poetry, prosetry

Fifty-Four

And in the fifty-four weeks
that I’ve somehow lived without you
I have discovered that,
while “I’ll be there for you” can mean something,
“I’ll be there with you” means everything.
(The former is a favour;
the latter is a life-saver).

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prosetry

Further Chronicles of Us

Read: The Chronicles

Read: More Chronicles

SEVEN.
You carelessly devoured me with no regard for consequence, rushing to have all of me before I got cold. Now I am the fishbone stuck in your throat. A niggling irritation, an itch you cannot scratch. I’ll stay there, stubborn, a daily annoyance, but one that you become used to over time. “It’ll go away eventually.” You’re right. I will go eventually. But I will stay until I can be sure that, when I leave you, you will notice that I’ve gone but you will not miss me.

EIGHT.
A Star Wars-esque opening crawl scrolled in my eyes, on repeat, in yellow, in white. It crawled for a long time. The instructions were clear: Remove sleeve. Pierce several times. And so it scrolled on and on and on. And so I did. I removed my sleeve and pierced my skin several times, with a knife. Stab stab stab stab. The blade went through to the other side. Stab stab stab. How many times is “several” anyway? Wait, was I supposed to stir halfway through? I didn’t stir, I just sat and let myself marinate in a bloodbath, in my party dress, with sawdust in my hair, and the spider on the wall, and watched the Star Wars crawl gradually fade into the darkness. You found me eventually.

“What the bloody hell are you doing in the attic?”
“I… I don’t know…”
“JESUS CHRIST, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?”
“I don’t know, it said remove sleeve and pierce several times so I did.”
“NOT ON YOUR ARM YOU SILLY COW, YOU ARE NOT A FUCKING MICROWAVEABLE MEAL!”
“But I was just following the instruc–,”
“YOU ARE NOT A FUCKING LASAGNA!”

Every now and then you call me or message me to remind me that I am not a fucking lasagna. I am not a lasagna. I am not a lasagna. I am not your problem anymore. I am not a lasagna. I am not a lasagna. I am not yours. I am not a lasagna. I am not a fucking lasagna.

NINE.
We went shopping for funeral outfits. We bought the suit that you’ll wear at yours. You stole the dress that I’ll wear at mine. That dress is the most beautiful, perfect possession that I own. I take it out it’s plastic cover sometimes, just to touch it, to look at it. I am so excited to wear it. I wrote you a note and slipped it in the pocket of your suit jacket when you weren’t looking. Either you’ll be buried with it or you’ll find it when I’m gone. And I know you haven’t found it yet because, if you had, things would be so very different and I wouldn’t have to write this shit.

 

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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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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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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

Maladapted Modern Martyrs

On the night we first met, you told me that I would be the death of you. I remember we laughed at that even though it wasn’t funny. Lots of people said that, together, we were an accident waiting to happen. We couldn’t have agreed more.

Over the weeks and months we did lots of stupid and brilliant things together. We always had to push it, to exceed the limit, to go one further. We outdid ourselves, just to see what would happen. Anything that previously felt safe or comfortable we inverted, we wanted danger and knowledge and discovery. Everything became an experiment, a question of “How far can we take this?”

For example, we took deliberate drug overdoses for fun to see how much our bodies could take, to see how strong we were, to see how our bodies would recover from abuse, to see if our minds would improve from the experience or deteriorate from the overexposure, so that we could tell everyone,“This is how much Class A you can take and still be a functioning member of society, THIS is how much you can take if you want to get wild for one weekend, and THIS is how much you can take before you permanently forget your own name and believe that the black plastic bag on the floor (which you lovingly pet for hours) is a tabby cat named Greg.”

We’d replicate crimes committed by working-class black males and see how we were treated in comparison, being young white graduates: they’d get 3 years in Scrubs and I’d get a slap on the wrist. We had to commit the crimes to get access to all the people that we wanted to challenge. You try getting a Detective Chief Super on the phone for no real reason other than you want to outsmart him and subvert the corrupt policing system: trust us, you can’t do it. The only way that we could infiltrate CID was to become Criminally Investigable. We had to get in there and create change.

We had to attempt various methods of suicide so that we could tell suicidal people that, “THESE METHODS DON’T WORK! DON’T BOTHER! YOU’LL END UP WITH BROKEN ANKLES AND ONE WORKING KIDNEY! AND THE LOCAL MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES WON’T HELP YOU AT ALL AND YOUR FRIENDS WILL ABANDON YOU BECAUSE THEY’RE SCARED OF YOU AND YOU’LL LOSE YOUR JOB! DO IT PROPERLY OR DON’T DO IT AT ALL! THESE WAYS THAT WE’VE TOLD YOU ABOUT DO NOT WORK!!!

We wanted to do all of the bad things that nobody really wants to do so that we could teach people about what actually happens if you do these bad things. We saw ourselves as sort of Maladapted Modern Martyrs. We were doing all of you a favour. And anyway, we were in love.


We didn’t have the money to do all the experiments that we wanted to so a lot of our questions about life went unanswered. After years of trying to teach people about being bad we felt that we had nothing more to give. We had one question left that we could answer but it could only be answered by and for ourselves. The answer would not be shared to wider society but we felt like we’d given out enough truths to not feel guilty about keeping this one to ourselves.

We pitched our tent on the darkest corner of Mulholland Drive. We drank silken brandy straight from that fancy crystal glass decanter, laughing about how silly “bungled burglary” sounds (say it 10 times, fast). The tent felt neither safe nor comfortable and we were happy, cackling as the cars whizzed by, their tires growing ever closer to us, trying to catch the flying grit in our mouths.

We were sat almost on top of each other, existing as one skin, one being, so that we would find out the answer to our big question at exactly the same time. “Foolproof,” you said. “Perfect for two fools like us, then,” I replied. Then your nose started bleeding, trickling down over your lips and dripping off your chin and I have never seen you look so beautiful. I kissed you and wore your blood as lipstick; it tasted like the final stanza of that poem about Lolita.

“We are all waiting to die,” you said.
“Yes,” I said, “we’re simply more enthusiastic than others.”
“More excited than most.”

Then you burnt holes in the roof of the tent with the end of your lit cigar, “So you can see where we’re going,” you said. But there wasn’t time to see the stars, only smiles and cars and imperfection and sparks, our sparks, the last ones that’d ever fly between us.

Spoiler alert: one of us got out alive.

You discovered the answer to our most important question, the answer that only deadmen know. I am still picking shards of warm crystal glass out of my hair all these years later and I can’t drink brandy anymore. And we’re all still waiting to die.

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life, poetry, prosetry

Beneath the curtain

Peter Keetman Highway By Night, 1956 black and white road photograph

A man ate himself nearly to death

a girl starved herself almost dying

a bird hooked on wire by strong feet

sat away from the other birds

her wedding ring impinging on her swollen fingers

couldn’t be removed with soap and hot water

the nape of her neck pulses with effort

a shrill knock on the door of skin

you kneel in drab faux fur in the back of cupboards

smelling of moth wings, cedar and burned toast

charcoal fingers probing your eyes

the circuit fizz of bulb

trying to send messages through

barbiturates

dissolving

drowsy pain

Debussy plays

as cut flowers bow

in reverence and unending severed thirst

you go, I’ll stay

here in vase, waiver and quiver

etching lithograph outcomes of

left-over marks

sweat and tears and violence

villains without cause

beauty missing myth

when they say “you’re so beautiful”

I’d prefer they heat up a needle

stitch their mouths shut

it isn’t true

I have a russet horse for a jaw

a blue mountain for a forehead

my eyes are continually watering

with their attention

some words do not feel like kindness

they are broken pieces of yourself

irreconcilable

don’t call me that, can’t you see beneath the layers?

a scream is

not beautiful

you speak because words have become filler

for silence

and often for truth

the truth is I am an animal

my jaw continually muscular

you chew on this artificial

sweetener

pluck the instrument

hear your chord throaty and whole

a thrust and burst, losing suspension

this outline of who and what was

before condemned to silhouette we rush

into beckoning darkness

a faint smell of amber and myrrh

left on stale air

beneath long curtain

heavy with dust

(Photo by Peter Keetman, ‘Highway’ 1956).

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