The Actor

One morning while cutting a roll of canvas she nearly stabbed herself in the stomach. But the tears wouldn’t come, the best she could do was a whimper that tasted of bile, so that after a few minutes she gave up. The city was quieter in the morning and all she could see was the wall outside with its stripped and flayed orange brick, standing like a blank lonely outpost. No one in the windows opposite who saw the slip and caught her eye, raising their eyebrows and mouthing a relieved cursory celebration. She knew, however, that the perpetually dusty steps on the street in front would be occupied, as they had been every day since she and Trevor had been living there, by the same people who sat fanning themselves over never-ending games of cards with crumpled packets of sherbet lemons acting as bets.

The heavy scissors had missed and left a small gash in the rug she was kneeling on, and a barely noticed streak on the wooden floor underneath.

Her room was dark, with only a sliver of the blue sky trailing cirrus light into it. Oona had no furniture, just a lumpy mattress under a bright navy throw painted over with planet-like flowers and a few large grey suitcases which she used as desks. The boundaries of the room were mapped in the curved surfaces of mellifluous glasses of water that she used for painting, and plastic grocery bags with upbeat cursive writing on them.

She sat looking with her mouth pursed at the line where the scissors had sliced the canvas. Slightly mutinous, because it seemed that her hands had failed her even though she had done this thousands of times before, and she could direct one to her closet, where several paintings stood leaning with their faces towards the wall in sullen proof. She then trimmed it carefully, and mounted it onto a wooden frame which had a powdery tinnitus smoothness which now gave way to the white of the canvas. It gleamed like a possessed thing. Her eyes began to water.

Every time she cut a new piece of canvas she worried that she had forgotten how to paint, had lost the ability to think of things apart and things to paint, her hands might freeze, something changing, her voice and tongue and eyes rolling up and the suppressed unctuous writhing fizzing thing would come pouring out from inside her and make her convulse. The most blissful thing to do now would be to draw the door, the window, the narrow closet, over and over and to mechanically replicate every detail exactly so that something dependable solid visible might emerge. Nothing new came to her.

She heard the crackle of the butter as it hit and laced the bottom of the pan in the kitchen and re-arranged herself, inexplicably conscious as if he could see her through the door. Trevor was awake. He hiccupped and she tasted the vinegar at the back of her throat, instantly regretting it when she felt her lip curl behind the closed door. Fried eggs, and then bacon, two eggs for him, she counted unconsciously, two for her, no bacon for her and a rasher for him. These sounds had animated their mornings every day for the past twenty six years. There would be dried egg white crusted on the stove. She put the lids back onto the jars of paints. They left rings of yellow and red on the floor.

Sometimes she felt it, a warm rush of attention down the spine. It is enough to be winged for a moment. And then her world would dwindle to the room and the flat and to Trevor, who knew her name.

The water ran very slowly in their bathroom, her hands lying over the fine down on her thighs which smelled always of Trevor’s ablutions, because the only time she thought of the softness of the down was when she was here, surrounded by his smell which was so much more comforting; the possibility of him against the man himself. Often she would think about their life together, and usually she would land on a hazy variation of their marriage being a decades long spasm of their eventual separation, that was the end that she was convinced of and so along with the real Trevor she had willed phantom Trevors into existence. She could never decide precisely why, she supposed it was natural to dream, and in optimistic moments she decided that it was to hope, but in more truthful moments – when she was away from him – she knew that it was for convenience. Which is why she placidly put on her dress for work every day, buttoning it all the way to the top, and stood in front of the mirror. Soft, curved haze, not quite lines or edges, her body seemed to her to fade into the surroundings. She felt drab and shabby.

Outside the kitchen was one long lip of smoke. She could taste the fat on the air. Trevor glanced up and back.

‘Yours is on the table.’

‘Oh, it looks great, thanks, Trevor!’

‘Mmm. I use the right sort of pepper,’ he said. Slightly nastily, she thought.

‘I didn’t even know there were different kinds. You’re so good with these things.’ A high, fluttery laugh.

‘Oh, don’t leave the washing up until you’re back from work, I hate when the sink fills up.’

‘I’ll be back a bit later tonight.’

‘Sorry for interfering with your social life.’

‘Did you talk to your friend?’

‘About what?’

‘About the house we looked at.’

‘I’d have told you if something came up. Dave’s busy.’

‘Too busy to talk? You know, it’s fine if you don’t want to leave.’

‘You always leave the sponge soaking, it smells.’

‘You can wring it out yourself; we don’t want stagnation in the flat, do we.’

‘Everyone can’t be as passionate and free spirited as you, can they?’

The eggs beamed a ghoulish grin of yellow on greasy white.

This exchange wasn’t unusual, and they ate in silence. She was quiet and still, deliberately not letting any hint of anticipation slip, and the restraint was something physical and sweetly painful. She was going to a performance tonight, an actor was going to read from an unpublished play, and she had been planning for it for months. She and Trevor had gone to watch one of his films after an argument over his misplaced notepad and she had walked away from it in a daze, her hand held limply in his.

‘I know I forgot where I put it but you shouldn’t have thrown it on the sofa like that, you know.’

‘What?’ She felt winded.

‘The notebook. You can be so dismissive, so you found it, that doesn’t mean you should throw things around. It’s unpleasant.’

‘Oh. Yes. I didn’t mean to.’

‘I know. It’s all right.’

Trevor smiled at her, condescending, guarded, expectant. He was so sure. Sometimes she would try to feel him under that certainty and at those times she realised that she didn’t know him at all although she would tell herself that she did. After all this time. Was it her, was she naturally ‘womanly’ and unstable enough to make him climb under that shell?

She walked down the steps to the street, past the card-players, and the fronts of buildings balanced upon a hinge opposite each other seemed to close on her, and she often hoped that what they hid from her was like the honeycombed inside of a pomelo amidst lichen stained walls cascading down over New York; skyscrapers rising with light at their centres in a relentless movement like a carpet of hundreds of spherical crystals moving as one, bubbles floating up in glasses of water, people with their voices weaving reverberations, and a salty sinewy foam net of windows with rows of plants spilling onto the sills, dogs on leashes on the streets beneath, and buskers over whom sonorous planes sped past anonymously.

The glimmering weight of the leaves shifting like water beyond the granite straight arris of the building which she would have to touch to make real to feel the grain and how different it is from the grain on her canvas, the fact of the touch is like a sensation of passing and in her head it is a stroke on the white. Rows of windows and doors curved away in front of her in a purple black series of serrations. The sound of leaves fluttering, chirping like insects with the ridged edges running across each other like teeth, car tyres held frenzied in place, cupping the indeterminate electric hum characteristic of a large city.

A group of nuns glided past, somewhat shocking in their presence outside in the sunshine on a busy street. They excited her, the pious sartorial choices under which she imagined herself, wearing a bold yellow dress. A wasp. Trevor made appearing pretty into a fraught terrain, she didn’t know when it had happened but she realised one day that he resented her making herself up to go out. It amused her at first, then irritated her and finally drove her to subterfuge.

Abi was standing outside the store, smoking a cigarette, as Oona walked over. The name of the chemist was displayed in soothing menthol green above the silver bordered front.

‘My dog isn’t feeling very good.’

‘What’s wrong with him? Is it still his ear?’

Abi dropped her cigarette and kicked it around on the pavement.

‘No. I don’t know.’

‘Oh dear. That’s not easy.’

Abi glanced up at her and Oona found herself fiddling with the hangnail on her left forefinger. How sympathetic was she expected to be? Then Abi smiled and took her arm and they walked into the store together in their matching dull green uniforms. This was unexpectedly warm.

There were two other people who worked in the store with her, a girl at university working part time – Dee, who set alarms and timers for things without actually paying attention to them, talking on phone, moving when alone, a pimply cleaner, and Abi the supervisor.

She went into the awkward curve of the till counter and pinned a nametag to the front of her dress.  The other girl who worked at the store was already at her counter, right in front of Oona. Dee’s fingers played impatiently on the lined metal edge as she turned the display on. Her phone vibrated. ‘Yes, I know,’ she mumbled to it. She often carried a half conscious dialogue with the seemingly spontaneous outbursts of her phone.

‘How are you, Dee?’

‘Snowed under, I’ve taken on another part-time job and I barely have time to go to class. How was your weekend?’

‘Well-‘

‘Hang on, it’s only about two minutes to opening time so I’ll set an alarm.’

‘Oh, what a good idea.’

She tapped away at her phone and then put it to one side with an expectant smile at Oona.

‘One of my friends put up their stuff for an exhibition on Friday and Saturday and I thought of you. Are you working on anything new?’

‘That sounds very nice. Where was it?’

Dee waved a hand and rolled her eyes. ‘Nowhere real. It was just him being vain. But tell me what you’re working on.’

Oona shifted. ‘Nothing at the moment, I haven’t felt like painting.’

The alarm on Dee’s phone went off and she turned it off impatiently.

‘Why not?’

‘I don’t know, people just don’t seem to like my work very much.’

‘Who’ve you shown them to?’

‘Just a few friends.’ Her old geography teacher.

Dee looked at her, mouth slowly curving into a smile.

‘I know just what you mean. I want to be discovered, too.’ She was leaning forward, hoops swinging, eyes wide and shining and her clear voice which sounded like it had never been ignored.

Oona’s forehead creased.

‘I didn’t mean it like that. But you’re probably right.’

‘I know I am. You know, you should let me buy you make-up, my sister bought it for me and now I don’t even like going out of the house without it. You’ll see, it’s such a boost to your confidence.’

She smiled at her and turned away. Oona ran a finger over the knob of bone on her wrist repeatedly as a woman with her two children came up to the counter. She put two large bottles of cough syrup down and began fidgeting with her purse while trying to hold both her children’s hands at once.

And it was over. Oona drummed a tattoo with her fingers as Abi came over to lock the till and Dee stepped away quietly, different and dimmed now.

She took her bag out from under the counter as Abi ushered her out of the way. The bathroom was at the very back of the store behind a door with an unreliable handle. She took off her dress and pulled on a thick blue jumper with a high collar and a pair of black slacks. They were slightly more transparent than she had imagined, and the pale skin showed up in a smoky grain. The jumper came down to just above her knee. She felt ridiculous suddenly, inadequately dressed, far too youthful. She took out a roll of lipstick from her purse and applied it carefully. The door swung open as Abi came in.

‘Look at you, you look like a little girl!’ She laughed and then caught herself. ‘You look lovely, where are you going?’

‘Just dinner.’

‘Ah. Tell Trevor I said hi.’

‘I will, Abi. And don’t worry too much.’

Abi touched her shoulder and then went into the stall.

The sky outside was rushed and tumbled and wide, wisps of clouds indenting it like the smooth bumps of citrus peel, the street could disappear, open itself and fold the other way like wings, and they could all be bewildered by a windswept desert with coiled rocks and grass rolling in its wisps. Sometimes she took different, smaller streets so that she could feel herself navigating the city and then arriving somewhere. She didn’t feel invisible, almost the opposite, she felt that her transience was normal here.

As she passed a trio of boys standing by a bus stop, one of them bending to flip his long hair over as the other two scrutinised it, she heard a sound. No, she wasn’t sure what she heard or even if she did hear anything at all, but she turned her head with a preternatural instinct and saw her. There was a gap between two buildings leading to an enclosed courtyard with a waxy concrete floor and high sides.

A woman was crossing the courtyard and there was something about her that unsettled Oona. She was very old, and folded upon herself, a scarf tied around her head in a large triangle and a misshapen woollen patched shawl spread over her shoulders, out of the folds of which she gripped a basket with a tiny dog in it. But what she was doing could not be called walking, the closest word Oona could think of to describe it was grating with all the noise and associations of the word setting off sibilant little sparks against the oily sheen of the ground and the soft trembling folds of flesh hanging from the woman’s face. There was nobody else in the courtyard except for her and the staring dog. It occurred to Oona then how human-like dogs were, and she wondered why she had never noticed this before. For the first time she hoped quite seriously that Abi’s dog was all right. This one especially, with its almond shaped eyes and a haughty delicate snout above a hairless mouth, took her back to the dead silences of her parents reading her annual report card from school. It was in the twist of the mouth. When she moved, Oona saw that there were flowers on her shawl.

It began to rain, very gently, streams like colourless hair. There were posters with faces of missing people held damp by tepid fluttering sounds of water, coils of silver foil, an old sodden notepad, and pieces of labels from jam jars lying in the cleft between the pavement and the road. The woman stopped and looked at her, and Oona remembered dimly an evening at the cinema with Trevor, when she had walked to their car as if in a dream. She stood there in the rain. Wearing her shawl made of prized rolls of patterned wool seldom used.

She arrived late at the theatre, the streets were slick with the reflection of the red and gold façade of the building. A few people in dark coats held newspapers over their heads and peered at the programme tacked to the wall. Her hand sketched the air at her side and she felt impatient now, for her empty canvas while walking slowly along the rows of chairs looking for an empty place. She thought of the rain and the courtyard and having to wait longer and longer for inspiration amidst all the grimacing and mincing, and then she scolded herself for being unfair as she found a place to sit.

When he walked onto the stage she saw that he had a transcendent, wonderful face. The smile of very young girls who ran around and stole biscuits during long silent hot crackling summer days; it was a sweet, acidic innocence, fleeting and poised. It was an actor’s smile convinced of the certainty of its world. The air around him thinned and disappeared as he took it all in from a roomful of silent people, who for several motionless moments subsisted not on oxygen air but on him alone, when the limpid cline of the eye seems to slip over the whole face, lips parted in soft wonder when note and light comes together and for a fraction of a second you recognise the moment as it is, in one stroke both as participant and onlooker. And it was like this that she witnessed him – transfixed, fragile, still; struck with the words that he was speaking and the breathing silence of their effect, his face rippling with a multitude of expressions like a mirror to her own. She thought of being in love with him, perhaps she was, had been dreamily for the past few months. She imagined choosing colours for him, the plane, the angle, the cadence, the pressure of the brush, everything, living in the upside down smile that they would share in bed. And then felt the lesser because she needed it so much.

Her hands played around the edges of her jumper. She ran her fingers over the intertwined wool, half listening, half looking. Every now and then he would look around at the audience, as if to find someone, or to collect the impressions that he saw, expressions of boredom or rapture or anywhere in between, or to will himself away. And she moved her head, she tilted it, she pulled the collar of her jumper up to her ears, hoping that this strange behaviour would make her exist for him and lodge this movement in his mind.

Trevor opened bottles which fizzed, popped bags of crisps, moved furniture around in the middle of the night and closed cabinets loudly. He walked with a strange bouncy gait which resounded throughout the flat like the galumphing of some horde. His coat lay over a chair in the living room, the only thing she could call hers was a large bag filled with and a pair of rotting apples. He played music while showering, always dimmed the lights when he left the room. A picture he had hung lovingly on the wall, a collection of fridge magnets arranged in some arcane pattern. She went into his room once when he wasn’t there, tentatively, lip bitten, and stood there and thought about how long it had been since she had seen him, she had forgotten what he looked like. She had never seen this man, not really. She imagined spending mornings together, not just scenic frozen contrivances but gazes, hurried touches, such a world of their own built itself as he spoke. She would have him read to her, this man with his sparkling voice. And there would, perhaps, be affection. He might glance at her while reading, this later more intimate glance an extension of a clear-eyed moment in a darkened room. Something had gone awry and she had woken up to find that she had not done enough, she was suddenly frightened of him, of the desperation that must go hand in hand with his ease, thinking of the hours that had gone into setting his face just right in the mirror, making sure his hands moved convincingly and that his voice flew tight and precise on a wire. It was like something pressing down on her, hands spread over her ribcage, something breaking with the shock of nothing. Language, the pulp, the bare structure, bones, blood, mucous, the sounds that appeared so refined now, suddenly noticed after a long day, imprecise comparatively, blunt and inelegant and visceral – and nothing, with no meaning anymore.

Then it ended and he left. The hall emptied out in disembodied bursts of laughter and the occasional raised voice. She sat in silence. Her hands ached when she thought of the walk back.

From Space to Nothingness

Open that green door into the house

 

A flutter, and my heart with its visceral beat

Blackbirds and fowls running amok

Between the walls like antler velvet

Old oak beams groaning in time to the cobwebs’ string

singing black glossy feathers like comfort and warmth.

 

Come through the battered door, if only I could

I have everything to give, everything shaped

By you, unknown you.

 

The trees are silent in a gnarly golden wood

Floating above a beaten silver water’s edge

melting to sky,

 

And the blue paint chipped pots

Wait on the wooden table

pockmarked with soft red circles in a smoky whitewashed kitchen

I have dreamed of places to fill

And to be

 

It must be nice, it must be nice

To have a landscape loved pooling around

It reminded me of the burgundy shawl flapping

 

Bat like, bad omen, the moon rising steep,

Smoke rising, Vaughan Williams in grey skies, a false note on the river Dee

I see you, Haven.

 

I see myself, too.

If only I could

come home, finally, to pitted wood and

Sweet walnut gravy with caramelised onions

burnt in warm voodoo fires and old ersatz friends

 

The nut filled aroma of pleasant dusk and spat-out violet sparks

And light shining through the foggy day

Into unreal domesticity

It must be nice to have a thing loved,

For I will love you well, even the dead.

 

I have everything now

And all I am is waiting.

 

Day

The street by the house is a frame straight line,

riddled with gaps and fixes filled with water

between now and then and now and when

these puddles lie reflecting rainbow sheen.

I forget nearly always, I forget how it felt

In the spiral of it all, the close coupling of routine,

I forget the lines beneath the skin and the flash of deep sea

The blue lines lying underneath with red

And I find it infinitely easier to remember

them as buildings and objects,

that silver foil stuck to that bench, for instance, that’s you

That red bucket upturned over prickly grass is you.

As darkness falls a memory of suspended water and light

I begin to chase the fog, down the street past the restaurant,

I chase the fog, I run

holding head above water hoping I see clearly

I run through the sky winding flutes, I don’t know where or when

Perhaps happiness breathes its breath in a lifelong meal,

strands dissected and held together over pockmarked breath

But somewhere a burning sun

now, then and when,

surely somewhere a perpetual red burning sun.

tilia_film_4

Paddling

It strikes me that we will never be great

Like those grey dots separated by nothingness

On a flickering screen brighter towards the center.

The world is a tapestry woven




For each of us, to forever hold

Sacred and watch

And watch

And watch




Watch with these frightened eyes,

Frightened of what, we do not yet know.

Watch through tears running down our cheeks

Arising from the crest of the undertow.




This silk drops from a great height,

Travelling through time

Through dust born by gimlet eyed carriers

As the path leads we know not where



And the ripples scatter like ducks over a pond

Even as we cry and hope and laugh and rage,

We raise a gun, and take aim.

 

saskatchewan_duck_hunting

 

I really like the bleakness of cold mornings when people go hunting. I don’t know why. It seems very arborial and antiquated to me – hunter gatherers of the present.

I don’t have a lot to say about this poem, I wrote it just now, so it’s quite clear, I think. The picture is from somewhere in Canada, I wanted a very cold and foggy one of the lake district but I couldn’t find any. It’s a very cinematic shot, it’s so organic and beautiful, and those are geese curving their wings, not ducks.

The more primeval parts of the lake district make me think of Seigfried and the dragon and it’s all very medieval Germany for some reason. Or is it Saxon? I don’t know.

Bide

They make the roads very straight here.

Men pour cement and purple black gravel and flecks of sticky tar,

And these roads, they run into cities under burgeoning black skies on golden

Rollers and golden lights, shining paved and strong.




By the road, by the silver night, the shore of a river

Lies belly-up; brown slick mud exposed like innards

And beyond that on both sides is the dark.

The trees rise rustling black, gaping against the




Light purple edges of the sky

Enclosing a blackness so deep that I have become a seer.

I see pale gold leaves just beginning to bud in the half light

I see dried blue cornflowers glowing faintly




I see pale faces looking out from between the trees.

The gorge falls to me on the other side

In facets of lavender and sapphire and wisps of smoky rock

I smell the lavender as it falls down and it smells sharp and old.




The tears roll down those mute faces.

Did your blue-eyed girl go away? Or was it father, enemy, or friend?

Does it hurt like glass forcing its way through your veins?

The world would be a better place if we bore each other’s pain.




We don’t. 

Do you cry, my invisible friend?

Do you feel?

Do I make you laugh? Do I make you cry?




Lives flash green and sparkling in the dark, running with childlike glee.

On and on they spin, without questions or answers, ensconced in

just a low domestic roar of conversation and cutlery and glasses clinking-

Where is that red warm hand that we all seek?




The horizon lights up in a white heat

as strokes of lightning cut the pale glittering dust of the sky

The ground rolls and shakes like a green wave

And the roads crack.

 

peder_balke-nordlys

 

The illustration I’ve chosen for this piece is by Peder Balke, a 19th century Norwegian painter. He is vastly underrated. He painted the aurora many times, but this is the one painting that I find absolutely mesmerising. It’s in black and white, taking the colours away from a phenomenon that is famously colourful, and because of that it is so true.  They are like curtains of light forming mirages of worlds in the night sky.

There is no aurora borealis in my poem, but it also features a mirage conjured up by the actor of the poem. I had the inspiration for it while on a bridge at night; the bridge looks out to the city on one side and a huge mass of untamed, hilly woodland on the other. A river flows silently underneath. I usually stand on the side of the woodland. As I looked out into the night, I saw colours. It was very dark and it should have been too dark to see anything, but I saw  colours in the trees. They weren’t bright, you understand, just subtle shifts in greens and blues so slight that it’s entirely possible that I imagined them. But they were there, and it was like a fourth dimension, it felt nearly miraculous. It was wonderful.

But I don’t know.

Drunk

My stars come down to my cheeks.
I paint my face,
darkness in my eyes and hope in my ears.
Blood dripping slowly from the world.

I know you. 
I know you through these restless vapours
I know you through the paint
the smell of people, the stink of them.

Did you think they smelled like magnolias?
No, darling, they smell like vomit
They didn't tell you that did they, at school
Or even at your deathbed.

I hear those beads.
I hear turqouise beads clashing like snow
setting off sparks of blue
I never forgot them, I didn't.

I am sorry I did, your beautiful pale face
trying to be polite, trying so hard
but I hate it when you are polite.

Be terrible. Be like a fifty foot
tall wave that destroys. I don't 
love you. No one does. 
Love doesn't exist. But nature does.

 

drinkingbardrunkillustrationpubillustratortomerhanuka-bc0247b9654217c73bd3d700c417d33f_h

I have written this while drunk. I went out to a party. And I felt what I always feel after getting drunk – rage. I was ‘snarked’ to by a person. While trying to help another person who was ill. In that moment I wished all the dogs of hell after her, I wished for storm and rage and the black, black seas to drown her. We become so narcissistic when drunk. The only smell I really associate with being drunk is a sour smell of dried vomit. And sweat.

And now I’m writing this the morning after. To be fair, I don’t think I was being very helpful to the ill person, I was busy being engaging, funny, and interesting in my ‘quirk 5000’ disguise. I don’t like myself when I am drunk, I become the  worst caricature of every girl who has ever been drunk in a mainstream film. I’m having fun in the moment, but it acts as a false bridge to other people. And once it fizzles out, all the goodwill and the good-natured part of me that bursts to life on drops of gin, I feel very angry.

Which is when I wrote the things above. They’re not very good. They’re shit. I think because I was consciously trying to be poetic. Also because it wasn’t a very good night. It didn’t provide much for dramatic or poetic potential. It was just dull. A little depressing. But then all things of the night seem depressing in daylight.

I’ve written loads of stuff while drunk, though nothing good enough to turn me into an alcoholic. I find that drunk writing is propped rather heavily by one feeling, usually sentimentality. I find that strain running through all of my drunk writing. Even through the one, and only, drunk text I have ever sent. Thankfully it wasn’t too embarrassing objectively, but to me it was intensely so. Sentimentality is uncomfortable. Revealing things is distasteful. And I think that’s the point, drunkenness takes the fine point away from intentions and emotions and leaves them lying in broad, mingling, primitive pools of slime.

Here’s something I wrote in a club last year in October. I was astonishingly out of it, standing in the midst of people, typing away at my phone.

 

I was with some people in a club standing next to them texting and when I looked up I was with a completely different set of people. People replace people so fast. Everyone I’ve ever know is mediocre, with normal houses and families and normal aspirations. I become a more gregarious person when I drink. What I really am I is melancholy. You feel as if you can do anything. You feel sad, desperate. All these people around you to forget. We shouldn’t have to forget. Heady heady feeling rushing to our heads we should rush each other. Rush to do the extraordinary. Rush to become what we are not. Every sinew will scream against it but do it, darling. Do the chit chat and do the impossible. Because you can. Because it doesn’t  matter. Because the auto correct on your phone works. Because despite being barely able to stand you are typing this down. Because I love you, this other part of me that transcends things. That cries for me. Never let me go because you keep me and you make me sane. Oh darling I feel you beside me in the cold. Please stay with me forever.
Red light on their faces and everyone is so happy. I wish they would remain like this forever. I apologise. These faces frozen in that red light. Would that be how they want to be immortalised? Distant voices saying drunken things. That’s all that’s left. I can’t do this anymore, it makes my head hurt. I cannot pretend. Singing high and pure, alone, that is how I want to be remembered. A strain of voice unafraid and pure, transcending us all. Something bigger than us keeping us stable. My voice in time. Frozen in the red like theirs.

 

Now this is – I don’t know what this is. It has some soaring rhetoric edged with a kind of ecstatic, almost religious, pleading. It’s terrible because it’s so clumsy in what it does, it knows that it’s clumsy and it’s pretending to be good writing when it’s not. It’s actually trying to be the kind of writing it thinks people might read and might be moved by. It’s an imposter. It clings and draws away, runs through sentences headlong and arrives in a clumsily executed skid. The tense is also strange, it starts off as if I’m relating an experience, and then it becomes into the experience, so the writing an active part of the situation and the writer turned into something very similar to a documentary filmmaker.

But you don’t really hate what you end up writing. Even though it makes one cringe, even though it’s terrible – and believe me, I am not one to quibble over writing styles and format, to each their own – there is something in there. There is something I am ashamed and proud of, there is the unabashed inebriation. I have written a thousand words trying to explain my drunk feelings, but that paragraph is it.

Illustration by Tomar Hanuka, find him at thanuka.com

 

Lobe do

On your fifth birthday I decided to dance for some reason
(and I never dance)
it felt like a heady stream of phosphorous lighting
and a woman wearing a clown's red hair.

When we stand next to each other in the doorway
seen against the chirping sunlight
we stand there as equals
little girls in frocks and baked flip-flops

And still, we turn in a half wide arc
and shake off those flowers printed upon our dresses
The hem moves forwards and upwards
as you rock upon the balls of your feet.

The room rose in a square spiral
with eyes waiting and peering down like dyed jewels
into crimson and silk black and tapping shoes
as I twisted a toe and arched a foot.

In a big wide kitchen there and not there
filled with white wood white
You made Gnocchi from scratch
herb green edges to its yellow flesh

It floated in the pot limply as we stared down at it
over the top of the silver aluminium pot
A tinge of garlic floating upwards
and wafting away in a ghostly pale.

When we ate it it stuck to the tops of our mouths
How is it, you asked, crossing lacquered nails and long legs
And everyone hesitated before saying "perfect".
Inside your room, the walls are filled

with defiant postcards printed on a spread of stars
We talk and you laugh but I don't when (or if) you will laugh
As you sit sure with impeccable tone
a burgundy jumper over mustard skirt 

When we speak next you stare into leafy distance
cold with a casual disposition 
I have to go now, you say with too many hearts and exclamation marks
and all I can write into the glow is 'okat, i lobe do'

Flint sequins flash as I turn furious tapping
Then there is a breath, a new spiral of silence
as I stop and before people clap, when I catch your eye
in your golden card birthday crown you look at me blankly

And I wish that I had said then,
we grow old and it doesn't matter,
you become beautiful and I remain small
But I can't and I look at you
and all I can manage is 'i lobe do'.

I suppose it’s good to write something new on the first day of the month. I’ve been waiting for about two days for September to start because I didn’t know that August had thirty one days, I guess I forgot to do the month-knuckle thing we used to do as kids.

I’ve been thinking about the image I want to use for this piece and I’ve drawn up a blank. So, instead of an image, I made up a song and recorded it. The recording is terrible, and I’m very sorry for that, but I’ve put warmth and scratchiness into that sound for you this Autumn day.

This poem, as you probably noticed, features auto-correct. Technology is quite difficult to depict and represent in prose, and more so in poetry. It can be quite jarring because writing is a thing that has carried on over thousands of years and we collectively still have a rough, but particular, sense of the ‘proper’ tone and aesthetic of written things which is somewhat removed from our present circumstances of quick swiping. I’ve tried to do that here without it being overly awkward, and I don’t know if it has worked. It grates on me slightly, and I don’t know if I’ve managed to capture the human nuance and balanced the two things together, but here you go anyway.

Holiday

The cottage was long, settled in the grass with a pleasant grunt
Everything fit
The whole world compressed
And gently shaped
We spent a summer there
My room was mint green
with rocks everywhere
And a mirror in a green frame
encrusted with cheap, faded rhinestones.

My bed was near the window
with copper rocks on the white sill
dull hay lines running through their sides
And the ceiling sloped down towards the other night

The living room was downstairs
with big windows looking out to glowing tin roof sea
The kitchen cupboards were full of labelled jars
We loved cinnamon so much the whole cottage smelt of it
No one could decide if the smell was sweet or savoury

We weighed everything down with sun warmed rocks
That's what rocks are for.
Books, paper, plates, doors,
and folded up clothes.

The books in the house were all unknown
thrillers and love stories and Reader's Digests
and I remember I mocked them
We wrote things on the beach with sticks and rocks
they wrote 'happy birthday' in the sand

And I wrote on paper 'promise me don't cry'

After noon when it began to get dark
he would get jittery for food
stomach cramping sweat breaking
We would all twist our wrists

Faster & faster & faster & faster
till the clicks were not clicks
And I cut sandwiches, white and clean,
horseradish paste - strangely pink
And crispy leaf

But we never ate in the dining room
A long room with a long oak table
shiny and dark and polished
With a filigree turquoise lamp hanging overhead.

She lay next to the dull, glowing lights of the car
green grass and grey tarmac in pale yellow light
And breathed in the smoke & smiled
her hands stopped roving
As if caught momentarily on pale string

The steps were so small that only my feet fit
We ate Italian sausage 
and buzzing, static rocket
with juice running down our chins

The sun fell again in golden olive lines
inside an amber dome
through tall leafy trees and their rust shade
And we went about our business,
sneakers crunching on purple gravel.



We sat near the window & flies
flew in
and couldn't fly out
And we swatted them for being lost.

I haven’t posted anything new in a while, but this is a fairly long poem I wrote this morning. I’ve been developing it for a few weeks now, and the idea first came to me when I was on a train on a very sunny day.

This was the result of spending a few days in a cottage that we rented somewhere in New York a few years ago, so of course the sea mentioned above

IMG_6823

isn’t really a sea, it’s lake Erie. I remember that the cottage was both fresh and musty, and my feelings for it ranged from an overwhelming infatuation to a vague disquiet. The atmosphere of the holiday was electric, to say the least, and the ruralness of the setting was not something everyone was necessarily used to. The quiet was nebulous and threatening, unfamiliar American countryside.

I think I take so long to post things because I am very reluctant about my writing, I don’t think much of it is good, and I struggle to come up with things that I feel will be worthy of sharing with people. That has never happened, I think, and when I do post I post in a quick haze of writerly occasions when I type things right onto the blank screen and click post. And then I think ‘oh God, this is really not very good.’ But I leave it there.

Inside

I’ve been feeling strange recently. It’s summer so I’m home for a bit. My dog has started acting hostile towards me. My head hurts all the time and I feel crushed with some massive invisible weight. I think it’s the weight of all the future. It’s just so daunting, that way, that trek to reach the threshold you’ve set for yourself and I just can’t stop thinking about how much time it’ll take me, how hard it will be, all the horrid, grimy little details.

My mind wanders off in strange unsettling directions. Violence. Xenophobia. I suddenly no longer recognise the world I live in. It changes like the weather, and why do we develop feelings of trust if human beings, collectively, change like the weather? 

Sideways and onward, hitting walls and splitting bones

we move like a juggernaut crushing

ether, nails, and fists that make cornerstones

everything the air the sides of the invisible

crusting over

with hands grasping climbing choking blocking

thousands and each other and grasping their own throats

circle

circle

everywhere and nowhere

we sink and we rise

though fit to be despised

 

Everything I write seems to be of a sour colour and I’m finding it harder and harder to keep my head above everything. 

Who I want to be

Underlined and no longer inside

Room

 

014-daisuke-yokota-theredlist

 

When she woke up there were strands of hair everywhere. There was a moment of wild panic as she straightened things out in her mind, and then collapsed back into bed. Her eyes stared up listlessly, coated with a dull film.

There were times when I read books about adventure, when I explored forests on my bike.

Her room was a jumble of things that frightened her. She would count the number of boxes it would take to sort everything out, to pack everything in and it would number in thousands. Small boxes for the rocks and shells and a giant one for her bed. Sometimes before she fell into a restless sleep she would see the lid come down neatly over her in her bed. A rubber hot water bottle lay next to her bed within arm’s reach. It was a wobbly and fleshy pink, like the inside of some innocent young animal. There were no pictures of people in her room, only lonely and bleak landscapes. Hope to her was forever a forbidden drug, and hope to her was a deep and encompassing sorrow. It wasn’t truly sorrow, it was sorrow and anger and a cruel pleasure all mixed up together.

I shaved my head when I was seventeen and my mother said what if it never grows back?

A stuffed pig lay next to her. She called it Maurice. She had stopped answering texts, emails, calls, letters. Everything had been stopped months ago. The front door was battered but silent as she lay in a nest of glossy hair. The wardrobe was shut but there were sounds coming from inside it – like slow, deep breathing.

Father is in the wardrobe, curled and powerless. He speaks in Morse and he cannot understand anything. He gets violent and bangs on the walls around him sometimes, but they are too strong. He screams, less and less frequently. He mostly runs on the spot inside the wardrobe now. There is a yellow lamp in the corner which he gazes at and croons to.

She watched him with regret sometimes, connected to him by some primal thread. They looked into each other’s eyes and saw other lives reflected back.

A girl I knew told me once that if you tore a little bit off a butterfly’s wings it would fly faster.

She had never known pain, she just thought she had. The things she created shone dully, peering through black cobwebs.