art, life, prosetry

On Writing & Suffering

Pain depends on me to be its host:
suffering is the needy child,
and I’m the parent who never says no.

*

As long I write, the pain is necessary. If I stop, the pain becomes unnecessary, pointless, all for nothing apart from what it is, which is inherently bad. I am a hostage, and if I stop transforming the pain into something better I will essentially be throwing away all chance of survival: I will not make it out alive, merely allowing myself to become another casualty of a sinister, seemingly unstoppable higher power who tortures me daily even though I have nothing to reveal, nothing it wants, nothing it needs. The pain becomes sheer cruelty with no objective other than to destroy me. As long as I write, I stave it off, I delay my death day. The narcissist in me likes to think that my torturer is secretly looking forward to reading what I write next.

*

I don’t invite the badness but once the pain decides to stay, it becomes hard to turn it away. The pain of unhooking it from my skin is enough of a deterrent. Easier to let it stay: less bloody that way. So I turn it into something else – something creative, perhaps even something beautiful, or helpful. I try to, anyway.

*

I’ve been given a life sentence.
I’ve been punished, blacklisted, labelled evil.
But it’s not me. It’s not me.
I’m not the villain.
It’s my mind!
My mind is the guilty one.
I’m not the evil one, my brain is!

My decisions are not mine to make.
My actions are not mine to take.

Everyone called it “attempted suicide” but it wasn’t,
it was attempted murder, my mind tried to kill me,
it was my mind, it was my mind, not me!
My mind is the one that did it!
Why can’t you see?
Don’t you believe me?
I have proof.

*

And the evil things that it does to me, all that badness, I try desperately to turn it into something creative, into words on a page. All of these filled notebooks, all of these poems, all of these scraps of paper: the proof. The proof. The proof that I have suffered for two decades, against my will.

*

Writing feels to me like an attempt to prove my innocence. They all have me down as guilty and I’m stuck on death row. My execution date is drawing ever nearer and writing is my last ditch attempt to prove my innocence. It feels like gathering evidence from the confines of my cell and presenting it to my unsympathetic lawyer:

Look.
Look at how I’ve been tortured and beaten and terrorised.
See?
Look at all these years of misery.
You’ve got to listen to me.
I deserve to be free.
I’ve done nothing wrong.
My mind made me do it, made me do all of it, and all of the stuff that I didn’t do, too. They’ve got it all wrong.
Look at all this pain.
Look at it.
LOOK AT IT.

But it’s too late. I myself have been forgotten, and only ever remembered as mad, sad, bad. I stay locked in my cell, sharing a skull with the real danger, a bed with the real monster. I swallow my pills and eat my greens and am polite to those unfortunate souls whose jobs have led them to encounter me, the ones that are always unable or unwilling to help me, the ones who have written me off as mad, sad, bad, bad, bad. I play sudoku and collect smiles of pity. I keep writing and suffering, collecting my evidence. I suffer and I write, night after night after merciless night.

*

I dream of my grave and always smile when I see it. You dream of your name in lights, I dream of mine engraved on a marble headstone. Sometimes it says I died in 2008, sometimes 2015. It varies. The stone is always clean, polished. Someone’s been looking after it. Lush green grass has always grown over me perfectly, evenly, even beautifully; the first true natural equilibrium that has ever befallen me. The world is a better place. I smile until it hurts my face.

Upon waking from my latest grave dream, I reach for the box of evidence that is stowed under my bed. I unlock the box for the first time in a long time, so long in fact that I almost forget where I’d hidden the keys. Starting in 2003, I begin to read. Even though it is my own story, I am shocked at what I read. Look at all this pain. Look at all this trauma. Look at all this sadness. Look at all this writing. Look at all this suffering. Look at it. “Look,” I say to no one. “LOOK.”

*

My biggest regret is taking myself for granted. Appreciate your intelligence, your personality, your abilities, your beauty. You may wake up one day and find that your own brain has decided to take all of your goodness away.

 

 

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life, poetry

Crash

In the split second / Before we crashed

I finally discovered / What it feels like / To be alive.

It is a peculiar existence / For those of us

Who only feel alive / When on the cusp of death.

In the minute / Before we crashed

He took off his seatbelt off.

He was not afraid of death / For he was alive / And he knew it.

He had lived for a long time / And had been alive all the while.

Death can do a lot of things / But it can’t undo

All that living.

And Death knows it.

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prosetry

Smiles

​I stepped outside and you were right there, ground to a halt at the zebra crossing, left hand gripping the wheel, right arm slung casually out of the open window. Our eyes met for a moth’s wing-beat of a moment and then my legs stopped working. My lungs seized within their ivory cage; my skin recoiled, terrified, clinging on to its muscle beneath, trying desperately to appear less on fire than it actually was. You were so close that I could touch you. You looked the same: as before, as always. I looked unusually good, even better than you’d remembered: this excellent coincidence confirmed my suspicion that God is female.

Instead of speeding off, you stayed put, and everything around me came to a standstill. I looked in every direction apart from yours and yet all I could see was you. Without even looking, your face was all that I could see. I fell in love with you with my eyes closed in the first place, after all. You were smiling at me; you were happy to see me. It wasn’t your old smile though, the one I have chalked on the wall of my skull. This smile was heavy, so fucking heavy, anchored down by heartbreak and regret and shame. For the first time in some months, we were breathing the same air as one another. But this air was hot and stale, saturated with the vicissitudes of nostalgia. The memories that we had so carefully created and curated fell from the open sky and smothered us, a fusillade of love and pain and love and hate and love and loss and love.

You were waiting for me to acknowledge you: with a wave, with a smile, with a middle finger, anything. And I’m sorry, I’m sorry that I ignored you but my heart was being fed through a paper shredder and I didn’t want you to see me suffer, or rather, see me still suffering because of you, tragic and dismissible like a half-mangled fox dying by the side of the road. It would’ve been kinder of you to run me over, to put me out of my misery. That would have hurt less than it did to see you smile.

I realise now after all these years that that smile you wore was saying “I’m sorry” but, back then, I didn’t want to hear it so it fell on deaf ears. Now I want to listen to all you have, to all you are, to all you have become without me. We are older but none the wiser. Love is love, no matter the style of our smiles.

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art, poetry

Bouquets

I keep on trying to say
goodbye
but flowers
won’t stop blooming between
my teeth,

So I’ve found myself
a florist
who carries no pieces
of you.

Now
I don’t need the bars
across my bedroom
windows,

Nor take care
not to step on
shattered ego.

And she
doesn’t hold her broken heart
to my throat

Or
chase happiness
down freeways.

Instead,
she dances to jazz
and braids my flowers
into her hair,
believing
that they grew
for her.

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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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prosetry

The Eclectic Lucozade Acid Test

I woke up in an unfilled grave; you were licking the morning dew off my face and I thought it was 1953.


A wise man once told me, “Never write about your trips,” in the same way that people say you should never write about your dreams, because no one was there, no one would understand, no one cares and (no matter how precise your descriptions or how excellent your storytelling) no one will ever see what you saw in the way that you want them to see it. And this will ultimately frustrate you, and force the words, “You had to have been there,” to pour out of your mouth before you’ve had the chance to cram them back in. Then you sound like an utter dick and it’s too late and nothing good has been achieved. But then, I argued, what the hell did Kesey build a career on? The wise man was silenced. I wrote notes about my trips.


FRIDGE-FREEZER

We went to the construction site/fly-tipping spot behind the pub. It was dark but Venus followed us, the eye in the sky. There was an abandoned fridge-freezer laying pathetically on its side. We opened the doors and were disappointed that there was nothing exciting inside. We wanted there to be a suitcase of money or a severed head or a gun or a baby. Instead there were only some crisp packets, empty bottles, old newspapers and a used condom. The disappointment on my face must have been palpable. You took off your boot and produced a pack of tabs from underneath your insole. “Classy,” I said, while you hopped about. “You game?” “Always.” I stood on the fridge so I was eye-level with you. You balanced a tab on the tip of your index finger and said, “To fathom hell or soar angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelic.” “I already know hell,” I said. “Well then, you’ve got nothing to fear, my little angel.” You put the tab on my tongue and we were off.


MOVE

Some general merriment ensued, we went back to the pub and drank tequila, there was an incident at the kebab shop, then we carried on drinking at the working man’s club and I beat you at pool but then things around me started to move so we made a move.


TAKE ME TO CHURCH

Remember those evil gargoyles at the church? How they were alive but couldn’t leave their perch, and one of them spat at you? They wouldn’t let us in the church: we weren’t welcome there, we were too bad. They snarled and clawed until we were out of sight. I remember we counted, and there were 12 of them, 3 guarding each corner. We seriously pissed them off. I’m surprised they didn’t eat us alive. I went past that church last week and it doesn’t have any gargoyles. It’s not even remotely Gothic in style. Also, it only has one clock face, not 10. But there were definitely 12 gargoyles. Or perhaps it was the tequila.


MR. GANESH

By the church it started to rain. The rain hurt me. The drops were hitting me and going through my skin, then either coming out the other side of my arm or staying inside my body. Like acid rain dissolving a statue. It wasn’t horrific but it hurt and I didn’t like it.

We ducked into Mr Patel’s corner shop. He said, “I’m just about to close,” and you said, “We just need orange Lucozade. Not the red one, the orange one. It has to be the orange one. I need it. It’s very important,” and I said I only needed cigarettes and a purple Ribena. “Very well,” said Mr Patel. Behind the counter stood Mr Patel, and behind Mr Patel there was a colourful, A4-sized poster of Ganesh. I don’t know how but suddenly the two beings merged. On the poster was Mr Patel’s shrunken head on Ganesh’s body, and Mr Patel was handing me my smokes but his head was Ganesh’s elephant head wearing a magnificent gold crown. “Anything else?” asked Mr Patel from inside the poster. “No,” I said cautiously, passing a tenner to the life-size Ganesh who was standing behind the counter, wearing Mr Patel’s clothes. I said to the poster, “Mr Patel, you are a God amongst men,” and he chuckled in the way that he always does and told me to clear off and stay out of trouble.


HOME

The rain stopped and after we walked for what felt like two years, we got to the cemetery halfway down the hill. We were welcomed there with open arms. I remember you saying, “We’re home!” and grabbing my hand, and your palms were cold and sweaty but I couldn’t have let go even if our lives depended on it. The trees knew our names and the dark clouds kept us warm – we wore the sky like a cloak, draped around our shoulders, billowing behind us as we played among the graves.


INSTALLATION

We wandered around the oldest graves but I knew that there were no bodies there. I explained to you my theory, that these crumbling graves were actually an elaborate art installation that had probably been created by a local artist only last week because they knew we were coming to this cemetery, they knew that we would come home eventually. Because people always go home, eventually. “This is just an outdoor art gallery, not a burial site,” I told to you, with absolute conviction. You bought it, of course.


CHIMES

Lots of graves have little decorations but the infant cemetery has plenty. It seemed like there were at least one hundred wind chimes on each tiny grave. They were loud, the only thing we could hear, but not in a deafening or annoying way: the sound was just beautiful. Those gentle chimes dancing in the breeze played for us a lullaby, written, performed and orchestrated by the stars in heaven. I have never heard a sound so pure and I doubt I ever will again. It was truly a magical set of sounds. I lay back on an old brick wall and your drummed your fingers on my rib cage, playing me like a xylophone, accompanying the clinks of the chimes, in harmony, so heavenly.

We heard wind chimes following us around for weeks after. But, in reality, when the colours have dulled and your shoulders have regained all that weight they’d lost and you’ve repossessed your worries and cynicism, the twinkling of wind chimes just makes one think of baby-sized coffins and dead children. (You got me a wind chime for my birthday: I daren’t hang it up).


KISSES

You kissed my skin all over but it was the most asexual thing. There was absolutely no lust or love in this closeness, there was no suggestion or motive, it was kissing in its most basic form: simply placing your mouth on me. You said I tasted like vanilla custard, “proper, bright yellow custard,” you said, “not lumpy school-dinner custard.” My mouth tasted full of fizz. Not champagne or soda or sherbet, but the sound of fizzing. That was it: all I could taste was the sound of fizz. Time for another tab.


THE BIRDS

Your hair felt like feathers. I wondered if you’d been a bird in a past life. I guessed you were a game bird, a grouse or pheasant. You said, “Maybe that’s why I’m so passionately anti-guns.” At the time that was the most profound thing I’d ever heard. Now we laugh about it.

Above the wind chimes but below the blanket sky, was a murder of crows. We discussed how excellent that collective noun is, along with a parliament of owls, an unkindness of ravens and an ostentation of peacocks. Corvidae are my favourite group of birds by far, and I have always felt an affinity toward them. These crows were so very powerful. They did not seem sinister or ominous at all, rather they were our guardians, our protectors. We knew that nothing bad could happen to us under the watch of the crows. They were truly superior in every sense, majestic even, and we felt enormous respect for them. We discussed going to the Tower of London to see the ravens but the last train had been and gone. Suddenly I saw yeomen warders hopping about the cemetery in their full regalia, picking at the grass for worms, coins and stale bread. All of their faces were the same, like the archetypal beefeater carbon copied to create exact clones – like whatever you’d imagine a beefeater to look like, that’s what they looked like, times ten. They didn’t bother us at all. But they wouldn’t have, not with their masters circling above us. In a fantastic turning of the tables, the yeomen were bottom of the pecking order.


REALITY

After this I lost a few hours. I can’t remember anything noteworthy. I know that it got very cold and that we went to sleep in an empty grave. Upon waking the next morning, I knew it was 1953. I have never been so sure of anything in my life, until I climbed out of the grave and wandered around. If it weren’t for the twos and ohs on the headstones jolting me back to reality, I wouldn’t have known any different, and I did, for a very slight moment, think we may have woken up in the future. My green scarf was discarded a little away from our sleeping place. You saw it and thought it was a snake. You liked it. I let you keep it, as a pet.

We walked down the hill, bedraggled but full of new thoughts, to the cafe for a fry up. We walked in near silence. I took that to mean that your dreams were as unnerving and terrifying as mine were, and weren’t something to be discussed for fear of bringing the other one down. Or maybe you didn’t dream at all. But anyway, a wise man once told me to never write about your dreams. So I’ll leave it at that.

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