summer vanishes slowly
memories of burnt grass blinding blue skies blanket patched-up parks
salt water on sun-licked skin
fade with the light
summer vanishes slowly
memories of burnt grass blinding blue skies blanket patched-up parks
salt water on sun-licked skin
fade with the light
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.
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.
That in-between space
colours distorted by night
directions change as we move
One day she must turn her back to us
holding another’s hand
awaying her from shore’s safe shoulders.
May my cries weave feather dresses
my pain grow wings.
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.
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)
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
before carelessness played havoc
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
I never liked her anyway
but the flames didn’t eat away
autumn flutters by
leaves fat with colour and glow
dance with darkness
(turn the volume up to hear the sound of autumn…)
Something 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.
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:
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
… 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
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…
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.
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.
In 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. So 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…
no wonder it looks exotic to me still in it’s full
spring garb: it’s a migrant
from southeastern United States
also a little ancient miracle as it appeared before the bees
and made it – thanks to a curious beetle –
into our times and my garden
where this year another miracle transpired when
El Niño teased her flowers out in mid January
then the belated winter kept them intact for
over two months: flowering a delicious white
with pink edges so faint I can only see them from close up
yet from my window on the second floor all I see
first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening
and blurry without my glasses
a party of pixies willing me on
i first met him outside our house
at 08:12 on Monday morning
perched on a wee little chair like mornington king
i was late for a safeguarding training
we met again 5 days later
he was sitting in a dark corner of No 13
i let him into the
sunlit conservatory where he
studied old collectors books
on Sunday morning he begged me to run
him a bath – he had a proper splash
kept singing shanties
loud and a wee bit out of tune
before hanging out all afternoon
in the sun by the window…