poetry

She

​She is no oxygen thief.
She isn’t stealing something
that doesn’t belong to her,
she is being force-fed it,
being gifted the same terrible present every birthday,
being given something that she doesn’t want
in relentless abundance.

She has had the same headache
for a decade, and can’t remember
life without it.
She doesn’t know the definition of ‘well.’

She looks forward to blinking
for the last time,
to closing her eyes
and never opening them again.
It’s exciting not knowing
exactly when this will happen –
aren’t you excited? You should be.
It’s a once in a lifetime thing.

She doesn’t want to breathe
but it keeps on happening.

The copper said, “No sudden moves!”
as he tried to decide whether to
get her off the edge of the roof
or get the carving knife out of her hand first,
thinking of the paperwork he’ll have to fill out later.
She said, “But all I have are sudden moves.
Isn’t my heartbeat just a series of sudden moves?
Isn’t yours?”
Her words got caught in the wind.

She balances on the edge
thinking about how we see the world,
and then we don’t –
or perhaps we do
but from another angle
in another realm.

She doesn’t like the view from here,
buried above ground,
and hopes that the world will look prettier
once she’s buried in it.
Unblinking, unbeating, unbreathing,
unfeeling, undisturbed,
underground.

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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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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

Tracks

​By the time you’d finished reading the LOTR trilogy, the grass had grown over the railway tracks where we used to lie.

How I loved filling those empty hours with you at the train station in my town, in that same spot, off the main platform, over the safety barriers, under the concrete stairs.

Tuesdays and Thursdays. Autumn and Spring. Never the times in between. Always evening. Always vodka. Side by side, sky high, putting the world to rights. “What we think, we become,” you said one night. “I fucking hope not,” I replied.

I cried a lot back then. You let me. But you never let me get too close to the fast trains, even when it seemed like my mind had already hurled itself in front of one. You were splattered with the viscera of my brain, but through my words, my stories, my secrets, my ideas.

No one likes to have their train delayed, not by a technical fault, not by staff shortages, and certainly not by a jumper. We hate so much for our train to be delayed even by a few minutes and yet we willingly delay so many great things in our lives, out of fear, out of diffidence, out of our minds.

You did not delay in telling me that you loved me. That was a great thing you did. It was urgent, as if you’d been waiting your whole life to love me. I think that staying alive is delaying me from attaining the greatest thing of my life: nonexistence. I am causing my own delays out of fear, fear of the unknown.

I am not as brave as you. I used to be fearless – you know, that’s when you loved me. Now you are fearless, just as I taught you to be, and thousands of miles away, while I am still at the station and I am afraid.

By the time I’ve finished reading the 1Q84 trilogy, the grass will have grown again over the railway tracks where we used to lie.

Our initials are still spray-painted underneath the 7th stair, above where we used to shelter from the rain. The black letters look as fresh as the day you sprayed them, a decade ago. I remember the black paint on your white shirt, and how I pierced your ear and you pierced my nose, and we lay our heads on the tracks and listened for the heavy electricity coursing through the rails and cables, the static jolts of the approaching train, stronger and longer, nearer and louder. We’d move out of the way at the last moment and laugh for England as the police chased us away. We have grown too tired and too cynical to thrive on adrenaline and blind faith like we used to. London has caught up with us.

You said you’d always be here, there, somewhere, not necessarily visible but present, like maggots in ketchup. While I delay in finding peace out of fear of missing the madness, I will not delay in saying this: I am still here, there, somewhere, not necessarily visible but present, like the empty vodka bottles that are under the stairs, at the station, where we used to shelter from the rain, by the fast trains, by our graffitied names, by the railway tracks where we used to lie.

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poetry

Brexi(s)t

when you want to live
but, at the same time,
you also want to die
you do neither:
you merely exist
like dirty laundry
and electricity,
like abandoned cars
and stagnant air,
like unwritten rules
and unused ink,
like your potential
which you feel certain
will remain
unfulfilled
whether you live or die.
but you also exist
in the same way
that tomorrow’s newspaper exists:
you need Tomorrow
in order to Be:
and you’ve got stay alive
if you want to read the headlines.

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prosetry

Peculiar Times

We live in peculiar times.

We speak Nadsat without realising, and are surprised and disappointed when others don’t understand;

start a new ashtray in a plastic yoghurt pot instead of emptying the big glass one that’s fit for purpose but overflowing, then repeat until your entire room has turned into one giant tray of ash;

wake up totally exhausted after 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep;

rely too heavily on answers garnered from an upturned glass shifting gracelessly across a ouija board;

take 133 tablets of psychiatric medicine every week and still feel so terribly unwell, like if your brain doesn’t kill you first then kidney failure will;

wonder how you still have room for all the painkillers, vitamins and narcotics that also allege to make you feel better but take them anyway, then hear them rattle inside you when you shake;

judge people based on the type, style and colour of the material covering their feet and be cruel to strangers solely because of their eyebrow shape;

feel more inspired standing outside the house that your favourite writer killed herself in than at the house in which she lived;

live and die without a single person knowing you;

drink a can of coke and then eat a mento mint and marvel at the fact that your stomach hasn’t exploded;

take our old selves for granted and then kick ourselves when we discover that we’ve lost our best self and can’t get her back;

feel offended about every single thing, all of the time;

cause offense to those who think you should be offended and are offended that you are not;

cause offense by opening our mouths;

cause offense by keeping our mouths shut;

drive to the middle of nowhere and engage in primal scream therapy;

buy a pack of 500 bobby pins and only have 6 left in your possession two weeks later;

go from an immense feeling of relief when the pregnancy test is negative to an immediate sense of utter horror when you realise if you’re not pregnant then you’ve just gotten fat;

throw away the (perfectly good) first and last slices of a loaf of bread;

pick green fur off the remaining slices;

feel unreasonably angry that the picked-at bread is taking so fucking long to turn to toast under the glowing amber grill;

hear our friend’s voice from behind us say with such solemn sagacity, “A watched bread never toasts,” and laugh and laugh and laugh until you smell burning.

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life, prosetry

Ivy

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.

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