Pointing out (31 December)

Burning the year waiting for skipped beats,
your ear held ajar against the bass line
holding out for the drummer’s slip, any fumble
added to your catalogue of others’ errors
fuels your compilation, jukebox list of
enduring complaints become your year in review
we expect, accept, all the haunting imperfections
these recollections claw away with tell-tale
rhythm, eye rolls, lukewarm laughter, a snort
of self-inflating contempt, your immolation.

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Before speaking (19 December)

They are just words,
Just people.
This is just a fleeting moment,
One of many
That mark our lives –
We will remember them
Only in the shades
Of memory’s pale fire.

So live in today’s quick-passing minutes.
Just be yourself:
They are your people,
All they want is to hear,
To smile.

So smile, too.
After all, it is just
Lexemes, sentences.
(And spoken language vanishes
In time’s waters):

They are just words.

///
This was composed for a friend today, on a special occasion. Congratulations! I’m leaving it exactly as it was written, with no editing. Because they are just words. But oh, what are we without words? What would we be?
(Also, a hat-tip to Mr Nabokov for a few particular borrowed words.)

Liquid Crystal Youth (17 December*)

On my mother’s bedside cabinet
I remember
Two metal handles: ornate, gold or brass
In colour.
Papers, books, glasses
I think I remember,
Replacing items with the
Probability of memory’s gaze.
But a box I know for sure
Was there, containing time,
The universe and mysterious green lines.
Oh magical clock!
When did I first seize upon
Your secrets,
Your gearless mastery of time?
I wanted only to control
Another box, more powerful,
Precious holder of my favourite programs,
Mighty television I kowtowed before
Your scheduled pleasures.
I don’t remember when
Those green shapes
Slotted together
Into perfect
Meaning.

*The second of the two “I Remember” quick-writes I did, with a touch of editing.

Salt Memories (17 December*)

The smell of salt: twice.
First, the ocean bending itself
Against seaweed-encrusted rocks.
Then the crispy chips in their
Corrugated cardboard container.
Sauce-smothered, they slowly turned
Mushy as I made my way bite by bite
To the bottom of the endless box
That had to end, disappointingly.
I remember staring out across the
Infinite horizon,
Past tanning beach-goers
Past yachts and majestic liners,
I wondered how far it went.
When I was younger, it seemed to mark
The world’s edge:
Everything dropped away out of sight
Falling into the abyss.
Only I had the salty smell,
The tingle against my lips and
Seagulls, echoing
Their bitter, selfish cries.

The first of two pieces I wrote as quick-writes, alongside my students, based on memoir writing. We started by creating a series of “I remember” statements. This is one I actually wrote this as prose then remade it into poetry; the second I wrote as a poem.

Seven small meditations (15 December)

1.
Small waterfalls click on and off, cutting through the dead calm of early evening. Swish, swash, swish: the beat of hands rubbing together, erasing today’s toils beneath the stream, chops the flow. I wonder whether I noticed these details then as I seem to in hindsight. They join the growing jumble, this big rubber band ball of assorted misrememberings.

2.
They say that smell is one of the last senses to leave us. Or is that sound? This scent obliterates all others, leaves you gagging. It chews away: strong, potent, harsh and found everywhere in this place. That it is better than others that might replace it does not weaken its omnipotence. Too clean, too cold and brutal. Let me run from it, from this.

3.
For those of you new to this game, the frowning faces of these mesmerised viewers become easier to spot beneath TV screens flickering in the gloaming. They seem mostly living, still. The TV screens; the watchers, less so.

A sharp angle will suffice, enough to catch the glimpse of a news reader, a chef mid-slice, two lovers in stylised quarrel, or a racquet drawing back to swing. We’ll take sport, an apt metaphor as this is often a fight to the death. See, here the winners still lose. After all the rounds, who truly leaves unscarred? After all the games, the champions’ bodies become maps of each contest, resigned wearers of flesh-borne badges. Victors marked with cuts, scrapes, tears, bruises, incisions, abrasions, pain in all its assorted titles. Don’t forget the mind wilts too, just as the flesh is stripped of dignity, independence, control until it is this eroding shell you see before you.

Hold tight. You may leave tomorrow.

Maybe.

4.
I try to piece together that night, to rearrange the splintered fragments of that jigsaw. But memory is a vindictive creature. We tussle in all the shadowy places. It makes of all nights a single one, congealed by time.

I suppose that this is not too dissimilar to how you felt, too. In here, how different is one day from another?

5.
These meditations are not prayers: please do not mistake one for the other. It would not help any of us. Please do not ask me to explain what they are. I could no more do that than explain why some live, not others.

6.
Dates seems to matter less in here. So too with each passing yesterday. I may wake without you there and your presence becomes an absence, a dotted outline marking what was, what will no longer return.

Time is everywhere and nowhere. Why should we count it?

7.
Somewhere a lift’s doors slide open and closed. A trolley, a bed, a piece of equipment is wheeled back or forth. And we could be astronauts stranded on a shuttle: these pouches, food; these seeping noises a synthetic accompaniment. For all I know we have come ungrounded. Perhaps they have forgotten that we are lost out here.

Help us?

I think of all the vanishing sounds.

A Formula for Living (8 December)

How to recapture the design for youth’s
Inquisitive eye creeping into small gaps,
Crooked places holding life’s careful mysteries,
Whose constant fiddling and axis-tilting dims
To bleak acceptance of this invariant now?

How blood stirs when unsudden life is jostled
Awake by a single and unexpected discordant
Bang that grips your shoulders like a madman
Concussing the unchanging present with a
Mighty blow, this ever-waking unstill now.

We marvel at a single distraction that blossoms
Into an accumulation of these neglected wonders
Respiring beside the constancy of all the
Sweating days and nights where our stumbling,
Sealed lives are ripped apart by

A hidden cat who startles us, and it, correcting
Gilded eyes in shock while overhead arachnids
Perform high-wire maintenance, bending girders
Against the foaming winds, their labor
Unmoved by this, our blissful gaze.

Be still
For these brief seconds:
Only look,
Let time wait.