Theme for Class

In school they never let you
pick the topic, especially those
secret and distant
worlds I once dismissed out of hand

offering no more
than mystery and flight,
fantasy filling hours on end
with its looping plots

the constant adrenaline tug
of knowing how chapters
were just beginning
to unlock keys to untold lands

where you already knew of ciphers
and suspense, how each dangling drip
begat an understanding
that peace would always be elusive

that the earth must tremor
and the seasons topple,
so all stories repeat their truths
in different lies.

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Popcorn

Here’s where I see blisters in the air,
when hunched over the popcorn machine
the kernels whizzing like lawnmower seeds, frenzied,
it was summer, short in tooth, long in smile
and their skin burst now,
only you realised that it had reached
its white-faced end in minutes,
that growth of time,
pushing pain until then,
the irony of release.

In that long youth of night,
when minutes might well be
the strange, unseasoned cousins of days,
adolescent in turning themselves over,
this is the machine, conductor:
heat, darkness, pressure,
treading down their soles
as the trek turns.

Bragworthy

Waiting behind the rail’s safety, the crowd
nibbles curiously with boasting breath.

They have come prepared for the volcano, burst
or bust. Its open mouth will foam at the lip

or fail to delight and remain jutting earth,
bruised earth, such sacred excitement.

Vicarious: broken up into its fragments, the thought
a sound of contradictions, vie, care, us, almost

violence. Living through others means always
starting at the mountaintop and coaxing forth

its hot-blooded essence. Faith that it goes to plan,
begging for a performance worth applauding

pleasure in their little souvenirs, bragworthy
totems, a photo, a shard, air-dried tears.

While the spout yawns and quivers back to silence
spent from its furious trial, while they offer

postcards and mementos as proof that scratching
at the ground, it too can be ripped apart

for entertainment, the watchers all depart to spend
their joy, this secondhand delight until tomorrow.

Then others return to fill spaces and play parts
requiring promises and threats alike, a new chance

to boast the mountain into action.
Even the wind, between breaths, is gloating.

(November/December 2016)

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.

Drama Queen

She shaded you. All these years spent
huddled in the penumbra of her smiles,
misread. They demurred, ignored her wit,
and brushed you off in turn, snarling.

Each day, whenever your hope shone
and tried a greeting or an answer,
a studied glance jeweled to impress,
they only sniffed, or hissed, or sighed.

What they felt for her poured freely
from those turbulent waters into your lap,
no matter that in your alliance
she was the drama queen, and you

Dissolved in her presence.
Numbers, they say, breed safety
but like two fabrics roughed together
the louder always leaves a charge.

– 1 October 2016

Souvenirs for the indecisive (16 June)

No
these words have been seen before
in precisely this order,
even with the same breaks
lined up in perfect unison.

So why retrace these routes, hand-draw
mirrored lines to create word-for-word
replicas
consuming one thin strip,
a whole half-page?

Perhaps you were enchanted with its birdsong
or simply left wordless, caught spellbound
in an unexpected blink
whose shock you wanted to remember.

So you lift it casually, a quick snap
without thinking traced in teen scrawl
a soon misremembered notebook,
inevitably discarded and

my one hope
is that the song
still echoes.

There’s nothing to say (29 May)

Really, because it means
what it says is her reply
to a foolish question that
comes after I have read it
line
by line
so they can see it pull at us
these marionette-stringed words
reverberating like the dancer
extending each carefully-planned step
with such poise that you
can’t believe this was ever rehearsed,
and as your eyes flickered
from the page to theirs
you could feel a knowing gaze
from them,
sense between half-breaths a floating
hesitation, eyes peeking over the precipice
and forgetting grey carpets in square rooms to
inhale poetry
whose fragrance does not need to be
labelled because after our collective silence
though we can try and distil the scent,
retrace the dancer’s route,
turn the flashlight on or dust for clues
instead we hold this note because
within it echoes, and echoes and
there’s nothing to say.

Meditation on two sculptures (21 May)

This is written more with slam poetry in mind, or at least the rhythm and roll that comes from being read aloud with pace and passion

I never folded them with my own hands.
I never took the time and care to calmly add the fine creases,
or bend edges skywards, twist and raise each corner
into the carefully finished form upon my shelf.
And yes, I’ll admit that my first reaction when I came across those two abandoned trophies
after your quick departure –
symbols of our wasted hour together –
my first reaction involved the formation of a small smile
before it turned inwards
into something closer to the needless balling up of paper.

Most days I crane my head and see them,
aging reminders of one moment and so many moments
when you or they or them or all of you
retreat and make your disappearance known in one of a dozen conjuring tricks
where you ignore this crowded hour, forget the lines and perform
only for yourself
your first trick a dozen spirals
blossoming in that empty wasteland.

There is no other trick.
No one applauds.
Should they?

And all I want to do
is to show you, and them, and all of us
that you can unfold your mind and see that blank space
is unlimited opportunity that can be refolded and enfolded
in infinite dimensions until you have so much more than
this single token.

Because you do not want to visit the edges of this territory,
do not see that this leg of the journey is in fact part of a bigger map,
unencumbered by the limits of the now.
Tomorrow is here today, but maybe I am not the guide
to show you, to take you there or you are yet to find that guide.

It need not be me.
You won’t believe it.
You may refuse.
Go ahead.

But are you searching?

But if for a moment all of those temptations and distractions
the blue lights and grey noise
with their remarkable hum
would disappear
and your evaporating vapor trails of thought
would condense
there might be something more
than this.

Because now all I do is look up and question,
look up and wonder whether I am the only one looking up.
And if I tell you all of this, not just that you have added
another crease, another fold to me
but that you have this, all of this –
this life, this moment, this opportunity, this chance –
would you still remain blind?

Or maybe I’m the one who doesn’t see?