prosetry

The Eclectic Lucozade Acid Test

I woke up in an unfilled grave; you were licking the morning dew off my face and I thought it was 1953.


A wise man once told me, “Never write about your trips,” in the same way that people say you should never write about your dreams, because no one was there, no one would understand, no one cares and (no matter how precise your descriptions or how excellent your storytelling) no one will ever see what you saw in the way that you want them to see it. And this will ultimately frustrate you, and force the words, “You had to have been there,” to pour out of your mouth before you’ve had the chance to cram them back in. Then you sound like an utter dick and it’s too late and nothing good has been achieved. But then, I argued, what the hell did Kesey build a career on? The wise man was silenced. I wrote notes about my trips.


FRIDGE-FREEZER

We went to the construction site/fly-tipping spot behind the pub. It was dark but Venus followed us, the eye in the sky. There was an abandoned fridge-freezer laying pathetically on its side. We opened the doors and were disappointed that there was nothing exciting inside. We wanted there to be a suitcase of money or a severed head or a gun or a baby. Instead there were only some crisp packets, empty bottles, old newspapers and a used condom. The disappointment on my face must have been palpable. You took off your boot and produced a pack of tabs from underneath your insole. “Classy,” I said, while you hopped about. “You game?” “Always.” I stood on the fridge so I was eye-level with you. You balanced a tab on the tip of your index finger and said, “To fathom hell or soar angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelic.” “I already know hell,” I said. “Well then, you’ve got nothing to fear, my little angel.” You put the tab on my tongue and we were off.


MOVE

Some general merriment ensued, we went back to the pub and drank tequila, there was an incident at the kebab shop, then we carried on drinking at the working man’s club and I beat you at pool but then things around me started to move so we made a move.


TAKE ME TO CHURCH

Remember those evil gargoyles at the church? How they were alive but couldn’t leave their perch, and one of them spat at you? They wouldn’t let us in the church: we weren’t welcome there, we were too bad. They snarled and clawed until we were out of sight. I remember we counted, and there were 12 of them, 3 guarding each corner. We seriously pissed them off. I’m surprised they didn’t eat us alive. I went past that church last week and it doesn’t have any gargoyles. It’s not even remotely Gothic in style. Also, it only has one clock face, not 10. But there were definitely 12 gargoyles. Or perhaps it was the tequila.


MR. GANESH

By the church it started to rain. The rain hurt me. The drops were hitting me and going through my skin, then either coming out the other side of my arm or staying inside my body. Like acid rain dissolving a statue. It wasn’t horrific but it hurt and I didn’t like it.

We ducked into Mr Patel’s corner shop. He said, “I’m just about to close,” and you said, “We just need orange Lucozade. Not the red one, the orange one. It has to be the orange one. I need it. It’s very important,” and I said I only needed cigarettes and a purple Ribena. “Very well,” said Mr Patel. Behind the counter stood Mr Patel, and behind Mr Patel there was a colourful, A4-sized poster of Ganesh. I don’t know how but suddenly the two beings merged. On the poster was Mr Patel’s shrunken head on Ganesh’s body, and Mr Patel was handing me my smokes but his head was Ganesh’s elephant head wearing a magnificent gold crown. “Anything else?” asked Mr Patel from inside the poster. “No,” I said cautiously, passing a tenner to the life-size Ganesh who was standing behind the counter, wearing Mr Patel’s clothes. I said to the poster, “Mr Patel, you are a God amongst men,” and he chuckled in the way that he always does and told me to clear off and stay out of trouble.


HOME

The rain stopped and after we walked for what felt like two years, we got to the cemetery halfway down the hill. We were welcomed there with open arms. I remember you saying, “We’re home!” and grabbing my hand, and your palms were cold and sweaty but I couldn’t have let go even if our lives depended on it. The trees knew our names and the dark clouds kept us warm – we wore the sky like a cloak, draped around our shoulders, billowing behind us as we played among the graves.


INSTALLATION

We wandered around the oldest graves but I knew that there were no bodies there. I explained to you my theory, that these crumbling graves were actually an elaborate art installation that had probably been created by a local artist only last week because they knew we were coming to this cemetery, they knew that we would come home eventually. Because people always go home, eventually. “This is just an outdoor art gallery, not a burial site,” I told to you, with absolute conviction. You bought it, of course.


CHIMES

Lots of graves have little decorations but the infant cemetery has plenty. It seemed like there were at least one hundred wind chimes on each tiny grave. They were loud, the only thing we could hear, but not in a deafening or annoying way: the sound was just beautiful. Those gentle chimes dancing in the breeze played for us a lullaby, written, performed and orchestrated by the stars in heaven. I have never heard a sound so pure and I doubt I ever will again. It was truly a magical set of sounds. I lay back on an old brick wall and your drummed your fingers on my rib cage, playing me like a xylophone, accompanying the clinks of the chimes, in harmony, so heavenly.

We heard wind chimes following us around for weeks after. But, in reality, when the colours have dulled and your shoulders have regained all that weight they’d lost and you’ve repossessed your worries and cynicism, the twinkling of wind chimes just makes one think of baby-sized coffins and dead children. (You got me a wind chime for my birthday: I daren’t hang it up).


KISSES

You kissed my skin all over but it was the most asexual thing. There was absolutely no lust or love in this closeness, there was no suggestion or motive, it was kissing in its most basic form: simply placing your mouth on me. You said I tasted like vanilla custard, “proper, bright yellow custard,” you said, “not lumpy school-dinner custard.” My mouth tasted full of fizz. Not champagne or soda or sherbet, but the sound of fizzing. That was it: all I could taste was the sound of fizz. Time for another tab.


THE BIRDS

Your hair felt like feathers. I wondered if you’d been a bird in a past life. I guessed you were a game bird, a grouse or pheasant. You said, “Maybe that’s why I’m so passionately anti-guns.” At the time that was the most profound thing I’d ever heard. Now we laugh about it.

Above the wind chimes but below the blanket sky, was a murder of crows. We discussed how excellent that collective noun is, along with a parliament of owls, an unkindness of ravens and an ostentation of peacocks. Corvidae are my favourite group of birds by far, and I have always felt an affinity toward them. These crows were so very powerful. They did not seem sinister or ominous at all, rather they were our guardians, our protectors. We knew that nothing bad could happen to us under the watch of the crows. They were truly superior in every sense, majestic even, and we felt enormous respect for them. We discussed going to the Tower of London to see the ravens but the last train had been and gone. Suddenly I saw yeomen warders hopping about the cemetery in their full regalia, picking at the grass for worms, coins and stale bread. All of their faces were the same, like the archetypal beefeater carbon copied to create exact clones – like whatever you’d imagine a beefeater to look like, that’s what they looked like, times ten. They didn’t bother us at all. But they wouldn’t have, not with their masters circling above us. In a fantastic turning of the tables, the yeomen were bottom of the pecking order.


REALITY

After this I lost a few hours. I can’t remember anything noteworthy. I know that it got very cold and that we went to sleep in an empty grave. Upon waking the next morning, I knew it was 1953. I have never been so sure of anything in my life, until I climbed out of the grave and wandered around. If it weren’t for the twos and ohs on the headstones jolting me back to reality, I wouldn’t have known any different, and I did, for a very slight moment, think we may have woken up in the future. My green scarf was discarded a little away from our sleeping place. You saw it and thought it was a snake. You liked it. I let you keep it, as a pet.

We walked down the hill, bedraggled but full of new thoughts, to the cafe for a fry up. We walked in near silence. I took that to mean that your dreams were as unnerving and terrifying as mine were, and weren’t something to be discussed for fear of bringing the other one down. Or maybe you didn’t dream at all. But anyway, a wise man once told me to never write about your dreams. So I’ll leave it at that.

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poetry

She

​She is no oxygen thief.
She isn’t stealing something
that doesn’t belong to her,
she is being force-fed it,
being gifted the same terrible present every birthday,
being given something that she doesn’t want
in relentless abundance.

She has had the same headache
for a decade, and can’t remember
life without it.
She doesn’t know the definition of ‘well.’

She looks forward to blinking
for the last time,
to closing her eyes
and never opening them again.
It’s exciting not knowing
exactly when this will happen –
aren’t you excited? You should be.
It’s a once in a lifetime thing.

She doesn’t want to breathe
but it keeps on happening.

The copper said, “No sudden moves!”
as he tried to decide whether to
get her off the edge of the roof
or get the carving knife out of her hand first,
thinking of the paperwork he’ll have to fill out later.
She said, “But all I have are sudden moves.
Isn’t my heartbeat just a series of sudden moves?
Isn’t yours?”
Her words got caught in the wind.

She balances on the edge
thinking about how we see the world,
and then we don’t –
or perhaps we do
but from another angle
in another realm.

She doesn’t like the view from here,
buried above ground,
and hopes that the world will look prettier
once she’s buried in it.
Unblinking, unbeating, unbreathing,
unfeeling, undisturbed,
underground.

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poetry

Girls

GIRLS
splashy micro-hothouses
no humdrum engagements
styled heads
wild-card zing
inspired
offbeat
decorated
attentions jostling
More
is more
is more
is sex and pain
is tears and blood
and then
the bomb effect
the essential details
the newfound frankness:
“there will be more stories.”


This is an erasure poem made from words found on pages 63 and 99 of Vogue (May 2018, British edition)

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life

Green Lanes

​I was standing on Green Lanes when it began to rain. It always rains on Green Lanes apart from when it doesn’t. Once I walked 6 miles of it because I lost my bus pass and that was during a heatwave. I remember it because the added heat and smoke from the bakeries and kebab houses and the Saturday afternoon crowd made the trek almost unbearable to the point where I wanted to cry but I had no tears to shed because I was so dehydrated, and never will I ever be so happy to see the Palmers Green triangle as I was when I finally made it home on that day. When I met my friend she said I smelled like I’ve been charcoal grilled. I felt like I had been charcoal grilled. 

Anyway, this time it was raining. Big, heavy raindrops, the ones that almost hurt when they hit your skin. I was early for the meeting with my solicitor so I loitered about, opting to murder my finite minutes outside a Turkish bakery a few doors down from his office. Inside the bakery I could see a group of women making baklava and some men congregating near the counter, drinking tea. I could hear the men’s animated debate and the subdued chatter of the women through the open door though I did not understand a word.

I lit a cigarette, holding it within my cupped hand in such a way as to shield it from the rain, and watched the women work. It was mesmerising, truly, seeing them expertly arrange layers upon layers of filo pastry, the filo so thin it was almost transparent, delicate and satisfying in one perfect sheet like when you peel off sunburnt skin, lifting up a huge sheet of it with such care but seemingly such little thought, a technique honed through the decades, passed down through generations. They were wielding rolling pins that were probably longer than the women were tall, never tearing the pastry, never once coughing or spluttering from inhaling the continuous cloud of starch powder that engulfed them, toned arms made strong from years of lifting vats of honey hidden under old cotton dresses, the patterns and colours of their aprons faded with age but their hair as white as sugar and their eyes as green as the pistachios that they crush in the giant pestle and mortar. Traditional, routine, precise, step-by-step, live art.

The women didn’t notice me but the men had their eyes all over me and they beckoned me in. I shook my head and held up my cigarette to say “I can’t come in right now even if I wanted to.” They insisted, but again I shook my head. The women glared at me. I suddenly felt uncomfortable, and certain that they were bitching about me in Turkish. The men are probably their husbands. Then, just as I was feeling unsafe, someone came up behind me and grabbed me, digging their fingers in my ribs with an almighty grip. Without a thought I twisted my upper body around and elbowed the person in the face. He immediately let go of me and his hands rushed to his face. He was doubled over and blood dripped onto the wet concrete.

Fucking hell!!” he said, into his hands. “Why’d you do that?!” He stood up and took his bloody hands away from his face. “Oh my God, GEORGE! I’m so sorry! I didn’t know it was you, you scared me, I thought you were a robber or a pervert or something!” “No, it’s just me. Fucking hell, you’ve broken my fucking nose!” “No I haven’t, come on, let’s have a look at it,” I said, searching for a tampon in my handbag. “It’s not proper broken. You’re still handsome, don’t worry,” I promised, as I unwrapped the tampon and shoved it up his nose. “Fucking hell, I only came over to say hello and invite you out to this thing tonight!” he winced. “Oh, Georgie, I’m really sorry, let me kiss it better,” I said, before I kissed his nose and he laughed. “You’re a nutter, you are,” he said as he wiped his bloody hands on his jeans.

We went into the bakery, George cleaned up and we had tea and baklava. One of the men in there paid for me. George said, “If you weren’t so pretty you wouldn’t get away with half the shit you do.” I concurred that that is probably, sadly true. My solicitor called to say he was ready for me, so we hugged goodbye and arranged to meet at Frank’s in Peckham at 10 that night. I promised to buy him a drink to say “sorry about the whole elbow in the face thing” and he promised that we would catch up properly later on and that he had some exciting news.

He never turned up at Frank’s that night. Nobody had heard from him. His phone was dead when we tried to reach him, and it’s still dead 4 years later. I ring it from time to time, just in case it might be switched on.

Where did you go, Gorgeous George? You just disappeared. No social media clues, no sightings, no ideas. The grapevine mentioned you running away to Thailand but then it also mentioned you in prison, and it was even suggested that you were living under witness protection and your true identity had been compromised. I don’t think you topped yourself. I just don’t know where you are. No one does. I wonder if I was the last person to see you: I hope I was, so that you didn’t meet a fate worse than a bloody nose and free baklava. And I will always look for you on Green Lanes, especially when it rains.

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poetry

Sandwiches

No, ​I don’t mind making the sandwiches

for our piss-up picnic in the park:

it’s strangely satisfying to slice

the cheddar for your Ploughman’s

using the same knife I hack

away at my wrists with, the one I keep

hidden up my sleeve on days when I’m

not safe in my own skin, the one I sleep

with on nights when you’re away and I don’t

trust my own heartbeat, the one I reach

for when I need clarity to shine through the insanity,

with its unfailing black handle and mirrored serrated blade.

Honestly, I don’t mind making the sandwiches

at all, babe.

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prosetry

Tracks

​By the time you’d finished reading the LOTR trilogy, the grass had grown over the railway tracks where we used to lie.

How I loved filling those empty hours with you at the train station in my town, in that same spot, off the main platform, over the safety barriers, under the concrete stairs.

Tuesdays and Thursdays. Autumn and Spring. Never the times in between. Always evening. Always vodka. Side by side, sky high, putting the world to rights. “What we think, we become,” you said one night. “I fucking hope not,” I replied.

I cried a lot back then. You let me. But you never let me get too close to the fast trains, even when it seemed like my mind had already hurled itself in front of one. You were splattered with the viscera of my brain, but through my words, my stories, my secrets, my ideas.

No one likes to have their train delayed, not by a technical fault, not by staff shortages, and certainly not by a jumper. We hate so much for our train to be delayed even by a few minutes and yet we willingly delay so many great things in our lives, out of fear, out of diffidence, out of our minds.

You did not delay in telling me that you loved me. That was a great thing you did. It was urgent, as if you’d been waiting your whole life to love me. I think that staying alive is delaying me from attaining the greatest thing of my life: nonexistence. I am causing my own delays out of fear, fear of the unknown.

I am not as brave as you. I used to be fearless – you know, that’s when you loved me. Now you are fearless, just as I taught you to be, and thousands of miles away, while I am still at the station and I am afraid.

By the time I’ve finished reading the 1Q84 trilogy, the grass will have grown again over the railway tracks where we used to lie.

Our initials are still spray-painted underneath the 7th stair, above where we used to shelter from the rain. The black letters look as fresh as the day you sprayed them, a decade ago. I remember the black paint on your white shirt, and how I pierced your ear and you pierced my nose, and we lay our heads on the tracks and listened for the heavy electricity coursing through the rails and cables, the static jolts of the approaching train, stronger and longer, nearer and louder. We’d move out of the way at the last moment and laugh for England as the police chased us away. We have grown too tired and too cynical to thrive on adrenaline and blind faith like we used to. London has caught up with us.

You said you’d always be here, there, somewhere, not necessarily visible but present, like maggots in ketchup. While I delay in finding peace out of fear of missing the madness, I will not delay in saying this: I am still here, there, somewhere, not necessarily visible but present, like the empty vodka bottles that are under the stairs, at the station, where we used to shelter from the rain, by the fast trains, by our graffitied names, by the railway tracks where we used to lie.

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