• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 05
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Costs

I’m holding this still. It has been printed onto white A4. It’s got that slight shine, that depth of colour of a good printer. The details are sharp and the black isn’t even that grainy. It will have cost at least 4p to print.

“That’s nothing,” says the white man in the armchair. “A drop in the ocean. Do you know how much my trousers cost?” He’s not bothered; he leans back in his recliner and dangles.

1

Dust

In the airless air, a mote
Barely breathing
Dust in sunlessness,
In the space between the sea and the sky, between even the surface and itself

This womb is without pulse and hollow, it suffocates,
It withers reaching root-tendrils like fingers curling, empty
Thirsting for dirt, drowning above water

You think you are God
But you won’t fill a breath.

2

Man in space

Floating, where I don’t know
No dream, just stuck in my own thoughts, but I am lonely.
It is strange how looking at the world I feel that I am connected to the people. Yet I have no connection to anyone out here. Thinking over my life when I return – what will I be? There were the things I thought so important. How many a test, a hardship, would seem so small – if only I had the vision of the earth that I see now.
Pitch black, no sound, it is distant a small man/woman in a big universe on the edge of where there is no edge. The planet so beautiful: and emptiness too. The return will be a new life – or should I stay in space and help build a station to inhabit? The distance needs to be closed, the contact needs to be increased over time, this will happen. To reach our earth and ourselves.

3

The whites of eyes

The heart falls slowly
So desperate to cling
To the margin of sky
With a suit too white,
And no sign of tsunami
And no surge of nausea
Or thick oily spew.
White pus in your very pores.
Way too clean for that
We rise above, above the slick
Of body on body of a dark
That destroys the soul
Arms and legs akimbo
A shy gesture
‘Please, no bloody chunks
No beached de-blubbered whale’
A far cry to be embraced,
It slips out of the grasp
Of that flat milky blue.

4

Floating

Untethered, a slight tilt, a little floating comma drifting out of all relation into dark nothing – a blank in blackness – twisting away away away…

Gravity always holds us cradled in her arms like a scab she nurses but we cannot take this as love. The ocean, that great gaping heart of the world, calls out to us, aching and bruised, but still we edge away, inch by inch, all the time paralysed by heavy-duty suits and exceptionalism, as we reach out, rigidly, for a hug.

You hold yourself aslant, the tip of your own hemisphere, a circumference hole and entire, above clouds and horizons and ozone layers. No one knows you exist, unfathomable spot, the million million man, outside of the atmosphere but never out of sight.

5

Man in the moon

When I think of him it drives me crazy
It just explodes in my head.
Rather a fear then a relief.
Flying, babies, gravitation - ?
You feel more alone when you’re thinking of the rest of the world.
Bacteria you can’t simply see and the huge worlds you can’t understand. It’s not about me or you – something bigger or maybe something really small.
A view from above or look up from underneath.
In all alone or all alone. In a long way it’s grounded
In the noise of the dark and the shine
Of the world in a child’s eye.

6

I’m not there

I’m not there or should I say here but where is here cos I’m in the middle of nowhere alone with my thoughts. Yesterday is history and tomorrow is a mystery cooking for something new so I can make it a history. Floating and floating all on my own lost in my thoughts this is my zone till I enter the ozone I wont be alone. Stuck in this suite thinking of soup.
I’m so far but yet so near wishing on a star wishing you were here.

7

I need my own space in space

Take me away, take me away from the troubles in my life.
Let me soar like an eagle in the sky.
20/20 vision oops, yeah there’s a lizard,
Take a peep let me investigate.
Ah no I was dreaming let’s get back. Let me elaborate on
What! Why my conscience can’t set me free.
First my troubles, then my day dreams, now my conscience – leave me alone that’s why I am in space in my own space     to relax and relax my tension
Not for vengeance.

8

Destiny

He falls. An astronaut falls, defying gravity. Suspended in time, he is an image to behold. The image bewitches the sight and the faculty of the mind. I cannot tell whether he is ascending or descending. Is he suspended in a vacuum of time? I can see clearly now. He is descending from darkness to light.

I am told an image narrates countless tales: tales of courage, pity, victory and loss. To decipher the meaning of an image one must close the eyes and look deep inside and allow the heart to speak. “Empty the mind.” “Speak, o my heart!” “Speak, don’t hold back!”

I open my eyes and I see the reality. I see things clearly now. A man floating from light to darkness. He has no control. He has no power over destiny. He can only let go and allow fate to take him.
9

Voicemail

Bella, I have to tell you about last night. It was long without a middle, and even when I saw the sun it was still night. Anyway, I want to tell you about what I saw. I was entirely by myself and not in a lonely way; I wasn’t alienated, or deserted and it wasn’t like waiting for you to get home, or even like a ten-storey library at night. Not even like the desert. I couldn’t feel anyone, even at the very furthest fingernail reaches of my consciousness. I couldn’t hear you in my head, telling me to be careful. You didn’t exist last night, Bella, and it wasn’t like you faded away or sank behind the horizon. Last night you’d never been real, and I’m not sure I had either. I’m trying to tell you that – Bella – in the realest, carve it into the granite way I think everything: your mum, the damp, will resolve itself into nothing and be swallowed up in a sunless night. I would like to be too, because when I tried it last night it wasn’t bad at all. Anyway Bella I’ll see you soon.
I’ve lost my keys but I’ll wait for you to let me in.

10

Lonely man in space

He looks so close but yet he’s so far away.
Is he on his own or is he with a friend?
Does he feel lonely floating above the Earth.
Can he see us from all the way up there?
What is his mission?
Is he hot or is he cold?
And how does he go to the toilet.
Is he even a He? Maybe he’s a SHE.

11

Without her

We got the world at my feet
Alone in a sea of darkness but it’s her that I see.
Nothing but my thoughts for company.
The stars so insignificant now
All problems fade into the distance.
I could easily drift away into oblivion
If it wasn’t for the mission.
I stare at the big blue ball in amazement.
How is seems so small now that I could almost
Put it in my pocket.
I don’t want this to end.
Suspended in a state of utopia almost reaching the heavens.
I wish she was with me now.

12

Isolation

How can I feel isolated when I’m surrounded by life? How can I feel isolated when I’m met with love from all sides? It’s the classic cliché that’s all too familiar. Somehow I never thought I’d become that cliché.

I never thought I’d morph into that distant thing. The thing that happens to everyone else. Yet the reality left me stumbling, screaming, longing for those 17 years of ignorance to mother me to sleep.

I’m trapped by the confines of a body that’s on strike. Refusing to move and rendering me trapped, paralysed. That acute awareness of the feeling in my chest, of my fragility. It won’t work, won’t move, won’t allow me to feel.

Suspended in the darkness of nothingness, longing for a burst of colour to blind me. The emptiness is threatening to consume me whole, to dehumanise me. I’m desperate to feel something, if only to remind me that I’m alive.

13

The size of an eyeball

This 1/250th of a second contains in its frame billions and billions of miles of black, thousands and thousands of miles of blue, and somewhere between one and two metres of human being, on whose visor – like the muddy print of a tennis ball on a window pane, or the reflection of a selfie-taker’s phone in her sunglasses – is the sun, shrunken almost to the size of an eyeball.

14

Spaced out

Peace, quiet, calm and alone. Just the thought of hovering above earth is a very scary one, but at the same time I almost envy this astronaut. The feeling he is feeling is one that isn’t felt by many. In fact, it is only felt by few.

I can’t imagine what must be going through this person’s mind. Are they worried that they might be too far from the ‘spaceship’? Are they thinking about making a new discovery or are they thinking about what’s for dinner? Either way this astronaut must be doing it in complete tranquility. Which to me, is a beautiful thing. The amount of training and work that must’ve gone into having that moment isn’t worth thinking about. But I’d bet everything that it was worth it.

15

The spaceman

Above the earth, our golden boy
Is floating in a darkened world.
The earth! His home, this deep blue rock,
It sinks into a strange void.
The seas, the green, the sprawling towns
Like fairy lights in fairy lands,
Illuminate the lovely sky.
And he too hangs up here alone;
He bears the eagle’s faith within,
His people’s highest hopes and dreams.
They do not know the fear he feels,
A child who has not learned to swim,
As thrusters boost away from space,
And being lost forever.

16

That Day at the Hayden Planetarium

When Coco met the astronaut she spontaneously wept
shaking his hand while
shaking her head,

perplexed by this welling of emotion.

He had been far. He had been strapped to a rocket and
ridden an explosion to a place so far
and so high, he said, that

it was like a giant had grabbed his chest
and yanked him into the air.

Once they thought a picture of the earth taken
from space would be so profound,
such undeniable proof of a

small place in a vast emptiness
that would know a shared
humanity, and we didn't.

We went on like before, teeming and burning
and warring, but
but

but

there is still something about a man who
has seen the earth's curve
against the blackness of everything else,

the endless frozen ocean of it,

that can inspire a few years
of awe.

17

The Star of Gaza

For Ann

The following satellites confirmed Gaza was there -
Sun, moon, unclassified planet Beta-X, and one launched by Sky
yet on Earth no one saw Gaza and until it vanished like icebergs in sea.

The following leaders confirmed Hamas was there,
Trump never saw the poet boy turn blue as he tanned in ultra violet
and May never wanted to get into it as Brexit struggled from a Bulldog's ass.

Something has malfunctioned because Gaza is definitely there, just about.
A guard of the theft gives a pensioner water then shoots her point blank,
maybe I never saw that because Gaza is not there in the civilised world.

18

Grain of Man

A mote in the eye of God – or the Devil?
As above, so below said The Word
Heard by the millions, the billions in the blue
Turning their eyes to stars which blinked out
Leaving only a speck, a grain of man
To float in the waters of night
He presumed to fly
In the realm of cherub and seraph
And for his folly
Found himself in the Ninth Circle
Looking on the darkest of Satan’s faces
Feeling the cold abandonment, the icy rage
At his presumption to scale the heavens
Feeling the hunger of the abyss
Opening now, wide, wider
To swallow him whole

19

WALKING IN SPACE

360 degrees of nothing – not even
falling wind-speed; still-life in action.

Faced with awe, does the heart stop?
A world at your feet while you hang

as if you’re lounging in an armchair
watching The Planet Today, with beer

half-way to your mouth, gobsmacked,
unable to fight the fact of being there.

Is it everything? It must be too much...
as if you could lose yourself forever.

And the nothing holds your body lightly
bridging the gap between you and ship

on the day-to-day tasks, the commute
where you pause to contemplate time.

20

From Dan Dare To The Daleks

From Dan Dare to the Daleks
I would childishly imagine
what it would be like
to float in space
above it all
and look down on our blue planet.

From Dan Dare to the Daleks
I imagined what they would be like,
the beings, the creatures I would meet
on my journey.

Now I can no longer imagine it,
no longer think of how
I would find them.
Now I wonder what they would find here
on the remnants of our blue planet.

Now I wonder if it will be
as they imagined.

21

Forwarding Address

The room is quiet, too quiet. I click through online sites, read posts on social media, select an emoji at random, play videos that confirm the fact that our attention span has now dwindled to three minutes and forty-two seconds, enough time for a song to avoid becoming monotonous or a speech, boring. I glance at the lower right corner of the computer screen, disturbed that several hours have gone by and I have not gotten off the couch and am lit by the glow of the pixels because it’s now night and the nearest lamp is out of reach. How many videos does it take to fill a lifetime?

I remember what I’ve been trying to forget.

You left—resoundingly—slamming the apartment door, as if it were the weapon you wished you could use on me. You had slung over your shoulder a trash bag of wadded clothes and odds and ends that may or may not be useful to you, like a reverse Santa Claus. You ignored my presence. I ignored your drama. Gone, you left no forwarding address.

I continue to surf the web when my finger pauses over a photograph, one of those outer space photos from NASA. Endless black above the soft milky blue of earth. I zoom in on a white speck of something in the black plane, enlarging the image several percentiles. The speck brightens, grows appendages, a bubblehead. There are no grappling hooks or tethers attached to the lone astronaut. I gaze, like the camera that has taken the photograph, as the solitary figure floats up and away.

The person in the spacesuit is unrecognizable. Just as you have been for weeks and months. My throat muscles tighten. I want to call out to the astronaut, call him or her to come back.

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22

I dream of home

In space
I cannot feel the weight of my body
the weightlessness carries me everywhere
the shifting angle of the metal plate
my unnamed home
a transit,
between the earth and the endless horizon
I dangle and play
a little more.

In space
I'm stuck in the limbo
between the earth and sky
my body floats
it wishes to see more
the cerulean blues fill the swirls
of my stargazing eyes.

In space
the diorama of turquoise and cerulean shades
paints every inch of my ashen dreams
it adds vibrancy
an unseen intensity,
a feeling so pure and serene.

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23

Celestial Sickness

It's like I see you disappearing,
pulled by dire deep forces
hidden in your mind.
I can tell
I am diminished in your eyes.
Space hollows between us
devours me, swallows me whole
down its black-holed throat.
Yet in my my final wave
I will be lucent, charged by galaxies,
astral bodies, supernova stars.
We were never meant
to strip away our boundaries.
Universal vortices vex our dreams,
force us to see our singular
and separate annihilations.
Adieu, moon-gazer, fly
yet remember my last blown kiss.

24

Dire Straits

All I remember was driving, humming along to that Dire Straits tune; something about a detective - then white noise. The sort of noise you can smell. I guess that's some kind of chemical your body releases, maybe that's the smell of adrenaline? A flash. Feeling weightless, then the weight of my body pressed against my chest, the seat-belt a hammock. Gravity. Bones against metal, flesh ice-cream, scooped into balls. White flash. Indistinct muffled voices. Men. I hear two words. Can you? Machinery whirring, high pitched like those tree beetles in Australia. I remember Australia, all flip-flops and skinks. "Can ... hear me..." I'm weightless as they lift me and my arm dangles. "You're going to be..." Australia again. Hot tarmac playground. A whistle blown. Darkness. Now it is cooler. Am I home? Quiet. Whispers. Someone walks by slowly, like shuffling slippers. Voices are clearer now. I open my eyes but cannot move. My mouth is parched. I try to move my arms. A nurse. I see a nurse. She tells me so I understand; I suddenly understand. I am covered from head to toe in plaster; my arms pinned out front; like a white marionette. My bones are all mixed up; suspended in space. I remember the first question I asked as a kid about going to space: how do you go to toilet with those white spacesuits on? Yeah, Nurse, how do I?

25

Astrology

She said I could be anything I wanted.
That's what the astrologer said
I could travel deep into the belly
Of the earth, or scale the seas
I could walk upon the moon,
If I so wished. I wished
For the mundane, a career in law
A family, a home with happy eyes
That adore me.
She says I could've been anything
Walking on the moon, circumventing
The planets. She says I disappoint her.
Can't she not see?
I have my moon and my seas
And the centre of the earth:
I am happy.

26

Inhabitant

I see a buoyant bead of blue glass,
cloud-washed with haze,
forest-pricked and ocean-windowed,
its lonely face lit in the tilt of light,
and tucked in by a dark blanket.

I hear mechanical breath,
its raggedness amplified in my halo,
and my thoughts, formed, unhindered;
the cries and the bombs did not break
the sky, but fell where they lay.

I feel the weight of insignificance
as I skim a pebble on an edgeless beach.
A speck of stardust, I will waft away, away…
the bare drift of skin on skin
diluting in the expansion of space.

I taste a colourless void,
a sterile surround where
my tongue sleeps and my lips frame emotion.
Silence hangs heavy in my mouth,
words unseasoned and suspended.

I smell memories: meadow grass, pliant and cool,
the deep tobacco of rain-soaked earth
and the sharp salt in the sea breeze,
pillows where you’ve slept
and woodsmoke in your hair.

27

An Altered Sense of Perspective

My mother always wanted me to be a chartered accountant but I guess it's too late for regrets now. Despite it all, free floating is not as bad as I thought it would be. In basic training, we practiced space walks until they became as natural as drawing the next government pay-check, but it was always with a tether - always anchored.

The mission started so well - a routine trip to the first lunar terraforming installation to run final checks before the volunteers moved in. Couldn't let civilians risk their lives - why not let a low ranking grunt in the Space Force do it instead. Chen really shouldn't have pushed me. He had been on my case since we first launched; the sort of guy who never knew when to quit - until we had a 'discussion' in number three airlock. He forced me to go with him to repair a comms array damaged in a meteor strike - a two person job, he said - but he just wanted to pull rank.

I swear it was an accident - never meant to push the big red button before he could attach the lifelines. Something snapped. My superior officer got sucked out into the vast emptiness of space but he took me with him - always was a misogynistic asshole.

The air in the tank is almost gone; my suit thrusters burnt out an hour ago but at least I'm upright now. Dying upside down or spinning would be far worse. Out here, the usual chorus of voices in my head have fallen mercifully silent. I still hear my mother's nasal Irish brogue in the background, making me feel guilty as usual. Ma never understood why her only daughter chose an off-world career but Earth had gone to shit. The twin monsters of global warming and humanity's inability to share dwindling resources ensured that the next generation would be one of the last. Just as well I never wanted kids.

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28

Along for the Ride

They explain that the suit is meant to protect you. They don’t tell you it can rip. It’s only a thin scratch, and only through the top two layers. The suit will hold. For a while.

You got a call. They told you, now is your chance. You put a down payment on this a decade ago, before you knew it was more than a mortgage. You’ve been told your whole life, this is a chance you won’t get again. Don’t pass it up. Don’t hesitate. You don’t.

Your mother threw you a party with an ice cream cake. MilkyWay chocolate crumbles stuck in the buttercream. She laughed too hard at that. Your father didn’t laugh. He sulked in the corner. He was the one that taught you to yearn for an escape. Run away, he told you. As far away as possible. Even if it means leaving the atmosphere. He always wanted this more than you did, but he lost his chance with his first stroke. You had to say yes. You couldn’t say no. He didn’t get the chance to say no.

Space carries you away. You’re surrounded by the debris of your capsule. The first private passenger flight. Who decided to try a new plastic for the windows? The tear will only grow. The vacuum will push in. Determined. Steady. Did you ever have a choice? You unlatch your helmet. You’re lucky, really. To get away with only a scratch.

29

The Ocean Beyond

They don’t leave me alone very often. They worry that I’ll fall and get stuck somewhere, or get bored watching TV and do something stupid. I can tell that’s what they’re thinking, although they never say as much. They have a way of looking at me now, like they never had before.

Sometimes when they’re out, I phone for a taxi to take me into town. Might as well use my money for something. I get the driver to drop me by the entrance to the indoor shopping centre so I can look around the shops by myself for a bit, like a normal teenager. People assume it’s all on one level in there, but actually the floors are sloping, only it’s so gradual that most people don’t even notice. But I notice it when my arms get so tired I can’t push my chair anymore. I stop and wait, pretend to check my phone, until I can get my strength back. Sometimes someone notices me struggling and pushes me up the last bit and I don’t know whether to feel grateful or angry or both. I don’t know how those other people in wheelchairs seem to whizz about, doing marathons and playing basketball. Getting in and out of bed is enough of an achievement right now.

I go to the bookshop a lot. Nobody seems to bother me in there. I like the travel section the best. Hours can pass by as I leaf through the coffee table tomes; glossy pictures of deserts and mountains, oceans and rain forests, the earth viewed from space. There is an image I return to again and again of an astronaut drifting, weightless and alone, in crystal clear skies. I wonder if maybe one day a person like me might become an astronaut, because maybe you don’t need your legs so much in space.

When I get home I lie in the bath with my headphones on, close my eyes and let my limbs float. I turn the music up loud, block out the sounds of my parents popping in and out to check I haven’t drowned. I think about being that astronaut, imagine how it would feel to turn off the radio, cut myself loose and let myself be carried far away like a leaf on a stream, heading for the great ocean beyond.

30

Interbeing

The main thing is to enjoy the moment.
Observe the space between breaths
the cinching of the suit, clasping
wrist and thigh, a pressure cuff
watching the needle tick lower
on the oxygen meter. Collaboration,
convening with emptiness.

The space between the idea of birth
and the surety of death with collapse of lungs.
The knowledge that this feeling of disconnect
is nothing but a thought. It too shall pass
as surely as my frame, this scaffold
of carbon and water. This lens through which
the universe experiences itself unfolding

is a part of the atmosphere, the liquid blue
drop of ocean it orbits, the loam
still underneath my fingernails,
another abandoned satellite that has outlived
its function. A few more deep
breaths would be nice, if only to observe that
the main thing is to enjoy the moment.

31

Cold

Space
that cold expansive place
limitless, eternal
or so it seems

The arena where
astronauts
those brave, crazy souls
flew to prove
their heavenly abilities

Heaven
does it exists
up there, somewhere?

As a girl, I once believed
until that year
when
fire and smoke filled
the earthly sky
and bodies rained down
to the oceans below

Heaven—
a cold place indeed

32

Winnowing Thoughts From Deep Nonsense

Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense. – Carl Sagan

If we could lug our laggard brains
through the mire of incidental junk
the orbiting layer of alternative facts,
the quotidian detritus of obsolescence…

If we could circumvent those planets
planted with flags of the common explorer,
ignore the brazen wink of stars,
the lure of the sun’s brilliance…

If we could grapple with an altruistic line,
we could launch it through the cosmos,
to the outer reaches of space and time,
hook onto a new phenomenon.

There, in the deep quiet of the edge
we could pull ourselves back
from the gravity of our ruin and find
a pale blue dot of humanity.

33

Out of Reach

You watch him cross Valentine Bridge every morning at 7:45, carrying the Metro in his left hand. You watch him return every evening, with a take-away curry swinging in a plastic bag in his right hand. Peering from behind the tinted window, it is difficult to see if he still wears the silver ring you gave him for your first, and last, anniversary. You remember the time you had together – and the crumbs he left in the bed and the hair in the bath. Time has separated then and now. This is when you should free yourself and let him go. As he disappears out of sight, the void feels hard and tugs at your heartstrings. Like the man in the moon, he is out of reach. You know he has gone. And yet, you know that you’ll be back again in the morning, ready to watch him cross Valentine Bridge once more.

34

Forgotten

Floating in the dark nothingness looking down at Earth
A small, blue green marble of silence holding a multitude
There is no sound here, only the rhythmic in and out of my breath
The stars are everywhere and still I am nowhere
At this moment I am not missed, not thought of except by me.
Even the light that stretches from the sun and reflects off the Earth
No longer touches me, but

Down there people are sleeping and dogs bark at prowlers
Down there people laugh over dinner in a posh eatery
Down there a man beats his wife to relieve his anger
Down there a preacher is obsessed with making the world in his image
Down there a litter of infant cats has been thrown into a dumpster
Down there wild animals are being slaughtered to extinction
Down there a woman pays for a tummy tuck, Botox and an eye-lift
Down there poor people wait months for medical treatment

Down there qualified people lose out on jobs because they have less than perfect credit scores
Down there women are showered with acid because they dare to educate themselves
Down there children die of dysentery because their refugee camp has no clean water
Down there homosexuals are thrown off tall buildings because they are infidels

Down there young, rich white boys riot because they are bored
Down there young black boys riot because they have nothing to lose
Down there oceans are rising and dying all at once
Down there grandparents live in homes out of sight of family
Down there the mentally ill are homeless and ostracized

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35

Reborn into Zero Gravity

I float at zero gravity through space.
I’m high above the Earth
in a suit that shields my body and face.

I’m in the most extraordinary place –
I’m no longer in Perth.
I float at zero gravity through space

I move with the most amazing of grace.
I ponder my rebirth
in a suit that shields my body and face.

While training for years at NASA, I braced
myself for spaceship berths.
I float at zero gravity through space.

I miss some members of the human race.
I gaze at space – sheer dearth –
in a suit that shields my body and face.

Still, space is my very favourite workplace
and my new place of birth.
I float at zero gravity through space
in a suit that shields my body and face.

36

Used to be easier

There must be many gods up there, yours, mine, the god
of unbelievers. Used to be easier. All people wanted was

to be safe from life, from death, from gods. Now infinite
prayers litter the space between lips and stars. But

prayers are not gods. They need feathers and hollow
bones and ways to breathe. And ways to survive till they

find the right god. The skies are crowded like the
vegetable market on Sunday morning. We slithered and

jostled through curses and shoulders and sweat to find
the best mangoes. It was the lunar new year. We prayed

for twelve months of happiness. We got two. That prayer
must have broken a wing or run out of air or died in a

stampede of buoyant yearnings. Maybe you were saying
something that day. Maybe I couldn’t hear in the din.

Even gods can’t hear in the Sunday market with every
single person crying out for something. Used to be easier.

37

EVA

I’ve procrastinated long enough,
I’m told, although, from up here, I
can just about make out the rough
hunch of your body as you cry
outside Lidl while passers-by,
unwarned of this distressing scene,
take you in but do not ask why
you could not stay unseen.

People say it’s peaceful. Come off
it. Why not fly up here and try
it out for themselves? Mach 25
is how it feels, precariously
untethered, oceans in your eye,
thrust on a throne of nitrogen.
Extra-Vehicular Activity
means sights unseen.

Hark at Simon, edging his Porsche
from residential road to high
street. There go Jane and Jasmine, off
To work slyly, belatedly.
Strapped to the chasm above the sky,
praying I won’t crash and burn
my Manned Manoeuvring Unit, I
accelerate and, turning, turn
from the never-been-seen.

Oh my.
It’s hot in here. An age is born,
takes flight, and wills itself to die.
The rest remains unseen.

38

Scapegoat

This is me now, one of the scapegoats. Pushed away and rejected we fall off the edge of the world and must live alone, in isolation, floating in outer space, able only to feel. You have condemned us to aloneness. We fall and fall and never land.

From this place I see everything that you are and all that you can do. I see your magnificence. Yet unless you change your mind, decide I am welcome and reach out your hand, I cannot return, can only ever stay lost and can never tell you that it was only difference that separated us all from each other. It was only ever that. What a silly, tiny, minute little word it is ‘difference’, this word that is a killer, a killer of kindness, of love, of family, community. I didn’t know that if I showed you my true self, showed that I am different from you, you would cast out me out from your world. I didn’t understand your need for sameness was so powerful.

Shall I be trapped on the outside for infinity, unseen and unacknowledged, together with all those who are different from you? We scapegoats can never belong anywhere, not even to each other, whilst we carry the burden of all shadow and all guilt. But maybe, whilst we wait for your understanding to dawn, we can belong to ourselves.

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This is not about an astronaut

There's a person
in the darkness

They weren't always there

Once they were beside you
feet on solid ground
never mentioning how gravity
kept rejecting them

It was hard when they left the atmosphere
but harder still
a witness to their floating

When the intercom buzzes into life
they call out
all too briefly
you wave the lifeline from the ground
but they're so far away

They drift closer
you reach out
close your fingers round
nothing
as the darkness laughs
at your lack of perspective

You hope one day
they'll come back down

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Theatre lights

I remember, as a child, peering over the edge of a theatre balcony down on the black and white beetles in the orchestra pit and the nodding, bouffant hairdos of the audience. I remember letting my gaze rise, reluctantly, reaching across the vast void, past the bars of light specked with motes to the monumental ceiling light.

In a tangle of wrought iron roses and tulips, studded with softly glowing light bulbs, its inverted tiara hung in the centre of a nest of dorures and moulures and baroque stucco. Gaze floated free, I followed, to grip a dusty iron rose, a slowly unscrewing light bulb, feeling only the howling of the empty space beneath my swinging legs. Above the grating of violins, all eyes fixed on the stage, I hung in the loneliness of a child’s imaginings. Head spinning, I pushed back from the rail, deep into the musty, enveloping safety of my seat, reeling from the touch of the néant.

Stars blink. They look different, are different. They glitter ice-fierce and random, no comforting constellations here. This is their place, not mine. Vertigo whirls and stomach roils. I close my eyes, press back in my seat, but the great glowing tiara of light falls away and I am nowhere, not floating – a falling point falling? – with nowhere to land.
It’s so cold.

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THE WHEN

Do you know what we think as we watch and listen, at our stations? As we stare at you, floating there? Well, I’ll tell you because, by the time you hear this, sixty-two trillion light years will have elapsed and we’ll be in different positions.

We did that, once. We were like you, once. We sent our people into space searching for what your Carl Sagan calls ‘Advanced spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space’. And we made contact with you, but you thought we were other than we are because, on the outside, we are very different.

We’re as advanced as you. And, under the skin, very like you. So we hope that the record of music and pictures and sounds and greetings of all your peoples, the one you sent up with Voyager in your year 1977, the one with the sounds of crickets and elephants, of Brandenburg and Johnny B. Goode, of greetings in all those languages and pictures of mothers feeding children, all we can hope is that ours, the one we made for you, the one with our sounds and our songs, our languages and our mothers, will find you just as yours found us.

We know the what and we know the how. Just as you do. We know the who and we know the why. Just as you do. What we all still have to discover is the when.

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SPACE WALK

'You’ll be king of the universe', they told me.
'The whole world cheering you on'.
Honestly? I don’t hear them.

'They’ll be glued to the telly', they told me.
'The whole world watching you'.
Honestly? Why would they?

One space walk is much like another.
Why watch a silent picture when
snowdrops are appearing in the garden?

Fragrant 'Merlin' wears petticoats of clearest green;
long-necked 'Magnet', in virginal white,
waltzes to the slightest breeze.

Does anyone know my umbilical is cut,
that the mother ship ploughs on without me?
Are they laughing? I think it’s laughable.

'We are masters of the universe', they told me.
'Be a king! Write your name among the stars!'
Honestly? There’s no one here to read it.

This ‘king’ feels smaller than a molecule.
I can see the world that spawned me.
Will anyone miss me? I doubt it.

They’re wrapped up in troubles of their own.
Botrytis fungus, Narcissus fly;
will their snowdrop blooms survive?

Read more >
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Get Back To Work

This is better than floating in a pool. Gravity no longer pushes down on me, threatens to fill my lungs with H2O. In this pressurized suit I am a feather—an unconstrained, infinitesimal speck of dust. I pedal an imaginary bicycle to the rhythm of Queen’s race anthem. This is fun for a minute, but what is a minute out here?

Ground Control tries to tie me to a fixed point on the surface. I defy their attempts to pin me down and map me; fly me like a kite. I am autonomous within my space diaper. A population of one.

I squint, line up Earth between my palms, dropkick it like a Champions League goaltender. The motion spins me into an anti-gravity impersonation of a Ferris Wheel. After regaining control, I position my forefinger under the near arc of the blue-green marble. I wink and picture myself as a Harlem Globetrotter while it slowly rotates.

Mission Control is no less obtrusive than those concerned with my positioning. I am reminded that I have a job to do—to focus. Time is money, especially in a vacuum.

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ABOUT THIS ISSUE

This special edition of Visual Verse features writers from a programme called Writing Together, part of a wider initiative called Learning Together, which is run by the Institute of Criminology in Cambridge.

We are thrilled to invite a group of never-before-published writers to take the lead with a set of pieces written in a workshop inside one of the UK’s high security prisons.

Half of our lead writers are students at Cambridge University, and half are men who have been incarcerated, some for many years. The group has been working together for a while, learning the basics of fiction, poetry and script writing; but this was the first time they have written to an image, in a set amount of time and words, and asked to hand that work in. It was typed up on the outside and here it is...

These writers are published anonymously but each is celebrated for their individual creativity and unique response to this image.

Read more about Learning Together.

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