• Vol. 05
  • Chapter 09
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A Mixtape for Tortola

On a green island,
The cassette frames two cyclones –
Time spinning away;

The black cassette spins,
And the room swells with static –
The storm’s ruthless roar;

Bodyless voices,
The gutted, gaping houses –
The still bleeding wounds;

A helicopter,
Its blades frozen in saltire –
A suspended god;

We are listening,
The cyclones spin, but we hear
Nothing but silence.

1

Hear Me Drown

after “5 P.M. Tuesday, August 23, 2005” by Patricia Smith

put a conch up to your ear        you can hear the ocean
some say          an organic recording of earth
breathing         now earth’s heaving

but so it is with bones              which I know to be true
for every woman harbors a chaos can wait for it straddling
a fever sloshes up a storm in my stomach             I cough up shards
of limestone           hands cupped in cove hurl up an ocean

which costs $11.98 +shipping and tax on Amazon to fall asleep to
which costs $500 a night to dip              your toes into              and keep other
toes out              which              costs the skeletons you sift through
your fingers              marveling              at the whiteness of this sand I

hurl up              an ocean              hands cupped              in cove of limestone
I cough up shards        a fever        sloshes up a storm in my stomach
straddling        can wait for it        for every woman harbors a chaos
which I know to be true              but so it is with bones              now

earth’s heaving              breathing
an organic recording of earth              some say
you can hear the ocean              put a conch up to your ear

hear me drown

2

Untitled

Black cassette upon perfect greenery.
Borges, a writer who ate like a bird,
explained, screwing up his two opal casket lenses: Popular opinion
(which he lamented more than Maria looking up
a second time at her Son’s feet)
Misconceives the blind,
Believing those with snuffed out candles for eyes
inhabit a carbon darkness,
a world without birth-of-light.
More often, the blind see a thick stained-glass wall
Of one single colour, a light blue or amber, a certain Atlantean green,
That color might enter night-sleep, assume twisting form, birth an island.

the song of a bird—on the desert island Aruba, the orange-black
Troupial—might hold so much oases in it, that the man with eyes put out
By fire in the dry woods, eyes like two cactus fruit, in his day-lit séance
Upon hearing troupials
Might know the final oasis.

The alleged Bird of Paradise, a parakeet
Bears relation to a clown-faced lovebird,
Called Preekeechee, on Aruba.
flying over an even smaller, circa Venezuelan island called Cheecheereebeechee,
bugs nibbling at dun roots of his featherspines
its shadow fleeting over chaos of mankind
Until arrival upon the shack-roof
Of Aruba’s village fool, successor of an exeunt poet,
Who awakes without clockwork or cassettes--
only loud bird songs, definite A.M. gunfire

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3

Green tape / dream landscape with ghosts

Dream landscape of childhood backroads squeezed between overgrown bushes,
tarmac covered in decomposed leaves and petals. Distant speakers
play a background soundtrack, stickiness of bass and rhythm guitar
exceeding humidity, hi hats like light rain, wisps of voice:
dub custom engineered by the maze of lanes alongside treefrogs
chatting all night. Some whistle love songs, others chirp threats and mark turf,
and some become possessed by the spirits of dead cell phones and ring,
activate some kind of deep response in humans trained to their tones.
An unknown entity caught on the recording whispers threats,
hints at its presence within the feedback and promptly vanishes.

They’re not the only things here to establish contact,
deliberate or not: formless others speak throughout these islands,
amplify with surf and birdsong, tune on the radio and the electric hum
made by everyday appliances. No wonder you heard voices
fading in and out of the empty yard, and thought they spoke to you.
No wonder the A/C warned you when the man was about to come through,
no wonder the distant singer told you just take all the damn pills
before cops could pull up, plan affirmed by backup-singer treefrogs.
No wonder. I don’t fault your mind for ticking over when car doors slam,

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4

Talk Funny

In those summers, we recorded Yo! MTV Raps
on neon colored VHS and used cassette
to tape R&B from the radio; stopping and starting
to avoid commercial breaks, we learned how fast
an index finger can move across a trigger. Nearby,
in the kitchen, our mothers stood over outdated women's
magazines they received from the houses they worked,
in bare feet, they applied relaxers to each other's hair and
found recipes for casseroles while talking about folks back home.
Mummy Charlotte visited the States in those summers.
In a floral moo moo gathered between her lap, her feet
covered in long tube socks, wads of tissue stuck out
from her brassiere as tufts of gray hair sprang from her scarf;
she readied tart and sweet bread on the coffee table, kneading dough
then passing coconut between the palm of her hand and the grater
as she sat beside the plastic American flags our fathers were handed
as our parents became citizens.
And when the music did not play, we watched her closely,
trying to connect the old woman to us, and we waited to hear her talk funny,
that coarse song fluctuating in a melody we did not understand.

5

Fidelity

I see the hottest June on record
I see rolling news    on the hour
I see visitor visas USA

I see trees of green
I see you    on the radio
I can see for miles and miles

DTK on TDK

Maxell’s    Kansas City

I'm Sony All Alone

I    
    C30
         C60
             C90
                  Go

6

EMERALD CITY

I eagerly followed you down the seemingly endless yellow brick road
Lagged behind as you manfully strode ahead; did you care?

My disjointed body aching for relief
My anxiety rampant as I struggled to keep up

My desire to be with you overcoming all else

Flying monkeys – I  brushed them aside like all my doubts

No fear stronger than my fear of losing you
We'd played out this story so many times

Finally!
Our destination – The Emerald City

Where you first promised your love
Where we stood before the mighty Wizard who recorded our story for all to hear:

Proof of your love
    your love
         your love
               your love
               playing over and over and over

7

Easy Listening

Tired of spite,
what we hid is a gift, momentary
mercy stretching into years.
Here on this bus
time is flooding back.
The buzz of that kid’s
earphone one seat ahead
plays “Candle in the Wind”.
You seem to live your life
That valiantly, meaning:
not at all, meaning:
those were the days of wine & roses
forsaken due to tenderness.
Or so we wanted to think.
Sure, fear was a thorn, the bad patch
of past losses before we met
& disclosed little.

What song is that
your old stereo’s blaring now?
Isn’t it the one I put on a cassette,
(remember them?)—
        Walking after Midnight…
        Looking for you…
How absurd to still be at it &—
        Send in the Clowns,
(don't bother)
not saying a thing.

8

Wheels of time

The wheels of time
of this emerald life
mounted on the memories
and dragged along
by our days of gore;
they are dragged
pushed and pulled
with scraped knees
and bloodied knuckles
we move a little bit more

You whimper
cry,
groan,
with blood-curdling screams
as these spokes
dig deeper into your spine;
and with the
tape stuck on its reels
you count the moments
lost in the ethereal time

Everything has to be in unison
every move
has to be in lockstep;
cause if you miss a beat
or it gets stuck
with the slightest of folds
you can lose
a lot more than you can forget

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9

The Old Cassette

You come across a box of them in plain sight
but out of mind. Who made all these cassettes?
You pick one up, place it on a bit of green matting,
and wonder what voices this unmarked recording
holds. Though it’s in good shape, even playable,
it must be pretty old: you stopped recording
tapes in the mid-80s. Was it a gift for Suzy—you
had such a crush on her—or a bit later for Amin—
you pined so for him at that time without
understanding the meaning of your feelings?
What songs would you have recorded? Perhaps
Hendrix for Suze—she was into the greats of rock—
or a soulful Aretha for Amin, who swayed each day
to the notes the Queen of Detroit sent soaring
over the airwaves. Suzy and I would lie on her bed
staring at the miniature planets over us, wave
upon wave of “All Along the Watchtower” buoying
us up toward that little solar system. I would watch
Amin’s sensuous movements and rise to dance
slowly beside him, never daring to touch. Such
memories are like this unplayable tape—they remind
us of what has been but afford no access to it.
To the moment when I leaned over Suze and kissed
her once on each eye and once shyly on the lips.
Or to that other when I looked longingly at Amin,
his eyes closed, his lips parted, his stem-like body
waving in my little room, so full of loss and yearning.

10

Mixtape (or Track 4 is the one)

Select edit pause, repeat then press play.
It takes C90 minutes for a heart to sway.
Pick songs to send messages you just can’t say.
Select edit pause, repeat then press play.
An eclectic magnetic tape bouquet –
Will your skill in curation win the day?
It takes C90 minutes for a heart to sway.
Select edit pause, repeat then press play.

11

I Say All This And Other Things

I slip the cassette into your coffin, feet end. My father has already scattered diamond rings across your chest and now he is weeping dramatically in the corner. The aunts are bringing him sweet things and bending to murmur in his ear as if he is a child.

I can’t find you in my body. My chest is all electricity and heat, like a domino of pylons fell across the English countryside and set the dry wheat alight for miles. You are not there and I can’t find you in my belly either which is a vast cave where the wind has dragged in crisp packets. I say all this on the tape and other things and imagine you smiling.

12

Capture

My baby’s first coos. How to capture the sounds that link your body and mine? I take a photo. Your open eyes stare at me, your lips part, and your tongue raises a bridge behind your gums. But the sounds that you are making—those gurgling bubbles of music that tell me of your pleasure, that you have found your toes, that you are mesmerized by my face, that your skin loves the soft folds of your blanket—where are they? I write your weight and height in the baby book that someone has given me when you were that stranger who abided inside me. I fix the photo and record, like a scientist, the momentous achievements of you holding your head up straight, of that first smile that wasn’t the result of an undigested bit of cracker. I sing nursery rhymes and nonsense and touch each finger, kiss your nose, rub a finger around the soft fold of an ear. Tracing the outlines of this body that will never be this way again.

I slip the cassette into the tape recorder and press the red button. Coo for me again, sweets, I croon and sing. The tape rolls from spindle to spindle, a narrow filament to mock time and to bring you back to me later. Later, when you climb the jungle gym and pretend to be a monkey. Later, when you play the violin in the eighth grade orchestra. Later, when you argue and storm out of the house without the car keys. Later, when you stand, smiling, between your grandparents, on the High School football field, diploma in hand, mortarboard cocked to one side. Later, when you hold your own child in your arms for the digital camera. As my memory, once green like the patchwork fields in early summer, dries and crumbles. As the folder of school projects—essays and drawings—mildews and warps. As even the spindle on the cassette—that once promised to preserve you always in that instant for eternity—grinds to a halt. The tape snags. It stretches, distorts. The film breaks or tangles in the gears. As these tethers to the past—these tricks of memory—wither and fail, I pick up the cellphone and call you, waiting to hear your voice again.

13

Sick Monkey

Mummy—you forgot to change your monkey.

Maggie taped her note to the fridge and fetched the diaper herself. She passed the den, full of grown-ups dancing. She saw her father flipping the tape in the boom box, laughing back over his shoulder at a group of women, reaching out his hand for a drink and then gliding close to the woman who supplied it.
No wonder Mummy wasn’t there—but she ought to change her own lousy monkey.
The animal bit Maggie with its tiny sharp teeth and clung to her hand when she shook it back into its cage. All the guests loved the little rescued monkey.
“Monkeys in Berkeley?” “Look at its bright eyes!” “I bet it’s happier here than at the University.”
“But it belongs at the lab,” Maggie told them.
“But it’s so cute.”
“Its mother wanted to eat it,” Maggie said, looking away. “I wish she had.”
Four months later, she would find herself living in Kenya where she would fit in about as well as a baby monkey in California. She’d see the end of her parents’ marriage as starting with that monkey, and hate the creature no less because she identified with it.
Maggie finished with the monkey and went up to bed, away from the sweet marijuana smell and the thumping music. She hoped Mummy would return before morning, though she wasn’t betting on it. In her pajamas, she padded off to the bathroom—luckily empty—and back again with a glass of water for her droopy coleus. Then she sat on the bed. There was nothing else for her to do.

14

Incompatible

That tape—

you gave me a retro gesture
without a cassette player it was a symptom of our age
your belief in that time
under a half-converted attic roof
instead of a Spotify playlist we could share
you idolised me into a tape
I could not hear

That tape—

is all I have left
I upped sticks and left without
so much as a goodbye note
your insistence we were from another age
became your downfall or saviour
next time I hope
you find someone with a compatible stereo

15

Press Play

Press Play at birth and all you ever do
Is go forwards
Crawling, walking, running
Eventually to slow down again
Feel the pull of the end
As the tape of your life is used up
The little left even now spooling itself away
And you wish you had avoided those Fast Forward times
Always looking to the future
In makeup and high heels
Longing to appear older until you were
With chewed up ideals and tangled memories
Finding you were all played out with no Rewind button
Only Eject

16

Marguerita Sky

Let me just...

Watch as the sky unfolds
in a blizzard the colour of salt
and spit:

a Marguerita sky, so cold his lips
turn blue.

The glass cracks; he falls,
finds himself snarled by brambles.

Leaves invade his mouth;
shoots snake in, pierce his lungs.

You deserve this:
every last snag of thorn raking
those insistent fingers,
every vine snaking down your throat.

I watch him still and stiffen,
his face a bruise, its pale meth blue.

The engine's on; warm air blows.
On the window, my breath blooms
and fades.

Outside, a robin's song spills
its berries in the freezing blur.

You wanted this.

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17

Memorizing the Words

Music wove threads through the cracks of our broken home.
Mom took her time, did it right, dancing through rooms,
shaking her body down to the ground under the eyes of Jupiter.
Dad favored nights in Mozambique, fat chances
that broke with the morning and lingered in the
hands of a poetry man and a boxer.
Winding up mountains in a blue sedan,
there was always music playing in Dad’s car.
We memorized the words to songs of the 70s and sang
so loud, our voices echoed off the windows.
We learned to recognize the rasp of a tambourine man,
and absorbed the blues though our skin.
On rainy days, Mom gathered us around the piano
to sing the refrains of Siamese cats who did what they
pleased and girls dressed in cinders, spinning in circles.
Our tiny voices, saturated in the carefree pitch
of youth, are trapped forever in the loop of a reel to reel,
singing a song about looking for a home with all our family there.

18

Fatherless Child

Once, in the summer grass,
he'd laboured to rouse me.
His transistor caroused
my innocent ears with tunes
blown through, hot, across
from Radio Luxembourg.
I didn't join the dots,
when he came.
My outline changed, my belly
filled in, like it was painted by numbers
with his swift, intuitive strokes.
When my pains came,
he was long gone, like the song–

the one I hadn't heard
about high aprons and boys walking by.

He's never seen his daughter, though
she has his almond eyes. And they wander
wide over all these years. Searching.

She cries to know him.
All I can give her to explain,
to ease the pain, is this tape
without a player. Musical score
strung out for her story. It fell
on the mat, wrapped in grass-green
silk, the day she turned eighteen,
her spooled inheritance.
Sender: No Address.

19

The weird tune

I had a taste once
for the popular stuff
but it's gone now
and my cravings have turned
to stranger things.

There is a body
of music
so old and so queer
as to sound
made by creatures
we would not recognize as human
but perhaps
some species that
dragged itself
from caves or
from deep in the sea
and just began to wail
a song that was later
taken up by billy goats
who rose upon their hind legs
and sang like men,
their songs later
embraced by toads
chanting like monks

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20

SHORT INTERVIEW ON CASSETTE

I missed the chance to make a second copy
When I still had that boombox
With the double ports
Perhaps the newer one
Would have recorded to CD – or maybe
Not – it was cheap and broke down quickly (the radio
Staticy) – but someone I’d known would’ve
Had the right equipment
At the time

It will be harder now to find a way to listen
If I can even find where I stored it
... I remember you laughed
... And that we meant to continue

21

Obsoletion

Dad lived in a time capsule because Mom wouldn’t let him in the house. It was an old Buick station wagon, the kind with a rear-facing backseat so that you could ride face-to-face with the other drivers and wave at them, then flip the bird if they didn’t wave back. Only a handful of seatbelts still worked, and you had to crank the windows down yourself. He kept polaroids of us in the glove compartment, outdated maps of old family trips on the dash, a box of cassettes in the middle row. He had no concept of obsolete.

One night in the summer, he dropped by just after dark and honked until Mom stormed through the screen door and sniped him dead with her one good eye. I flew past her across the lawn, wet with sprinkler dew, and dove through the passenger seat window, not even bothering with the door handle. We went for soft serve, then found a hotdog stand and ordered two with everything on them. He asked how school was going and I just said, “It sure is going,” and he nodded. I asked how work was, though I knew by the piles of dirty clothes in cardboard boxes in the trunk of the station wagon that it wasn’t going well. I asked when he would come home, and he said he was home right now, wasn’t he? I said permanently. When are you home permanently? And he said when your mom wants me permanently.

Then we just drove. Through the neon of the city and onto the empty eight lane highway and eventually into the mountains where the station wagon sputtered along the moonlit switchbacks. When the radio signal cut out, I dragged the box of cassettes into my lap and flicked through them the same way Mom flicked through her card-box of recipes, written in swooping cursive on index cards. The Eagles, Fettuccine Carbonara, Springsteen, Bacon-wrapped Scallops. My finger landed on a tape without any markings cradled in a fluorescent green plastic case. What’s this one? I asked.

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22

SOUNDS GREEN TO ME

Listen to Green.
Birds in the boughs,
Squirrels silhouetted against the sky.
Life in the treetops,
Nests and cavities,
Leaves that leave no trace of autumn days
When green becomes gold.

Listen to Green.
Place your ear against the color,
Let it speak of spring and summer,
Let it waft from the branches over the street,
Into gardens and lawns,
Let the lawns and gardens reciprocate.

You can hear the Green whirl
Of the tape in the cassette,
Green music rolling past from cars
Painted the color of chlorophyll,
Driven by Green teenagers on Independence Day,
Exploding patriotic supernovas of Green brilliance.

Listen to Green.
It will tell you about Faith, Hope and Charity,
But mostly about Change—
How nothing is transformed,
But everything is changed,
Wafting down upon us in all the hues of the rainbow.
Listen to Green.

23

Blank Verse

Blank verse; like blank tape, empty page or screen.
No words, no tunes, the canvas is bare. Let’s
paint a musical night-time scene of
darkness, horror, death and destruction then
lighten the mood with traditional jazz.

An awkward sound, a misspelt word; spellcheck
is advising me. I press delete and
use a pencil; hover over the page.

Unravelled tape snaking out; a screwed up
ball of A4. Both are thrown towards a
bin; it’s always the same situation.

24

Taped

I was pleased with my reel to reel recorder.
It was four tracks which was good,
as tapes were expensive.
More tracks, less tapes needed,
that was my reasoning.
My source of music was the radio.
Radio Luxembourg
fading
in and out
with lots of crackles.
Or Forces Requests on the BBC.
Or occasional Pop programmes.
Very occasional.
I hadn't thought it through,
the source of my recordings,
so the quality was poor.
But I didn't mind,
It was music,
my music
and I stuck with my reel to reel
enlivened by a transistor radio
and pirate stations
until the age of relative affluence
caught up with me.
Eventually it became an amp
for my boyfriend's guitar.
But I never bought a cassette.

25

Mixtape ’96

You took Willie Colon from me.
You took Lauryn Hill from me.
You took El Gran Varon from me.
You took Peace of Mind from me.

You took the silly smile of reminiscing,
the excitement of something brand new
the youthfulness of sin...
You took it all.

Everyday,
you take street signs
with your name plastered across them
from me.

You took the moment,
I remember so dear, your smile and your freckles
as you rapped "all Philly hoes" over Biggie
as we rode on the freeway, away from me.

You could have taken Philly from me...
You took away the mediocrity, the monotony
left me with alchemy.
And now I'm not feeling like me…

But this too shall pass.

26

An hour and a voice

He glanced furiously at the clock hanging right above the bed. Only an hour to spare and so much to say and clear.

On his tip toes, he walked slowly towards the chest of drawers. The drawer creaked as he gently drew it out.

There was a sound behind him, a soft murmur and a sigh. He turned around and stood still. It was as if time had come to a standstill. A soft tear trickled down his cheeks. The boy was 14 now but still looked like the gurgling baby in his arms. He sat staring lovingly and longingly.

It was almost an hour hence. He quickly turned his attention to the drawer and did what he did everyday, dug out the age old cassette and put it on top of the dresser. Maybe today, his boy will find it, play it, hear it and understand it. Maybe today he will hear his dad’s voice explaining how he loved his baby but couldn’t take the chemotherapy any longer, how he had to move on.

An hour had almost passed. He knew he had to leave soon but he would come again tomorrow, hoping his son had found the tape and played it. If not, he would always have an hour and a hope of tomorrow.

27

A Cassette Tape Has Two Sides

1.
Stilted landscape: a pool of ink
ringed by walls of mulberry silk
and a burnished cliffside to repel
the blade-laden breeze. Pluck
hairs like guitar strings. Bleed in
staccato. Sing a song of vanishing
beneath a mask of greasepaint
and highlight the eyes in green.

2.
We press diamonds into coal,
vomit chlorine across sequinned windowpanes,
splatter ink on silk and sketch a portrait
made of grass stains:
a symphony of red and orange,
wildfire hurtling through stiletto forests,
translating leaves of lace to the language of ash.
We become the breeze and our tongues are the blades

28

Compilation Tape

You gave me a cassette –
a compilation. You said
it was a taste of your soul:
a sip of vivid green
splashed with monochrome.
It was in my car stereo for years.
Every day, it bled into my ears,
your soul whispered to me,
replayed on a loop
until the tape was chewed up.
When I sold the car, the cassette
and the soundtrack
to our beginning was still in it.

29

wild tape

Not made of wood or from a tree
But genuine plastic through and through
Its plastic ribbon magically contains
Dance music, wild and free
But I sleep amid the Great Divide
Count troubles instead of sheep
Munch scarlet seeds, I'm land based
With a full throttled mind
Recalling life's thousand sounds
Wild music played in all directions
A boardwalk of sounds spanning
Canyons and a rushing brook
Back way recording, depatterning
The mind with new punitive
Abundant sound patterns.

30

All Things Green, And What They Mean

I can’t bear to listen. But your voice is the only voice I want to hear.

In your letter you say you’ve said things on the tape that you should have said more often. Things that really matter. But I don’t know if I can bear to hear them now that I can’t apologise, now that I can’t tell you the truth, let alone kiss you, make love to you, thank you for your courage and your unconditional love. Now that we can’t even be in the same room.

Green is the colour of life and regeneration, you once said. It’s also the colour of jealousy. I said I didn’t like symbols. Thought you were telling me one of those quirky little things you liked discovering and squirrelling away. But now I know you were trying to get me to open up. Offering me a way in. By talking about all things green. And what they mean.

I’d give anything to go back to that conversation. Anything. You were willing to hear things I don’t think I could have borne if you’d done what I did. But I never did tell you, never did admit to my affair. You died without knowing what a terrible mistake I made, without knowing that my affair showed me how much I loved you.

But I must find your courage, your compassion, your forgiveness, your willingness to listen, in myself. Otherwise the days left to me will erode in the green bile of my guilt.

31

Ich liebe dich

I fall in love the spring before my 17th birthday.

Ich liebe dich. The words are much harsher than the sentiment. I taste their corners, sip on the beer from the plastic cup you’ve handed me. I am new to all this. Green. You are older. My teacher. We’re in the old airport hangar in Munich. No planes here now though. Just you and me. At least that’s how it feels. I taste the kiss. It lingers in the hot air and I close my eyes, trying to remember its scent, your scent. Sweat glides down my back.

Just you and me. And The Beautiful South. They’re from 'oop nawth, don’t you know?' You mimic my accent but I’d rather you teased me with your twang that tickles my tummy, takes me back to that moment when I first saw you on the banks of the Ammersee.

We’re both a long way from home.

‘Apparently, it’s something to do with what you Brits say about it being grim up north,’ you whisper. 'But I don’t believe that for an instant. You’re beautiful and I’d say your city is too’. Davidoff, Cool Water. I inhale memories that will draw me to the counters of every airport Duty Free for a decade, scanning the departures board wishing that Leeds was closer to Los Angeles.

This is their 'best of' album.

I know that because you taught me the lyrics as we lay on a blanket on the edge of the lake. There you stroked my belly with blades of green grass and handed me your Walkman. You’d brought me down here on your afternoon off. I was the exchange student, you the student teacher. Rules fluid like the water of the lake that lapped beneath the Walkman’s words.

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32

Cassette

between the LP and the CD was the cassette,
before I bought a CD player, and when they
stopped putting albums out - some of them I
ended up buying twice if the band was just too
good for the clunky, dolby-butch sound, and
anyway my hi-fi is designed for both CDs and LPs
and I’ve still got my vinyl - now that it’s back in fashion
Climax Blues Band albums go for £30

the cassette got tangled in the machine so
you were afraid to play it, stretched into elongated
chords, as if the Beatles were still messing about
on four track trying to turn Echo and the Bunnymen
into Sergeant Pepper, which they weren’t, of course,
because John Lennon was dead, shot through the
heart by someone who hadn’t got into i-players yet
and probably didn’t keep hold of his vinyl

I suppose it’s ironic that when I went to see
the Table Scraps (or they came to see me
supporting Son of Dave) they had brought out a
record exclusively on cassette tape which they
thought was wonderful and the best sound you
could achieve, distorted the way bass speakers
do when you turn them up too loud in a pub
which is hardly big enough for amplification

Read more >
33

Love, And Be Silent

Pull me like string,
and willingly wrap me around your fingers.

Let this heartbeat of mine be the music to your breath,
as my kisses cement themselves upon your lips.

Love, and be silent,
let this texture ignite the fire within you.

You are a word that has stagnated through time,
fading into the background through dust and grit.

I stumbled into your trove of misery,
to bring light to a darkness that had been blinding itself for far too long.

Pull me like string,
and willingly love this body you have adored.

I will drown into your lungs,
to give you the air you have longed to grasp with your teeth.

Love, and be silent,
unwinding, unravelling,
pieces of me that belong to the pieces of you.

34

Memories Replayed

You pick up the bud
The head has collected dust
You look for the solution

Time steps back
You close your eyes
You look forward?

Where is the bottle
Containing the solution?
You look behind

You stretch your hand
You touch your father
He was standing nearby

He was looking out
The window, at the
Garden, where jasmine bloomed

You could hear the birds chip
You could sense the cold
Afternoon breeze that
Was blowing that day.

You turn towards
The bottle...

Father died four years ago
The afternoon breeze
Years before

Read more >
35

Set for Cass

testing testing one two three
testing testing testing me
pressing play to rewind spools
all beat band bound for Liverpool
over the border B side unknown
grassy green and full of wind
The bet all Welsh, all cwtch and brimmed
Top twenty mixed dial a disc sown
Pencil twisted kinked bubble singed

36

Twist

The spikes are small, but they hurt. You put your finger in and twist. This is how you move the story. Sometimes, the story moves on its own. But sometimes, its life comes from inside you. Your pain is momentary but it gives the push. But does it have to be so cliche? Not really. You could have just used a pencil.

37

Just Press Play

Lizzie sits, cross legged on the carpet with Grandad’s Philips tape recorder in front of her. Beneath the pop-up slot’s brown perspex window, Lizzie can see the two neon eyes of the brand new cassette and its chubby brown nose, made of tape, ready to record.

Today, Lizzie will read The Animals of Farthing Wood, and she will do it with expression, just like the readers on Jackanory. Lizzie wants this tape to be very professional for Laura and uses special voices for Fox, Badger, Toad, Owl and the other characters. Badger has the deepest voice, like Mr Shaw’s at school, who’s voice Lizzie thinks most sounds like Daddy’s used to. She lowers her chin to touch her chest when she makes Badger’s voice.

If she accidentally muddles the voices during the recording, she can press pause, rewind a little, press play to check where to restart, then pause again, before firmly and definitively pressing record and play at the same time, (queue vocals). Sometimes that makes the tape all messy and Grandad has to wind a pencil in the cassette's eye until all the saggy tape is tight again.

So sometimes, Lizzie just pretends that the author had meant it to be read like she did, with the muddled bits. Lizzie knows her sister wouldn’t mind. In fact, Lizzie adds her own little bits of story because Laura would be looking at the pictures too, if she weren’t at the hospital.

After lights out, when Mummy is properly asleep next to Lizzie in her bed, Lizzie creeps up the ladder to Laura’s bunk. With her felt tip pens, careful not to mark the duvet cover, and wishing they weren’t so scratchy, she decorates each side of the cassette with love hearts, like the ones Mummy used to do on the family notice board.

38

Plastic Passion

I remember you.
I fumbled with clasps
As much as I fumbled with words.
My words. Not theirs.
Theirs were easy to pick
And to place in a line
A purposeful chain of tunes.
For you. From me.
Hours spent combing for each.
Meaning mixed with meaning
Expressed in a musical tribute
To the explosion in my heart.
For this is the mix tape
Of my youthful love.

39

Rewind

She pressed PLAY and watched him
sit back casually, dreaming
of better days.
Her hair, pinned up, her eyes–
faithful to his stare.
She was a golden arc, welcoming
his entrance.
FAST FORWARD to their wedding day
and the two of them had no reason
to STOP
Every dream was finally coming true.

Or so they thought.
Her first attempt at making him
a father, her, a mother, failed.
That's what the doctor called it,
"a failed attempt."
And the second, and the third.
And every breath she took
felt like the last.
He wanted to REWIND
the time, take her back to
a different period where
heartache had not shown
its face.

Read more >
40

‘Green’ Mixtape

15 shades of green – classics, cool, ironic, left-field:–
Al Green – 'Take Me To The River'
Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac – 'Albatross'
'Green, Green Grass Of Home' – Tom Jones
Green album – REM
Professor Green/Lily Allen – 'Just Be Good To Green'
'Blue In Green' – Miles Davis
'The Grass Is Green' – Nelly Furtado
'Green Eyes' – Coldplay
'Green Manalishi' – Fleetwood Mac
'Green Onions' – Booker T And The M.G.'s
'Greensleeves' – King Henry VIII (allegedly)
'Little Green Bag' – George Baker Selection
'When Green Eyes Turn Blue' – Elvis Costello
'Green Door' – Shakin' Stevens
Green Day – 'American Idiot'

Next week, featuring 'Pink' Mixtape:–
Pink – 'Get The Party Started'
Pink Floyd – 'Dark Side Of The Moon'
'Pink' – Aerosmith
And that's about all – another colour, maybe?

41

Tape loop

We played to death that soundtrack to our lives,
your blank-faced decoction of moods and moments,
journeys across a mean unpleasant land
during which even the silence ending
the first side took on a familiar shape,
became an interval between the beats,
and siblings behaved like long-lived opponents
merely at the mention of changing sides,
that tragic modulation, joy disbanding
as innocence attained its usual end,
and catchy tunes with many moving parts
gave way to something else, and muted hope –

We played
                                               moods and moments,
              across
                              the silence
the first
                                                 beats,
                     behaved
                                      changing
                                  joy
                                    usual
                                                     parts
                                                muted –

42

Rail Line

Like a tape rewinding, the train line takes me to the city. I haven't been there for a while, hiding in the small, littoral places where fate crashes against the shingle of confidence; and where the crows dogfight over the waters. Maybe the line will save me where the sea could not. After all, it has a beginning and an end, and all rails must stop somewhere. Where the coast lays things open, the concrete and neon of the metropolis surely will make it possible for me to hide, to blend in, to leave fate and its unsuspected storm surges behind.
43

Pause. Listen. Wait.

Their brows raise in response to the rectangle on the whiteboard,
Heads tilted like curious cockatoos,
Thirty pairs of eyes glazed over with a mix of boredom and curiosity.
I hear myself nervously giggle and then ask:
“Not even in your cars?”
Answering shrugs–
Their shoulders transporting me to that
Pause. Listen. Wait. Play.
Hours upon hours spent curating the perfect soundtrack
For beach days, car rides, your best friends.
Lyrics easily become embedded in our heads as the carefully plucked tracks play on repeat.
Until at last we find ourselves at
Pause. Rewind. Wait. Play.
But thirty faces tell me, “No, Miss”
And so I make a note to delete that slide and we move on.
Later, I’ll retell the story to old friends and as our jaws meet the floor,
Our long forgotten tracks play and we remember just once more to
Pause. Listen. Wait. Repeat.

44

Tra la la, la-la la

Sent hunting
by the picture,
something is found
in the back of the drawer.
Must be…
twenty five years
since it was played;
and, as with my memory,
there is a little distortion
and some notes
blur at the edges.

Life has changed;
you no longer wear
Miami Vice pastels,
but it’s not all
jazz, brass bands
and ol’ rag blues.

I could be dancing now, but you
were never taught to let go,
and even now my love,
the things you don’t show
are frequently more telling
than those you do.

Read more >
45

Fire Music

Listening to Handel,
I hear nothing of liquid:
no sea lines up against my ear,

no river washes through this hour.
only catching echoes
of helicopters and police sirens;

shores full of air raids
landing with the tide, a houseguest
uninvited, whose calling card

explodes through your letterbox
then expects you to make room
at the table for their elbows, aflame.

46

Mixed Tape

Side A

Mamá sings her favorite bolero as she sweeps the living room
every swish of the broom in sync with the drum beats        she
places her hands on the stick and swirls       the tape reeling over
and over        there are no carpets here        no secrets to
be swept under and yet as I ask her about her loves mamá sings
o me over and over        me importas tu y tú y tú y solamente tú

 

Side B

Papa comes home after work       another patient gone            mamá
serves the table        her voice a murmur now       the bolero tape
replaced by an angry Mozart        violins       and oboes grating on my
tongue       undoing my questions before they form       papa’s voice
drowns the instruments       a bass out of tune with the symphony       I
drum my fingers on my legs       …. tu y tú y tú y solamente tú

47

Tale Of The Tape

In the attic, she picked it up.
With two fingers, afraid it might bite.

"What is this?"
And it took only a glance.

"That is a cassette tape."
I was met with bemusement; confusion.

"Is that what was used in..."
"...the old days? Yes."

"How exactly?"
She looked at me, expecting an explanation, a demonstration.

Having nothing to play it on.
No choice but to resort to memories, to nostalgia.

"Imagine a time before The Internet.
Before websites.
Before downloads and drones.
Sometime before the birth of CD players, but after gramophones.

The Summer of 1986.
Try to picture a teenage girl.
Alone, but content in her bedroom.
Her first radio cassette player.
The luxury of being able to record whatever she wanted.
Relentless radio play.
Music all day.
Ladies in red.
Papas being told not to preach.
Red skies out of reach." Read more >

48

Summer 1991

It was a tiny suitcase.

Approximately 50cm in length, 30cm in width and 20cm in depth, each Sunday I would gently open its latch to reveal a wonderland of memories and music.

My mum had owned this tape box since the 80s. After I was born, her selections (Luthor Vandross, Salt n Pepa, Marvin Gaye) had made way for mine; 1001 Nursery Rhymes, Animal Magic Songs, and as I got older; STEPS, B*Witched, and lest we forget, Aqua's 'Barbie Girl’.

It was most certainly, the 90s.

Summer 1991. This tape was different from the others. Without a case, without an explanation. Just ‘Summer 1991’. Handwritten on the label. I asked my mum what was special about it. She said, “You.” I said, “But I was born in 1992.” She said, “Exactly.”

49

C90

pencil list
45 into 3 or 4 minutes
index fingers
what number is this
nothing romantic till track 5
no birdsong
best handwriting
nothing with love in it till track 9
over old top tens
and me reading from a magazine
“Libra has so much style, you’d think Donna Karan comes to her house each morning to dress her for school”

to play in your room

50

The Playlists Of My Life

Just a plain plastic case
Holding my life's melodies
Memories in plastic
The music of my life
The technology of the 60s
60 minutes on one side
60 on the other
All you needed was a player
To hear the music of your life
A player could be portable
Small and easily carried
Or part of a larger stereo system
For a sound that was larger than life
It held the songs I wanted
And I still have them all
For whenever I want to listen to
The playlists of my life

51

Wrapping Up the Evidence

The snips of felt and
macaroni,
cut out words from magazines;
the q-tips, wool, and plastic straws
glued around blue crayon marks,
affixed to green construction paper,
would serve her purpose well.
Evidence delivered wrapped in
found material to sow
confusion with eventual
detectives on the case.
The latex gloves had pulled the
child's artwork from
the dumpster right outside
the side door to the school.
The baseball cap had hidden her face in shadow.
Her jacket was reversible from white to gray.
A subway ride to Queens and back
would be enough to cover any tracks
and she had picked this cloudy day with cunning purpose.
The drones would have to scan and hover low enough for anything to be seen.

And now the tape cassette she found
in basement boxes stored for years,
which slowly had absorbed the sound
of whispers from the nearby router
would prove the truth to all the doubters.
After wrapping it in child's craft, she’d vanish.
They would have to save the world without her.

52

Mixed Tape with A Cause

Will my alternative mix tape bowl all of my cool friends over?
I'm hoping so with all of my soul.
Things that seem like nothing to adults, mean everything to a sixteen-year-old.
You're either In or Out.
No in-between.
What could mean the death sentence of your social standing is riding on this.
Hours of taping and editing without breaks make me dizzy.
When the tape is finally dropped,
We'll see if I am too

53

Blank tape

I think we thought
it would be something
to kill time. She could
talk
into the microphone, tell
memories (ones we had
already heard), fill empty
strips with sound, capture
the past, not us.

Last week we found
the old tape recorder,
record of an idea.

The batteries had left
green on its insides
like sea
like leaves
like the littered grass
that lined the path.

What she really wanted
is anybody’s guess, but
what she didn’t want
was to talk for hours with
only the machine listening.

Read more >
54

What Tom Found in the Loft

Tom’s wife has asked him to clear some space in the loft. They need more room to store the baby equipment apparently. There’s no point getting rid of it just yet, we might need it again she says. Tom isn’t sure what he thinks about this. His life has not been his own since Millie was born. However, agreeing to move the cot and baby clothes into the loft seems like a good way of delaying any decision-making, and so he agrees.

The stepladder creaks as he climbs up and pushes open the overhead hatch. The strip light blinks into life, illuminating the task ahead. Along with the suitcases and Christmas decorations, there are rows and rows of cardboard boxes crowding the loft space, stacked two or three high in places. Some have marker pen words scrawled across them like, ‘old photos’, ‘files’, ‘misc kitchen’ and confusingly, ‘Tom – stuff’. Some have no clues at all as to their contents.

Tom picks a box at random and pulls it open. It is filled with old cassette tapes. He smiles, and begins to look through them. Old albums by Michael Jackson, A-Ha, Nik Kershaw and the like clamour for his attention like old friends at a reunion. More interesting still are the homemade mix-tapes and compilations. A catalogue of his youth. There are copies of all the ‘NOW That’s What I Call Music!’ albums going from number 9 up to 21. He must have gotten a CD player after that.

Tom looks in a few more boxes and finds what he is looking for; his old portable Panasonic cassette player. Ellie won’t be back from work for a few hours yet. A bit of self-indulgence over a tea break won’t hurt, he decides. He hauls his finds back down the ladder and sets up the cassette player in the lounge.

Read more >
55

Fragility

The tape that broke
Stopped
Snapped.
Wheels spilling
Tape not turning.
Silence
Memories not heard
Silence
Then patience
The tape is repaired
A joining of ends
Stuck
Happy memories
Once more.
A child's happy face
Grins with pleasure
Once again
The wheels turn
The tape plays.
Thanks Mummy.
It's green for go.

56

How We Listen

How we listen betrays us:
Am I tired or excited?
Were you born in the wrong era?
If there are stacks against the wall to consult,
set to it;
if there are not, you have your answer.

How we listen betrays us:
Do I respond with anecdotes
or ideal visions that do not withdraw
but flame more intensely
in the presence of impossibility?
Are her eyes angry or hopeful?
Do they look down or away?

How we listen betrays us.

Do I unravel in the face of violence?
Is there a constant scratching
that accents my reception?

Can we be re-written?

How we listen betrays us.

If at night I do not stir
at the sound of rain
tapping un-domesticated rhythms
against the windows that testify
to the triumph of human frailty,
please, would you wake me?

Read more >
57

Nineteen

With a line from Kiki Petrosino

Journal, mixtape, leather coat.
Car key clink in a thrift store purse.
Lighter, ticket stub, someone’s backyard.
Moonrise, nose ring, The Cranberries.

Car key clink, a thrift store, my purse
heavy with make-up, a bottle of coke.
Moonrise, nose ring, cranberry
and vodka, the night air taste, clarity.

Heavy make-up, rum and coke
on the lawn. His hands, my hair,
and vodka all night. Cold air, clarity,
everything green—we were spinning

on the lawn, his hands everywhere
and mine, too. Cartwheels,
everything green, everything spinning
and loud. I loved him that night:

mine. We circled each other for weeks.
Rewind, press play, same songs
so loud. I thought I loved him,
wrapped around his finger.

Rewound. Pressed play. Same song:
lighter, ticket stub, same backyard.
Same wrapped around his finger:
journal, mixtape, lead, choke.

58

Lost in Memories

She places the cassette in the recorder,
and the sound of music fills the room.

She sways to rhythm,
eyes closed.

Their song from long ago,
when they danced together.

Tears trickle down her cheek,
thinking of his brown eyes focused on her.

The feel of his touch,
gives her chills.

The cassette stops,
and so, does she.

Lost in memories,
she replays the cassette.

59

A Quick Dose of Nostalgia

Tape 1

One needs a quick dose of nostalgia
To use “Cripes” or “Good Morrow” or “Wowser”
But after one fix
The centuries mix
And a Walkman just brings on neuralgia.

Tape 2

The colour of envy’s well known
Those who suffer all seem to be prone
To excess of bile
Which after a while
Grows gripping—so grim that they groan.

60

To the Editors, Historico-sociological Perspectives in Music Technology

1st Avril, Modern Era Year 687


Editors,


It was with rising dismay and, yes, distress, that I read Dr Andeea Hairspliiter’s article in the last issue, ‘The Final Days of Vinyl: How CDs Killed the Single and LP’. Dr Hairspliiter’s contention that it was the compac disc format that finally ended the days of the vinyl record is, frankly, laughalicious. Dr Hairspliiter wholly ignores the widely-known music formats that were interim between vinyl records and the compac disc. Dr Hairspliiter’s argument is simplistic in the xtreme. Popular formats between vinyl and CD included the lazer disk and mini discette. But, of course and obvs, the foremost among interim formats was the cassette tape, and it was this format more than any other that led to the rapido demise of long players and singles.

Read more >

61

It’s time for us to FF not REW

A Side

Thanks for the tape you sent.
It made me think back on
all those good times we shared
last year, here in town and
then up at the lake house.
But I have to tell you,

B Side

I leant it to a friend,
and when she gave it back
there was a bit that was
horribly mangled, where
those tracks start that you liked
to play while we made love.

62

Destruction/Construction

Systematic destruction is always fun. She plots out how she will take apart each object, her mind an Instagrammable flat-lay with crisp edges and no screws loose. It begins with small items, like door locks, growing to bicycles and radios and lawnmower engines, whose final pieces stretch like a misshapen panorama. Sometimes, if she’s bored or drunk or itching for a fight, she’ll plot the destruction of all the –archys she can think of. The patriarchy, the monarchy, and although materialism is an –ism rather than an –archy, she’d like to have a go at that too.

There are some things that you can take a hammer to, and others which you can’t. Swinging a crowbar at the head of every white supremacist/misogynist/-ist she meets has long been a fantasy, but to deconstruct one’s way out of jail would be somewhat difficult. This is no longer the age of spoons and tunnels.

But this task at hand would be the emotional equivalent at swinging said crowbar at said misogynist. Even the look of the thing was perfect; cassette against green worktable, screwdrivers and Stanley knives and everything one could possibly need to take years of her life apart.

A more appropriate way of going about this would be to SMASH THE WHOLE BLOODY BOX TO SMITHEREENS, throwing it down concrete stairs and claiming that it had walked into a door. But cassette tapes don’t get bruises, and despite the stereotypes associated with her gender, she would do this properly.

Read more >

63

Cassette Tape

I found it in your things
with all your report cards
and your first communion
prayer book-
you kept everything
all the little scraps and odd objects
that might have once
been important
now only husks
that echo the shape
of your life
comforting–
like the feel of a stone
smoothed by water–

you left me
one unmarked cassette tape
that could have held anything--
music, the messages from
your answering machine,
a hissing silence,

or your voice–

I haven’t played it
but I carry it in my pocket
keeping all potentials open
a wedge in the door
between us

64

Hip-Hop

Racine, my cousin,
whose cousin was a DJ,
gave me a mix tape
before he left.

It was Hip-Hop.

It was storytelling.

I listened when I practiced
shooting
free throws.

I sang in the mirror of my room.

Brushed my flattop.

Pretended that a comb
was a gold microphone.

65

YOUR VOICE

In classical song
your voice soared -
a baritone angel
swooping through cathedral arches
wings lit red blue green by glass

your lullaby
lulled a fretful baby to sleep
stroking silken skin
watching eyelids flutter
into baby dreams.

Sometimes you led a Rugby team
in bawdy song
filling a beer-fumed coach
with full-blown sound
or took a karaoke song
to unexpected heights
for sunburned tourists.

And once you recorded
ballads for your love
to keep your voice alive
when you were not.

One tape
is not enough.

66

Part 3

[Click]
[124 seconds of silence]
-hypnotic trance. Now, we will begin.

Welcome to Part 3 of the Finnis-Blackburn Anxiety Management Guide: Tearing Down the Walls Between You and Sanity. In Part 1, we talked about why anxiety has chosen you, and why it makes you different to everyone else. In Part 2, we learned about how to handle panic attacks and avoid drawing attention to them. Now, in Part 3, we will ask the question ‘What causes this anxiety?”

Everybody has triggers that cause them to suffer stress. Some people struggle with work, or other people, or their loveless spouse, or their spouse’s children. In an ideal world, all triggers for anxiety should be eliminated as soon as possible, but it is understood that this is often not possible, or desired. You cannot remove everybody who resists you, or looks at you without a smile, or corrects your pronunciation of the names of coffees.

Read more >

67

REMEMBERING

Douglas, Isle of Man,
I took it with me,
a winter of wanting you.
I carried it,
through the narrow streets
and up to the
Dog's Home.
As I played it,
I half expected
you to walk through the door,
drink in hand,
and that smile you wore,
the one I only saw
in the dark.
I carried it all that week,
to the public houses
and down to the beach;
and when it slowed,
the song became distorted...
and I knew then it was hopeless.
You'd gone: gone forever.
And there were only memories
coming from the cassette player.
I carried it home,
across the grey Irish Sea,
sitting on the top deck, in the rain,
hoping you'd come back
to me
68

Lost Voice

I couldn't say how long we'd been sat there for. Long enough for the tape to click to a halt.
Long enough for the dials to stop their mechanical spinning.
But not long enough.
We wanted more.
I cried first.
Then you.
We took turns.
Fat tears splashing on our hands.
Red eyes dripping. Like leaking faucets, uncontrolled and regular.
Like something was broken.
Inside.
We didn't hold each other.
Instead our fingers touched.
Reaching across the white space of the table.
Our skin reacting imperceptibly to the familiarity of shared DNA.
Our ears still alive with the sounds that had died.
“It brings it all back.” You said.
“Hearing her voice.”
“You think you won’t forget.” I say.
(But you do).
We take a moment to think about that.
“Let’s turn it over.”
The tape snaps into place.
We press the button.
And wait.
69

Spooled

C20, C60, C90

In magnetic tape whirr,
After synchronised fingers
One left hand one right

Clunk green arrowed play and red spotted record
Buttons feel physical lift
Of inserted cassette, see black plastic rolls
Register numbers as it rolled
To record tracks on John Peel
Between ten and eleven at night.
Always anxious tape would not end
before the track, or become rammelled up.

Later, in Sunderland for a month,
I press those buttons again
To see the wheels turn
tape Uncle Jimmy's memories
of our family's old milk delivery business,
Stables and farm life in a courtyard
of rented buildings beside a duck pond.

Amid tales of favourite horses
who pulled the churn laden cart
clattered hooves down town streets
where folk ran up with empty porcelain jugs
can be heard his wife, my Aunty Winny's
chuckles. I told them I was vegetarian,
So they gave me two slices of thin cut ham.
All they could afford on a small pension.

70

Why Here?

Now, that is a floppy
I swear
it is one
only one with bulbous
eyes, hiding a ghastly truth
I swear it is one
it has left the pages of a book
it wants to be used, scribbled
with the word floppy
what does it mean
who flops, the disc
or those bulbous eyes
I swear it is a floppy
but it doesn't exist any more
Why O why is it here?
71

Reel to Reel

We used to know
how to punch it up
when we heard the songs
and thought real to real
instead of ache, more fake.
We heard old songs
that were new
when we were the world
and the women said I am
with the people getting ready
to be everyday people
born in the U.S.A.
on paved paradise,
carrying hammers
to show the unions lived
with R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
That revolution was not on TV,
and the what’s that sound
we could imagine as what
was going on with lyrics
blowing in the wind up
of reel to reel,
real to real.
72

Addicted to Love: Mixed Tape from a Stalker

The first time ever I saw your face
I knew I loved you.
I can’t help myself -
You take my breath away

You are the sunshine of my life,
The first, the last, my everything.
I only have eyes for you -
You are so beautiful

Can’t take my eyes off of you -
You’re the one that I want.
I finally found someone,
I’m crazy for you

Reach out and I’ll be there.
We belong together -
Come away with me,
I wanna hold your hand

If
You stay with me till dawn,
I’ll make love to you -
Tonight’s the night

These arms of mine
Need you now.
Say something -
I’m yours

Read more >

73

The Green Bicycle

Gathering up the gifted-one's cassettes
the green-eyed monster unwinds the fettered sound.

With the stab of a pencil he spins the wheel to slacken
the flow making snakes to to fill the window, to be seen.

With the sharpened point he punctures, making choices
with malice.

In the yard the favoured one rides the wheel, hares along
the dirt track singing to be heard.

New music that taunts and tears at the monster's wound,
on the bicycle he has painted green.

74

Thumbelina State of Mind

My personal playlist begins
with a Thumbelina 45 record.
I danced in the basement,
where the old toys and dolls were kept.
A haven of sound, texture, storytelling, and color—
this was my world, where things made sense.

A song could make me happy.
Having the stuffed animal monkey
talk to the plastic farm animals made me happy.
Feeling my bare feet on the carpet made me happy.
Hearing the model train whistle blow,
in the other room, made me happy.

When do we lose the easy,
slow motion feeling of wonder?
When do we forget to dance with bare feet?

Read more >

75

1983

It was hard to find a machine that would play the cassette. Hard, but not impossible. I return triumphant from the retro shop. Jess says she doesn't get it, and is impatient to get on.

Part of the reel was spat out long ago. Chewed, saved, but never wound up again. I poke a pencil through the cog and spin, until the tape draws taut. Faded letters possess loops of your silk-spun cursive, half shaped across the yellowed insert card.

Jess disagrees. We are twins in all but this.

'Could be anyone's writing,' she says. 'It's likely a blank tape. When did he treasure anything?'

I don't know why she imagines treasure: crammed in a cracked, plastic case, tucked in a mouldy trunk.

She refuses to call him "Dad", hasn't for years. At least, not since Mum died. Now he's assigned to the care home, and we'll escape from part of the burden of how he made us respond.

I feed it into the player and pause. Jess doesn't want to hear it, looks off. I press play. The cogs grind. No sound. No recording of anything. Nothing.

'Fast forward,' Jess insists. 'Stop!'

Play. Nothing. Fast forward. Stop. Play. Hissing, hissing, hissed.

'Press stop,' Jess says.

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76

Off the beaten tracks

There was no music, like that music we listened to on that rusting Chevrolet's cassette player. The same side of the same album stuck in the machine and you couldn't turn it off. The volume stuck on high with the same songs repeated endlessly, even when we drove with the windows down at 90 through twisting lanes with overgrown hedgerows. We shouted at one another over the noise until our throats were sore, and we sat in silence with the sun overhead, clouds moving, the breeze through the windows soft like our mother's whispers against our cheeks.

We left the music playing as we drove to the side of the lake, moved from front seats to back - with some awkward difficulty, the headrests getting caught up in all sorts of uncomfortable places as our bodies twisted through the gaps.

The cassette whirred as we fumbled, not quite knowing what to do, the clouds gathering overhead and rain dripping through the open sunroof onto the back of our heads. The magnetic strip within its plastic case flicking like our tongues - your tongue, mostly - and then finally the silence as it whirred quietly in the machine, but the music seemed to play on in our heads.

I sold that old car for scrap last summer. The green paint half peeled away at the sides, but in the sun the way the metal caught the light was kind of beautiful, in the way that all broken things almost are. Before I dropped the keys off, I shoved the front half of my body through the driver's door and punched at that old cassette player, pulling and pushing and nudging, until finally it came away, and I was able to jemmy the cassette out.

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77

Reel to Reel

Just as Deep Throat was helping reporters investigate the cover up of the break-in at the Democratic national headquarters by Nixon operatives during the ‘72 election, my father got a job as student activities director at Lyndon State College, in Lyndonville, Vermont, courtesy of a federal jobs program. My parents and their year-old daughter moved to a white frame duplex at 10 Center Street. My mother taught correspondence Spanish courses for Indiana University. I pulled her textbooks off the living room bookshelves. Senate hearings investigating the Watergate affair interrupted As the World Turns in May 1973 and a year later, on my third birthday, Nixon resigned from office.

The Nixon tapes, the smoking gun, as it were, of the Watergate scandal, were in our possession during this time. My father engaged Mark Felt, associate director of the FBI, to speak at the college and he attended a reception at our house. This event may or may not have been marked by the collapse of our blue velvet sofa. The reel-to-reel tape deck sat on the floor to the left of our piano. It caught my first words as well as my first memories: Nixon. Tapes. Impeach. The word impeach was as problematic to me as our possession of the tapes. Peaches were good. But Nixon was a bad bad man. Were we going to get in trouble for having the tapes? No one could explain these contradictions to a toddler. My mother got a cassette deck and a few years later we moved to Maine. Our reel-to-reel tapes were expunged and we settled into the slow grind of the 80’s.

78

Grandmother

The old recorder on a faded wooden table, plays the only tape in her house. Morning and before the day ends, various voices float across her room, decorated with collages of pictures. Of friends, family and holidays.
Her grandmother used to turn on the tape, on the same recorder and listen to an array of voices, speaking a strange tongue, everyday.
A frail, quiet woman.
It was the same tape that she heard, each day.
She is gone.
The grand daughter, turns on the tape like her grandmother did long ago.
Every day. Staring at the collage of pictures in her room.
79

Opener

Triumph of science; plastic. Pure ferric oxide. Spooled carefully - with pen, pencil, pinkie - until the mess of guts retreats: pulls, spindles: snaps into place.

All this ribbon tamed, cassette gun-cock clicked, neon soundscapes can begin: slowly at first, building with pattered drums, until the synthesiser announces its arrival. All of a sudden: movement. The act of losing your memory. Replaced with something else: an aspirational life.

For three whole minutes the sounds solidify. The world is a spinning pillar, backgrounded by light. Light of luscious green, ivory, white.

As the fadeout fades, out into hiss - the bubbling bed of noise that scratches out silence - you slow, slump, pant. Tongue lolls like a dog. Flip the cassette, rewind, push play again.

80

TRANSCRIPTS FOR Y.

Dear Y,

I came to you in hope that in 10 days, we would cover up 10 years of absence from your life, and you from mine. It has been difficult, to see your face and feel sadness in the same breadth I feel gratitude, a tepid longing and cold loneliness. Sadness is slathering everywhere and sealing our lips with a black thread. We can not even mourn aloud. The words, they take violent flight, they elude me. I can grasp none, not one. And so I watch silence winning the war. A threatening pulse underneath all the unsaid words like we will never be strong enough to uproot our words.

Do you remember when I said I love you? I wonder how you did not object. It is not that I don’t love you but this love thing shifts, it changes and sometimes all I feel is anger. I want to yell in your face and then cry on your shoulder afterwards.

One night, I held you by your waist, and it felt like a whole planet stood between you and me. This is not the first time I have felt a nameless chasm. I was scared my arms would crush the bone in your hip. Feigning a proximity that wasn’t there was pointless so I gave up, I took my arms from your body. Before I went to sleep, I watched your face and imagined what it will look like in death, when your chest seizes to rise like it does now.

Tell me. Do you feel the silence too? Do you see the sputtering fire in my eyes? Do you know too, what I really mean when I ask you how you are feeling and if you are hungry?

I want to tell you that I love you again, to cast the silence but how, how do I love you?

Read more >

81

Blue Blue My World Is Blue

I know this song, though
I can’t recall its name
or the lyrics, except that
there’s something about
green.green.dahdahdee green,
or maybe it’s blue.blue
dahdahdoo blue, or something
kinda like that, and
I first heard it when we were
driving through the valleys
and hills of mid-Wales, and
the newborn lambs were all
wobbly on their pin-thin-legs,
and the April air was syrupy
sweet with purple heather,
and I remember that you
cursed the car’s radio
for eating your favourite
ABBA cassette, chewed up
right between notes,
in the middle of Waterloo,
and I pulled the tape from
its tangled innards, and
rewound it with a hairpin.
I sure wish I could remember
the name of that song.
82

Per Aspera Ad Astra

She found the cassette tape hot on the ground down on the Copacabana, on a square of grass, soft and green as the Brazilian flag, outside a hotel. The doorman didn’t let her inside – Orioles cap, no showering, sunburnt arms, blistered feet, were not the dress code, said he. On the beach was a bar with music and frozen-over beer taps, and there she failed in American English to give them the lost item. ‘Não, não,’ the barman laughed and pointed towards the CD player, wafting away the old technology. So, she put the cassette in her pocket, where it weighed her shorts sideways. In Buenos Aires, she was robbed while she slept but the cassette, not a wallet as believed, was thrown back at her by fleeing boys. In Sydney, she examined the cassette sitting outside a cheap takeaway and looked at its cogs and delicate film, while cockroaches ran over her toes. In Rotorua, she walked through redwood trees at golden evening wishing she could fill A-side and B-side with soft light and growing things. In Phnom Penh she showed the cassette to a German boy who asked, ‘But you are not even carrying a toothbrush, why are you carrying this?’ and she was so unable to explain that she sealed her lips tight and left. In Hanoi, she dropped the cassette in the middle of a fast street of tuk-tuks, motorcycles, taxis, and ran back to crouch, searching desperately amid horns. In Abu Dhabi, nine hours between connecting flights, she wound the tape with her fingers, playing the airport noise, stopping when it grew quiet, speeding up when it grew loud. In London, she ran out of money and exchanged everything, but the cassette, for food.
A year, then two. Then home.
Read more >
83

My Son’s Voice

We were packing when I found it
in a box of our son's high school things.
No note on it, but I was pretty sure
it was his high school theater project.
He recorded himself and then
listened to it over and over in his room,
re-recording it when he thought of places
to modulate his tone, to give more emphasis to certain lines
to bolster shaky points.
I listened in at his closed door,
but I knew he did not want input
from me, so I never asked to listen with him
neither to the tape nor to the re-speaking
of the part onto that used and reused plastic tape.
I remember how excited he was when
he came home from giving the presentation
on stage in front of his teacher and the other students.
I can hear him even now...
"Mom, they gave me a standing O!"
I gave him a hug.
Read more >
84

rewinding

I've wiped you clean
detol, j cloth and marigolds-
no one will know your name

and now I'll sing over what you said
and make you speak anew
I've been humming it on the train
and when I get home and hit record
there will be nothing you can do

you were mangled when I found you
had to gnaw soy sauce off chopstick
so I could begin the cryptic twisting
a tape séance to delicately
restore your innards

it felt right to gut you at the time
you'd been asking for it
your glitches no longer endearing
scuffing my foxtrot
tangling my waltz

but our first song still echoes
in the silence
even as I wind you on

85

Rewind – Fast Forward – Stop

Oh how I wish we could rewind to June 22nd 2016.
Before Brexit became a tiresome word – meaning what?
Simplistic arguments – Scare Tactics – Scurrilous actions.

Knowing me – knowing you – what would we do now?.
Fast forward to when the silence runs from the tape
Place it in an old tacky box and take it to the Charity Shop.

Rewind to a simpler time and place – chill to the music.
Bridge over our troubled country – soothing and calm.
Please take me there now before I placed my cross.

Or was it an air kiss – not knowing it was goodbye for ever.
Or a hard cross – biting off the end of the innocent pencil.
Certainty/doubt in a small airless booth - panicking.

The dye is cast and we can't rewind – just untangle the tape.
As it whirs and whirs and whirs – never stopping for us to get
off that damned bus while politicians do and leave the tape

running on its endless loop of fear, hope and pragmatism.
Fast forward me to the end, when the tape finally runs out
of road, traction and Joni Mitchell’s big yellow taxi take us

home - singing - “That you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone”..

86

Personal Canon

Your fingerprints, your DNA,
the swirl of your definitive cowlick,

all piss on the trunk of a tree,
sharing yourself with me.

Vulnerable and forceful.
Vulgar and needy, taste.

If I like these tracks,
I may well inhale your scent.

I may let your mix blend
with me. Your earworms become

keloid brands upon my brain.
Will I pretend to like them?

Attempt to listen and hope,
based on your pheromones,

I will grow to love the order and flow
of your jams, like an appreciation for cheeses

or cultivating a fondness for one
particular vine over another.

And that's only Side A. Good compilations
kick off with a corker, and carry me to the end.

Will I make it through?
So full of potential.

If I leave it on the seat
to melt, that's telling.

87

hip hop, ambient folk

how do i
play
the songs we both enjoyed
together?

on three hour trips to Portsmouth,
to the Isle of Wight, from Heathrow
dropping me off, dropping my mother off
(thank you again for that), to Wolvercote,
to Oxford. to Amsterdam.

these compositions dripped
our kisses along
each new street you took me to,
and I'm lonely searching
for music, we didn't bond over.

hip hop and ambient folk
will play for at least 9 months,
how's that to consummate our separation
how's that for real?

88

Self proclaimed album

Why Nancy, then, are we walking and hoping for Hyde park to appear before us,
As if it’s on a postcard?
Wish you were here.
And at the same time, I wish you wasn’t and I could moan about feelings I’m not comfortable sharing with you.
Wish you could see me here.
Maybe one time we could philosophise the perfect first encounter.
I sit here on the flooded bench, full of ciggie burns and dirt,
You drop your something and I pick it up and say something like, ‘uh, slippery fingers my love’,
You nod and wander through the path with your rebel piercings and headphones.
Am I the only one who wants to be seen with something splendid, something such as a sun flower in my hair?
Do I just go on here and make mixtapes like a petulant child and scour any opportunity to share them with somebody who wants to share something meaningful to themselves?
You don’t really know me, but I pretend I know you to some capacity.
I wonder, is there something that makes you proofread your entire existence.
Maybe you walked in on your folks doing it one time.
It still sends shivers down your spine.
Wondering why mother was grimacing in a sigh that wasn’t soothing.
Dad just gets the chills and carries on.
Is this really it for us.
Surrounded by uncertainties and reincarnations of other people’s mistakes.
Or is it all just catalogued and labelled ‘Nancy’s best hits’?

Read more >

89

The track marks on your tape

I put Joni on for you that evening, one summer in the 80s,
The first time we met, when I wasn't supposed to be meeting you
But my friend who wasn't there, so it was you
Opening the door, smiling; the way things start.
You invited me in, and
I served you the martini I'd brought along.
The red liquid shimmering, on the rocks,
We kicked our DMs off, sitting down on the futon,
Feeling the soft Indian bedspread beneath our hands,
Resting our backs against the wall,
And I lost myself in your eyes,
As Joni sang 'a case of you'.

Another evening in your room, Transvision Vamp was playing as I arrived,
You served me vodka, the transparent liquid echoing
The unadorned fluorescent lights above our heads, until you turned them off.
Then it was just us two, in the dark,
And those words, 'baby I don't care',
Loud and harsh, screaming music filling the air, as you reached out
And soon we were a tangle of brown limbs, by the time the tape stopped.
You paused, pressed play once more.

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90