art, poetry, prosetry

On Art

[Free-written at the Tate Modern, London, 2015]

ONE

Art is about shaking things up,
subverting everything that is safe and familiar.
Art sends you a link to a video
of your cosy little norms cheating on you,
in your own bed, with a handsome amalgamation
of everything you loathe
and then when you cry about it, Art just shrugs.

Art is about,
“Shaking up the still”
“Art as an extension of the body”
“Describing without describing it”
“Disrupting the settled”
I write these things down as I wander through the collections.
I am not settled, I will never be settled.
I am disrupted, severely, unfortunately.
Settled. I do not know the meaning of the word:
this truth makes me feel unsettled.

TWO

I’ve been told before that I’m a work of art –
each person who has said this meant it in a different way –
it doesn’t matter how, not really –
subjective, objective, neither.
But if art is about disrupting everything that is settled,
what am I? How am I? How do you disrupt the already disrupted?
Can you break the broken?
Maybe it would be real, true, genuine artistry to settle the unsettled.
Perhaps to rectify the disturbed would mean to
uncover the masterpiece underneath.

But no. This canvas may look pretty
but still been stretched and abused and exploited,
stared at, gawped at, criticised.
The framework in the centre of this sculpture
has crumbled; I fold in on myself
because I can’t hold this brain up anymore
with of all of its heavy thoughts and mind-fuckery.
But as long as my outermost layer stays easy on the eye
it’s fine for me to be ugly inside.

THREE

Art may well be about disrupting the disrupted
a test, an experiment,
to see how much disruption the disrupted can take
before they break
another layer of paint
let the cracks show
gloss over it all
keep piling on the paint
like the pressure that we’re so used to…
am I talking about art or psychiatry?
You can’t hang me on a wall
if I’m hanging from a tree.

We are disrupted daily hourly
subconsciously subliminally
tirelessly
effortlessly
cruelly
above all, wholly.
We are entirely disturbed.
If art is about shaking things up,
I am the pre-packaged subject.
Life has rattled me, and
I am still shaking
recoiling from the things I’ve seen
with eyes, in dreams
running from my archive of deleted scenes
shuddering in my pathetic tent where I live
wedged
reluctantly
between the edges of some temperamental tectonic plates;
the tremors, the tremors, the never-ending tremors,
they are like noisy neighbours, disrupting me at all hours.
It is possible to disrupt those who are unsettled,
it’s just a little less easy.

FOUR

Nobody pays to see me anymore.
I am no longer part of the collection
although I am still on display
in a lesser, unassuming way:
I have morphed into a nameless metal figure on a toilet door
I am bald, I have a triangle dress
and all of my scars have been polished off –
plus, I have no eyes or ears,
so no more lies and no more tears.
No longer the exhibitionist I was before
when I was a whore
when I was adored
when I was unconscious on the ballroom floor.
Things are quieter now.
But I’ll never be settled.
No, never settled.
Forever rattled, never settled.

FIVE

If someone hears that I’m settled
they might decide to disrupt me
to shake me up
to make me into art.
My coffin in the ground
will be the grand finale
The cemetery will be the gallery
and people will come to see me again
not as a life form, but as an art form, immortalised.
A masterpiece that’ll take the art world by storm
see here, one who was ultimately unsettled who now lies settled!
My body in the ground
six feet under
a cheapo headstone bearing the official details
of one of my various personalities
some yellow roses, a pack of JPS and a vodka miniature
perhaps some rain
My most disrupted self, finally settled
The opposite of art
This final installation is named
“Girl, died
in pain,
in vain,
in sane.”

Maybe then
Art will seek to settle the disrupted
before it’s too late.

SIX

It is probably the case
that art saves more lives than psychiatry.
But when you’re standing graveside saying
what a waste, what a waste,
you won’t think of my soul at all
you’ll just think of my pretty face.

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fiction

A Carapace for this Irredeemably Querulous Nature

I step out of the office and into the hall for an hors d’oeurve taste of corridor’d freedom, industrial-carpeted and fluorescent, tans and grays and whitishes with a texture at once abrasive and numbing, unsatisfying like a tease of a snack on a toothpick that’s been sitting out too long but is better than no food a’tall, and head to the men’s room.

He’s in there again, turning from a urinal and zipping up, and my heart does that sinking thing because I don’t know everything but I know what’s coming, and I want to rush over and clap my hand over his stupid mouth before either of us can make the human people word sounds, maybe just choke him out and be done with it, then drag the body to the back corner stall, whistling elfish and cheerful while I wash my hands and walk out like nothing happened because nothing did, just a little murder.

But I’m already speaking, before the anticipation and the thought form an action, homicidal or otherwise, and a single Howyuhdoin slips out of a mouth I thought was under my control. WELL THANKS HOW ARE YOU, his voice booms, clear and commercial, a parody of our unfortunate ability to locute, all enunciation and no heart like the words are big wooden blocks he’s arranged with infantile pride in some inchoate effort at communication, and I’m furious at the futility of being soft-spoken and hard-thought in a world full of empty-headed broadcasters so I kick his stupid fucking blocks all over the place and say I’m good.

My only wish is to evaporate so I stand there and hold rabbit-style still watching him without breathing in case that’s how that happens, thinking there’s strength in non-doing, weakness sometimes in action. It does not—quite. He looks at me quizzically and I wonder if he knows how to spell that, with all those z’s and l’s and such, because I always thought it had just one “z” the way “kat” only has one “t.” He probably does, because no one but a good speller could SPEAK IN SUCH NICE WORD BLOCKS and no one but a broadcaster could manage to look quizzically at another being without even a shred of a hint of curiosity, only an otherer’s sense of abnormality sensed and I’m at least placated for a moment, standing there motionless, staring, blinkless, my mouth slightly open, physiognomy frozen. I’ve got him cornered as a kat, door behind me, man against man.

But he breaks the spell and steps up to the sink and begins to roll up his cuffs. I abscond to a stall where I sit on the latrine to use it as a perch from which to watch him through the crack in the stall door. He talks into the mirror as he washes his hands and inspects his visage, talks about sports or the weather or politics or something, something immediate and mundane and I flush the toilet over the little deluge of nihility cascading from his facial orifice, imagining his words getting sucked down the drain.

Have you considered therapy, I ask, cutting him off. Honestly, for a year I was completely mental. The cost, the trouble of finding a decent therapist. What a nightmare.

Yeah, he says with utter dispassion.

Yeah, this is a nightmare, I think, contemplating the décor—all beige-brown, but almost warm-seeming, like someone who cares but has no taste. I stand, lift my trousers, zip and button them, fasten my belt, flip the latch, and open the door. He’s drying his hands with those sandpaper towels, facing the room’s far wall, the back of his dress shirt wrinkled and crinkled from all day in a desk chair with no breatheabilityness.

Oh, excuse me. You were talking. That’s what I say.

Oh, you’re fine, he says, without turning around.

You’re fine is something people say when other people apologize but it sounds less like acceptance and more like giving someone permission to exist, I think. Anyway, I said I was good, not fine.

Have you ever read Foucault’s History of Madness, I ask him in italics.

Foo-calt, he inquires?

Yes, Foo-calt, I say. It’s all in there.

What is?

Everything, all of it. You should pick it up sometime. But just open it, and be sure to do so in public, so people know you’re smart. Otherwise there’s no point.

He smiles, and I see him smiling because he’s facing me now and I’m facing him and it’s just like it was a few moments before, before I dashed into the stall for cover from a threat that didn’t seem to have the first clue that it was threating. He’s facing me but he’s not looking at me, still, again. Well, he’s looking at me but it’s as if he’s not seeing anything and I think of something Dany Laferrière said in an interview about being homeless—because he was once—about being looked straight through like it’s something people have always seen, with compassion, perhaps, but without the slightest surprise or recognition. I suppose it’s all in how we experience, how we choose.

Still smiling, he says alright, sounds good, and makes a move to walk past me and leave as if some manner of routine continuance would reestablish normalcy and what do I do but smash it all to bits by initiating the people-passing dance and stepping in the same direction.

Excuse me, he says. Shifting to the other side.

You’re fine, I say, sliding myself in front of him again. Right, left, right. I swear a brain circuit shorts and tiny puffs of smoke emit from his ears. He looks me in the eye, uncomfortable, perplexed, futilely soliciting an explanation like a dog when you take its toy away and hide it behind your back. It knows it’s there, somewhere, but isn’t too sure what you’ve done with it.

Ah, you see me now, don’t you, you fucker. But I don’t say that; I just look back, returning the perplexity, thinking yes, I see, this is the way to be visible.

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poetry

Effigy

When asked

Why did you burn the candle so hard?

She could have said

Running from myself

Sprinting from emptiness

Falling into a comfortable void

Embacing the unwashed boys and heroin eyed girls

Their empty bellies and mouths of hurt

Rolling her razor hips to electronica

Slack red mouth and mocca skin

Racetracks in silver running like rivers along her wrists

She inhabited sound as a moonstone glows brightest in darkness

Teaching me to welcome letting go

Whispering, stop the neglect eating you 

Slip into me

This injection of freedom

Two red lipped matches rubbing against skin

Taste the sulphur, inhale till you can catch dragons tail

She liked to dip her toes in fridgid water

Mastering length of endurance like a tightrope walker

Her strength wound tight like tigers breath

How can you emerge from such a world?

Returning to normalcy as a virgin loses blood

Forever changed

I still glance up, a little too fast

When I hear fast footsteps run across my heart

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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

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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prosetry

The Chronicles of Us

ONE.
Sometimes I don’t talk at all. Mostimes I tell you interesting facts about ketchup and painters and space and Japan and coins and pregnant giraffes. But sometimes I don’t speak at all. Still you wait and wait, still, with the patience of a saint, until I come back and tell you that the man who invented Pringles was buried in a Pringles can and then I burst into tears because it would’ve been a much better story if he’d been buried in a tube of Smarties instead.

TWO.
I come home one day to find you reading a book that was written about me. It has an ugly cover. It was written by some doctors who have never met me and it attempts to explain why I am the way I am. By the look on your face I can see that it doesn’t help you to see me spread across the pages like that, dismembered into chapters, chunks of me dissected into symptoms and statistics, my soul turned into science by strangers. You’ve made notes. Lots and lots of notes. I pick them out of your hands and off the floor and set them on fire. You are impressed and annoyed all at once but mostly you are in love. You tell me that you’re never going to leave me, even if let you, even if I tell you to. I ask you if the textbook told you to say that. The smoke alarm begins shrieking. You say no and pick a piece of burnt note out of my hair.

THREE.
We always drink a bottle of champagne before bed, sometimes two– I think it reminds us that we’re not quite dead yet. We always drink a bottle of champagne before bed– we worry about those who don’t: those who don’t drink a bottle of champagne before bed, and those who don’t worry.

[Featured image source]
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