life, poetry, prosetry

Broken Mirrors

I’ve broken 4 mirrors this year.
If superstition is to be honoured
I will still be reaping bad luck long after I am dead.
All these broken reflections,
what is the universe trying to tell me?
The obvious: ugly, imperfect, Picassoed girl,
from a broken home, with broken bones,
who breaks bottles and spirits and noses and promises.
But too obvious.

The first humans thought that their reflection
was their actual soul, their other self.
I know that mine is damaged:
I went to a spiritual healing centre
and it was just like an AA meeting, everyone sitting
in a circle, talking quietly and drinking shit coffee,
except when I walked in, everyone stopped talking and stared
like I was Satan in a mini-skirt.
A lady quickly ushered me out, without touching me.
“Oh dear,” she said. “Your aura is dark, a dark, dark mess, a real mess.
You’re in trouble.”
She made me sign a contract,
promising not to release my negative energy
onto anybody else in the building,
not to break anyone else’s spirit,
like my badness was contagious
and could ruin others.
I asked if the others had signed a contract
promising not to break mine.
She laughed and said, “No, dear.
You can’t break something that is already broken.”
I said under my breath, “That’s not strictly true,”
and we walked down a dark corridor and she said,
“Hurry. We have a lot of work to do.”

The Romans believed that it took 7 years for life to renew.
I was disappointed on my 21st birthday when I didn’t feel like a new person.
I don’t believe I’ll see my 28th. I don’t want to.

I read a story once about a girl like me
who was at the end of her metaphorical tether
wishing her neck was choked by an actual tether
when she accidentally broke a mirror
and that was it:
the straw that broke the camel’s back,
the mirror that shattered the girl’s last shard of hope.
She was petrified at the prospect
of 7 more years of badness
so she succumbed to the tether
and hanged herself from the back of the bathroom door,
the shards of her other self, her soul, the mirror, scattered all about.
I can’t remember where I read this story.
Oh, I do remember: I read it after I had written it.

Of the mirrors I’ve smashed this year
I’ve kept the best shard of each,
hoarding them, hiding them
around the flat, my secret accidentally-formed knives.
My favourite one is a menacing hook shape,
long and sharp and fits right in my palm with plenty to spare
so I can make controlled slashes, if I want to,
like if there was an intruder say, I could give him a perfect Chelsea smile
and be pleased with my work.
These secret shards are not my weapon of choice
but it’s nice to know that they’re there
and sometimes I take them out and hold them and stare
into a piece of my soul, a section of my face,
and become anxious (because the image is always one I don’t recognise)
but pretend not to be (because this “reality” tells me that the face is just me).

If I use them for damage, before I hurt myself
I look into my eyes and marvel at how wild and unfamiliar they are
and I can sometimes talk myself out of it, but it’s hard
when I can see that my eyes are, for once, so clear of fear.
It’s like snorting a line off a mirror.
You see yourself with a note up your nose
and look into your own eyes
and say inside, “What the fuck are you doing, girl?”
but then you blink and sniff and do it off a DVD case for the rest of the night
because you don’t want to face your self ever again.

Seeing yourself in that moment before you do something bad:
that’s the real you.
And only you will ever be able to see the real you,
through your own eyes, into your own eyes, with your own eyes.

I went to buy a new mirror.
At the counter I asked the guy,
“Would you mind just opening the box for me and checking that it’s not broken, please?”
“Sure,” he said, struggling to open the taped edge with his bitten nails.
“Thanks, I appreciate that. Imagine if I got home and it was broken, hahaha,” I laughed,
painfully, because I’m British.
“Yeah, imagine! Hahaha,” he laughed, because it’s his job.
“That would be just my luck,” I said.
“Yeah, the start of your 7 years of bad luck!”
My face must have changed because his did too.
“Look, it’s not broken,” he said, marking the perfect surface with his greasy fingertips.
“Amazing, thank you so much,” I said, wishing I could swap it for an unmarked one, but it was too late and that would be too awkward and I was already sick of this man and his fingers and he hadn’t even touched me.
I told him to save the trees and not print a receipt.
I walked home and took the mirror out of the box.
It was cracked. The 5th broken mirror of 2018.

And thus began my 35 years of bad luck.
I shan’t complete 7 on this earth,
and don’t intend on bringing the outstanding with me,
but it would be just my luck if it transpires that even the dead can be unlucky.

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life, poetry, prosetry

all i’ve ever known is true

Suppose life is just one big missed connection and post an awkward public notice to the young man inside.

I saw you walking down the uneven sidewalk on Tuesday night with your head hung low and hands in your pockets, exhibiting all the telltale signs of dejection and I wanted to offer something vaguely inspiring like sometimes there’s nothing to say so do what you can and trust your voice. Past action is the best indicator of future behavior, or so I recall when it’s convenient. Mentality is what mentality does and doesn’t that sound armchair rationalist. I know you didn’t ask—you didn’t even see me—but mine’s forever somewhere between gathering and telling and there’s a self-addressed open envelope on the drafting table with an undated note inside that says something Wittgensteinian that you might’ve once written like look, without explanation, without trying to remember the words, and try trusting that you’ll find the feeling and they’ll come together to form meaning that is free of fear or self-approbation. And maybe one day you’ll be lucky and cursed enough to lay like James Wright in a hammock at William Duffy’s farm in Pine Island, Minnesota when he realized he’d wasted his life and you’ll know you’ve wasted yours if this message ceases to reach you.

Post it, and see who responds.

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poetry

All Roads Lead To Seven Sisters (3 + 3.5)

All Roads Lead To Seven Sisters (1)

All Roads Lead To Seven Sisters (2)

(3)

One day when I walk the Seven Sisters Road
alone, I will see everyone
that I have ever known, and everyone that I
will ever meet in my various little lives
they’ll all combine and line
the street, here, where inertia
grows on trees, where a boy got killed
over a just-shy gram of coke, where the inhabitants
are broke but the system is broker, where I saw my
third dead body in the back of a Vauxhall Nova,
where Papa carried me to the football on his
denim-clad shoulders, my story will be laid out clear
for me here, for this, this is home
and it will always be
but I’ve got a long way to go
to get to where I’m meant to be.

(3.5)

Whenever I went down there
You would always say,
“Try not to get stabbed!”
It had always been a very real possibility
But now it’s no longer funny.

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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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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

Span

Maybe one day we’ll meet and neither of us will know what to say for no reason other than. It’ll sound like the weaponization of awkwardness, imagined future meeting imagined present, imagining all those incomplete sentences and overanalyzed gestures, till I go and spoil it with answers (I imagine) because I love to believe and love even more to explain—at least till I go and hate myself for it later—and you cut me off, knowing how things play out, to talk about finding words that are fuller and fewer and sharper and less noisy and I say I tried, answering, exaggerating, for this lifetime I tried, knowing you know better.

You’d roll our eyes, and I’d peculiarly change the subject, or seem to. Chapter V, “Beta, The Disappointed Lover,” I’d say, dangling it out there to speak for me less noisily. It was marked, you’d recall as if on cue, by a folded up printout of Wisława Szymborska’s Nobel address, of all things, and we’d get on about how neither of us remember doing that and about how dragging two Polish poets into this like this is like the start of a joke only Polish poets would find funny. And there I’d be, a little disappointed you didn’t have more answers than I but happy to be on the same page. 111, I think it was.

For now, as I sit in a quiet café across from the presumption of you, I distract myself from thoughts of our little rendezvous with seemingly comparable thoughts of starting a literary magazine out of the blue with a troupe of fringe-dwelling strangers called The Against because sometimes a little carnivalization is better than the silly sum-seeking rum-running of being for something before burying my nose in a worn copy of the Oxford Companion to Music that I got for a few dollars at a summer book fair at this city’s greatest bibliothèque of the humanities for no reason other than that they were there, library and book, and me, full of pent-up irony, as though it might contain answers to questions I don’t yet know I’ll want to ask.

The air outside is cold and the cold outside starts to remind me inside of all the fancy things I thought before I started sticking to the present and ceased to ruminate in caffeine-whiskey pools upon my moony captivation with the lofty side of experience like it was a new neighborhood in a new city I might move to. Laferrière said “the more I try to get close to myself, the more I’m hiding something. There is nothing more fake than real life.” I think I’ll stay here, it’s the only way to get anywhere, speaking of dualities. It’s only life. It’s only everything. I’m only me, now and then. I only stop so often because it’s so hard to begin, but beginning’s like holding an unread book, you just want to carry it around a while, inobjectively, reveling in the elementary allure of possibilities and all their exquisite contradictions.

I close the Companion and look across the small table at your empty chair. Never have I envied you, never have I even feared, only imagined a certain oneness, a wholeness of experience of the sort they say we find in sickness, in violence, in the invasive presence of others, in words.

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prosetry

Insight

The blind old gypsy man grabbed my arm as I walked past and said quietly, “You’re in pain.” I said, “How d’you know that?” avoiding looking into his milk-glazed eyes, and he replied with a wry smile, “Anyone can see you’re suffering. It’s obvious to a blind man.

His friend across the table said to me in a broad accent, “Why? What happened to you, girl?” The blind man and I replied at the same time. I said, “Nothing.” He said, “Everything.

Several seconds passed and it was as if the earth had got stuck on its axis, skipping on its turntable, the same intense moment fluttering on repeat before lurching forward to where it’s supposed to be. The old boy dropped my arm and I scuttled away, trying to shake off the sensation of what felt like a snake writhing up my spine.

In the safety of the ladies toilets I stared at my reflection in the dirty mirror, seeing myself with my own eyes looking at my eyes with my eyes. Was I that obviously broken? How can it be that those closest to me with perfect eyesight couldn’t see how much I was hurting, but this blind stranger could? I thought then of the old saying that the eyes are the window to the soul and then thought about why I always wear sunglasses, even when it’s dark, even when it’s raining. I always thought it was because I didn’t want people to see that I’m drunk or hungover, but maybe it’s because I don’t want anyone to see my pain, maybe I don’t want anyone to know me. For reasons that I couldn’t quite grasp I felt certain that that encounter would go down as one of those highly significant, if not pivotal moments in my life. I wanted to talk to this man some more. No, I didn’t want to: I needed to. I had so many questions. Too many.

I rushed back out to the floor but his table was empty. There was no sign of his friend either. Just an empty whisky tumbler and the frothy remains of a Guinness dripping down the inside of its glass. I pushed past the crowd at the bar, out the door and onto the street. I looked up, down, across the road, frantic. There was nothing, there was no one. It was as if they’d vanished.

I haven’t seen the blind old gypsy man since, but I can still feel the weight of his bony, weathered hand imprinted on the skin of my left forearm, its peculiar temperature that was neither warm nor cool, his grip so surprisingly heavy, saturated with a lifetime of wisdom, the gentle squeeze that said, “I know you,” and the fingertips that said, “I know.” And I know for sure that that strange old gypsy man is the only living being on this earth that truly knows me.

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