca rushed over. “Are you okay, Matteo?”
I pushed myself up and rubbed the dirt off my pants. I put a hand on his shoulder and told him I was fine. We looked at the tire and then each other.
We went inside and played video games.
Went down to the neighbourhood compost bin, as you do, on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It was only the twinkle of gold that caught my attention. Otherwise, without that glint of sun sparkle, I wouldn’t have looked down at the side and noticed.
Seems funny now to admit it, but I still dumped our lunch trimmings – the carrot tops, potato peels and other whatnot – on top of the heap and immediately turned away to walk home at a brisk pace. Whilst humming, which I never do.
En route, I slowed down and pondered what to do, like how to say it, who to tell and when. Of course, it’s an important and urgent matter and I should be running. Or should I go back and investigate by myself? I feel confused and the more I think of it, the more layers of confusion pile on. And regret. I should have reacted differently but now it’s too late to undo what I’ve done.
They’re singing when I arrive back home. I hear it from outside and feel sad to have been left out of joining in but it’s a happy moment too because there is bound to be cake. Sure enough, Mum has conjured up an impressive lemon one but it isn’t decorated. I guess she made it for us and uncle Ted just happened to stop by and it just happens to be his birthday too?
So, there really isn’t a good moment to mention a thing like what I saw. No gaps in the conversation and it’s Ted’s happy day. I wait for the right time but the rest of the day slips by without any opportunity to say it so, by bedtime, I still haven’t mentioned it to anyone.
Oh, the dreams I had that night. Well, you can imagine.Read more >
Here we are. At the end
of the line. Or could it
be a new beginning?
Even if we can’t start over,
some of these old things can.
The stack of newspapers
that piled up in the hall
this week. Eggshells
and the bread crusts
Ginny insists we cut
off. I’m even throwing
in a few brown leaves
from last fall that I never
got around to raking up.
It’s like those old stews
our Nana used to make
on Sundays with what-
ever had been leftover
from the week past:
chickpeas and lemon
grass, green beans
and chicken stock.
Read more >
Soil ignores the blue painted wall
with its graffiti of tropical greens
and sunburnt salamanders, a postcard
nostalgia for distant rain forests.
A neighborhood garden grows
between buildings whose foundations
dig down as deep as the fibrous
roots of a century old oak.
Like sugar or salt, granulated
earth, raked and hoed for planting
in the neighborhood garden,
crumbles and flows,
filling the void,
a black river of detritus
processed from any and all
glorious organic matter,
rotting and seething,
redolent in nutrients
stewed and seeping
from kitchen garbage:
tossed rinds, coffee grounds,
egg shells, the scum
from unwashed plates.
This cyclical composted waste
ferments to feed life
from a thousand comestible deaths.
This is where it starts, where something or someone finishes.
Unceremoniously dumped to slowly decay and release its nitrogen into the soil.
And its stench into the air.
Once new and purposeful is now ignored and abandoned.
I was beautiful once. I was loved and treasured. Now I am afraid.
As daylights closes and throttled by the stifling odour
Disoriented in the darkness, I hear sounds that frighten me.
The treads that crunch through the debris and the mulch.
Industrial fumes of pear drops and myrcene fill the air.
A beat reverberates monotonously through my surroundings.
As dawn breaks, multiple limbs crawl over the walls of my palace.
Muscular, orange and vibrant. Again I rise.
Some things were forgotten:
(His laugh, for example.
His voice when he said my name, and
The colour of his right eye was different, but
Which was blue? Which green?)
Answers that were thrown to the wind.
But other things still stand stark:
Those summers in Berlin.
His garage well kept, out in the suburbs,
Ongoing projects in every corner, and
The garden tended by his familiar hand, his loyal companion.
After lunchtime, him bringing down paints, and
Us choosing which ones, perhaps blue or orange,
To make a mess of the back wall, or
Perhaps to paint signs for his flower beds. His cool contentment.
How he would fetch us different brushes, or
Smooth out our artwork, like the lizard he perfected.
After packing, when the cars were loaded up, and
I would sit outside enjoying his bunting, his compost heap,
The weather beginning to turn, and
He would come and stroke my hair, smile at my asking,
May you visit us soon? When will we see you again?
Questions that still catch in my throat.
What is it about Berlin and its worn-out wooden staircases –
those that become full of life when our neighbours run up again because they forgot their jackets?
The green of its trees and the glum of its sky
its dark bars and our silent walks by the canal.
Walking down its big pavements without a purpose in the early hours – a Berlin youth staple
grabbing a drink from the Spätti that stands proud and unaffected by the property trends –
between two sprouting bars with expensive wine
As we mind our own business in Berlin
pretending the time has stopped in Berlin
Dragging big IKEA bags to get that Pfand money.
Cracked hands and broken smiles in Berlin
friendships dependent on the weather
Mouthing "let's-do-this-more-often" as we part ways
to only bump into each other at a party of a mutual friend a few months down the line
Communities trying their best in Berlin
Solidarity until 9pm in Berlin
Hangover mornings and a broken coffee machine that needs repair
Recycling trash and thoughts in Berlin
We made a space for ourselves:
a meeting place for when we wanted
to be spies, a place between pages
and, maybe one time, a fairy tale castle at night,
whatever it was, it would always be
a den of abstract purpose
filled with conversations in corners,
colours and a compost of thoughts;
so we made signs and built an entrance
watched over by a dragon spirit;
do you remember how our ideas surged through pipes
and forced apart peeling paint to reveal
a wild storage of infinite utility?
All those thoughts seeping between objects and reasons?
It was inevitable that we would become
taller than that rusty metal roof,
so we stopped going there - anyway,
our legs had become too long and we’d forgotten who
had brought all the speculations
and the supplies that we ate and drank
while we made everything up:
excitement mixed with busy hands.
She stood in the doorway, arms crossed.
‘There are rats,’ she said. ‘They’ve got a nest. There are babies. I saw one. They’ve made a tunnel to get in.’
She waited for the question. When it didn’t come, she gave the answer anyway.
‘In the compost.’
‘It’s not that I mind rats, per se. I mean, everything has its place. Just not in the compost.’
She waited. ‘You put cooked food in there, didn’t you?’
He set down the remote on the arm of the battered over-stuffed chair and grunted to his feet.
She wore rubber gloves to dispose of the empty poison container. Just in case.
That night, she cried herself to sleep. It was his fault. The cooked food. After all, they had their place. And they were just babies.
The chemistry of compost
works its way to beauty.
The sweet smell of forest
created from leaf,
and coffee grinds.
turned by spade
or barrel roll.
It does not wait.
where green things
A young boy, bored by the repetitions
of dig, rake, dig again turns from the plot
where his grandfather grows vegetables,
picks up a brush and paints an imaginarium
across the white-washed wall.
An iguana settles beneath rusting pipework
to guard over the allotments.
It is still there.
The old man patiently turning the earth
remembers an afternoon much like this one,
the creature emerging from the strokes of his brush
in this quiet place where seeds are sown,
where plants and small children flourish,
where a lifetime's memories are made.
In a corner of Berlin, behind some metal railings,
beneath a canopy of trees, there’s an outhouse
in some scrubland, where an unknown artist
has painted a golden lizard across the brick.
If you find yourself nearby, leave it food scraps –
stale bread, citrus rind, banana skins, apple cores,
eggshells, potato peelings - then scribble a wish
on a bunting flag and hang it from a branch.
The lizard never moves by day but by night,
it comes alive, sheds its skin of flame-gold paint
and scuttles down the wall to feast beneath the stars.
its forked tongue fluttering across our offerings.
I looked for you in the strangest places:
A car park,
An abandoned shop
A broken wall with strange graffiti.
I looked for you where angels
Would turn their noses up,
Where demons would pass without a glance
But monsters might admire their own reflections.
I looked where my imagination shattered
Where my eyes ran
And my teeth rebelled
So when I told myself: It doesn’t matter,
That was when I came to understand
That gods will not appear upon demand.
A sense of belonging,
Retreat, refresh, flourish, tend,
Create and nurture,
In an allotted space.
A hotchpotch of shanty shacks,
Bonfires, broken barricades,
Nets and polythene flap.
Sew rows, weed and water,
Both the rooted and the rooted sell well.
A glut of leeks, a lack of plums,
A pot of potatoes, a spate of asparagus,
Swallowed with pride.
The beach was landfill,
trailed with trash
and trashy novels;
a holiday, some getaway.
She had to get away
so found her way, away
from salted flow
to a parched bark path
where sea breeze skimmed
over sun drowsed flags.
And, there beneath an uneven roof
upon a wall of broken bricks
a burnished, spray-painted chimera
took an illusive breath
over the dark, fresh, hope
of compost growth.
My fear comes
without knocking –
uninvited, unwanted –
through the garden gate,
past the compost pile,
and right up to my bent and toiling back,
all the while sneering derisively
at the salvaged tractor tire
I rescued from the rubbish heap
to plant a small butterfly garden in,
just to jab its meaty, mocking finger
and guffaw loudly at me,
and laughing mercilessly,
making me feel utterly terrible –
of it –
such an embarrassing sort –
for daring to visit
in front of my nosy, yenta neighbors;
of my undue concern
over other people’s judgment;
of my own vulnerability;
of my past failures;
My disintegration smells of moss
Fungus and fern
Sweating in the lair
A bed of golden leaves
Autumn child I came
Autumn child I am leaving
Feast on my flesh
Quench your thirst with my blood
Creatures of the Underworld
Carve beaters and flutes
Out of my bones
she didn't expect blue flames/ her experience of dragons breathing fire had mainly been orange and red/ and there was a turquoise hint of the sea in the flames/ which made her wonder if there could be
a water and fire combo that was particularly searing/ she couldn't see a knight/ nor a steed for that matter/ and the discarded tyre was definitely not from a chariot/ the trees nearby might make a useful hiding place/ if she could hitch up the stupid long silk gown/ so she could climb over the fence/ she hears a whoosh/ feels heat at the back of her neck/ kicks off her satin slippers for speed/ climbs
I carry my orphaned niece in my bosom and a bulging rucksack on my sore back. My home is all there, fifteen kilo or less. Although my legs can barely bear all this weight, I continue to put one foot in front of the other ― that's all I can manage.
A bank of dark clouds rising from the horizon, blackening the mood of all living things. We can’t hear it, but I'm sure the artillery won't stop firing. Nobody talks, we've banished all our thoughts. As I was crossing the border into safety, I saw a blackbird sitting on a tree watching me. She asked wordlessly: “Why are you, O why are you abandoning your own country?” I could find no answer ― I just burst into tears.
It's a picture in my mind, a promise generously given to me ― a quiet corner in a Berlin green space with a welcoming sign saying, YOU’VE ARRIVED! A fifteen hundred kilometer trek from where the bombs are falling, where I once lived. “You’ll make a new home, you’ll find peace!” they say. The baby's been crying the whole way: tears will now be her life, her shape ― if she lives. If I live.
The blackbird is following us, like a surveillance drone, or perhaps our guardian angel? But all the angels have lost their wings, and my niece’s teddy bear has got a bullet hole right in its middle. And yet she hugs her bear close to her chest, and as I struggle to go from one step to the next, they're both listening to my fretful heartbeat.
"We’ll give you your own soil!" they’ve promised. I know I need that to help my niece strike roots and grow. She’ll forget her dad’s face and her mum’s voice, but I’m confident that ‘geschafft’ won’t be the only thing, nor the first word, she’ll learn to say.
I sit on the bench at the bus stop and watch you across the street. You bend and sift through broken glass and papers sodden and heavy from our recent rain. You pick up something to admire, standing straight and holding it to the sun, low on the horizon, casting you and your treasure in a golden haze. Cars speed to and fro between us, water splashing as fumes dirty the air and peace of our perusals. I see your puppy poking a curious head from your backpack. Then as you usually do, having exhausted your search for curiosities only you discerning their usefulness, you sit cross-legged on the gravel and dirt with your back to the graffiti-covered wall. The brilliant colors and shapes seem to come from and through you, including you in the masterpiece. I don't know if you realize your place, how you enhance the tableau, as you now pet and caress the pup in your lap, an urban Madonna and child lit sweetly by the waning sunlight.
I arrive early at my bus stop and cross the busy street to wait for you. I pace in front of your tableau, looking for items I think you might find interesting, wondering how you find beauty in this place of abandoned and broken lives. I hold the bag filled with dog food which I put in plastic gallon bags. I washed the toys and sweaters, and their presence now in the bag pulls all my emotion from me, keeping me from turning and running to my stop. I hold the green quilted jacket, lined in brown plaid fleece, in my hand. It is too good a piece to put in the bag with ordinary things. I toe some gravel and bits of blue glass to distract me from the pounding beat of my hesitant heart. I glance up and down the street, begging you to appear before I might change my mind.
There you are, at the corner staring placidly at me in your space. Then we nod. We've been watching each other for weeks, before your puppy arrived, before mine left me. I remain still as you walk slowly to this corner, your corner.Read more >
An artist has staked their claim
In this corner.
A photographer captures a glimpse of
The artist paints plants and a primordial bug on an
The artist repurposes abandoned
crates, tarp, and tire to make compost.
A photographer captures
the tarp and tire waiting
to cover the compost
to trap nitrogen, carbon, air, and water.
Microorganisms feed on nitrogen, carbon, air, and water to
compost organic waste
into living soil.
The artist tends the compost and exhales
The soil feeds plants.
The sun shines on the plants.
The plant captures sunlight and
breathes in carbon dioxide to make leaves, stalk, and berries.
The plant excretes oxygen.
The artist breathes in the oxygen.
The artist eats some leaves and berries, leaves some
for the plant and birds. Any waste goes into the composts
crates to start the cycle all over again.
Destroy the nuclear family, let the atoms scatter over freshly broken ground.
An oppression that can be melted down, from the outside in.
Communards stand tall, feel the fallout whisk past your seeing eyes.
How far will it travel?
Perhaps as far as Potsdam with this easterly breeze.
Surrealist provocations, subversive actions and satirical protest will usher in the hedonists.
For now, hemmed in by the tall walls of the small c conservatives, is the time to smash the shackles.
They need to be provoked, the sleeping house cat must be poked,
perhaps chased out the door, so at least it can see what lays in the streets once more.
Every empire crumbles, which will outlive the other?
The bohemian or the bourgeois?
Which one will be swallowed by students and ravaged by white collars?
Diluted to the point of palatability, the meat torn from the bone.
Suddenly the view over the Spree has darkened for me.
The wind has changed and dust cloud is returning.
At least we’ll always have Kommune 1.
We’ll always have the thought.
Kompost in any language
We throw our
better wastes together in a
communal cage where we
lay ourselves down,
tired… resting… in the blues,
waiting for the
mess to ooze out
Our tangled limbs
branch together and
also wait… wait… wait… for that
that slides in… an
unknown devourer of
We name the place with
flap-snapping in mercurial
Naming makes it real.
…but blues kiss greens while the
silent, fiery roar
Truth and lies meld in
man's intentional agreement.
Kompost in any language
is my pageantry
so I enjoy a palette
of all the colors
but green, blue and orange
are my favorites
prominent in nature
and I will sleep
on a pallet
in the open
this beautiful life
I am enticed by
and I bask in its
in its exotic plethora
and fills me
I have visited Berlin three times, each completely different from the one before. The first time, Berlin greeted me with a warm youthful smile full of eagerness to hear the music I brought to town. Our acquaintance was part of a youth music festival. I was the youth, she was the festival. We played at Berlin Konzerthaus, which apparently means a lot to Berliners. Grandiose, yet sassy. I enjoyed every note of our conversation. I was happy to get to know Berlin.
The second time was a weekend runaway with my sister. Basic student travel. Cheap shared hostel room with eight beds near Alexanderplatz. For the first time living in Germany, I had to eat vegan. Vegan? As in vegetables? Oh no my friend, that is much deeper than that. Berlin showed me her hippy side. Jars of aubergine paste, chewy vegan bread that fills you after a couple of bites, and of course non-dairy milk. If it is non-dairy, why do you still call it milk? My second visit to Berlin was a new experience by all means. I felt misplaced yet welcomed.
The third time I visited was with my mum. I was thrilled to go back. I planned the perfect trip to show my mother this beautiful new friend of mine. By then, I was finally employed and living in a city nearby. My first job put a good amount in my bank account every month. The thrill of checking your balance after getting the first salary. Still traveling on a budget, but booking a private room this time! Check-in was not possible. I forgot my passport.
But how about my mother?
We're sorry we cannot give you the room you booked two weeks ago. You booked with your passport.
When the end times come,
you will be lucky to get forewarned.
Those four horsemen mean business
when they show up. They intend
to make you an example to smarter species
for what you have done to this planet.
If they need to get the message across,
they can’t do it with sweet nothings.
Not for them ambiguous English, intimate French,
or the ebullience of Italian and Spanish.
I suspect that their language of choice,
capable of conveying the gravitas
of such imminent catastrophe, will be German.
With its guttural sounds and clipped consonants,
it always sounds like it means business.
Everything sounds like an order
to be obeyed immediately, SCHNELL!
And who better to welcome you
than a baleful, beady-eyed reptile
that has called Earth home for many millennia?
You get sent to a compost facility
to rid you of your oxygen addiction.
Will you be flash-combusted and vaporized
through that exhaust pipe, or allowed to
decay, wrapped in that vibrantly blue tarpaulin?
There are slugs in our compost bin, usually clinging to the lid, poised to make a bid for freedom. Full size slugs, despite our kitchen being up on the first floor, as far from any openable windows as is possible in a converted workshop, tucked mid-terrace into a cobbled mews. We also have snails on our roof terrace, two storeys up from the road, a good kilometre’s circumference of pavement separating us from any proper outdoor space.
The slugs in the compost apparently grow into adulthood from baby slugs that have migrated in with the organic greens we bring home from the farmers’ market. When I tear off and discard woody outer leaves I never see any baby slugs clinging to the stems, which makes me wonder about the ones clinging to the leaves that I rinse and put in the salad bowl. I try not to think about those. I am not a vegetarian after all.
The snails apparently get dropped on the roof terrace by seagulls and other messy birds scavenging above London. They leave shiny, slimy trails as they wander across the wooden slats. Occasionally I find one in the bathroom, ambitiously having inched its way down half a corridor, under the door, and up onto the sink. I always flush it down the toilet without guilt.
At the wall,
Ruano found peace.
Ruano found peace in the way lines met
the darkness after matter...
and that water pipe fending off the sky.
"Shelter is a feeling," Ruano knew,
and felt himself hugged
by the wet smell
and the shuffing of somebody’s plastic bunting
and the low light
and even the colour of the fox-gecko
painted on the wall.
Read more >
Berlin in your dreams
is always black and white
Marlene in a trouser suit
cheekbones and eyebrows
harsh angles and arches
Mundane angels walking the streets
of a metropolis
where the sky above
is always overcast
Tante H’s life was always in colour
throughout the best of times
throughout the worst of times
At ninety years old
she’s three times your age
survived two world wars
had cancer twice
buried one husband
raised one child
Tante H climbs the steps to her first-floor apartment
shops for her groceries just down the road
Her life’s in slow motion now
but still in colour
morning coffee, evening news
She stays up with you to talk of the past
of the best of times
the worst of times
remembering things for you you never knew
The dragon wells inside me before he
Thrusts his claws through my breast and
Climbs into earthen air.
His crimson scales trap sunlight
I watch shadow slither across his being
With wine for eyes and moonlight for breath
He wraps his tail around the globe and
Anoints it with reveries.
I will not cry for yesterday and
All that was. The past departed on
Aqua wave and tumbled over the
Cusp of horizon.
I look to the future
Where the dreams of tomorrow
Dance in the space between his tail and forehead and
Moon rays are cut into music by blackwood pallet slats.
At the end of the wall and the beginning of the fence
the sunlight shines down through the leaves
of the trees overhead, dappling the decaying
brown matter, leaves, once full of life,
discarded here where they go back
to the earth and become life again
To return to childhood, remove your shoes
wiggle your toes in the soft, fertile earth
feel the sun on your bare shoulders
smells and sounds of life
Life once, and life again
as it passes from your head
to your toes, unburdened by
the mantle of adulthood,
smart business attire,
silk socks and shiny shoes
separating your toes from the rich,
moist earth that everything once came from
and to which everything will return
The early spring sun was bright and warm, but I draped a heavy top around my shoulders for later. Passage through the bushes and undergrowth was not as easy as she had asserted. I had worked up a sweat and my face had encountered some nettles. The rash tightened my skin and itched like hell. Still, the German graffiti, something about compost, and the squat brick shed with the orange-brown lizard, all confirmed that I had arrived at the right place. I took a sip of water, the only sustenance I was permitted to bring. I investigated the lizard. It appeared to have been modelled from croissants and it was eyeless.
A greenfinch and a chaffinch squabbled on the section of pipe that ran over the top of the shed, a pipe that once carried something from somewhere to somewhere else. I walked to the end of the shed. There was a covered entrance, then a heavy steel door, bolted and padlocked. It reminded me of an old air raid shelter near my school playing fields. There was a short tunnel which led to a similar door. We gathered in the tunnel for an illicit cigarette during break and lunch. As if by agreement, the schoolmasters never patrolled the area. I had stopped smoking years ago, but a cigarette then would have been particularly welcome.
The tyre was the only seat. It was comfortable for short periods of time, but I had to get up occasionally and stretch my legs. As I sat, stood, walked, and sat again, the sun moved across the sky and dipped below the horizon. The sky changed from blue to pink to purple and then light black. The birds stopped singing. The heat diminished with the sun and I slipped on my heavy top. A handful of stars appeared, a pale crescent moon rose, a fox barked.
Read more >
Here we had good times,
Here we shared pleasurable moments,
Away from the hustle and bustle of life,
Away from its perplexities,
We left all behind,
For funfair and diversions,
It wears a gloomy face,
Its brilliance was lost over time,
With grieving hearts,
We call to remembrance its former days,
Home to nature, people and fun,
It stands in its last days.
Water drips from leaky parapet,
A universe inside each drop,
Suspended in apprehension.
It drops to the ground,
breaks in ephemera.
A universe explodes.
Scatters its elements in hope
To find life, only to evaporate
Into oblivion and chimaera.
Urban creepers and climbers
Locked in a battle for dominance
With concrete, organic and alive.
Each asserting existence, growing
And seeking new territory.
The utilitarian human mind
Reinforced concrete against green
A wise choice – less colours in palette,
New dreams and hopes illusory.
Lichens form on dreams,
Moulds and fungi abound.
The dead graffiti stares,
Keeping data of our thoughts.
Its lifeless piercing gaze
Lays secret desires bare.
The wandering poor aphorist
Plants the seeds of truth
In this sprawling maze.
Sometimes we just have to do it,
Everything may appear abundant and flourishing on the surface,
Our relationships may still appear to be in full bloom,
But the soil that sustained us no longer has the nutrients we need,
To be inspired,
We begin to wilt and fade.
The neighbourhood we thought we’d live in forever,
Disintegrates, crumbles and decomposes,
Friends desert us to follow their own stories,
Leaving only the debris of their lives,
As memorials to their existence.
Ideas turn yellow from malnourishment,
We must dig up our roots,
Even if it hurts,
Or we will wither away,
Strangled by the encroaching weeds,
Become a human waste ground,
We have to fertilize our minds and souls,
With new experiences, environments and inspiration.
We need to replant ourselves,
Where new friends can pollenate our lives,
Make our hearts buzz again,
In a loam-rich garden of colourful creative delights.
I’ve wandered into an apocalyptic
future, overgrown moss
and abandoned tires,
fortune cookies graffitied
on signs I can’t translate,
skies of nothing but fog.
The last time I was happy
was decades ago,
watching shooting stars
with my friend Frank.
Maybe he can still see them
on the Heaven Channel
from death’s sofa.
The world is quiet
except for the rattle of debris
in the wind.
Yesterday, I found a blue tarp
in mint condition, clasped it
around my shoulders
like some kind of superhero.
Lies a land
Witness to the neighborhood prayers
And the morning bells.
Vacant, listening to the rush of trains.
Secrets blooming in white and red
Spreading green, vanishing trails.
Lost spirits creeping in geckos,
Shadows of goodwill, guardian of homes.
Hiding the abandoned, yet to be dead
Desires buried somewhere
Moments from generations kept
Like the unopened letters.
Awake at nights, when there is light
I shall lay mine too.
We found a place
that was ours
in between gardens
We wriggled through
the sparse trunks
of old hedges
into the in between place
We hid there
when there were monsters
or younger brothers
trying to catch us
We gathered treasures
in an old biscuit tin
and buried it
in shallow dirt
We made blood pacts
and plans to run away
and potions and spells
until the hedges grew thicker -
and we grew taller
and we couldn't fit
in the in between place
Our car crawled out of the parking lot,
The airport in the rear-view mirror,
As I sat in the back left seat,
My stomach twisting in knots.
‘Oh, this isn’t how I dreamt it,’ said my heart to my brain.
‘It never is,’ my brain replied.
And though I searched to find the greener grass,
All I saw was the cold concrete and the colder half-smiles
Of those who thought the same
peacock bones rest on knives
wet wood splinters cut sharp
frames in hot monsoon blood rain
“…the neighbourhood decomposed”
hoards vomit gorging advertising
neurotoxins drip liquid life
wispy green spiders grip plastic
amphibians with samurai patience
plant life infused in damp legends
sea green peppermint toothpaste foam
moss flakes crack concrete pigments
“…toxic traction…hallucinogenic limbs”
powder dust lush crush species
red black green mint chutney bamboo
modernity regenerated as flags
painted on prayers in plastic pipes
lower your perception of resistance
popcorn pills around the corner
burnt chilli skeleton – metallic breath
“…done you are at the truth tree”
I am the protector of the disguarded.
I was also displaced for being disparate
Now I have been gifted a purpose.
They bring me their unwanted food, the flies
are my friends; I share what I have with them.
Things have started to grow here.
The putrid perfume draws in the dishonoured
to this safe place, there are no rules.
In this place we do not cause disgust
this could be our home.
a little lie from Paris
the bright light within starch
a mudpuppy and a dragon's foot
wine and vinegar wine
songs I cannot sing
words I cannot comprehend
voices fading into clouds
once a great spider made its home
above the concrete slab
once it caught a fire salamander
in a web of laundry
once it filled itself with its internal juices
leaving it there to warn us
the gatekeeper's daughter is very beautiful
her hair catches the wind on sunny days
and she flies above the gate into the trees
as if happiness can be found within new growth
and the bits of rainbow carved from drab clay
no one has seen the gatekeeper
since a month ago and more
no one is sure where he has gone
but there is always a shadow nearby
It had been months since Frank had wheeled his bike out of the flats and onto the streets of Kreuzberg to cycle to the community garden. The wide treelined avenue was full of cherry blossom, pink petals falling to the ground like confetti, welcoming him back into the world. The smell of freshly bread drew him like a magnet to the shop on the corner and he bought ‘zwei brot’, one for him and one for whoever was working on the garden that morning.
Covid had put paid to his volunteering and for months he had watched the world lockdown and then open again from his flat window up on the third floor of a shaky old house on Weinerstrasse. As Frank cycled, he waved at familiar faces, and called back ‘alles gut’ when asked how it went with him.
But as he rode under the arch to go onto the garden, all was not good. The prayer flags he and Stephanie had hung when the garden first opened were down, trailing in the dirt. They’d been trampled and were matted and instead of fluttering in the wind, like they had that bright Spring morning when the sky was blue and full of birdsong. The walls he’d helped to paint, laughing with Suzi and then taking her back to his flat for wine and wild sex were streaked in pigeon poo, the paint faded, peeling off in parts. The orange dragon, with memories of firecrackers and noise, painted to celebrate the Lunar New Year was going nowhere.
The sign was still there. ‘You’ve made it! You’ve arrived at the neighbourhood compost!’ But where were the rows of salad crops, tomatoes on canes, cabbages covered in netting to keep the pigeons off? Where was everyone? Where was the laughter, the voices, children running around while their parents worked on the garden? Where was the sound of tools, of hoes and hammers?Read more >
This is my voice today, three years after what people thought would be the Collapse. Funny how we always expect the worst. We can never see the future for what it is— new problems arising with new opportunities, but tomorrow hopefully a little bit better than today.
I actually like being adrift—more than I thought I would. You always knew though. Nomadic before your time. I think walking has changed me. Had it changed you before you met me? Have you found your way through this uncollapsed world?
People ask if I am looking for home. But I think I might just be looking for my selves. And it so happens that they are scattered all over and that—I came to discover—they are inseverable from the places I find them in.
I know that, because of that, I will never be complete in any of the places I reach. Which is why I walk without purpose. I know I will stumble upon people and spaces and they will be my mirrors. Until they are not and I leave in search of new ones.
I travel through them as I travel through my selves.
Do you remember the wall with the painted green plants in front of the sky and the real green plants? I found it today. It is still where we left it, with the green sign and the orange painted lizard. I got here and I looked at it and understood that moments with you coexist with the present of me and that closing my eyes is travelling through time.
I guess this is why I am writing now.Read more >
sit in an oversized office chair at an undersized writing desk, tucked in a small corner of a large, climate-controlled room. ponder & pound piles of paper. black ink on white. blue ink on yellow. strands of syllables. tightly knotted loops. mottled & muddled. blended shades of gray conceal & constrict. fruit loops at three & six. cheerios at nine. cracker jacks in the breakroom. the sun on the other side of the window. sweat. air turns sour. screened & locked. heavy canvas blocks rays. tireless tasks dictate days. computers blip. screens ping. no time to slack. cloud cover pervasive. discs & discord always on. i shuffle slots & shift my gaze. my eyes lock. the far-right corner reimagined. reverie & recollections revisited. a corner lot with fresh roots. the kind of every city. simultaneously situated in plain sight. reclaimed sites. tucked & trimmed of backyard angles. in abandoned garages. all alleys avenues for seeds & seasonal sensibility. dragons breathe fire in nearby quarters. pennies flip. heads over tails. seize the smallest pockets of air. between here & the rails. of then. & now. of messages in bottles.
14 (+) ways/reasons to claim a corner lot (sanctuary)
1. Shoo flies. Welcome flight. Of avians, animals, & mammals.
2. Apply seed to soil. Apply water to seed. Take a seat. Wait. Awhile.
3. Tame dragons with distance. Decorate doors with decadence.
4. Embrace scene. Do not be seen.
5. Inhale quickly. Exhale slowly.
6. Hang laundry. Not people. Stream ribbons. Not hate.
7. Stitch messages of hope & happenstance. Bottle minutes of music & memories.
8. Share space with mice & men.
9. Observe smokestacks in solitude.
You're burying your body.
You were a pip in utero, so why not mud? Make a thing of yourself. In the eyeless gaze of the amber lizard; rooted, grounded. It is watching.
Made around you: the wall, the gate, the debris, the wooden panels, the sign: KIEZ KOMPOST.
Even the soil, distributed in accordance to the wants of man. Those trees, planted like you were and like you are. Someone, at some point, meddled with the blue canvas of another by throwing clouds at it.
The lizard is moving, repainted and loved. You remain still, bones in the mud.
This is where we come to mulch down
when life is at pits end
we lay our heads to the earth
wilting, dehydrated, spent
and nestle in for the long haul
We are a community of has-beens
once thriving members of nature
but we have flowered too long
partied through every moon phase
and every sunrise and sunset
Now we lay ourselves to the soil
once more seeking to live
and time will give us that
we will nurture each baby step
the growth of new life
Come, we will give you spades
of earth nutrients, tend your young
all we ask for is rain and sun
a fork to till us into the soil
and we shall reward your ten-fold.
I strip my mantles
Lie down in waste
Form a circle
Like salt to protect
I have a rubber tyre
Its roundness is the Earth
Spinning without me
It notices my loss not
I am a compost heap
Slowly returning to animal soil
Losing humanity to survive
Are my bedfellows
A wired fence
Is my metallic conscience,
Barbed yet vulnerable
A giant marmalade lizard
Her warmth echoes
Shining from laid bricks
She winks at me in sadness
Licks her eyes clean
She is my guardian angel
A heathen god
“Remember that guy in school?” Ananya’s tinny voice came through the phone.
“Who?” I was too busy replying to emails, hardly paying attention to my best friend.
I paused for a moment at the news, then hit another send.
In class 3, I had found a note in my library book which said: ‘I like you’, with a stick figure of a lizard-like creature with six legs drawn on the reverse. It was creepy, but Ananya had said it was a cute lizard. We wondered who it might be; every boy at that age reminded us of a lizard or the likes.
Years later, in class 9, when his father was transferred to another city, we held a farewell meet for Vishy at the abandoned shed, with peeling blue paint, in the woods, behind the school campus.
I remember Vishy standing awkwardly under the strings of white and blue paper flags in front of a dozen of us. We had demanded a speech. He had shuffled from foot to foot trying to come up with something to say. The boys were sprawled on the forest floor sharing a cigarette. The girls, three of us, too squeamish to sit on the ground stood around leaning on tree trunks, giggling. A warm bottle of beer was making the rounds.
Vishy was the best artist in our class. Someone took pity and threw him a can of orange spray paint. Leave us with something, he said.
Soon the front of the shed had a large orange dragon lizard with six legs sprayed across its surface. Vishy had then looked in my direction and I think he had blushed.
As I looked up at Lizzy, a distant memory returned to tease me. Where was it? Who said it? I reached up and traced her shape with a finger.
“What are you doing?” I remember asking my mother.
"Venting my spleen,” she had replied angrily, scoring the wall with a piece of chalk.
I watched as she scratched at the wall, her face flushed with the effort. She took a step back and muttered something.
"What’s a spleen, mother?" I asked.
She began to mark the wall again, not bothering to answer. I couldn’t make out what it was she was drawing.
There was a slight sound behind me and I turned to see my husband coming along the old path that let down to the wall. He stopped and kicked at the old tyre then looked at me.
“Have you worked it out yet?” he asked, nodding at the wall.
I folded my arms across my chest, hugging myself tightly. "No. She never told me why she drew it or the reason she did.”
For a moment he said nothing, just stood beside me waiting for my anger to subside.
“It’s just a mural,” he said, emptying the bucket of food scraps onto the compost heap.
I turned away, ignoring him. I would come back tomorrow and ask Lizzie the same question. “What’s a spleen, mother?”
Dissolution or distillation?
The lizard regenerates its form,
returns from the dead
wearing scales of shining golden light.
The lizard regenerates its form,
a temple of unprogrammed molecules
wearing scales of shining golden light―
an augury of things to come,
a temple of unprogrammed molecules.
Decay stops waiting to begin―
an augury of things to come―
visions, signs, omens.
Decay stops waiting to begin
in visions, signs, omens―
an ending, testifying
to a world that has resisted transformation―
misremembered, an afterthought
of layers turned inside and out.
In a world that has resisted transformation,
survival returns from the dead―
each layer turned inside out
in dissolution and distillation.
This could be a better place like it once was.
Look, someone painted the wall in contrasting
blues, laid stone for a path of sorts. This could
be a better place like it once was. Look, there is
a creature on the wall, a giant orange something
or other. This could be a better place if we made
compost, spread the love. Look, there is greenery
all around; we could tame it a little, bend it into
shady spaces, grow to eat and share. This could
be a better place like it once was. Look, bunting,
blue and white flags caught in the frantic breeze,
promising movement in their hopeful exhibition.
This could be a better place like it once was.
Look, who will do the work if not you, if not me.
I used to love the abandoned quayside, with its iron bollards, cobbles disappearing beneath wild thyme and creeping plants, the tram lines, vibrations silent but not a speck of rust. I loved the shrubs that covered mysterious heaps, ivy heaving itself through open windows and over the rotten teeth of broken walls.
There were still a few empty sheds and boat houses, and a boatbuilder still working. In the river, green and water-black, were the poles and posts, the wooden framework of old jetties, and at low tide, the skeletons of shallow-draughted river craft.
It was a place between worlds, caught in a fold of time, between industrial decay and natural thriving. It was birds and insects, wild honeysuckle and garden flowers run wild. We too ran wild there in the quiet, dog and I, when such an undecided place was of no interest to anyone else.
We ran wild there until a group of bohos from the city took over a big chunk of the greenest and leafiest part. They moved in with their caravans and trailers and fenced off a ‘living’ site. They strewed the trees and bushes with plastic bottle scares for the pigeons and filled others with stickiness to kill pests. They raised vegetable beds on old newspaper and car tyres and filled them with straggly tomato plants and runner beans. They built pens out of old pallets for chickens and goats.
The abandoned sheds, filling up with silence and stagnant water and things that lived in the dark were cleared out and turned into skate circuits and bicycle repair shops. Lurid graffiti art covered the walls. Dogs were no longer allowed to roam because of the chickens. People were no longer allowed to roam because of the vegetable gardens.
I wondered then and still do, why even well-meaning human beings create such ordered ugliness out of random beauty.
Berlin born, I said abschied long ago,
ejected by circumstance, I travelled,
revelling in experiences, happy and sad,
leaving memories in those hidden places,
inside the cities cracks, only the knowing know,
never spoken aloud, here, the city relaxing, respires.
Tomorrow I journey once more
onward across the world, switching seasons.
Melbourne’s southern shoreline calls,
empire born, the city became itself
long ago, the centre of impressionistic art,
bending rules, it exhibits itself to the world,
ocean cooled, literature sits at its centre,
underwriting, every action and distraction,
recognising, talent of all stripes and none,
never discriminating, welcoming arms smile g’day,
esky’s full, let's barbie, come on, off we go.
My city is covered with graffiti
but this time it’s different.
No vandals here, no obscene messages,
only kaleidoscopes of colour.
Magical creatures crawl and climb;
static butterflies appear to flutter.
A beaming sun blazes
from a backdrop of crumbling walls,
chimney pots and drainpipes,
skeletons of ruined roofs.
Up on a high rise
there’s a sunflower set against a sea of blue.
My city is bedecked with colour.
All through the twisting lanes,
hands have drawn pictures,
doodles, posters, dogs and cats.
Damaged walls are camouflaged,
hit by bursts of joy and freedom.
They breathe out hope,
and they will not disappear.
This picture was a gritty sight; the iron filings in the ointment. It was a building, decorated in strange orange salamanders and cobalt runes. It felt like something that would still be standing after two or three hundred years from now, occupied by our long time descendants: ur-families of a future wasteland, sowing seeds to feed and foster.
That would be when the trees retreat to the soil and the sun outstays the moon. When the clouds let loose rivers of colourful rain. It was a long, long, long way away.
But for now, it was just a Berlin adjacent garden out of everyone's way.
Preowned cars once filled the abandoned
lot, plastic triangle pendants encircled
a former fleet of hot ticket vehicles, slap
against each new breeze demanding
attention, heralding mediocrity’s ghosts.
Within hallowed walls of showroom floors,
sales rocketed under great bargains’ guise,
female brokers garnered trust among other
women & played Salome to soft underbellies
of compensating males during midlife crises.
Cyclone fences replaced parking slots
untrimmed trees encroached on concrete
walkways, covered asphalt roads, crept-up
granite structures formerly bathed in floodlights:
a nightmarish extravaganza returned to nature.
Opulence & trash remained randomly scattered;
bald Michelin tires buttressed oak flats stacked
by chipping bricks with crumbling mortar, ignored,
the disuse syndrome defined each tagger’s canvass:
graffiti lost pop, images distorted, expression’s lost.
Aus scham! Aus scham! (For Shame! For Shame!)
Commerce overlooked customers & focused on merchants
who passed out their business cards, fed on pipe
dreams of leisure & bountiful coffers, increased supply
to a dwindling demand—left a 21st century compost heap.
of this outdoor scene—
the ground blends
of brown and grey
a metal fence
forms a perfect lattice
in the midst
of a blue-green brick wall—
in front of the wall,
a wooden bin
of this outdoor scene—
tyre for a swing
the sign like a name
on a map somewhere in germany
done you are
(could this be earth day)
at the neighborhood
(climate change) compost
this is where tattered flags of buddhist peace fly
announcing an unknown artist
who painted on an old wall
the color of sky with an almost jungle
and a primordial beast that sleeps and dreams
*Direct English translation of the German "GESCHAFFT! DU BIST BEIM KEIZ KOMPOST".
i’ve crossed over to the neighbourhood compost bin / arms full of stale bread and brown bananas // there was a time i’d magic a rich pudding or sweet sticky loaf onto the kitchen table / but my lustre limped off long ago like a tailless lizard // i can’t muster the energy to push on / push back / so i pass on what’s left to those who still care
later / from my grey window / i watch others come and go / a car tyre lies in wait for rain / children gather branches / for firewood or dens? // they’ve painted the old brick wall the colour of heaven / and in the centre a kind of god / in lethal gold / multi-limbed with alligator claws and dichoptic all-seeing eyes
the tyre will gather dust and despair before it gathers rain / such is the drought we now carry / and more will come and go / offering bread and branches / to a painted deity
The lizard loved abandoned places.
They make for an exciting life,
so many nooks
to seek out
from the creatures
ill-advised to shelter there.
Compost to scrabble through,
rustic brickwork to climb,
even a tightrope to practice balance.
And the sun
shining through it all
to be soaked up with joy.
Such a haven of perfection!
All over the world
There are small communities of us
Outside the margins.
Poets in our living beliefs
With our home made songs
And cheap musical instruments
We make art with thrown out wood
And remnants in paint cans
We write messages on walls,
Fences and tarmac
Shouts of anger
Wails of pain
Calls to join together
We don’t understand the complicated science
But in our little bits of nature
Scrabbled from waste space in crowded cities
We miss the bird song
The drone and buzz and whine of insects
From our own past
And from our grand parents grief
There is relief
Home grown, home brewed
Which succeeds then fails so badly
Orange-gold will always glare
out of wreckage, determined
to thrust itself underground,
back to the womb however much
transformation had been worked.
Humans choose living quarters…
clean empty space to fill with presence,
furniture, clutter for/from living.
Décor attaches to space, selves…
stuffing shelves, counters, sofas, years;
Life counter-attacks in seasons
until flesh flounders, bones ache,
proportions lose themselves
in overwhelming mountains.
A little imagination and this can be your home.
See how airy it is and the fences offer security.
Look, there is one perfectly sound wall and it
is already decorated. The image is so lifelike
any bugs will be kept at bay. The pallet is like
gold waiting to be recycled in a million ways.
There is an arm chair or chic coffee table
waiting to escape. We’ve put up bunting to hint
at Christmas/birthdays/anniversaries – when
it rains there will be an ornamental pool in that
tyre. We have the lease here and you should sign
now. There are others waiting to snap this up.
What is real, what is now, what was then
what is to come after? We all leave traces
of our steps, of our exhalations, of our dreams.
It seems we count for very little as we travel
through, but our trails count, threads woven
into tapestries. Cloths folded in, wrapped around,
our passage. We leave
stones, imprints and shadows. Small miracles
of kindnesses become recycled in our wake.
Toiling through our allotted time, mind well
our marks matter. Do not grow hollow eyes
or sour hearts. In time, our own demise
will mulch the ground for those to come.
Looks like a coyote on the wall. But it's autumn, and from where you're standing, it's just orange with yellow graffiti spray painted in any city. A subway in New York, the T in Boston, the art that escapes these walls is textured as now it is foreign. Is this Barcelona? Or that yoga retreat that was five years ago in Bali?
But in this language the message reads: Compost. The bin in any city that's comprised of a variety of things that don't match. A fence is known as a fence, stucco is universal, and flags that fly in the wind on the sides are what we know. Scattered tires are everywhere: underneath freeways, the side of a dirt road, a backyard―they take up residence anywhere.
This is literally any city to a traveled person in books, in vintage faded magazines, and in thought. I know this city. I've been there.
Here is where we come from.
Here is where we got to.
Here can be now, or us.
Here is alone,
or along with someone else.
Here is in the meantime,
once in a while, or not for long.
Here we lay down our roots; a passing
bus, or a car -- here's a beautiful view
from our window.
Here is goodbye and hello.
Here is where we arrive.
Here is back home, and for years,
where we pack our bags -- here we go.
The yellow-orange lizard wants to climb off the brick wall, to have a spot on the feathered wings of a wind horse attracted to patio prayer flags on thin strands of twine. Their fluttering messages are what she will carry to earth’s four corners – then beyond, where he wants to be
free of limits.
To join her, to travel such gales on this spirit horse, he must first unstick his scaled feet, belly, tail, now painted onto a doorway as omen. He is not that; does not portend or protect. Ready, jaws open, he gnashes his way towards her.
On our smallholding, deep in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in the heart of the North Pennines, two large composting frames behind the polytunnel accommodate garden and kitchen waste. Every few years, beneath the fresher detritus on the heap top, I rummage down to rich compost, which I harvest for the new patch of potatoes.
Charles Dowding here in the UK seems to have been most instrumental in popularising the ‘no-dig’ philosophy of gardening, and I’ve been a convert. I’ve also alternated our fifty square meter patches, yearly, between our scratching chickens and the tattie bed. For as long as our neighbour’s horse has been on the adjoining field, his plops have supplemented the top dressing of the patches. Our potatoes have been regular winners at the local agricultural show.
But this spring, I laid out the last of my potato plantings. This year we’re in an ongoing mini-move, a downsizing adventure, north of the border into a small village in Scotland. There’s no room for composting in the footprint of the teeny-tiny bungalow we’ve taken on. Instead, the bin collectors are the recipients of our minimal food waste, wrapped tidily for disposal in a landfill site somewhere.
As heartbreaking as it is, the simple fact is that we’re growing older, and increasingly frail. We were in our adult prime, at the end of our thirties, when we moved to the remote smallholding, and now we’re well into retirement. It’s time to recognise something of the inevitable, as our bodies begin to break down.Read more >
A graffitied eyeless tarantula watches – guards
The compost bin with a placard that which looks more like it says DANGER LAND MINES
“Cuttings, leaves and worms welcome here.”
A frayed bunting, walls and fences that disappear into the shrubbery.
There’s bark mulch underfoot – a tarp, a tyre,
Broken stones and slates – a billboard I can’t read.
The wall’s stamped with palm trees – seed sowing where everything
Sounds like a warning.
Traveling through images is always an adventure,
an invitation to reflection, a probe into one's own heart.
Do I see everyday scenes from an unknown place
- human signs, plants, signs, the enigmatic graffiti
- an insect, a monster, an alien being? Is there poetry
in this corner where a soul whispers something,
a challenge to my mind, my emotions,
an invitation to unravel the poetry that
screams from this soul from somewhere
in the vast human memorial?
On the other side of the grid the trees, silent, without wind.
I walk in this vacant space, perhaps forgotten
by its owner, but captured by someone else and inscribed,
now, in mine, in our memory.
They are human signs, of human passage.
There, maybe there was love between a man and a womam,
maybe a child was born who played in this now lonely backyard - moans, silences, conflicts, the fear of the
unknown stamped on the graffiti.
I make this journey where
I also find myself, under the arcade of the years
that pass and disappear - but they leave their marks,
their mysteries, their sobs, encounters and songs,
poems scratched on leaves that the wind took away. ever.
I pass by, respectfully because
I know that when
I go to meet someone else,
I also find a little more of myself.
“It’s just down here.”
The damp air felt thick along the narrow trail. Sharp branches hid behind green leaves that barely parted in time for my eyes. Ahead, Ian once again lost form in the mottled forest shadows. “I’m excited.”
I wasn’t excited. I thought, in the middle of the forest before a thunderstorm, my date might display some mystical charm through a deep connection with nature and the universe. But our conversation in the car had been about my frizzing hair and after Ian’s fourth joke, I knew he was either boring or nervous. And then he parked beside the trail, so I knew he was either going to kill me or something else, and if he killed me I wouldn’t have to go on dating apps anymore, and if it was something else then I would live. So I followed him.
Finally, after a long walk, with large volumes of conversation about jobs and interests that were uninteresting, the forest released us into a small clearing. I felt genuine intrigue at the painted concrete wall that fell away in grays the same color as the sky. A string of flags ran from the building’s roof to a fence and reminded me of parties and celebrations.
“A secret society?” I asked. “A secret temple?”
“No,” Ian said. “An old store.”
Burnt orange and gold, the shading copper, an eyeless reptile lived in the paint covering the old wall. A wooden box below this painting held a sign that read something in German.
“What do you think that says?” I asked. I felt myself smile. “Maybe it’s a spell to wake the chameleon.”Read more >
Today and yesterday are fertile soil
like a community garden,
vines weaving and reaching.
Every memory, every shared experience
lives and breathes beneath our feet,
a compost pile where nothing is lost,
everything is used and reused,
begins a new life.
At the rising light of dawn,
your neighbor makes that first brushstroke
for the orange lizard mural.
This gives you faith that the world
is being created yet again,
that every layer of paint points to
blue skies of hope,
that we can seal the cracks,
paint over flaking chips.
Maybe even our mistakes
can be a rumpled, well-thumbed
guidebook for our children,
knowing that the very best of us
lives on in the vibrant colors
of their many tomorrows.
I would say, embrace the wrong memo
you typed for that internship.