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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poetry

L’appel du vide dit

Sympathy

Remains for burial

Zipped in black

Who comes to vouch then

Our misdeeds

Finally earn their napkin passage

I want to tell you

Open yourself 

Let me back

But you are bolted down

Empty of patience

Knowing when to leave

You are covered in oleander petals

Like a bride awaiting the fissure of her maidenhead

Bon voyage little girl

Leave behind your childhood room

All the china dolls you despised with their elegant haunted painted eyes

Under a yellow light attracting flies

Trying to catch up on diary entries half filled

The confessor wears a wagging chin, the judge is a mute 

And this rope will not be strong enough for two

We sit by sea spray electric in timber and soon 

There is no division

Between waiting and being

I can’t cry on demand or be happy, because you need me to be

You bought a faulty part

With your drive-through iced tea

Blessings over family dinner,  ash the crease between my eyes 

Eggshell blue walls

Symbols on concave plates

Sorrow out-stayed her welcome 

Take your wet bills and muddled sums

Away to the sheltering water

Overhead hawks cool in slipstream

Marveling the fresh note of deep current

Deceptively calm on jade surface

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art, fiction

The Hung-Man’s Bottle Cap

She sat there, social as a dead butterfly, bending beer bottle caps in half.

“Why are you doing that?” I asked.

She paused, ruminated over the words “Miller High Life,” then responded.

“When I can’t do this anymore, I will hang myself.”

“What if you break your fingers?” I said, smirking.

“Then, it will be a loose knot,” she replied, without humor.

I laughed–tried to. I picked up a cap; gave it a squeeze.

“Ouch.” It dropped. We both looked at it, she looked up at me.

I frowned. “I’m not going to hang myself!”

She shrugged, looking rather disappointed.

 

 

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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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poetry

On Pierre Molinier

H1118-L82400142

When you were called a radical

surrealism gave you the verb

wet mouthed with halitosis

a curse and a burn in optic

did it unleash the retina wolf?

seducing good in squirm and fetish

can a mask disguise your longing for repulsion?

duplicated pieces of man touching themselves

are you suspended in gory sepia

voyeurs blowing out candles on masticating cake

and if you raped your sister when she lay

dead and cold and if you slept with your daughter

when she said papa please papa don’t

is it any wonder you orchestrate your death

with pretension and the anus of the world

a specter in gruesome sin-eater

is this not what we love

and loathe

about art?

when do we become

as depraved as the sweating thought

enticing us to drop our boundaries

for one more layer of blancmange ?

Image: http://www.invaluable.co.uk/auction-lot/pierre-molinier-1900-1976-jean-meunier-:-portrait-175-c-7ff4005a3d

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fiction, prosetry

Part 2 – The Scarecrow

[READ PART 1 HERE]

 

The field did not know how to survive without the farmer. She tried to remember all of the things that the farmer had taught her but she was worried that she wasn’t remembering his words quite right or that she’d make a mistake and let the farmer down. She tried desperately to absorb the constant rain, to turn it into something good, to use it to nurture any good thoughts of hers but it flooded her instead. She thought that she might drown in her own tears.

But there was somebody who wanted to help the field, to blow all of the clouds away, to look after her and encourage her to be brilliant again. This somebody had admired the field from afar for a while and he had lost his own farmer too, a couple of years back. This somebody was a scarecrow. He knew how to survive without a farmer and explained to the field that he wanted to protect her. The scarecrow thought that she was very special and beautiful, and told the field that she didn’t have to feel alone anymore.

The field wasn’t too sure about this scarecrow: he told her that he had never looked after a field as magical as her before, but that he was “big and ugly enough to take care of the both of them.” And since he was named after her farmer’s favourite musician, the field took this as a good omen and agreed to let the scarecrow help her.

And he did help the field. He helped her every way that he could.

When it rained, the scarecrow would run around the field putting out buckets and pots and pans and opening up hundreds of colourful umbrellas so that the field would be dry. But this meant that the scarecrow got wet and his straw was all damp. Who was there to protect him? Perhaps this job isn’t as easy as the scarecrow had first thought. But he grew to love the field more with each passing day and so he stayed, through rain and shine, through pain and light.

But just as the field started getting better, then came the rodents. They hid around the field, gnawing away at whatever goodness that the field produced. The scarecrow chased lots of them away, but the field was still hurt, covered in bite marks. The scarecrow kissed her wounds but the field didn’t think that she deserved his kisses because she felt so sad and useless and ugly.

Then one afternoon a gang of vultures began circling the field. The field was scared. She told the vultures to go away, that she didn’t want them around her, that she had nothing left to give them, that they had picked away at all of the remaining confidence and hope that she had secretly stored away in her head. But they swooped down into the field, searching for the snakes that the farmer’s wife had released and any rodents that the scarecrow hadn’t managed to chase away.

The field was so frightened, she screamed and screamed for the scarecrow. But the scarecrow didn’t see why the field was so upset. He couldn’t see any vultures. The field was bleeding but the scarecrow could not understand how or why. The sky was clear, no birds, no clouds, no lightning and yet the field was destroyed – how could this be?

He had never had to look after a field this dangerous or difficult before. He loved the field very much but how could he protect her from something that he couldn’t even see?

A few weeks later, the field had healed. But she still lived in fear of the vultures returning. She no longer expected the scarecrow to protect her although she liked having him around. It was nice to have somebody to share the odd chunk of sunshine with. And the scarecrow didn’t seem to mind too much because once the rain had stopped, his clothes and straw would always dry out under the warmth of the field’s golden heart.

But the field had a secret. She knew that there was an unexploded landmine under the ground right between her heart and the spot where the scarecrow stood. She knew that she should tell the scarecrow to run away to somewhere safe. But she was scared to be alone again.

Every time he ran around the field trying to save her from rain and rodents and snakes and lightning, she held her breath. Each time she tried to pluck up the courage to tell him about the bomb, she remembered how he hadn’t believed her about the vultures trying to kill her, so why would he believe her about the bomb that might kill the both of them? And anyway, she didn’t want him to worry about their future for no good reason.

On the days where the field felt so sad and lonely, and felt that she couldn’t live without the farmer, she thought about the bomb in her belly and knew that if she wanted to she could make all of the rain stop once and for all. But that would mean hurting the scarecrow too, and the farmer would be angry and disappointed in the field for giving up.

Oh, she wished more than ever that she could ask the farmer what to do. She smiled at the kind and loving scarecrow and knew that she was very lucky to have him. And then she saw the pack of vultures overhead…


Featured image: Fracture/Fractura by Lia Cruz [source]
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prosetry

The Suggestion

“You seriously need to take a step back, and have a good look at your life – all of it.”

Any friendliness that was buried within this suggestion was annihilated by the forcefulness of his tone. This was not an innocent idea, this was one of his sick commands. Any good intentions he harboured in telling me to examine my past vanished the moment the suggestion left his lips, the moment his thought became real.

He should have kept this suggestion tethered to a post inside the confines of the heavily-guarded prison of his mind, along with all the other things he thinks about me, the thoughts which will never become real because they will never see daylight, because he will never voice them.

He knows how dangerous it is for me to go back, to look to the past and revisit all those things, the people, the places. He is fully aware of the risk involved in me dredging up the things that I worked so hard to forget. Retrospective reflection may well trigger the end of me. He knows that. So why would he encourage me to remember the forgotten? How could he suggest such a thing?

I decide that his intentions for me in voicing this idea can only be bad. I decide that his half-asking/half-telling suggestion stems from his desire to watch me fall apart. Being a spectator of my cataclysmic undoings is his favourite pastime. And besides, it’s been a while.

I don’t trust him but I have no choices left. He never gives me any choices. So I take him literally and step back from the cliff edge. I do not want to turn around and face him, I don’t want to see his face in case I fall in love with it again. I focus my eyes forward and look at the almost-perfect line where the grey sea slaps the tangerine sky.

But although I am looking forward, I have already begun looking back. The unravelling of my progress has commenced. He knows that he lives in every crevice of my past. He knows that eventually I will have to face him. I hear him smile. It’s a winning smile. He knows that he will be the death of me.

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