We admire (30 October)

We admire those we hold
Aloft, raise up to vaulted heavens
Pedestal-high
Then tear them down ruthlessly.

Why do we care about
Vapid celebrities gone
Wild and wrong
Or sportspeople whose misdeeds
We lambast, feigning horror,
We mock politicians then
We claim with resentment and
Bitter frustration
That their corruption and
Yellow filling
Makes them all
Just about the same.

Our hands go up
In defeat
We are so easily disappointed.

Easy to forget those who toil,
Parents, loved ones and
They who simply struggle against
Uninvited burdens
Outrunning their circumstances,
Because it’s easier to inhabit
The gossiped world
Than look back
Upon our own,
So we look longingly at
All the wrong faces.

The second poem I wrote, again with more editing. While I wouldn’t say this is my best writing, what strikes me is how much faster I’m able to write: not in pace, but in pulling together disparate images. I don’t know when it was that I started to notice the world more clearly through metaphor.

Do you believe in happy endings? (October 30)

What is a happy ending?
Is it a minor consolation
We seize upon for a moment
That holds us
Tight in its grip
Secures our faith, our fate
And we clutch firmly
To that promise of
When everything will be
Alright?
(Perfect?)

But we always forget
The after,

What follows

The end.

Because each ending begets
A new beginning,
And those endless
Curtain-dropping finales
May be deliciously false,
Still we savour their sweet fruit
Each ripening in its season
We wait, besotted,
Praying for the nectar and
Forget so often to
Linger in the present,
Our now:
We forget to live.

This is one of the quick-writes I did, with a little bit of editing, from class today. I’m always meaning to write alongside my kids more or, if I do, it’s often analytical. But I always find there’s something to do, something preventing me. But when it happens it’s such a joyous time: young minds connecting with thoughts, writing, writing, living ideas through words. We inhabit an endless stream of now. Or something like that, anyway, but my perception might be somewhat skewed…

The Unpromised (27 October)

If you had read the labels
flashing bright neon colours,
extolling youth’s extra sweetness
whose contents and capabilities
were new and improved,
such-and-such percentage more likely
to produce successful results
(ignore their bleak predecessors with
inferior lives unworthy of mention)
you would surely claim to have been
misled that night.

Wait, wait.
They’re finding a place.
Let them assemble their better selves
As the band gathers again.

How quickly daybreak fades to render rough gaps
With pre-filled, sanded stories growing smoother,
Flatter, softer, easier to sell as night sets.

Self-made, remade, BYO, DIY, all new
100% organically-concocted claims:
Better to claim your own, to print
A golden version before others grab hold,
Their rough lead a dot-to-dot
Defacing the surface to reveal
What sustains them is:

bitter lives still wedged in high school’s
halcyon days (you really wish to re-inhabit?),
an unsmiling marriage,
an unmentioned divorce,
the promise of monetary miracles,
a high-flying half-pack a day (maybe more) or
that green bottle that silvers your speech,
grander lives of siblings easier to share than
loose ends that never knotted and left you
hanging,
days that “make you want to end it”,
waiting for another go in
five, ten years when
it will all work out in the end.

They’ll form the same circles and ask you to
Ignore the wear and tear the real world brings,
Degrading lives by petty sacrifices made
Lacking Cassandra’s gift
– but which one? –
As here unwanted middles emit the
Scent of broken ends.

The photo’s done.

They make a cornered retreat, floating back
To the unpromised lives
We may all come to endure.

A small request (27 October)

What’s broken that cannot be fixed?
What hollow existence for words that
Cannot, will not be shared
But are squirreled away?

Because though our words start off as us
Newborn onto the page our
Helpless creation yet to feel
Life’s scars and pangs,
Scattering thoughts awaiting
Clean attire still retain
Traces of us.

We lose them to others
But not ourselves:

Our words gain strength,
Meaning, power, vitality
Life itself
From being read:
Our writing suffocates,
Must breathe
Through you, through them and

Speak its existence.

It was just (20 October)

“Can you believe the stuff we said about her?”

Do we regret that no composer
will stoop to set these
adolescent afternoons to song and
score these turgid lives?

Suburban echoes voiced
in ten thousand variations
fill these listless days
lacking opera’s consequence.

Lightly seasoned by these few
clicking notes but more by
beats, stops and breaths that
bend them towards boredom’s offspring.

They trill the line, so unaware:
tragedy, comedy?

“Well I feel bad now.”

Rehearsal (19 October)

Linger on sidewalks whose
shadowed walls
day-drawn blinds
conceal mechanical monsters
their false starts and stops
leach out
tick-tock whirring of the
slow, twisting, turning,
winding of gears stretching
hidden strings

now so tightly aligned,
deposited polished and gleaming
in the upright position
we imagine arms
poised Mummy-like
when the owner removes
their grip to let this
perfect contraption
recall its
tortured sequence

    again.

Blind surrender (13 October)

Too close to its flame and it catches light, burns spontaneously, a moth seized mid-flight or euphoric Icarus plunging earthward. Too far and you will never feel its warmth, simply never know.

 ~

This night begets a crescent moon: grey, luminescent and stickered against the sky. It hurls me backwards. Remember: before I could wrap my lips around its syllables, or even understand the endless repetition of lunar cycles, it came forth cheekily as “croissant”. Early moments, those, when I was still naming the world experimentally and exponentially. Sentimental first years spent looking upward, while my ancestors looked down in admiration and fear.

Within the fragmented images of childhood my great grandmother’s face lingers. Though she passed in and out like Haley’s comet, an afterimage has burned its shape on the retina of my existence, my very soul. With passing decades it loses colour and aspect.

Car ride, adult voices, streets – so many they formed a random maze, then flats, garden, white brick fences, straight path, screen door, bell. Stairs, turning at right angles: twice, three times? Definitely to the right and going up. Of that I’m sure. Muffled words in foreign tongues, the sounds of home (and anger rising to a fever pitch, occasionally) waft through walls, lingering in those half-empty corridors. All is sound, all new. When was the first time? How many visits?

Join us.

Afternoons fly by at the table, or circling round it, while the one who binds us – who guaranteed this family’s flight from danger – entertains the last reminders of her own history. Antique ladies in moth-balled dresses seem to occupy the most vocal space, chattering and tittering as tea and innumerable plates, sweet and savoury, crowd the flat surface, appearing almost as if by sleight of hand.

Our matriarch towers over me, beaming. Barely five foot, her aproned form is impossibly large in spirit and space. At times my adoring love is tinged with fear or apprehension, maybe a bit of both: who has smuggled a daughter on cattle trains, huddled in doorways as bombs descended, eluded Nazis and charted a course from death. Who returned to discover no one, nothing but absence.

We are here, somehow.

I am her ending.

Of course, these legends will be served out piecemeal.

But for me she beams, and mostly through food. Hard, wrapped lollies cascade from her tired, liver-spotted hands to mine, an endless stream of sugared nourishment her own diabetes forbids her from enjoying (though she does sometimes anyway, because life is too short – too short – so very short).

— Eat, eat! What would you like? To take home? Please, more!

A life of hunger changes you. And I, too, hunger for her attention, her smile, her embrace.

I flutter between the grey skirts of her ankle-length dress, hiding from these guests whose presence I loathe. In partial camouflage, ducking and weaving beneath the opaque fabric, I feel the scratchy grit of stockings against my hands. She smiles, I think.

“Ladies, going shopping?” I ask, head popping out turtle-ready, with all the innocence a three-year-old can muster. To the chair I rush, its seat high enough that I need both hands to climb up.

They: stunned silence. Her: wide eyes, shock, hand covering the urge to laugh. She rushes to her bedroom to release a bottled chortle. That this – this little boy – could be the cause of so much delight. Who knew?

She never laughs.

Never.

I never knew.

~

But love – ah, it is neither blind nor unconditional nor free. It metastasises until one night you’re at home (the primary residence on the tax declarations, rather than the apartment with the second mortgage or the holiday home you’ve been to once – and then only in solitude – since her fingers settled on your slowly-balding scalp and withdrew as if they had come within inches of some radioactive wasteland), together, when your eyes – hers and yours – settle on the eight-inch non-serrated Wusthof blade. For a moment, to the uninitiated it seems…

No. Perhaps?

There is no doubt that from the moment she came home (deliberately?) early to find you playing Twister with the Canadian au pair, sans children or plastic mat, you have never been more in and out of sync at once. Killer timing, you might have quipped, but you didn’t.

Reaching for the knife, she grips its hilt and plunges the blade into a waiting tomato, allowing its messy viscera to erupt freely onto the wooden block. Another cut, rough, makes four smudged wedges.

The fridge beeps twice; a toilet flushes on the second floor.

You exhale. “Should I get an onion?”

“I’m making salad.”

“I know. I thought…”

“…Why? Fine. Just… The bread.”

Years ago, before blazing summer descended into stilted autumn, you raised a simple warning. “Misery can only come,” a quote you recall almost verbatim, “from this compulsion for pluralisation, this constant yearning to expand beyond the singular.” That walk along the beach, barefoot, hands entwined, slowed to a halt. Her face distorted, eyes ground down to microscopic marbles.

Needless to say you have since, at her insistence, endeavoured to rid yourself of “this sickening, overbearing pomposity matching your narcissistic tendencies” (her words, the counsellor took them down on a yellow legal pad). Back then, in the way back before this, you could both share a wry smile.

Still, in spite of it (or because?), that night and the next were mathematical.

Still, you have come slowly uncoupled, satellites tenuously orbiting two teenage moons, their rotation falling apart.

“Kate,” you say.

“Mm?”

“You…”

She stops rifling through the cutlery draw, picks out the tongs she was looking for and eyes you, poker-faced. “What?”

Behind her you notice a wood-rimmed circular clock, bought together on a country day trip ages hence.

“I didn’t buy bread.”

It unwinds your life.

~

Ten minutes fiddling with the piano organ, its funny reverb and taffy keys is enough to satisfy a four-year-old (or five, perhaps). Bouncing out of the cramped, stuffy room I reappear in the living area, itself not much larger. It smells old and of the old. Musky, musty, historical fragrances mingle with pharmacy-bought perfumes and slow decay.

Afternoons are flipped through like the puzzle books featuring ghosts, skeletons and mysteries that condense car trips into flashing journeys.

Sometimes there are card games played with my great grandfather.

We are not mirrors. His hard, sniffing, coughing laugh. His dislike for spending. His distaste for personal hygiene and endless hoarding of food and medicines past their use-by date. His stubborn reluctance to firmly close clothing and shroud parts that should not – cannot – be unseen.

He does not read but makes lists and lists and lists of words in English. He is recompiling the dictionary again, creating his own translation. I never ask why.

When he speaks, rarely in English, I drown in the fermented mix of chicken fat, eggs, onion and garlic that follows him everywhere, returning for some second life. When he is spoken of, it is always of his constant failures or reputation as village fool: setting fire to a room by mistaking fly for nail and planting a lantern unsafely on the winged beast. Unwanted by any woman, even his mother reportedly issued a warning against marrying him.

He doesn’t like to let me win, I think. When I am old enough to beat him, our games seem to be forgotten, replaced by tense minutes staring at each other as the metal number on the mantelpiece beats its pendulum.

Later I will learn the truth, all the truths or most, some of which I only suspect. They will be denied with endless repetition until the tracks wear out.

Others facts become obvious with time and age, like the way when we walk together, me at four or five, him somewhere north of seventy, his eyes spend too long lingering on girls nearer my age than his. But this means nothing to me now.

We are not of the same mind, nor the same blood. I could laugh or cry, don’t know which.

Each birthday, until I protest hard enough, he feeds me money, retrieving bills secreted away under his mattress. Even after my great grandmother has faded from the world (take a guess what metastasised), these offerings for my love kept coming, as if more green might bring more love or make amends for who knew what.

In his new flat, reborn as a bachelor years later, all limits and constraints are gone. Barely an inch of space remains free; even the small dining table is lacquered in a patina of grease and dust. Small bugs land and, incapable of prying themselves free, become trapped and enmeshed in its surface, smudged beneath unwashed dinner plates and TV guides. The whirring fridge I open masochistically on each visit admits a bizarre lab of chemical destruction, a maniac’s self-created breeding ground for penicillin and a million other bacterial discoveries. Quarter-filled pots of indecipherable former meals stay and never leave.

I cannot bear to touch the piano organ, moved to its new location with its filthy keys.

This is his life after love has soured.

Later, much later, I start to think that they only remained together out of lust.

I wait for our time with him to end, endure these sordid hours until we might be free of him in this clock-less hellhole.

Enough arguments (I am not involved, though I gladly spectate) and the visits end. Soon, there can be no more.

 ~

The papers arrive two days later by registered mail.

I don’t need to open the yellow envelope to know what I’ll find there, but my fingers toy with the seam for a good twenty, forty minutes. An hour.

At the sink, I lean forward, tenderly holding the parcel by a corner, placing it to a match’s lit end.

I watch it wither up and surrender, smoke and ash.

On the 10th of October (1o October)

I remembered today and
Before it passes, this
Quarter-life, half-life
All gone since you left
Would say

Your leaving, the last of many departures
We mark
The strangest anniversaries, these,
Disappearing acts
Performed once only
Bringing silent pleas for an encore
   Empty house
   Cold room
   Skin.

Breathe.
No.
No.

The rest is –

Before I began to increment
Days into months into years
Commenced within an hour
In fractured passing,
Your voice would sometimes crash
Against the walls of dreams
Awake, asleep, its echo blurred.

Mind’s eye, my sense of you,
Once so loud dims to
Those final monochrome moments,
Pale, bleached shades of

Your eyes
Your face
Skin,
Touch,
Breathe.

Please.
Not again, again, again.

Again.

This is the clock that
Unwinds my life
Echoing with such precision.

Where does love disappear to?
Can it fade or merely hide?
Does not leave but
Haunts us
With what cannot be undone.

So when I remember today
I will try to see
The smiling years,
The Before
Though I cannot unsee

You follow me everywhere
All of you
Everyday

So I will remember the next
When it comes
If only to remember and
Mark these days.