poetry

Reason

Isn’t it strange that I am your voice of reason
but not my own? And for good reason, too.
Me being your conscience seems so unreasonable:
there are so many reasons why I shouldn’t be,
why you shouldn’t listen to me,
and yet you do.
Words fail me. Reasons fail you.
You are not my reason for being here,
just as I am not the reason that you’re still here too.
There’s no rhyme nor reason to any of this.
No raison d’être to be found in our town.
‘Reasons’ doesn’t look like a real word anymore,
for some reason.
It looks like it should be the season for treason.
No rhyme, no reason.
No rhyme nor reason to be found in our town.

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poetry

55

You counted my bruises — fifty-five —
and I cried because I hate the number five —
three + seven + nine are fine but not 5, no, not 5.

You placed your thumb over one on my thigh
+ your lips on the shiner around my eye —
for me, you made it fifty-three, but I didn’t deserve any.

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poetry, prosetry

Oh, Man

I don’t need you to kill any spiders. I can buy my own flowers.
I prefer to sleep alone. I have books for company.
No, you can’t read my poetry. No, I don’t write about you.

I am hard work and the end result may or may not be worth the effort but that’s down to your inflated expectations, not mine (I have enough of my own to deal with, thanks). / Rather than my favourite yellow roses, that I sit and watch die over a period of less than 72 hours, The One For Me would buy me a cactus: indestructible, quiet, steadfast, pretty ugly, unkillable. / The only thing that takes my breath away is a panic attack. / I cry over spilt milk and have a phobia of tomato seeds: concluding that I have issues with my mother, shoving coke up your nose and trying to get me to lie down on your sofa does not make you Freud.

I can’t afford to cook for two.
I will never be eating for two.
You will never know who I really am or what I really do.
I only bother to shave my legs for you.
I will break one or more of the following: Your…
a) heart b) nose c) bank d) spirit.

I wear my father’s old clothes: it’s too easy to conjure up his ghost, because I am him and he is me: I am dead to me: I refuse to live for you. / The Man of My Dreams is a man who reads: books, not The Racing Post. / I don’t agree when you call me pretty – luckily you say that rarely. / If you’re going to catcall, do it properly: your weak whistle succeeds only in eliciting further pity from me. / I can play Wonderwall on the guitar better than you can, even with my impractically long, elaborately decorated false nails. / Fancy cars will never impress me: walking is free.

I am wasting your time, just as you are wasting mine.
All these years and you still don’t know how I take my tea.
I dread every aspect of sex, though I talk about it frankly and frequently.
I never actually gave you permission to touch me.
Stop pestering me – needy isn’t sexy.
If you cared about me, you’d leave me be.

I’ve smoked JPS Silver for a decade. / John Player Special: John = what I call every man because a lot of the time, that’s his name, and because they always respond, because they’re all the same: / Player – Special = what every man thinks he is: / Jean-Paul Sartre = the man, the thinker, who I actually think about. / Silver, because it’s the only time a man ever comes second.

You think, by meeting me, you’ve won the lottery
but soon, all you’ll have left are rusty pennies (…you’ll see).
I will always have Bukowski.
I am happier by the sea but you won’t take me.
I don’t want your money.
I didn’t ask you to love me.
You are not a necessity:
I can turn you into a memory.

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prosetry

Pablo 2.0

For context, read ‘Pablo’ here.

*

I went to McDonalds at Waterloo to buy a cup of Fanta to pour my vodka into. As I was doing so, an announcement sounded over the tannoy:

Please can ALL passengers and staff exit the station IMMEDIATELY.

A modern air-raid siren began wailing, echoing through the suddenly silent station. Everybody stopped what they were doing and stared at each other, unsure what to do. Whispers of “terror attack” rolled through the concourse first in rivulets, then intensifying in power, tsunami-like, as it gathered more fear, more panic. Most people up and left, scrambling for the nearest exit, pushing each other out of the way. The staff behind the counter slowly disappeared into back-rooms. The guy next to me took his headphones off and watched me unscrew the vodka bottle while listening to the announcement:

Please can ALL passengers and staff exit the station IMMEDIATELY

and then:

OFFICER *crackling noises* DOWN.

The guy looked up at me and asked, “Is this for real?” “Sounds like it, but who knows,” I replied, mixing my drink with a straw, half-anticipating the sound of gunshots. “Well, I guess we’ll find out soon enough, init,” he said, biting into his hamburger and putting his headphones back on. Then the tannoy shouted:

REPEAT, OFFICER SANDS, STAND DOWN.

I shrugged at the guy and he laughed, shoving fries into his mouth.

Outside, Southwark smelled of burnt rubber and sour milk. It turned my stomach.

*

I’d last seen her fourteen months ago. In fact, that was the first and only time I’d met her. I saw her every day in the postcard tacked to my mirror, but I hadn’t expected to see her in the flesh ever again. I was frightened of her because she looked like me and I am frightened of myself. I had assumed that she’d have been moved on, moved to a different city, to be pored over by fresh, foreign eyes. I was shocked when I entered the room and she was there, in the corner, right where I’d left her.

She was bigger than I remembered, which was a pleasant surprise. I watched the people looking at her. Well, they weren’t really looking at her, they were taking photos of her on their smartphones, looking at a version of her on a 5 x 3in illuminated screen. Nobody actually looked at her, even though I could hear her screaming, “LOOK AT ME! FUCKING LOOK AT ME!” from behind the glass. I was scared to get close because I had a feeling that she’d reach out and grab me and keep me and refuse to let me go. But as soon as I was in front of her, I found myself a nose away from her nose. So close that I could see a rogue hair from Picasso’s paintbrush stuck in the oil.

At one point, she and I were the only true living things in the room. Dali et al were dying around us, fading into insignificance before disappearing from the walls entirely. I found myself smiling because we share a secret. She knows what I know. I felt the presence of a security guard hovering on the periphery. I stepped away from her, turned my back and began to walk away. Dali had returned to the opposite wall. I thought, and genuinely believed, for some reason, that she was no longer on the wall behind me. I quickly turned around, expecting there to be a blank space where she once had lived. I was relieved that she was still there. I felt so bad for turning my back on her, for abandoning her. She looked to be in more pain than she was before. I felt that I’d betrayed her. I went back to her and stood close.

Lost in our shared grief, my focus blurred and I found myself looking instead at my own reflection in her glass cover. I was struck by how unwell I looked. My eyes, usually kind, soft, approachable, were glazed and full of terror, like a rabid fox. I looked wild. “Help,” I whispered, reverting my gaze from my own eyes to hers. I didn’t realise I was crying until a teenaged boy in a group of Spanish schoolchildren pointed at me and said, “Look! The Weeping Woman!” and they all laughed, then started taking selfies with the only other weeping woman in the room, the one on the wall in the corner, trapped behind glass.

*

Back at Waterloo, it was business as usual. A false alarm, it seemed. Exhausted, I got on the Tube and promptly put my sunglasses on despite it being late in the evening. Eyes are too powerful. I didn’t want to look at anyone’s eyes or have anyone see mine. I’d seen enough eyes for one day. Suddenly, an announcement crackled over the system:

Ladies and gentlemen, this train will NOT be stopping at Embankment due to a person on the track. I repeat, this train will NOT be stopping at Embankment because there is currently a person on the track. The next station will be Charing Cross, next station Charing Cross. Mind the doors.

A woman down the carriage tutted too loudly, and the drunk man opposite me slurred, “Fuckin’ people on tracks, man, f’fer’fucksake.” I closed my eyes and filed the day away with all the others in my brain, in the folder marked: Another Sad and Strange Saturday Night in the Greatest City in the World.

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epistolary

A Letter to The Girl Next Door

Dear Louiza,

You don’t know me, but you do.

We’ve never met in person, never stood face to face. I’ve only seen your warped figure through the spy-hole. I did try to meet you once, on one of my rare anti anti-social days. One of your thousands of parcels from Amazon arrived but you weren’t home to sign for it, so I did, and put it on my kitchen table. The temptation to open it was almost too much. Then the thought of you kindly collecting one of my parcels and secretly opening it to discover acne cream or a sex toy or a book about serial killers made me cringe, so I managed to stop myself out of neighbourly respect.

I waited until the evening when I assumed you’d be home from work. I changed out of my pyjamas, brushed my hair, put a little makeup on: tried to make myself resemble a normal human being, a young woman that perhaps you’d like to be friends with. I psyched myself up, picked up your parcel, walked the short way down the hall and knocked on your door. Nothing. I noticed that I was shaking more than usual, clutching the brown box with your name on it. I worried that my knocking wasn’t confident or loud enough, and although I couldn’t hear you moving around inside, I knocked again – a little too loudly this time. Nothing. Embarrassed, I scuttled back to my flat and locked the door behind me. Still holding your parcel, I resolved to try again after dinner.

I really wanted to be friends with you then. I gather that you’re about the same age as me, mid- to late-twenties. I hear you gabbing on the phone to your girlfriends and you sound exactly like my girls, the girls that I called my best friends until I pushed every one of them away and out of my life, with no explanation or valid reason. You order lots of beauty products off the internet. And clothes. And shoes. Never any books, not like me. But hey, I guess that’s what “normal” girls do, girls that I should be friends with. I was proud of myself for reaching out (knocking on your door), for being kind and helpful to a stranger when I could’ve just ignored the buzzer, for actively trying to make an effort to make a friend. I got ahead of myself, imagining you popping in to my flat for a glass of wine after work, us eating Chinese takeaway together, me borrowing your fancy clothes, us watching daft reality shows together, laughing into the night. I thought, “I could make a friend, I could have a friend.” And a “good, normal” female friend, as opposed to the shitcunt men that I currently call “my mates.” About 10pm, I knocked again. No reply. I left the parcel by your door, worried that if it got swiped by someone else in the building, it’d be my fault, but secretly relieved that I didn’t actually have to see you or speak to you, confirming my irrational belief that everyone is stupid, I don’t do friendship and I’m better off alone.

That was then. Now, I’m scared to meet you in person because I think you’ll look at me with a face full of concern, no, worse: a face full of pity. Twice now you’ve heard him kicking off at me. Shouting at ungodly hours. Chucking cans and furniture about, smashing glasses, slamming doors. Punching a hole in my wall. Me pleading with him to keep his voice down. Then you’ve heard me screaming at him, “GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE,” and throwing his belongings out into our shared hallway.

You’ve heard the “aggghhh” sounds I make when I’m in agony, when all of my muscles are pulled and all of my bones feel broken and all of my organs ache.

You’ve heard the police at my door, you’ve heard the home treatment team calling out my name, giving up on me and shuffling away. You’ve heard someone trying to break my door down after I barricaded myself inside.

You’ve heard me coming home drunk at stupid o’clock, tripping on the stairs, dropping my keys. You’ve heard me accept a takeaway delivery 3 nights in a row because I was too weak and depressed to cook.

You’ve heard me screaming and wailing that I want to see my dad, I just want to see my dad. You’ve heard me crying too many times to count. Sobbing for hours. Banging my head against the wall.

I’ve heard you too. I hear you pacing in the kitchen. Four steps one way, four steps the other. On and on and on and on. Four steps left, four steps right. Four, four. Four, four. Sometimes you pause. I think, “Has she stopped?” Then four again, and four again. I wonder what you’re doing. Constant exercise – anorexia? OCD? Stress? Workout DVD?

I hear you having sex with your boyfriend. Usually between 4 and 5pm on Thursdays. Maybe that’s when he visits. Maybe it’s scheduled. Either way, the sound of you (pretending?) to come makes me feel uncomfortable but in a strange show of sisterly solidarity, I think “at least she’s getting some.” My boyfriend never came round to mine because it’s too cold and cramped and smoky and I don’t have a TV and rarely have food. You probably think I’m single and lonely. (I am now, but I’m okay with it).

I hear you arguing with your boyfriend too. Never as violent as my arguments, never as loud. But I hear your raised voices and I hear you lock yourself in the bathroom, then I hear him leave. I’m too scared to look out of the window and discover what he looks like, because if he ever hurts you, and I know what he looks like, I will hunt him down and kill him with my bare hands.

Last time, when it seemed you and the other neighbours and the rest of the building thought that that one guy was going to kill me, I could hear you banging on my kitchen wall, like you were trying to let me know that you were there and let him know that there’s a witness. “I’M CALLING THE POLICE!” you shouted through the wall. He finally left. The police never showed. Then, when I emerged from my flat some hours later, there was a note by my door and a big orange gerbera daisy with the stem cut short standing in water in a shot glass. The note said, “Hope ur OK girlie. If I ever see that scumbag round here again I’ll call the police for real. No man is worth ur tears! L (FLAT 21) xoxo” I cried and put the flower by bed and the note in my notebook.

Once I was staring at myself in the bathroom mirror, psyching myself up to leave the house as I have to do every time, even if it’s just to check for mail. Our bathrooms are connected by the same wall, just as our kitchens are; the layout of our flats are a reflection of each other’s. I was staring and muttering under my breath, when I heard you run a bath. I remember thinking, “You’re home early.” Then I kept on with my pep-talk, putting lipstick on and taking it off, putting it on and taking it off. I heard you turn off the tap and climb in the bath. Then I heard you cry. You were crying softly, but I could hear it as if you were in my bathroom, in my bath. I sank to the floor, wearing my coat and scarf and shoes, with my bag on my shoulder, and I listened.

How sad it was, that two young women, with barely a foot of wall separating them, technically only a metre or so apart, could feel so sad and alone on a Friday night when they should be having the time of their lives. I wanted to hug you but I couldn’t, so I sat with you (but not with you) until the tears stopped and I heard the plug be pulled and the bathwater drain away. Then I cut one of the yellow roses of the bunch I’d been given the day before to a short stem, put it in the shot glass you’d given me and filled it with water. I left the rose by your door with a note saying, “You are stronger today than you were yesterday, and tomorrow you’ll be stronger still! H – flat 20 xx”

I don’t know you, but I do. You don’t know me, but you do. And we know more true things about each other and have been through so much over these 3 years spent separated by a wall than some “real-life friends” may have over a lifelong friendship.

Thank you for being there, next door, and for not being there the day I knocked: if we’d met for real that day we might well have hated each other. After all, you listen to Nicki Minaj in the shower while I listen to Oasis, and I hear you watching Keeping Up With The Karcrashians while you probably hear me listening to true crime podcasts, and you order clothes from posh brands while I only ever buy clothes from charity shops but, without meeting, I know one thing for certain: I’ve got you, girlie.

With love and respect,
Your neighbour,

H.

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prosetry

The Immaculate Depression

The girl often wondered where it had come from. Why was her life so much darker than yours? than his? than hers? than most? She grew up too quickly: she knew that for certain. The girl had seen more pain and experienced more suffering in her short life than, it seemed, others would expect to bear in their entire lifetimes.

She wondered if she was being punished – for a sin committed in a past life, because she did not sin in her current life. She asked God for answers and was met with silence. Books did the opposite: they shouted a thousand possible answers at her.

Perhaps she was born with a broken brain. Perhaps society made her that way. Perhaps she was gifted bad genes from her parents. Perhaps she had invented the pain, invited the darkness.

Perhaps if she had been born a boy, she wouldn’t feel everything so very much; perhaps she would have learned to compartmentalise, to care less, to worry less, to feel less, to just get on with it. Perhaps she would grow out of it. Perhaps she was just a “normal, hormonal, moody teenager.”

Maybe the moon was to blame for her mercuriality. Maybe she was like this because she was poor. Maybe it was because of the school she went to. Maybe it was because her parents didn’t love each other. Maybe she had hit her head when she was small. Maybe she had drunk poisoned breast-milk. Maybe she didn’t eat enough vegetables.

Perhaps she was cursed. Perhaps she needed Jesus, or an exorcism, or a month in the Siberian wilderness, or to join the army. Perhaps she needed someone to shake her, slap her across the face and shout, “STOP IT.”

Maybe there was nobody else on the planet like her; maybe she fit into no category; maybe there was no textbook written about her and there never would be, for she would die before being discovered. Maybe she had been born in the wrong generation. Maybe she was on the wrong medication. Maybe she was simply not made for this world. Maybe maybe maybe.

The doctors didn’t know. They just shrugged and gave her green sheets of paper on which were printed the names of medicines containing x’s and z’s and numbers like 375 and 2.5 and 600 and 40 and 3 times a day. The specialists, the experts, the professors: they did brain scans and shined lights in her eyes and interviewed and assessed and pretended to listen and made notes and watched her do jigsaw puzzles and analyse inkblots and build towers out of wooden bricks and studied her through a two-way mirror and locked her in a padded room and, once they realised that the girl was smarter than they were, they gave vague explanations but no real answers, and disappeared off the case.

Why was she like this? How? What happened? She needed to know.

*

When the girl had survived adolescence and school and the moon and the curse and the whole business of being a girl, she became a young woman. She read more books and met more experts and became even more uncertain about the life that she had been forced to live.

Her father was the same but different. He had a black cloud too, but he dealt with it differently. He dealt with it well, not badly like she did. Perhaps it’s because he was born a boy. Perhaps perhaps perhaps.

One afternoon the young woman was making her father a cup of tea. While she was waiting for the kettle to boil, she stared at the spice rack and thought about her Immaculate Depression. She couldn’t remember an angel ever turning up in her room and bestowing this life-changing thing upon her. Like Mary, no one had asked for her permission. There was no contract signed. No terms, no conditions. It was just put on her. But not by an angel. No, she would’ve remembered meeting an angel. It must have been a devil.

Perhaps when she was a baby, a devil had swept into her room and watched her sleeping in the fruit bowl (no crib) and said, “Here! A gift for you. The Immaculate Depression. To be experienced for the rest of your life. With compliments, from Hell,” and thus she was resigned to spending the rest of her life feeling everything too much, perpetually on the brink of tears and obsessed with damage, destruction and death. Yes, that had to be it: it was an explanation just as likely as all the others that she had been offered in all her years of searching.

The young woman was distracted thinking about this. She was stirring and stirring and stirring the tea in the mug, around and around. She added milk and then realised that the teabag had split. Its contents spun around the cup, like an upturned snowglobe but inverted: black grit twisting amid a blizzard. She had stirred too much. She burst into tears. She felt too much.

Her father asked the young woman what was wrong. She sobbed, “Dad, why am I like this?” He threw the ruined tea into the sink and hugged her. “Was I always like this?” she asked, talking into the shoulder of his old denim shirt. “Was I sad as a baby, as a little girl? Did you know I was always going to be this sad?”

The young woman and her father sat down on the dusty pleather sofa.

“I knew,” he said. She was too stunned, feeling too many feelings, to say anything. He told her a story.

*

When the young woman was a little girl, barely 4 years of age, she left her bed in the middle of the night and went down the dark staircase to find her father. She had tears streaming down her face but she was not crying. She was holding a tiny clenched fist up to her chest.

“Daddy?”
“Hey, what are you doing out of bed?! It’s way past your bedtime,” he said, scooping her up.
“It hurts.”
“What hurts, darling?”
“My heart, in here,” she said, pounding her sternum.
“How does it hurt?”
“It’s too loud. I don’t want it.”
“But everyone has to have a heart, darling, it’s very important.”
“But it’s too loud. It moves too much. It moves all the time! I want to take it out.”
“You can’t do that!”
“Please can I have it taken out, Daddy, please? I don’t want it. I don’t like it.”
“You have to keep it, darling, you need it. Everyone needs a heart.”
“I don’t want it. Please, take it out. Please please please,” the girl begged, clawing at her chest, trying to rip her heart out.

The girl cried for a long, long time until she was all cried out. Her father carried her up the dark stairs and tucked her into her bed. Then he cried, quietly, barely: he rarely cried but the tears were there. He cried because he knew. The Immaculate Depression had befallen her when he’d had his back turned, when he wasn’t looking, when he was asleep. He cried because he knew that she would always feel everything too much. He wrote in his notebook that night, “Must teach daughter (when she’s old enough) that it’s better to feel everything too much than to feel nothing at all.”

*

He found that old notebook a few days after the tea-stirring incident, tore the page out and posted it to his daughter, along with another note:

To the girl with the biggest, loudest heart,
To the teenager who was too special, too smart,
To the young woman who must turn her gift of feeling into art.

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