• Vol. 08
  • Chapter 11
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Learning the art of balancing

The sweet-sour clementine balances on top
of a giant blue whale. Stuck
in position. Not glued on, and yet somehow
rooted there.
Somehow, even when there are earthquakes,
the sweet-sour clementine that is
sometimes too sweet and sometimes too sour
remains, lodged there, on a giant C-shaped
blue whale.

The sticky-blue whale does not see
what the sweet-sour clementine does.
It knows no magic.
It curves its tail up towards the sky,
as if bent in prayer.
Worshipping something,
a something it doesn't know but
feels in the weight of what lies beneath,
a something that lifts it up.

The sweet-sour clementine sees the something,
the magic of what lies beneath them.
A rich-black mound of earth,
of glitter and hope.
A black hole of never-ending possibilities.
An emptiness, that does not see its own greatness.
For the black mound only sees the sticky-blue C,
holding up the sweet-sour clementine
and marvels at its power.

 

1

The Algorithm

She drips Essex sunsets, 
Clingfilmed complexions 
Collagen collages 
Clambering ladders, breaking rungs 
Slashing her savings in designer heels.

He preens for likes, 
Head bobbing in a sea of tangerines 
Filtered ombre, 
Pasting chalky smiles over broken hearts 
He swipes to the left.

Stomachs taut, yet weighted in coal
Rumbling their innards in darkness, 
Festering in the #reality 
Which bubbles and burns 
Their souls away, 

Selling them up to their socials 
To be buffed and primed in ads and fads
Like plasticine dollies
Setting to stone, 
Static with shelf life,

Until crumbling clay 
Leaves them to scour for familiarity amidst 
A chug of orange soldiers 
Marching in lines of youthful unity 
Upon the news feed they once stood, 
Before the algorithm strangled them.

2

Energy is the plasticine of the universe,

and everything is made of light, from
the blackness of coal to
the hard edge of your thumbnail as it punctures the peel of an orange,
to those ten (count them) segments of meticulously organised sunshine inside - 
to their juice, and even (oh!) its sweet red taste
as it floods your tongue
in the darkness of your mouth.
Your taste-buds, too, are made of light:
light tasting light
light consuming light
light absorbing light
light becoming light

yet

            you                are
          (my dear)      (where are you?)

in                        the                         spaces

                           (impossible and unknown)

 
         between

                                 

                                                  the

                                                               

                                                                                      light.

3

Cathy & Heathcliff

I rest here,
swaying in perpetual breeze
yet grounded by love.

He is my rock:
steadfast,
wholesome, true.

My dress billows in the wind,
buoyed by hawkish uplift;
spinning as a captured shrew,
praying for redemption.

His darkness holds,
granite-tight,
as I sit atop
craggy outcrops,
waiting,
eyeing his silhouette
against our bronzing moon.

Read more >
4

HOW TO BE

Different becomes a hat
     you must grow into     perch winningly
disguising sharps      declaring
     contrary daring.

It’s a funny place considering
     its bright attraction – you can’t see
the red     heart or feel the heat
     just looking.

No, everything is hidden inside skin
     behind teeth and voice.
Tilt your head     drop shoulders
     and stalk with attention.

5

Knitting yarns

I think of cable knits, my Grandma’s arm
encased in pastel blue, the whirring click
of needles. We’d dream of fancy yarn; angora –
imaginary gasps of fineness. Tangles.
Acrylic’s best for washing and it comes
in all the colours. Her sweater shone with darns;
leftover twists of three-ply starred a plain
and serviceable boiled wool. Later,
we’d rake the embers ready for the morning,
tell our late night stories. Of my Grandad,
the coal miner, how digging wore him out,
lungs flecked with black dust. How she saw
her first orange after the war. It tasted
of sunshine, of silk velvet, glowing bright.

6

Cortisol times

the sound of horns ratchets up
meets clay
dampens

this is how sisters support each other
in these cortisol times

one
takes out
what is dark
holds without being seen
pushes into herself
to raise others up

two
muscles fold up into music
stretch and thin
bunch and thicken
ready to erase
to read, replace, realise
cleanse

three
sits shoulder extended
leans over the edge
leaves glow up
into flight
into dance

7

Berkane

Each midnight I am cursed with forgetting you and each dawn you hold me tightly until I remember again.

A clump of overgrown monsters rumbles under my bed, ladled into each dinner and hour.

My room with a view casts shadows over the clementine orchards your grandmother birthed decades ago, in a time where people were less moulded into expectations and time.

Now there is no room to breathe outside the hours we're allotted.
Now there is no space to taste.

I'm bent over the particles of your ancestors, trying to fit them back together again.

8

Back then it was all about balance

backyard wonky see-saws
mastered from discarded planks
and cylindrical barrels
my mother dispensing
tablespoons of cod-liver oil
followed by a Spanish orange
peeled and segmented for sucking.

Now I see anthracite gasses
sending pyro-cumulonimbus
to an already teetering ozone layer
fish full of microbeads navigating
tangled plastic-full seas.

In fifty years my great grandchildren
may speak of the last green leafed clementine
in a glass case ready for auction.

9

A Good Meal

Hanna says she has prepared a meal and urges me to sit on the rickety sofa. There’s a small rose-patterned shiny-plastic plate on the low table in front of me. I pick it up and mime eating. ‘Mm,’ I say, ‘delicious.’

She rummages in her little cupboard and throws me an annoyed glance over her shoulder. ‘There’s nothing on the plate, silly. I’m getting it ready.’

I give her a quiet nod and wonder what she’s up to. That time we were at Aunt Mai’s, Hanna picked us all these green shoots from the garden. I thought we’d have a nibble to humour her just a little, but Mai kept on eating whole leaves, stuffing them between her nicotine-stained lips, so I started to think she was getting on a bit, perhaps not quite there anymore, when suddenly Mai slapped a green stem right out of my hand.

‘That’s hemlock,’ she said. ‘Poisonous.’

‘I cooked them, so they’re not poison anymore,’ Hanna protested and dug at the ground with her sandaled foot. But Mai told her to wash her hands and come sit with us.

Now, Hanna places a black blob on my plate.

‘What is it?’

‘It’s coal.’ She smiles so widely I can count all the gaps in her mouth.

‘First you are bad and then you eat coal and become good.’ She has one hand on her flat hip.

Read more >
10

Plasticine Pareidolia

See, there are traces in the clay. A snake head. A pig face.
Sad old pig, ears drooped, snout merged with the mud.

There are snakes in the sky. They look like tyre tracks. Form an upturned bridge
between nowhere and white light.

The sun is pinioned on the sky’s topmost bend. Skin puckered – still citrus bright,
but beneath the pitted crust are blooms of mould.

It all comes back to this: the soil, the sky, the sun in fragile balance,
teetering between nowhere and nowhere, surrounded by light.

11

Imagine a Woman

Play-Doh pliable

A state of matter
        accepting the shape
                   of              space
                      allotted by man

Something to hold
    agreeably smooth
hollows and curves
        touching warm

Sweet on the nose
  musk       vanilla
overtones of cherry
        and salt dough

And when it’s time
    to put away your toys
            leave her to crumble
                                             with age and neglect      
                                                               swept            away   

    for the limber pop of new.

12

Here

How did I get here?
Don’t ask. I’m just
here.

Not unlike the rest of you
resting as you do
where and when you do.

I have a certain insouciance.
Note how bold my orange,
how deep the green of my leaf—
an appendage still pert, still straight
like the brim of a hat.

It tells a direction.
There is here and there.

As if I have somewhere to go. But
I won’t budge from my post.
I’m a good pointer, posed up here
precarious and nonchalant
on the etched curve of an elbow of putty,
atop a daring dollop of black clay.

You can still see the artist’s fingerprints.

Read more >
13

Anti-aging

I had a face once, but wanted another –
so scrunched it up tight and buried it
in the earth. The deeper the better;
soft becomes hard, bone becomes rock.
I doused my hair in water, built it
into a wave that rose but never
came crashing down again.
Pressure building, like overripe fruit
ready to burst. I breathe it in,
earth, water, life – an enticing cocktail
but so full of alcohol, it’s better
sprayed on the skin than drunk.
No fruit is safe; apples are too full
of wisdom, bananas turn to lead
after midnight, and oranges…
acid that rots your teeth, aches
in your back, and yet so sweet,
fresh and bright as a morning
after rain. If I can’t be young again
as least I can taste it.

14

IMAGINARY PET BALANCING THROUGH LIFE

Imaginary pet,
Balancing on a rock,
With an orange tangerine ball,
Balanced on its nose.

Life, oh tattered dreams,
Wishing for it to fall,
But there it stands,
Balanced,
Forever,
Oh for it to fall though,
To bounce off that hard counter,
To be smashed,
Dashed,
Oh dear pet,
Won't let it fall!

My child,
Oh Seven,
Sitting there,
Pretending,
Your pet,
Is on that rock,
Holding a ball,
An orange tangerine,
On its nose,
Inside your head,
It is alive,

Read more >
15

Segments of Time

I expected diamonds. Not an orange.
The pressure should have yielded an object
to interest Empress Victoria,
not the man from Del Monte.

Yes, I know that diamonds are not
the only fruit of the mine –
but armed with a tangerine,
a lump of coal, and a strip of plasticine,
try asking someone
to marry you for money.

All the same, it just might work for love.
An orange is a jewel –
the transubstantiation happening right now
behind that skin,
as well as four billion years ago
in the dawn of a stellar nursery.

Although an orange doesn't take an aeon
to form out of plankton
as a diamond must compress –
both derive from sunlight,
fugitive at home on our old world.

Read more >
16

orange on blue on black on white

things are not always as they appear.
on the outside, we are pure white,
a planet of peace, where war is absent,
where famine and pestilence are things
of another universe. but at the core,
we are hard black rock. a polished mirror
will show this, one that reflects through
the windows of the soul. look again,
see the blue sky ripped from a soured
planet, now orange, like hope stripped.
we need to see the future head back
to the garden before we were void
and without form, before deception was
as thick as greed slithering at our feet.

17

Rise And Fall Of Partner Acrobalance

they bonded at circus school
all three rookies together
swallowed fire
walked high-wire
clowned ad nauseum
until they were dropped
 
they strived for unique
performing as one
sawing wives
throwing knives
frustrated with trauma
of too many close shaves
 
they went on the road
built up the big tops
run of the mill
odd-jobbed at will
until they discovered
close partner acrobalance
 
they formed a pyramid
one on one upon one
darkness at base
bland on its face
then right at the top
the orange of all light
 

Read more >
18

Inanimate Things

This plasticine bridge is between fruits.
A lost forest of the paleogene
and still moist produce, fashioned
by hands in the anthropocene.

Flightless and unevolved, trajectory
is still evident in its form and
a yearning for transmutation.
The diamond destiny of coal,
of lead to gold or the gift of life
to inanimate things.

19

DEAR MOTHER

I’ve finally arrived in England. The journey wasn’t too bad. My crate was pretty full and the sea was a bit choppy but I am all right. I’ve landed up in Chelsea which is a posh part of London. So don’t worry about me. But it’s nothing like what I expected. Do you remember when you and I were looking at an article on fruit bowls in the Clementine Clarion? I expected to be cosily huddled together with some other clementines and oranges and the odd lemon in a pretty glazed china bowl on a solid dining table, perhaps within sniffing distance of a vase of flowers, like those photos we were looking at. But this is weird. I was sitting minding my own business on some fake grass on a market stall when I was bought by the artist Allegra Belisher-Flent who makes highly individual objects to support one individual fruit. She took me into her studio and perched me on a bendy clump of blue plasticine which balances on an amorphous lump of something black, I think. Next to me, a banana is poised on a green cube dipped in a bowl of pink jelly. I have a price tag of £250 which is pretty outrageous considering my limited life span. Unless I get eaten soon, which we were told at school is our natural destiny, my leaves will wrinkle and fall off, my firm skin will go flabby and lose its colour and my body is doomed to become really rather horrid. Still, I shall go to clementine heaven knowing that I was valued at £250. Not many clementines can make that claim, can they?

All my love,

Clemmie.
20

Everything

Everything is just on top
of everything and you
and me. Thoughts stack
like paper on a desk
nobody knows who uses.
If shoulders were built
to carry they would have thumbs.
I can’t look out of the window this week.
The shower is just a rain cloud
we’re renting. I catch myself
in moments enjoying the taste
of an orange or the feel of carpet
pretending it is grass. Grey is a shade
waiting to be painted. I need to get
rid of the tins of blue I can’t stop
piling up and up.

21

Thumbprint of Time

balancing the universe on an acorn
the thumbprint of time beguiles
departed echoes to encircle the debris,
alone, man's plasticine smile
lingers without form or substance
content in the knowledge that,
above all else, image endures,
fixed and voiceless for eternity
and painlessly recollects, that still,
                 nothing rhymes with orange.

22

You think you’re so good, tangerine

I am a piece of coal.
At the base of everything, inside the ground,
A grim, dark matter composed of rotting plants
And too much time.

I give you power.
I give you movement and light and life.

But I take it too.
My skin sheds a thin layer of soot that creeps in the night
Covers your skin, inside and out
Until you are nothing but coal, too.

And who are you? A tangerine.
A beautiful globe of light and life who stands on my back
And laughs, with all your vitamin C.
I was a tangerine once, but now
I am a piece of coal.
You’ll be coal soon, too.

23

Tangerine Delight

A boyfriend once called me his tangerine delight. Bright, round and ready to eat. Teachers filled my report cards with positive adjectives. And when I toddled curiously between giants, gripping wooden legs, falling on soft, woollen fibres, people would say, "what a happy baby she is."

I smiled even when my vegetarian lasagne slid off the tray and landed on my neighbours’ lap. I smiled when blue skies turned to black and when four hours later I woke to turbulent waters beneath.

Smiles fixed like a permanent feature until someone in this unfamiliar country said I smiled too much. Is that even possible? I beamed until other people did not beam back and my upturned mouth and defined cupid’s bow caused suspicion.

Midnight wannabe curve tried to run over me. Its success short-lived. I rolled upwards, bioluminescent as citrus juices dripped downward. Despite and because of its opposition to excessive happiness, I reached the summit where you can still find me today.

24

I Have No Body

it would appear I have this
unquenchable need to fix myself
into something that could almost

be something else if you squint
fleetingly through the foliage
of the shy canopy and look

at me through the smoke
and mirrors I have arranged
amongst the dense clay trees.

my malleable self has learnt
it as a way of defence, twisting
the form into whatever offers

the least resistance and most
satisfaction as long as it’s
kept at arm’s length to avoid

the detection it’s a mismatch
forced together with nothing to
keep the seams falling apart.

Read more >
25

GUMBY VISITS THE ORCHARD AND WRITES HOME

Apropos of nothing,
as they say, as they say,
it’s a sign of health
(spiritual, physical),
this manifestation
of being able
to balance adroitly,
gracefully,
playfully
in the Void as void,
stamped with the stamp
of one’s own interpretations
as well as yours.

Tutti frutti (ah, Rudy!),
I’m yours, I’m yours,
you’re mine!
It could be the ugly duckling,
transformed
into so much more
than a mere swan—gone,
gone, completely gone—
paddling o’er to the other shore.

(Check your ego at the door.)

Read more >
26

I Smell You

I smell you - my childhood
You fill my nostrils first
Then all my senses too
‘Til strong and clear
My memory follows

I smell you -
Pretty clementine
Promising orangey heaven
But resisting my bitten-nailed efforts
To tear apart your parts
Then suck up your sticky juice
And gobble down your liberated flesh
Mind the pips!
You don’t want a tree growing in your tummy!

I smell you -
So nearly pristine plastercine
Worked hard to soften
Between urgent, ardent little hands
To mould rippling waves
Then mountain ranges
And finally, a rolled up, always-puckered ball
Keep it on the tray!
We don’t want any getting trodden into the carpet!

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27

We were moulded

We were moulded

from the same clay, which puts
more or less work into disguising it,
depending.

And so we believe: a difference.

One a warm kneading of charcoal and
protein: its elastic, yielding
properties increased with each push

of the hand. Beaten in, not the white
of an egg, but the slate of November
nights.

One a bar of industrial calculations:
we must call it reason, reason,
as it parrots its numbers and pretends

no-one else has eyed the slight bend
behind its desire for levers
and clutches –

Read more >
28

Pause

Out here is where I wait
to see how they agitate the landscape.
How they flutter through a tree's green mane,
and then poke the ground to feed their young.
I see paws that leave marks without scarring.
I am smaller than what surrounds me.
The tree with its roots far into the ground;
the stillness in its stance.
The silence in all timeless things.
Ferns that have been around for millions of years,
long before the advent of calendars, or shame.
The first human who found its way out of the desert
is in me;
so is the sea and its salt.
The distance is my sword and with words
I wage wars on what's been left unsaid.
And everything that already is,
everything that I long for,
everything that I have ever had
and that has been stolen,
I carry it all in me –
just like the sea carries its salt and gold;
just like a tree shelters the hunger of birds in its fold.
See how it bears fruits that it'll never eat?
There's nothing we can keep.
No need to dream of buying everything you see.
All we have is what we give.

29

Plasti-scene

A morning class, paid for by a friend. We are learning to draw better. We are learning to read the world as art and capture it on canvas. The artist tells me to close my eyes and blink a swift glance at the scene before me. The artist tells me to draw the shapes of the negatives before my brain fills in the blanks. I must not draw what I expect to see, only what is there.

I draw the little orange boat with its green sail, adrift on a sea both wild and still, and beneath it a kraken rises.

I try again, and this time I see the orange boat is foundering - the sea spilling clear from a hull splintered and caved by the pressing thumb of the waves, and the water beneath it is thick with turbulence and it grips the boat and holds it high. Water is strength, water is malleable, water gathers away from the rising dark beneath it and noodles off the notched lid of it. Water off a duck’s back, if the duck were dense and made of coal.

I blink and I blink and the scene shifts – the boat lifted safe away from the dark ball of the world, set soaring, filled fertile with hope and newness, and the sea remains to be whatever it will be, however it is pinched and folded and crimped and turned, and beneath it the dark stays balled up, crouched in, ready to unfurl just as soon as the sea is flat and unaware.

I blink and draw and blink and paint, and then there is the finished product, the outlines, the shading; clumsy splashes of colour. The little orange boat made of neither wood nor metal, beset by a beast of neither sea nor sky, adrift upon a sea of neither water nor salt, and all three at odds with the other. The artist looks at the scene and looks at my work and says, see, see how you saw and were not deceived by what you wanted to see?

Read more >
30

at the edge of eternity

at the edge of eternity

on a planet far away
a young girl finds a soft rock

she presses a finger into the dark
density   a sound of a baby bird’s rick-ick-ick
comes from this clay

she turns the rock   presses again
imprints her thumb   her breath

a longer sound   emerges
as if inside
a blue being moves   a newborn

as if the dark whispers a secret
somewhere clouds become the sky
they shape a smile across white horizon

an orange sun sits atop the left corner
of the blue sky’s smile

a blue heron’s wings   mistaken for dried leaves
float   at the edge of eternity

31

(a thing of plasticine is a joy forever)

when everything is plasticine
a smell/ and what do you call
a love to roll, mould, break
to swing in pale blue heaven
feet above fresh leaves
an orange sun
till upside down (such fun)
you see art
pivot
on a rock
(and everything is plasticine)
with possibility
to make/ belief
in self/ creation
's see-saw on a lever   
when everything is plasticine
(a thing of plasticine is a joy forever)

32

Horoscope Plus

'By when is it too late
to have done anything in this life?'
is my 2 a.m. question to you. Always practical,
you say, 'Yesterday, because climate change
has us spinning along the dark
razor edge of extinction.'

I must have agreed with you
too emphatically, too quickly
unravelling woollen lines
of alternating knit and pearl stitches,
too vividly haemorrhaging
after a routine surgery.
Knowing I could have been
a doctor, professor, artist,
astronaut, spy, famous,
relevant, or even good if
I'd made the effort.
So far instead I have you,
and I worry that your practical
is like my horoscope
that I daily scour the papers for,
vague but hopeful, entirely relatable,
friendly in the fire of total disaster.

Read more >
33

Creativity

Creativity?

Creativity is it?
You need to learn your facts, not waste your time with creativity.
How can you get on in the world if you don’t know the capitals of every land?
And don’t pretend they’ll change before you’re old, that’s insolence, that is.

And take in the facts from the fine display across the room:
you’ll know which king followed which and queens, too, there were a couple.
And if you’re interested in Art, remember Holbein painted the portrait of the Flanders mare.

Don’t be worrying about creativity.
Now take back your cut-out triangle, the angles aren’t correct, it isn’t equilateral at all!
Can’t you cut out a straight line? Useless girl.

Sit there and try to get your blanket stitch even, yours are like horses’ teeth,
unpick and start again. Cut out the pattern as it is and
don’t take it to the machine to sew till I say so.

Stay in at lunch time to practice joined up script
your page looks as though a spider crawled out of the inkwell
and walked across your page. It’s a poem is it?
Where did you copy that from?
You certainly didn’t make that up yourself.

Creativity?
Your lines don’t scan or rhyme – learn Hiawatha off by heart instead –
it’s trochaic tetrameter by Henry Wadsworth, you know.

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34

Unravelled

The peel will come off easily
Without needing to be coaxed into lucidity;
The layers will reveal themselves
Under gentle pressure:
A bit too much and the sores ooze.
The right words will arrive,
They're just round the corner,
Something tells you,
When you suddenly wake up
At two in the morning, slightly dripping
With mid-monsoon sweat:
A sultry interlude between two wet spells;
The right words are just round the corner you think,
Quite like the rains that will fall again
After their brief hiatus;
May be silently or in a noisy cascade.
Clumped cells of some unborn song
Lay knotted in the pit of your gut
Or crumpled under the bedstead,
Searching for a body to embalm.
Shapes have started crowding
The ghost-town of your thoughts
Waiting to reclaim the lost space
Before turning into balls of carbon
As all things born are meant to be:
Will they jump out of the closet
To haunt you in the dead of the night
Or will you exorcise them with the right word,
Just round the corner?

35

The Scent of an Orange

Oranges remind me of the Christmases of my childhood. They were very restrained affairs. Scotland in the 1950’s was a dour place where New Year was the heart of the festive season. Christmas wasn’t even a public holiday and life went on pretty much as usual. Only white-collar workers had the day off. Manual workers, like my dad, still had to go to work. The post arrived, shops were open, coal was delivered and only a few households, at least in the port of Leith, where we lived, put up a Christmas tree. We didn’t have a Christmas dinner of turkey and plum pudding, but to make the day a bit special, my mother would buy a steak pie from the Leith Provident Co-op butchers, and make a ‘clootie’ dumpling which, served with evaporated milk, was the treat of treats. As for Christmas presents, they were something of a token gesture. An orange, a bar of chocolate and a small toy from my parents and a shiny two-shilling piece, from Grandma.

A quarter of a century later my older brother Mike, would amuse his children, by telling them that all he and I ever got for Christmas was an apple, an orange and a ‘doot-doo-doo’ (the cardboard tube at the centre of a toilet roll). They thought that this was a hilarious fairytale but, it was closer to the truth than they could ever have imagined. Of course, by that time, Scotland had succumbed to commercial pressures and Christmas had superseded New Year as the main focus of festive season celebration.

The scent of an orange still conjures thoughts of those far off, more austere days when, after the pie dish had been cleared away and the ‘clootie’ dumpling eaten, I would sit by the black-leaded range with Mum and Grandma, while Dad and Mike played draughts at the kitchen table. The wireless would be turned on and we would listen to my favourite

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36

It Was Once Upon Such A Long Time Ago

Long before the fires burnt all the forests,
we hung tangerines and lumps of coal
from Christmas trees, and in December

we’d chase about the forest, and my dad,
with his shiny axe in hand, chopped down
an unmistakably perfect pine tree that
was as straight as a lighthouse. And,

on its branches, we clipped candles lit
with real flames, hung tangerines from
crimson ribbons, and black lumps of coal.

Those tangerines were gold in goodness,
and those sooty lumps of coal … so dark,
stood for everything that we hoped not.

And we believed in every blessed miracle.
And Santa.
In Prancer and Vixen.  At least, until
all the needles fell off the tree.

But that was long before way-back-when,
when everyone whirled about in cars
without ever a thought. Grandparents
boarded an aeroplane, and always
celebrated every Christmas with us.

Read more >
37

The truth in three parts

Objectively,
In all the world, there exists only three species of citrus
Mandarin oranges from the Far East,
Pomelos from Southeast Asia
And from the subcontinent, the beloved citron

All the rest—tangerines, lemons, grapefruit, limes—are hybrids,
Molded, and remodeled, bred and changed, evolved over time
Traced back to those three fundamental ancestors
Like the way reality splits white light through a prism
 
My Truth in the vibration of every atom
Your Truth spilled in half sentences and things unsaid
And, illusive, objective, indisputable:
THE Truth, to which we both lay claim
 
They say the truth is bitter and sometimes sweet
Like chocolate, memories, and key lime pie
It will set you free or drive you mad or break the spell
A balancing act in three parts.

From the Miocene era on land that would be called China
The fossils of citrus plants date back 20 million years
From a tree whose great, great, great descendants
Would be called Kumquat, Tangelo, Clementine

Read more >
38

And Then the Sun Broke Through the Clouds

You smiled at me and I teetered . . . on the edge of maybe.  I am suspicious of men who don’t blink.

I ponder the meaning of it all, the electric moment.  I ponder whether I should stop pondering the meaning of it all.  

Sometimes, there isn’t one.  And words cannot transcribe what instinct always knows.  My body is live with conduction.  But look,

I have battle scars and war paint, see?  And this is not really a mask.  I’m just hiding in plain sight.  

I see that you do understand.  For you are hiding in plain sight too.  And I catch a scent of something pure about you, like

the moral of a story.  Like an orange knitted together from sun, earth, wind, rain.  Eating it would be like eating a piece of the sun.  Imagine that?  Sweet tang sun.
 
You are both vision and shadow blur.  This tells me you are real.

But you lay down your arms and invite me to give it my best shot.  Which makes you win.  Already.  How could you?  That was my move.  Now I must comply.  

Read more >
39

Artists and Critics

Some artists go to town on their creations,
striving for realism and perfection.
They mould, shape, fashion, remodel.
Some might call it ‘crafting’.
Others wince at the word.

Certain creatives go the extra mile,
think about risking a cherry on top,
then settle for a witty leaf or whimsical stalk.
Some might call it finessing.

Others don’t overdo things.
They simply wrest the ‘raw’ material
from its packet,
give it a roll, a deft twist,
and allez-oup, voilà, job done.
Some might label this minimalist.

Others potter and fuss,
patting their product,
not quite sure when it is finished,
giving it another prod or poke,
standing back to admire it –
once they’ve decided what it is.
Some will assume it is impressionist.

Read more >
40

ORANGE IS A WORD I USE TO MAKE SMALL TALK

Silent, we think about the word orange
when looking at the ocean, hands hanging
We fall, side by side and walk, but only
half bother to talk, after the shouting.
Orange fishes? Orange beaks of seagulls.
Orange sunlight, you whisper, as
You gaze lovingly at the ocean
and take a photo with a click. I cough.
All I get is a glare…

So, I talk to strangers. I hire them
to fish for driftwood and seashells.
I craft fingers for fishes and use
sand and clay for palms.
Everyone should get a hand to hold.

41

for vika wendish

this old chunk of coal
clay oceans under stolen water blue
you've never seen the dawn like this before
more things we see should be named for the hue
but then again
you barely know your skin forget the core

clip the stem
branch out
branch out
or band together

the life of
paper tigers in a bowl
the last lie
pied pipers ever told
you pass time
with glass rhymes that don't and won't  grow old
life's a lake of dreams that never sold
and the feels of finding nothing
by the last line of a poem

42

The lives we hold

I learnt to drive at the age of thirty five,
A commendable feat considering what it means
To be on the Indian roads. I was now free
Of the queues, edging past the bus doors and
Negotiating the rides wishing I was trained to be a trapeze artist.

I was delightfully on my own.

Before long I began to miss the way the buses moved
Disregarding completely the three wheelers and the motorbikes
That dared to come close. In and out of the pot holes,
Sending all shrieking in decibels and the pitch they were capable of
And in search of a bar, handle or a shoulder.

The view akin to being on top of a hill or a place of virtue.

It was not only the landscape that was lost but the faces
On the footpaths, the little eateries in bylanes
Offering snacks and tea attempting to stay time momentarily.
The bonds invisible at first from those hours in the bus
Irrespective of origin, upbringing and reach.

Designer wallets to cloth bags, learning to cope with what we had.

Today when I pass by a bus tilting with weight,
Hands pressed against the window panes,
Feet playing the balancing game, I remember most
The lives we hold.

43

In the End, the End.

The slightly rotting
image of an orange
too much moisture
creates mold
mold that heals

The orange itself sprouts
from a tree that grows
itself upon the thick,
life-supporting earth
the earth of mud and clay
the clay along the hillside
and the riverbank
the clay that pregnant
women sometimes
feel inexplicably drawn to
to devour the clay
from the life supporting earth

Beneath the orange
beneath the tree
under the clay
we reach what some
would call the soul
or maybe the qi
or lifeforce

Read more >
44

Twilight’s Reward

Weather-veined life swings west,
sunset years glowing
on time-shaded pastel,
with storms and trials surmounted,
the triumph of age, deserves the reward.

Delight is notched in wrinkles,
every line of the form that once fed babes,
fed family, fed the future.

Smiles curve as feet kick back
and old bodies bask in their twilight.

45

William’s Morning

The morning’s first customer had a jagged rock in her hands.

‘I want my money back,’ she said, placing her burden on the counter in front of William.

I run a charity shop, William thought. You don’t return things—you re-donate them.

The customer dabbed rain from her face with a handkerchief and said, ‘My partner assures me it’s not a meteor.’

William stared at a stain on the ceiling, remembering that he had called the rock an interesting geological find for the area, not a piece of cosmic detritus.

Lowering his eyes, he extracted a banknote from a pocket and passed it over. Although the amount exceeded the original price, the rock-returner thrust the money into her purse without comment and left.

An hour or so later, a hunched-over woman backed into the shop as though carrying something heavy. When she turned round, William saw she held nothing more than a wet, tatty cardigan.

Several cats seem to have mauled it, he pondered. But I like the cable-knit design and the teal colouring.

He accepted the proffered cardigan and rubbed his fingers over the dank wool. Absorbed in studying the beads of moisture which appeared on the fabric’s surface, he didn’t notice the garment’s former owner leave.

The morning’s final caller, a man in a waxed coat, stayed outside. He knocked on the window with the tip of an umbrella and pointed at an object on the pavement.

Read more >
46

Compromise

You are the sharpness of an orange on Winter’s tongue. Promises broken. Dreams on the wings of crushed moths.
The acrobat bending forwards, bending backwards without complaint.
A taut string on a violin for a bow to caress. A vibration of pain and ecstasy.
You are the black hole. Your infinite darkness poised to devour all the precious things squirreled away for rainy days.
The cruel mistress who breaks spirits every now and then, only to sprinkle water on parched lips.
For you are compromise, the unsatisfactory solution to an unsolvable conundrum.

47

Time Snaps

April’s godmother died two days ago. In a home with a log cabin for its heart and recent composition hugged around it, with gently sloping floors and crooked corners, her spirit passed through the walls and shut tight like tube roses come morning.

April imagines her godmother’s soul dissolving as she stands lonely in the vinyl kitchen with the dead woman’s crammed daily planner glaring up at her from the table.

She cannot process, cannot find the focus to start canceling appointments and client meetings. May showers slip down her cheeks and carve out hollow holes in the gay paper.

A photographer enters unannounced because she left the front door open. In the drawing room, he pops open his tripod and mounts his camera. He aims the lens at the explosion of color atop the coffee table.

“My godmother is dead!” April screams at him. “You are not needed!”

The centerpiece wobbles. Quickly the photographer clicks, transforming life to memory. His snapshots are not perfect. The tripod is not adjusted to balance out the slope in the floor.

He has already been paid. He does what he has been paid for. April’s shrills bounce off his ears and fade into the colorful centerpiece.

The photographer leaves. Later he finds the photos enigmatic and loud, comforting and cutting. He sends one, out of politeness, to April. She uses it to set the color scheme for the memorial.

The rest he keeps; the rest of the photos are the ones without their shadows still intact.

48

Baby Blue

Under skin — organ of life,
squirming of segmented flesh,
how bone grows out from spine
and the black sack of nutrients steadies
as foundation, awaiting brown iris under lid,
soft nail sprouting from finger-bed,
the first pulsing heart, a tooth disguised
under flaming red gums, hair bloodied
and matted — a gauze protecting the fontanel.

The foetus is baby-blue plasticine, pulled,
slapped awake from its mothers warm bunker,
moulded to air, to gasp and wail, the sudden
terror of urgent lungs, absence of the organ cave
as routine and order finely balance,
and in your arms the seed of twin leaves
severed from stem — abrupt and chaotic
as the moment of conception —
the life you carried exiting yours.

49

Genesis

and a maker says of an earth:

a soft coal at root
and a pliable sea’s blue
and an orange

     picked

     fruit

and a maker says of a sky:

a deep black putty of space
thickening gravity bends
a trickling glisten of

rivering stars

     and that
     One near

     & hot
     sphere of

     orange
     fusion

50

A Maker Speaks to Her Mud Figurines

There are thousands
of you little fish,
little gifts, little stones
full of intent.

Shapes filled with hint
and intimation. You will be
more than was made—
your own.

You were made
less resolved, given
quickly to the world
to stir to biding, bending life.

Be earth biding,
bluefish bending—
mineral and estuary
and fruit from every tree.
Be.

51

Analysis

It hurts me to see that poor worn clementine perched atop
its world, one thin green arm still holding out for balance.
Its edges are now dappled and rough, each atom a tiny hole,
or else the edge of a tiny hole. The vague wodge of white
that it sits on will not let it fall, but is unable to do more
– it is just pulp, does not feel the heat and pain and glory
of life-cells, of being swollen with water and pressure,
of having been created for a reason, but creating your own,
because you cannot disappear, not even to allow a grove
of yourself to fruit. The dark hunk of dough holding it all
should be the same – just matter – but sometimes, it thinks
it could be coal, feels a fire in its ancient bones and shells.
Taken as a whole, this entity is not displeasing to the eye.
It is abstract art. It will all make sense, when we are wiser.

52

(i am a) plasticine tangerine

these days i gravitate
towards sea foam that smells of freshly grated orange rind
and sweet jasmine

i’ve moulded my life into the shape of that smell
taken the form of a tangerine

the sunsets paint my loneliness like monet did
his lilies

and i bathe in slow motion
in this new-found, guilt-free sweetness

despite the where and the what, the fruit
and i remain

sometimes alone
sometimes with (one) (each) (the) (an)other

53

Zee

I always wondered how chicken manage to stay steady
on toothpick legs       pirouetting about in the dirt
my sister has given them names    she’s most fond of Zee
who’s a bit slower than the rest running head over claw
to the compost heap for treats when my sister empties the bowl
Zee’s fluffy gaiters would do an eagle proud    in her mother of pearl
speckled black satin frock like a Chanel suit she sometimes sits
for hours on the roost looking up into the sky    crisscrossed by swallows
My sister wasn’t allowed to keep the chick that grew into a rooster
with his rainbow of a tail stretching out of a midnight blue body
crowned by the satsuma coloured comb       because of the neighbours
who’d already complained about the mess of the lime tree
sheltering the chicken coop and its earlier memories     One day
Zee was eyeing up a wood pigeon sitting on its lowest branch
For days after Zee was heard to utter sounds utterly unchickenlike
on the 8th day the wood pigeon moved onto the roost next to Zee
where they sat through days of rain practising wood pigeon sounds
until one fine morning when rain exhaled away with a breath of fog
they were gone     leaving nothing but a faint echo of some cooing

54

Abstraction: After Stein

orange plucked
green leaf stem
not putty on putty
clay coal not coal clay
orange white black
black white orange
balance valence
shape as shape
curve is not thing
fruit is not color
color is not
coal is knot
carbon colors
putty curves
perfect stem
leaf perfect
perfect green
orange perfect
orange
valence balance
orange
orange
orange

55

Memorial

The black hole is just a piece of play doh
stuck on our son’s windowsill looking lonely
which I suppose it is; I know about
loneliness like I know about grief.

I added the wave because water seemed
appropriate, something to wash all
that blackness away, but it could be light
and he’d know how to swim to the light.

My husband added the orange,
I can see why; it looks like Jupiter,
our son’s favourite planet, the joyous
benevolent one like a jolly uncle
come to visit.

I leave the black hole, the wavy light
and Jupiter where it is, a family art work,
a memorial to our son’s short life.

56

Balanced Land: Of Earthly Fruits And Charcoal

Chasing over the high tides of the long-broad miles,
Unto the very sea where the great clay statue stands high.
Rich in ample orchards and sediments-rich Nile,
Wait some joyful destiny through neighbouring isles.

About the busy scene, in disappearing time dues,
Sit in the mighty revelation of the balanced muse;
Making the brief interval, wakening the dim light.
Continue some distant chant in the morning blues.

Carry my little voice to the whistle at sea.
Beautiful charcoal and gems over the waves of my eastern shore,
Had the ample ship plunged with my loving comrades and clementines.
Sit our silent star around the golden risen door.

57

Eat the Orange

The fragility of tomorrow
is the delicately balanced fruit
just out of reach.
Despite flossing, eating spinach,
keeping the gutters clean,
having the furnace serviced,
we cannot escape the green leaf
becoming brown,
the orange’s skin blooming wrinkles,
the body slowing down,
needing more repairs.

Today is not a perfection to be saved
for next week or next month.
We must savor the unknown, clay-like bend in the road,
the thumbprint in wet cement,
the days when we stumble from
looking too long at the fruit of tomorrow.

The eternal now is the challenge.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one
wild and precious life?” Oliver asks.
Get your hands messy in mud.
Make mistakes in ink, cross things out.
Step in puddles with boldness.
Leap with toes unpointed, dare to be imperfect.
Eat the orange.

58

The Mayhem Inside of You

a crumpled iceberg of soot –
a silhouette of your haphazard thoughts
appear and disappear like hallucinations
the darkness of my thoughts envelop
my being swallowing me into their gulfs
the matte skin of kinesthetic images pirouette
freely like shadows into the vacancy of mind
I rise and stumble on random obstacles
like a juggler, I juggle my planes in disjuncture
like creases that fold in your flesh
you drown into the heaviness of numbness
and estrangement from your own body
your feet rest on a restless raft lost in a river
do you see what’s behind this? do you
fathom the skyline in this grey haze? or
is it your trepidation haunting you, welding
the skies and the floor into a grey pool
of emptiness? thoughts as random as
objects scattered in your room, as disunited
as you from your clayen cage, as symmetrically
inconsistent as the skin maze on your fingers

59

Curvilinear

Curvilinear
Seashell dreams -
Infinite,
Yet bounded by curved lines
That, like the dreams themselves,
Are destined to be broken -
Of days when
The enticing scent of citrus
Did not give me migraines,
Rich black clay loam
Squelching under
Bare post-rain feet
As puddles splashed
Curvilinear water droplets
Up my once bare and free legs

Curvilinear
Destinies and fates,
Fates and destinies,
Foretold and ignored,
So still they remain
Surprising all the while;
New pedestals atop which
We unknowingly clamor,
Only to find ourselves
Afraid of falling down,
Unable to ride

Read more >
60

But I Was Happy

I was eight years old in 2073 and, like every year since I was able to understand the concept (as it was explained to me), I had been praying for a White Christmas. But Calgary hadn’t seen one of those in two decades and that wasn’t about to change. Nonetheless, as that was the one act of faith we still allowed ourselves, I resurrected it each December. In the olden times however, children used to believe that Christmas presents were delivered by a white-bearded old man in a red suit who flew in a sleigh drawn by reindeer. In reality, the presents were acquired by their parents from places called shops, or arrived in a van from the Amazon. I had seen some of these presents in the museum; mostly models of people or babies or animals, some of which moved or spoke. I’m not sure exactly what the children did with them but I suppose they afforded some sort of company to those without siblings or friends.

Of course, when I was a child, everything we had was provided by the Central Resource Allocation Scheme. Apocryphally, the Department of Product Placement had originally gone for Program rather than Scheme and that had led pretty swiftly to the Minister falling on his sword. True or not, outside of official circles, people only ever used one acronym. With real trees being fully protected, I had to help my parents concoct a facsimile out of wire coat hangers, on which we hung decorations fashioned from the labels of the tins that arrived as part of the weekly food box.

On Christmas Eve, I lay one a knee-length sock over the end of the bed and drifted off to sleep with no buzz of expectation to delay me. It was already light when I woke and I could hear the downstairs radio playing Mariah Carey on repeat. I reached down and seized the sock and was

Read more >
61

Cairns

Cairns are
usually built
with rocks.
Simple towers
found in riverbeds
or on mountains.
Gray columns,
balanced precariously,
marking turns in trails,
warning of danger spots.
Why not
make them
with an orange
and clay?
Place them
on the kitchen shelf,
behind a bedroom door,
in front of the television.
Let them indicate
surprise,
feelings,
or something more.

62

Evolution

Lump of clay,
misshapen, kneady,
full of potential,
happy to support
a warped hunk
of wannabe rebar
that just may be
pliable plasticine
pretending to be
metal, because
you can fake it
till you hope to
make it to the
highest echelon
of perfection,
nature’s masterpiece-
a tangerine,
birthed from seed,
sun, soil and water-
impeccable taste,
immaculate shape,
drenched hue-
unconcerned about
silly hierarchies,
content to live
untrammeled
in the moment,
and gift joy.

63

Robin at The Equinox

Light and dark sit in a momentary balance -
the underside of a cloud muffling all but this
perennial busker - April’s rousing chorus of anticipation
long left, lost among all the ‘things we were going to do’ days

no single hour is truly settled in this coming season,
fields tied to their emptiness, to die - to sleep(?)
labours spent and underneath - among dampness and decay -
newness lays ready, preparing to find its place on the next starting line

this is no occasion for melancholy, sings the little firebrand -
it could almost be anytime, looking out of the window
until rain thickens the pane and a strengthening breeze
takes the first crisp leaves to west-facing doorways

while fickle tourists lift and gather,
looking down at us as they go
noting what we’ve done with yet another chance to grow -
gone as quickly as this evaporating puddle

there now, the sun setting,
under the south cliff, a cresting wave
crashes into the island on which we live
somewhere in a passing half-light.

64

Plasticine Smile

Picked in my prime
by a handler who saw
perfect skin with
glossy leaves.
Placed me gently on
a plasticine smile

and clicked.

Lights switched off.
Left
on top of sagging clay
I wither
and
fall.

65

a coal, a curve, a clementine

a coal, a curve, a clementine
a dancing dalliance
a cautious canary

a coal, a curve, a clementine
a parody of pride
an arrogant advance

a coal, a curve, a clementine
A haughty halfwit
a constipated castaway

a coal, a curve, a clementine
an unfit uncle
an ecclesiastic event

imagined icons
salacious scenes
caricatures casually created
make mortality magical

66

Putty clementine zest

Adieu, a dieu the endless cry.
Mortality is the best flavour
To sharpen living. We shout at the sky –
Adieu, a dieu the endless cry.
But what do we give to a god when we die?
Putty clementine zest for them to savour,
Hope our souls stick with it as others cry –
Mortality, don’t do us that favour.

67

Food for Thought

What becomes of a tangerine,
that small round luscious orb
perched on a pale putty curl,
balanced on a brownish lump,
on the edge of a desk
at the top of a tower
in Skyscraper City?
What becomes of the hand
that turns that tender titian treat—
ripe and ready—
into art?

68

The Potter

I formed it out of clay,
wet it with the river,
moulded sunshine into its form
and scooped it into its home.

It lay there a while
ripening in the dark,
flesh turning sweet
then sour and rotten.

They thanked me with tears
rolling down into rivers
that bucked and split
into floods and disaster

I took their offerings;
used them to wet the clay
as it spun once again
on my wheel.

69

The Three Parts of Me

I balance my health and sanity
in equal parts,
trying to maintain harmony

With the color orange,
I live in the sunshine,
with a pale blue covering,
a pastel to shade my existence

I'm not sure what holds me up
That is the troubling part
I don't know if I'm buttressed by the past,
my family loyalty,
or some vague idea
that came to me in a previous life,
or a dream

All I know is, I'm maintaining
an equilibrium, some semblance of peace,
however teetering,
the three parts of me
are still in place,
and not yet fallen.

70

Geological Time

It’s the blue of it takes me back. Where has fifty years gone, whole strata of my life? The short dress (we all wore them then), that particular pale colour. It runs like a film in my mind, as clear as any August day: the walk across Hyde Park, my sandaled feet on the summer-parched grass, through the line of trees to a phone box. I feel as aroused now as I did then – how can that be, when every cell in my body has been replaced, more than once? That precise shade of blue. What happened to the dress? It had – I would have said this if you’d asked me – its own extinction event, after that summer, that kiss as we waited for the kettle to boil, that failed attempt, afterwards, to move into a different life.
    I have lost touch with eras,  compressed into a dark mass, though I try to reach them – or them me – in those in-between hours of the night. But that blue dress had something of permanence about it, so I am not surprised to see it reappear, neatly rolled, in the third drawer of my chest of drawers, alongside other clothes that no longer fit me but from which I am loath to part. Not surprised, but startled. I push the drawer closed and count to three. Some ritual from one of the lost times. When I open it again there is no blue dress, but something orange I don’t remember.
    I shake out the orange garment. I have been told, in recent years, that it is a colour that suits me. Much more than blue. Which I had thought – quite wrongly – a safe choice.

71

The Logger

He appeared orange among oranges.
She – who was jealous of his color –
was cutting the fruits from his garden
eating for days –
until she became orange too.
They suited each other –
For a glimpse –

But
there were no oranges
no wood for him to cut
it was already cut
it was all burnt
And –
He – was never orange
but grey – black  
like the ashes from the fireplace.
In the garden –
The oranges were plastic
The trees were paper trees
The wood was stones
And –
She – was never orange
but purple – blue
from the bitter poison inside the mouth.
And they suited each other –
Perfectly.

72

“Behold, The Little Mermaid!”

Edvard Eriksen should be executed at once. She didn’t care how, or when, but die he must.

“Not authentic enough to be his model,” he’d said.

But who could possibly be a better mermaid-model than an actual mermaid?

True, she wasn’t the prettiest there was. But on the other hand, she wasn’t uglier than most, either. She was an average mermaid, by every existing standard. What people – in this case, Edvard Eriksen – seemed to forget was that her way was the true way; that every idealistic, perfect picture of mermaids was nothing but a fragment of human imagination.

Her hair, a cascading green mass down her shoulders, was green in order to resemble algae or seaweed. What good would it do her if it was any other colour? How would a skin pale as a seal’s underbelly serve her in the land of predators? Nay, the colour of starfishes, seahorses, and clownfish, the orange hue, was better in that sense. Edvard Eriksen, like most others, assumed that mermaids had green fishtails. While green is a common colour, so is also hers; a tail as blue as the fish family it derived from. Unlike popular belief, she did not have gills on her neck. Instead, she breathed through the pores in her skin whenever she was underwater. Of course, this would make her pores more pronounced, far from the porcelain alabaster-smooth skin so often depicted on mermaids in fairytales.

When she caught wind of the famous sculptor’s commission, that he had been asked to depict one of her species in honour of The Little Mermaid Ballet, she’d leapt up by his shores, more than eager to pose. Sadly, she found her dreams crushed the second he saw her.

Read more >
73

Preparations

Winter sets her altar a little
early this year,
laying her intentions bare
before Autumn even has the chance
to shift.

At her table, she fusses—
boots laced tight,
cardigan buttoned to the collar—torn
between expectation and

avant-garde. It's ritual after all,
so she strips down

to the essentials. A soul, ripe, handpicked
from the high bough—nourishment

for darkening days. A smile, drawn
from the thinnest joy, pliable

yet bittersweet. And last, for you: the anxiety
harbored in your belly, that tickling
season in the making,

fondled in her hands like clay—the still life
of you,
the life still in you—.

for making of it
what you must

74

Balancing Act

Only a third
of the world remains
in view:
this season,
this act,
this penultimate moment
before the adhesive fails
and the bits and pieces of our existence
tumble.

Afterwards,
we scoop up
the fragments:
night,
noon,
morning,
stick them back together,
move on.
The citrus orb
of sun
rises from the rubble
to guide
our way.

75

Or a Boy Sitting on a Rock

A mandarin, a lump of black
and what looks like a bent bar
of blue plasticine®...
got a wee bit squashed
in the Christmas stocking.
I guess the coal or lignite
or meteorite or whatever
is for luck – getting ready in advance
for Hogmanay – whoopee!
But the mandarin or tangerine or satsuma;
that's just plain silly;
I'll put it back in the fruit bowl
with the others.
But what I'm really looking forward to
is getting my fingers on that blue
and the smell of the pliable camels and puppies
I shall make.
But mummy says I can't start
on that model project yet.
She's an artist.
She wants to contemplate it first.

76

Clementine

Yogic, precarious, in a pale knit polo and emerald silk wrap. You disturbed her on the lip of mindfulness. You called; she turned her pumpkin-face, slash of bruised zest half-smiling.

Beyond her skin all life is clay, in her world and in yours. Craft your own angles and elbows, fashion a blueprint of ribs, impress her with unique loops and whorls, need or knead your pliant, plastic playmate. She will pose, pout, weep marmalade.

It's only when you invert the whole relationship that you see the marble orb of her spirit above that clench of dark body, serenity cresting your random, petulant thumb prints. Make of her whatever you will. That reflection is how she sees herself.

77

Zest and Artifice

‘I feel so old.’ She sits, both hands clasped around a swollen, cartilage-free-red knee.
‘Try this.’ I hold out a tube of paste.
‘It won’t work.’ She’s crying now. ‘But I’ll try anything.’ She squeezes a large dollop onto the leg and kneads roughly, leaving thumb prints in the puffy, enraged flesh. She glances up at the clock. ‘I’m going to be late again.’ Trouser leg pulled down, she struggles to her feet and raises her hand to her face.
‘Don’t…’ Before I can stop her, she has wiped away the tears.
Her eyes begin to run again.
‘You’re not supposed to get that paste near your eyes.’
We both laugh.
I pick up a couple of satsumas and we get into the car. She’s had no breakfast. She’s not looking after herself. I peel the hard skin from the orange and squint one eye as the zesty spray hits me. The freshness of the scent is out of place on a muddy, winter morning.  Inside, the pulp is soft, juicy. She opens her mouth and I feed her a segment.
She focuses on the headlights picking out dark hedgerows. One hand on the steering wheel, one hand on her now warm, glowing knee.
The crowd is waiting for her when we arrive. She steps out of the car, pulls on her great, orange coat and smiles. No one notices the redness under her eyes – paste and spent tears.
Her voice booms out and the crowd is washed in her generous confidence.

78

Coalescence

A sharded voice – like a crack in your windowpane
Beckons your heed like traffic lights on the road
Like your nail paint chipping away unveiling your nail
Comes together your shrapnel you lost in metanoia
Your tussling funambulist hopes falter on the brink of
The stack of empty tablet-strips on your bedside table
Like the matte face of your ruby lips, like the rind of
A musty orange, like a cut-out lint-osculated sleeve of
Your old sweater, like (now soot-clad scrumpled mass)
The billet-doux you wrote to your past
Your freezing gaze like that of a lizard –
Your screeching soul like a hurt mouse –
Your sleeting cold words like ice-cream drips –
All decay into sawdust
Like a vibrant silhouette with polythene-hued backdrop
You ruminate on your edges that now sharpen
Like a high-resolution image
The haze that surrounds you now becomes a Casper-abound
Void; between the gushing shores of chaos, and the
Mesmerizing waves of order that tickle your feet,
You balance like an adept ballerina in arabesque
Like lost pieces of a jigsaw, you coalesce into beauty.

79

when would I finally fall?

It doesn't take an invisible poet
To write on invisible things
To breathe in the feeling of change
Breathe out verses and dreams
You remind me of my darling
Her love smelled like orange
Her long black hair on her shoulder
She offers me hopes I knock out
It's so vulnerable
It's delicate, would easily fall
And when my love hits the ground
I can't see anything at all

What kind of spark do you see
The ones that leave marks on me?
What kind of roads do you need
To drive me off fragile blue tears
Every design and structure would be
Too weak to resist your soft skin
But when would I finally fall?
Into your knees to get back to me

80

THEOLOGICALLY SPEAKING

It’s a Trinitarian theology that attempts to plumb the depths of the world. A world made up of threes. A tri-dimensional reality. Father, Son and the Holy Ghost. Tangerine, rubber tubing and plasticine! You try to work out how they are tied together, intrigued by their threesome relationship. You remember in all the fairy tales you’d been told in childhood there were always the Righteous, the Wicked and the Innocent; or the Brave, the Coward and the Holy Fool. But tangerine and plasticine? Would you call tubing stupid? Yes, you’ve learned two are not enough to make a good story. Would rubber do the trick? Two make a flat surface, whereas we need a world of cubic solidity. It’s a lifetime’s discipline to keep thinking in threes. And yet to locate the genealogy for rubber tubing, plasticine and tangerine seems too big a challenge, until it suddenly dawns on you that it’s a matter of wisdom and imagination ― whatever filial intimacy you’d like them to show, we’d certainly be able to make it possible, even if not all tangerines are sweet and juicy. Father, Son and the Holy Ghost ― whence the triangulation of them, you and me. (Which one is sweet?) Or, if you prefer, we can make theology feminine: Mother, Daughter and the Sacred Beira. Surely this will make Heaven kinder. And make it last! For far too long we’ve referred to the Most High as a “He”, not knowing we are now all gods and should learn to be wary of the masculine. O such burden of responsibility! To be given a share in the Godhead, and inhabit an existence within the Lebenswelt, the you, and the me! Tangerine, rubber tubing and plasticine! That’s the command we’ll follow, in the humble Trinitarian spirit, to map out and re-enchant our world of threes.

81

Faulty instincts

Beside me, an orange is decaying
entrenched teeth marks
as a gluttonous array, of tell-tale signs
no autopsy needed, for this atrocity

I had no appetite, initially
for a killing spree
till Spring’s iridescent beauty
entrapped me;

vibrant handheld Sun, glistening
crisp skin, smoothly mesmerising
perfectly ample curves, teasing
enthralled: from a single glimpse.

I stare, blankly
my lips still drip, its sweet essence
quenched taste buds, crooning
yet somewhere deep within

I mourn.
A vigil of gratitude
momentary, yet timeless
and entirely heartfelt: in the moment.

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82

O Valencia, You Appear as If First Light

Ashes of plasticine at its base, an emblematic orb
builds in the stillness of becoming.

Like a wave, its genesis gestures in the blue sweep
of transformation, where the fruited sweetness

of labor rests atop the flex of rotation, the churn
of creation. Flushed with spirit, invisible hands

sculpt a sunrise, turn a burst of citrus.
As if the immortal phoenix, its ashes regenerate

into existence, signify the magnificence of rebirth,
like the yielding properties of clay.

83

Creation

I stole a coalish lump
let this be the base I said

I snatched a curve
of pristine blue
let this be body

I sneaked a tempting
citrus fruit fresh
with leaves attached

let this be head
and beak I said

my voodoo bird
my avian revenge

let fluorescent lightning
bring to it
a quickening pulse

84

Precarious

Marshmallow
diamond
tangerine
coal
sets me down
that pebbled road
when grandma ran
a noisy household.
On a paltry sum
we had feasts
sleep embraced us
on fireless floor.

Her magic held us glued
till we wanted more.
We’d outgrown the comfort
of one room floor.

Orange atop plasticine
marshmallow,
coal;
embers of her love
still keeps us all
from the cold.

85

It’s An Orange Life

We all climb, and fall, and trip
Every level is as high as the last
From the depths of darkness
Into the light of success
We are all products of today, the future and the past
In the seasons of existence, we grab each branch
Hoping that we don't fall
The beauty is in the strive
It's an orange life,
Don't you think?

86

Centre of Gravity

Sometimes the centre leans away,
It’s an energy that goes from right to left and back
Like the pendulum of an aged clock.

How do you find the perfect centre,
The place that holds
The world and your mind?

There is a book about a house that is a maze
A man walks through the archways and holds on to pillars
To stop himself from drowning.

I walk through a maze of books
Mine but I no longer own them, I only want to get rid,
To feel lighter, light as a dandelion seed…

87

ONE THING AFTER ANOTHER

"We do live in relation to everything, don't we?"
- David Mason, Rattle #73

if we didn't believe
people could see the fingerprints
left on our skin from sin,

maybe we wouldn’t bend
over backwards to cover
our tracks; then again,

perhaps our pride
in surviving, vibrant & scarred,
brings all art into perspective.

88

Manrique’s House

Beyond belief,
Eco artform in desolate space
The black lava that once ran red
Now still and dense.
Stacked high it presses against the large window pane
Which does not break
How could this be?
Piled against the glass
Does not obscure the pure blue sky above
And turning from the window see
Orange cushions neatly placed
Like tangerines upon the sofa
Like the Timanfaya fires
The whole impossible feat
Yet balanced and harmonious
And like Cesar, believe
See the impossible,
Dare to dream.

89

HOW WE LOOK WHEN WE’RE NOT LOOKING

Judging the scene, at first, I thought exotic bird,  
a plane, a playful dolphin, but no, too easy.
Yet perplexed, I thought post-tornado,
everything upended, hanging upside down
by a thread, but then I came closer. There she was—
an alluring entity with a crowd edging closer  
to take all of her in. Not just because they liked
jigsaw puzzles, but because they thought they
had identified a lost piece of themselves.  

How to describe? —Her hair, dyed green, combed
to one side. Her eyeless face stunningly orange,
moist and edible, and behold! —She ripens before us.
her head tilted to favor her right shoulder. Arms
outstretched into a pseudo smile, but as if to say,
“What?” or “Why?”

The group was already tearing up before she took on
her statuesque pose. Beneath the flesh we sense
she is both sweet and sour. Ever so slowly her arms
lower into a sad frown. Whatever she is holding,
she releases, reaching down to embrace the hard
darkness she is perched upon. Our eyes moisten
all the more as we sob quietly along with her.

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90

A Family History in Pica

Great Grandmother Ellen wasn't the first girl in the village to lose her heart to a soldier at the training camp. But she was the first to fall pregnant and the first left behind when the trainees shipped out to Flanders. She never had a chance to tell him; within a week he lay face down, bleeding out into a muddy field.

Farmer Jenkins brushed his ginger hair, put on his best tweed suit and called at the cottage with a basket of eggs and a bunch of flowers. It was Sunday, a month after Ellen received the news. He'd noticed she was looking a bit peaky, and wouldn't a walk do her the world of good? If he knew she'd been stepping out with a soldier, he didn't mention it. If Ellen's mother thought she was a bit hasty accepting a proposal from a man twice her age, a widower with two young daughters, she didn't say.

The wedding was a joy with news from the front being so bad. A baby on the way, so soon afterwards, was more reason to celebrate. Chewing on coal was nothing unusual, all pregnant women have strange cravings. And if anyone noticed the boy was a good size for a premature baby, they put it down to good fortune and fresh air.

Edward grew into stocky lad, dark haired with eyes as black as pitch. Adored by his stepsisters, he was his father's pride and joy. By the time he was in his teens he was a competent farmer. On his twenty first birthday he took over running the farm.

Grandmother Lucy caught Edward's eye one market day. Newly arrived from London she was a flounce of ribbons and lace, an heiress expected to marry wealth. That she chose Edward over all his rivals and against her mother's wishes surprised most people; that she willingly swapped her frocks for serge skirts and dungarees shocked everyone.

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91

balancing act

i chop a piece of blue-white plasticine
curve it into the smile i cannot make
with my lips – take a lump of coal
dark and dense like the knot of fear
in my gut – bring fear and smile
together in balance – find this bears fruit
i can hold
a tangerine [proud in its imperfect skin]
smell citrus juice as its stem points
towards released stars – my lips curl
tentative with happiness
like a slim green leaf waving
victory's vee over my carbon lump
that's now buried – stashed
safe underground – glittering security –
owning its true place and nature
whilst devoid of power to terrify

we save our earth by moulding alternatives –
green dreams fruit from lumpen dread
we can mimic traits of pliable plasticine

92

Balancing

there is shape to line
and blocks of color
a scholar within indigo
as it senses blue
a shade of orange
and a shadow of leaf

I tried juggling once
started with rinds,
then apple cores,
tried pineapples, small melons,
and everyday a mess

I tried balancing once
felt a buckle in knees
a restlessness of hips
hands too weak
arms unsteady
matted hair heavy
with the perfume of sweat

I decided to stand motionless
for an hour or more--
well,
and then I took a partner
to lift above my head--
no

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93

Moulding Memories

As I roll an orange to prevent the sting
before my thumb nail breaks the skin
scent and emotion intertwine

uncurling memories of a green leaved palm
and small fingers unwrapping clouded cellophane
revealing ridges of a rainbow.

I strived to keep separate, preserve each shade
as they warmed and rounded in my hand
I’d imagine their form and what I’d create.

They patterned and fluffed by ribbed wool sleeves
that time rolled in a muddied ball
that hardened.

But a difficult peel rewards sweeter fruit.
As I raise two fingers up to smell worn nail beds
sprouting with scent of Plasticine

94

Hope

Art college was a crashing disappointment. Understatement. I loved to draw; I loved to paint. But I lacked the tools and technique. I wanted to draw the human figure; I wanted to paint landscapes, use watercolours, acrylic, oils. But I needed the basic skills. That’s what I thought I’d get from Art college. Duh. What did we do? We mucked about with bits of MDF. We threw paint around. We found objects and subverted their meaning. But I stuck it out for the first term. Then we had to produce a single three-dimensional piece as part of our January assessment. I didn’t want to do it and I left it and left it until the evening before the final submission date when I was on the point of jacking the whole thing in. I went down to the kitchen to look for something to nibble. Maybe a banana. Or an apple. Nada. Only a wrinkled clementine left over from Christmas, one of the expensive ones where you pay extra for the leaves.   I didn’t fancy eating it but I rather liked it so I took it up and put it on my desk. Sideways it looked like a bird with a leaf beak. I thought of calling it Despair, but it didn’t look sad so I called it Hope. That gave me the idea. It needed a body. I tried a rolled-up sock, a scrunched coke can. Then I looked in my drawer labelled Art Misc and I found two packs of that blue adhesive putty for sticking things on walls which I’d bought half price when the stationery shop was closing. It was in strips so I rolled all the strips up together, bashed them about a bit, curved them and sat Hope on top of one of the ends. Hmm. Better but not quite. Now it needed a perch, something brown or black to set off the blue. Hadn’t got any coal. Back to the drawer – Indian ink, yes, maybe. What could I dye with Indian ink? Kitchen. How do you make pastry? Flour, any old fat, sunflower oil will do, and diluted ink. Mould it a bit to look like a rock. Stick it in a low oven for a couple of hours. Bingo. Well, not quite, but good enough. Let it cool overnight. In the morning, I stuck Hope onto his plinth. Then I took him into college. I got a first.

95

We Might Have Them Say Anything

I have to imagine my families. Not because they were never there:
They were the people one sees every day without knowing
Their stories. Like houses you pass on the drive to anywhere
Because there is only the one way from your bedroom to
The door and from the driveway to et cetera. Because neither
Side, Mama's or Daddy's, was one for telling their stories,

The one about the Orange sits on a pedestal, albeit a slightly
Dusty pedestal. You see my grandfather was an orphan

In a West Kentucky area so poor it might have been the memory
Of being poor. And if anyone has nothing it is an orphan
Of the poor at Christmas. Postulate what doing good would be
In Eighteen-eighty/Eighteen-ninety. Give a child an orange
Who knew nothing but apples. Watch him take a bite, through
Bitter to juice. You will know similar stories and so do I,
But this is the original. Of his first day as a miner I know nothing.

There is coal under everything he was from there on out,
and he became well-to-do, but I only know this one story.

96

The Mandarin

As empires crumble from the edges in,
mandarins scurry about the surface
sensing depths of black, serene emptiness
seeping through foundations
that give like plasticine –
and this is all about movement, or time, or balance.
What remains might remain as embers,
or a hint of green shoots,
and if the edifice dreams, it dreams
of gyroscopes, and stacks of spinning plates,
of drowning trees and resinous petroleum,
of the pirouettes of a falling clementine.

97

In the Rear View Mirror

What is this? the con
figuration is un
familiar, the architect un
known, the weather,
as always, un
predictable. Orange
sleeve rock and from
what direction, what un
imagined far away
destination came this
missive, the one with
no map, no in
dication of origin or
journey’s end? Perhaps
it’s a treasure
hunt, an in
vitation to show up
and then disappear.
All these hints
at culmination and in
tersections left dangling un
threaded disintegrating
like my thoughts,
the ones that missed
the boat. Bananas?
I turn around
and then around a
gain. Can fruit laugh?
I thought I heard someone
call my name.

98

Revelation

Sometimes she cries citrus tears
and bittersweet accumulates
like a bad taste,
an emotional bile.

Discombobulates
the essential balance
of being, that intricate
precarious tilt of self.

And because her heart
is an abstract artist,
flinging jaded jagged lines
and oblong shapes

onto reality, she longs
for the comfort of soft blue,
summer dusk cradling
a new moon. Unfettered harmony,

the colour of sadness
diluted by whimsy.
Imagination’s hammock,
unassailed by melancholy.

Look now, the embers of love
are dying. All that remains
is an obsidian darkness
so complete and overwhelming –

but in which
hope
still glitters
if you look closely enough.

99

A CHILD’S CHRISTMAS ON ALBANY AVENUE

I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept. - Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales

When the streets were still warm during the day
and pigeons toyed with me as if they might
allow me to hold their luminous cooing,
Big Millie would warn me about being a good boy.
You better behave or you know what you’ll get,
so I’d have to sneak
to the front doors of the Mount Zion Baptist Church
to listen to the Black people make music
from air and syllables
until I was lifted away into a place where
I didn't worry about good or bad.

Acorns covered the sidewalks,
dull, knotted marbles,
harbingers of cold and December
and in the apartment,
the kerosene stove huffed, knocking the chill off,
and stockings thumbtacked to the wall
waited to be filled.

Little Millie was at the big chipped white sink,
plucking feathers from a boiled chicken.
Be good or you know what you’ll get, don’t you?
A lump of coal is what you’ll get.
I’d have to sneak to DelMonico Park
to watch the old men at lean-to picnic tables,
drink wine, smoke cigars, cuss in Italian,
and play dominoes in the park with no grass,
the park covered with black stones like charcoal.

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100