She scanned the horizon from the shore
and noticed the absence of "shame"
not in the clouds, or the peach-plum dusk
or the flocks of seagulls gliding high
not in the gush and suck of the sea
or the giddy rock and bounce of waves
nor in the salty air; its brush of cheek and ruffle of hair
and if not shame there, she wondered,
why lurk thee in my inner lair?
"be gone ye affliction at thy core"
her audience implored
pebbles and wing beats
creeping tide and fading light
and she smiled; new spaces bubbling up;
rooms and cubby holes for new delights
a kinder equilibrium
POP! - "Never mind dear, never mind," mother says to daughter, her purple balloon no more. I was sitting opposite them on the tube, and thought that kindly said.
But it's not what this poem's about. No, instead I invite you on a different train journey. The 14:34 from New Cross Gate to Syndnam on the 14th July '14, to be exact. Join me, as we trundle, rock and rattle our approach to Old Oak Park. It's a warm, a sunny day. Join me! And witness death.
A shiny red balloon
held between little, brown hands
a quiet humming, a secret melody
her own little world
a bright globe turning slowly
in the clumsy grasp of a child
a planet on some erratic axis
jerked out of orbit
could she know it drifted in shadowless space
a banished child at its core?
Outside, the world goes by
beams of yellow sunlight, lazy clouds
a lego land of homes
gridlock and diesel haze
inside, the rattle and rock of the train
old newspapers and empty seats
balloon lip pinched between little fingers
taut rubber bouncing off little knees
a bloom buffeted by the wind
ruby petals open to the world
a rub, a squeak, a giggle
a toy, held and cherished
whilst wheels clatter on tracks
searching for a tune
like a boy without his whistle
BANG! - drum, punched through
a world implodes and anger cracks likes thunder
little eyes flick to father's roar
then at little brother
eyes wide, bodies frozen
"Stupid child. Sit still. What are you doing?
Sit still. Don't play with that."
Coat and cap hung on leathery skin
stubbled jowl and wounding scowl
shadows upon shadows
hiding a banished boy
Still as ice, eyes welling up
but she knows better than to sniffle
and ignores my watching indignation
mute and throttled, she stares
at red polychloroprene, shrivelled
stuck to itself, and to limp little fingers
Something in her wilts and dies;
I see it, in tatters, on the floor
shame creeping in to take its place
I want to kneel beside her and whisper,
"it's ok, it's not your shame"
it's his, wrapped in a cloak
a man but a boy, a broken yolk
I want to steal his cap and share my own rage:
"That was not ok"
Here on a public carriage
I saw behind closed doors
shadows spawning shadows
a banished boy
a ruby red balloon
It was icy cold outside.
The moon had risen above the wooded hill-line, spreading her milky light upon the gently rippling waters of a high tide.
The stars were mostly hidden,
Waiting in the wings as a gentle luminescence took centre stage.
My father’s boat floated in the inky pool of firmament’s faint reflection,
The Milkyway ferris-wheeling about it’s mast.
Tethered to a mooring, it watched the moon sail the night sky, lusting for oceans of it’s own to cross.
It was still plenty dark.
And with one face forever veiled, the moon knew darkness well.
From the heavens she crept into Earth’s darkest corners, imbuing shadows with an otherworldly radiance.
Purple-tinged blackness took form,
as boundaries between worlds dissolved.
In my own labyrinthine depths, would she find me also?
I'm leaning on an iron railing
blue paint peeling
staring at the sea
a hundred thousand pebbles
between me and that simple
A hoard of weathered, rounded rock
black, white, brown and grey
between my roiling, mental chop and sway
and that of the lilting ocean
twenty paces upon a listing, speckled shore
crunch, crunch, base shifting
an inner, sour stillness
a wetter one
It seemed to come easy
almost every time I stood there
hazy images reflecting off mind's turbid pool
walking down to waters edge
placing my belongings on the pebbles
and wading in fully clothed
I'd imagine it all
sometimes the rising, ratcheting cold
forcing shallow, shocked gasps of breath
other times, unflinching
an unnatural indifference
to winter waters creep
from stories in the mind
just the steady, inevitable march
Would people notice? I'd sometimes wonder
or, Would I want rescuing?
but mostly there was no 'other'
just my sorrowful shadow
common sense barred
a jaded perception
of utter, irredeemable hopelessness
an inundation of despair
a rasping emptiness
by stories in the mind
no sign of escape
all too soon my feet can't touch the bottom
and it's time
to breathe out
and let myself
Sometimes tears joined the salty swill
at others, the faintest of smiles
sometimes an involuntary fight;
limbs flailing, kicking the tide
or knees hugged up to hollow chest
dropping like a cannonball
always the dance of shifting grey-green light
always bubbles and froth
wondering how it would feel
the thick, thwarted gasps
an eye-popping strain
a peaceful gliding to the Neverland
rather, a burn in throat, lips breached, lungs flooded
my brain about to implode
terror, panic and spasms
looking up at that grey-green light
wondering if they'd be any regrets
as the final stories
Stories in Mind
I pass a girl on my way home
a fellow bather in London's viscous smog
- that forced respiratory depravity
through which I crawl, daily
an affront to my blackened nasal cavity
...but, where was I? Oh yes; a girl
for a moment we're in adjacent lanes
both coming up for air (and with luck not choking)
we splash, and ripples radiate about us
a timid smile breaks mundane thoughts
but not the lift and plop of my worn out soles
on a pavement that slopes toward the shallow end
no, I paddle past, but catch myself looking back
at her wake of brown and wavy locks,
hood half up, a fine behind,
and recalling, those eyes - were they green?
hard to tell at night with all the artificial yellow light
that glinted off teeth as lips parted and lifted
a smile, for one iridescent butterfly stroke, eyes fixed.
I'm still moving, but at a lesser gait
mind flapping its tale as I deliberate
who was that stranger, passing?
oh, no matter. I'm walking on, sighing; another time
ten more paces, another glance back;
she turns the corner - too late now...
No! About turn! - an order, heeded
I've been here too many times
'one life, lived now' - that's it!
'seize the moment.' Yep; that's what I do!
with internet dating and Tinder I'm through
This is what I do.
I jog back, to the deep end
but she's only gone and turned down a quiet, little lane
now this will look strange: "girl pursued by stalker!"
shh - just stories in my brain
"Err, Hello?" I say, sidling up to her so as not to fright
I have my smile ready to disarm and reassure
I say, "Sorry, excuse me, but..."
and some charmery from my armoury, I deploy
she seems quite at ease, and somewhat aglow
in this dark corner, of dimly lit road
ah, tis the moon! high above us both, two-thirds keen
clouds stroking her bulbous cheeks as they sail by
leaving white wisps for her to swallow and swell.
I discover she writes poetry
will she share one?
gladly; she takes a folder from her bag
and from that a page, printed
which she hands to me
I shan't rush reading this, I think,
but I do, a little, in parts
I recognise the style: like my own, how odd
and it mentions a glass palace
bringing to mind a crystal kingdom
in a story of my own
it's on my website, poems too
would she like to read one?
indeed, and proceeds to on her phone
and after that short moonlit silence
I take her number, and head on home
An old loom slices though grey-matter
interweaving tatty thought-yarn
into tired-looking tapestries
stories in mind; entwined
competing for the title of 'truth'
or for attention, at least
strands of seeming quality
quickly fraying... nerves
a noise, a fuzz
mounds of lint and fluff
a fabric forming
rough to the touch
back and forth; a mechanical thrum
weaving worlds of false significance
the rattle of a spindle
fools-gold thread unravelling
lost in clouds of cotton dust