life

Green Lanes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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prosetry

tabernacled in flesh

It’s the keeping in that makes my heart palpitate because it’s not telling the truth and then I’m in a hospital bed being nothing but honest about the white in my beard. Football (or fútbol) or baseball (or fútbol). Boxers or briefs. Scotch or whiskey (or wine or beer). Blondes or brunettes or both or whatever. It’s this or that, to be a man, and sometimes life or death—but you saw that coming.

Poets are soft i.e. effeminate and I’ve been told I have both but definitions are fluid and you wouldn’t know it to look at me. All that matters is right now, he said, stoically, warm with stern tradition, and I’m constantly surprised to be here, tormented at times by possible selves and seeking an appropriate rendering of manhood to stick to.

Today I am the type who folds over the corners of too many pages of too many books, parturient with the power of what words have done to me and holding fast to the strange singular spirit within.

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poetry

Sandwiches

No, ​I don’t mind making the sandwiches

for our piss-up picnic in the park:

it’s strangely satisfying to slice

the cheddar for your Ploughman’s

using the same knife I hack

away at my wrists with, the one I keep

hidden up my sleeve on days when I’m

not safe in my own skin, the one I sleep

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

trust my own heartbeat, the one I reach

for when I need clarity to shine through the insanity,

with its unfailing black handle and mirrored serrated blade.

Honestly, I don’t mind making the sandwiches

at all, babe.

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prosetry

like a shadow burned into a wall

It was a week of work, my first in over two months. Funny how you can tell what kind of day you’ll have in the first ten minutes of wakefulness. Is sensitivity something we learn? It’s hard to emulate the idiomatic and constitutional, but easy to hide behind it.

Thoughts of authenticity the other night after watching “Atlanta” connected themselves to others about lived experience, my life, and Charles Johnson, who is from the town in which I now reside and will be here again to give a talk in May. This is apparently worthy of transcription.

Self-conscious self-criticism always “kept me honest” while I sought ways to raise myself up out of the everyday, confused, predictably romanticizing “just making it” and being afraid of dependence. Writing isn’t the application of forms, it’s unfolding. I’ve made my truths, fiction et non, and still going.

Really I’m not my past, but I can get back to it like Theseus to Ariadne. Peter and the Wolf gave me a glimpse of heritage as a child and I made it my own mythology. Peter was the violin and my middle name and all was quiet, all was well.

Russian fur hats and black boots and military jackets and good-natured young boys and protective grandfathers I never knew, if I had to pluralize. Now I write prose poems because they’re somewhere between rap and short stories and because I’m from somewhere where that makes sense, working for a living and working on a novel about belonging that I might should maybe call The Clew and the Minotaur but I won’t tell you who’s who.

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fiction, photography

THE GRID

Chris R-0602 Image by Christine Renney

The cars are predictable. They crawl through the narrow and crowded streets at a snail’s pace searching for parking spaces. As soon as one moves away from the kerb, another is readying to take its place. This battle is almost constant. It is an elaborate board game, play pausing just briefly in the early hours of the morning when a stalemate of sorts is achieved and all of the vehicles are locked in tight and there are no spaces on the grid, on the streets and, for a brief spell at least, none of them will move.
I keep walking and find reassurance in the line of cars jammed along the pavements. Occasionally I come across a space and if it is big enough to take a car I feel anxious. I am even unnerved but of course it won’t be long before the players return and the game commences.
I observe the drivers as I walk. They are all so desperately focussed that they hardly notice me. They are usually alone but if there are passengers they are just as centred, just as determined and desperate to find a space.
I am passing alongside a pale blue estate car. In the wintry light it is the colour of cement. The windshield and windows are tinted and I can’t see in. I feel a little uneasy about this but I can see quite clearly that there is a place just up ahead. It will be tight but I am sure that this driver, like all the others, is skilful enough. That he will be able to manoeuvre his vehicle quite easily into position. But he doesn’t.
This perplexes me. I step down from the kerb and out into the road. Standing in the middle of the parking space I look back and there are no cars coming. It isn’t too late, he can still back-up but he doesn’t.
At the crossroads he turns right toward the City Centre. I cross at the junction and I stop and I stand and I wait. I expect that here, where the road is wider and there are no cars parked on either side, that he will turn himself around and begin to make his way back. But he doesn’t and, brake lights ablaze, he carries on, albeit awkwardly, down the hill.
When I start to follow he seems to speed up. I am running now and at the end of the road he turns left, onto the ring road and he is gone, leaving me stranded, anxious, here at the edge.

 

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life

All That Appeared Was a Blind Obstinate Impulse Expressing Itself in Bursts of Foolishness

Canceled my New Yorker subscription some months ago, as if that would help me feel less scatterbrained, once the basement bargain on the first year of issues expired and I was back to not being special anymore and just like everyone else again. All too trite and elitist, I thought, silently excusing myself from participation in some indefinable currency, realizing the feebleness of this withdrawal as that snarky manikin leered over my shoulder and snarkily suggested I’d have been more of a pseudo-sophisticate if I’d spelled realizing with an s.

There is simply too much to think about. I imagine turning to the man next to me at the nearly empty bar I’m not sitting in and saying “so what’s it like for you out there” and his obscure eyes turn to meet me with a look of total cancelation surpassing even the negation I supposed I’d find. “Bellow,” I’d say, and he’d hear it as a verb and turn away. “But this was his city, too,” I’d protest, “twice.” That has to mean something, though it’s a lifelong effort to understand that not everything does, and how. Four years on the seventh floor was a form of sanctuary but not as transcendental as I supposed.

Here, the wind blows this way and that, often in the same breath. There’s surely a meteorological explanation for this, I think, remembering the local tv news weather report showing large currents of blue and purple computer-generated atmosphere above a matte gray-brown map and how those currents seemed—always—to converge directly above this city. On the ground down where I now live I watch little plastic flags on clotheshanger-thin wire poles stuck in the muck and mud of lived experience to mark gas lines nervelessly flutter back and forth, but I tend toward the figurative and a certain desultory envy of inanimate stoicism, supposing for convenience’s sake that that’s not a contradiction in terms, nor is the struggle to perfect oneself in the symbolic discipline of an art.

Have you ever loved living so much you were afraid to let it out of your sight? Did you cling to it, even in despair, despite its flutters and turns, despite the partisan, balkanized categorizations that we adopt as identities? That’s all I want to know, I *promise* that’s all I’ll ever ask.

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