Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Pretext

At thirteen,
My changing needs made me afraid.
I rebelled, cropped my hair
close to boyish face, and
stole my father's t-shirts.
I was suspicious of breasts,
waited desperately for a spot on
plain white panties. Anything
for surety. Either here or there,
as long as it wasn't neither.

With time, I took pride
in long brown arms and legs.
Mother's thin shirts and denim shorts,
hair falling across the sunburnt plains
of shoulders and neck. Afraid of beauty,
and desirous of it at the same time,
cautious and greedy, young, mid-flight.

What does it mean
to have a nose the right size?
Curls of gold and clipped brows
placed ceremoniously upon forehead
of bronze, lips carved from the essence
of cherries and wine, sunset and blood?

Helen wasn't a character
simply a pretext.

Troy and Sparta, loss and gain -
the world before her was a lie.
Long shapely legs cannot rise above
the white veils we cast on ourselves.

Nobody knows whether Helen wanted to leave.
Perhaps she was a poet, a dancer, a lesbian, an ocean.
It didn't matter.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

What I Want to Tell You

You are the greatest poem I could have found.
You are a sunset bathed in purple, a prayer of longing across the sky.
You are the sound of rain against my window, and I’m afraid you forget it.

Here’s what I want to tell you: I know you’re afraid.
I know you’re wading through the solid chaos of a life,
Impatient and unsure, blundering through darkness,
And I know you’re disillusioned, and I know you hate it.
Baby, that’s all of us.

What I want you to know, really, is that it doesn’t get better.
Life is always going to be callous, and strange, and so unbearably short,
And so terribly long. And what I want to tell you,
Is that we’ve got one chance at this. A single shot,
And that should scare me, but it doesn’t anymore. It gives me goosebumps.
It excites me, and I want it to excite you. We’ve got one shot to live this.

There’s very little formula to it, actually.
All you can do is wake up in the morning and go to bed at night,
Drink chai on crisp winter days, buy new shoes when they wear out.
But I want you to be content, not with washed-out days and tentative nights,
I want you never to postpone a date or sleep through a meteor shower,
Numb yourself to pain or think of taxes. You’ll be fine.
I want you to watch the stars even when you need to rush,
Sleep in on a Monday after watching a Sunday sunrise, always
Get wet in the rain. Be a desert of thirst. Always ask for more.
I know you’re afraid, and I want you to be okay with that. I want you
To fall in love a hundred times (even if it’s not always with me),
And I want you to fail, at least at ninety-nine of those. I want you
To have the courage to let yourself hurt.

I want you to talk to the moon when you’re alone. To never take beauty for granted.
To laugh at yourself, every day, and yet be goddamn proud of yourself.
I want you to be as kind as you are, but I want you to watch out for yourself, man.
It’s okay to screw up. It’s okay to get lost, to spend a day in traffic,
To have made a mistake. Forgive yourself. I want you always to forgive yourself.
It’s okay, as long as you take life by the collar, and promise me to live the hell out of it.

I want you to feel this in the small of your back, rising up your spine
Like truth. Like a winter chill, or like joy.
I want to tell you more than a flimsy paper can hold,
More than a midnight conversation can possibly balance in itself.
I want you to be responsible and sensitive and have the balls to walk alone
If everybody who walks around you is an asshole. I want you to do the right thing
Even when it’s the toughest thing to do. I want you to smile at strangers.
I want you to go on a thousand road trips, to have a thousand sleepless nights.
I want you to get drunk even when you have a job interview the next day,
And I want you to shrug your shoulders if you break your phone. I want you
To know what’s important, to love people even when they’re broken and lost,
To love yourself. I want you to get lost in a forest, to read under a streetlight,
And get on a train without knowing where the hell it goes. I want you to feel
Like you’ve made something of yourself. Like you’ve grown, like you have
An ocean-full of memories for every drop that you’ve decided to live through.
Rumi once told me, with shining eyes, to let the beauty I love be what I do.
Damn right I will, man. And that’s all I wish for you too.

I want to tell you to defy all the pain in the world.
Screw history. Screw philosophy. Screw law. And screw your fears.
For god’s sake, be happy. Live the hell out of this life.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A little void.

I’m afraid I don't have the right words anymore.

I feel it all so fully, so intensely, with every pore of myself. Every moment that passes me by, I reach out with stretched fingertip, aching to trace its veins, its rivers, its endless blue sky.

Oh, cruel irony, that forces me on. Oh, helplessness settled at the nape of my neck.

I want to have the right words. I want to hold on. I want to know I am living well.

I am afraid to know the truth. I am afraid to die. I am afraid to live.

I’m a little lost, and I've been here before, and I will be here again. I know it is alright, because I have been submerged before, and I have risen every time, hair thrown back with salty spray and dripping face panting at the sun. I manage to make myself proud, day after day, even when I think I will not be able to. The world makes me proud. The sky is a reason I have for going on. Red leaves on a winter afternoon. I live for little stories, round stones, dog-eared books and smiles. I search for beauty, and it sustains me.

I’m afraid of someday not swimming back up. I’m afraid of the quicksand at the bottom of the ocean, the helplessness that can escape from deep corners of myself to fill up the seas and skies, the space and the voids.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

To the world.

Faced with all the seriousness
all the theories and the counterarguments
to Life, all the deadpan walls of text
sitting darkly against the light;

smilingly sometimes I open my jackets
and let in the joy. I'm still able to.
Listening to new music on a Sunday afternoon,
feeling the gushing waves of wind that slam doors
on the vastness of my skin, my hair.
Conversing with Cummings in the corridors.
Deep inside me, how my heart beats
to the nuances of Times New Roman, 12.

It'll be okay, won't it?

The grass is green, the horizon is lapping
at my windows, and the purple November sunset
will stretch across the sky in glory, glory, glory,
today evening. It will.

I might not always write great poetry
but you must understand I feel it, always,
in my bones; I might not be able to prise apart
my festering flesh from my bones with
the knife of wisdom, but I know, I know
I will find essence in the marrow that makes me.
Nothing tangible, perhaps, but something,
something that marks out the freckles on my
skin of gold, that lights up my tawny eyes
in sunshine, that makes sure I find poetry
in the beastliest, most brutal corners of existence.

I will find birdsong and seashells.
I will live this life (I want to)
so desperately well, so marvellously fully.
My poetry begins and ends with the I because,
because, it is all I have to watch the world through;
morality, temperance, knowledge, will they escape me?
Am I doing this right? Please, please
let me write romantic poetry as long as I live;
I love Eliot but I want to look at the world
with the eyes of Wordsworth.
Or at least always find a river from which to write from,
fields of daffodils to trace along my arms, and in the darkest
mountains, a leech-gatherer to advise me well.
Please, please, let me out of cities, let me live and not languish,
let me carry a box of rain and a yellow watch, let me escape from
time that passes like a slow-burning cigarette on a chilly evening.

I might find nothing new, travelling this world,
where every path is worn out, and some paved
(with the dreams of the downtrodden). But
please, please, let me not give up Hope
just because all the evidence suggests I should.
Let me take pleasure in every step I take,
every candle-lit evening, every stranger's smile,
every horizon I make my winding way towards.
Let me.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

An Ode to my Spectacles

You and I, I must say,
have quite a love-hate relationship.

Since the fifth grade, I've had on my nose,
some goddamn plastic frame or the other.
You know, that as far I can remember, I've looked at the world
through a blurry frame. Through a clear-glass separation,
 a distance upon which I am dependant,
without which - what? I can count the number of fingers
laughing friends put up, but you know, you know -
the world looks to me like a watercolour painting
that hasn't been penned in, like a foggy day,
like raw confusion: and you know
how uncomfortable, insecure I am
how I pride my ability, in every other way,
to See. 

To see, to see, what does it mean to see?
Clarity and confusion balance, stumble,
on a single vowel that stretches across the sky -
the sky stretched out on a windy day
sometime last year over a classroom.
Atticus stood in a deserted, waiting street
and my literature teacher was solemn.
He pushed his glasses to his forehead; 
they slipped down, and he dropped them in the street. 
In the silence, I heard them crack. 
Atticus' glasses gave us room for a host of metaphors -
his wisdom, his ability to see clearly, more clearly,
than anybody else in Maycomb. Atticus' glasses
gave me hope for my own glasses - if life is poetry,
then my glasses are a metaphor for my vision,
my discomfort with blurry sight, an allegory.
If I'm writing this story, I gave myself glasses,
in a character sketch you will find them,
inseparable from me, adding all sorts of
interesting connotations to me as protagonist.

O spectacles, sitting regally,
on pimple-spotted nose,
result of prescription sheets shouting
Myopia, Astigmatism, little bleary-eyed child,
O spectacles, extension of my physical self
since age ten, how I hate being dependant, blind.
How I instinctively fiddle with the plastic frame
when I'm awkward with my hands,
how, when I cry, little salt-water droplets
sit on you like dewdrops, waiting to be wiped.
O spectacles, I do apologize,
for leaving you on the bathroom counter today, unloved.
Me, I take you off my weary nose only at night,
when the world is cloaked with darkness.

My personal watercolour painting of the world
will never be penned in, lights large and looming,
ink blots spreading across the canvas. Without you,
my eyes will show me only a constant foggy day,
an image of chaos.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Transitory: Three Poems

What do you think, O Monks, is rupa permanent, or is it transitory?”
It is transitory, Reverend Sir.”
And that which is transitory – is it painful, or is it pleasant?”
It is painful, Reverend Sir.”
And that which is transitory, painful, and liable to change – is it possible to say of it: 'This is mine; this am I; this is my self'?”
Certainly not, Reverend Sir.”
Is feeling, perception, volition, consciousness, permanent, or transitory? Is it painful, or is it pleasant? Is it possible to say of it: 'This is mine; this am I; this is my self'?”
(Buddhism as Philosophy, Mark Siderits)

1. I have travelled far and long,
and I have seen the oceans, and
lay upon their shores. I have felt
the fleeting fire of a snowflake
upon my tongue, but my god,
it is nothing compared to the
countries of your body.

Don't talk to me about
impermanence of form -
don't talk of consciousness.
We're a tangle of blankets
and bad memories, a pair
of lost birds, a microcosm
of all the chaos in the world.
In your arms, there is no
consciousness – don't you see?
There is feeling, rising up in me
like smoke, there is perception,
and there is all the permanence
of the world, suspended on the
tightrope of desire.

We are young, and there is
a long way to go. My life
is not your life; nor is yours
Mine. This am I, this is my self.
And that is you, beyond the
border. Don't pretend like
you know me. Don't pretend
that we understand each other -
we've known each other a few
fumbling hours, for god's sake.
I'm nothing new. There is nothing new
here, today, in the bright lights
of a pulsating city; but our grandparents
would never understand. Our parents
would try, and fail. Life is moving
fast, and we take impermanence
in our stride, we hold on to it
and use it to our advantage.
Imagine if I were forced to spend
my life with you. We are young.

The impermanence of form -
is drilled into us. I know about it
already. Don't read poetry to me.
This isn't a poem: this is life.
In this scene, you and I,
are on a bed. Or a couch.
In this scene, one of us
will always be able to back out
in time. Before it gets
serious, real, threatening.

We're a desperate tangle of limbs,
an amalgamation of reason and passion,
a mess of innocent desire and paradox.
We will unravel before we grow roots,
before we sense moss. We will unravel
because, O stranger, there is no permanence.
The years are slipping by – learn to slip by
with them. It is painless, this partition, there
need be no history, no memory at all.
O lover, you are not mine, nor am I yours.

Your corporeal form wrapped in mine:
let us make this distinction of souls clear.

2. The clock on the mantelpiece
sounds the same as it did, all those years ago.
The pictures are fading faster in the sunlight.
I have watched the sun rest on the taut string
of horizon, from this window, a hundred times.
I have watched my hands grow old, and I have watched
yours. I feel the lines, like webs, across my face my arms
my hands and legs my once-beautiful neck, and I can look
you in the face and tell you this corporeal form is transitory.

We're constantly reading about love, watching it
being overused in the advertisements, like
Christmastime or puppies, or God. You and I,
have watched each other from the blossoms
of our youth to today – what is this? Where are we?
What am I to expect from you when all we have
is the ransom of memory, a thread from you to me,
stretching farther and farther with every day, every sigh.

I know the backs of my wrinkled hands, now, like I know
the backs of yours. I have seen your precious face,
every morning, for years – and I want to call this
Love, like we did in the start, but I can be honest,
can't I? We are used to each other. We don't know
how else to be, who else to watch, where else to go.
It is too late for options. Too late for romance.
Too late to know if I made the right choice
when I chose you. We have contracts and agreements,
tangible (in the photos, in the grandchildren's sparkling eyes),
intangible (in society's quiet, decisive conditions about marriage);
but all set in stone. Permanent. Our love is eternal.
My god, we're going to be buried together. Isn't this
what we always wanted? This isn't transitory -
it isn't painful – it isn't pleasant. This is mine;
this am I; this is my self – because it is all I have.

Your body, and mine. The privilege to watch
the ravages of time. Our feelings, perceptions,
our consciousness, volition. Some days, I can't stand you.
Some days, I feel lonely when I drop you off in the car.
Either of us might go first – and then the permanence
of your goddamn face will disappear, a clean slate.
I'll be a newborn again. Innocent of the malice
of love, of eternity, of unbearable lightness.
Love, as a necessary evil. Love, as salvation.

And to think
that I could have chosen
Christmastime, or puppies,
or God.


3. O my little monk,
huddled under white sheets on this grey morning,
what can I get you to drink? Listen: raindrops scrape
against thin walls. There's another sliver of eyelash
on your porcelain cheek; make a wish,
beloved, unfurl your dreams into the wind.

Someday I will look back and search for meaning
in memory: let me set the scene for posterity.
Four walls, sound of rain, palewhite hands in mine.
A swollen bookcase, feeble smiles, prescriptions
and medicine drawers, bills for chemotherapy,
shuddering roof against onslaught of sea from sky.
One little figure in bed, bald, huddled in white.

I want to hold each raindrop
in the hollows of my hand, and fashion them
into oceans for you. Oceans are permanent,
infinite and alive, but what of the oceans
of your eyes? Your form is transitory, fragile,
a solitary silver feather caught in a cage
of shatter-glass bone. Your fingers, your scars, your
breath warming my shoulder: transitory. Your body
against mine, the mole on your cheek, dark curls
against the valleys of your collarbones. Your arms,
limp against the harsh white of bedspread.
Your body, painful. Liable to change, lapping
against my life like a singing wave, unsure, unsteady.

Your smile, my endless blue sky. Your eyes,
watching me unfold my life a step at a time.
Your thunder of life in a corporeal frame of flesh.
The endless rhythm of heartbeat against my chest -
it is transitory. Is it possible to say of it:
This is mine” - can I accept the flaws
that come with your particular perfection,
smile at your apologetic smile, and say:
This am I”? This is where I am,
in the embrace of your momentary
corporeal form, split-second reality.

For this life – is it transitory? - yes,
by god, it is ephemeral and fleeting and yet
it is the only thing that is eternal. It is liable
to change, and mutate, and writhe in agony,
and it is the only constant, our only hope.
This life, it is painful, I know, as do you.

I will go through it all again if I have the chance.
Every desperate tear that I have ever shed. Every heartbreak,
every gut-wrenching, white-knuckled time the doctor said
'We don't know'. Don't worry, doctor. The answer
doesn't lie in your files.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Old friend.

God, I've missed you.
It's been long - so long,
and I've been thinking.

The reality of a relationship
isn't in the distance that makes a heart grow
fonder. The reality of a relationship 
is in the few moments I catch on the phone with you.
When we can laugh again. When the situation
makes sense. 

Reality
is really just made up of an infinite web
of relationships. My reality one evening
was with a new friend on a hill, talking.
Happy to be understood. Happy to be there.
Happy the streetlights looked the way they did
across the football field. That was then.

Alone in my room,
I don't think of realities and
relationships. I create for myself
the beauty that I need, and I surround
myself with it. (I'm afraid
of being dependant, I think).

You know when I think most of these things?

When I meet an old friend like you.
When the lights are bright and the music loud.
When I get a moment and I could lean on you,
and just watch you laugh. It's been so long,
and you're so precious. 

I'm afraid, both of the past and the future.
It's why I'm so glad that I can still hug you like this
now. There is too much chaos around,
and I want You And Me to make sense.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Sketch of a night.

Whirlpool of faces sounds arms voices:
smooth sound of African Jazz rising up
settling down like liquid under my skin.
Sweet nostalgia of warm lighting, live music,
new friends dizzy with dance and drink.
Sweet seductive smell of alcohol
floating like a feather in the wind.
Winding up in unfamiliar arms, hand
in sweaty hand, head on a new shoulder.
Walking in a daze through the swaying crowd.

Later, careening down the stairs with dancing thoughts.
I hear histories repeat themselves in my voice, bleary eyes.
The feather floats, stays with us on the streets, in the car.
Sitting straight and suddenly quiet, I look out the window.
I'm curled up like a pretzel in my mind, twisted driftwood.
Regret and yearning sit, heavy and unbearably light,
in the nape of my neck, countries of my body.
I woke up in the morning with watery eyes.
Inebriation and quiet memories leave
a strange aftertaste in my mouth.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Nostalgia.

Sometimes I am afraid I write too much about the Valley, talk too much about it.
I'm sure people get sick of me, you know. I'm sure I come off as strange.
I'm afraid that I'm so used to saying beautiful things about the Valley, that I can't see it for what it is any more. I'm afraid of the next time I go - what if it isn't everything I hold it to be?
I'm afraid of thinking about it too much, to be honest. I'm afraid of putting it down in words and images and sighs, because I don't want to steal away any of its magic.

And then some days, when I'm stealing away the last hour of sleep in bed, a liquid ache settles in my bones. What is this, prose or poetry? I don't know. I'm afraid of being overly sentimental - and I'm afraid that someday, I won't be. A liquid ache settles down in me, and my body hurts to be so far. So far in both space and time. My body hurts, I lie in bed and hold it to myself, my knees my arms my wavering heart. I'm on the precipice, somewhere important, it's a boundary a border an edge. I might cry. I might cry, and I don't know where these tears come from, and I try to pin it down, travel deep down the lines of my body to remember.

When I start to remember, that's when I ache.

I sit in class sometimes, paying attention, writing notes. In a cold windowless classroom, I might turn back for a second to listen to someone. They've raised their hand, they're talking about Shakespeare, they're talking about Hume and how he contradicts Plato, they're talking about how power distribution is the foundation of all political activity. This is where I want to be. This is what I want to learn. I see myself grow every day. But when I turn back, sometimes, I realize that I'm not there, I'm sitting in the library on a magnificent golden afternoon. The desk is under a window, and the window looks out onto a pond in the administrative block. I can see artwork on the softboard outside, and everybody who passes by and sees me smiles. I smile and wave. There are pink lilies in the pond, and a frangipani tree. Delicate white flowers have fallen on lilypads, on the gravel around the pond, and in the water itself. They float. Next to me are books which opened up so much to me, so many ways of thinking. These books are the reason I'm in this college right now, genuinely excited by Plato and Hume. My bag is on the floor, some books in the damp sunlight on the desk. I'm sure I'm working, but I rest for just a minute. I float.

One of my hiding places was between two shelves in the library, on the floor. Light filtered through shelves and dusty books, and nobody saw me there unless they looked. There were poetry books there, and I curled up in a corner, a part of the wall the straw mat the white shelves the books themselves. Pablo Neruda and Vikram Seth, Eliot and Wordsworth, obscure German and Native American poets - they all sat with me, silent. They let me discover them, devour them; in turn, I let myself be devoured by them. I let myself be devoured by their words, and then by the delicately worn books themselves, incurably romantic objects. I let myself by devoured by the library (curled up in corners so I was a part of it) and by the forest that surrounded it. I have been devoured by the people, the trees, the sky of that school.

I don't know what to do with the great swirling sea inside of me.

Today morning in bed, I felt like being kind to myself. I let myself remember. And when I let myself relive whole days in the Valley, everything comes alive: mornings where I wake up myself with the birds and the dawn floating in through my windows, evenings where I detached myself from the laughter and conversation to look up and watch the sky, Orion winking at me through the clouds. There's too much to remember, and I know that forest like the back of my hand. Every winding path, I can trace it on myself. My footsteps remember the uneven terrain, the steps, the rocks.

All my life, I will write about the Valley. I will write about the Valley even if I mistrust my writing, because that is all I can do when it hits me like a punch in the gut. It's all I can do when I look back and remember days filled with magic that seems unreal from where I am now, from where all the world is. It's all I can do because I am exhilarated when I think of the Valley, and I am unbearably sad, and Sylvia Plath told me that I will be okay as long as I can wrench a piece of hurt and beauty out of my life and put it on paper, that I will never crawl back home broken and defeated if I can make stories out of my heartbreak. I will write about the Valley because from where I am in my life, those seem like the happiest days that I will know. I don't know why - was it the people, the trees, the sky? Was it what those rambling paths awoke in me?

I will write about the Valley all my life, and I will search for ways to go back. I will go back, I know it, but it will never be the same, and that nostalgia (straight from its Greek derivative, "the pain of an old wound") will sit with me, both heavy and unbearably light, for all my life. There will never be enough to say about it. I will make paintings when I miss it, and fashion critical thinking essays justifying why Valley is home - although the answer is here already, solid and tangible, sitting inside me and smiling.

There is a liquid ache in my bones my voice my mouth my hands. There is a liquid ache, and I might spill over. How to explain that this is not rhetoric, this is something real and alive inside of me, a fire and a flood all at once? Perhaps on somebody else's tongue, these words will represent only pretense, artifice. On my tongue, these words are a desperate plea to the gods of expression. On my tongue, these words are all I have. Pause. Breathe. I have to go for class now. I won't let myself think of Valley for a few days - too much of me is ragged and fluttering in the wind right now. Let me gather myself, so I can begin again.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Nature of Desire

Words float down the breeze
to me. Across windowless cold classrooms.
'The nature of desire is such'
he says and I give myself
a cold hard look,
'that it is never ending'.

'The nature of desire...'
I test it on my tongue.
An earthy word, stable,
that settles like dust
on the sensual sound
of 'desire'. Wisdom
perhaps is the greatest
vice, gently pulling you
from side to side, open
to the storms of the world.
Screw this. I don't want
to know. (Who am I kidding?)

To know, to believe, to
understand, and then give way
to yourself to grow. I want to
be wise, and yet I also want to
possess you, and everything you
stand for. And not only you,
and not just in that way. I want
to hold on, desperately,
to every moment, every sight,
every limb of mine desperately screaming
'desire'. I desire beauty. I desire life,
and knowledge, and joy, and youth.
I desire every galaxy, every photograph,
every deep-veined leaf floating in the wind.
I desire - and I sit, on the other side
of the mirror, watching. I sit 
in the eye of my cyclone, listening
to myself think. I lie down 
in a golden field at sunset, and
fashion rhetoric from my words.
'The problem of possession', I say.
'The existential angst'. The grasses
lap like waves at my feet, blown astray
by the wild, wild wind. The sun rests momentarily
on the taut string of horizon, a deep orange orb
against sky.

I languish
in a fragmentary existence.