- Vol. 07
- Chapter 04
Papu said that she had crossed
over the road shimmering
in squares of bronze and gold
and told me I should imagine it
a precious carpet,
laid down and spread to offer
a touch of comfort on her way.
Papu said that she had left
and taken a shard of recollections
too sharp to touch again
and told me I should imagine it
a secret mirror,
only special people could
see beyond its surface.
Papu said that she had chosen
the road that led
to clouds of burnished silver
and told me I should imagine it
moist as freshly fallen tears,
their vapour misting distant skies
with her old hellos,
her new goodbyes.
It always happens like this at a threshold. An edge where one place ends and another begins.
Stand at a border and you may decide where you wish to belong. Even if you cannot go there.
Look in one direction and you will know that there is another.
She stood at the shallow well. Laughing at the wet colours, singing a thought. The sun's lamp lit the clear water in which she saw her likeness as in a dream, and as in a dream she was pleased. She stared at her face, her skin a shade too dark perhaps. Her eyes were too round but sweet. Her image found favour. She saw her self. The truth held.
But truth is as a mirror we have an uneasy pact with. There is always an image we may or may not care to see. A reflection that is open to influence. A deal that can be broken.
She thrust in her jar shaking the reflection and as she pulled it back up, her smile came to meet her. She looked down into the well as if to give thanks.
The shocked water simmered and foamed, and in each foaming bit a new body took shape. One became a hundred. Each reflecting a barely perceptible image of her. Again she laughed. Then looked away.
Staring into the distance she waited for the water to settle. Hoping to see one truth.
Ula stopped at the edge of the water.
The bus would come soon, she thought. Then she remembered that time had not been behaving lately.
Ula stared into the water.
Time had taken today away. She went shopping for just a few hours but as night fell she realised she had no idea where she’d been or what she’d done. The bag on her arm was the only clue. Maybe she’d managed something. A choice. A transaction. An interaction.
Ula saw her reflection in the water.
She wondered if CCTV had captured her day. Maybe it had watched her move around the shop like a snake in a maze, trying to find this and that, always ending up in the same place. Maybe she had just ridden the escalator up and down, up and down. Maybe she’d just sat on the seat at the front of the shop. One of the boys.
Ula stepped back from the water.
The bus was approaching, not a minute late. Minutes had slipped through her fingers like sand but now they returned to deliver her home.
Ula stepped over the water.
She boarded the bus and disappeared as fast as the day.
Life is a contradiction
A journey of denial in light that casts a shadow
from now until then
Lived on an infinitesimal time scale
We dare not glance at it
Ultimately incomprehensible, beyond the known
Without meaning unless in aspiration and in the living of love to each other
In this parallel horizontal upside down universe: snow
is a mirage below/above my shadow self and me, sky
a sea of listing openreach in this saturated place
awash with broken slabs, disbelief and endless rain
where we are cut off at the knees, so very oddly painlessly
in our hijab, our trousers and our new H&M raincoat
and I am wishing with every wit my two selves have
for a brolly big enough for us to sail away Jumblie style
while our disappearing hands leach knuckle-blue
into the cut and pasted blue-begetting sky below/above.
Even when the world is upside down
and grief lies in red puddles,
she will stand her ground.
Sometimes the sky is a blue mantle
lending warmth to her vigil,
clouds lend kindly shade.
She waits, enduring weather; abuse
from the mindless, anger
from the ignorant and danger.
Always there are women waiting, carrying
the needed, collecting the wanted
trying to bring it all home.
Grandmama’s always been an independent. Keen
on reminding us she raised seven kids on her own
after Grandpa passed, working a job at the same time, too.
So we don’t need to hover. “I’m getting old,” she says,
“not useless.” She’s got a stubborn streak, Grandmama does.
But she’s also losing her mind, forgetting more and more
with each day passing. Like God sitting up in the sky,
a pair of scissors in His hand, taking snips at the thread
of her memory. The snipping’s also made her suspicious.
Like the world’s out to get her. Why you looking at me,
boy? she says to me, eyeing me like I wanna snag
an old lady’s pocketbook. Scoot, she says like she don’t
know I’m her favorite boy. Today, she announces
she’s going to market. Market’s been replaced
by the big box store a long time ago, even before
I was born, so I put my shoes on, my jacket,
too ‘cuz it rained last night, clouds hanging grey
overhead, threatening more. She shoots at me
her side-eye stink-eye, but puts on her head cover
and coat. Grabs her pocketbook. I hang a good
10 to 15 feet back from her so she won’t spot me.
We stop at the corner. Waiting on the bus, I guess?
I got no clue where she thinks she’s going, but I got
my bus card ready. Between us there’s a puddle
of rainwater. I see her reflection in the middle of it
clear as day. She must see me there, too, but I don’t
look away. She does, though. And I know she’s losing
more and more of her memories because she never
passes a puddle without splashing in it. I wanna go grab her
Sometimes you can cross a sea, an ocean even and never wash the sand of home from your shoes. The smells and tastes caught in the folds of your clothes surprise you, bring tears to your eyes. Looking back, inwards, you will find the place where memories lie, deeper than the tragic near past, like masterworks beneath the placid waters of the sky. Sometimes the past feels like a tear in the fabric, a crack in the stone of the new world that holds so few promises. Sometimes it feels as though you could fall or jump and the cool waters would catch you and enfold you in the dreamtime again. But only sometimes. That way is closed, strewn with unnameable sorrows. Ahead is all there is, with its dark mesas of grudging inhospitality.
All around me, clouds are leaking
and turning the cobalt to rust;
even the shimmering glass of high-
rise buildings has an orange crust.
I am suspended between broken sky
and a pavement soaked with tears,
afraid and unsure which way is home.
I hug myself with drooping wings,
listen to the friendly blackbird sing,
and wait for a sign of hope, a word,
the fluttering of my avian heartbeat
to stop. And then I find my fickle feet
on the solid ground of a strange city
and begin to wander closer to sanity.
Imagine a navy of me, setting sail
on the sea of all my selves, satellites
ahoy as we try to find new personas,
undiscovered horizons – and behind
them, the true diving-bell-bottomed
depths that might make us out as
real. But no. So instead we tack back,
to tesselate the cargo that is our lives –
the ones we could have lived, the ones
we have, the ones we will. Reflected
or not, we will always remember the
This morning a heavy, heavy thought
seems to be weighing down on me.
I took it for a walk in a plastic bag,
and everyone I met seemed to feel it too.
I said to them, apropos of nothing:
“Forgive me, I’m not myself today.”
We presuppose a massive solidity
above us, below us:
Concrete slabs covering dirt and clay,
The waters of the firmament there in the Bible.
You have often walked on this street before,
but the pavement never fell beneath your feet before.
How many times must one look down
before one can see the sky?
We live our lives spontaneously anyway,
even at the risk of plagiary.
But is it theft to breath a breath of air,
like everyone else does?
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,
maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to take me to court!
There are three sorts of
reflections, according to Sei
Shōnagon, I am told by
a very learned man who
also happens to be a
compulsive liar; you see,
I have scoured The Pillow
Book, the only known
work by Sei Shōnagon, and
have not found this
list, but my friend main
tains that there is a
second book, largely
unknown, a poem diary
that is held in the collection
of the Japanisch-Deutsches
Zentrum Berlin, uncredited;
this may be true, and may
be another fabrication, and
if a lie, why? But anyway,
the three sorts of reflection
are the common, the
distorted, and the accidental;
Darkly defined under clear blue skies, she shifts
her weight, understands nature's promises
are not for her. Her legs are tethered
beneath pools, spread over wet slabs,
rooted in underworlds, a stranger
in this hollow, promised land.
She fled here, in dire need
of chances to breathe,
to heal, in freedom.
All she found was
and scared folk
it is not much trouble walking on heels digging inwards. sidelong glances confirm my long held assumption, he is a bird.
as if a mesh of well-placed guilt slowly dissipates unannounced freeing my soles when i lend my wrist. this is reaffirming.
amidst the blaring, honking madness, a kind of green and grey, blurred as only possible with too many bodies tamped down together in a soft spot. slow marination before the heat from their bodies render them supple. imbalance firsthand, tight roping through the crowd, my over-sized handbag.
again, nondescript roadside chatter, the kind that dismisses all my gumption. except the wisp of soft drawn meaningless in the ear. certainly these lights swimming on the road can hear my thousand questions. what is this hot air ballooning in my chest, this tongue laced in aspirin turned too heavy, where are the answers. i need a smoke, the hair is a nest of what it is.
on the topic of weather then, sure and comforting, a cloud of deadpan resets my expressions to human. i don’t feel nothing. yes. yes. yes to all he asks, this is easy. yet this waft. this origin of disproportion that smell of cinnamon? custard? three day old flesh hashed and now drying by the flies? i want to sit with it and talk. i have so much to say if only i could rise above this skin and itch.Read more >
My grandson in high school
has taken to poetry.
I tell him its a hard life.
I'd rather see him making bridges
and rules and programs
But he is too young to know.
Back then, I read my Darwish and Adonis,
I can tell when the sky breaks
in two, on the broken pavement
and which side will go to the sea
Never to return.
But he keeps telling me about
the road not taken, some Frost.
His high school teacher is inspiring
him to make things happen.
I do not know where it will all take us
This wing to dream.
I never knew I would reach this far
When I set out
With a broken bundle and
the next day's dinner in mind.
Today, I cannot go back
Where I came from
Stop thinking so literally—you're not a kid anymore. And yet… your world is upside down, isn't it? How can you deny what reality is screaming at you?
No more questioning your senses—now it's time to question your choices. Or are you afraid of falling into that other world--all the other worlds—that "might've been?" You know where all that goes…
You're impossible with your hoping and dreaming and wanting. None of that will ever equal change. That alone is why you should abandon all those inner machinations—they're only going to make you helpless and hopeless.
Why would you want to be ruled by a dream? Just because you think you can control it?
Your words, your actions—these are all you'll ever have control over! How many more times must you re-learn this lesson? And all the while as this is going on, you're getting older and older, and your situation isn't improving because you're just standing there…
Are you truly caught in a haze of confusion… do you really not know what to do anymore? You can't have convinced yourself you don't feel anything. If that really were the case, you wouldn't be so scared.
They've robbed you of your confidence, that's all. They've ruined whatever self-esteem you had. Between these two things and all that self-realization, how could you maintain all that gusto for life?
So many mistakes that left them hurt, and, yes, you were hurt too. But it's your refusal to forgive yourself, that's why you're so confused and so unhappy.Read more >
what connects us is water
jellyfish to parrot
lettuce to tumbleweed
my breathing out
to your flash flood
the sand shining with sky
on the long flat beach
where the tide runs
an inch deep for hours
fall and leat
the tidal ditches
in the watermeadows
the uncomfortable alongside
of alligator and kneedeep cow
when the river has spread
the Everglades beyond
the danger of a pavement
inviting you to dive
skull to concrete
the delight of dancing
meeting yourself sole to sole
The sky, so clear, defined your silhouette
as the wild ocean rains deposited into puddles
found themselves disturbed by only your boots.
I was wittering about something or another
chattering to fill the solitude in your eyes
as yawning chasms of maritime industry
thrummed like the nightclubs just out of sight.
You asked me where I'd be sleeping that night.
"With you,'' I wanted to say, but didn't.
Instead I brought up our moral balance sheet,
red and black, equations weighted cell on cell
trying to calculate what you might want.
The streetlights created another you
and another me, living down in the potholes
of the road we couldn't navigate. My reflection
almost smiled as I poured all my heart out.
You looked pained. "Sure,'' upside-down-you
cringed politely. "Like I said, I love you too.''
At night time when dimensions shift,
the rules lie ruined, paradigm,
collage or is it collagen,
main body parts that no one sees.
The clouds I know are solid ground
but, are they slabs now climbing sky,
poor cuneiform and glitter spray,
puddles, gold-leaf, shopping bag,
imagined, upturned go-cart wheel,
pram before the c was k.
Impressionism here to stay,
chop-logic as the bard would say,
but what is it, uneasy mind,
that wants to leave those fears behind?
Repeat performance, frequent steer,
if only I could leave the mare,
where cumulus predictable,
and settle into daily round.
We never see each other
dead on. There’s always
some reflection, refraction,
stray ray of light, or softening
shadow that makes us
stranger, each to other.
You are someone I think
I know. I am also an image
in your eye and wonder
how I look there. The dark
within me—does it shade
my features? And when I
see you, your back to me,
your eyes and smile mirrored
but miraculously angled
at me, who is seeing and seen?
So familiar—that glass ghost.
So fragile—the love of strangers.
Here after the rain
sky pools at my feet.
Surfaces wet turn glass
slick and chromatic.
I stand in water and sky.
Here I am myself
upside down a repeat
through prisms of light.
Do you see me?
A thin tissue of humanity
mounted on a slide
as light passes through me?
I am no more than the pulse
against your retina
waves crashing against cones
inside your eye
shadow of a doppelganger
the patina of life on wet pavement
turned reflecting pool.
I stand in water and sky
shimmering in refracted light.
I am as real as the stamp
of clouds and concrete
on a mirrored street
a damp sidewalk
as a city’s dream.
In rain; in the rudimentary sharp reflectionsv of just-before-dusk,
rubber booted, her good, warm coat
turned up at the collar,
headscarf covering her hair,
tightened at her throat,
its coarse knot
squeezing her every breath
to tethered clouds.
as the cold sunk into her,
trembling like a waif,
despite the western
burnish of the dying day
charging the eye
with its pretense of warmth.
first outpost of the night,
hugging her bag,
as if to reassure herself
like a ghost, burning and drowning
at the same time.
I know the sky
will eventually open;
the sun will show its welcoming face.
I have to be hopeful and patient
during the hungry season,
continue to rely on family and friends
to brace my fall.v I have to stay away from people
who don’t have faith in my work,
and who say that my intuition is not real.
The seeds of creativity abide in me.
If I keep reaching for my soul,
the song will come.
And the men who wait with her.
We look for things that spark
something in us, that shift our focus,
turn our quotidian life on its head,
coaxing us to move away from our dull
If alert almost anything can strike us
as beautiful. The sun gleaming down
on bale of hay making it seem to be
a bundled pile of golden straw;
a lonesome daffodil might draw your
attention as it rises to seek light,
standing tall in the window ledge
of an abandoned building.
Almost anything contains within it
a mystical component; the way a person
walks or the impression left by unrelated
objects cast haphazardly together like dice,
but taking on new meaning.
Today it is she. She’s out there again
as she has been many times before.
It has rained. It is clearing. The sky
throws light in all directions.
She is at the crosswalk, heavily dressed
with coat and head scarf, shopping bag in hand.
She and her shadow, toe to toe, sole to sole.
Read more >
The sky above
A highway to her mind
Disastrously careening towards
A whistle stop canopy
As she stands stern in
Her resistance to the
Waiting for a hand to stretch out
And pull her in from the storms
An Alpine resistance that
Like serpentine fetters across
Her jacked up disposition
To push her into her
The scars reflected in the
Pooled in the antiquity
Of her swirling regrets
As the traffic buzzes by
Halting, speeding and not
Even stealing a side glance
Her predicaments come to
Haunt her like a nip in the
Read more >
The suck of feet on water
sends you helter-skelter once again.
You can’t look down in case
you see yourself for who you really are.
So, better tilt your aging chin towards
chameleon clouds, for they take on what form
they wish and never have to contemplate
their nature, path nor end.
If you would only come with me my love,
to blue beyonds, to birdless appetites
of space, you’d have no need to traipse
these cold reflective streets.
Instead you’d see yourself in all
the composition that you are —
the water and the sky, the clouds
and every bird that drinks beneath your feet.
between two worlds, or are there three?
On reflection, although she cannot see
the hidden depths beneath her,
there are four. Below, the unexplored place hidden
by her perfectly inverted image. Above, the mysteries of space.
Spanning the chasm lie the past and present.
The past, its panel of blocks, densely inscribed with hieroglyphics, encroaches on today, with its promise of bright future.
She does not know it
her next step will disrupt this perfect balance.
There’s a thousand words /
buzzing like summer bees /
can’t say one of them
/ words strung together
like pretty white garden
lights that when it gets
dark burn too bright /
without escape / hiding
behind pearly white smiles
Everything’s fine as
I look askance at my reflection /
/ pulsing / through my veins
/ that’s what pure dread
looks like while making the
morning coffee and
dressing for the foggy walk
into the world that’s
not as nice as last year
or ten years ago when
I thought there’s still
a chance for salvation
Looking straight into the eye
Of a laughing white cloud:
Unshaven, unkempt, the pale
Face seemed surprised by her bold
Stare, unprepared as it was
To hear her firm human voice,
Unable to formulate
A plausible response.
When the woman insisted,
Ideas erupted from
The white head and turned into
An archipelago of
Wild thoughts yet to be expressed,
Floating in the blue expanse
Of a finite, captive sky.
you wonder why you have arrived in this upside down world
as if it is some kind of fashion
a chiaroscuro you stand outside
wait to enter and cannot see any portico among
the faded paint and solid stones
that imitate the Aztecs' finest buildings
maybe that's where you're about to go though soon appears
nonsense and holds no reality
no content like that of your plastic bag
your real feet stand on hard and solid ground as a notion
beside a puddle like a lake to cross
as a suggestion to travel
as a way to go somewhere else step off the kerb into
out to an unknown
and explore the other dimension
outside the stasis of ennui that demands its purpose
to be acknowledged -
will arrive as a bus before long
In the newer decade, winter rain fills the coloured
streets. I’m home, away from you; I’m not with you,
your home isn’t mine yet. Somebody
has (secretly!) sent me your photograph: standing,
in your father’s shoes, uncomfortably, as if tired of
waiting; a plastic bag in the left hand of your reflection
reads three illegible letters (inverted, of course) –
yes, yet, new, raw, aim or air, and for a while
none of the letters might mean anything
but (our) distance. In the cold silence of my room
a song plays softly – I’ve used four letters to name you,
with love – and I think of you:
my fingers, running, over your light headscarf, resting
with an embrace of a gentle part of your left cheek.
I pick my phone up, add this photograph in our chat-
box and (agitatedly) caption it: I miss you.
You’re busy; I’m yet to hear from you. I’ll wait.
for Abeer Ahmad
Dear Sister of the Sidewalk Stain. Dear Sister of the Upside Down and the rust and the slanting light that chills. Your head sheltered from blows, your peripheral delimited by dark visor, your gaze stalwart. Sister, my aunt in Beirut says the covered head puts us 1000 years behind. We’re in the times of veils, we’re in a Ghirlandaio, we’re trapped by oils and colors and mystery. Sister, what did you buy at H&M? Sister, is it cold out? Remember the Blue Mosque, the small girls there posing like Marilyn Monroe, hands on straight hips forced out to make curves, fairy lights stretching behind them like those surrounding old Hollywood dressing room mirrors. All the men in the center praying behind the rope, in the best seats in the house, under Allah. I wanted to feel that awe of walking in and rising up, that you feel in St. Peter’s, that you feel on Sunset Blvd, you small and something big and beautiful and silent – silent, thank god! so I could brainwash you – towering above, gazing benevolently upon. I didn’t think to lift up the rope and just go.
Remember my German mom and my Lebanese dad? (How on earth? says my Italian mother-in-law. Only in America.) Remember my dad who reduced us to women? Who reduced and reduced and reduced us to our shoes. Who said, two decades before 2016, a woman will never be president. Who also said, never underestimate the stupidity of Americans. As though we weren't both.
I sit in a small uneventful corner of enemy territory, Sister of the Rippling Sky. I reach up for you with both arms.
she stood there
waiting for the cars to go by
waiting for the road to dry
waiting for her life to begin
waiting for the pain to pass
she stood there
with her head in the sky
with a smile on her face
with love in her eyes
with hope in her heart
she stood there
reflecting on the past
dreaming of the future
she stood there
with a tear in her eye
waiting for the cars to go by
I can only see the world for what it is because of the way you viewed it. The wrinkles in your skin showed the age of many struggles, but the skin itself is soft and warm. The struggles may have marinated through your pores, but your ability to comfort me stayed a priority. Your eyes consumed the horror and the dangers of the world as I glanced over to you but when you looked down at me, joy and love is all you let me see.
I wonder if the world can see and feel the way you do. I wonder if they absorbed the hardship you did and only allowed me to see the beauty of life. I could stand in this puddle all day knowing the sight of you was always going to make the world better.
As I search for your hand that was once here the wind mocks my hand, sweeping through and passing my palm. Although you may be gone, this puddle right here an always reflects and relates to my grandmother. If it was ever to go dry, I’d cry the puddle back to see you all over again.
Sometimes a moment comes
When elements collide
And earth and water and fiery light
Reveal a place far less substantial
Than we had ‘til then assumed
Such a moment is this
And such a place is here
We see a life before us trying
No man-made sculpture this
The work of nature’s hand alone
With all its imperfections
Yet still breathing
We see another place revealed
Its perilous edges evade our grasp
All tooled stone, asphalt and concrete
Here are torn – scarred shards
That now can barely hold their form
In this place there is no sea for purging
No tide to smooth and reconcile all parts
However tightly wrapped this life stood here
It is not made of stronger stuff than flesh
And so will pass and all too soon
She steps up
to an imaginary, blurry line
It is here she finally halts.
in the here and now,
rugged up and frozen
in this time and place
in historical geography
for a mere melting moment
that’ll inevitably shift, refreeze
and melt again.
She is another lone traveller
at the global maxima
of a complex character arc –
this tumultuous life trajectory
into the ubiquitous unknown.
She is another unyielding victim
of others’ self-serving
The world’s not aware yet but she’s forming
a bridge between this and the next, standing
above herself hanging beneath, catching her
breath before she breathes, pondering the
properties of place and displacement, of
poolside and pool, she can feel the wet
pavement through her waterproof shoes.
She likes how it feels at times like this when
an internal dialogue debates the duality of
being, straddling a line that defines where
one body ends and another begins, hand
in her pocket she’s holding the key of the
door to it all, which she fully accepts may
not be there the next time she looks.
It was all over the news, last Tuesday,
a glacier the size of Britain,
where it’s licked by the sea’s warm tongue
until it smooshes like a slush puppy
and is swallowed.
I stopped walking
when I read about it on my phone.
Five days later, I’m still standing
where I stopped
like Icefin, the robot,
when it found where ice meets land.
I keep checking my phone.
It tells me about Brexit and the Baftas,
China and the coronavirus
but I’m waiting for instructions.
So, I’m standing beneath
a sky the colour of the Mediterranean
with clouds that could be snow
and the sun is so bright the pavement glistens
like ice and I don’t know if I’m standing
on the road or a frozen lake
in the middle of London
that is melting around my feet.
The ordinary person would walk by and not see something special.
They would not see the happiness she held within tight like the belongings in her bag.
They would not smell fear on her as she no longer carried it free from a country of war.
The storm before was nothing but an inconvenience for most but for her she had stood and enjoyed the rainfall. Each drop raised the corner of her mouth.
Drip drop, drip drop.
She thanked Mother Nature for it and now relished in the blue skies.
To stand out in the open, to take in that freeing fresh air was a blessing to this woman who could now live life without a care.
She could only hope others who have had this feeling long before her could relish in it more.
Help her to understand
this scattering of light,
how blue travels in small,
short waves and the sidewalk
seems to swallow the sky,
and she is left
to wonder if her shadow
will ever free itself
from the slick surface
of the street where twice
to know if this is what
she’ll carry with her, always,
scars of a stranger’s battle,
her body a map of someone
and destinedRead more >
Work is made bearable by stealing lots of small things of no consequence and the odd large thing of medium consequence. Sometimes she walks 75% of the way to the door at 5 p.m. and then stops, ah, need to pee, turns and heads towards the bathrooms. Totally inconspicuous. She puts two rolls of toilet paper and a half full soap dispenser into her bag, flushes the toilet, washes her hands and leaves the office to get the bus.
She picks odd times to go for coffee breaks. Either before or after everyone else. A slice of one person’s bread, not enough to miss, toasted, buttered, track down jam. She knows she is the worst possible person in every office situation, yet she pulls a banana from a bunch marked with a post-it saying Kate. She fashions a salad and pockets some coffee pods.
In the limbo of a midweek afternoon, she flouts the health and safety rules of the warehouse simply to taunt an industrial accident that might put everyone out of their misery. You’ll thank me later, she thinks, imagining ramming a load bearing pillar with a forklift.
She’s been cultivating the personality of someone who has a really good home life. A wholesome and healthful existence outside of this strip-lit hell in an industrial estate off a motorway. She put an old monitor in her gym bag once. She doesn’t even go to the gym.
Caught on camera, snapped as a shadow in reflection, infinity above and life’s limitations about me. In reflection, you find me reflecting on what to do. Should I take the step that will begin a journey? Cross to another world, another life, one that holds my future presently balanced in it’s scales. And will that future be fuller and richer or will I fall to an empty end?
For you have captured not me, but my shadow self holding tightly as it always does my baggage. Baggage containing all the joy and laughter and loves I have felt, watched and wanted. Shoved alongside them, hidden beneath them are my sorrows and tears, my sadness and loss. The stepping stones along the lonely path I have taken in life.
Having taken steps I have brought myself to this point, a crossing, gaudy shaded in orangey gold. A warm, bright inviting shade reflecting all my hopes back to the sky.
And yet I hesitate, I find at the crux I am not quite ready to leave my past behind.
Fearful, that should I take another step forward my baggage, my past, my life will be taken.
Taken from me, to be unwrapped, assayed and judged by strangers that stand within my sight at this crossings end. Strangers who will judge my baggage to be worthless or priceless. Will they conflate and confuse my baggage, will they try to understand the why of me?
Why did I walk away from all I had, why did I set my sights on a future in a different place?
I have on my stronger days hopes filled by comforts both large and small. Set against these are weaker days, days where I watch my hopes dissolving like rice paper, hopes that are pointless and worthless.Read more >
The slabs are erased by gold leaf,
and, where there were cracks,
silver thread is stitched;
the widow is groundless,
riven into slivers,
adrift in reflection,
sky-drunk in the spill
of broken blue,
sheared in two.
She is beguiled
by the sweep of dreams
of roaming souls
in passing clouds.
But a slice of her is lost,
in ageless space,
and in every mirrored plate,
she sees only part.
the sky has fallen
it lolls up from puddles
a jam smeared child
up you get sky
off with that jam
you silly crumpet
let's get ourselves
sometimes we drop
a part of our soul
the letting go lost
like receipts floating
to January mulch
as we cram hands to glove
then we pause
in the waiting places
unlike the child or sky
who are adding shifting
tumbling seasons round
not loosing when we rush
then seeing when we wait
I arrived a screeching terror of crimson smeared flesh
screams to voice fury in displacement’s misery
I could afford to be loud back then,
hurried to grow tall and breath adulthoods empowering air
to find bodyline curves equated to narrow expectations
from those with archaic perspectives,
still avenues sprouted, painfully marked out by sisters
that never shirked suffering
to inch progress one smashed barricade at a time;
as birds sang for me and petals strutted to catch my eye
horror came to greet:
black inking of my clothing bled its darkness deep within me,
memory’s skyscrapers flatlined within momentary flashes
eardrums suffocated to silence by obscene explosions
eyes lost to realms beyond existence, morphing to choking waterfalls.
Blessedly, maybe? Part of the few stepping over pools of my crimson kin
to crossover and be rebirthed, once more displaced
only now without naivety’s screams,
innocence’s entitlement replaced: with a survivor’s steely defiance!
The kerb across the street looked promising,
Dancing to golden rays of a winter sun
She sees her reflection in the pool of water
That edged her side of the street.
If a leap of faith was as simple as left, right, left and cross
As they taught in kindergarten
Perhaps she would have taken the plunge;
She would have made the distance
Between rain and sunshine,
Between shadows and clear light.
But the face in the water draws her
And she stands transfixed,
As if her feet were one with the asphalt.....
For now the leap will have to be put away
The sun has to rise once again
To vie with shadows for yet another day...
The rat race whirls
world clamoring loudly...
For me, an
endless parade of noise.
I stand staring
alone, I take it all in.
Bag - plastic, careless.
And scarf... cashmere, caressing.
it's rude mama says
My mind a'blur
eyes darting frantically.
brings me to the crossroads.
of life. I stare
into a puddle, I stare.
I never got on with my twin sister.
I loved my mother and
Adored my father.
My little brother and I were very close.
But Kayla was always a stranger to me.
Was she smarter, prettier, more adventurous, more rebellious?
Was I jealous?
Was I affected by her three minute seniority?
She was popular enough.
She had her own friends.
I haven't seen her for thirty years.
She lives thousands of miles away in Australia.
But this morning, I looked down at my reflection
in a puddle and saw her.
Our feet touched, bonded.
And I suddenly wanted to be with her.
I wanted to hold her in my arms and
Spill tears together.
Is it too late?
Tell me, is it?
mixes with sky blue sky
in opaque rain water
She waits for orange
hand of hesitation to transition
into a permissive white-bulb man.
If you stand in front of a puddle,
she reasons, you may get hit
but you won't get wet—
an important distinction
when another eight aimless hours
await. She does the transpo hub shuffle—
meets the buses,
rides to the end of a line,
and back again.
Tries to decide which route
best suits a Tuesday afternoon.
When darkness signals
killer of time.
In the mirror of a rain-slicked street, the ground rusts at her feet and a shot of cobalt spills from her head. The metallic paving slats Tetris up around her, chipped like Braille. They match the sheen of her carrier bag, which she clutches under an arm. The bumps on the road glisten like new stars, the white markings like fresh Tipp-Ex.
Naked branches clamour at her back. She stands, a silhouette in a lacquered pool, wondering if she should take it back. The peak of her hijab and the corners of her coat are compact and sensible, like her shoes. But she is bold on a highlighted page. A capital letter in the wake of a full-stopped rain. Planes and lines and horizons criss-cross, perspectives collide and (sub)merge. She waits, mouth open.
Perhaps she’s spotted a rainbow. But the pot of gold is in her bag.
It all started the day of my daughter’s wedding. Actually, it started long before that. But that was the day I couldn’t hide it anymore. It was the rainiest day of the year. So, of course it was the day that everyone found out about my strange affliction.
I don’t think it’s too unreasonable a problem. Can’t I be left alone to indulge? Can’t I, for once in my life, be the awkward person? I’ve never been too fussy, I’ve always been sensible, quick to bend to the needs of others and their particular anxieties, all the while staying quiet about mine, not wanting to be a bother. Somehow it all counts for nothing. The one time I show a weakness I’m the one who needs help. I’m the one with the problem. I’m the unreasonable one. And I know it’s true, because that’s what the puddles tell me, too.
Sometimes all it takes is a small pool of water on the ground to make you realise who you’ve become. Have you ever walked around thinking you were someone completely different, only to have a puddle shatter everything you thought to be true, everything you thought you were? Have you ever suddenly and rudely been jolted you out of your peaceful slumber and forced you to face the great change that has occurred? That you are not who you once were. It leads one to wonder if you ever were that person at all. Different to mirrors, which you can learn to face at the preferred angles—the most dishonest, the ones you know will work best for prolonging the illusion—puddles provide a sudden, unexpected, candid view of yourself, from the most unflattering of angles. Just a glimpse can be enough to give you pause, to make you stop, reflect, and experience the most horrific realisations. Just a glimpse is enough to tell you so much more than any person would.Read more >
It was like any other puddle — its reflection
mirrored clouds, sky, cradled between cracks,
settled within dips, echoed its surroundings —
though this one appeared inverted,
became sky itself, where woman stood
as if totem. Sometimes, seeing things upside-
down, bottom-side-up, in reverse, can alter
the image we have of ourselves and others.
Amid reposition, strength illuminates shadow,
summons silhouette to switch direction,
views displacement as opportunity
for grounding. It was like any other puddle —
its reflection mirrored clouds, sky, where flip,
turn, shift changed our view to right-side-up.
I look down at the pavement,
Washed by the winter’s rain,
Water puddles reflecting faster clouds flying over my head.
It’s not my face I see floating inside it,
It’s the face of a stranger.
She has been taken away from the land,
Where she first learned her name;
Where she first bled and became a woman.
Where she first sowed her seeds
And watched them sprout towards the sun.
The same place where her roots grew downwards,
Reaching the centre of the earth,
Giving her strength and wisdom,
Just to find out that she didn’t belong.
She was not welcome there.
Not there, not here
She walked endless roads,
Within herself, endless paths…
Trying to find a place to be
Away from the shadows
She was hiding from.
She kept moving on,
Even when she did not know where she was going.
From time to time her eyes would peep from behind the dark curtains.
Acid rain fell over her eyelids, burning them.
It ran down her cheeks, like an old scar, touching the tip of her tongue.
(She remembered that taste.) Read more >
She puts the bucket on top of the dresser to catch
the drips and heads for the graveyard. Each day she
sits in the same seat, rides on the same bus, stares
off into the distance, waiting for the right stop to come.
Each day she is more like the graves she visits,
silent and unresponsive, less like the sky that takes on
shades of orange or bluish grey or whatever it feels like
that day. Today she’ll miss that bus, though she won’t
know right away what to do with the time given.
Waiting for another one to arrive, she’ll remember
where she’s been.
My lungs fill and fly with the wind.
My heart is this fast-moving cloud.
With root chakra energy,
I step into the daylight—
unsure of the welcoming I long for.
I thought this land promised
In a newfound place to call home,
I pull my coat tighter—
every button secure.
Holding a bag of hope,
I look out at the open space
The pavement I walk on
is streaked with burnt orange.
The sky above
is a cornflower blue.
The sound of beeping horns
does not hamper my ability
to see what could be.
We breathe the same air—
shop at the same stores.
We scramble eggs in a skillet—
serve them up to our hungry families.
they are all just children.
We are all just human.
caught in the split-second crash
as the last raindrop but one silently
transforms on a glass roof miles
from the boiling centre of the earth.
The air, faintly smiling,
smells of cherries and iron.
For me, the past gleams
slantwise, spins on the bevelled lens
of foxed glass. A catch on the edge
of the glitter-plane.
It’s like a snatch of echoed song
when water turns to mirror-glass
and the world’s pace is caught
by a passing photographer.
Time-stealer, moment keeper.
A stilled reminder that underneath
our mundane feet lies water, stone
and metal ore. Time-travel;
the wonders of Byzantium
spilled from a gilded street puddle.
An enduring fixture on a multi-colored cellophane, city collage, the 21st century Madonna clutches a canvas book bag, reflects on yesterday’s sunrise, seeks disparate solutions to society’s cancer. With dignity and grace, she lifts the metal lids of Dixie-dumpsters, deftly skirting through the trash like an archaeologist, discovering treasures—remnants of a throwaway lost world—artefacts, buried in youthful debris.
Abstract memories, recaptured, collected and arranged like a Smithsonian exhibition, become addressed individually with monologues assuring her past a place in the present before the former slips from her visage forever, without acknowledgement or recognition.
This woman who owns the streets, parks, and alleyways clings tightly to her cotton home—a bedroll she carries by her side: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Regardless of season, she invites people to cross her most recent threshold, swept clean with a counter brush, hanging like a medallion around her neck.
Wearing her closet as proudly as Inanna, Queen of the Heavens, she absorbs the odors of smog, subways, factories, and the streets, reminding everyone she's the city's child—its messenger, its product. After blessing all children and potential benefactors, the bag lady's cryptic phrases and gestures anoint pedestrians with her pain, yet in return, they offer her only stares and consternation.
At my back, a tree, deadened by winter.
Not dead but merely asleep.
Birds, lining the branches,
living notes of a new song.
the Mother of Pearl pavement, I stand.
At my radius, the walls of the oyster.
Layer after layer of nacre form,
I rise, an irritant bathed in mystery,
the miracle of life in the darkness.
Facing my future
Standing on the mica-laced patchwork
Knowing I am a pearl of great price.
Not to be known always by my wounds
as I stand on the precipice of this day
choosing as I did
yesterday to take one more step
to breathe another breath
to say to the people I love
I see you.
Please see me too.
And as I choose
as I did yesterday
to use my voice to make a difference
I say now
I hear you.
Please hear me too.
I will be a stronger person so I can
hold the hand beckoning
even though I may not want to
go to where I am called
help the soul bleeding
despite the guilt for I made the hurt
in the first place
heal the wounds festering
regardless of the toll
even to the losing of
The weather was perfect to catch them moving.
There was a strip of pavement in front of the bus stop that was worn away from all the people who had stood in a line. The rain pooled there after a storm, taking longer to disappear. It was his favourite spot. Today, there was a woman standing there, bundled in a warm coat, an H&M bag on her arm, hands in her pockets. He crouched down, peered into the water, and waited.
The first time it happened he had been sitting on a bench by the side of the road, staring into a puddle, a man in a suit waited beside the hearse. The weather was like today, perfectly still after a storm. Everyone else was inside finishing up. He was told to wait in the car but he didn't want to. If he got in the car it would mean that it was over, that his grandma had really died, and he couldn't do that to her.
So he waited. The man in the puddle didn't move either. There wasn't even the tiniest bit of wind. That's important, he'd come to learn. He can't remember how long he sat there, staring at the suited man's reflection, trying not to think about what his life would be like now that she wouldn't be there to tell him stories about the faeries in her garden, about the trolls who lived under the bridges by her childhood home, about the shadows who dance on her walls by candlelight.
But then, quickly, the man in the water turned his head, and winked. Startled, he turned to the man standing beside the car, but he remained staring straight ahead, waiting, stone faced. Plus, the man in the puddle had looked at him. Made eye contact.
He's caught them moving twice since then and has become confident about the required conditions. Right after a storm, the clearer the sky, the better. No wind. There needs to be as little external movement as possible. Vibrant colours work best. Read more >
She waits for her son to collect her. Late as always, but what is lateness but just another moment in life.
Earlier, at the house, she’d overheard him whispering with his wife. Cloistered and clipped, it was a conversation she was not meant to catch.
But she’d caught it anyway, despite the safety of the kitchen door. And now their infectious words were spreading. Spreading from her ears. Taking seed in her mind. Trickling through her body. And she knew that not a single corner of her would be spared.
The day will soon be as dark as her reflection, and she wishes that her son would hurry. Would return to pick her up before the rain dips down to refill the cracks in the pavement.
And yet. Maybe this time he won’t come back for her. And that could be a fine wish, too.
Some reports will focus on her grey plastic bag,
jump to judgement, tongues ready to condemn:
How dare she?
Others will latch on to her headscarf, black,
no hair showing – will make certain assumptions:
She must be …
What I notice is a short black raincoat over a navy
uniform: serge tunic, matching trousers, creased,
regulation shoes, polished.
Some will see wet concrete, a pedestrian crossing,
would prefer a grey sky overhead, consistent with
another rainy day.
Others will point a puddle drying on the road,
the deep blue sky, a fluffy white cloud or two
at her head, no her feet.
We must take up the photograph, rotate it until
we've considered all viewpoints, weighed up facts,
can only then see sense.
At the chequered path of life
a life so vain and unpredictable:
she stands there as a witness
to the injustice
a sharp blow to her convictions
arms crossed at the crossroads of her
a blind soliloquy in her numb mind
fighting all the incongruous thoughts
in her once pragmatic mind
which once knew all the answers
a mind now so abject
a mind devoid of any explanations;
shutting down to any sane explanations
blank and numb
unable to grasp any meanings
those scary notes,
merciless scratches she often finds
on her glass window
Go back to where you belong
Herself unable to fathom such
mindless cruelty and disgust in her heart
she asks her heart again and again
with no response Read more >
The woman, her profile like a man’s,
clutches her plastic bag
full of plain yogurt and bitter herbs.
She sucks her candy for the day:
today, a coffee mint.
She waits for the hourly bus
in the world upside down.
Here the blue sky is water,
remains from the morning rain.
Clouds float above
the way that maple seeds
drift through ditches.
Painted asphalt, a black,
white, and orange flag, looms
like thick clouds that persist
of waiting for the bus.
The world has always been
upside down, her granddad told her,
when she was a young girl
in the last year of the metal rat.
She stands firmly in a tiny bay of reflections
She holds a non-cloth bag with an inscription
She and herself retain the edges of a melting flag
She is protected by flagstones and wavering light
She wears the clothing necessary to defy elements
*Yet plastic is a recipe of eventual disaster
*And the words represented are a mystery
*As are the reflected images because of the reign
*And the implications of a national banner
*Complicate all suns coverings patios and natural names
She must opt for the tenacity of occurrence
or the durability of experience
Reflections in the street
Of who we are,
The language of a thousand feet,
Or just one step,
Typed in ribbons of ink
On the cobblestones, their own scrolls,
Mosaics of paint on roads,
A song of many voices
Has some trace of the sky,
The ocean caught in a drop of water,
Brief paintings that make life immortal,
Souls waiting in limbo,
For the crosswalk to their destination,
Or by the curb for a bus,
To move forward,
For a blinking star in the horizon,
Not so unattainable
When you have a dream
Illuminating all you see,
Held in your hands
Like a fistful of clay
Read more >
Huddled in my duffle, I wait for the forty-nine
Sniffling as the frost obtunds my nose.
It’s running late again and I’m fearing that’s a sign
For another downpour … one of those.
Lightness of my groceries heightens my dejection.
I note that the damp has stained new shoes.
Glancing down at puddle, I notice sky’s reflection.
For a moment fly against sheer blue.
A warm mist and grey clouds gave way to solemnity as Lucia stood on the edge of the border. She held her bag tightly, protecting the only belongings she possessed. The long line and the heat, even with cloudy skies, burned the nape of her neck. She wiped the sweat with a cloth and thought about the family that should be with her. Tears rolled down her cheeks and the guilt consumed every moment of every day.
An explosion killed her husband and two sons while she had been at a friend’s house sipping tea and filling her mouth with sweets.
“Papers,” the man at the check point demanded.
Nearby gunshots were heard.
All the inversions: friday night and I set a
memory on a skin of spilt beer, feet touching
feet, head two body lengths away, unseen,
suddenly truth is a connection between soles.
Every morning for twenty years, mama took
three buses to work. The radius of childhood,
measured by wheel on wheel on a clouded film
of yesterday’s rain. Which wheel is real when
we talk of the past? Later, putting me to sleep,
the night reflected in her tears: two formless
skies collapsing into one. A false singularity.
Darkness, a perfect mirror of darkness.
I find myself upside down.
My own weight falls into
my thoughts and
I close my arms tight in.
Securing the bag of all I bring,
I am upside down.
I am cocooned, coated and hooded,
a hanging pendulum circling to
Falling into infinity is the feeling.
Foot fastened to myself,
I tell time,
both six and noon.
Foot fastened to myself
is my surety.
Sole to sole,
in reflection I stand.
In reflection I am
bearing the bag of
all I bring…
the mirror of my
Time and Mind.
The road opens, sharp as you like
yet changed in shape. The sky’s a lake,
that bored shopper a Gormley figure,
that framing kerb a flaring slab
of esoteric substance. Here
reality’s no more: the air’s
rid of its rain; the axis spins
and time is frozen. The road opens.
Now don’t be caught “waxing lyrical”
over a puddle. Spout about
the facts instead. A traffic light –
that reflected bit – “waxing” red,
giving instruction, brief yet clear,
arresting cars, and pedestrian
crossings permitting. Things take place.
You rhapsodise; the world’s not waiting.
The world. Who knew?
I popped out for a few essential items
and there it was, a straight-edged strip of ocean,
silver and blue.
I’m in it, waiting
to cross again, plastic bag on my arm.
Inverted as it is, this morning seems
the proper setting.
“Used to subscribe meself,” the little man shared conspiratorially, as I half-heartedly turned a page of the writer’s magazine.
“Mmm?” I replied. It was ill-considered for a closed response.
He adjusted a store’s plastic bag and judiciously leaned into an acute bend in the road without grasping for support. His feet seemed nailed to the floor of the bus, low centre of gravity giving him the stability of a seasoned sailor, sea-legs matching the ocean’s fits of pique.
“Got fed up; a man needs acknowledgement. Wasn’t payin' me money for others' satisfaction.”
I raised a wary eyebrow. He was staring straight at me.
“Yeah, I ventured,” despite myself, “we do crave validation.”
I rolled my eyes back to the magazine and bad-temperedly flicked past the next three pages to the next would-be Booker winner.
He allowed another two standing passengers to take empty seats to remain standing next to me. Two concerns hit me hard and fast: was he coming on to me, or were his legs prosthetic? My peripheral vision detected a certain amount of fidgeting. Oh God, let him have prosthetics; I willed and was immediately ashamed.
“Not that you lot are the worry these days,” he blurted.
I spotted several passengers attempting to withdraw their heads into their chest cavities.
“Especially not to me,” he added.Read more >
Your inverted twin mirrored in the street
Until your reflection makes you complete
Amidst the copper and silver glow
Your image, upside down echo,
Will remain still so long as you remain so
And move on only when you prepare to go
While you wait for the bus to arrive
After the drudgery of nine-to-five
Framed in the strip of blue sky
As you simply stand and stare
And watch the traffic go by
It will hang on with you
You tend to think you’re just one
Actually you’re two
My best scarf, fresh-kohled eyes and bright smile lends peace to mother as we exchange video falsehoods every Sunday evening. She cannot tell me how frightened she is. And how can I explain that the comfortable home hung with rich textiles is no more than a shared room in a grotty high rise?
She doesn’t need to see the dark circles, hard-bought by late shifts at the airport. Nor my nails, no longer almond shaped on fat padded fingers laden with rings. She doesn’t need to see my worn shoes, scarred by water wicking from the kitchen floor. Or that, daily, I stand on oil-streaked tarmac, imagining a special plane screeching above is carrying her to my empty arms.
When we say goodbye, I tell her that I long for the time we will be together again. But I wonder, as I look up at the silver bellied bird flying into Heathrow whether I really would wish to see my mother again. I tell myself that, despite everything, she at least has grandmother’s arthritic morning blessing. Her courtyard may be littered with debris but she still strews fragrant petals there to dry, capturing their fragrance for the best rose water in the neighbourhood.
Mariam will come at Nowruz with her baby and together they will move between our relatives, savouring each home’s meagre feast. The old songs will be played quietly and Esteri’s fat legs will bounce on my sister’s lap. In the coming spring, their strength will grow alongside trumpeting pomegranate flowers. My little niece will learn to put one foot before the other, so she can walk away from her mother as I have walked away from mine. And she will lie, the same as I do, ‘Oh yes, mother, I have good food to eat and plenty of it. Yes, I see Uncle Hamesh every day. He sends blessings to you all.'Read more >
I see ships crossing oceans
I hear footsteps
I see striated seasons
I feel tides
I see trouble waiting
I hear echoes
I see shadows of nothing
I hear whispering
I see myself opposite
I inhale omens
I see crowds of absence
I taste bitterness
I see birds crossing skies
I hold the invisible
There are no mirrors in his house. It’s a sudden realisation, and I don’t know why I never noticed that before. When I moved in with him, I just looked in his eyes to see myself, and I was never more glowing than in the first two weeks of us living together.
“What we have is like from a movie.” At first, I laughed cynically when he said that because those things never happen to me. I came here only for a couple of weeks, a break from work and routine. The last adventure before I had to start implementing my long-term plan of settling down. Not that I liked the idea or the man I was about to end up with. Becoming the next Julia Roberts in another romantic comedy took me from surprise. I didn’t really try to defend myself.
How come I didn’t notice the lack of mirrors? Yes, we spent long mornings in bed. Yes, I didn’t even have to leave his house, and when I did, I cared nothing about my makeup or hair. My vacation came to an end, and I was still there. I was breathing in the adventure I never expected myself to dare for. I was feeding myself with his words that drew the image of me I never dreamt of.
Here I am, looking at my reflection in the puddle. It surprises me that I didn’t change much. From the way he looked at me I deduced I must have turned ugly. So ugly, that he couldn’t stand my presence anymore. I had to leave his house quickly, to not make him mad at me for getting more and more repulsive. Here I am, a fugitive guilty of wanting to be like Julia Roberts just this once. All my belongings fit in a small plastic bag.
I and the puddle. Proofs that summer in paradise also comes to an end.
She had lived so long on this side of the reflection that the other often seemed a foreign country to her, though she had been born on that side and once knew its alleys and sidewalks as bosom companions. On that side, summer had been longer and music had been more melodic, or was that just her memory sanding the harsh corners smooth? Winters had been colder, but the snow piled higher and there were snow sculptures (once, her father had made her a seated snow man on whose frozen lap she could sit) and hot chocolate thick and scorching in a mug that was nearly too hot to hold. Her coat then was new, thick and she was proud of it in a strange way, this wool barrier that made her part impervious sheep. She wore plastic bread bags between her socks and her boots because they had not yet invented waterproof boots. On this side, the coat was looking a bit threadbare and shabby, old fashioned. People today wore plastic coats in cheery synthetic colors no matter what their moods. Her dark woolen coat made her look like an old grandma, though she was neither and though she felt bright enough inside even if she had lost a little shine. On the far side of the reflection, she was sure the clouds had been more animated, contracting and stretching themselves into shapes against a brilliant blue sky. In those days, the clouds were solid enough to walk on, where today’s clouds formed an unending damp blanket of grey that revealed no images, no friends, and yet pinned nothing in place. They were untrustworthy for walking upon. Sometimes the reflection opened a jagged window into that other world, and sometimes, like the clouds, the reflection became dull and impenetrable. She understood this to be the nature of reflections and also a commentary on her own opaque thoughts. She could be uncompromising and dowdy, but she was not without spirit and joy. It was just more elusive on this side. On both sides, she had a bicycle. The first was sparkly and blue, with a banana seat and colorful streamers bristling from the ends of the handlebars. Read more >
The street is a mosaic.
Burnt orange, rain-slick black, blissfully unexpected blue, nacreous paving stones.
I snatch a second of hoping that winter’s shell is beginning to splinter.
I let my feet fall to the sides of my bike.
My breath gathers in clouds.
More clouds, mirrored in the puddle hugging the pavement. Even as the cold grips my cheeks tightly and snakes around my wrists, the colour of the sky pushes into my chest, sticks to my ribs.
A woman is waiting next to me.
I hesitate to think she is waiting with me, because she has continued staring stoically ahead, even as my wheels have hissed to a wet stop beside her.
Maybe she is concentrating harder than I am on hoping.
The lights are taking a long time to change.
I wonder where she is going. Staring down, soaking in the stillness of her puddle twin, I feel the bizarre urge to ask her.
Finally, the green winks across the water.
This puddle reverses you but not in a fun-house way, more a universe of parallel clarity
& everywhere blue skies.
Pedestrian, distinguished, how the asphalt opens
a path for your passing as cloud puffs,
& bubbles well a silvery cosmos
between the bluing white to caution-yellow
crosswalk &, opposite, such good
In so many global places
you could be any woman of a particular class
with your plastic shopping bag & practical head scarf.
Such hooded profiles should be launched, voyager,
proud on prows of ships for every immigrant
having taken a stand, simple, dignified:
I have arrived. Please welcome what I bring,
my presence a present
beyond doubt, belief, bias, documents.
I had been walking down one of the long meandering streets to the waterfront when I saw your face reflected in the window of a passing bus.
To see your face reflected in the gleaming surface of the window, was like discovering a note written long ago in my own hand containing instructions to a task I no longer remembered the purpose of.
We each enjoyed the few seconds before turning and embracing, those seconds of recognition where it would have been just as easy to blush and not turn, a fleeting rubberneck of old wounds. An avenue unexplored, a time not revisited.
We recited the lines we were expected to before coffee and peach-coloured wine, an effortless slip back into old roles and familiar masks. Licks of buried feeling caught the edges of our huddled postures as we hunched over a rickety table thrown into the spare patch of shade in the market square, and spoke in bursts of enthusiasm.
The last of the sun died and you said ‘shit’. It was a definitive shit, like the closing of a circuit.
‘Got to be somewhere?’ I said, like clicking 'play' on a trusty dictaphone.
Our eyes met like they used to and the fullness of the day dropped out onto the table knocking the loose change from the silver dish onto the cool cobbled street. This city, unfamiliar to us both, felt in that moment suddenly, unexpectedly overwhelming.
You still smelt the same as we embraced and I said it’s fine, just fine.
There’d be another bus, another time, you said with a smile that I hadn’t seen before.Read more >
The pavement slabs are canvases of disorder
each carved with its own scars, lying side by side
My shadow stands with the undefined
lit by the puddle's shine
My shadow, it is enough. My voice is
cloaked in my skin and carried close to me
If they make me walk the pavement slabs
my paper mask will define me
My shadow, it is enough
Sun has fixed my shadow
Still and dark among the elements.
In the slick of sidewalk water, sky,
Clouds cross barriers between the elements,
Making air and water one at my very feet,
Earth adds itself to the duet,
Contributing sidewalk cracks in heaven’s
I note, my feet ... burning so it seems
With the heat of red paint reflections,
Heat that suffuses my being as I stand and meditate, heat that means
Fire has united with the other three.
To that quartet of classic elements, I add a fifth ... from within myself ...
As I ponder this elemental conjunction.
Now you have done it
Now you will see
The other side of me
No more the jolly joker
Never now the kind regard
Meet you the other side of me
This dark defender
That unholy priestess
Doubt you not my dread resolve
Nor my deadly answers
This other side of me
Seek not my goodness
Tis gone forever gone
Come then fool
As you have willed it
Discover this other side of me
The day Dee's life turned upside down
An ordinary day
Her coffee strong, her toast was dry
She started on her way
She walked to work four times a week
To save on the bus fare
The other day she got a ride
with the girl who lived upstairs
A stormy day in Baltimore
The rain came down in sheets
The wind between the buildings blew
Her almost off her feet
Stepping off the curb to cross
She looked into a puddle
And that is when she first felt like
Her head was in a muddle
For in the reflection of the sky
Dee saw that it was blue
The shining sun, it looked so warm
She knew just what to do
She jumped into the puddle and
Like Alice down the hole
A brave new world was at her feet
She wasn't in control
I am not that women in the puddle.
My coat is not black as tar or filth.
My hat does not have a feather on it
or a jewel or a bauble or anything
that would make me stand apart.
I am of the common, of the snow,
of the meltwater and the dew,
waiting it seems forever for you,
for you to slosh toward me
in your own sea of kindness
to reach your hand to mind
to help me across this way.
Pensioners salivate over jam tarts,
prise pennies from flat purses.
Passers-by peer at tempting treats,
count the cost of poverty.
Unseen a thin hand slides
a bun from crowded shelf
into plastic bag.
All in need of comfort
so near the aroma of plump pies
they can't afford.
In steady drizzle,
a long way from home
a busker sways her accordion,
follows pigeons' swoops and arcs,
With the head in the clouds,
the reflection reversed –
a rare tool that I allow myself.
What does it say about me?
no unnatural colours –
that is all sunset,
no excessive saturation,
no black and whites,
but especially no elimination.
They edit out power grid lines now, I hear.
There’s an app.
Where do birds land in their worlds?
Before I click
she knows that I’m here,
fiddling with my camera.
She keeps an eye on me,
waiting for the camera to lift to life
as she has seen
so that she can hide her face in time.
I am not first a hijab or the religion I profess
I am not first a reflection on stained glass
I am not first body before soul
I am more than skin glow
I am not a terrorist
I am not a time bomb waiting to explode
I am merely a person like you
filled with hopes and dreams
I am not this stereotype.
They came when she was at the bus stop. Wheeling around her like flies. And she's thinking: Are they flies? Or are they hornets? Should she stand still or move? Should she run away? Will it just be an irritation, her skin prickling, her breath becoming stiff with silent anger or will it be worse. Far, far worse.
Her hand tightens on her bag strap, clinging on to the lifeline of what's hers. Her other hand is clenching in her pocket. A fist she would not dare to use. Slippery, already, with the fear response.
There are three, circling on those bikes that should be for children. Knees against handlebars, all in black. Their caps are pulled low over their eyes beneath hoods that reek of what she still calls cannabis.
When they start up with the name-calling she looks down at the puddles, tucking her chin further into her scarf. She's wearing trousers and an ordinary coat but if she could hide herself top to toe in black and disappear, she would. Invisibility is a super-power, sometimes.
The bus bumps into view and she flushes with relief. Stepping forward she almost clashes with one of the manboys who sneers 'Watch it!' before skimming round his back wheel, sending puddle water in an arc across her legs.
On the bus, she chooses a seat near the back and watches them ride away down an alley. All the way home, her damp trousers cling to her. An accusation or a reminder.
This neighborhood. The dog behind us barks in frustration at his fence. Another mutt two streets over answers him. A wrench clanking on the driveway, and the thud of a skateboard, as it moves from sidewalk to street. Three boys on bikes scream in unison as they go no feet, no hands for as long as the bikes will coast. A belch of a tug boat as it rounds the curve of the estuary and the buzz of an atv filled with teenagers in dripping swimsuits. Gilly, the house cat, chatters as a squirrel taunts him from the front tree. Thirty seconds. A snapshot. This neighborhood.
My memories stand upright, jutting out into the winter air like needles. “It’s wintertime!” he exclaimed to his grandmother, still strutting up and down the street in her white Reeboks, stained glass wrapped about her head like a scarf. The little boy in the stroller would be a memory-hoard, would rocket through the years like a steel ball, given to hot and to cold, given to lustrous fevers. The bracing air, the passionate leaves (now dust, for the most part), the setting sun a strange distant sadness like the sound of traffic through shallow woods. All of these things can be spied in a puddle of street water, greased with truck oil.
I’ve stood between two dimensions,
hearing with my eyes, seeing with my ears.
I’ve woken in the house no one else sees,
smell that brings me back
often the silken weavework leaves hold
for time if it appears as spider.
Yesterday, as I was about to cross
to the mirror image holding my returns
to the clinic, my rubber shoes pulled
my wonder. I gazed at blue
like two kidneys facing each other.
My self four decades ago
turned out to be the doctor
I never was. We shared stories
through telepathy, never giving
one word its image in sound.
I opened my heart like the house,
inviting my younger self
to come in.
She notes her reflection –
How it mimics the movements
And stands, blurry and wavering,
Living beneath the
Slate and orangey stones.
Did she ever want to leave?
To stop standing, watching –
The forever witness of above.
I imagine peeling back
The first layer of water
And watching the light sink freely
Into the new surface, her
Reflection lost, or maybe
When she was a girl her mother told her
that ears were planted in the bushes, hidden
in the trees where they waited to hear truth,
and that sound you hear, the trickling from
cooling fountains was water laughing at every
lie they heard. She’d walk through parks,
through gardens, and never uttered a word.
She’d race through the greenery to reach
the sunbaked streets, cars racing past that
drew sand in her mouth should she speak.
And in her silence she soaked in the scents
of life – rich camphor that stung at her nose,
cinnamon that flooded across her tongue,
and flat bread warm as desert sand.
She blessed those days when evening rain
put the street’s echoes to sleep – such joy
to wake in the morning, golden reflections
in the puddles and windows and mirrors.
She liked to think she was a little star
crossing the path of the sun – where
only truth was spoken and heard.
Standing on the zebra she glanced up
and saw a tile uncover the sky.
Oh Lord, she whispered,
Did I see something
I shouldn’t have seen?
Rain brightened everything,
made her feel new.
Her pavement reflection sharpened,
scarier than a mirror.
And yet, she thought, here I am in my work coat,
my scarf, my worry.
The same plastic bag.
Heaven’s not a break in the clouds.
And what’s with this road anyway?
I’ve been waiting here forever and
still can’t get across.
She is descended from ancient queens and kings, though her lineage is long ago forgotten by the people and is unknown to her. Yet, the streets she walks do not forget. The brick and soil remember all that have trod upon them and recognize her past, her glory. As she waits to cross the street, the stones speak to the water pooled beside her, “Magnify her image for all to see and pay homage.”
The water understands and does the best it can. The rains have fallen across this land, over and over again for ages, and have seen all. The water calls to the sun, “Shine upon her and help reflect what she holds inside.”
The sun commands the clouds to part and sends bright light to illuminate the woman’s image. “People, look upon this woman who carries ancient glory within her,” proclaims the sun. “Look and be amazed.”
But the people do not look, and the woman does not realize the elements conspire to raise her up. She simply stands waiting. And when traffic clears, she crosses the street, bringing joy to each piece of the earth that she touches with her feet.
Mirror, mirror on the wall…
I stand, reflect on what has gone
The image shatters as I fall
The bearer of a witch's caul
A strong and powerful Amazon
Mirror, mirror on the wall…
And yet within I feel so small
A duckling, no majestic swan
The image shatters as I fall
Surrounded by this urban sprawl
With traffic’s raucous carillon
Mirror, mirror on the wall…
I’m longing for the blackbird’s call
More natural phenomenon
The image shatters as I fall
And as this life begins to pall
Awaiting final denouement
Mirror, mirror on the wall…
The image shatters as I fall
like a pineapple upside-down cake
you baked at 180C
for forty minutes in your oven
you engage my senses
you turn my head
you mess with my vision
dark and light
residing from the rain that fell
just after midnight
continuing until the moment
you donned coat and scarf
then ventured along the pavement
to face bravely the elements
to stand, to stare
at bulbous nimbus scurrying
on a frolic of prevailings
while waiting for a No. 31
due seven minutes ago
according to the timetable
page 21 dog-eared, torn
probably a season out of date
A woman – her hair protected in a headscarf
a plastic bag in her pocketed arms
The puddle on the zebra crossing
only just recovered from a drive through
as the moment passes
Flagged on the blue, red and white paving slabs
the portrait of her imagined self
flatters as the unfamiliar
A car approaches
The days run like clockwork, only the clock no longer works. Morning calls turn to market
lists and plastic shopping bags heavy with ingredient swaps. My arm aches, as does my soul.
Rooster calls … do you miss me? Local wares differ from items I seek and customs I long for.
Coveted spices, fresh papaya, roadside sheds staffed by neighbors and stocked with farm-fresh
eggs. Kind faces differ from the souls I crave. Neighbor … do you miss me? Solitaire cards decorate
the kitchen’s wooden table. Partner … do you miss me? I question myself, as water boils on the electric stove. I stir the pot, hoping to simmer – even boil – feelings of gratitude that evaporate in the stock I’ve brewed. My reflection stares – tries to smile – back at me, though I do not recognize the woman I’ve become. One who traveled rocky waters and murky pathways to land on foreign soil. Fortune
on me and granted
me shelter. Why, then, do I crave more?
Blazing sun rises
and warms my aging body.
Home … do you miss me?
Reflecting on the yellow road,
the high road, the low road,
the road less travelled by,
and all the other roads
I could have taken;
how was it this one and why?
What caused me to turn the corner,
go this way at the crossroads,
climb that hill
to see the other side?
Which river stopped my path,
and which one carried me here
a place where roads lead
nowhere and everywhere,
where all roads
are mine to choose?
I am no wiser now
than I was then,
have no better idea
as to which road to choose.
Experience has taught me nothing
except we step into darkness
when we take that step.
Nothing is foreseen,
nothing can be known
of what is to come,
what leads to happiness,
or leads to grief.
Read more >
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu.
It is a soft, malleable and ductile material with very high
thermal and electrical conductivity. A freshly exposed
surface of copper has a pinkish-orange colour.
Plastic is a material consisting of a wide range
of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic compounds.
Such compounds are malleable and can be moulded
into solid objects. Of course, as a person, I am far more plastic
than copper. As a person I am light to the touch, and cannot be
discerned without the aid of a microscope. And, even then, you would
fail (yes, FAIL) miserably. Come to think of it, so would we all.
Plasticity is impossible to discern in its human form.
The sky below
flipped overhead by angled lens, film, and f-stops.
Patterns and contrast compose a
world inverted on a skewed axis.
An upright woman thrown back by a trick of the light.
Warm light, flat areas, foreground, horizon et al., but not all
exist in landscape presented as portrait.
Navy to teal bounces off a puddle, with saxe (light blue with a greyish tinge) off white, orange, and grey oblong bricks.
A scene as simple as a woman waiting to
pick up her kids from school, for a bus, or for
so anything is inverted
first in reflection, then by refracted angles.
Blue sky plays tricks on the puddle
making it seem pure and clean.
Or maybe in this world, one really could
eat off the market square.
The water always gazed back.
At first, as a child, they'd corrected her:
no, dear, that's you, that's your face, your eyes.
She knew her own eyes.
That wasn't them.
In adolescence, a few times,
she'd tried again to warn them.
The water is watching, not just reflecting.
There's something alive in there.
A sense of unease followed her always,
jabbing sharpest when it rained.
The water was biding its time,
and now she was a paranoid adult
who would leap to avoid puddles on the path.
Move to a desert, a colleague joked
when she confided the water was staring.
She held her tongue, didn't admit
the watery boundaries she felt around her,
flowing her motions back to the stream, the sink, the droplet.
Eventually, the water stopped waiting.
They never could tell how she'd been found
with all the symptoms of drowning,
lying on her freshly made bed
with a full glass of water beside her.
I have learned to distinguish you from the rest. Something about not asking questions, something about not making plans, but Thursdays are for talking to Damascus. There is a reluctant smile on your face when they say you do not look Syrian. When they ask where you are from, you say that you now live in the States.
When you asked to see my hands it was the start of an investigation. There will always be suitcases, and train tracks and airports, I know, and encounters that are lost and those that last.
My pains have been flexible thus far. I also live off the ground but for different reasons. Each time you found peace in me I felt nervous. This city is full of waitresses who look like your dead friends. I ask for their names, I try to keep record. Breadcrumbs in the forest.
I am a map of your comings and goings. It was already yesterday when we held each other’s hands. The days will grow longer. The light will be perfect to remember the Bosphorus. This city of mine that could have been yours but then wasn’t.
Your reflection shows the same old you
Just doing what you always do
Standing on the street, stock-still
Letting your mind wander at will
Clothed in almost fully black
Bar a colourful bag and its strap on your back
Your reflection shows a different angle
Rather than feet on the ground, from above you dangle
Good riddance to that cracked brick road
Grey bricks and browns ones, splashed with gold
You see behind you a gradient
From black so dark, to blue so radiant
I imagine it to be a dreamy thought
To pass through the gates with iron wrought
And float alone, to heart's content
Your mind itself for a best friend
To melt into the landscape and drift far
To run free like a wild deer, race against the stars
This summer I spent a few days in the American southwest visiting two of Utah’s five National Parks. On the flight home I jotted some notes about the trip: there are 16 million Mormons worldwide; the canyons had nine formations over 150 million years; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed in Zion; national parks are one of the few places stateside to view dark skies; roadside “gem and rock shops” also sell dinosaur bones and petrified wood.
Suddenly a flash outside the window: lightening. Every few seconds, the clouds below us were illuminated. “Isn’t this how Emilia Earhart was lost?” I thought. I gave a single-finger poke to my cousin Margaret directing her to the window. Her worried expression didn’t help.
With every flash, I thought of us exploding, and could almost hear the high-pitched whistle as we plummeted from the sky. I imagined people watching a white funnel of smoke on their TV, as the evening news reported our loss. I had recently read something about planes and lightening, but at the moment couldn’t recall. I looked around the plane and focused on an athletic guy in Patagonia shorts and a Zion tee-shirt. “No way is he about to perish,” I thought. It worked until the window again lit up.
In an effort to remain rational, I thought about how much I’ve always loved these storms. As a kid I’d sit on the back porch of a three-decker and watch lightning strikes with my grandfather from folding beach chairs. I was fearless back then. On stormy summer nights, I’d lie in bed counting each second until a clap of thunder would shake the house.
Then I thought our first night in Utah. Just before 9:00 p.m., we pulled off Rt. 80 and beneath an illuminated Chevron sign had a roast turkey dinner at a picnic table. There was a warm breeze as we sat recounting our first day of travel. Read more >
We are the witness
We inhale attention
We are in the frame
We exist in the point
We are of forbearance
We can be foresight
We shift undercurrents
We color the edges
We nod and go unmute
We tread into a story
We move us forward
We are the witness
waits in the space between thought,
in the world supporting the world, a suspension
where I stand beneath myself in a breadth of hesitation.
This lacuna contains no direction,
only color and texture painting the rhythm of life.
Lines, residual centuries, cracks of innovation gone to wear,
puddled water that seeped from my ancestor’s pores
returned again and again
an answer to this pause –
flash color night stain lingering depthless blue, a breathless rise
in my chest. A momentary knowing the illusory reality,
complexities of here and now revealed in layers of what isn’t and won’t be.
I am there in the water without looking, here three dimensional but a reflection nonetheless.
Comfort is thought, but in this moment I am small dangling from rock,
insignificant in the azure
and copper road runoff, grey stain hatching limits and sky I am a curt cut where a curb could just as well exist.
Prosaic, like this choice in route,
in orientation –
can I wait until Friday to pick up the bitter greens, grained
bread and butter, and other less essentials?
beneath the thaw,
the ice begins its crack,
piece by piece
the trapped look to the skies
the charcoal gray of winter
turned into the velvet glow
of evening, the hope of
spring whispering still
maybe we’ll live, maybe,
while footsteps crunch above
a man reaping the darkness
in hood, stomp, stomp
steps crunch over trapped minds
the velvet glow
turning to black
while they capture the last glows
maybe we’ll live,
I look for the sky
In the secret places
From casting my eye
In corner shop windows
Mirrored in faces
Captured by puddles
Hidden in plain sight
In public spaces
I look for the sky
Anywhere but up
Dare not look upon
Its deepest hue
That vast expanse
This infinite blue
I capture a glimpse
Reflected in you
I stand alone in this tiny world, blue sky enveloping me, the tarmac of the road enclosing me in this micro-existence.
My thoughts are not here in this bubble of the perfect storm, they fly free, unencumbered by the constraints this puddle puts on my reflection's reflections.
I am not there, or here. I am lost in a world of my own creation, where nothing tethers me and no imposed expectations prevent me being who I truly am.
This reflection of a lonely woman is only the character seen by a world with little imagination. My reality is not for your eyes. You would not understand.