Times

 

I
It needs to be
              cinematic
for this to stick,
for the here to arise, draw breath –
take grips. Through eyes,
faulty graphers in low definition,
so little is; exists: meagre outlines
and reflections – smoke signals puffed
by a slow cog machine
for the unfiled records
                       of broken memory.
II
The harshness of used to. Drowning
in some sea-filled region,
one lost
Atlantis a minute: perhaps in bile,
wasted saliva – blood!, perhaps
your tear, my dear, perhaps…
I don’t know yet, I don’t
know where, I haven’t
yet
mapped you
(it takes some time
                   these things).
III
I wish I were
Lorca, who wished
we wished
we could be clouds, I do,
                         and other things
remote. Tell me
you don’t tire
of being solid, bodyful,
of being young, then old,
of being even you.
IV
I shall stop asking why
for it doesn’t pay to think more
than a body ought to, than a brain
can process, yes will, and shall
count my thoughts
and time them – no need
to work extra, my dear:
we all live on minimum wage,
we are all bound by the dark games,
all get the sack when the heart fails.
And there is no union to join,
no embassy to occupy
                    when your gut takes
to rebellion.
V
I see the nights follow
the nights: a day, a day, a day, a
day, and write
ugly repetitions, the way it drugs
you to be sane, and how
soothing madness
can be, and eat and drink and
go to bed,
thinking:
it needs to be
raw and savage.
It needs to sting, it needs to
bite.
If only time could miss a train.
VI
You know
the clouds are
just
an example. They might as well
be stars, mountains, be any
thing (that is: whatever is
not me, nor you).
VII
It isn’t like you to complain,
but you
who work and raise and pay the debts,
say you
don’t care
about the clouds.
VIII
Time will put its own spin on it.
Never erase: pervert.
Twisting the fat out of the roast,
seasoning love with five winters
dry and arid as ten decades.
Time will
wall up the fissure in your brain,
paint over the concrete façade,
                               and then
paint and repaint over the paint.
If I summon you in a year
you will wear a snake in your hair,
your white collar will be bile-stained,
and I’ll never have known
                          your name.

IX
But I, I can never
stop asking why, I can
never
quit playing poker with the Fates,
and look for proofs in the gardens
                    in the houses
                    in the poems
                    on the bright screens the lips the veins,
combing every square inch in vain.

X

It was just signs; you can’t
believe
everything that flickers in red: I know
this date
was the same as that date
and you and I are the same brand.
                                 Yet
you’re as early as I am late, and though
the signs demultiply,
the miracles proliferate
but don’t pollinize your bud-eyes.

I give you ticks on the blackboard,
I cross your face out of the books,

and put them back
down
on the shelf.

 

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Alice in the Wasteland

(An extract from the novel.)

BOOK I

1

This in the doorway, inside the dress, is Alice. Look. These are boots that are her shoes. These are curls that are her hair.

This is her room, smelling of scented candles and wilted flowers. Alice always forgets the flowers, waters them once, twice, no more – lets them wilt and rot. Just as she always forgets to eat the food she buys, stuffs the fridge with special offers, has the beef or the poultry – lets the rest go off. It is so hard to go to the shops and plan your meals for a whole week, when your desires are so utterly unpredictable. It may be that you will not want soup on Thursday after all. It may be that on Thursday, someone will suggest you order Chinese just as you craved Chinese, and you will let the soup go off. But on the Sunday you still buy the soup, for soup is healthy, and you hope you will want it on Thursday.

And so the flowers have wilted, the candles have burnt and melted, and Alice is opening her curtains onto a patch of grass and a range of trees. Look. This is the garden where she read The Dangerous Liaisons last year, where she smoked herself silly, drank herself sick, and her mother once slapped her. This is where she kissed a boy three years ago, and bit a girl the next spring. This is the deckchair in which she dreams too much and works too little. And this corner in the shadow is where she undressed a girl – the same pale, awkward girl – and discussed science, the impossibility of science (the miracle of electricity, the magic of atoms). And in this room she is looking from, she once drew the Earth and line-shaped people all around it, some upside down, with their heads in the abyss; and she wondered about gravity, then! And look! in this bed she was penetrated by many men, men who acquired godly powers and heard none of the words she spoke.

It is but a garden, but a room. Ah, but this room and this garden!

(Soon Alice will lose her youth and everything that is included in the package of youth: nonchalance, naivety, enthusiasm, and the ability to marvel; and even the blondness of her hair will seem to pale slightly, giving way to a duller shade of brown that will henceforth seriously affect her power to mesmerize. And when this happens, you, like Tiresias, will be able to say ‘I knew it’, for you will have been warned.)

_____________

But look! Now a colony of sparrows is streaking the sky and Alice’s pupil: loveliness! Perfect timing!

 

2

 

At the sight of sparrows, Alice thought of sparrows. There was a time when she would have thought of fleeing, of balloons, of islands – of Chinatown, perhaps. Now when Alice saw something, she could rarely think beyond what she saw.

That was a handicap. For instance, what would happen if she were to be psychoanalysed?

‘Blue’, the psychoanalyst would say.

‘Blue’, Alice would say.

‘Whales’, the psychoanalyst would say.

‘Whales’, Alice would say.

‘Fridge’, the psychoanalyst would say.

‘Fridge’, Alice would say.

This would not lead very far, and Alice could never fall in love with her therapist, and no transfer would occur, and she could never be cured.

 

3

 

After thinking about sparrows, Alice turns to business. She closes the curtains, adjusts her glasses, breathes in, breathes out, in and out, and her heartbeat accelerates in the run-up to the most decisive move of her day: and she reads her emails. And instantly, a knot forms in her trachea:

NOTHING AGAIN NOTHING

But why?

Defeated, Alice falls back on her bed. Her pulse is thumping as maniacally as an electro club at 3am and she wants to scream at the top of her lungs. She feels like lying in bed indefinitely, melting in her Deauville-printed duvet and her American-perfect lawn sheets, letting her mind focus entirely on this gore, letting it debilitate her body and annihilate her will.

But there is no time – next week, perhaps, she will dedicate a whole day to indulging in her misery. (For, if at all, these things must be done well: one does not deal with crushing disappointment in a series of 5 minute long sessions, in-between stuffing the washing machine and lacing one’s shoes. No; one should take an entire day off to wallow in one’s pain uninterrupted, to be able to masturbate the horror and exhaust the sadness until it becomes too sweet and too unbearable and one’s instinct of survival decides to erase it, to save one).

With a feeling of great anticipation therefore (it would be such a good day!), Alice makes a mental note of arranging such a session, and applies a third layer of mascara onto her lashes.

 

4

Two applications of lipstick and a clothes change later, Alice, now in trousers and hat, steps into the living room. (Look: this is the boy she could have been, but for a Y).

Loop

I call midwives
to my deathbed of solitude,
shrunk body’s side. Extract
a life from me, new happenings.
I have revolved like a planet
in an endless orbit, stubborn-
ly circular. This cannot –
there must be –
give me –

More.

The Only Immortality You And I May Share

 
There came the time

I had

to retrieve my eyes from your eyes,

to check my tongue out of your throat,

untwine my fingers from your own

that fist-like fought the withdrawal

without breaking the nails, without breaking

a bone, without

– even –

slicing a nerve.
 
 
You

no longer owe me the destination

of your steps, the location of your

absence, the timetables of your thinking.
 
 
I

no longer awe you.
 
 
I cashed out my life from the bank of you

for no reason other than life,

it is long and it must be stood. I stand it

in my mini-might, I fight

it with my dwindled strength, my bare knuckles

and my patience, and I

stand it

– maybe? – just fine,
 
 
every other time.
 
 
I had some nerve and felt the nerves

of one who skipped the rehearsals, who

stumbled on stage bound and blind, mumbled

dark spells from a sad script

fished out of the slush pile.
 
 
I bore the brunt

of one who hates the plays she plays, who wants to hell

with theatre. The only way was to duck out, hang up my

wig on the top shelf, shed off my second

and third skins, make a new dress with the curtains. But I

was cast

in the longest period drama.
 
 
You no longer

tickle me out of my last breath,

summon the laughter out of me.
 
 
I no longer

coax out the cravings of your mind.
 
 
My god, I lie: I stand it half or nought,

most every other time, I under-

stand this life too right

for the good

of our kind, with-

stand it with the pieced-up remains of my corrupt mind,

my punctured blow-up heart, and my brain that I now

conserve

in brine.
 
 
I subtracted my shares of our futures

for no reason other than death,

it is harsh and potent in me. I tackle it

with my left kick, my mistakes on automatic, I handle it

with feeble defence on repeat, and haggle

with it for mercy.
 
 
There came the time to cut

the heartstrings shooting in-between.

I severed them with a rough knife,

one at a time, one at a time – sometimes

tying them back, until you begged for the butcher,

who doesn’t go round roundabouts, what with the

pigs the geese the cows

waiting their turn in the chamber.
 
 
 
Two years later I piece us back.
 
 
This is our hope and our collage.
 

Don’t ‘date’ a girl who travels

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Don’t ‘date’ a girl who travels, because a girl who travels wants nothing to do with conventional, formalised, American soap-opera’ed approaches to relationships. A girl who travels doesn’t ‘date’. She may do all the rest: flings, romances. Whirlpools. Strings and no strings. She can pull off the whole range – more or less well. But risks (chances?) are, she has no interest in this ‘dating’ business.

Don’t ‘date’ a girl who travels. Make the most of every opportunity, like she does. Don’t politely swap numbers with the traveling girl you’ve been flirting with all night and pledge to ask her out later. Just kiss her already! And don’t be surprised if she’s already pushed you against a wall by the time you’ve decided to make your move. She doesn’t expect you to be out of a nineteenth century novel. She doesn’t care that you’re drunk, that you both are. The rules can go to hell. She’s learnt to trust her instincts, to sense instant connections. And she’s too spontaneous and passionate not to act on them.

Don’t ‘date’ a girl who travels. Take her on an adventure. Or, let her take you on one. Relax: it needn’t be fancy, or perfect. Forget about maintenance. There’s no pressure to wine-dine her. She’s learnt to revel in the small pleasures and to conjure up fun and excitement in most situations. You don’t need to – actually, you most probably can’t – impress her with money and status. All she’s really interested in is your company. She’s not the fussy kind: she’ll enthusiastically eat street food, sleep in tents and drink in shabby holes. Don’t spend hours planning it out thoroughly. Really, she rarely sticks to plans. She’s happy to go with the flow. She just wants to live every moment to the full.

Don’t ‘date’ a girl who travels. Hang out with her. She doesn’t need you to take care of her, she does that very well on her own. She has no use for stereotypes and antiquated notions about gender roles. She’s not looking for a prince or a crutch; what she wants is a friend, a sidekick, a partner in crime. You don’t need to worry about ‘treating’ her this way or that. She’s cool just goofing around with you.

Don’t ‘date’ a girl who travels. Engage with her. She may be opinionated, but she’s also open-minded. She’s seen enough to understand that nothing is black and white. She didn’t throw her brains away with her career. For every ‘wasted’ university degree she has a life lesson or experience to share. She may not make a nice trophy for your family and friends, but she’s not about to run out of things to talk about with you or them. She may stand her ground and argue, but you can bet she’s genuinely interested – and when she listens, she listens.

Don’t ‘date’ a girl who travels. Get involved with her. She may be fiercely independent, but she’s more convinved than ever of the value of sharing. Don’t fret, either: she’s not in the market for a husband. She’s not out to have your babies. Her immediate priorities probably lie miles away, in all these other places she wants to (re)visit, these new things she wants to try (sure, with you – if you care to join). It doesn’t mean that she’ll never want these things either – but hey, let’s not project ourselves too quickly, shall we? Let’s just take things as they come and see where it goes…

Don’t ‘date’ a girl who travels. Be alive with her. Kick off your shoes and say yes; say why not.

Don’t ‘date’ a girl who travels.

But do get sucked into her tornado.

This is

not the first time, this is
not the first time.
We part in a backstreet,
somewhere narrow and black.
Look at my bile
dripping from the lamppost. I’ll mop
it up later. We part
for good. You think this is morning
in spite of this whole night
shadowing us.
I suck my thumb, not nearly weaned.
I’ve lived too many lives.
The premise is
silence.

I will never be young again,
and this is what my youth is like. Gotta love it
this mess. We are survivors of the plague,
our faces slightly scarred.
For two hours burning from a lack of belief
we sat in the cafe antagonised.
The stupor was the same when Antigone agonised
in a Theban household, over
duties to love.
I talk Agon, I could talk lies. You feel
nothing, I know.

I was not asked to sit and wait
in vain, but I wait like no one. O
do tell me again why it is we are doomed
and I should feel sated. I am not just
half-starved. I do wonder handsome
at your Babel babble and your nut for a heart.
I do wonders with nulls.

(For two hours sitting and risking all at once:
talking the talk, breaking the news
to a dead tree. Your hair is a concern;
the rest may simply burn. Freedom is many things;
your freedom is a boat, and no freedom
to some. I did single you out,
undo the knot.)

But to think, to think –

The bile, plop plop. Look at
the dark the fog the rats:
you think that a morning?
I must be put to bed
and cured with medicines.

I bite my mind’s tongue
with two lids
and this rack of eye whips.

Days go by meaningless
now I sweat a sickness.

Make Do

1

We are the clowns of the Wage Age,
the footsoldiers hopping along
the tracks, waiting for the next convoy
to mow us. We are
the casualties.
The sounds of cash machines
lullaby us, and the infinities
they are/we are building, for you,
for you,
for us,
the sound of the billions
injected here, injected there,
not in our veins or in our arteries:
in a network intangible as God,
loathable/lovable as God,
fickle as God, un-
necessary as God, un-
forgiving as God.

Life would be easier
had we been born
a bank.

2

Were we
a bank
we would be
rescued.

Were we
a bank
we would not
be let die.

3

In your embrace I thought
I saw a remedy. I know
I saw
a denial.

I want you as a screen.

And for this I would give
up
my home cinema.

4

In undergrounds
we stare.
There is a mass perspiring sweat.
Together we go through
the same tunnels, the same
darkness. Our shared experience
pushes us apart.

We share the newspapers we do not bin,
we share the trash, the doom. Perhaps
I could love you?

(But we have come
to the end
of the ride.

(And ALL CHANGE,
PLEASE
)).

5

Were we a bank, we would have ties
with a (foot)bridge, we would be felt up by
water.

Were we a bank, we would have a sibling,
a twin, always under our gaze.

6

I know the citizens of the polis,
of the accro, of the metro,
the mega and the megalo.

We use the poles
to dance and strip.

Billions of us, billions of us,
thirsty, thirsty, thirsty.

I don’t know
you
you
you
nor you.
I know
no one.

7

Morning headlines:

“MAN CHATS UP BARBIE DOLLS”
“WOMAN GIVES UP HOME CINEMA FOR AN EMBRACE”
“WOMEN OVULATE APRICOTS, MEN EJACULATE CAKE ICING”

PM headlines:

“MAN FONDLES MANNEQUINS”
“WOMAN GAVE UP HOME CINEMA FOR AN UNREQUITED EMBRACE”
“WOMEN OVULATE KINDER EGGS, MEN EJACULATE CUSTARD SAUCE”

Evening headlines:

“MAN COPULATES WITH HIS IPHONE”
“WOMAN GAVE UP”
“WOMEN OVULATE NUTS, MEN EJACULATE MUD”

(It could have been poison).

8

Soldiers of my boundless nation, you are
not an army, you have
no uniforms. You are a head, a head, a head, and
a face, and
a face, and
a face.

***

We are:
– raised by gimmicks.
– descended from punchlines.
– abandoned by posters.
– adopted by slogans.

This is
what we are worth.

We have:
– been moulded on a bench.
– grown up between school terms.
– repressed quite everything.
– decayed in offices.

The cleaning services came twice a week
to bin our strips of skin.

We are scared of:
– the hairy animals.
– living alone.
– living with company.
– living full stop.

(Notwithstanding dying).

We lala it away,
we lala it away,

while dreaming like crazy.

9

And now down the main road:

Look at the whore, the whore of the Wage Age,
the whore who fucks
not for money – who fucks for love.

The whore who gives out her body
for free, who shoves it up
all hands, maniac, hoping
someone holds on to it,
hoping to hit
a jealous claw.

She leads the life of the lost souls,
the plight of the lone souls.

Her birth was cursed by CEOs,
by the cosmos.

They cursed her with
lackings.
Looking closely,
beyond the breasts and the marrow,
underneath the lid of sorrow,
you see –
you see that she
has one hole too many –
and really too narrow.

It is the hole through which
what could make her complete
evaporates.

10

Little whorie, I also see
what no one sees:
I see your humbleness,
and your degrees,
and your fire at my parties.

The violence of your dance
in this blurry kitchen
is your hymn to chaos,
challenge to decadence. You know
the laws and the morals, they have shaped your
disgust, and curbed
nobody’s soul. You brush
them off, panting. Your realm
is of freedom, and you drink more
venom.

This bloodbath is
your scene: in vino veritas
and in wino a mass, heretic priest preaching
for the good of the good, urging you on to try
the cure of Epicure, whose wisdom teeth were long,
always stained by liquors. Ravenous fangs!
You too
must eat, must beat and cheat
and sin, and bitterly regret
the neglected mornings, the troubled afternoons,
the skins that were unscarred, the juicy fruits unsucked,
the many unlicked lids and uncharted bodies
where your hooky fingers
could have planted
your flag.

You must
betray, beguile, delight in your treasons – revelries! revelries!
bathe in the pools of doubts – the rejuvenating ponds – and regret
the regrets. Stand in the rainforest while the grilling rain rains,
the tornado threatens. In those heavy jungles, your aim is
survival, your ideal
existence, and your conscience the yellow fork-tongued snake
with the mortal sting
curled around the palm tree.
You juggle with your guilt, three firelit torches
circling around your head, coming
to no standstill.

Those ballons are your lungs,
those little sticks
your bones, and this great pump
your heart
that can never
be stopped.

And when you spin,
inflamed, on top of this table, you summon
an excess, invoke adrenaline
to smother your pathos. You seek
a mouth to kiss, and a spine
to caress, with a full set of ribs
that will be used to sculp
temporary husbands.

Little whorie, what an addict!
This thing in your liver
is called a crave.

And so all day
she’ll rave, sprinting across
the streets, throwing herself
at knees. Tall men pat her
bare chest and drag her on
for miles, her belly cut open. On train platforms
they shake her off, and she has left
a trace
on their raincoats.

(Sometimes
she even slips
a note.)

11

Inside page 3:

‘When he was found
grabbing the loins of his iPhone,
strocking the buttons as buttocks,
he was singing it a lovesong,
the only one
he knew by heart, the only one
one needs to know.
He had his tongue
between two limbs, and the song goes
I love you I love you I love you
for three minutes fifty (longer would be
too long). In crescendo.
His eyes had popped
out of his head, his skull was touching the ceiling,
his trousers lay flat on the floor, and he rocked
to and fro, sometimes
hitting the wall.’

12

Oh my Mummy,
you have grown old,
you have gone deaf,
and the world has bled me.

I am your young
who climbed the trees
to build my nest.

We were always
so late.

13

I sleep with you, holding your hand
pale as my hand.
I CANNOT
sleep alone.