Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Worth the wait: a Christmas Eve tale

Carey rested his face in his hands, propped elbows on the windowsill, waiting.

The radiator beneath him was cold. He knelt on the bed and nestled his feet inside a blanket, though, that tucked warmth around his toes, and that was what made him feel like it was Christmas.

The sky stretched out above him like a thrown navy sheet: speckled with winks from the eyes of stars that he knew were looking out for him. He tried to wink back to every one, but that was impossible.

He was supposed to be asleep. The murmur of the television gloamed upstairs. Papa was probably the one who was actually asleep, folded in two on the couch like he did every night after his shifts, after Mrs Howell had gone home for the night with her four dollar babysitting bill. Although Carey could also hear the soft, sleep-breathing of his little sister in the cot in the corner. He had gotten to know her breathing sounds, and this was definitely the low rasp of somebody's dreaming.

When Papa had tucked him in, Carey struggled to settle, and Papa wordlessly put the blanket around him with old, tired eyes. But tomorrow's Christmas, Carey had said, as Papa closed the bedroom door. It's just any other day, Papa had said as the door clicked shut.

Carey knew he was wrong. How could it be just another day? Everybody knew that Christmas was some kind of magic. Carey yawned. He rubbed his eyes and kept watch. It had to be soon.

His eyes drooped. Was this the latest he'd stayed up? Melissa, the baby, stirred slightly. Her blankets rustled; not as soft as when they'd been Carey's. He looked over, but she was still asleep, her hands clenched in tiny fists.

The TV sound faded. The picture must have been turned off for the night. He knew that it meant it was late. His elbows ached from resting on the wooden sill. How much longer? Just as his dry eyes almost gave up, he saw it.

A flash: so fast you'd almost miss it. A whizz of light. He couldn't be sure, but wasn't that streak of starry light in fact a sled being pulled by eight reindeer? And wasn't that Santa? Sure, Carey wasn't able to confirm that he'd seen a red suit exactly, but it could only be it. He slid down into his bed, pulled the blankets up under his chin and smiled. His stomach grew into a blooming rose-glow of happiness as he drifted into sleep. It had been worth the wait.

Of course, in years to come, Carey would have forgotten all about this night. He would be working at the Stop and Gas on Christmas Eve at thirty eight years old, another night shift just like his father. He would be waving off his co-workers who had kids, who were going home to wrap last minute gifts, and fill stockings with cheap toys. He would look up and see maybe the third shooting star of his life.

And he would hurtle back into that room, that cold and empty room. That room where at five years old with icy fingers and cosy toes, he'd seen a shooting star and been convinced that he'd seen Santa Claus.

As he watched his coworkers drive away in their family cars, he would recall that feeling in his stomach. And Carey would think to himself, it's amazing what an imagination and hope can do. And he would wave to the people lucky enough to get away for the night, and he would crack open a beer on his staff tab, and wish himself Merry Christmas. And he would pick up the phone and call his little sister Melissa after all these years, and tell her a story which she would never have heard.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Fogged.

The day arrives wearing a veil;
looking at me in a Havisham way.
It seems prudent to keep the foghorns sounding,
reminding us of that skeleton pier,
or the braver cocklers out earning their keep.
It feels the sort of day to chain-drink coffee,
hot and black,
life-giving.
To scramble thoughts of autumns past -
some good, some bad, but
none as fogged as this.
Aeroplanes are grounded.
Time feels still.
You watch a spider abseil from a diamond web,
glittered by the hands of fog,
on the tomato plants out front that gave up two weeks ago,
unseasonably,
living beyond their time.
The low horns blow, muted,
wrapped in cotton wool.
A chimney across the water reveals itself for barely ten seconds,
then shrouds itself again.
The day's veil holds fast.
Looking at me in a Havisham way.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

School photograph, 2000

A thousand tiny faces,
a sea of fixed smiles,
braced teeth,
terrible hair and what will always be
a moment in time.
For all the times I thought I looked okay,
a million when I didn't -
that day cost 24.99 of my parents' money
to see me and all the others,
masking future selves.
Fifteen years have passed since it was taken.
Time has glided by,
people in that picture have died since,
married, divorced, had children,
lost jobs.
It was the year 2000, and
Britney Spears was number 1 in the Singles Chart.
I taped the Top 40 off the radio,
like everybody else: press pause when the DJ starts talking.
Do you remember that a girl fainted?
The kind of thing that lives and breathes as school folklore.
But she did, and people laughed.
After it was over, we went back to our Biology class, for
dizzying, sick-making words like sclera, membrane.
Something about being sixteen where bodies just seem alien to you,
despite having one.
I wondered if I'd smiled when the shutter clicked.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Why you're here

For Jo. 

Remember that burning ambition:
the kind that puts Lady Macbeth in the shadows,
where you write and
write and write and
don't stop until you quench that thirst,
where writing fills a void
and feeds a hunger
and blankets you in softest fleece while
rocking you to sleep.
Like a song that gives your heart wings to fly,
or a line you read that speaks right to you,
like the love that gives us hope and comfort and home.
Blessed with a skill to imagine
where others stay on the treadmill of monotony
you give,
give life and words and concepts
sparked from nothing else but you.
Honour your mind and its ways to make,
by sitting at the canvas armed with
your bow and arrow.
Remember why you're here,
a towering oak, weathering the dry spells and
indulging in the lush rainfall.
Emerge, dew-fresh from the fallow time, newly reborn and
ready to create again.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

All those things

The low slung moon breathes 
peppermints on you, 
while kissing our shoulders with a whisper of ice. 
The bloom of night grows slick and copsed with the burr of 
nestled birds sleeping, finally, 
but not you or I. 
The warm day swept aside 
for a sky as chilled as a glass of milk, 
you drop peppercorns of thought. 
We dissect the day, its highs and lows, 
that honeysuckle we smelled on the parade, looking 
out to sea with ruffled hair and 
glossy eyes. 
We talk about health and love 
and all those things 
that hold us close at nights like this, where 
summer starts to die, to shrivel up too soon, 
and there's nothing left to do but stand under the moon; 
a frosted mother who gives 
a sour glance this way and that 
but equally keeps us safe, us mortals, 
us singers of songs and writers of poems. 
The night is giving birth to sounds that we don't know, 
or care for, 
and a fox locks eyes with you and makes us think of home. 
Arm in arm we slip away from that druglike call 
of the glowing orb that gives us our tides. 
Home, now, where the foxes can't reach us, and the soothe 
of blankets 
breathes into us new life.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Runit Dome

Unseen plumes bleed as though through burlap sacks,
not concrete: not this protective dome that
harbours whispering nuclear swarms.
Back then, they surely didn't know
what extra doom could bloom beneath this tomb 
where Bikini Atoll, usually safe and standing lone
now prone, is laid bare to waste beneath.
The fall from more than fifty bombs held tight,
slept through the night for thirty years. And now;
now what?
Poison, lying in wait.
Wait for weather, wait for splits.
Plutonium will leak for miles away like gifts.
The atolls lie supine under
stark blue skies that once saw clouds,
of hydrogen and fear.
Delivered from a generation away, 
the legacy from such violent tests is 
ready for its time to come. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

nightstorm

A corridor of whispering grass smooths to a halt.
A gibbous moon looms, spreading cosmic Philadelphia on mud toast,
an estuary deprived of tide until the next hour comes.
You sit in your crude creek shack and wait.
The creek is all tall sides and quiet,
like a school hall at night. Make what you will
of these shadows, these shadows that
make reeds or boat masts into Robert Mitchums, stalking us
for rag-doll loot.
Night-clouds roll in, and ruffle feathers of sleeping birds.
Count the seconds between grumbles of distant thunder
and pins of flash across the bay to see how close it is to you,
this storm, this storm that
cools the mud and dampens the paper of a late-night cigarette.
The rain sleeks shine upon the seabed,
readying it for the burble of tide, while
the moon now cloaked in storm resides, under a blanket
of thunder and gloam. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

June.

Peeks of sun tease through the bedroom curtain,
whispering leaf shadows on the wall.
The first day it feels like hope, where
light and warmth remind me of
summer mornings before primary school.
No more morning darkness, or
stumbling like foals into the gloom,
but a stretch in bed with
shards of sun on straying limbs,
warmth beginning to bloom.
The coo of pigeons sing to me on the windowsill.
Come to me, day, I am ready for you:
come June, June, June.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Scales, weights, weighing machines

Gray's Inn Road is a burst of sound:
drills, sirens, thudding bass from cars that
shakes
the bones of you.
McDonald's is a magnet, drawing people in
and stuffing them with
plastic burger buns, synthetic enough to survive an apocalypse and
outlive us all.
Taxis crowbar themselves into spaces you'd never think a car could fit 
like magic,
like swerving pros,
the swell of traffic crushes through;
shops come and go:
a launderette one day, empty the next, ready to be fitted as a cupcake store.
Above the massage shop that
hasn't made enough to justify a permanent sign
is a secret message from the past,
"Scales, weights, weighing machines"
Daubed as though graffiti from the distant dead,
a ghost of commerce long-gone,
where things were clunky, functional, required.
Not touchscreen, like now,
not weightless, backlit, to amuse each spare second.
I like to think of men behind the counter,
clasped hands and
long aprons barely touching a dusted floor, where
people came to buy their scales
a pilgrimage to a specialist
on the Gray's Inn Road.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Home bird

The flight of a bird can
catch your eye, a
drag of fountain pen across the sky.
You can start to forgive yourself
for that feeling in your chest,
like the end of a movie
or the last day of school.
The bird is a hawk, unfurling its wingspan
inside your heart,
where feathers and love stick like tar.
Your longing is
an express train of wanting to feel home.
So you wait with coins ready in your hand
to buy a one-way ticket.
But they are not your hands at all;
wings - brown and glossed, as if
transformed.
A feeling that you've been pretending all this time
is overwhelming and you
take off, instinct telling you the way.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Gluttony.

A globe of churning supper
beneath the TM Lewin shirt stretched thin.
Crisply ironed this morning, now housing
blooming stains of sauce, wine, and some undetermined other.
A quick meeting and a bit of nosh they'd said,
over a quick guzzle at The Tipperary. What started with
half a Guinness swiftly descended,
where the tiny glass looked Liliputian in his fat and sausaged fingers.
The Guinness swilled in pints this time and then came chips: big ones,
cooked twice in goosefat, stacked
in bales on a breadboard:
I miss plates, one of them says.
A roll-call of City bankers and brokers through the door,
booming men with dusty jewels for eyes,
eyes dry with the hangover of last night's deal.
Glinting are their cufflinks, wet with
London Pride and a whisky chaser.
Another swarm of suits enters the room, a sweep of the bar:
another round before the eating proper.
Next door to steaks, a hot breath of charred meat
drums upon their faces.
One of them wears spectacles, that steam up with the swell.
They squeeze into a booth with busting buttonholes and zips,
with eyes like currants they clutch at wine,
upwards claret fangs on mouths with a
blackening of teeth.
Fried brie, to start; they don't want to wait,
never a minute without something greasy in their grasp.
Steaks arrive with chips again and also their own weather-system,
upwards steam of
meat-facials to smooth their glossy cheeks.
Another Chateauneuf du Pap, he shouts,
stemmed glasses smudged with cheesy thumbprints,
soon cleaned on napkins so they can text their wives
to say they'll be late home.
The peals of laughter roaring out make light of
the economy;
they'll flap their FTs out on the train from Cannon Street,
gurgling with full.
And outside the Tube station sits a woman begging scraps to eat:
funny how finding half a Pret A Manger sandwich
can make her day.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Neighbours

Creep behind curtains and
spring out from your front door.
Speak platitudes of weather or
the blossom our pathways share,
the very pathway where I stood in my dressing gown,
begging you to quiet your noise.
You mutter about not being able to remember
where you parked your car: I fantasise
about you walking the streets for days,
like an owner of a lost dog, round in circles
a quest that never ends.
I imagine the piano lid smashing on your fingers,
quelling the tuneless romps you insist upon,
no designated song, just a plinking of keys until we scream
or play AC/DC pressed up against the wall.
I bruise my knuckles banging on the woodchip,
wake up sleep-hungry and drained,
unreasonable and wired.
You wave at us while off to church,
and I wonder if you hate us too.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Hillfire.

Under the heavy lidded morning sky,
you took a photo of me, serious faced and
tan shouldered.
Our limbs were tired
from a night without sleep, where
sirens pealed and people shouted.

A hillfire.
They said it was moving towards an old petrol station,
and unexploded shells from the war pinged high.

We watched it, cloaked in smoke;
watched as men darted about with buckets,
pale attempts to dampen the ground.
Across the headland we saw more fires break out, streaking
up hills and clawing to the sky.
As tourists, we feared the worst,
but the neighbours, locals,
still sat in their apartment and played cards, sipping
ouzo and chuckling at us.

By morning the fire was out.
The scrubby hill next to our apartment stood
black, charred, smoking;
embers hiding their fight.
But an amber sky snowed ash -
little tiny pieces that melted on hot skin.
It fell soft, and brown,
like baby moths.
I rubbed the ash between my fingers until it disappeared,
not wanting the reminder.

 
















Photo by Jill Morgan.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Escape

Born of debris, one sweet 
fireball 
where silicates hold tight,  
hot like nothing before it, 
hell-bent on escape. 

Where brothers and sisters  
burned out and  
fell to be nothing, this meteoroid  
makes it through.  

With cosmic velocity, a  
birthday present of matter delivers itself;  
through a tear in the fabric of the atmosphere, 
a gift to us, 
deepest iron glinted with  
the flecks of time, of space.  

Like a baseball thrown way out of the stadium,  
it smashes into the desert,  
twinkling in the eye of the sun;  
that distant relative  
who looks down upon the crater as if to say  
well done, you did it, you got away. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

March, wind, tide.

Like narrow bands of coldest steel,
these rivulets of estuary lie on their backs,
metallic in shine;
picked out by wading birds, top-heavy and
lilting
curves of beaks half an S shape,
eyes like glossy roe.
Tide times flap in birdwatchers' hands
ready to be ripped out to sea,
with dropped lens caps and half a biscuit wrapper.
The wind knocks the breath out of seafront runners,
chapped legs and
watered eyes that seek the horizon line,
watching the oystercatchers enjoy the low tide.
Cold rolls in, along with the drift,
where upwards burbles of life spring up
scattering the turns and making
seaweed swim to shore.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Twelfth Night

The empty yard on the way home
that three weeks ago sold Douglas Firs
is dark and closed,
scrubbed and hosed,
but there on the pavement is the faintest whiff of pine,
and the most Januaryish of confetti,
green matchsticks for a Christmas bride.
Twelfth Night tonight, but you would not know it,
with twinkling across thresholds and
trees still proud in windows and
lopsided late calls for Santa to stop here.
This flagrant disregard for superstition bothers me,
like cracked mirrors on their living room walls, or
ladders in their doorways.
The homeless man who sits on the bench says
"It's going to get worse you know" and I say
"You mean the weather?" and he laughs, a wild laugh,
and doesn't think to answer any other way.
I pass more unwanted decorations,
tired plastic snowmen waving me home,
driveways clogged with bags of rubbish,
bloated pink bellies threatening to
spew gold paper and ribbons upon the needles.
Twelfth Night tonight, bin collection tomorrow.

Monday, January 5, 2015

New Year's Resolutions

With a new year in bud, you think about things like
how much less time you'll spend writing fanfiction and
grow the balls to have your own ideas instead,
where you will write your own romantic destiny where
that love you crave can spring into life.
You will floss.
You will eat less bread,
those endless afternoons destroying a baguette and
an entire packet of soft cheese, stock still
in front of your computer.
You will do more crafts. Not just bulk-order aida cloth
and primary-colour thread,
and let them languish in the box marked Another Day.
You will watch more documentary films,
not programmes blaring garish titles such as
In School And Pregnant, or The Man With The Biggest Head.
You will go outside often, and take walks.
You will stop biting your nails.
You will not listen when your mother tells you that you're
never going to amount to anything.
You will have courage.
You will give yourself a break more, for the resolutions you can't keep.