Loneliness grows waves then oceans

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Loneliness grows waves then oceans


Und die Einsamkeit wächst in mir wie eine riesige Welle

aus dem Meer meiner Vergangenheit” – Chris Anderson (unpublished letter)

We have grappled    we have battled

have searched    asked    listened out

We have celebrated    cherished    laughed too loud together

We have kept each other sleepless

We have avoided    ignored    shut out

written    waltzed    wasted as only lovers can

who don’t see the

We have tried and given up    reached out    closed in

We have hurt    dared    we have lost

Washed away on a wave of floating    flying    gliding

never this: leaping into the possibility


day-dreamy days

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Nature / relationships

wasp spider 1

Would it make me a better person if I could remember what I used to daydream about?

They are back thorny rusty right-angled
casting spells in the speed of knowing little time left
the elegance of not caring about it
their webs the same silk as moth cocoons
Gone now that black feathered fuzzy moth
on the wall above us as we made love
somewhere dark and reassuring
living the night like your soul
immune to the sound of time
pulsating through my heart
I remember now that it doesn’t matter
how long I can hold my breath under water
Insignificant as a cloud to the moth its night
or that sequoia tree I read about
nothing in its 4000 rings would show any sign of me
even if I carved our love into its bark
or the times I’ve failed you

(c) petra hilgers



Lace 2 xs

It’s the hidden things…

Yesterday the sun x-rayed lace curtains onto the old kitchen tiles

sharp like a boning knife’s edge cutting through the yellow of years

of pots hissing on hobs    froth spitting out of angry mouths

the stainless steel extractor fan thundering swear words above

hands wielding ladles    lids    liquids    dousing appetites with cost-effectiveness.

Lace shrouds    clouds    those put away in rooms too large to keep clean

spiders weaving veils from dusty covings of ripe breasts and pregnant bellies

necks too weak to crane    eyes too blunt to see    so nobody was offended.

Yesterday I heard laughter lolling down the corridor    a bit too loud

someone long gone caught out by fingers that had lost the strength

to put rollers in tight as washing line    they rolled all over the carpet

she had long stopped seeing the stain of a meal that had slipped shaky hands

when it still mattered that she was here and he only a memory

still lingering now.    The houses’ emptiness a bigger lie than lace.


Between the Years, 2017


oak leaves xs

On the tumulus sun rays reach the tops of twisted trees

drawing creamy lines between ancient oaks

like a spider’s web.

Beneath lichen-licked twigs

leaves remain frozen in dying

their silence striking a chord on my heart.


Days I cannot grasp blur past

like a landscape in a blizzard

tugging me off-course.

Snow casts darkness before laying to rest on Earth

muffled by the density of compact clouds

I move past shadows that are here to stay.


Darkness peaks on that last day

dripping from near-bare trees’ crumbled leaves

hollowing creases into the faces of roots.

I start digging holes into the night

tearing open the thickness of clouds with callous claws

allowing a white flag of seagulls to cross the defence line.

cross-cultural conversations


Behold That Tree 2

white EU migrant woman & black Caribbean British Canadian man

‘What is I beheld?’ ‘Past tense from I behold.’

‘But what’s that in non-Shakespearean-English?’

‘It’s real English. It’s like (pauses) I behold

that tree’ (gestures with his arm somewhere outside)

‘Like I see that tree?’

‘Like Fuck! Check this tree out!’

Behold that man.


Travelling / Uncategorized


I wish I could start writing about Brussels all over again. I wonder whether

I’d still have to explain that it was actually Mechelen we went to and never

Brussels though we did have a golden afternoon in Brussels that ended on a high

look-out – the city, framed by dirty baby-boy blue with pink stains in it, to our

feet. Ashen but ready to rise as we walked back down into it. Also, I would

like to mention the golden masonry around every single of the lavish guildhalls

encircling the grandiose market square upright and proud like the men that

once walked in and out of these into freedom over the tired scarred backs of black

men and women. And I would like to ask why the statues in this city are of black

marble and naked children. I wouldn’t mind retelling the story of how if felt to

touch the cold snout of the watchful dog that didn’t feel cold because it had been

rubbed golden – the real stuff. Fortune. Fleeting, therefore ever more precious.

Not mine to own and so easy to obtain, if only. The other big square once be-

longed to the river Senne until it fell into disdain. So it was covered up, then,

by a busy street: everything valuable hidden away and no gold outside the old

Stock Exchange which is now closed despite stairs as long and wide as a beach,

pillars that could carry the city’s dreams. They had to carry the city’s sorrows

after last year’s bomb attacks – people had chosen to gather here above a buried

river on chewing gum clotted tarmac that had been reclaimed from cars only two

years previously by rebellious picnicers. It had seen blankets, bunting, barbecues

and water guns that have made way for armoured vehicles, maybe temporarily.

We made our way to Mechelen later and it was good not to see guns and stay in a

friend’s friendly house with a frozen garden that hosts chicken, a raspberry hedge,

a pool and occasionally kingfishers and woodpeckers. Also a cat, one night, as

black as the other, unfrightened by the thin ice beneath its paws. This is Fear Age

and we will stay strong, too. We will be pillars to each other, here where we find

ourselves in a room of five languages – though it was me who hadn’t thought of

Gujarati until reminded and the graveness of that grinds my heart into bonemeal.

Staying strong and looking my own blindness in the eye. Willing to see the hidden.

Un-covering the mis-take; dare getting up and re-taking it. In Mechelen they have

uncovered the River Melaan that had been filled with earth a hundred years ago

and turned into a car park. They have opened a museum in the old barracks from

which over twenty-five thousand people were deported by train to Ausschwitz. A

train carriage still stands outside the museum today. It’s easy to look. But it’s

never easy. That’s what I would like to write about our trip to Brussels last week.

(I’ve published a first post about our trip to Brussels here)

honouring a place of dark

Stories / Tower Blocks / Uncategorized


black eye

now that wall I remembered

a face of a young woman

chiselled out of plaster

revealing a matrix of red bricks

tearing her out

wind tearing her hair apart

another wall in another city

same not-quite white wall

large black eye traced

with carbon paper like

mascara smudged down a cheek

white wet puffy

what happened

before carelessness played havoc

carelessness played



don’t play with fire

we all blamed the girl for starting it

thought her mean enough

to exclude her from our play

to burn her with nettles

when the house burnt down

they left

I never liked her anyway

but the flames didn’t eat away

that shame

lost things…

Stories / Unexpected

margate-british-library-3_xsSomething has shifted. It began recently on a Sunday in September when I woke up from thoughts of doubt and betrayal, feeling perfectly uneasy, first, then angry which was almost a relief. Since then things kept changing. Every new day another leaf fallen, the tree a bit barer, the light a degree warmer, the air a degree cooler, the atmosphere a degree clearer and my thoughts, too, sometimes at least. Yesterday, I forgot my scarf at home and a gruffy northeasterly wind was teasing my neck all day me with pale bony fingers. Later, on my way home I forgot my hat on the train. My warm wooly hat made in Scotland lost on a Kentish train. The last thing I know is that it was on my head, proudly, when I entered the overheated carriage. It must have fallen into a small gap when I took it off as I sat down. I sometimes wish I could find a small gap to fall through – where do things go from there? Walking through their yesterday? Unravelling back to their idea?

The Polish cleaner with a face as warm as a birthday wish understood exactly how this hat was the most precious thing I will own this winter and he assured me that losing it was a good sign: if you loose something today you’ll be blessed with luck tomorrow. I already felt blessed by his friendliness – he escorted me from the platform to the train officer on duty by the gate who took my lost hat more than suitably serious. He even phoned someone at St. Pancras to make sure the cleaners there would look out for my hat. Then he made me write down my name and number like a police detective preparing to track a missing child. He spread more friendliness by consoling me that these things happen to us: we’re travelling, chatting, laughing, dosing off and suddenly arriving where all is momentarily forgotten. My blessing: men in uniform that understand and try to evoke miracles.

I’d come back from a trip to Margate; it seems I always go to Margate in the autumn. I also always seem to go back to the same cafe there: I was relieved to see they still have vases with fresh roses on the two tables in the alcoves as they’ve always had on previous visits. I always sit at one of these: a high table joined by two bar chairs with cast-iron feet making them impossible to move. The waitress seemed new but nothing else had changed; the coffee was still a bit too expensive, the food still a bit unimaginative and I knew they’d let me sit for hours at a table with fresh roses overlooking the little harbour where nothing happens during low tide except for the Tracy Enim neon sign slowly brightening up against the darkening sky. Even that hasn’t changed. I exhale, yearning for that cast-iron steadiness. Out there right by the sea you couldn’t even trace the change of season because there are no trees, no leaves – just changing tides, dawn, day, dusk, night and the same again.

But there were surprises, of course. The Turner Gallery was not very open – only a wedge to let in a trickle of visitors who were happy enough that they weren’t able to get beyond the entrance hall because staff were setting up a new exhibition. Instead we were left with a mesmerising installation by Yinka Shonibare called British Library. Celebrating the contributions of migrants to British culture and society. There they were: stacked, batiked books in high shelves covering the whole of three long walls. Yotam Ottolenghi, Natalie Bennett, Bisi Alimi, Shami Chakrabarti, Yoko Ono, Prince Charles, other royals, writers, artists, politicians, campaigners, thinker, doers including Nigel Farrage who rested next to Karl Marx. Standing surrounded by these walls of gilded migrant power was a bit overwhelming – I suddenly remembered how I once, years ago, got totally lost in a beautiful sentence by Nadine Gordimer that proved to be so overpowering that when I finally reached the full stop I knew exactly how many words it contained, which ones I particularly liked, which ones I didn’t understand but I couldn’t say anything about their combined meaning.


Standing there now, a lost migrant in a little seaside town that unsurprisingly voted ‘out’ on 23 June but surprisingly made space for artists in their midst that contradict: like Raychel Mount who built the Listening Wall on one of Margate’s ancient arteries – as a Living Wall because of an abundance of flowers sprawling vertically out of the wall like champaign bubbling out of a bottle. After Yinka Shonibare’s walls of awe-inspiring migrants now a wall to heal divisions exposed by the referendum. A wall to spread love or share grief and anger. Of all things possible: walls to connect and bring together. I was confused, having grown up in a country divided by a 1400 km long wall of concrete enforced by barbed wire, mine strips and deep-seated ideological believes; a wall we were only too keen to break down and lose forever. But then, without walls there’d be no houses and nothing to put windows in, nothing to put roofs on, nothing to break down or climb over in order to discover what lies behind. So back to the Polish truth: you lose one thing and win something else instead and maybe that cleaner is somewhere on the shelves of the British Library piece as well.

Back in London my hat hasn’t reappeared, yet: I went back to Stratford International a day later and was told by a female staff member behind a glass counter to go to Cannon Street Customer Services. That’s where I’ve come from now – it wasn’t open on a Sunday. Shut and shutters down it didn’t radiate any of that friendliness i felt from staff at my train station. But I’ll go back. I’ve not totally lost my ability to trust the power of miracles because thoughts of doubt and betrayal are too simple a choice. I’m beginning to enjoy the deepening of my relationship with my hat and know, no matter whether I’ll find it or not,it’ll be precious to me.



relationships / Unexpected

A friend has offered me her space on the Sussex coast while she and her partner are travelling. A space with a cabin and a caravan, chicken and greenhouses, fruit trees and wood pigeons, a kitchen and WiFi. A space to escape from a hectic summer with a few blows – the shock of Brexit, the discomfort of a back injury, the uncertainties of my relationship that’s now come to a sudden full-stop in mid-air. A space to land, take a deep breath and maybe just take some space… Space feels like a very comforting gift – another one, recently, was the discovery of ‘pantuns’, a Malaysian verse form with a fairly rigid structure that offers safety to my unkempt mind. The two brought together with a pinch of freedom lead to something like this:

wale stone

on the edge of the old dark

watching incense exhaling last wisps of smoke skywards

yesterday the sky disappeared with the sea into a white blur

so it’s possible then

a space between sky and sea


yesterday sky and sea smudged into whiteness

like white noise drowning out sounds

the white space between sky and sea

blurring my memories


white noise drowning out sounds

a swing in a walled garden

the only memory I’m left with for company

alone up on a hill above the road from Eastbourne to Brighton


a swing in a walled garden

where wood pigeons bemoan dreams buried too deep

up on a hill above the valley

cars drifting by on the main road, unknowing


wood pigeons bemoan that space

where day and night blur into a turquoise glow

where we drifted, unknowing

a space filled with the breath of the in-between-creatures


day and night blur into a glow

a space, blue, blurry, timeless

the breath of in-between-creatures cool on my skin

after the day’s heat and comforting before the old dark


a space, white, hazy, horizonless

when did I stop feeling, like a knife gone blunt

the day’s heat, the old dark

when did I cross that threshold


when did I stop feeling my own sadness

buried too deep under grey motionless void

when did I cross that threshold

a rock, round, smooth with a crack like the Meridian line


from grey motionless emptiness

watching the incense exhaling its last wisps of smoke

it crossed the threshold, skywards

so it’s possible, then

an offering…

Portrait / Travelling

… of a poem that I wrote during my week in Scotland recently…


my mother thinks my life is a going-round-in-circles

barefeet on grass after a snowstorm

I don’t feel the cold

follow the bends

the steps of the many before me

between old stones worn smooth from

pressure, friction and distance then

brought up here by determined hands

I imagine them large

in the centre I find a stone

with thin waves of sediments laid into it – blue, grey, darker grey

carried by waves of the ocean – grey, blue, darker blue

looking for an offering I find a sea shell deep in my pocket

the architecture of the shell

mirrors the architecture of the labyrinth I’m standing in

a sacred order of spiralling circles

turning North across the hills

I rest in the certainty that there’s a shell

tall and white and cresting a wave that’s laid into a stone

from a distant place long ago


Travelling / writing about blogging and blogging about writing

Not migration this time…

In April I’ve travelled to a Creative Writing Retreat where we were invited to write a 100-word journal every morning. I’ve now followed the urge to re-read mine and found myself threading together bits of stories like those stones I found on a beach one day. Nowhere near as orderly…Iona_xs_69

Two days of travel from London to the Isle of Iona: 3 trains, 2 ferries, 1 bus. Then 2 feet underneath the weight of rucksacks. The closer I get the slower the transport. When we finally arrive I’m lost in a hazy spaciousness like on that first day of the summer holidays blurred by glaring sun shine and the smell of meadow flowers pressed into straw bales.

Here all sound has become spacious, too. I sleep restlessly in my first night with the unfamiliar quiet: not still but thick with the hollering and howling of the wind across the Machair. No trees to moan, no branches to creak, no loose bits to rattle: everything here is tied into its place. The wind is the last and the first sound. A dry whistle, no discernible tune. Never not there. Over night it turns into a roar.Iona_xs_16

I go to buy a comb; mine was left behind in London. I also buy a woollen hat. Handmade in Scotland; sturdy tradition against the fierce North wind. Another night and it grows into gusts as stiff as a Victorian church congregation. The first time since I arrived I see the white crests on the waves unsettled. The sea has lost its frivolous turquoise. People tell me the weather has changed here. They mean the wind which has gone from record highs of 40-60mph to 90-100mph. The only ones utterly undisturbed are the sheep: ancient breeds like the Hebredians who also look like a Victorian church congregation in their black coats with regal horns.

I find two tiny sea shells forgotten in the pocket of my wool trousers: no larger than a raisin. When I picked them up on my first day they were wet from the waves: with my brown-tinted sunglasses they had looked a fiery orange. Dry now they are the colour of liquid honey with some darker spots, a bit like a tiger curled up cosy.

Iona_xs_23In time for the wind who brings a surprise of heavy snow: it’s not snowed like this here in over fifteen years. Gatherings of white sheep huddle close to each other forming creamy clouds against the starchy white of the field. Across the sound everything disappears behind the thin veil and it’s suddenly easy to recall the druids. Eventually a caravan gets through: the musicians for the night’s concert. The whole village goes. They are sitting in neat rows wearing their boots, water proofs, woolly hats in a cold village hall that has inhaled damp wool and honest sweat for generations. The music warms some of them – also the wind outside who’s now calling in the rain.

I have a desire to be alone and leave during the interval. Walk my 3/4 mile through the dark of night: as if the island had born a twin and put it up into the sky above, an expansive cloud absorbs all memory of music and returns, only, the patter of rain. I walk straight North towards a glow ahead of me – reaching the hilltop I see it’s a band of colours flowing out of the snow-covered mountain range to the West. A snowy turquoise turning into greenish yellow, dirty coral before climaxing into a pink as pure as summer joy. The next day I learn that I saw the Northern Lights. Maybe it’s the glow that’s melted the snow away. The wind is pacified, the sea calm again. I wash myself clean of anxieties by going swimming in the winter-cold sea with Sue and the others. We run hand in hand, drunk with laughter and cold. On our way back to the village we see the goldfinches again and that night I hear the corncrakes on my walk home. Their nocturnal industriousness that sounds like the grating white noise at the end of the tuning range of a radio receiver.

At the hostel a rainbow wipes clean the tarnished sky. Someone has drank my soya milk and only left an insult of a splash in the carton with my name on it. I accept it as a ransom for unknowingly having broken some rules in the hostel with my early morning showers and computer in the kitchen. Iona_xs_59So John who runs the hostel gives me a toffee-coloured fleece from one of his Hebrideans to take back to London and spin. I feel a weight of responsibility from the fleece that’s lighter than a sleep. That same day I find the weather-bleached bones of a sheep scattered underneath the ribcage of old machinery in the abandoned marble quarry. I understand that I need to honour her and gather her bones in one place. I take a photo, also one small piece of bone. What is it with you poets that you always gather bones? I’ve also gathered pebbles. And serpentine stones. Mermaid tears. Rainbows. Poems. I bit more of myself.

The wind picks up again as it’s time to return across the sound, across the other island, the other sound, and the other land back to London. Where I’m still picking up pieces and arrange them…