poetry, prosetry, Uncategorized

Empied of harm

Passion, you may feel it in obvious ways

How he leans in with his enveloping strength

Or, in the thunder of your chest, riding imaginary horses with your best friend

Forgetful of arithmetic and teachers who felt you’d end your days in borstel, because you did like running rings around them, didn’t you?

Regretting those petty rebellions later

Then in the crisp light and imagined stampede

Thrashing to the furthest point in your mind, bathed in fantasy

A place hard to reach, even splayed on cold Mexican tile, pretending your hand was his

Even, swimming underwater, until your lungs burned to surface

It was as if, once you grow up, the way back becomes harder

Like a secret language, only known to children, daunting you with reminder

The tree house of your neighbor, as you take the prescribed walk, your cardiologist insisted upon

The first rain lillies urging through Texan soil against all odds, their impossible fragility, an exquisite reprieve from cracked earth

Have you gone so far child? As to forget the combination? 

Here, where verbena and lemon grass, pummel air with magic 

Here, where you didn’t need anything, but the cupping of your hands, wonderment running through water, like you were born again and again, empied of harm 

Full of the vigor, of not knowing, the beaten path, to adulthood

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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.

No

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

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prosetry

Strong Oak

I went past him on the bus. Well I could only see his feet but I knew it was a ‘him.’

Sometimes my eyes see things that aren’t there. They are there, because I can see them, but apparently they’re not visible to other people. Like the time I saw a human-sized dog bounding towards me but nobody else saw it, even though my face was somehow covered in its slobber and I had dog hair on my clothes. Sometimes I entertain the things I see, sometimes I assume they’re not really real and ignore them. I wonder how many real things I’ve discredited because I’ve been told that parts of my brain aren’t trustworthy. But him, his feet, felt like something I should investigate.

I got off the bus at the hospital and instead of going to the psychiatric ward where I had an appointment I turned back and walked the way I’d just come, past the little park. I walked slowly but with purpose. I knew what I was going to see and I didn’t know what I was going to see.

I pushed through the willows and hedges and there he was, strung up from the strongest arm of the oak tree. Male. Late 30s/early 40s. 6ft-ish. Looks Eastern European. Blue t-shirt, navy jacket, dark jeans, white trainers. Fists clenched. Gold band on the ring finger of his right hand. Rosary in his left. I hope the Catholics aren’t right about suicide. He doesn’t look like he’s in Hell. And if his life was hell on earth then he’ll be well-prepared anyway. I’m glad his eyes were closed, it would’ve been more disturbing if they were open, less peaceful, less okay.

I stood about a metre away, lit a cigarette and looked at him for a while. He waltzed with the breeze. The only music was the rope creaking. He was a reluctant dancer. His face was pale grey and his lips were blue: he looked like a painting. I looked at the rope. A perfect slip-knot. Would’ve been painless. No broken neck. Boy scout.

I thought about him climbing up this tree, perching on the branch, tying the rope around and around, double-checking it’s secure, putting the noose around his neck, tightening it, triple-checking it’s all secure, taking a moment to look around, to breathe in, gently lowering himself underneath the branch, his arms over it, then placing one hand on the rope, then another, slowly slipping down, one last look at the world and then letting go. Bam.

I reached up to his jacket pocket and took his wallet out. Polish national. Same name as my grandfather. Oh, it’s his birthday today. He’s 38. Shit. I put the wallet back. I found two folded bits of paper in the other pocket. Oh, of course. Notes. One to his brother, one to his wife. I don’t read them even though morbid curiosity tells me to go ahead. No. I might be crazy but I’m not heartless. I put them back in his pocket. They’re not mine to read.

I looked around the tree for other clues. Bingo. A black plastic bag from the off licence. Inside: today’s newspaper, a switched off mobile phone and 4 cans of Dębowe Mocne, a strong Polish lager. In the bush nearby I see an empty can of Dębowe and at the base of the tree trunk there’s another. Creak. I go over to it and pick it up. Creak. It’s half full. Half empty. Half drunk. Half gone. Half left. Around the lip of the can I see saliva mixed with beer.

Suddenly a yappy little Jack Russell comes running over out of nowhere. He looks at me and looks at the hanging man and starts barking.
“SAMMY! Come here, boy, over here. Sammy!”
I say to the dog, “You’d better be on your way then, Sammy.”
He didn’t move, just kept on barking.

Then comes his owner. A short, tubby Irishman with a red face.
“JESUS MARY AND JOSEPH!” he says, taking his hat off. “Christ! What’s happened?”

I stare at him, blankly.

“Don’t answer that, bloody come here and help me get him down!!!” he yells and he hugs the man’s legs and tries to lift him up. I want to laugh but it’s not the time nor place.

“Fucking well help me then!” he shouts at me.
“He’s dead,” I say, unhelpfully, helpfully.
“Christ!” he says, letting go. “Have you got yer mobile telephone on yer girl, we need to call an ambulance right now, right now!?”
“No, I don’t. Sorry.”
I say.
“WHAT! I thought all yous kids had a phone on yer! Right. Right. Okay,” he says, clearly losing his shit.

He crosses himself. “How very sad it is. It’s a sad thing, suicide, isn’t it? Very sad. Very tragic. Good grief. Right. I live just over that road there, I’m going to run home and call the ambulance and the police and do yer think I should phone the fire brigade? You know, to, to cut him down, like? Jesus. Oh, Jesus. You stay here, won’t yer. Just… watch him… make sure he doesn’t move.”

I don’t know what’s funnier, the thought of this fat little flustered old man running or me watching a corpse to make sure it doesn’t do anything.

Right. Stay here. Come on Sammy, come on boy. Mary mother of God. Right. Police, ambulance, fire,” he muttered, shuffling away.

I was still holding this can of Dębowe Mocne. I took a few swigs because it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. Then I suddenly thought about this dead man’s saliva mixing with mine, on my lips, in my mouth. I decided that I can either think of it as disgustingly disrespectful and too macabre to justify or I can think of it as a sort of last kiss, a kiss goodbye. I looked up at him. The poor bastard.

I noticed that whilst the chubby little man was manhandling this guy’s legs, one of his shoelaces came undone. I did it up. For some reason I said aloud, “There you are. All fixed” like I say when I do my nephew’s shoelace up after he’s fallen over. I wondered about this man suspended above me, about who he is, who he was. I said to him, “What was it that made you so sad?” I wondered if his sadness is equivalent to mine, or if he was even sadder than me, or if I am in fact much sadder than he was when he chose to do this but by some fluke I’m still alive and he isn’t.

I looked at the beer can. Dębowe Mocne. That literally translates as Strong Oak. I wondered if the beer was a coincidence. He killed himself on a Dębowe Mocne, on the strongest oak tree in the park. Maybe he wasn’t strong enough to ask for help or to carry on. Maybe he came to this tree for strength and didn’t find any. Or maybe he just bought this beer because it’s a super-strength lager and it’s cheap to get pissed on it.

I lifted the can up as high as I could, above level with his stomach, and said aloud, “Happy Birthday, Stanisław. Wszystkiego najlepszego. To sadness. To slipknots. To strength. Na zdrowie, mate.” I necked the beer, threw the can in the bag and walked to the hospital.

“Sorry I’m late, fucking roadworks. Can I still see Dr K for my psych review or do I have to reschedule?” The receptionist eyed me suspiciously and said, “Take a seat.”

“You’re late,” said Dr K. “And you smell like a brewery. Have you been drinking?”
“Not really,”
I said.
“Well you stink of beer,” he said sternly, offering me a mint.

We went through the usual charade. How’s my sleep, how’s my energy, how’s my appetite, how’s my concentration, how’s my social life, how’s my sex life, how are my thoughts of harming myself, how are my thoughts of harming others, how’s my drug use, how’s my alcohol use, how many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Dr K asked me if I still see, hear, feel or experience things that aren’t real. I said, “No, not to my knowledge.” He asked if I am still taking my anti-psychotics properly and I said yes, yes I am, and he said great, I’ll see you in 6 months then.

On my way home, past the park, I anticipated the presence of a police car and ambulance, perhaps the coroner’s hearse, the area cordoned off, officials milling about the tree. But there was nothing. I stood there for a moment in shock, surveying the park. Then this yappy little dog ran up to me and started barking.

“SAMMY! GET HERE NOW!” I heard a man shout in a broad Irish accent.
I don’t understand.
This stump of a man strolls up to me and says, “Sorry about my dog. Have yer been at the hospital?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Have yer been at the hospital, like?”
“Erm, yeah, just now,”
I reply, perplexed, thinking he’s going to tell me what happened to the hanging man.
“Ah. That’s it, you see,” says the red-faced old man, “my little dog here smells death from a mile off.”

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poetry, prosetry, Uncategorized

Facing the fear

I don’t want to lie to you but I sure wish I could start lying to myself. Tell a different story of me, one that sits less altered in her chair, skewed by the forks laid to eat in tarmac

Truth doesn’t sit well at 2am, when the specter and the sickle crescent with the moon, to chime their heady blend of ‘what if’s’ and disturbance cavorting against imagination

I think of the quiet Christmas eve house, Tom and Jerry fooling about, seems I’ve been living long, if memory can stretch the length of night, without curling back upon itself

you’re there of course, shy and bold and beautiful

and out of the corner of my eye, I see the young me, her nylon night-dress and untrimmed straggly hair

Penguin looks with his sad eyes, Teddy tries not to cry, as knots in the wardrobe come alive, menacing faces, terror in familiar places

he said, sit on my lap child, this won’t take long and after midnight, Cinderella was never the same, she preferred cinders and dark corners

just as you, pulled me out, toward gathering morning and soon light will decide fear and tomorrow will appear slow and steady like a hand on your brow, wiping away the wait

there, there, child, sleep it off, dream the future, where you have inherited the surge and the dragon and you avenge your unseen foe

inch by inch, we reclaim in years, snatched from time, half over us, like sword of Damocles, poised to swallow whole

yes we have much to dread, feel the hook of fear and do it anyway, bury that part saying oh God, no, I can’t as the kids who jump, reaching for rope and burn

to vault into space, grabbing rubber tyre, absailing in space and time, lifted from their feet, by the impossible feat, oh God you can leap

keep on, just keep, on

facing the fear

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prosetry

Killing Time

In the hospital there is a shop. It sells newspapers and sandwiches and biscuits and cans of liquid sugar and tissues and balloons that say IT’S A BOY. Just outside of this shop there is a crate of books. There is no real literature in this crate. Just books that are easy to read, books that help you to kill time, books that probably aren’t going to change your life in any way. Some are 50p and some are £1. This isn’t much money to spend on temporary escapism. I always look at the books but never buy one. I only read soul-shattering books. I enjoy trying to put my soul back together afterwards. I looked at the books and wondered how many of them I’d actually bought.

When my father died I got all of his good books, his ‘proper’ books. The hundreds of crime/thriller novels he had amassed over a 20 year career in Time Killing were no use to me. I used to work in the Crime and Thrillers department of a top publishing house. I’ve read enough dreadful manuscripts with flimsy plots and ridiculous twists to last a lifetime. But they are perfect books to waste time on. So I donated them to this hospital and to a day-centre for homeless people. When I was a frequenter of that day-centre I remember being sad that there were no books. If anyone needs escapism, it’s people on the streets. And if anyone needs to kill time, it’s people surrounded by death and disease, waiting to receive their own slice of bad news.

So I’m looking at this crate. I spotted a few titles that I reckoned were my dad’s. I ordered a lot of them off the internet for him. He loved the idea of paying 1p for a book. I never told him about the £2.80 delivery charge. He always paid me the penny he owed me for the book. Even though that man owed me nothing. There was a Simon Kernick that I was sure was my dad’s. Its pages smelled like cigarette smoke. There were some James Pattersons and Lee Childs. I didn’t want to look at the books anymore. I went upstairs for my appointment with the neurologist. It was an appointment I had waited 3 years, 4 weeks and 3 days for.

I didn’t know that the neurology department is right opposite the ward where my father died. I did not like being there again. I paced around and around and around. An elderly woman stared at me suspiciously. “My dad died in there,” I said to her, pointing at the door. “Oh,” she said, walking around me. A man with a laundry trolley came towards me. “My dad died in there,” I said to him, “right through there. He died.” He said, “I’m so very sorry to hear that, my girl,” and went on his way. I told every person that walked along that corridor, “My dad died in there.” Anyone who’d listen. Anyone who wouldn’t listen. Some mumbled things, some expressed condolences, some looked frightened, some ignored me altogether. I just had to tell them. I don’t know why, but it was essential.

I punched the wall outside the neurology department and caught my little finger on the edge of a wooden frame. The frame fractured and I got a splinter caught in my skin, right on the joint. In the waiting room, a man was reading a crime novel. I didn’t read a crime novel. I picked at the splinter on my finger. I kept clawing until my name was called, long after the splinter had come out. The neurologist told me that my brain is broken and my nerves are shot. I told him that I already know that. I waited 3 years to find out something I already knew. And in all that time that I spent waiting for a letter, a referral, an appointment, an MRI, a CAT scan, a thousand blood tests, in all that time I didn’t read a single crime novel.

I went outside for a cigarette. On my way back in I looked at the books. There was a book called Private Vegas, part of the ‘Private’ series by James Patterson. I remembered ordering 8 books of the ‘Private’ series off the internet for my father. He paid me 8p. I picked up Private Vegas. It was well read. I had bought it for him second-hand. I opened the book and tucked in the back page was my receipt from the Book Depository. I put the book back in the crate.

I went downstairs for my blood test. The receptionist was reading Stuart MacBride. I introduced my father to MacBride when I worked at the publishers. He was always chuffed to bits when I’d bring early proofs or publicity copies of the latest thrillers home to him. He was so proud of me. Living the dream. Living the nightmare. The phlebotomist gauzed up the hole I’d dug in my little finger.

As I was leaving the hospital I walked past the crate of books again. Private Vegas was gone. Sold to another stranger killing time. That’s all life is, though, isn’t it? Killing time. We are all just killing time.

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prosetry

Flights

Rode the elevator up to the 20th floor from somewhere in the middle, the doors parted and I stepped out into a field of eyes and a sea of sound, a small podium before me like a restaurant check in, and they looked at me and I knew it was wrong, knew the 20th wasn’t the top, afraid it might be where I belong.

The black-suited man at the podium informed me of where I was before I made my fifth step forward and I heard the doors roll softly closed behind me, dreading the around turn coming that’d leave my back alone by itself to hold their stares, their thoughts thinking “here is yet another” in cacophonic unison like some discombobulated orchestra.

But I did, I turned toward the brass walls of the elevator bank, shimmering, reflecting that distorted roomful of eyes and I did my best Houdini and closed mine and pressed the bottom button like it dispensed nonchalance but all it did was illuminate.

A few silent toe-tapping seconds later the carriage came down and the walls consumed its doors and inside stood a man, generically older, and two women, younger than he but not springly and who I realized were not together as I got on and pressed the round plastic “1” button with greater firmness than I felt, glancing at him, glancing at them, thinking what accidents do befall us in elevators when the doors close.

And in I step and close they do and down the elevator starts and the down start turns to what feels like a fall, smooth and gliding, and I wonder when we’ll hit and what will break first and why they seemed so distracted, so consumed, continuing their piecemeal stranger exchange of looks and slight eyebrow shrugs and effortful non-engagement as he said

“men are more romantic than women, I know it” and he looks at me for confirmation like I knew he would before he did and the she against the back wall of the falling box forces out an “I don’t know about that” in the most non-committal manner imaginable, like a kid put on the spot by other kids she likes about something she doesn’t, or like a grown woman cornered in an elevator and uncertain about an older man’s burgeoning chauvinism, feeling for shreds of history or experience in his sentiment, abstaining from anything further or firmer and he smiles with only lips, cheeks, and

eyes and says “oh I do, I know, right?” and back at me. Right? but no, I shrug, joining the pensive chorus, smiling a little, saying nothing, releasing his gaze. No, I don’t know what you’re getting at, sir, or where this came from or what you mean or why but I do wonder,

I just got on this elevator, just got in here with you three strangers, just joined this fall, and I can see she wishes that the doors will soon open and we can all get out and go our separate ways and I know somewhere inside me despite everything, despite rises and falls and soul and spirit and passing strangers and idle fancies and prejudgments I know I do love the world and this life and

even those eyes back upstairs and these strangers and this awkward moment and this drop, this too-fast but nevertheless controlled descent, a few kilos of friction and resistance short of perfect freefall, and we finally decelerate like some mischievous deity hit the brakes and I cringe instinctively and brace myself out of

well-practiced fear of long drops and the dark things at the bottom as the elevator slows hard and stops soft and the doors open and I see that I’m in fact alive, still alive, again alive, and here, more alive in some unknown way than I ever thought I knew before.

We’ve stopped unevenly, though, confirming all my suspicions of transcendence, stopped a step or so above the ground floor and he gets out without offering a hand or a farewell to anyone and I look at them and say, relieved by all this fallibility, all this imperfection, “If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the drop to the bottom is lined with misperceptions”

and they smile and shrug a little less uncomfortably, knowing I mean no harm though I want to shake them by the shoulders and point and say “there’s light outside it’s bright outside!” but all I do is help them down to pick up the slack he left behind and after helping walk away on my way to nowhere, maybe everywhere, for that matter, I imagine, in this city,

and head through the brass- and mirror-lined marble and tile foyer and push through the revolving doors and step out into the rest of life and the first distinct sound I hear amid the din once I’ve maneuvered through traffic to the wide busy anonymizing sidewalk across the street there beside the lush garden park and short stone colonnade wall is one man saying to another that the fish has no knowledge of the water, none whatsoever.

If they only knew, I thought, shaking my head, and walked on, thinking I did, emboldened by this newfound semblance of freedom, imagining who’d drown first.

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poetry, prosetry

Sometimes

Sometimes, things come back.
Things come back to me sometimes.
Not things, as such, but rather memories.
Memories come back to me sometimes.
Only sometimes, though.
Like that fancy bra poking out from my blood-stained white blouse,
running down the hill at 3 o’clock on Christmas morning.
Prison Break, Breaking Bad, breaking up.
Yellow flowers, always yellow flowers.
Lighting my cigarettes with a blowtorch.
Bike rides along the sea wall.
Inhalers and cat allergies.
Cheese and cucumber sandwiches at cricket.
Teaching me to drive the van.
Micky Flanagan and the £8 slice of pizza.
Never drinking the final third of your Peroni.
“Babyface” and squeezing the pus out of your knee.
Spain, swordfish, sunset.
Bunk up on the bunk beds under Manchester United duvet covers.
Me throwing up in Wayne Bridge’s toilet while you fixed his cooker.
The Best Nachos in the World.
Henry VIII and Henrietta.
Freezing under floodlights.
A firework display because I wanted one.
The realisation that you’re going to prison.
Apple crumble and custard.
The decision that I’d wait for you while you were inside.
Cutting 40 onions.
The jubilation when you were found not guilty.
Glass table-top on the roof.
Coaxing the gerbils out from under the wardrobe.
Sex in a hot tub in Sherwood Forest in the middle of December.
The diamond ring and fancy watch that I can’t bring myself to sell.
Your face when the test was negative.
Your face when the test was negative again.
Your face.
Your fucking face,
the face I know off-by-heart,
the face I can still feel beneath my fingertips,
the face that I know better than my own.
Your fucking face.
Sometimes, things come back.
You didn’t.


[Featured image source here]
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