- Vol. 05
- Chapter 11
21st August 2039
Oona Prince – Radio Presenter
Belle Rigby – First Mermaid Translator
OP: With us today we have Belle Rigby, the first woman – sorry, the first human – to successfully make contact with the Marei and live to tell the tale.
So Belle, take us back to 2027 when the threat from the Marei was very real. No one had survived an encounter before you. How did you get involved? Were you a volunteer with the Communication Mission?
BR: No, I was just a jobbing musician. They wanted language specialists. I was busking at the emergency port where Kew Gardens used to be. Admiral Tenant was there at the summit for the protection of the new sea borders. He came over to listen but I didn’t know who he was. He just stood with his eyes closed. I like it when people do that. Then he said he had a job for me. He told me later he had no idea if it would work but he’d just lost the first cohort of translators. My harp had made him think of a story he’d heard at school, Orpheus. I knew it from my ex who was into the Sandman comics. I only remembered the bit about him being ripped to shreds and his head left singing.
OP: But music was the key wasn’t it? Tell me what was it like to – is ‘talk’ the right word – with a mermaid.
BR: The way I think of it is this – if it was a different time I’d have been burned as a witch. Consorting with demons (laughs). The first time was on my fourth scout performance. I’d been playing for maybe 45 minutes – Tam Lin – and I felt someone join the song. Read more >
Kaolinite – it is a soft, earthy, usually white, mineral. In many parts of the world it is coloured pink-orange-red by iron-oxide, giving it a distinct rust hue. Lighter concentrations yield white, yellow, or light orange colours. Alternating layers are sometimes found.
Like you, I was once clay, malleable, moveable. Dense with hope, heavy with possibility.
An angel song played on a golden harp. White satin, flower garlands. You shaped me on an altar, love from both sides pouring in. In safe hands, they said. Your hands, I was willing to be moulded.
A review on the formation of kaolinite, raised the fundamental question… how could a disordered material ever be transformed into a corresponding ordered structure?
Heat, from a devil’s fingers, liquifying my body, molten lust. Leather. rubber. A mask drawn tight across my face. Breathless, I drip with sweat and shame.
Below 100°C (212°F), exposure to dry air will slowly remove liquid water from the kaolin. The end-state for this transformation is referred to as "leather dry". Between 100°C and about 550°C (1,022°F), any remaining liquid water is expelled from kaolinite.
The heat, it burns. My skin is scorched. The flesh peels, exposing white bone. You control the gauge, a quarter more to the right. I become impermeable. The mask tightens. Bubbles of truth float to the surface and ripple into lies. They hear an echo of me but no longer see.
The end state for this transformation is referred to as "bone dry". Subsequent transformations are not reversible and represent permanent chemical changes. Read more >
Here are the instructions for this performance:
1. Breathe. Just breathe. Find your tempo, and play.
2. The performance should be as long as you can let it be. Try very hard not to stop.
3. Play it as best you can. Even when you think it won’t come can’t come will never come: breathe, and keep playing. Even when your throat tightens like a hand is around it, and the weight of the world presses heavy on your chest, and the blood sings in your ears and it sings a song of the end of everything: keep playing.
4. The performance will be complex and at times difficult. The notation will make no sense. The score will lead you towards a crescendo, then drop away, unresolved. You must continue.
5. At times as conductor I will be demanding, insistent, a tyrant.
6. At times I will walk out of the room, leave you with no instruction.
7. Some of the pages of the score will be blank. Some will be in the wrong order. Accept this, and play.
8. There will be times when you will lose all faith in the music; you will feel adrift, out of sight of land, sinking. The waves will close over your head and the sky will become just a lightness above the water. You will sink deeper and deeper until that lightness becomes just a stain and then that stain becomes nothing more than a memory of light.Read more >
Granny has a second-best room where all the second-best things live. The biscuits are left out long enough that their crunch is lost under the
tannined-tang of cut price tea.
The crockery doesn’t match, the porcelain is thick and ridgy and there are no serviettes to mop up the dribbles where lip clashes lip, just empty cardboard
kitchen roll innards lined up on spikes.
Granny has a second-best grandchild who hides in the second-best room.
Granny doesn’t know that the grandchild knows that Granny knows she’s second-best, but the grandchild
feels it, eats it, breathes it, lives it.
The grandchild has been
in the absence of light and visits from the refined sorts whose mumblings dance down the corridor and trill at the door of the
The porcelain army is amassing. Little Bo-Peep no longer gives a fuck that she’s lost her sheep because the atomic bomb is ticking
TICK TICK TICK
under her cloak. Who made her second-best and wear the bonnet and hand over her earnings to the man in the suit?
(you did) Read more >
First there was a trumpet discovered in the ticket office, behind cobwebbed glass and behind a furred velvet curtain that was drawn. The trumpet was just sitting on the cushioned seat all brassy and breathless and cold. Then a clarinet was found in the theatre stalls, and a cello outside casually leaning against the locked front door as though it had been waiting some time to be admitted and had grown tired and slumped. A tuba was abandoned in the men’s toilet.
How they came to be where they were was a mystery. It was as though a whole orchestra had made a secret visit to the empty Festspielhaus, delivered a quick and impromptu concert, and then fled in a mad and forgetful rush. This sometimes happened these dark damned days, when men in black shirts were liable to swoop down on anything considered degenerate or depraved: Mendelssohn and Schönberg.
A violin was uncovered in the costume cupboard, wrapped in a maid’s white petticoat, and the bow and rosin concealed the same. And the three parts of a flute appeared suddenly in the gleam of the cutlery drawer in the canteen, as though it was pretending to be a knife and a fork and a spoon. There was a conductor’s baton lying there, too.
The instruments were, over the course of a day, quietly gathered together in the back studio, and as the search widened, more and more were added to the collection. Word soon spread beyond the theatre and it was rumoured that a concert of Offenbach had been heard the night before by a group of music enthusiasts, or that Rachmaninov or Tchaikovsky would be played one night later the next week, the musicians reading the notes by candlelight or touch and the rest of the theatre in darkness.
Nothing was certain.Read more >
All I can play is dark she said
Play On Play On I know you can play pretty
All I can do is play my heart she said
Play On precious girly don’t be so silly
I am a woman and blinded and airless
Pluck those strings with your lovely white fingers
Let me imagine you nubile-nymph-slippery-fish-hairless
I ache when I play my mind weeps my back breaks
I don’t want to know I couldn’t care less
Play On for my pleasure fine china princess
I will play you music to grow your fat head to a pumpkin
You look so sweet-perfectly-mine in that white-frill dress
Then I will harp you asleep and gouge out your eyes and carve you a new mouth and hack at your flesh
Play On my angel you have seen enough of this world you belong deep down here in this well
I am no angel now you stole my wings when you bedded me upon sharp rocks and silt
Play On I’m tired of self-pity-misery O tiny flightless sightless suffocating drowned-objectRead more >
In every vibrating sound There is
heart. I am playing for you,
heart. When you rise to my
throat and find anguish to hear
in red, ruddy flesh
you’ll find the world is a pungent litany of distortions
of ghoulish vectors. Melting
superiorities. I like confusion when I’m not
confused. An old man told of the pendulum
swing away from the cleaner air.
How in dirty cultures we’re all poorer
& corruption is made of many clouds,
clouds high where we can’t touch.
How can you call
that air to breathe?
There is the story of the band aboard the Titanic paying Nearer My God to Thee as the ship slipped below the waves and it feels incomplete in some way because did they continue as they slid off the deck?
Did they float awhile in the frigid waters and likewise play something meaningful, like Dreams of Home?
Did they somehow continue to play as they settled toward the bottom of the ocean, watching the sawing of the violin to count time on No Surrender as sharp-toothed fishes circled them eagerly.Read more >
Once it was the smoke that made me cough and splutter every time I played a gig. Nicotine flavoured oxygen which made me long for a respirator. Now the problem is unseen. The air looks pure but I need a respirator now. Perhaps I should play under water a new version of Water Music. There may be more oxygen there, but I'll take no chances.
old school, sits at her harp playing,
strumming our notes on a porcelain ground –
someone’s painted the harp orange and splashed it on the chair,
decked her in a gas mask and oxygen tank
invoked Fukushima on a Meissen figure –
it’s as if the whole modern world came out of some Grecian idyll, some long-dressed susceptibility, some classical-music figurine,
and then was added poison
They put her on a pedestal and let her play to audiences parched of music; with her frenetic fingers and her porcelain skin, the harpist was so delicate she wore a gas mask for fear of something toxic.
But once the lights were dimmed, the auditorium hushed, the conductor’s baton raised and the orchestra ready on the right page of the score, she released into the concert hall the tinkling of rain and the heady scent of petrichor, a rush of negative ions in a world of drought, where the city was deserted until the stars came out.
How they longed for pure drops instead of radioactive rain, to drink, to bathe, to splash and swim in lakes and oceans once again!
The harp dripped notes like sprays of spring on the privileged and wealthy, who’d sold the world and saved themselves, the beautiful and healthy.
We're still here because of the aquifer. Whoever wakes first sings to the water and waits for it to sing back. I woke first, just now, and as I was singing and holding up a palmful of water, as I dunked my head and drank and breathed in, as the water filled my belly and the oxygen filled my lungs, my forehead knocked against this.
My fingers recognised the mask and the tank (we used to have our own) but they had trouble identifying the rest. I thought there was a collar bone, a pair of breasts, an arm, a hand. But I thought I was inventing things. It’s been so long.
I took it back to the others and we passed it around. There were many suggestions (you’d think, having developed gills, we might have developed night-sight by now but we haven’t). Others agreed about the arm and the hand. Some talked about hats they remembered. Some about curtains. Things we knew before we lived down here, in the tunnel.
Milandra, who was the last to speak, said it was a sign. Said we should listen more. Said the time was coming when we’d hear what we’d been longing to hear ever since the disaster. Said it was an instrument of our salvation.
And we believed her. Because we had to.
souvenirs of war come in many forms sometimes you leave one sometimes you bring one home memories of twisted faces crying out in anger and in agony both asking for help lost limbs and lost souls and things you never forget all of us carry some form of souvenir from some form of war
Never again say the symphony took your breath away. No more joking! Not today. The cellists in the big city fight their way through putrid smog to the auditorium. Urban wildfires burn your house and squeeze your lungs, you know this and still think you’ll hear the fire bird make peace with a water moccasin, a resolution caught in vague harp strings of your mind. You’ll still have to emerge into the miasma. Watch babies gasp. Get used to strains of compromised lungs. We live there now.
In the age of steam, the ambitious burned miles of forests and mountains of coal to facilitate ascendance. The fat of sheep and whales lit ballrooms; heady gaslights illuminated pages of self-authorizing permits for industrial exploitation, laws directing military terrorism. Fumes, filth and ashes permeated the air; we can tell to the year when any representative art from that era was created by the models of gas-masks and oxygen-tanks shown— which replaced jewels as newly important fashion accessories and status indicators.
They call me the angel of the apocalypse My music taking wing Singing its song of the end of days In the choking, smoking smog
The notes singe my fingers Fire the strings with a melody Burn harp and heart As the inferno embraces us In its amber cloak Swallowing us whole Sucking oxygen from lungs And hope from prayers
I played when each seal was broken Softened the blow of what was to come A gentleness of death And I will play on Until no one hears This perpetual canon This perpetual mourning This last sung song
Her hand is delicate, porcelain, untouched by the silver curse that charged the rest of her body. The hand plucks all the strings it can reach: an octave. The islands—you know the ones I speak of—are the exotic fruit we smuggled through customs last year from a different place: colorful, strange, and delicious. I want to ask her if she has ever graced these places, ever plied her harp at the resorts where heads of silver hair are blown by the sea breeze. I want to say to her, “What’s your favorite fruit? Mine’s oranges.” She turns toward me, as though she can read my mind, her mask confronting me with its intransigence. Angrily, a raft of bubbles bursts forth from the mask. She turns back to her harp, bows her head, and plucks away.
My fingers incessantly plucking the strings as they draw the blood from my soul and play on and on like a long-lost symphony, with truth lodged within my throat as I clutch my teeth together shredding it Oh! so gently
I move my fecund fingertips fervently to bring out the music of the divine those seraphic fingers playing the melody move gently Oh! so sublime
But nothing comes out from this choked and vapid soul everything gets lost in the cacophony this voiceless din, this succumbed uproar
I'm taking in thin strips of the air or whatever is left of it as my encumbered heart is dying and rotting slowlyRead more >
In a mood as usual, Jove spat. A comet of divine expectorate exploded in the green, just off some coast. Euterpe tugged his selfish sleeve; glancing back, he noted how the whole island shuddered. A klaxon howled, and mortals hid from it.
“Never apologise,” he said. The Muse, astounded, remonstrated soundly. Fool, to think that she could move her master’s mind! He turned on her. “High time you tried your hand at divine intervention. Make merciful overtures, if you must. It’ll be no use...”
How right he was. Euterpe went and tuned her hopeful harp. The heart of the inferno set raging on the fatal shore, a mass- murdering mess, was where her masterclass took place. Before her harp-strings could turn to ash – all froze. “I told you so!” Jove grinned.
Now metamorphosed, here she sits. She smoothly breathes; there’s plenty in the tank. Her thumb and fingers seem poised to reclaim their pure notes – but no one lives to hear them. The population, after all, has shrunk. And the gods save their yarns for the ex-pats.
submerged in a haze of nuclear waves I am tossed and tumbled into plutonium’s cavernous maw, a diver into our wreck and ruins draped in lead lamé, a fall of pewter folds encases me as I hold my breath, hold my breath, hold, until my lungs suck the air, this burning, caustic blast
I exhale a Darth Vader rattle— what harmonies we have unleashed— angels’ harps and broken ribs, crushed bodies, tissues perforated by a thousand arrows, shards of atomic waste— flesh melts and resolves itself into a dew— can the whole world be placed on a respirator?
air ignites oceans catch fire we drown in the contrail of last century’s delusions our treasures—music, art, poetry and breath itself, the zephyr of the soul— tossed onto the tempest pyre
Even the air we breathe is processed, has to be now that the fires in the north and west have flung particulate matter across the continent. So we carry on, don our masks and our oxygen tanks before we sit down to play the harp or piano—no trumpets or trombones since we cannot inhale enough to "blow, Gabriel, blow" any more—and pretend life is good, still pretty good, as my friend Bob likes to say, just as the gauge on the tank veers toward empty and the lightning cracks and the floodgates open and we become curios and knick-knacks in nature’s wild parlor.
Mix 2ml Ventolin and 4ml saline – Breathe through mist.
Voice of Machine drowns your own. Breathe in Breathe out
In Out In Out In Out
Rhythm brings calm. Results will show up soon.
I breathe in, they’re inside me. I breathe out,
the three-headed baby crowns. Mist disappears, Machine makes choking sounds.
We had to grow up overnight, Let go of our favourite things. The dolls went first, battalions of Pink into the incinerator... Black tarry smoke poured from The chimneys, made us cough And gag and cry at our losses. There were two hundred girls Screaming as if it were their skin on fire.
Those who could play instruments Formed an orchestra, Used breathing apparatus Like fire fighters, Crushed the cries with symphonies And bits of opera, Hid behind masks to save Themselves.
"Mum, they'll stare."
"Didn't I tell you it's impolite to stare? In polite society they won't stare."
"They'll notice though."
"Not if you play the way you played this morning."
Coral clutches at her dress, scrabbling for excuses.
"Go," says her mum. "You don't want to be late."
Twelve years leading to this night, this performance.
"But," says Coral, not sure what came next.
"Save your breath." Her mum tucks a stray wisp back under the band around Coral's finely-made wig. Real hair. "You will dazzle them."
Backstage, Coral waits alone, letting the soothing shush of her breath through the tube lull her. A hairless girl rushes into the room.
"Great, you're here," she says. "Hall's filling up nicely. Do you have everything you need?"
Coral nods without thinking. Fade into the background, cause no fuss. Be noticed only for the music.
"Love that mask," says the girl. "Very Under. You don't have to wear it yet though, there's another ten minutes until curtain-up. Don't want you overheating."
She smiles and darts back into the corridor. She has tell-tale ridges beneath the skin of her nose and throat. Even backstage assistants have filters in this dizzying world. Coral clings to her harp as the enormity of the evening threatens to overwhelm her. If she wins…Read more >
Silver silver lining ripped noted manuscripted, inked rock edge dangerous calling
Plucking sucking draining space retaining, placated soft ledge amorous falling
Fearful tearful nowhere featureless, bare, excavated Gentle defenceless all in
fearful tearful nowhere plucking sucking draining silver silver lining ripped
featureless, bare, excavated space retaining, placated noted manuscripted, inked
Gentle defenceless all in soft ledge amorous falling rock edge dangerous calling
Siren statue lyred
god has left the building, all flowers aspire to eat flesh the gnarly spiky worm is a caterpillar that forgot its fate
all breath now is last gasps of mighty air in a metal tube that fits on my back so curved so bent –
this music will not be heard
if anything against this storm where there is no wind no noise no rubble the only sound is a beating heart about to go
Also inspired by and referencing Joan Aiken's short story ‘A Harp of Fish Bones' and the Finnish epic folk poem The Kalevala.
The girl I love made a harp of fish bones. She caught the oldest, wiliest pike and as it thrashed for breath on the ground she studied the bend of the spine. When it lay still she plucked its eyes and stripped its flesh and chewed them as she trimmed and softened the shards of its bones, ordering them longest to shortest and fitting them in place as unwilling strings. She boiled the skin to glue and used it to bind the harp’s shape.
I asked what she would do with the fish scales that had scattered like sharp mirrored petals, and she gave them to me and said, 'Do as you please.' No string player, me, but I could keep a beat, so I threaded the scales onto long grass to make bells, and I followed her where she played and rang her into every town.
Her renown grew. When she played she could bring to the listener the sound of a snow-melt swollen torrent washing spring into the fields, or it the light trickle of a summer stream. A single hanging plucked note could cause a listener to forget the drought.
A letter arrived one day from the Court At Sea.
'We understand a distant cousin contributed to the harp,' said the invitation, 'and we would like to hear you play.' My harpist, tone deaf to anything but music, agreed to go. I chimed her into the Coral Crown Room, where a shimmer of gills and fins shimmer watched us enter unblinkingly. My bells faltered to silence but they had eyes only for the harp.
‘Play,’ commanded the Royals, all rainbow colours.Read more >
Oh how I love you hear me play, Despite you treating me so ill. Your passion takes my breath away
I tread like feathers, day by day, And set aside my childlike will – Oh how I love you hear me play
You’ve moulded me like china clay, Yet keep me at arm's length, until Your passion takes my breath away
An ingénue, your protégé, You bully, cause me to doubt my skill Oh how I love you hear me play
I recognise I hold no sway, My dreams unable to fulfil: Your passion takes my breath away
And should I ever find a way To leave, I know you’d haunt me still. Oh how I love you hear me play, Your passion takes my breath away
So, has Banksy turned his hand To postmodern ceramics? 'Apocalypse Now' with a twist – Oxygen mask handmaiden figurine; *In ironic Wedgewood style*. A gloved hand plucking Outsized terracotta red harp; White Grecian dress enrobed, Atop gold leaf decorated plinth. "Air quality critical" *radio crackles* ...Life imitates art, art imitates life...
Porcelain, painted and gilt, with plastic pieces carefully placed, implies air filled with silt so thick that sunshine’s been defaced— yet music still carried its lilt.
Ears uncovered could hear a beauty once well-loved and known before that fateful year was presaged by many a spying drone— the heralds of dreadful fear.
What creatures had they been, such able creators of fragile beauty, to start what they could not win, unaware that survival’s their primal duty? We sift through the dust they’re in.
Today’s the day: We fire up the lifevest harp For a concert, A modest recital Of the lives Of the drowned.
Today’s the day: We do it open-air, Old-school style. Dangerous, I know. But I am covered neck to foot In ultralight Sun-U-Block™. Both demure And so efficient. My hands and neck, décolleté: Factor four hundred.
I’m breathing a flask From Daddy’s cellars: Finest mountain morning. A twenty-six, a vintage year, With notes of pine and meadow, Silky woodlands on the palate, A long dewy finish With just a hint of ash in the aftertaste.Read more >
Porcelain fingers pluck china strings the ceramic harp sings a requiem of treble disaster in a world out of key nature’s jarring orchestra discordant melody of old catastrophe balm of music on scars of history clogged lungs respire a dirge of death triggering tremors of recollection flood of memory horrors of oblivion
It’s a brittle day to start the brittle season, when everything gets dark and we are told this is a good thing, like the sun isn’t our
best friend. But this is what we have to look forward to now, prepping for the age when all we do is die, constantly, over and over,reborn with a black aqualung, a microprocessor and a Minerva complex, as evolution moves even quicker if you’re rich with a spanner
in your coffin. And in all these reincarnations maybe you will be fortunate enough to have a moment where you meet the augmented
projection of the one you loved the most; they take a wing off their back and give it to you, a momento viviere to try and hold on to in the
roiling anthropocenic smog. Say, what was that tune you played in Florence? ‘Rosebud’, wasn’t it? Didn’t that world survive too, after the notes
broke on to the floor, into the fire? Play it again, play it again, play it again, play it again, play it again again again again again again again again.
Porcelain perhaps, But it could just as well be plastic. The naked eye Is not what it used to be.
A music box possibly, Enclosed within the base Of this dainty statuette— A harpist, dressed in a white gown, Hand hovering near the strings Without spaces between them, Fused together, unending orange Of porcelain, or plastic, Or something one has not dreamed.
Don’t talk about the black Gas mask she wears, Or the black tank clinging to her back Like a witch’s familiar. Don’t even go there.
If there is music in her ensemble, One suspects a key hidden underneath The base, waiting to be twisted; And if there is music, Do we really want to hear the bombs, Shrieks, wailing ululations, Crash of buildings, dripping of blood, Inhalation of poison vapors— Accompanied by delicate notes Of sublimated terror?Read more >
This is me. Edith. And this is my vision. My dry lungs are corrupted with gas. The moment I stop playing and remove this foul rubber mask, my soul and air will be all gas and I will extinguish. I have nothing left to breathe, I am shorn of dignity but can still escape to the one corner of my mind the hunger hasn't eviscerated yet. There, my vision sits waiting for me.
In it, I have a beautiful dress with Belgian lace at the collar, my hair is high and knotted, I look like a china doll or a porcelain figurine that you might see on a mantel-piece or at a low window of a house near the canal. This porcelain tells you I am fragile, I will shatter soon but for now I am whole and beautiful and with my daughters. I think of them as Dutch now and so orange in this vision. Margot behind me, supporting, dependable, taking the weight of my oxygen and Anne, my harp. With my own hands I made her, such a precocious talent, eloquent cadences flowing from her strings and sinews. That unmistakeable timbre which will resonate for generations comes from her beechwood. Her music can easily turn into a weapon, my beautiful harp can also be a bow, the quavers and semiquavers bolts that will fly far into the future and will not leave the flesh easily. They will tug and pull some of your flesh out should you try to remove. Best leave them in and let them travel to your heart.
Today it was Orange.
The name of the colour came easy to her. As soon as she opened her eyes, she was assaulted by the memory of her mother in their kitchen, handing her a segment of the fruit she had just peeled. She could taste the sweetness of it in her mouth, beating out the rank taste of the night before.
She licked her lips and held up her hand in front of her. Her life line stood out in contrast to the rest of her palm, and the veins under the skin of her wrist looked fluorescent, pumping something contagious through her body.
She swung her feet off her bed. The sheets underneath her creased in violent shades of Orange. The lamp in the corner – her only source of light, that lit up every morning at 7am on the dot and turned off at 9pm sharply – cast a horrible glow over her, like a gross substance had leaked out of a tube.
The sweetness wasn’t in her mouth anymore. She could tell this was going to be a painful colour. She would have a headache in a few hours, and her appetite wouldn’t last after breakfast. She felt bile rise up in her throat at the thought of an Orange plate, with Orange eggs and Orange bread and Orange salt cascading from her fingers as she tried to overpower the look of it with the rough flavour.
Obscene. The word was one she didn’t think she had heard in years, probably not since she enjoyed reading on pages that were black on white. She tested it out, her vocal chords scratching the inside of her throat. Obscene, she said, and the word matched everything around her. Orange was Obscene. The conclusion made her uncomfortable. She folded her arms across her chest and hugged herself tight enough to feel the soft flesh hurt against her ribcage.Read more >
James picked up the post in the hall and spun the wheelchair precipitously for the turn. “I’d’ve got that. You know how those stunts put my heart in my mouth.” Envelopes in his lap, the veteran mock-pouted. “Got to entertain myself somehow. Can’t just wait to die.” Tanya laughed and tilted her head quizzically, momentarily distracted by the new guise of a hall ornament. She lifted the delicate piece.
It seemed their nine-year-old had decided to co-opt an expensive figurine despite the garish harp – wedding present from James’s squaddie pals – into his own battalion of action figures. Face-mask and aqualung … marines. “James, do the navy have–” A grin snapped her train of thought as he opened the brown envelope with exaggerated aplomb. Then he froze. “Uh.” “What’s wrong?” He tried to recapture the smile. “Heh, remember the reappraisal due to Disability Benefit rehash?” “Ye-aah?” She didn’t like the colour of his face. “Seems the kidney impact syndrome doesn’t… Shit!” The letter hit the floor. Then the harpist. “James?” “They wiped–” “JAMES!!”
It would be impossible to deny that she had some unusual friends. The presents she’d received for her birthday were a mismatched assortment of items bought from charity shops; books with notes attached saying ‘you must read this’ and the wine and chocolate people had won as prizes and didn’t like. She didn’t like them either but was far too polite to say so.
The statue of a harpist with a diving mask and air tanks had to be one of the strangest she had ever been given. When she’d arrived at work it had been on her desk in a box. The label on the box said ‘Precious - Handle with care’ and there was a card inside that was barely legible with the word ‘Breathe’ on it.
She decided that someone was trying to send her a subliminal message to help her cope with her stressful job and so she closed her eyes and tried deep breathing. After a few minutes she gave up and went to get a coffee. Returning she found that one of her colleague’s children was trying to take off the diving mask with a glint of mischievous determination in their eyes. “Would you like it?” The child nodded in reply and marched off clutching the statue.
“One gift gotten rid off, another ten to go,” she mumbled and by the end of the day she’d managed to pass on most of them, except the coffee cream chocolates that no one wanted. Just as she about to leave work, a red-faced executive from the art gallery opposite dashed in and asked if a parcel had been delivered by mistake.
“It’s got a statue in it by a really well-known artist and it’s worth a small fortune. It isn’t here is it?”Read more >
Kids are weird when they deign to communicate in yoghurt splatters alone (load, aim, fire, as strawberry Petit Filous hurtles across the room and hits your eye). Kids are weird when they refuse to sleep anywhere but in the back of a car, listening to Radio 4 and travelling within the range of forty five and fifty five miles per hour.
It’s true that some are advertisements for parenthood, dimpled cheeks and soft hair and as voiceless as the dead. But these specimens will probably turn into psychopaths – sociopaths at the very least – because isn’t a basic amount of vocal interaction necessary for a child’s development?
But in spite of her daughter’s burblings, Kate still wished that she had been blessed with a minor psychopath, destined to become a mortician or a right-wing party leader, any occupation for which empathy skills are not strictly necessary. Because, what her little girl was doing, squatting on the kitchen floor, was, quite frankly, weird.
Hadn’t Kate bought her Barbies, Bratz, an army of plastic dolls, armed with sharp nails and sharp noses and diddy handbags? Was Clover not satisfied with dressing and undressing dolls, satisfactory preparation for a future of motherhood and geriatric care?
No, Clover was not satisfied.
Clover liked changing things, a burgeoning (or should that be burdening?) interest in malleability and editing and making things into what they shouldn’t-couldn’t-wouldn’t be. A fluffy rabbit with six legs and an extra ear, stuck unceremoniously with pink glue in the middle of its chest. Faceless dolls, eyes gaping blankly through thin coats of paint.Read more >
When poisons streak the earth we will speak verses
to ripple spaces with old certainties and new hope.
When the oceans clog with plastic we will draw truth
to create fresh pictures of our possibilities.
When oppressors circle victims we will paint gateways
to signal apertures to survival and liberation.
When hatred shreds love we will sing and heal wounds
to voice and unify primeval bonds.
When famished humans weep we will pluck violins
to tempt each one to take another tender breath.
When evil flourishes we will don masks and play
to disarm the mighty and rehearse lines of justice.
When the harpist faints in toxic gas we will mask her face,
to help her pluck the tautened strings of peace and purpose.
So much plastic. Everywhere. Little pointy, pointless things, sticking into my feet. Tat from cereal boxes and Kinder Eggs. And Lego. God, I wish I could ban Lego. My feet would thank me for it, for all that the kids of the world may wail.
I clamber up onto my bed to have a moment, cross-legged, a frog on a soft purple lily pad. It feels like defeat to just sit when the room is still a tip. I told myself this morning, you will get one half done. I drew a line in my head from door to window. But it is tiring, lifting box after box, coughing up dust. Even harder is the sorting, the deciding. What is worthy of being kept for my (vaguely possible) future child, or for another through a charity shop? What will be condemned to the bin?
I just want it all gone, really.
But there is that deep-rooted obligation to hold onto the past, to the past me. The me that lived the norm, had not yet discovered anything else. That did not have to feel guilt, uncertainty.
These days I can swing within hours between knowing what I am is okay, and thinking: but how and why? I spend time with kind people, listen to great music, watch films and hear poetry and think, yes. I belong. I have a place.
Then, somehow, it all crumbles and I am drifting in space.
I feel another obnoxious plastic artefact sticking into my back. I sigh and pick it up. Earlier I would have told it off, plonked it into the bin. But that fire has gone. I am sad, and empty. So I just look at it.Read more >
call me a survivor
though I'm beyond caring for the term
when all the china in Dresden was broken
beyond repair and glue
even harps became unstrung
unable to note music as an accomplishment
their remains fit only to kindle a fire
a small one amongst rubble of a house
with no mantelpiece to put me on
I am no real mouthpiece –
this has been the case for so long now
and this will come to an end
when the air runs out
for nobody can survive eternally
a jukebox reality —
black rafters have been removed, for the lady
liberty has to put up a show of flower-disguised
equality, or so they call it. the weather is torn
between a rumbling thundershower and a bitter
sunshine that seems to melt the skin off, of all
oh, pity — they hope, they quarrel over some petty
crimes, they carry the burden of proof and safe-
guard their non-existent privacies. they are clad
in a humble blue contrary to lady's silver linings,
awaiting the pleasure of music they would have to
stream otherwise from pirated sources. the artistic
royalties are too exorbitant for masses of idolators
or so she would often say, in her half-hearted tone,
her eyes sad for effect.
ah, encore — the song goes on, harps turn into bats,
pianofortes into eagle shrieks, every hue into pea-
cock flamboyancy — such a stylish disconcerting stare
to enjoy in the land of many crazies(—cracies), wide-
open plays and theatrics of a celebration based on
rainbow sentimental myths. let's look for the damned
exit before it is over and all is lost in the triumph calls
of the masters of this reality.
I'm sitting at the bottom of the ocean,
playing a harp in poison berry orange
with the strings all fused together
so it makes no sound. I'm breathing
through an army surplus gas mask
and tank, down to my last few gulps
of oxygen. I'm balanced on a gold
embellished plinth. If you twist it
the right way a melody comes out
and I slowly spin around. I'm made
of clay and empty space, so delicate.
The smallest touch is all it takes.
When the air at last
Has become unbreathable
Caustic enough to burn
Our tongues and eyes
When life requires we wear a flat
And carry good air
In black tanks
Strapped to our backs
When faces are hidden
And voices stilled
Just to keep us
From swallowing poisons
We can't survive
Will we still make music—
Still send it dancing
Through the ruined air?
‘We weren’t hurt,’ my sister says. ‘No one starved us or locked us in basements. To be honest, your unhappy childhood "poor me" thing goes a bit too far.’ I stare at her. There’s only two years between us but it often seems we lived totally different lives on different planets. ‘Nothing was normal,’ I say. ‘Give me an example,’ she replies, biting her nails before spitting out what I guess is a cuticle. ‘And wouldn’t that have been a bit… boring.’
I’m six years old, my sister is eight, and we are crying too hard to eat our breakfast. Not that there’s much to eat. My father has gone out into the garden and picked up windfall apples. I can see a worm in the one I already know will be mine. ‘Mum told me she’d make me an outfit,’ my sister wails. ‘She knew it was fancy dress day at school. She promised.’ I can see Dad looking round the kitchen and then he starts to laugh.
Our teacher says our outfits are very creative and that we deserve a special prize. ‘Smelly medals,’ Louise Foundry whispers loudly enough for everyone to hear. We waddle up to the front of the assembly. My sister is wearing a bin bag with two holes cut out, but I have the whole plastic bin over me. My sister has to guide me otherwise I bang into someone and they scream that I stink. It’s dark inside the bin, and I’m sure it’s full of the worms from the windfalls we threw away. ‘Get your gas masks,’ someone shouts from the back and the nicknames – Gas Mask 1 and Gas Mask 2 – stick for the rest of our schooldays.
‘I would have been happy with boring,’ I tell my sister now, but she isn’t listening. As she always does in times of stress, she’s climbed on top of the plinth her husband built her, and she indicates that I should wind her up. I hate this, but I do it because after that assembly, the one where we got medals for our rubbish costumes, she refused to let me take off my bin. Instead, she spent the rest of the day with me, escorting me safely around. Read more >
You play a tune
pooling, all around
Self-pity turns to
anger. No sobbing
A masterpiece of
the room right now.
The crescendo is
beginning. The coda
now in sight.
Your lungs inflating
weakly ... then
The applause has
the room is
the silence is
It coughs, shuffles, mutters,
crinkles its programme,
like watered-down wine,
like holding hands
like the first coat of white
on a bright orange wall.
And from the stage
the black prison
of the breathing apparatus
and then whispers,
and then whispers,
like new sandpaper
on old stone.
From the sky, you’d never know it was the last day of summer. The light hardly changes from one hour to the next. Some people remember changing seasons, but if you look up, it’s not that different from looking down at the pavement – a stippled, ashy grey. Occasionally, the clouds are cut through by a flash from some cosmos traffic, like a swathe of discarded neon-pink bubblegum.
I can just about remember when months were still marked in the old-fashioned way. My Nan used to remember the numbers with a rhyme. Thirty days have September, April, June and November. Funny-sounding words filling up her little pursed mouth.
The last day of summer is just another day, but for whatever reason, they treat themselves to new outfits. Hats lined with crunchy aluminium. They proudly wear their healing crystals and read their horoscopes and consult their birth charts, like we aren’t already almost in hell. And of course, the occasion wouldn’t be properly marked without a bit of music. Which is where we come in.
I think I was still in primary school when they brought in the Equinoxal calendar. Not too long after that, I was scouted at a community fair, and sent to the conservatoire down in Deptford. No fees, since I’m what they like to call “socio-economically challenged.” I spent five frustrated years learning to walk in heels and do up buttons and zips, instead of actually playing my harp. I was so lonely, and all for a piece of paper. Still, that diploma is the only thing keeping my musicians’ passport renewed and keeping the well-paid gigs coming in. They keep saying the Neo Londinium housing bubble has to burst at some point, but I have no idea what could possibly begin to puncture it. So, I definitely need this. It’s the highest paid gig of the year.Read more >
Please come inside. Let me make you some tea.
Let me play something for you. Something
you taught me.
There are teachers who try to cloak
their brilliance. I saw it sneak in rays
from beneath your cuffs and coat.
I would place two peaches on the tiny table
beside your notes and grading guide,
then clamp myself to the strings and wood.
The silver stitching in your crowish hair,
your rough, precise fingers on mine,
the blurred black flies of the score before me.
I am sorry for my mother’s temper. She always could
look at me and see my heart, pink and pulsing.
She knew why I drilled Au Clair de la Lune.
When the cloud came over, I was practising alone.
You were in exile, gone travelling in the open.
Mother was shopping to fuel my rehearsal.
We are changing. Some days I hoop into a harp,
or lie brittle-hipped like a camphor biwa.
I let dust snow down on my shoulders.
You left politely. I had not thought you would fight
but who thought the rain would come? Who thought fruit
would be a sad and still-sharp memory?
Goodbye is not the correct word,
but then neither is silence,
waiting to open these veins
to see what remains after we die.
But then neither is silence
the answer that reveals what we desire–
to see what remains after we die,
to hear again a voice that rises like the sun.
The answer that reveals what we desire–
eternity for what is lost–
to hear again a voice that rises like the sun,
bursting into music like glowing seeds.
Eternity for what is lost–
a soundtrack to the words that populate our dreams,
bursting into music like glowing seeds,
resting in the palm of our hand.
A soundtrack to the words that populate our dreams–
no one can open the vein
resting in the palm of our hand.
Goodbye is not the correct word.
You prop your fairy princess on a pedestal of porcelain
and pluck out her voice with fat thumbs.
For your delight, she spins and mesmerizes.
Sees nothing. Says nothing.
She leaves her mask in place to fool you,
a harp playing to lull you beneath
the folds of her skirt, head first into her trap.
She ties a gold ribbon around your neck and
leads you into a field of whispering chrysanthemums.
She will show you her face when the music stops.
You kneel on fiery petals and close your eyes,
longing for the soft caress of her gaze,
believing you have stolen her grit and her teeth.
Seconds before the quiet fills your lungs,
she sneaks out the back door,
sheds her skin of glass and bites down hard on the air.
Enrobed in an asbestos fallout gown
With stays and laces lead-lined
"To keep you safe," he told me
To keep me
Tunnel vision, a sunset shading of the world
Through these tinted lenses, blinders on,
"Stay focused", he orders. "Ignore the distractions."
The black weight of his control
On my back
On my face
On my heart
I can't breathe
And I can't tell him
He will hear no words
But the song he wants.
I can't sing until I am
In that toxic atmosphere,
I will not breathe
But I will sing
My own song
Voice vibrating steel strings
And then choke
On his poison
I don't need purple hair
and a soapbox shout
I am a living statue
in scrubby parkland
and they stop to stare.
They turn, some return,
They see the winged harp
and hear the music of
a dark legacy,
the kiss of bottled air
Beneath the folded sheet
my hidden foot
closeted in a Doc Marten
throbs to a different beat.
At night under the arches
I practise breath control
my goal - a Pro Street Rapper.
It used not to be so gassy;
I remember visiting the Royal Academy
and breathing deep at the Chagalls,
gasping freely in Rebecca at Somerset House,
peddling on the Serpentine.
But since we dislocated,
hauled up the flag like a drawbridge,
handed our air to the Americans
or anybody who’d invest,
breathing has become secondary.
Her music can’t be faulted –
Handel, Zabel, Hasselmans –
but there was always something in her face,
investment in her studied fingerwork.
Now there’s just the rasping of our valves.
There will still be music
and art; whether we can breathe
or not artists must suffer
that urge to do it, their thing,
haul an image, a statement
to explode their thoughts
into the light.
We search our guts
for garters, truth or fantasy...
find treasure on ocean floors,
natural pearls, lost gold, trinkets,
limpets, skeletons in chests
while dreaming of ships
up top running into the wind,
A concert hall with people and their fine clothes gathered to listen. On the stage on a podium on a chair a musician on the edge of stardom. She starts with a glissando from deepest bass to highest trill than falls back down. And so the concerto is played, her hands negotiating strings like a loom.
She sends her strings into the world, thrown like a brightly coloured maypole that wraps the audience in an ancient sound. Rhythms and melodies weave in and out in a blur of patterns that sends them giddy.
Eight fingers running up the strings, and don’t forget the thumbs, strum strum. In a bright hallucinogenic hum, strum strum. And the strings strum strum strum strum strum strum. And as the gas runs out her heart bu-dum bu-dum dum.
After the drum-roll that’s her cue, the cadenza. The pause of a hovering hand that gathers pace and races up in alternating thirds and trills around the dominant seventh and falls back down to the minor third, before a progression of bass notes walk off somewhere unexpected.
The man in the fourth-row sneezes. Someone at the back coughs. Squeaky shoes. Interesting smell. A sigh. A snort. And that most precious thing – applause.
I sprung back from my own crucifixion.
Entombed in feldspar. Plated and served.
Robbed once of air.
But that was everyday ware.
Inspire, respire newly
from so long an inferno.
Each calcinate kiln blisters more feverish
than past violations incurred.
Yet here I am performing.
The world is torrid with fire.
I once smelled my white-hot flesh
decomposing but what of it.
You too will burn into little white bricks.
Petuntse altered from rock to clay.
How malleable are you?
Will you strum through the changes?
Under the cobbles
softer than the cobwebs
attached to the fingers
a string of pearls for a smile
For miles and miles she strode
with horsehair for a flag
and the wind for a song
Underwater she dreamt
that her silence was only a dream
and she dreamt it silently
when on land
Like a good memory
she was never lost
she is always somewhere
and her voice could tell you that
the days are never long
when you are as open as a sunset
(and she has her own breath to keep her warm)
As though the strings
are silver strands
of angel hair,
she gently plucks,
each note a ghostly droplet,
of melodious air
and as the music
seeps its sadness,
her heart weeps.
and transient note
the flats and sharps
embalming her in spell.
The pipe is sweeter
than a nightingale,
a dreamy drift
to blissful rest.
Read more >
The worst thing about visiting
the Old Lady in the Sitting Room
was that there was no air there.
You could not breathe could not
do anything at all in fact in
that room. The Old Lady had made
that clear when we were very
young. We were not to twitch or
jump or shout in the Sitting Room.
She told us to do nothing to
stay there still and silent.
You were could not even really
sit in the Sitting Room not
properly because the Old Lady
had very old ornate chairs with
brown velvet cushions filled by
stale puffs of dead air and she
didn't like the cushions to be
deformed. So we sat on the very edge
uncomfortable on the ends of the shining
brown velvet, the same thick shimmering
brown as the curtains that stopped the
air from getting in and disturbing the room.
The Old Lady was sickly drooping velvet too
slow cascade of old dresses and rolls of skin.
Read more >
As she plays she thinks of her own wedding day
the feeling of the mask going on
at the altar
wild thing, he whispered,
you make my
the last lines lost as he snapped the strap around her head
and caught some of the hairs that had broken free.
It smelled raw inside, like the inside of a tree.
Rubber has its own stink.
A tar-borne headache, a latex drink, a swim in a pitch lake.
Hevea brasiliensis, she said. Neoprene. Vulcanisation.
She brought the view to its knees.
The visor steamed up until he knocked on it, once, twice:
were singing like their batteries were dying
and someone –
it must have been one of her bridesmaids,
she thinks now –
kick-started her oxygen at the back
and just like that
life became a series of ins and outs, upbeats, downbeats
no staccato only languorous sonorous in out in out
as air in an aquarium
or in an aria.
Deep breaths.Read more >
In the water, she creates a new symphony -
Distorted ripples punctuated by strings;
Her silver dress a beacon in deep oceans.
She finds a new muscle memory
In the sway of her harp
Glissandos crashing against the rapids,
Adjusting to the undulating speed limits;
The impetuous energy of the water.
She plays counter melodies with the
New tempo in her skull,
The rattling applause of bones;
Soothing the fears of the now underwater world
With songs of hope.
In the Neapolitan café
the first time I died
there was nothing –
no blinding light beyond
no angelic chorus
no fluffy clouds
no book for my reckoning
and somehow hadn’t.
Over late afternoon espresso
I spoke from a nothing dark
for a portion richer than before.
And here I am, home
living well and full –
Only the inevitable waiting.
The tube of air runs an ovoid ellipse
On your delicate neck; more clear
Air, this, than any in our blood-orange world.
And you, my troubadour, riven
From the wastes: you release
Your hair from its round fillet, and pluck.
Snapping on gut strings like the pluck
Of rage, Peleus’ son, your song an ellipse,
An orbital, around the haze that does not release
Us to breathe or pant. It is clear
Then, the only clear, in all the riven
Cliffs and dunes of the world,
In all the film-brack streams of the world,
That I love you like the pluck
Spot of a feather, the blood-mark of new-riven
Skin. For to love is an ellipse
Encircled, circulated, clear
As from the centrifuge when you release
The spun down hematocrit, the release
Of the heavy-burdened cells, a world
Oxygenated and delineated, clear.
And head bent downward, I could pluck
You like a bent poppy as you play the ellipse
Of each string, singing from its wood-hold riven.
-We're on the brink of a nuclear apocalypse.
-Stop harping on about it.
So she tries. Hides her phone screen
whenever she gets those glaring news updates.
Moves the hoarded tins of beans and soup
out of the pantry and into the wardrobe,
under the jackets she can't quite throw away,
but knows soon will be turned to dust.
-Today, the US president met with the leader of...
-See, you were fretting about nothing.
She chats online with survivalists,
using an incognito browser window.
Some of them are quite funny people, really.
They trade in old fashioned apocalypse films
and which knife would serve you best against zombies
(she's not sure zombies are a real threat, but she keeps quiet).
-If you'd only take precautions.
-I can't listen to this bullshit anymore.
He leaves. He doesn't even take a gas mask for the road.
The news blares out 24/7 now:
rolling forward towards doomsday.
Eventually, she packs up, switches off the TV,
and moves into a bunker with her new friends.
When the bomb hits, she whispers to herself: Read more >
I know a girl who says
she’s not sure how she
came to be here, sitting
on a metal folding chair,
wearing a white silk gown
corseted into tight-waisted
atrocity. She’s a harpist,
back row over to the left,
her right, and she plucks
away wearing silky gloves.
Whose fool idea – wearing
gloves whilst plucking at
strings. She perpetually
moans, harps on about the
life-sucking and stinking
airlessness of it all.
Of Andre-Rieu-ish waltz-
playing Strauss. It even
has a name, she says. It's
called Classical Crossover,
like rear-ending a Hummer.
I’m a rogue taxidermy,
she says, I’d rather play
folk crust punk, and play
first row solidarity, and
play like The Pogues. Read more >
Welcome to the Autumn issue!
This season’s colours are cold metallics
with highlights of lead blue
accessorised with burnt orange
and high gloss black.
Skirts are worn full this year
and longer than we’ve seen for several seasons,
floor-sweeping with a half-bustle,
sleeves are demi-puffed
with a bracelet-length glove-stocking lower arm cuff –
the exposed wrist is the new cold shoulder.
Your muse for the season is:
Westwood meets Austen at Guantanamo Bay.
Orange is the new orange, black is the new black.
Your watchwords are: demure meets flamboyant.
Keep your maquillage porcelain. Wear your hair up.
Fire is last season. Autumn is all about the quality of air.
Take your oxygen neat. Straight from the tank.
Carry your tank with you, backpack style.
For the best protection, a full face breathing mask
should be worn at all times.
Soften the modern edges of this look
by being classical in your choice of leisure time activities.
Remember this is the season to go back to school.
Learn a new skill.
She – lady in lace and lavender, a
shepherdess of sheep, bowed crook in one hand,
the other poised elegant at her side.
Standing high on a pedestal, admired
by all who cast a glance, especially
he – smart in red and black, a soldier fine
and tall. Attention! he pays to his left and
right, to the other figurines on the
mantel. He stands guard for the Sleepy Pig,
the Satisfied Cat, the Shepherdess’ Sheep,
and she – the other lady shimmering
softly in the light, a harper, her face,
her instrument rudely concealed to hide
a free hand with a Sharpie. I told you
so, clucked the shepherdess, not to go on
and on, to keep your head down. Silence. No
music, no word, no sound but the ticking
clock. Still lovely, sighs the soldier, looking
from one to the other.
Among the de-regulated toxic,
greenish-brown skies, a woman
sat in her backyard, strumming a harp,
pouring as much water and music as she could
onto her freshly-planted plethora of oxygenation
she hoped would help to combat the thick, almost-dead
yet once-verdant life sprouting from the cornucopia
of seeds which she had pressed into the soil of her backyard.
Slowly suffused in suffocating orange. I loathe orange. Not the fruit, but the colour. It is dense and sickly. It sticks to me. Orange and yellow, those two ‘natural’ colours, which look anything but when we attempt to create them ourselves. Shouldn’t be allowed.
Bad enough that I should have to sit here. My arms aching, the lactic acid just beginning to bite. Sit here whilst she paints me. Covers me in hateful orange, until I am steeped like over-brewed tea. They didn’t mention that in the advert.
The spray her assistants use to coat me completely has a nasty antiseptic tang. I joked at first that they were using Agent Orange. They looked worried then but didn’t know what I was talking about. Bloody kids. They know nothing these days.
That’s when the oxygen mask came out. Just in case, they said. Not necessary, they said, but in case you have an allergy. Are you intolerant? I’d been asked at the start. I answered no, but I wish to change that response now. Yes, yes I am. I’m intolerant of artists and their ‘concepts’ and I’m allergic to bloody orange.
In the end just the harp remained orange. It too had its life sprayed away. So thoughtless, so careless. And all for art. So-called. They covered me in a white sheet. To hide the blistering on my skin. The welts appearing from an outraged reaction to too much orange. Or too much artistic bullshit.
Why a harp, I asked? Because it represents us plucking at the strings of life, they replied. A woman creating her own story through the notes she chooses to play. Really? It represents clutching at fucking straws, I thought.
But I didn’t say that. I couldn’t. The oxygen mask had melted to my face.
An oxymoron – angels and gas masks.
Or lovely young girls playing for shrapnel
at weddings – ignored by the guests.
Rapunzel beings with streaming tresses.
Tangling fingers viciously caught in the strings
of their exquisite instruments – delicate dainty digits.
Eliciting notes to make angels cry and long
for a welcome sabbatical from heaven.
To swoop down and bless their bowed heads.
Troubadours playing on street corners.
A cap or a receptacle at their feet for gold coins.
They should be so lucky – or a benevolent stranger,
may wander past and sprinkle their day with gold dust.
They assiduously wear their Government issued gas
masks to protect the sensibilities of the populace from
the pollution of homelessness or neediness.
Or contagious hopelessness from performances that
did not materialize, sealed up in their music – a protective
china carapace of broken dreams, dysfunctional
lives chipped away by circumstances and desperation.
Where musical notes are their solace and salvation.
‘I sleep in the loading bay of a supermarket,’
said the young guy cheerfully as shoppers sauntered by
in the late September sunshine on their way home,
After the last sunset in the last blue sky
After the last gasp of the last fresh breath
After the last tear of the last concert ticket
After the last applause
I shall still
lace my concert dress
I shall still
take the steps up to the stage
I shall still
wheel out, and tune, my harp
I shall still
to play her harp
but her fingers pluck floor boards.
to sit daintily in her white evening gown
but wears a black oxygen mask and bottle.
to be an ornament sat on a mantle piece
but we gaze at her image online.
to play music and hear the notes deliver
their messages but all is silence.
to see clearly her instrument's shape
but the mask hazes her vision.
to move away from our gaze
as she doesn't like being stared at,
all her imperfections on show,
the degradation of the mask and bottle.
the absurdity of her harp strings
gawked at like an exhibit.
an artist's statement.
her role in life to never change.
diligently brushed clean with soft hair.
to be a conversation piece.
I am afraid and all alone
my slender fingers pluck the strings.
Please leave the Breath of Life; mine own.
Sitting on this hard china throne
the sound will give your heartbeat wings.
I am afraid and all alone.
Occasionally a stirring tone –
a reminder of childhood things.
Please leave the Breath of Life; mine own.
You know me: yet I am unknown
take pleasure that my playing brings.
I am afraid and all alone.
Appreciation you have shown –
applause so loud it's meant for kings.
I am so afraid and all alone.
Please leave the Breath of Life – mine own.
When she told me, I couldn't argue, I stopped breathing.
My heart skipped a beat.
Then it all started again, without me trying, what bodies do:
Breath coming in, and going out,
And the pulse, along with the restart of my heart beating,
Counting out my life in its finite moments.
The amazing thing about my heart is how it tells me what to do:
When it skips a beat, or rushes frantically ahead of me
Making me out of breath, or when it stops me in my tracks,
Holds my breathing still for longer than is safe –
When it tells me that this is it.
Like when she told me she was going away for some time,
‘Not sure how long, maybe forever, probably not, but –’
Her voice faded out, she closed her lips. I stopped breathing,
Just for a moment, but in that second
I felt close to the edge, of what she'd said,
I turned away, staring down over the side of the cliff, looking down
At the waves crashing against the rocks,
In the darkness of a thought.
When I turned back
There were only her slender ankles being drawn up into the car,
The door slammed, her car lights flashed on
Along with the mechanical hum of the car engine as she drove away,
Until all traces of her had disappeared.
Leaving me in the arms of darkness long into the night.
It began in the afternoon, and afterwards the air
developed an aftertaste.
Like a fever, its aftereffects created unsettling
afterimages, though the notion of music
mellowed many survivors. Some attended
her performances, while others avoided them,
tossing cellos and other string instruments
into the wreckage. During her concerts,
no voices were heard, just the soothing tones
of her harp as respirators pumped oxygen,
a comforting afterthought after all, especially after
She dreamt of a world full of darkness and loss of life,
She was the only survivor;
Who played on a piano and masked her thoughts.
The world was shattered with utmost destruction,
The life and the music was lost,
She was trying hard to play on chords again,
And breathe again;
And light a little brightness around the gloom again.
It was a new world–
which she and her fellows imagined to be more pleasant and full of joy;
But the reality was cruel as always.
It did not matter what their intention was,
The world shattered and
She was breathing hard under the mask,
Trying to leave the world with the
Last of her music,
With the last of her musings.
I Sunday visit to underground rooms
To view atrocity that wasn’t there
I sit hypnotic fixed by furnace swells
The silent immolation of the air
I walk reverent, disturbed
In the ceasing, deadened atmosphere
Pamphlets to pacify, videos in vain
Displayed in decommissioned disrepair
I Sunday paper read about a man
He soldier told that tests would cause no harm
Saying that he witness felt ‘unearthed’
Speaking of men translucent and disarmed
I Sunday child in corner of church hall
Sit solitary in windowseat and hold
Encyclopedias, chance to read at c
Of skin dissolved, blind white and molten bones
The afterimage lives behind my eyes
Sensing the sear of unimagined heat
I can’t imagine what I can’t endure
I glance against the chaos and retreat
I wouldn’t call it employment –
rather a mad ploy
to avoid retrenchment
(I’ve been to the trenches…)
The electro-harp wasn’t my first choice
but I’ve my set pieces
and we’re all fish under water
in this fog of the euthanasia wing
but the clientele are big tippers
and seemed soothed
in their passing.
the film against the window beats out a steady rhythm
the thrum of a finger laid against glass
the successive sound of a drum beat
don’t forget me, it calls
to those settled into the dark red plush of the seats
they’ve left their suits
caked with a thin dose of the same film
in the coatroom
hung below their gasmasks
shifting signatures scrawled across the foreheads
reminiscent of labels carefully inked out in sharpie
onto the bleak white collars of childhood shirts,
these reminders have been shed
so the velvet of the seats can rub against silk, satin, and tulle
when you only leave the house once in a fortnight
you’ll use any excuse to wear your finest
it’s tedium first
long winded presentations on the state of the air
new emergency protocols
who in the community has succumbed
all of the business must be laid out first
and yet, even with the necessity of the information
it's hard to pull people from their homes with the world in such a state,
she’s their one excuse
the theater lights dim after the projector clicks off
and illuminated in a single spotlight
silver fabric spilling off of her knees
hair restrained in a single tight bun
she sits with the harp between her knees Read more >
How can I breath this air?
This same one we share.
This thick dense fume,
Evaporating petroleum pitch,
A dark toxic asphalt smoke
Coming from under our feet.
We inhale it
And keep pressing it down below,
Into our muted abandoned soul.
The music is playing in the room
Soft tunes Low notes
Soft and slow.
We dance alone.
The air trapped inside the vessel,
Locked between the left and right lungs
A toxic substance,
Slowly poisoning our haemoglobin,
Making us less rational,
Making us less functional,
Looking pristine and pure
Who would think of what's bubbling just under the surface
The risks of any flaws being exposed could send the most delicate to come crashing down
Shards flying everywhere cutting and stinging anyone crossing their path
Stay clear in fear
Be brave and help pick up the pieces
Souls will become whole
Both theirs and yours