Camera obscura

When I am not so much strained, one day,
holding scatterings unsaid, when I have gained
and lost enough to let the truth of things
slip out like seaweed, what of the water?

The past gushing, the bough boiling,
a bag of almond meal never used for fear
at letting sweetness fall. Nor do they make
guarantees for the future, guides for how to take

yourself apart from yesterday. We are
outlasted and outdone by distant years, perhaps,
in their consoling way. Will I know? Crafting walls
whose doors we fear to test, not trusting

how to sketch space when the sudden moon subsides
leaving little room for seeing what silence hides.
You hold tomorrow up and take this pulse,
decant the sun, shy away, softly fading false.

Complaining, over coffee

Oh and I suppose there should be another,
an again? Lest they all turn out the same
we might add a scent of difference,
an impression of bowing into the wind
as it hoops its unseen lips and slips back
the resolute umbrella, hand behind it.

Send summer’s citadel, even knowing that it too
might become part of the living loop
of dragging feet and vacant bodies
pushing sullen minds through their distractions,
peasants and aristocracy slipping
into houndstooth and herringbone,
crests as much as their ancestors smiled on.

So truly, there will be others
glancing through solace and regret,
perching on the smoke-edge and finger-turn,
pushing back the could and would
into a corseted acceptance of something
we embrace behind a nagging should.

A grammar of taste

The sky speaks.

She (or he, it is still too early to quite decide) is caught up in that hour before morning loses its solitary scent. Ignoring the kitchen’s light switch and working from the ingrained comfort that comes after months in the same place, her mind drifts, loose and roaming, to where the traces of dreams are yet to be fully scrubbed from the eyes’ grimy corners.

From the window of the apartment looking into hers, four flights up and across a slightly nauseous gap she has learned to bear, a camera flash, or a too early glimmer of sun. Or just a lamp flicked on for long enough to confirm the hour is yet small enough for a return to the luxurious coma of sleep, a few more placeless, anaesthetised minutes before facing the day. Sometimes a light is just a light, a trick the mind offers us, rather than a question. Sometimes it is also the hand behind it, reaching outwards and guiding.

Her fingers (and we seem more sure it is a ‘her’, if reading mannerisms and outlines allows us a clue) clutch an orange, bought two days ago, moving slowly over its pores. With a thumb nail, pressure and a little leverage, soon the bittersweet notion of citrus breaks free. She expects this to happen, knows it with a familial reassurance, but smiles a little anyway, content with this tenderness meant for her alone, this moment. It is a singular pleasure, one of very few she’ll permit herself throughout the day. With its stubborn weight of routine, soon the rigid hours will own her again, she will serve them. Soon, she will check off tasks and the hours, meetings and nods and handshakes and a mind knotted up in the daylight life that eats into night, where even then are there few shadows to escape into for their little pleasures.

As she pops a segment into her mouth, this could be her madeleine moment – someone should call her now, coincidentally and early, that they might together appreciate the cool spice and tang of this shared reprieve – but her tastes these days come more from the self-improvement section, not her childhood indulgences. She gave them up, gives them up, in order to keep reaching and floating and moving. Past loves have faded, for the most part, and they say exes are best remembered in their most rancid form, to fan away regret, rather than regurgitated from that confusing emotional pit. She prefers not to let her mind turn down those corridors, though what can she do in those unscheduled absences when the wind rushes in, umbrellas are unfurled from sleeves, and couples link arms to hurry down grey-slopped streets together?

Best to remember that she knows where to draw her mantras and heroes from, now. The commute to work, still by train on a practically gentrified line, is filled with a self-talk of generic phrases congratulating her on upgrading her attitude and wardrobe, reminders and rehearsals about how posture and volume lead to partnership, faint echoes of Mrs Waugh in fourth grade and those constant reminders about “stiffening up your spine, girls” that now seem to be the best-selling creed of bleach-toothed success stories.

She cycles through her morning playlist, much of it at a tempo fast enough to psych you up for an adversarial joust or performing CPR, whichever comes first. Days require you to be versatile, even within the monotony. Chomping at the bit for action, her foot detaches from her thoughts, in a tss tss tss, a nodding blur that almost matches time with the train’s steady rattle, a free and cracking whip of motion and force and elsewhere. Her mind works up a sweat.

Portrait #12: Woman contemplating an orange near daybreak.

She’s caught up with the way the rind slips her little hints of memories, though she doesn’t get to choose which ones. She’ll go there anyway, resting an elbow on the chopping board, and even taken somewhere else she almost notices that the light may have flashed again. It seems she’s tallying up the purchases she’ll need to make, a mental inventory. The necessary maintenance and chores and taking out the trash that will be added to calling her mother for a second time this week. Add extra chocolate to the list, coffee beans, new tumblers. No new tumblers. No more tumblers.

Can’t we get her to focus, even in these empty minutes before the freeway whirs into life, on something other than the here and now?

The sky is watching, or will be watching, speaking in tongues and rays and indecipherable little hints that we ascribe a mind of their own. We must give her a grammar of taste, a way to name the dangling emotions and savour the run-on thoughts as more than a slow stream of juice that wets lips and appetite.

Speaking to an empty room, though, the sky offers nothing this morning. Nothing that will be taken.

But it has time, it will be here tomorrow too.

As she exits, she pockets a fruit for later, and hurries off to join the whirring crowd.

Passengers in the Frame

it works better with a story behind it,
even if we are just passengers slipping
astride the frame, peripheral while wanting
to nudge the plot and almost protagonise.
bystanders always knowing that your pose
can sway too much and jar the composition.
still, you could jemmy away like a thief
on the cusp of some short-lived coup, breaking
anything that affords a feature role.
instead you dabble as stowaway, smile
in another’s tale, mere passing description
like the dark brush shimmering or footfalls
half-fading into dark, a waiting lark.

Her mind wanders, distracted

Play on, you would,
if not for the feeling
someone else has been here already
or her already
with the momentum of the windborne
planned out, or not, uniting sight and line.

How: in a moment the hand flutters between
tenderness and treachery,
fingers deciding,
gentle leaves can soon retake the muscle memory
and shout like bellows,
palpitating organ song.

Rise and surrender
and play,
play on or pause,
or breathe and huff.

Other have chosen before, little gods
scratching for toys,
this one quivering silently on the glass:
winged and wingless, ruled from above.
You could be choosing freedom, as you play skin
against hard skin, hand to life,
gambling whether it will rise
or fall.

On setting out

you may reach the water’s lip
where a thin bridge awaits
besides transparent morning
before you step aboard and
our ceiling becomes a feast
of unquiet stars

be sure to notice first
how smooth a bridge
as high as your
imagination will build
leads the way, cord taut
as you pace, pace, pace
between each wave whose mist
greets and fades, again, again

stopping for breath you awaken
at some point along the way
behold an infinite line of
high-wire acts in parallel
each following some unseen map
that will probably never
meet your own but you stare

in wonder at but a few:
winding letters unrolled as if
to make an equator of her spine,
a dessicated butterfly that
perched too long upon that arm,
the lunar wasteland erupting
across his groaning back

but the water dances at your feet
as these constellations turn
obscured by fog
your own reflection calls.
(11 March 2015)

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.

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

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…

Before waking (11 September)

Gazing light shears through
This peeking gash

They seem to be multiplying
These murmuring goblins

Unfortunate that I,
Gouge eyes in their fabric,
Distraught menace piercing
Tired sentries.

Each careless slip raises
Memorialised regret, self-spoken
Promises on certain accidents
These sprouting holes
Appearing like some sleight of hand
With unsympathetic ease
At my touch
Pulling, testing the integrity
Of these fickle bonds.

Self-doubt: tempting to peel
Away in a single gesture
Hold tight the reigns
Bullish matador:
Seize, grip, swish
That singular unspoken breath
Before darkness is stripped bare.

You startle at these little fears
Parting gaps and loosened edges
Threading thoughts together.

Doubts first start coming apart
At the seams.

On a separation (22 August)

You demanded fealty, unswerving trust,
Constant devotion. In return came
Taunting, childish threats to
Douse the string, watch it burn.

Can you still recall barked orders,
Inked ransom notes camouflaged in
Birthday cards: gift-wrapped futures
Bow-tied if only I would kowtow?

Everything had – has – its sticker price,
I’m sure:
That sweet spot, tipping point with
Life weighed up and ground down to the cent

Except me

For whom cotton-ball skies
Were not then a metaphor, and
These games echoed with Faustian menace,
Even if the rules were vague.

You raised me a future;
I settled for a separation.