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.

Moon encyclopedia

I see a campsite, to begin,
a composite against shale sky caving in
to mallow breath and dulcet laughter
as the night drinks itself into the after

where I would take you, there and back,
to tilt imagination, make its axes crack
unzipping yesterday, demand the dormant sky
reset its cloud-tuned course and so defy

the silent hour –

(when, for need we sent the youngest out,
a ward against morning and memory, and talked about
never falling into iron-tongued tomorrow,
its noun-spent names, life’s clam-shell sorrow)

    – until the guilty yawn
breaks our lull and talk’s new torn
by fingers dipping into an endless and unending much
where between arcing, slender thoughts, a touch

as if each listener might be delivered such
in a same instant of conjoined breath
an ever clean-smelt from air: our moon enyclopedia.
Before the never dawn, we’ll stay together there.

Rules for splitting syllables

I am always catching up with the past
but mostly its fears
nestling skull-deep and muscle-stitched,
restless hints behind the eye that twitched

and it has worked me over
like the tree whose yearly carapace
circumnavigates a sea of years
becoming more like itself, more the tears

a child feels, rushing anger at inconstant rules
for splitting syllables and making meaning
out of watching the earth rise up
severing, bisecting and dissolving love

having made pacts with myself
I have been constant
in breaking them

the way I tie shoelaces and tomorrow,
or move my brow from mystery to sorrow
I stay in motion
hoping to fling myself free

these yesterday syllables binding me

Ghost objects

they tip off the tongue and its rolling train
  tracks bending towards the haze again

misremembered fruit, globed like another language
  whose sharp breeze stirs many somethings

count the footsteps the moment after landing
  as a clock quivers the second after seconding

the sour trace of absence sings
  yesterday will hold what clings

Tomorrow rises

It’s easy as uncapping the street to discover yesterday,
difficult as this time-worn patina, spore-seed grown
in the pollen breath of memory and expectation.
Worming into the silent, still canals of there and back,
Arches, shadows and bridges gather and disperse
according to rules of place and absence,
indecipherable as palm lines or half-known faces
a heartbeat away from empathy.

Here we are, could be, once more again
sipping questions against the mist-slung skies,
because every truth suggests something to hold onto,
every artifact was worth preserving, someone said.
Just as our galaxies might meet, their planets align,
nebulae brushing up against the rain-kissed glass.

All the never-yesterdays are gone,
never to have arrived, replaced instead
by all the nothings fleeing,
leaving behind these swarming infinities.
Something lingers in the trembling notes
like itchy moths rumbling the quiet cabin,
leaving while wishing to grasp those pulsing lights.

Look, below. How those palisades and ponds
conjured only out of mind, their continental dreams
retracting into a soft simmer, then the quiet.

In another life we are always
leaving things behind,
the dull remains
of misbegotten youth
with its rinsed out yesterdays.

Yes night, O night, with your nostalgic ebb and laugh,
turning over moods for greedy fodder
though you are here
even you must relent and close up show,
your library hours cease for now:
touching feet to your solid waters,
the street spills, and tomorrow rises.

[A note: this is something I wrote elsewhere first, but I’ve redrafted. Ironically the revised version is more melancholic and darker, an almost inversion of the poem that gave it birth. The narrator is fictionalised :)]

Everything that rises

And here’s magic out of falling,
a punctuated sky
dripping blues
whose brain drops silence
into easing fields.
We should know
when we realise the hills
their lush and sweating rows
of miles
skimmed by sea-sweet memory.
Try to break bread
under the infinity of hope
and its rippling crust of neon
or feed the flock
with the rhythm of kindness.
Everywhere is devoured
and everything rises.
While the crew sings panic
into the engine
the shore startles
leaving the trick
to cauliflower outwards.

Before the ground gives way and melts

I utter a kind of prayer,
for those soles to soak into this slab,
hoping never to leave the ground.

Season without impression, a day keen
to melt into another with its ambiguous grey:
what are you?

Tuned out to all the whistles, shouts and hollers,
an orchestration without the beach music,
just a clipboard-worth of a segment of life.

Officially we will plunge in sequence,
only the usual players will arise
for the knighting, honours fluttering.

Not even a joust or some proud contest
to the death, a chance at eternal recognition,
this is just another box to fill.

I wish against the future,
seeing no reflection, only they peel
the wrappers off icy poles and gulp sausages, restless.

Two hands wind up wet ends into a ponytail.
Glad-wrapped sandwiches are disinterred
in search of anyplace but here.

A number in the queue, I am holding
out for an exception. But the line watches.
They cannot wait all day.

I beg to differ, if it takes the sacrifice
of a few small hours when instead
I fall through the horizon

discover light retracting

into infinity

this is the stuff of dreams
you have not yet suffered
in all the uncounted, numb, nocturnal hours.

But we are saved in ways we cannot see.
We push up from this forever world,
legs beating us back awake and up.

When I return years later to the scene
they have filled it rock-solid:
part-wish, part-truth, part-liquid.

Random Objects

Begin here an unfilled lyric,
much like a city has walls we can no more see
than the quiet pillars of the mind,
barricades that need dismantling.

Only when we clear away
a confusion of souvenirs and sorrows is there
sign of grassland new,
canvassed by some unplanned design.

See how the years bear little relics
proving somehow that nothing gathered can be lost
against your will, only laid aside or reassigned
behind those spaces even dust won’t go.

Look: I’ve laid it out for you,
all the scattered pieces fallen and askew
sound confused and beg for naming
but I refuse to give the eyeless voices,

So I try again to make a list
but I’m falling short and open.
The scattering and the toppled props
reward me with disdain unless

I try once more to sort and ease
away now more than memories. Then hope
arrives and I object: O life, that leaves
us grasping for these walls to fold.


If you ask I will say I am waiting for the silence to disperse,
most oceans can be crossed without dissolving to a mist.

If you wonder why I say this is no salt story,
the shadows all are packed away and gone on tour without delay.

I am inclined to offer some excuse: a flock of pigeons drawn
like magnets to an outdoor feast, where light and sky and thought all ceased.

I want more than just moments cascading into one another,
but flesh and scent are gone, the memories lent.

That we had never traded places. For I am looking down
at birds and winging over years of this silent chant.

Sleight of Hand

Where is all the light-born music,
easing in with its mementos,
momentous at four and five

yesteryear’s vast, song-littered universe,
impossibly gigantic?

What used to stand here
solid glass of the magic store
behind half-parted curtains,
its swishing, galactic font sounding out
a cave of jiggling puzzle boxes,
cabin of daring comic book tricks
for uncanning laughter.
Delightful little alcove with your
middle-aged owner, whose face
proves as elusive as his top-hat,
worn or not, ever or never.

It’s like a prayer to Saturday mornings past,
more than a trick floating over
afternoons spent inhaling lemonade,
VCR tapes, chocolates and music cassettes:
all would reach
their inevitable, fizzing end.
Much like the worship of nostalgia.

The facades and frames still stand,
they must, replaced apace by the creep of day
after day. I leave them be, leave them intact.
Try as I might I remain subservient to
scents and sounds of youth, echo and promise.

If you tap lightly enough, with no one watching,
three times or maybe four,
you can still hear yesterday
come rippling back.

– 31 July 2016