life, prosetry

Strippers

1 / This whole “life” thing would’ve been a lot easier, for me and everyone else, if only my parents had kept a bottle of turpentine under the kitchen sink instead of premium Polish vodka. At least that’s what I tell myself I was looking for all those years ago.

1.5 / Rooting around in the cupboards, my hands covered in oil paint, a brush between my teeth, searching for paint stripper I discovered vodka instead. Art was long and difficult, and my desire to achieve perfection led to much frustration (ripping canvases to shreds, setting drawings on fire, etc). Alcohol was fun and easy and made me feel better: a revelation! Very quickly, drinking replaced painting. The painting went unfinished and the easel was dismantled (and then eventually exchanged for a £10 bag of weed).

2 / Vodka is a stripper in it’s own right. Here are some things that vodka strips me of: inhibitions / morals (some, or all) / worries / layers of my liver / senses (one, or all) / this fucking albatross (very temporarily) / memories / appetite / clothes (some, or all) / shoes (one, or both) / insecurity / fear.

3 / Drinking is affecting my work. Negatively. I feel that I’ve lost too many brain cells lately. I don’t know. But luckily for me, writer’s are “supposed to” have a drink problem so “it’s fine.” With every truth I write, every line I assemble, every poem I publish, I feel a little more naked. It’s like every story is a piece of clothing that I’ve been wearing for years and I’m boiling to death under all this fabric so I tell I story, I shed a layer, I get closer to the pure core of myself, to what’s underneath, to what’s inside. It’s frightening but liberating.

4 / Instead of stripping down, people today seem to be adding more and more layers to themselves, living further and further outside of themselves, silencing their naked truths, suffocating their reality with the strength of other people’s expectations. Perhaps the world would be a better place if we shed all the shit, stripped everything down, went back to basics, straight to the core.

5 / Your truth is all you have. Let it breathe.

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fiction, photography

THE SEA

Chris R-1-142 Image by Christine Renney

He hadn’t seen the sea, not in real life, not until now. He had seen it on the t.v. and he had seen photos in newspapers and magazines and such. He had seen it at the cinema, up on the big screen, but not like this.
Behind him the others were still talking, bickering and just moments before he had been a part of it, of the tomfoolery. It was a game they played, a drama that they performed amongst themselves, taking it in turns to pick on each other. But, staring out to sea watching as it roiled, he realised the game had changed and at some point he had stopped bothering to fight back.
He had become the butt of their jokes, he was the Fool, the Fall Guy, the Patsy. He took all that they threw at him and he took it in the face and in the gut and it hurt and he was almost thirty years of age. They were all almost thirty but he was the one that hadn’t seen the sea, not until now.
Although he wasn’t really listening he could hear them clamouring. They were getting restless and needed him to turn around. They needed a Punchbag but he stood with his back toward them, immobile and unflinching.

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life, prosetry

To Love X Y and Z

Most of her sentences begin with, “I used to.” She used to be / to go / to enjoy / to do / to love x y and z. Now she dwells, angry and bitter, writing furious lists of all of the things that The Thief has stolen from her. She used to enjoy painting. She used to dance in crowds. She used to wear dresses. She used to be smart. She used to do sports. She used to like the sunshine. She used to have real friends. She used to be pretty. She used to travel. She used to enjoy sex. She used to speak several languages. She used to throw parties. She used to make people laugh. She used to be skinny. She used to be popular. She used to be able to do anything. She used to be a daughter, a sister, a niece, a granddaughter. She used to be brilliant. She used to trust people. She cannot get over Her [old] [true] [real] Self; she misses Her and grieves for Her. The person she is now is not a person, rather a half-human living a half-life. But The Thief cannot be caught nor punished. Already locked up in the prison of her mind, The Thief paces day and night, making her brain ache while waiting for an opportunity to strike, destroying her dreams before they can be realised, converting her hopes into fears, stealing her life one memory, one chance, one possibility at a time. The punisher cannot be punished. You can’t hang the hangman. The Thief will only leave when there’s nothing left to steal. The Thief will leave soon.

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poetry

The Spirit Prints No Timetable

Someone else
once described poetry
as the practiced revelation
of subjects ordinarily marked
for concealment, but no one
buys it so why bother
sourcing the quote. “It” must be
ok for me to steal, I excuse myself.
Time and time again
I excuse myself.

Let’s say
for the sake of shaky
foreshadowing that the door
to everything I didn’t do in life
is straight across
the footworn hall from everything
I did—that The Did and The Didn’t are
lifelong neighbors, occasionally
getting each other’s mail, riding
the same elevator or climbing
the same stairs, walking
the same corridors and sidewalks, passing in
the same streets, noticing
one another, exchanging
pleasantries perhaps, talking
about the weather
since the weather
is revelation but you don’t have
to take sides. This is the way
things are, they each announce
once the doors close behind them, so
might as well have a little sneaking
peering peek through the keyhole
at what the market will bear, actual
and imagined.

When I
finally saw the sun, it was
far more _____ than it had
ever been in crayon. Condemned
to see the particulars, I’ll think
about the rest of my life
later because tonight my steps
for once feel firm across
the wood floor with its
creaks and cracks, a substantiation
that inspires me in a flash
of poetism to affect a posture
of gracefully uncertain, fatigued
defiance—this is everything I have
left at night as sleep awaits.

Sleep awaits
and choice has brought us
here, I think, the actual stupidly
collapsed in a corner after banging
on the walls all day
because the imagined isn’t across
the hall at all, he’s next door
carousing, suffering, enjoying, lamenting,
enduring his own facts with
the volume up too high. Time and
again
in the midsts of revelation and
concealment
and it’s here, back to sleep, done
in action and coming undone
in speech as I playfully murmur some
solipsisms about having met most
of the people I could’ve been.


Originally published on Art & Insolence.

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prosetry

A Brief History Of Tea

I used to resent making my father cups of tea. “Why can’t you just make it yourself?” He’d just stare at me until I skulked off to the kitchen, dragging my feet, banging the mug down on the counter, slamming the fridge door. A simple task but apparently asking too much of me.


When I was a teenager, a cup of tea and a spliff was the only way to start the day. Life could not move forward until tea had been consumed. Tea first, life second. Get your priorities straight, girl. Always tea first. Always tea. Always.


My first poem published in print was about a young girl who was addicted to tea and died as a result of her dependence on caffeine mixed with a disgusting amount of sugar. Addiction, death and tea: a portrait of my family. Nobody knew at the time that this morbid poem, written and published when I was 10 years old, was the start of my career writing depressing poetry.


All these years and you still don’t know how I take my tea.


When I was 16 I went to the dark side. Depression and psychosis were killing me from the inside out. Feeling so exhausted from the fight and zombie-like thanks to citalopram, while also knowing that I needed to do every single crazy thing my mind was telling me do, I found myself trying to find energy from any possible source. Crushed caffeine pills mixed in rum and gumming speed wasn’t enough so I decided to start drinking coffee.

I’d always said that I hated the taste of coffee but in truth, I had never tried it. I had a pal who’d dropped out of school and starting working in this failing coffee shop. I’d pop in to see him and down espressos until either my hands were shaking too much or they’d stopped shaking altogether, then rush off to do whatever mad thing my brain told me was imperative to do next. “If you don’t run 8 miles to this specific postbox and kick it with all your might using your left foot, your dad is going to die. Tick tock.”

I still don’t even know if I like the taste, but nowadays coffee seems more vital to my existence than tea. This somehow seems sinful, anti-British, maybe even anti-Dad. Father said that he drank a coffee in Rome in the 90s and it was crazy-expensive. He never drank a coffee again and never understood why I did.


Sometimes, when he was too ill to speak,
he would make a letter T shape
with his hands. That meant, “Tea, please.”


My first suicide attempt. Brother said We need to get her to hospital, I’m calling 999. Mother said Absolutely not, and confiscated the telephone. I was put on the sofa. I remember my head hanging over the edge, upside down, and my left arm lolling with it, my hand near the carpet. My organs were in my mouth. Mother said Drink this tea. I can’t speak I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t keep my eyes open. Mother is ironing and watching Desperate Housewives while I am dying behind her. When I was conscious I could see the cup of tea on the floor by where my hands were hanging. When my eyes rolled back into my head they retained the image of the tea. Dark green mug, white leaves, flecks of gold. I couldn’t move to get it. When I was unconscious for too long, Mother poured cold water on me. Drink your tea, she said. Brother was not allowed in the room. I drifted, in and out, mostly out. The tea went undrunk. Eventually my whole body slipped off the sofa. I came to, drenched, lying on the floor, to the sound of Mother shouting at me and my brother crying in the hallway. I had wasted a valuable cup of tea. I slept for 3 days.


Me + D @ university:
Tetley when our student loans dropped.

Green tea when studying, using the same teabag 3 or 4 times.
With lemon if I’d managed to swipe one from Tesco.
Chamomile when we were depressed or had period pains.
Hot water when we were skint.


We never had coffee at home (too expensive). Running out of tea caused the entire household to fall apart. Mother had black tea. Brother and I had milk and 2 sugars. Father drank several cups in the morning while waiting for the pub to open. We learned to fear the empty PG Tips box. Life simply could not go on without tea. A frantic scrambling for loose change and sending one of the kids running down to Mr Shah’s would follow. Then the parents would get their tea and the order that existed in our household (albeit a very low level of order) would return.

I was glad when father drank tea. It was better than when he drank beer.

I was glad when mother drank tea. It meant that she would take a minute to calm down and wouldn’t be so angry for a while.


Today, I am the queen of tea-making. I remember how everybody takes theirs and make them perfectly to their individual specifications. I like seeing their faces when they take the mug and peer in, nod in approval, take a sip and say, “Corrrrr, that’s a lovely cuppa tea, that is,” and they are simply happy. It’s so British it hurts.


When I began making cups of tea for my father I was about 4.

Too tiny to reach the kitchen counter, let alone the kettle. Had to drag the red plastic step over and climb on it. If there was too much water in the kettle it was too heavy to hold so I’d tip it over into the sink and refill it with just enough for a cup.

Four heaped teaspoons of sugar. PG Tips pyramid bag. Careful, careful with the hot water. Let it brew for the correct amount of time. Add a little milk (blue top). It had to be a certain colour, the tea, a very particular shade of beige. Stir stir stir so that the sugar doesn’t get stuck to the bottom of the mug. That mug. It was huge. You used that mug for over 20 years. I don’t know where it is now but I hope that someone has it.

Careful, careful with dragging the mug over to the edge of the counter. Step off the step, carefully. Two tiny hot hands carrying the mug over to Daddy. “Thank you, princess.” Sometimes a critique. “A little too much milk in this one, babe,” or “Did you put sugar in this or is it all at the bottom?” or if I had spilled a bit on the journey, he’d describe the tea as being “low tide.”


I knew his mind was gone when he wouldn’t drink his tea.


Something awful happens. Make a cup of tea.

Something needs to be sorted out. Let’s all sit down and have a nice cup of tea.

Someone dies. For god’s sake, get that kettle on.

A lovely catch up with an old friend. Tea and biccies.

Bad news. Cuppa char. Good news. Celebratory cuppa.

Big news. Make the tea first then tell us all about it.

Sad news. Sit in silence holding onto your mug of tea for warmth and comfort.

New roommate, new neighbour, new colleague, new boss. Bond over a cup of tea.

Hangover. Drag yourself to the caff for a fry up and a mug of builders tea.

Hungry but dinner is ready in an hour. Have a cheeky cup of tea.

Visiting nan and granddad. Call them when you’re 5 minutes away so they can get the mugs out and the kettle boiled.

Work break. Tea and a quick smoke outside.

In hospital. Complain about the weak tea and get friendly with the nurse so she gives you extra milk and sugar.

Foreign country. Do you have any English tea?

Visiting friends abroad. Bring a box of Twinings Breakfast tea as a gift but drink it all yourself during your stay.

Break-up. How about a lovely cup of tea and a slice of cake?

Freezing cold. A cuppa will sort you out.

Heatwave. I don’t care, get that kettle on.

When in doubt: TEA.


After your abortion I didn’t know what to do
so I just made you a cup of tea and held you
while you cried.


The only words that father learnt in Polish (my mother’s language) were kochana and herbata. “Darling” and “tea.” All he ever needed.


Daddy used to write in my birthday cards,
“I love you more than all the tea in China.”
That’s a lot of tea and a lot of love.


I used to resent making my father cups of tea but now I would love nothing more than to hear him say, “Lal, stick the kettle on and make us a cuppa, would ya?” And I would. Happily. So happily.

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life, poetry, prosetry, Uncategorized

Burning without fire

close up photo of red candles

Photo by Aloïs Moubax on Pexels.com

Last night I scalded myself Mama and as the boiling water ran down my arm

I saw you through the pain and you were smiling and everything was wrong

how you are alive and yet gone, how you exist and yet don’t, how I was never right

and somehow always mistaken

If I don’t come from you then who? My mitochondrial existence and all the women before us

seem to pass into memory and then detached, by our severing

every day I wake and I think of you and then I remember

you’re not thinking of me

What tenderized my heart so? Pounding it until it cried out

I know it’s futile and still I yearn

What compelled it to continue beating even after the obvious?

I loathe that about myself and I love that about myself

I am like a ship in a bottle, you cannot figure out how I came to be

full and whole, encased in glass and yet

I am neither full nor whole, but hungry and drowning

a featherweight, a word, something you created and then said

no you can take it back, I don’t want it any more

(I never did / I pretended / it was the mask of a mask in a mask)

and so I went far and nowhere

near and not close

wondering what will come first? The last loss of you, or the first diminishment of

my eternal want?

Who am I kidding? With endings there remain

more scabs to pick off, prayerful knees and bowed heads

no amount could achieve

forgiveness or whatever it is I need to be to

change everything that cannot be changed

so I watch myself and you

I watch nothing and no one

empty their expressionless pockets into water

watch the colors of us turn dark and indistinguishable

as if we’d never been and I am not sure

where or who I am without you

like a glass blower who stands on the quayside

wondering if

the boats will come today

marking the horizon with their

dusky forms

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