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Poetry

Once you swam in me

I would hold you
as you slept
and keep you from drowning

When you woke
I would often pull you
to my depths
A mounting dull roar
in your ears
A faint glimmer above
as you gurgled
through a whirlpool
of salt air
I opened
for you

You would sometimes cling
to passing driftwood
But with tidal inevitability
I would envelop you
Still holding
a rough plank
or worn bough
or empty-handed
you would slowly
slowly sink into me

Once you swam
heedless of fatigue
toward a white spot
toward a bobbing brightness
toward a pontoon
I had torn
from a large boat
Grasping at the remains
of its metal frame
you clambered atop it
And there
I could no longer have
my fill
of you

You assembled a nest
of flotsam
You now know
every piece of wood
every scrap of plastic
intimately
It comforts you
that there are only
so many ways
to arrange them

Do not forget
that my fish
feed you
That my currents
determine your course
and can dash you
against sharp
black
rocks
however you may toil
with your salt-worn paddle

Do not forget
it is my surface
that shimmers
with reflections
of lush land
that turns out
to be nothing
but waves
in me
whose bitter spray
you taste
as they break

it decides
to dissect​
and inspect
you inside
like an insect
its interest a
pin though
your abdomen
and into
its stark
white
board

around you
regular
columns
rows
of other twitching
insect bodies
honey-combed
by compound vision
some dead
all skewered
six legs
or fewer

a rattling
cacophony of
rasping clicks
a metallic
mass-gallows
of fat sallow
bad-blood-sick
love-filled ticks
unable to muster
the will to rupture

amid the grid
of pulsing nausea
you’re only aware
of your own
of the oozing hole
that holds you in place
exposes your viscera
to its inquisitive gaze
brittle layers of
chitinous
bitterness flayed
wounds of want
and self-pity displayed
layers of defensive
constructs arrayed
labeled
on tables

Patterns
we violate
the stillness beneath seas
We do it again
and again
and again

We the uncomprehending tick
that swells
with the valueless seed
of another
We
the other

We devour
our
fat
feeble
forebears
We ignite our remains
We ignite our remains

We shed
sharp geometries
Weave them into our offspring
Strip and dissect
Brand and discipline

We watch ourselves pace
endless rows
of kennels
We incinerate our own
We incinerate our own

In front of screens
we degenerate
into a twitching
machines
Our electric atavism
burning senseless paths
through atrophied grey matter
We latch onto an orange anus
spewing hate
it feeds us
we feed it

We crowd around ourself
Leave ourself
dying on a cold pavement
We flare red for an instant
fade to colourless flaccidity

We exhaust our remains
Our patterns frantically shift
Unrecognisable
we lose our struggle
against the cold regularity
the oceans
of stillness

A noble line of greatness
stretches from antiquity
You march toward its forefront
to claim your legacy

You think a throne awaits you
you’ll be fastened to a stock
where the vermin that fellate you
drive broken glass into your cock

A capering clown
puts a paper crown
on your solemn lowered head
you’ll bleed out like a stuck pig
though never fully dead

You’ll never rest Orestes
though your mother’s ghost will come
to find you in your torment
and you’ll manage ‘fuck off mum!’
You’re slumped and bowed in silence
Softly she will plea
You disavowed me with your violence
Why did you murder me?

You now survey your kingdom
through undulating vision
the dirt you are
dirties
the dirt beneath you

You find it hard to swallow
that the blind dreck of this world
Not the sheer will of Apollo
did your body’s being build

your chest a feeble fluttering thud
your head a heavy jug of blood
no matter how much flows
from dark tissue exposed

Sick
of occasionally stuffing my heart
with inebriated fucks
fucks
never fully mine

What I really need
is a phlebotomist
with warm eyes
who asks me
to take off my coat

I hand her my form
and sit down
snugly preserved
in duplicate
within her two
amber eyes

She nods
as I extend my arm
and slide the sleeve of my shirt
above the crook of my elbow

Above this
she wraps the tourniquet
feeding its elasticated strap into
its plastic buckle
drawing it tight

‘This will sting a little’
The needle punctures my skin
enters my vein
I sigh out
a voiceless lungful of air

She fits a glass tube
to the needle’s housing
Glug glug
my blood
floods
its vacuum
‘You’ve very strong’
she murmurs

Feebly now
dark red pulses
into the third tube
She withdraws the needle
a cotton swab in its place
taped to my elbow
‘so it doesn’t get on your shirt’

She turns to her samples
and papers
and scribbles
without a glance
she says
‘you can go’

We exchange a
cascade of
goodbyes

Sick of occasionally stuffing my heart
With inebriated fucks
fucks
never fully mine

What I really need
is a phlebotomist
with warm eyes
who asks me
to take off my coat

A habit
I had hoped
shed
sees me return
again
to an uneven mattress
bartering
dreams for hours
of a life foreswarn
the remainder lived
fewer
forlorn

Leaden legs
and bleary eyes that
deadened
peer at leaden skies
through a rain
specked pane of glass
Autumnal curtains
gently pulse
and endless
cars and people pass

Now in so few ways inured
to the soporific haze
of a dream-leeched
day endured
let alone the
grimy little
hours that
settled
gathered days
months that piled
heaped a year of stolen youth

A life that barely
filled half
a shared
room
its white walls
crumpled bed-linen
and radiator

It’s small
now
I sit
I examine the suture
over the void
that was my future

This fast food stand
stands fast
against a bucolic backdrop
on the edge of one of the jaws
of suburbia’s pliers
that clasp a wedge of countryside
It stands in the corner of a parking lot
beside a pub
from which drunken karaoke
sometimes bumbles up
to my bedroom window

Sluggish and gummy-eyed
he shuts the side-door
against the cold
fills the trays with salad
turns on the grill
It warms up
Buds and shoots emerge
amid chirping
above scurrying
and tentative foraging

This fast food stand
stood fast
against my gaze
against days
and days of recession
nights of depression
Frigwell Kebabs Burgers & Chicken
The sign is backlit
competing with the street-lights
The nearby pair
of pregnant glass hemispheres
holding incandescent foetuses
hung from concave black cones
on tapering triangular brackets

This fast food stand
stands
between me
and the distant
glimmering rows of lights
onto which
I project my hopes
of a me-shaped vacancy
somewhere
in the dynamism of London
Though I know they are just
part of another suburb
perhaps solid and clear
to its own fools
staring out of their own windows
at distant lights

The foliage behind the stand
absorbs the unrelenting sun
with far more grace
than the people
The year-round orange of fake tan
takes on a reddish hue
as it masks sunburn
but even in
this sweltering heat
there is demand for
sweating meat

This fast food stand
that stood fast
during my year
of relative poverty
and effective isolation
waiting for an EU passport
punctuated by threats
from the university debt collector
will stand fast
as I whittle away
at some project
or other
eventually getting a half-respectable job
and giving up on this
art and writing
malarkey

A grey sheet of cloud hangs overhead
He lifts a white sheet of metal
to reveal a compact kitchen
and form a small awning
above the gathering schoolchildren
They yap their orders
wait
and squirt condiments
into polystyrene trays
Rain pools on the flat roof
A boy in a hooded tracksuit
frenetically paces the tarmac
mobile in hand
This fast food stand
stands
soggily abandoned
and dimly visible
as the night-time branches above
sway
and caress a street-light

This fast food stand
will stand fast
until
the gradual erosion of civil liberties
impinge on anyone’s right
to get pissed after work and have a kebab
Until we are all palpably powerless
and stripped of all privacy
every now and then
we who feel it approaching
can enact
our habitual ritual of contrition
and sign another petition

Spent
The final ragged leaf
clings to the damp tarmac
The sinuous skeletal products
of an unhalting pursuit of nourishment
are naked
Steam exhaled
and exuded
by grey meat
intermingle
as a single
chip slips
onto dirty slush

This fast food stand
will stand fast
as the finite
runs out
and more of us slip
below the poverty line
The government suppresses
a desperate and angry multitude
The world is overpopulated
You wish you’d never copulated
fucked
You’re not even stricken with grief
that instead of chicken and beef
the stand now serves textured human protein
The ultimate monoculture

want to be this
this and nothing else
fans of black approaching
flanked by rows of
smudged streaks of electric light
not trying to find words
or to moderate actions
no longer fearing to encounter
phantoms of past failures to do so
hurdling over bars of light
spectres of shame

want to be earth
smacking its lips
thirst slaked by piss
solemnly watched over
by tiers of fir

want to be slabs of stone encroaching
and the rustle of plastic-wrapped bouquets
the awe monolith
awe distance
closed
the two diverging triangles of light
watchfully cutting the night
the unnameable night

Plain English is stranded
unsure of itself
at a party
watching Extended Metaphor and Obscurity
across the table
grinning friends
swimming in each other’s liquor laced breath
each goading the other on
to surreptitiously pour
more and more
vodka
into Diction’s glass
Rocking
back and forth on their stools as they
watch her
struggle to keep her composure
she hiccups
and clumsily rushes
to cover her mouth
Diction blushes

Extended Metaphor and Obscurity
turn to each other
gleeful gleaming streams
of yellow laughter escape through the gaps between their fingers
mingling in a tingling singularity
of hilarity

These are a subset of possible instances of communication
that are likely to fail
Or less precisely
these are the things I struggle to communicate
Yet somehow
I expect you to find them
if you carefully comb the voids
between my lines

These are
the tentative struggling
steps of a newborn calf
not graceful enough
to release
from this windowless wooden barn
For I cannot bear another accident
another bone riven
driven though translucent skin

If I wait
until it is ready
it will be
yet another
lumbering blind bull
there will be nowhere
nowhere for it to go

Meanwhile I sit
in my fusty
lightless room
my hunger gnawing at my patience
and eventually I cut
cut my losses
and eat tender veal
as I sit in the gloom
of my fusty
lightless room

These are those
of which I cannot speak
and must pass over in silence
only
to change my mind years later
when
again
their time is gone

And still I expect you to read
what’s written
in a blind man’s handwriting
between my lines

Why even bother at all
when I can smother the scrawl
I call content with form
if content to adorn
blank pages and empty spaces
with similar sounding words
arranged in patterns
changing in paces
like a shifting flock of birds
I can dig myself so deep
that the slope’s too steep
to climb out
and I don’t have the strength
to throw rhyme out
skin’s worn and fists clenched
shirt’s torn and sweat drenched
loose blisters and blood
as I twist in the mud
lunging to the beat
of my spade’s every thud
plunging into peat
I moil in the mud
and I toil in the muck
my spade starts to stick
in clay that’s thick
thick enough to be brick
jolt kick and alarm
as a sawtooth wave
judders up my arm
must be bedrock
but only the dead stop
can’t reach a deadlock
panting in the dim light
my skin-stripped grip
still manages to cling tight
again I fling
my shovel down
I hear a ding
and feel a sting
as it’s flung right back
leaving me stung and slack
but I recoil and redouble
in the soil and the rubble
with every sharp
stroke of my spade
my frayed nerves are flayed
my thoughts disarrayed
but one remains
at the forefront of my brain
I repeat the refrain
that somewhere at the bottom lies
monotony lobotomised
somewhere at the bottom lies
monotony lobotomised
somewhere at the bottom lies
monotony lobotomised

My engine is primed – the margin is narrow
I drive my pimpmoblie the wrong way
up the one way street we call time’s arrow
to me at fourteen with something to say
about reading books or my computer screen
or my attempts to look without being seen?
These things don’t matter
they’re not general boy’s chatter
they’re not TV, football or violence
Why not just sit here in silence?
But I was never one to think before I spoke
I would teeter on the brink of being a joke
saved by a brain that’d sometimes produce wit
or intelligence, but my peers didn’t give a shit
unless it was a yo-mamma joke or snide remark directed
at a teacher – or self-mockery for fear of being rejected
It occurs to me now that it was considered cool
to use spoken word as an expressive tool
among young rappers in the burgeoning grime scene
but I was about as gangsta as burgundy is lime-green
But I could have just picked it up from my environment – in retrospect
and moulded my youth around rap in a vain attempt to get respect

Heading for East London in 2004
give a young me advice
thought I really wanted to do so much more
this’ll have to suffice
It was the most tough of decisions
I really wanted to drop in on Chaucer
tell him of post-structuralism
and the death of the author
And after that – feck it
give antidepressants
to Samule Beckett

Hello little man whom I used to be
reeling from an Injury called puberty
life doesn’t seem viable
not even liable to try at all
wishing your parents used contraception more reliable
than withdrawal: coitus interruptus
but we can’t let self-pity interrupt us
Just lie – saying your parents continue the tradition
and why – because they bang on your door
while you’re in a compromising position
on your bedroom floor
with the sket next door

Let’s practice – shall we?

inner-city youth for two years
gonna’ spit truth for all ears
blazing marijuana in my pyjamas watching batman
while peeling a banana – yeah I cotch like a badman
I don’t blaze to escape the crushing banality
the squalor and stress of urban reality
and never to quell my social anxiety
It’s a spiritual ting – so suck on my piety

Now that we’ve flexed
our verbal muscle what next
A superfluous verse
far from terse
where we nurse
our ego with superlatives
and inflate our self-worth
’till it’s likely to burst
tempting – yes
but let’s try the alternatives

Hard to give form
to me and you
in rhyme
when we’re torn
in two
by a gulf of time
What can we do with this
Let us try a new tack
remove our differences
and see what’s still intact

Left bereft except
for a fear of theft
GBH and assault
unable to brawl
unable to bolt
we stall and we fall
and it’s somehow our fault

“What you got for me – bruv?”
Let me see – bruv
I’ve got page upon page
of repressed rage
scrawled down from a young age
pacing my flesh cage
Looking for an outlet
You hear that strange sound?
I think I’m breaking out – lets
go to some waste-ground
where you’ll meet my gaze
through the midday heat’s haze
Then you’ll glance
back at the fence we slipped through
Now’s my chance
I reach my hand down into
the scrub and long grass
and grab an old brass
pipe – swinging it in a wide arc
it collides making a loud sharp
metallic crack – you start to sway
and fall with a dull thud
Wolf-like – I bare my teeth and bay
because I can smell blood

I swagger over to meet
you as you stagger to your feet
and beat
you to a pulp
watching you gulp
on teeth from your gums
and blood from your tongue
like warm salty spunk
from your dad when he’s drunk
Your mouth’s hanging open
like I’m telling a joke and
you’re waiting for the punchline
(Brap!)
Wake up in a months time
sill supine – this time on a hospital bed
staring blankly – whimpering – nodding your head
and your mother’s crying
you’re a mewling retard
“You looked fine until
you started drooling sweetheart”

Now let’s practice our diction
Yeah I know that’s a “posh word”
my social background
pops back up like a flushed turd

I’m not writing fiction It’s not diction
It’s slang – I’m not prang
that you’ll think I have no authenticity
because I wasn’t born in this city
and ‘caus I don’t roll with a gang
white as chalk tryna’ talk like I’m black
Think I might baulk at my lack
of melanin – no – too much adrenalin – too busy telling them
that my rhymes are tight – and they’ll never unravel ‘caus
I’m down with the kids like the late Jimmy Savile was
I set the buffest trends in the roughest endz
you can ask my friends but that depends
Do you really want to risk a brisk stroll
through a grey and abrasive shit-hole
that’ll choke you down and rope you in
It makes Beasley Street look utopian