Death of a Star

At around half past 3 in the morning I decided that I would go for a crafty cigarette. I was at my grandfather’s house – he didn’t (and hopefully still doesn’t) know that I smoke and I didn’t want to wake him by going downstairs and outside, so I thought it best to hang out of the bedroom window and smother the smell with perfume afterwards.

I opened the window, jumped up on the sill, dangled my pyjama-ed legs out over the edge and, before I could spark up, my attention was diverted to the meteor shower that was performing its drama in the space above me. I’d seen such sights before but never this clearly. These fizzling stars seemed so close, as if I could reach out and catch them. I half expected a piece of hot rock to land in my lap and burn through my shorts.

A voice shocked me back to Earth.

“Are you gonna light that or what?” my father whispered, a little too loudly.


He chuckled until his chuckle turned into a cough, which he tried to stifle. He was also hiding his habit from granddad (his father) – he had promised him a year before that he had quit. But here he was, also hanging out of his bedroom window, a few metres across from mine, smoking a joint and watching the shower.

He put his finger to his lips and said, “Shhh,” and then pointed at the sky.

“I know,” I whispered back.

We stayed that way for a few minutes, together but apart, smoking in the silence of the night, watching the meteorites falling so effortlessly from the heavens, knowing that they look pretty from here but up there the scene is one of violence and destruction. We were quite content to revel in the magic of the display, ignoring the science and calculations and unfathomable numbers behind it and the reality of our insignificance (although these things did cross our minds).

“You know how stars die, don’t you?” he whispered to me, again a little too loudly.

“Erm… supernova, is it?”

“Nah. Overdose, usually.”

I giggled into my hand, before whispering, “For fuck’s sake, Dad,” in his general direction. We didn’t know that Amy Winehouse would die from a suspected overdose the next day.

We spent another minute or so watching the sky. I looked over at my Dad, his face illuminated only by the stars. His smile had gone. He looked wistful, possibly even sad. Then I felt sad, knowing we’d be back in London soon and unable to see magic like this through the pollution. Back to London, to depression and money problems and bad decisions and drug dealing and dangerous dalliances and trouble trouble trouble.

“Dad,” I said, quietly. “Am I going to be okay?”

He looked over at me from his window and smiled, and said with such certainty,

“Yes. Yes you are, babes.”

In that moment, I believed him. I locked that exchange in my heart, archived, for future reference. Then I stubbed out my roll-up underneath the window ledge and buried it among the leaves in the guttering. Then I replied to my Dad,

“Are you?”

But his window was shut and he was gone.


fiction, life

Predestination Uncertain

Dream one. At a crowded beach on a warm, sunny day, big puffy white clouds in the sky that eventually overtook the sun, leaving its warmth behind but dimming the glare and gleam. With a few people, trying to decide if we should wait for the sun to return or be on our way. Cars were parked in a grass lot nearby, packed in. It was breezy and bustling, and felt like the kind of day when something might happen, relaxed but unsettled. I got up and left without a word.

Dream two, three days later. The sea again, but another beach, another time, in fact. Wider, broader, longer, slower. More space, more sand, more sky, more horizon, less severe and far fewer people. The sea was calm, blue, and shimmering and the hot sun poured down as if fixed in the sky high above and slightly out over the sea as if it had nowhere else to be. “It will sit there, right there in that spot all day,” I thought, “and nothing will change.”

I approached the shadowed side of a dark brick building, low with a gently slanting roof and a wide central corridor with iron gates open wide and fastened back against the brick. The kind of seaside building with bathrooms and lockers and vending machines. I approached the entry, the far end of the corridor framing the ocean like a painting, and found an information desk set back in a dark recess of the inner wall to my left. From the obscurity behind the desk emerged the dark, wrinkled face of an old man like an eel from its hiding place. I asked him a question and his response was kind and measured, something about where to swim. I wanted to get in the water but felt uncertain. In calm, unhurried tones, he told me where to go and I thanked him. He receded into his cave, shoulders, face, and, finally, eyes, and I continued through the corridor toward the sunlit beach, made a right, and set out along the dunes.

After a short trudge through soft, hot sand that burned the tops of my feet as they sank in, I came upon the end of a small, narrow inlet, so shallow and still that the water was transparent, about thirty yards from the waves’ innermost reaches. The inlet was not completely cut off from the tide, and the far-out waves caused occasional ripples on the pool’s surface. There was no one nearby, but I could see people out in the water, some walking through the flat, wet sand by the wavebreaks with children, some alone, some farther inland laying on towels or reclining in beach chairs. The sun radiated. The lightly roiling sea glistened and no one had a face. All was illumination, nearly blinding illumination.

I was carrying something, a bag or a box of some sort, and I set it down near the small pool, keeping it close. Then I stepped into the shallow water, only about thigh deep, and lay myself down, supine, trying to submerge all but my face in that tiny bit of water like it was a bathtub. Floating like that, I used my hands against the bottom to walk myself down the inlet a bit, out toward the sea and the waves, but the channel became too shallow and narrow for me to proceed any further. I could taste the salt water on my lips and noticed that I had forgotten what the ocean tasted like, it had been so long.

I drifted back to shimmering pool where I’d left my burden and got out, dripping. I walked back up the beach toward the brick building, hugging the grassy dunes. A faceless man ambling in the opposite direction asked me if it was nice in a tongue that I recognized but did not feel was my own. I nodded an affirmative, assuming he meant the water, and continued on my way.

Later, I found myself high up in a large building on the shore, standing before a wall of windows and gazing out at the spectacular oceanside panorama, down past the brick building, past the snaking dunes, into forever. A voice said “See? It’s coming,” and pulled me from my trance. The voice became a man standing beside me, pointing up the coast to my left at a mass of gray-black clouds bearing down on us, slowly, deliberately billowing and bulging and churning and consuming the luminescence all around. “Just in time,” I thought, as if the word were etched across the darkness, “good thing I didn’t go out any farther.”

life, prosetry


I bought 10ft of artificial ivy once, off t’internet, for pennies, as part of the Poison Ivy costume I was making myself to wear at a Hallowe’en party. I didn’t go to the party in the end – I hung out with you that night instead.

The ivy remained coiled up in its plastic bag. I hung onto it though, certain I’d find another use for it, planning to make art of it, but it collected dust alongside all my other great ideas.

A year passed and I relocated. Having to declutter and still unable to find a use for the ivy at my new house, I binned it, scolding myself for wasting £2.89. Then I walked to your place and we watched University Challenge. You failed to answer a single question. You were catatonic. You barely said a word. You were not my dad, you were a skeleton bobbing in a sea of morphine. I hoped that you’d be better after some sleep. You always got better.

Three weeks later I was standing in front of your coffin. It was decorated with ivy vines, it was wrapped around the wicker handles, around the edges. I touched the leaves: it was real ivy.

I said to mother, “How much did that ivy cost us?” and she said £90. I laughed incredulously. “You do know the ivy’s going in the oven with him, right? You are quite literally burning our money!” She told me to stop being difficult. You would’ve been absolutely horrified to know she’d wasted £90 on ivy. (That’s £90 of booze we’d never get to drink at your wake!)

Then, as I kissed your casket goodbye for the last time, you said to me telepathically through the wicker lid, “Hey, where’s that artificial ivy you couldn’t find a use for?” and I realised that was your last bit of advice to me:

what we lack in finances we more than make up for in ideas, and what we lack in assets and material possessions we more than make up for in mind and soul, so stay creative, stay humble and keep on keeping on. And don’t let your mother make any more decisions.


The Assessment

“We’re nearly done.”
“Okay. Next question… Do you react to unseen stimuli?”
“Can you give me an example?”
“Erm, well, if I hear a stupid opinion on a radio show I’ll probably say, ‘What a stupid opinion.’
“Go on…”
“What is there to elaborate on? I can react to something I can’t see, I can’t see the idiot on the radio.”
“Right. But does the radio exist, is the radio real, is the radio show real?”
“Does anything exist? Are you real? Am I?”

Dr T breathes out through his nose, long and hard, like an exasperated horse.

“I also react to music. I might tap my foot, or dance, or sing along, or say ‘Leonard would be turning in his grave’ in response to a particularly abysmal set of lyrics. I can’t see music. Can you? Because, if you can, then maybe I should be assessing you.”
“I think you’re missing the point.”
“No, I’m not. Not at all. I’m just answering your poorly-devised psychiatric questionnaire the best I can.”

At this point I look over Dr T’s shoulder, through the window behind him and begin to wave frantically, smiling, then giving a thumbs up and a wink. I regain composure.

“Sorry about that, doc. You were saying?”

Dr T turns and looks through the window. He stands up to get a better look, craning his neck to see who I was so happy to see. There is nobody there.

“Who were you waving at?”
“John,” I say, physically trying to wipe the smile from my mouth with the sleeve of my jumper.

Dr T stares at me blankly.

“John. The groundskeeper. Lovely bloke, have you not met him? I went to school with his daughter. I guess Spring must be here since he’s mowing the lawn. I really love the smell of freshly cut grass, don’t you?”

He looks at me for a moment too long before writing some things down.

“Do you hear voices?”
“Do you hea-”
“Just kidding, doc. Of course I hear voices.”
“What kind of voices?”
“Gosh, how long have you got?”
“Take your time. Tell me about the voices you hear.”
“Loads of different types.”
“Such as?”
“Well, firstly, if someone is talking directly to me, I can definitely hear them. Also if I’m watching tv or a movie I can hear those voices too. Same with music, lyrics, radio. I’ve told you this already, doc. Oh, but I must admit I do eavesdrop whenever possible. I know it’s impolite, but I love listening to stranger’s conversations on the Tube or in a shop. Although if the train is noisy then sometimes it’s hard for me to hear everything. But I’m not deaf in the slightest, I have perfect hearing so yes, I do hear voices.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Ohhh, sorry, of course, I hear your voice just fine, doc, despite the lawnmower outside. Crystal.”

Dr T closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose while I pick at the skin around my fingernails and wonder if he’s ever had a romantic relationship with any of his patients.

“Any other voices that you hear that may be worth mentioning?”
“Nah,” I reply, while he glances at the clock.
“Ohhhh, hang on!”
“Here we go,” I watch him think.

“Wait, are you referring to the little Lego man who lives inside my head who is telling me to strangle you with your charming paisley tie until your eyes pop out of their sockets, and then use those blue-handled scissors in that pot on that desk there to sever your optic nerves, take your eyeballs home, varnish them, turn them into earrings and sell them on Etsy? Apart from that, no, I can’t think of anything. We’ve covered conversations, music, tv and film, haven’t we? Oh, and theatre!! I rarely go to the theatre but when I do I make sure to have good seats so that I can see the actors and hear their voices.”

Dr T forgets how to blink.

“Do I need to call security?”
“I don’t know what you need, doc, that’s something you really have to work out for yourself.”
“Is the little Lego man talking to you now?”
“Yeah but I’ve put him on mute for a minute. It’s hard enough to hear your voice while John’s outside mowing and singing Elvis! I love Suspicious Minds.”

Doc looks outside at the vacant, unmown lawn, then back to me. I am smiling broadly.

“Is that it? Can I go now?”
“I suppose so.”
“I’ll send you a copy of the report for this assessment sometime next week.”
“Smashing. Looking forward to it.”

I wink at him and slip out the door.

When I receive the report in the post a week later it makes for interesting reading. He described me as “obviously highly intelligent” “pedantic” “charming” “manipulative” “unhelpful.” This was my favourite line, “Patient is detached but her presence is imposing.” He said that I had threatened him with grievous bodily harm. He said I need to be reassessed some other time by someone else because he couldn’t be certain which of my answers were true and which were “jokey fabrications.” But still, he was happy to release me because he has decided that I do not suffer from schizophrenia.

And with that, the little Lego man piped up and said, “Well played, girl, very well played,” and I smiled and said, “Thank you.

life, poetry, prosetry, Uncategorized

Neon Dahlia

Tempting as it is, to turn inward, write of long Winter and why

capture in ice outshines

the languid motion of sharing

tempting as it is, you are the subject not I.

A linguist of worlds

using your machine to stitch together discrepancies

you see no undertow

only thick muscles of rowing souls, garnering energy toward shoreline

and I envy you, Neon Dahlia

your simple, productiveness

how from nothing, comes nothing and still ..

you toil

unaware you are treading water.

I could tell you

look here, can’t you see? The futility

but I already know your answer;

what is futile, is in the mind

all else, just imagined sabotage

here in this seized moment, is the bare humus of your life

you live only once, don’t you want to fill it with all the experience you can gather?

your arms aching with fullness like flower sellers under hot tarp, salvage hunger with each purchase.

When we offer our wares to others, in rosary of conversation

people catch your drift, their eyes lit by your straightforward certainty

it’s all worthwhile, prophet.

I once told you, you could be a preacher, a cult-leader, a milliner of minds

you could repair holes in fabric like a peach grower will

tend bruised fruit carefully until they heal

under affection.

It’s all about faith, you radiate certainty

whilst I, gather mud for drinking and sloshing

in my opaque jar

like an unlucky fisherman will

repeatedly cast into shallows.

All my life I thought I knew

deep water

and the only thing I knew

was fear and habit, giving in to safety.

Take a risk, you urged

planting your runner beans, spinach and kale

in straight lines like braided hair

gleaming against fecund soil

and my fingers already felt

I had lifted the world by its rudder

held on long enough to solidify, all possessed calcium

it was impossible to find a way to cast as you did

watching the silk of your net, catch sunlight and fall

glittering into emerald tide.

The funny thing of course

you are afraid of water

and I, a prodigious swimmer

often likened to merfolk

coming from an island, I thought by speaking loudly, I could ward off choked demons

caught by the foot in gullies and rivulets

but they only submerged like setting sun

will drink up light and diffuse emotion

becoming part of me

as surely as you

set an example

unable to emulate.

This is the green bark of us

defined by lines of growth and pause

long enough to extinguish, tentative pathway.

You have your courage

buried in a tinder box deep within

it needs no flint to ignite

whilst I, scrabble and flounder for matches, in deluge.

Fate ridicules the human

who thinks themself free of need

believing they can exist without

the certainty of man-made God

and reassuring bleating call, of others of their kind

gathering their flock tight, before darkening storm hits.

We all beseech uncertainty

when trembling, frailty picks herself from floor and witnesses

that vulnerable moment, nude and dried, by calloused hand of self governance.


I may not share your peace of mind

nor ever, the nimble way you stay

calm like unbroken water

in face of specter and uncertainty

your heart beat steady, like a bow needless of guide.

Mine is the anxiety, of my generation

thwarted by ourselves and that throbbing vein

dearly seeking for meaning, in tea leaves

your glow only brightens

the further out, you wield

that impossible certainty, you polish

with the soft foot fall, of early Spring

life, poetry, prosetry

Take you in

After the fight

ear buds wet with wax

blood mixed with water

hair in torn bouquet

or nothing

no knife

no marks on her neck

the wound

is sleeping


sitting opposite chaos and destruction

wanting to climb into bed

and absorb

all the regret

two people

in their unspoken fists

will gather

like long reedbed lavender

proud like swept hands

point to sky

I’m a breakable cause

came by way of love

and a brush tip of blood

crossing ochre cloud

with seeking hawk

neither of us imprint

this room

curled against each other

in fitful disorder

and the soft sound of wind

leaching through window pane

sounds like our whispers

of why and when and wherefore

you within myself

I within your consolation

no more noise just



What’s Yours Is Mine

I’m on the Northern line reading Angela Carter. This book used to be yours; I remember the strange cover. You lent me this book years ago in exchange for my copy of The Bloody Chamber. Now I have all of your books. They live alongside mine in shaky stacks, perilously piled around my flat, propping doors open and lining windowsills.

I am so impressed by Carter’s writing, as I always am, that I stop reading and take my phone out of my handbag to send you a particular sentence of hers that I know you would love and to express how gutted I am that she’d died when she still had so many words left in her. Then I remember that you’re dead too and put my phone away.

I am trying not to make a habit of crying on public transport so I turn the page over to the next story and find a flattened Rizla packet wedged into the spine. On the packet, in your handwriting, is a note reminding you to remind me about an upcoming reading of Joyce’s Ulysses on BBC Radio 4. The title of the story where I find this note is ‘The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter.’ I wonder if this is coincidental and I miss you more than ever.

I always feel especially close to you when I’m reading your books. I like the fidelity of my thumb pausing in the same spot where your thumb once rested while you absorbed the page, how your thumbprints on the cover or bottom right corner are slowly being replaced by mine, smaller but nonetheless comfortable.

I remember exactly how you’d read, how you turned the pages, how you used your finger to guide you down the lines, how you would straighten the book out on the table when you stopped to roll a cigarette, putting it perfectly in its place until the next devouring.

I like the idea of my brain ingesting these words in the same order that you did, of my heart processing all of the unwritten words and underlying slivers of brilliance that exist between the lines just like yours did. I cannot live the stories of your life just as you could not live mine, but we could live the tales told by master storytellers together.

I also like the things that I find inside your books, and I’ve found allsorts. Some of your books were gifted to you by girlfriends past, and sometimes they had written an adoring note to you inside the front cover. (We personally believe writing in books to be a sin but I suppose these decades-old sentiments have survived longer than you have).

I’ve found plenty of bookmarks: a beer mat lodged at page 341 of The Glass Bead Game, a shopping list hiding in between pages 226 and 227 of One Hundred Years Of Solitude, an appointment card to see your vascular consultant lurking towards the end of The Master and Margarita. Scraps of newspaper, napkins and cigarette papers hibernating in many more.

We don’t believe in dog-earing books and you would scold others when they borrowed a book from you and returned it with folded corners. I found a couple of “real” bookmarks, one made of leather with your initials on it and a metal one in a Celtic cross design. I like the beer mats more.

You’ve given me tens of thousands of pages, all smoke-stained to a degree. In fact, I can work out when you first procured a book based on the level of smoke-staining. Your books from the 60s and 70s are tar brown and smell like stale incense and damp fireplaces. Your books from the 80s and 90s are entirely yellowed, the edges of the pages are darker than mustard. Your books from this century are less ‘smoked’ but all smell like Golden Virginia tobacco, a smell that will always remind me of you for as long or short as I live.

I also like looking at the prices of books and how they’ve increased over the decades. Some of your books are priced as costing a florin (two-bob), four and thruppence, and 4/6, all shillings and half-crowns and other ancient values. Then there are the books costing 25p, 40p, 60p, 75p: classic novels that would now cost me around £8 paperback in Waterstones. And the prices go up from there.

Your books present all kinds of other matter, too: cigarette ash, sand, the odd blade of grass, a flattened bug, biscuit crumbs, sticky tea rings on the back cover, strands of your silver hair caught in the spine, a smudge of blood from a paper-cut, train tickets, a pressed flower, general grit from your manual labour days, splashes of paint where you’d been reading on your lunch break, post-it notes, business cards, phone numbers written on the back of receipts, prescriptions, an unwritten postcard from Milan, a cartoon strip cut out of a newspaper, a £50 note… last week when I opened up The Rebel I found a couple of tiny rocks of hash stuck in the valley between pages 14 and 15.

It was decided about 15 years ago, when you first faced death, that I would get all of your books and my brother would get all of your music. I am lucky and grateful to have all of your books. You didn’t start reading serious literature until your late 20s/early 30s, and I am so glad you instilled a love of literature in me from day one.

And I am really enjoying making my way through your books, your favourites, page by page, word by word, and finding odd little notes from you. Like in The Snow Goose, you wrote (against your own rules) on the title page, “To my darling girl, A book as precious as you are. Oodles of love, Dad.” You wrote that in 2002. I just found it a few weeks ago.

These books were yours, you held them in your hands, you learnt from them, you formed opinions from them, you had your own ideas from them, these books informed your personality, your thoughts, your attitudes, these books inspired your own writing, your own poetry and art, determined how you treat yourself and all human beings, enabled you to grow and improve and teach others. Now these books are mine, and through these books you are giving me the opportunity to become great, just as you were great.

You are still here with me. You still exist every day: through your words, through my words, and through the words of all of these incredible authors who continue to teach me even though you no longer can.

You were gifted a collection of Emerson essays in 1978 by a girlfriend, we will call her H. I just found this smoke-stained note inside it, handwritten in blue biro, saying, “Don’t think anything of me giving you this book, but DO read it, right? (You know it’s very inexpensive to sit in the garden and quietly read a book– you can even afford an occasional ‘special’ cigarette, for example).” This little note perfectly captures you as a reader, and is how I will always remember you.

[Featured image source here]