It’s a strange feeling, this. To be left alone in the middle of a crowd, to be abandoned by people that I’ve never met. The sun disappears and so do the strangers, and I sit cross-legged on the harsh concrete edge, lockside for the thousandth time, with my purple lipstick and my white wine eyes, wearing a garnet ring that was prised off the finger of a dead woman, with not even my faithful moon for company, and if I told you that I feel alive, it would be a lie, one greater than the lie I told you last night, the one that you will cling onto for the rest of your life, the one about loving you, the one about trusting you, the one promising not to die too soon.
“What did he say when you came home?”
“Go Cowboys…you left a mark”
“Is it big?”
“Did he notice?”
“She called five times in the middle of the night.”
“Why did we?”
“I don’t know.”
“What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“I have to go.”
“I have to. I said I was getting coffee.”
~magazine, sheet music, acryllic paint
Inundated within sordid memories, we all wander until we once again washed to the same shore in which our emotions are finally wrung dry.
Made choices not from equilibrium, as sometimes thought, but from crests or troughs. Just a ship at sea. I can’t get over how primitive I feel in even acknowledging that, how human, how dare I.
Is it always this way, though, so reactive? I sometimes get sea sick and think it should be spelled -ee rather than -ea, thinking if enough people hear me as me (t=0, where t stands for thought) then maybe they’d show me how to cut the kinds of breaks I’ve been so loath to cut myself and be usual.
There’s a knife around here somewhere and I promise I’m just being dramatic. I would say it’s because I’m Latina if I were named Micaela, and a woman. I can imagine it, though, and did, so why not say so while we’re at it, just a little rocking back and forth. It’s not that sharp anyway.
Crests and troughs, highs and lows along this simple sinusoid since birth, growing to the kind of anthropoid that takes remarkable comfort in the disquiet of his expository tales of questionable oscillation and completely ordinary rates of change, stories of this for that and because of or despite, trying every which way of treating normal as a phase so he can be it but not just.
Image by Christine Renney
In the past, when we argued, I would often throw something. Now words are enough as over the years I have become more adept at hurling them and I no longer need to rely something inanimate. If I happened to be holding a mug I would throw that and, after retrieving the largest surviving part, I’d throw that again and again. Or I might reach and grab for something close at hand, an ornament or a trinket made from china or glass, something that would break, something that would smash. If I happened to be holding a book then I would throw that. It wouldn’t break of course, not even after I had kicked it and stamped on it. Books don’t come apart or at least not easily. Try for yourself, take one down from the shelf, a paperback, open it in the middle and try to rip it in two. It can’t be done. In order to destroy a book you need to act methodically, to tear the pages one at a time. I have done this, but only once.
I hadn’t read the book but I remember it was ‘The Idiot’ by Dostoevsky. As I started to rip out the pages, T… watched but she quickly tired and, exasperated, she went to bed. ‘The Idiot’ is a big book but I persevered until each and every page lay at my feet. In the heat of the moment a book is decidedly unsatisfactory. A mug, on the other hand, is ideal. A mug will bounce unscathed across a carpeted floor time and again. Six, eight, even ten times, before it will begin to chip and crack and, when it does, when it breaks, something snaps and in the silence we are able to make things right again. To scrub at the coffee stains and sweep up the pieces, although for weeks afterwards, we find bits of the mug lodged here, there and everywhere.
T… was frightened by my outbursts and believed if I didn’t react in this way that I would lash out and strike her. But it was only when the argument really took root, when it wouldn’t stop, that I would throw and break something. Of course, it wasn’t always a mug but sometimes things that were much more valuable and difficult to replace. Heirlooms, things that had been passed down and things we had bought together and which, over time, would have come to mean so much more. I won’t bore you with a list but I did once break a clock, a wedding present. I lifted it from the mantle and flung it to the floor. I kicked it, stood and stomped on it. Grinding the glass and the face and the mechanism until all of the tiny parts, the cogs and the washers and the wheels, were embedded in the carpet. Later, we hadn’t any choice but to carefully and painstakingly pick them out.
I am now aware, however, that T… has begun to replace some of the things I have destroyed from our past. I wouldn’t even have noticed if it hadn’t been for the book, not even the clock, but there it is up on the mantle, exactly the same although of course it isn’t. I wonder how she did it, how she managed to find it? And I would like to ask but how can I, how can we talk about this?
After finding the book and taking it down from the shelf, I carry it with me and begin to wander through the house, searching the rooms and discovering item after item, things I won’t list, not now, not here. I’ve told you about the book and about the clock and that’s enough. And the mugs of course, although they don’t matter, mugs are inconsequential; you use one only for so long and then replace it. Eventually I sit and start to read ‘The Idiot’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky, a copy of the book I desecrated long ago. It has the same cover, a sky blue border and the same painting on the front. ‘Portrait of Ivan Pochitonov’ by Nikolai Dmitrievich although of course these details I don’t remember.
T… comes into the room and, noticing the book, she asks quite coolly, ‘Haven’t you read that before?’.
‘I started once but didn’t finish it,’ I reply, ‘and I’ve decided to try again.’
I watch the man in the crumpled white shirt take a swig from his can of Stella
and remember how anything looks beautiful when set against a pink September sky.
I catch his eye through the smoke trails left behind by infinite Marlboro Lights
and then he picks up his guitar. I notice that there are flowers painted on its body,
which feels unfair as he will never see the flowers inked on mine.
I come here because I am unknown here.
Here, I can be anyone. I can be anyone I want.
Nobody here knows my name or my situation or my secrets.
I can talk to strangers here and know that they are strangers.
Here, nothing is expected of me, and all we have are first impressions.
I can hide what I like, reveal what I want.
I don’t have to say a word but I can also say them all.
Whatever I say or do here exists in its purest form.
Here, I have no history.
I am not known for my past transgressions, I am not known at all.
I can be whoever I want to be.
And here, I always choose to be me.
Because here, I can.
I laugh out loud at the groups
of young girls who look exactly the same from behind,
clones, pretty clones,
with their Instagram lies and bad blonde highlights,
all wearing the same beige trench coat,
drinking the same sugary cocktail,
taking a photo of themselves pretending to drink it,
no delete that one oh my god I look disgusting,
take another one!
no, I don’t like that one, delete.
One more, one fucking more,
I despair at the state of my generation.
I imagine what the girls look like
without their eyebrows drawn on.
Who are they trying to deceive?
I shake my head in disbelief.
I am overwhelmed at the tragic haircuts
these young white males are sporting –
another deluded bunch,
convincing themselves daily that they don’t look like utter twats.
I laugh again because they look ridiculous
and I don’t know why they’re here,
they don’t look old enough to drink,
and I wonder why their parents haven’t told them
that they look fucking ridiculous
and I remember the time I was leaving the house
and my mother told me that I looked like a prostitute
and she meant it as an insult
but I took it as a compliment
because that’s what it is nowadays.
The most grotesque PDA is taking place to the left of me.
The girl has a blade of grass in her hair.
I wonder if I’m the only person on this earth who knows that it’s there.
I think I am.
The guy keeps staring at me, leering.
He has a horrible laugh. It is false and it makes my skin crawl.
He bites the girl’s bare shoulder and keeps his eyes fixed on mine
the whole time and everything suddenly feels a lot colder.
This place is saturated with vague memories
of the midsummer evenings of our glory days
and we sit here pretending that it’s not all over.
Plastic sunglasses and plastic cups,
a dropped kebab and cigarette butts,
we all sit on the dirty concrete ground by the water
and watch the sun cringe away behind the buildings
not wanting to stick around
to witness our demise into debauchery.
The summer has gone but there is a lot of skin on show.
Heavy winter coats are being thrown
on over denim shorts and tiny vests,
and the more we drink the less
we notice the temperature drop
the degrees fall away
with our dignity
until there’s none left.
This is a tourist hotspot. This is why I can be unknown here.
I can spill my soul to a stranger, steal a wallet, fall in love, punch someone in the face: I know that I’ll never see them again and that any witnesses are gone too, so the damage is deleted. They’ll be gone tomorrow, or next week, or next month. What happens today never happened tomorrow.
Ah, Camden Lock: you never see the same face twice.
Unless you want to, of course.
So everyone around me is chatting away in various languages and I am writing and quietly singing along to the lyrics of the songs that the man with the guitar is playing.
We are all listening but not really.
We clap when we’re supposed to but this is just a man who’s singing for fun, he’s not supposed to be here, we didn’t pay to see him.
An old man who looks like a shit version of Iggy Pop dances around the guitar man, spilling his can of Scrumpy Jack’s on the floor.
He gets on down on his hands and knees and licks it up.
So, this guy is playing a free acoustic set
for the ignoring masses
and suddenly I feel bad for him,
like I’m the only one who’s listening
and appreciating his presence.
He plays songs that I know and love,
by Cash and Dylan.
Then he points at me and says,
‘Your boyfriend will probably come and beat me up for this, but I’ll take my chances – this song is for you.’
And then he starts singing Brown Eyed Girl
because of course, fucking of course,
because that’s the song that you would always sing to me.
And my throat gets really tight
and the tears begin to rally together on the edge of my eyeballs
and I don’t want to remember anything anymore.
I can’t look at the guitar man.
Or Shit Iggy Pop.
Or the PDA guy.
Or the chav youths with bad haircuts.
Or the girls pretending to drink their drinks.
I just stare into the canal and let myself zone out,
lighting a cigarette, ignoring my heartbeat,
wondering how many prostitutes are rotting away at the bottom of the lock,
attempting to conjure x-ray vision to look through the algae to see the bodies below,
trying to remember what the Camden Ripper’s real name is,
estimating how cold the water is,
mapping out the route of the canal in my head,
thinking that I’d rather drown than be burnt alive,
and then everyone starts clapping because the song has finished
and suddenly I’m no longer in the water
I’m dry and warm on the concrete
and I smile at the guitar man
and he winks at me
and then he starts playing American Pie
and I’m fine again,
Had an idea. I’d play on what “better” means. Mix it up with the categorical imperative of the should, a played-out life theme of troubling externality, but tied to illness—of mind, of heart, the usual. Weary of weariness, that sort of illness, I thought, anxious my abstractions would never get me out of the gate, recalling Pound and characteristically reading too much into things like when someone says too little or too much.
Is anyone worried I’ll succumb again? I am, sometimes, but I have confident things to say this time. Responses, I’d call them. And recovery, but unclinically. The benefits of solitude, together with you. It’s not thoughts that are dangerous, but thought patterns. The dream is more than process. I’ll still love you when you’re fat on Monday. Taken out of context, these things make sense.
“The unforeseen, improvised and fatal, fascinates me.” That was the Muse, again, making so much sense that there’s little left for us to… carve. What about another category of word, one that doesn’t seem to follow “making” so intuitively, so simplistically—that’d be poetry. This was supposed to be poetry. A centered column of left-right justified text of maybe eight words per line. If I knew more about language and the written word I’d know whether there was a proper name for that or not.
Time to get _____. Takes _____ to get better. Take all the _____ you need. Get _____. Do what _____ need. Take _____.
Time doesn’t come back around again like my poems do but seasons seem to make me think it does, and that’s more than just more language. This winter is unforeseen; it won’t be like the last, no matter how many words I throw—or don’t throw—at it. Thoughts, merely, and I look to the Muse, even though she was there then too, and ventriloquize alternative patterns so I’m not the only one speaking.
Not everything means something, says something. Not every moment is to be learned from, only learned, presumably with better grammar. I do the dishes with a whole new gnomic outlook. Whose word count am I exceeding and whose stylistic and formal sensibilities am I offending. Ezra, I hope, and all his acolytes. The more the merrier. Mencken said that in a letter to Dreiser in the past but he didn’t mean it the way I do now. I put the silverware to dry handle up. I mean I realized that the dream is process, held together by trust, the way one time in September—in a September—she said be better and go, trusting I’ll take what I need.