• Vol. 09
  • Chapter 07
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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. 

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Queen Liz

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.


The Better Devils of our Nature

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. 

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Blue Seed

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.


dressed as a dragon

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

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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 smile
a conversation with strangers
his feet fragment the earth
cut by broken bottles
searching this community
searching for a home.


good neighbours make – after Frost

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?


Berlin I roam

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 roamed.

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.

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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
from within
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
they become
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
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.


Memories of Blue

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.

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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”
By K'put
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.


Round and Round

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.


A world remade

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.


Weekend in Berlin

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.

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The Tire

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.


An April Fool

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.

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Starting Over: Neighborhood Compost

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.
Yesterday’s fishbones.
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.
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A Garden Between Walls

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.

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