The big-small city

Every time I think of loving
someone again, I build a city
in my heart.

I fill the city with noise and bustle.
People old enough to know better
drink pints, women exchange words
as children play, dogs bark,
you can’t hear yourself think in there.

When ready, I open this city out and say,
‘this place is busy,
there are skyscrapers and banks.
There’s hopscotch roads
studded with traffic,
delicatessens with fancy cheese,
and cafes with beautiful twenty-somethings
shooting espressos.

In this city there’s a small
stable with fading walls,
cigarette ends and a double bed.
Sprawled on the sheets, I’m there
waiting for someone to come home.’

Where the skin fits

I squeezed myself into the body of a man this morning.
Zipped up my spine like a sin, hoping this skin wouldn’t appear
so red and bruised today. I jump-started my heart from the bonnet
of my neighbour’s car. These eyes saw similes in everything.
Compare them to a boxing ring; my pupils played out loss on repeat.
Laugh with me, I cried. I promise not to take it so seriously.
Promise to shrug off the hospital appointments and the tiredness like an animal
sheds when it no longer needs to carry the burden of self.
Promise to bend at the knees, fall short of my dreams; forever
pray to matter and bone, youth and time.

Wreckage

I have a memory.

Age eight I come upstairs
to find the cracked ceiling
of my bedroom open,
my father’s foot
collapsed through it,
the plaster a tsunami
at my feet.

My father sat
in the aftermath of
gypsum and board,
doubled over, head held
in his palms.

It was the first time
I had ever seen
his face contort.
With such rage.
I thought it was just the wreck
of the ceiling
Until his hands flew up,
into fists,
and into my throat.
And he roared.
And roared.
And roared.

My father had a memory.

Swimming in the ocean,
floating on his mum’s
stomach, the milky sky
a storybook above them both.
‘I have to give you
away now,’ his mother spoke,
and left her son treading
the surface, keeping his head
above all that water, trying
desperately not to drown.

Special Water

Low tide, a boy picks up a stone
and puts it in his mouth; his father yells NO
and peels it out. This is special water

he says, gently shaking his
body. It may look pretty
but it’s very, very bad for you.

The dog doesn’t care, she prances
in the muck, then climbs in my lap
and licks. Some habits die hard, says her owner

Her wet black blunt smelling like heaven

Black Box

Every crashed relationship has its black box, the blow-
by-blow account of what went wrong and how,
the crescendo of mistakes that peaks, is for an instant
quiet on its crest of trauma, then drowns itself and us

in a cascade of static. The black box is what survives,
anthracite gleaming in the wreckage where, preserved in anger,
the voices that it holds replay their lifetime of last moments
and speak of how, until the very end, it might all have been

so different, and how, right from the start, we knew it never would

We Were Liars

He read her ‘We Were Liars’ by E. Lockhart.
It wasn’t the story, although the story is good,
and it wasn’t the way he read it. The English
accent couldn’t quire grasp the Americanisms.
The sures and yeahs became parodies that
brought humour to beauty that didn’t need it.
It was the fact that she lay with her head
on his chest and he felt the rumble of his own
voice and a vibration of words gone before.
The story he reads ends full of fire, and they
lay very still, but what to do? How long could
they remain there? So he traced patterns on
her skin with his fingers. And the patterns
became circles and the circles became words
and these actions have a tendency to progress.
He lifted her T-shirt over her shoulders and
we know the rest. There are all types of bodies.
If you’re lucky you’ll find someone whose skin
is a canvas for the story of your life.
Write well. Take care of the heartbeat behind it.

Man at Window

It’s June and sweltering.
The kiss you left on my lips
is dying down.

Everything has changed.
The window shows me clouds
that have not altered,

the sky is ablaze yet refuses
to stain the light.
Meanwhile your morning progresses

and under some other light you’re
tapping out data,
or singing quietly to yourself.

Beyond the gate a man continues sweeping,
collecting fallen things. I contemplate window glass,
quietly fracturing on its own terms.

What it is

It is what
it is. But
what is it?

What it is –

Some soft
tautology

whose two terms
are touch

Time to give, time
to give myself up

The road to you

Early spring
the first winds
the north roads
smooth
but towards you

Then in the morning’s grey light
the train
monotonous
tiring
but towards you

Right through the city
and right through
my life
but towards you

To your voice
your being
your being you
towards you

Intervals

punctured into the real
by your lips

on my throat, making
presence

the only possible

your touch a friend
I am getting to know

in intervals

Shifting

All of us crammed in there
like buffalo standing before water at nightfall, looking ahead.
All of us shadows and shapes, quietly shifting.
That day being your face, and the constant threat of rain,
the air seeming thick as the ground. Your face
being the saddest thing I have ever seen.
Then the weight of our footsteps
outside the church.
The soft tread of us, our press into the grass,
temporary craters on soft earth and proof of us being alive,
a dissatisfied herd breathing quietly, waiting to act as one.

Miracles

I spent the whole day
burning and writing, until
they became the same,

as when the planet covers the sun
with all its might and still
I can see it, or when one dead

body gives its heart
to a name on a list. A match.
A light. Sailing a signal

flare behind me for another to find.
A scratch on the page
is a supernatural act, one twisting

fire out of water, blood out of stone.
We can read us. We are not alone.