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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poetry, prosetry

Inheritance

You left us nothing but your everything
You gave us nothing but your all

no bank account, no savings, just that envelope of drug-money:
enough to pay for a cab to the crematorium, your wicker coffin and a good old fashioned piss-up afterwards

your microwave, your hunting knife, a tin opener, a wooden spoon

over 40 years of poetry in smoke-stained notebooks

a box of photos of girlfriends past, birthdays celebrated, weddings attended, funerals suffered

that ugly glass squirrel statue that I always hated, that you insisted I must keep after you die, so that “whenever you feel sad, you can look at the ugly squirrel and laugh

morphine, temazepam, lorazepam, zopiclone: all the good ones I swiped before mother swept in and threw the rest away (she never saw an opportunity for money-making like we did)

your watch collection (for brother)
your guitars (for brother)
your records, tapes and CDs (for brother)

more notebooks, filled with the profundity of others, in your handwriting

I am angry that you destroyed your journals
but I suppose if I’d read them I would probably have begun to believe
that I didn’t really know you at all
and that would hurt more than any secret stashed in a suitcase

your denim shirt; your PROPER CORNISH jumper; your old fisherman’s smock;
none of which I dare wear, lest your scent disappear from the fibres

an unpaid electricity bill,
12 unsolved crosswords,
half a tin of Amber Leaf,
97 packets of Rizla,
5 lighters (2 working, 2 needing fuel, 1 needing a new flint)

no trust fund
but total trust
and so much fun

your good books, your good looks

the gifts of our gabs
the depression gene
the addictive personality
the grey-hair-in-your-twenties gene
the too-much-of-a-good-thing tendency
the “you’ve got laugh or else you’ll cry” mentality

a beautiful black Ibex horn
which fits perfectly in my grip;
which I use to shut my Velux because I’m too short to reach the lock;
which is solid enough to kill a man if I were to smash it against his skull

an address book with personal numbers for celebrities, royalty, tycoons, sports stars and political bigwigs

manners & morals

your blue Salbutamol inhaler
affectionately named ‘Sally’
that you used 30+ times a day instead of the prescribed 3 times a day
that I use about 3 times a month when I’m having a really bad attack
your voice in my head saying “Breathe, babes, just breathe,” and “It’ll all be over soon”
I fear the day that this inhaler runs out

no property, no vehicles, no investments
no valuable antiques, no precious heirlooms

but you were the valuable antique
and we were your precious heirlooms

passed down a generation
to be passed on to the next

the carefully curated wisdom,
the ferocity of our love,
our soft-boiled eyes,
our way of bearing our bones
to those who get close

the (hi)stories, the DNA, the surname

all of the skills
all of the lessons
all of the laughter
all of the memories

no “assets”

we were your biggest asset
and you left us us:
your chef-d’œuvre,
your magnum opus,
your greatest achievement:

you left us
us.

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poetry

Things We Have In Common

Alcohol abuse
Arsenal F.C
Broken hearts
Broken knuckles
Dead parents
Disproportionate reactions
Drug abuse
“Eating is cheating”
Extensive (to the point of being alarming) knowledge of serial killers and their crimes
Emotional/psychological instability
Feeling stuck: in relationships, in this town, in our pasts
Fiercely loyal
Giving The Best Hugs™
Guilt
Main source of others’ entertainment
Professional troublemakers
“Rehab is for quitters”
Skilled in the art of self destruction
“Sleep is for the weak”
So much guilt
Uncontrollable rage
Both love me
Both hate me

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poetry, prosetry

Southend-On-Sea

We were standing on the old sea wall,
one Saturday night in August.
I was looking out across the grey
and thinking,
“You are not like me.”
I was impressed;
you impressed my 18 year old naiveté.
I liked your history, that you were older than me,
and the way you held me
and your money
and your energy
and the way you smashed the punch-bag
on that boxing arcade game
with such might that it nearly fell over.
New high score.
New adventure.
New boyfriend.
New life.
You were a good dancer
and you made me feel safe.
But there was a very real danger in you
and that appealed greatly.
I lied to my father;
told him I was with the girls,
but I was steeped in drunken debauchery
with you, by the sea.
(He caught me.
I never lied to him again.)
He was disappointed in me.
But then you made me happy,
the happiest I’d ever been
and it all seemed worth it.
But I knew, “You are not like me.”
You don’t read books,
you have a proper family.
We had the worst nachos in the world
and sticky, sickly bright green shots
that dribbled down our sleeves.
We had sex on the shingle,
in the shower, in the van, in the bed at the BnB.
We ran through the streets,
laughing, singing, thinking,
“We could do this. We could really do this. You and me.”
A drunken, drugged-up stranger approached us
and told us to “love each other endlessly.”
I was scared of love.
No, I was scared of loving you.
I was stupid, but smart enough to know that I should not love you.
But while the stranger spoke,
you grabbed my hand and looked at me, lovingly.
In that moment it was like we’d decided,
(without words, but with eyes):
Fuck everyone else, let’s do this. Let’s do this. Let’s do “us.”
He told us to “love each other endlessly,”
and we agreed.
And we did.
Until some years later
you ended the endless.
You ended the endless
on the day that I saw a photo
of you
and her
on Southend beach,
exactly where you had taken me
in those magic early days,
exactly where you’d promised
to love me endlessly.
Every once in a while, I think of that stranger.
Where is he now?
Dishing out impassioned advice
to other young lovers.
Dead in a doorway.
Drowned at sea.
What was fleeting for you,
was forever for me.
But I suppose I knew it
all along
that you are not like me.

Standard
poetry

Fight Night

After too much truth serum,
I was after a fight.
“It will all come out in the wash,”
the wise man used to say,
but those words of mine won’t,
the ones I spat all over you last night,
vodka- and saliva-laced
blood on your white shirt,
and your handsome face,
pale, bewildered and afraid.

Claret on cotton and hearts on sleeves;
words that hurt and eyes that bleed.

You weren’t expecting that venomous spray
and you should’ve washed up straight away
but those stains are stuck now, ingrained,
tainted fibre, they’ll barely fade,
merely to a lighter shade of pain
but it’s still pain, pain all the same.

Claret on cotton and hearts on sleeves;
words that hurt and eyes that bleed.

Blind rage, I disengaged
and, the next day, I don’t
remember the details
of my cruel tirade,
but can tell that it was harsh
by the look on your face,
your face that says,
“I know you’re sick, you didn’t mean it,”
your face that won’t admit
that I say what I mean and mean what I say,
your face that says,
“I will always forgive but I can never forget.”
Can’t you see that I’m trying to make you love me less?
That I want you to come out best?
I’m trying to make you leave me
before you get left.

Claret on cotton and hearts on sleeves;
words that hurt and eyes that bleed.

And you can just buy a new shirt anyway,
one that’s pretty and pure
and free of pain and free of stains,
easy to iron out the kinks,
easy to maintain,
better quality than me,
longer lasting than us.
She’ll fit you just right.
And, in time, you will forget
the unwarranted malice, cruelty, spite
in the words that I spat all over you
during a nasty drunken fight
we had, late one October night.

Standard
poetry, prosetry

Remember, Remember

Fireworks over Ally Pally
A child cries, afraid of the noise
We flock to these annual events
Paying £8 for the privilege
Unconsciously celebrating an evil scheme
Finding entertainment in the destruction
Romance in the smell of gunpowder
Joy in the spit of crackling flames
Beauty in the violence in the sky.
Adding to the mix a stabbing, some muggings
A bottle of acid in a stranger’s face.
No such thing as ‘nice’ anymore.
Much to complain about:
Too muddy, too loud, no parking, long queues, overpriced beer.
We feel like we have to ruin everything.
Fun for all the fucked-up family.
“This city has gone to shit,”
“Yes, and we did that to ourselves,”
“All by ourselves!”
Bombs into Aleppo
A child cries, afraid of the noise
Or perhaps the child does not cry at all
So used to the shelling, the sound of terror
That they barely flinch
Actions of a different kind of rebel than ours
Imposed upon them, without having asked
Only ever daring to breathe when the sky was empty
When there was prolonged silence
When their house still stood
When family and friends had pulses
Knowing that celebration is pointless
Because there will soon be a repeat
Knowing that it’s out of their hands
They didn’t ask for this
None of them did
And still they harboured hope in their hearts
And dreamt of living somewhere safe like we do.
(Or should I say, like we once did
Before kids starting killing kids?)

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