First Impressions (I)

 

He met her in the alleyway behind the bars with ever-glowing neon lights.
When asked about it later, neither of them would have been able to tell you the time, or even the date of this first encounter. They just weren’t that kind of people. All she would remember was the humid taste of alcohol in her throat and the curses she had spat out at her sister earlier that day.
And him? If he couldn’t evade the questions of what had happened that whole year, he would mutter some half-truth about it being the year his mother died and his father was sent to prison. How interrelated those two events really were he would never reveal, leaving the question-asker confused just long enough for him to pull out a tattered deck of cards from his pocket and ask the asker if they would like to play a game. (The events weren’t related, but in many ways the truth was much harder to digest). Those same cards were in his the pocket of his parka on the day they met, their decay rewound due to lack of use. In truth, he didn’t know any card games at the time, but he had bought the deck in a rare moment of excess because he liked the sound of cards being shuffled.
In time, they would forget the disheveled state they each were in, and the stench of stale urine that festered in the autumn air. The fact that they met on a day of global disaster would also escape their minds, until, that is, the question was brought up at a lawyer’s office twenty-odd years down the line.
They met on your average bad day; there’s really nothing else to call it. It was a day ruled by gloomy skies; a day for two layers of socks and a melancholy view of the world.
It was also a day when things that perhaps weren’t supposed to happen managed to wheedle their way around the obstacles that generally block their path. It just so happened that Fate was busy that day with three thousand deaths from the genocide, coupled with the earthquake leaving the lives of thousands more in shambles. It was raining in more than one hundred and twenty countries that day, planes were delayed across the globe, and three multinational corporations filed for bankruptcy. A photojournalist was beaten to death by an angry mob in the Middle East, and oil prices reached a record high. All in all, it was a terrible day for mostly everyone.
But meet they did in the alleyway behind the bars, and when they did, the soot-stained, greying bricks surrounding them seemed to sigh inwards in irritation at yet another nuisance to behold that night. These were walls bearing coffee stains and urine stains and had seen every abominable act of man in love or lust or hatred that plays out in alleyways behind bars. Certain bricks had an unappealing tang of fermented sweat from generations of people spawning generations more with their backs pressed up to the back-alley bricks in the lustful clamor for sinned skin on skin. Some bricks too wore badges of blood from the knife fights that shook the foundation of alleyways like this, and a few bricks nursed bullet wounds from guns long put to rest.
Eighty-year-old brick walls in big cities behind bars have front-row seats to see human nature played out time and time again on an alcohol-infused backdrop. And see they do. Some might say that it was a pretty shitty show. The man taking his final steps to the alley’s entrance would have agreed.
The woman, clutching a glass of ice cold water, might have said differently. At the moment, she was standing in the dead center of the alleyway. She knew better than to stand in shady alleyways behind bars, but she figured that potential attackers wouldn’t bother with a crying woman.
In following years, the man she would meet on this fate-forsaken night would criticize her unwavering faith in humanity. While she always admitted this was true, her belief had been nurtured inside her soul from such a tender age it could never have withered or been cut down. She might as well have been the patron saint of lost wallets, for their natural tendency to gravitate towards her, and her subsequent tendency to give them back.
On this particular night, it was her herself who had lost her wallet. She would ruefully remember during a dip in the level of pain in her front cortex the next morning that she hadn’t gotten it back. But before that, she was just a girl, standing in the shadow of a bar with ever-glowing neon lights willing the world to set itself right again. Mostly, she realized, she just wanted to get home.
It was as she was wading through thoughts like these in her foggy mind that a shadow at the alley’s opening morphed into a man. A man with shoulders wrapped up around himself as if blocking some nonexistent wind, his quick steps beating an incongruous rhythm into the ground.
He hardly noticed the woman in the alley. Until, that is, she reached out for him.
An extended finger complete with a ruby-red, dagger-like nail wove a sloppy circle in the air above his heart. He took a quick step back, and his eyes flared to the sides. His head tilted subtly this way and that, as an animal’s will as it struggles in it’s collar.
The woman’s finger made contact with his jacket. She stood motionless, gazing at her finger and the tiny crater it was making in the fabric.
“Dylan’s Mechanic, huh,” she said eventually. The words slurred together and dribbled out of her gorgeous lips and down her chin, but even in her intoxicated state, her words had a lilt indicative of elegance of heart. She spoke with an air of beauty, even as the words were ejected unceremoniously from her throat. It was unlike anything else the man in the shadow had ever heard before.
Still staring at the embroidered parka, the woman narrowed her eyes.
“I live– ag–,” she struggled, “ac- agcross the street,” she told him.
She suddenly took a step back, considering something. He took the time to notice the frame of her face. The gentle curve of her cheekbones framed two glassy eyes that were blinking slowly at him. Her mascara was already migrating down her face. Two spots of garishly pink blush sat upon the apples of her cheeks, grossly out of place on her otherwise pallid skin.
“Could–,” she faltered again, and the man stiffened. She started again.
“Please, could you–” she paused, considering, “drive me?”
Her sharp intake of expectant breath was matched by the brick wall’s sigh. Fate had missed its meeting to tear these two apart.
“Sure,” were the only words he said to her in the alleyway that night. They were the only words she needed to hear. He cleared his throat.
“I only real–” she stumbled here as the hand reaching out to stabilize herself against the wall misjudged by half an inch, and her words stumbled too. She blinked, and recoiled three seconds too late from the wall, wiping her hand on her sequined dress. Simultaneously, she dropped her glass. The tinkling sound of the smash hung in the air between them.  A piece of ice slipped down her leg and nestled its way into her shoe, leaving a cold, glittering river in its wake.
“Shh-hit,” she exhaled, taking two looping steps closer to the man, and with a semi-graceful wobble she wound her frozen fingers around his arm. She giggled.
“The wall– is gross,” she managed after a moment, and giggled again.
The man’s naturally rigid posture didn’t falter, but his temple twitched in rhythm with her open-mouthed breaths. He could see the goose-bumps on her shoulders leading to the curve of pale pink lace where her bra strap had escaped her shoulder. His eyes quickly darted to the wall on his left, then to the misty, starless sky above, making the circles under his muddy eyes moved up almost imperceptibly. He blinked the blink of someone trying to regain control, and the woman took note of his eyes being closed for a second or so too long.
“Oh,” she whispered, “I’m sorry.” She straightened her back and took a half-step away from the man. Her hand, however, remained latched onto his arm as if she had forgotten that she had put it there.
“I was only gonna say,” she murmured, “I only really–,” she gulped, and steadied herself, “go for guys I can’t have.”
The man didn’t move.
Her eyes gleamed up at him, but then again, that might have just been reflections of the sequins on her dress.
Her face crinkled inwards into a lopsided smile. “That’s pretty sad, huh.”
The last words he remembered hearing before her mouth closed in on his were:
      “I’ll remember this tomorrow.”

Learning to Lose

You lose yourself between the empty ticking of the clock,

The low-brow knock of tick-tack-tock;

The wayward, strident second hand

Beats to the sound of unmanned wreckage

Inside the holy-water of your heart.

 

You lose yourself between the leaves of sheaves of books,

The smell of well-felled plant-cells planted in antiquity

Permeates the dusty shelves,

And only time will tell whether

They will find a home again.  

 

You lose yourself in stacks of stones and tomes and poetry,

A clustered, flustered, flotsam-jetsam meld

Of stories bound together by the past;

Held in ship-shape place for

Longer than history itself.

 

You lose yourself under night’s weighty deep-dark cape,

Walking the fleeting distance from one bright-bite

Pinprick of light in the sky to another;

Wondering under what thundering sky

You yourself will join them.

 

You lose sight of yourself, you begin to notice, in the meaningless

Of hypocrisy, and the view of infinity from your bedroom window.

So while pre-processed thoughts and lacklustre words

Pour from the jaws of immobile, ignoble people,

 

You lose yourself again in the empty ticking of the clock,

And learn to love its simple sound. 

 

Uninspired I

My fingers have ground to a halt,

Their prints run dry and blisters bloat the muscle behind my skin.

Words no longer flow with such fluidity now they’ve been rubbed so thin.

My sight is crinkled at the seams —

Exhaustion is usually a breeding ground for poetry,

But from this early-morning darkness I’ve spun out only fragments of stories;

If knickknacks were words and scrapped books came together,

That would be a picture of my poetry.

I can hardly breathe for fear and cold,

These empty words have stolen the hearth on which I warm my soul,

And I am left alone with little to hold, and time again ticks out its close.

New clichés are born in my head

Whispering uninspired, uninspired, 

To the body rotting in this bed.

We Built This City

We built this grizzled crust of a city
Off of traveller’s checks
And grandfather’s tears.

We broke our own mirrors
In order to call the misfortune
We brought upon our people
Cultural heritage.

We revere the hypocrites
And trod upon the fertile soil of the soul.
What use is poetry in a world of technology?

We built this city out of the corpses of the enemy
Just to be able to truly call it ours.
And we have made homes for ourselves
Between the scrapyards and front-yard junk
Of our ancestors.

Forgive me, father, for I have sinned
Is a synonym for cowardice,
And now morale is wearing thin.
We built a obsolescent city;
It was always meant to cave in.

We built this city on the cusp of something great,
But we dirtied the river of expression,
And as of late encouraged oppression.

We built this city to be broken;
How could we have expected success
From a hyper-caffeinated people
Who toppled the columns of Justice, Prosperity, and Sleep.

We built this city from the charred remains of the last one,
So know that out of tomorrow’s ashes, it will rise again.

Media

Today,
The power to bring change lies within our reach,
Nestled deep inside the circuitry we hold between our fingers;
It is now so easy to push the right buttons to rile up society.

The real issues rarely make the cover,
But the adverts, in lying bare exactly what the public wants,
Can be used to illustrate the dehumanisation of our age;
Where girls are given worth according to the length of wires
Wound around their chest,
And boys are given guns with no questions asked.

Media brings about knowledge.
Knowledge brings about change.
But for now, people still sit around cracking rape jokes
On the bus, thinking poverty’s the only way
To keep the unworthy in their place.

And so the boys with guns join forces,
And the girls with stick-thin legs grow tired of starvation;
Both take hold of their mobile devices
And promise to make
No
Change.
The power of the media is at their disposal,
And they throw it all to waste.
So the girls and the boys of today
Both end up chocking up blood-soaked vomit
And whimper the through the pain.

By then, the thought of change disgusts them
Even more that their own skins,
And like that you’ve lost a spark;
Like that you’ve let them win.

Hands

We hold pens and pennies in our hands until our knuckles cramp

And our nails turn blue; reciting wish upon wish that the world doesn’t fail us now.

 

We plunge our palms into the powdered softness of the sands

To convince ourselves that our touch can bring change to our surroundings.

Yet our backs are always turned when the sand pits we’ve dug

Sigh into themselves with a faint gurgle,

Back into the moistened bed of the sea.

 

The same hands in the sand caress the pressure points

Of a hardened shaft;

 

The same hands anchor food into the air,

Ready to be engulfed by the blackness 

Behind our teeth.

 

These same hands find their ports

Clasped in the hands of others;

 

These same hands hold the gleaming trophy

And spell out V-I-C-T-O-R-Y to the clouds

 

These same hands mould into the same fists,

And just as in life;

Direction is everything. 

 

We clutch things in sweaty fists, palms shut up tight

Against the world — willing them not to slip from our grip.

 

But we all get slapped sometimes,

And our hands only serve to nurse the wound.

 

That’s only the universe telling us to cling harder to the things we have,

The things we care about keeping, and the things we can trick ourselves 

Into believing were worth it to have loved when we have lost.

Painting of the Lake at Dusk

The lake outside my window

Has taken on a resemblance to oil on land.

 

The water’s orange, in places, and brushstrokes of dark blue

Seem to give it depth in the wrong direction.

 

Only a slight shimmer on the surface of the blue

Gives the scene away as 

Not

A picture postcard.

 

The mix of sunset colours

Created a fog the colour of mustard gas on the shores of the other side,

And in the setting sun, the fall(en) trees 

Look the colour of my sister’s hair.

 

There’s a pink, glowing cloud surrounding the ski slopes

At the bottom of the scorpion-shaped white runs —

 

And then —

 

And then it’s gone.

The moment passes and the light fades, leaving only

Slight accents behind the western clouds.

 

And as the clouds thicken for night,

Pinpricks of light filter out of the blue-grey hills 

On the far shores. 

 

The oil spill on the water has now mopped itself up,

And the shimmering waves collect shadow

As the lake quiets for the night. 

Lines to Keep

I came up with a near-perfect beginning of a poem last night,

Sitting on the inside of a grimy, bright bus

Watching the darkened streets fly by.

 

It might have been a line about the girl curled up and into herself

On a chair in the front window of the police station.

It might have been about the reflections in the bus windows,

About everyone seeing everyone without the burden of eye contact. 

It might have been about a pharmacy, 

Or about the festive lights that drape across the alleyways and squares;

Little shining stars ashamed to find themselves so close to Earth:

A string of half-hearted message cards dutifully reminding people

That this is the season to be kind to others. 

 

But most people here can’t stand that thought, 

So the lights turn into haunting annoyances — a voicemail on repeat-

That no one dares take down or take the time to understand.

 

It might have been a line about all those things combined,

It might have been the one defining line:

One defining line to fill the emptiness inside the cracks between my bones.

 

But, of course, I lost that line-

I lost the whole damn fishing pole at the same time,

Swallowed up by the unforgiving mouth of the realm of dreams. 

It bubbled up and foamed and dribbled out of my mouth in my sleep,

For my fingers were too slow to let the blood-turned-ink run out of my

Nail beds and sink into a page, if only to be sealed up tight

And left recorded for the rest of my life. 

 

I’ve said sorry to the muses of the written word,

And the goddesses of buses, fingers, pens, and sleep.

And since I’ve lost, in return, 

I’ve written them a poem entitled:

Lines to Keep

Unrequited

I wasn’t lying when I said my makeup

Never runs — instead it walks, leaving footprints

On my face, and eventually the powder on my cheeks

Melts away like the snow in spring.

I am a wax doll,

And you are my flame,

And though I fear you,

You help my cover up my flaws

By giving me plasters doused with an

Antiseptic form of love in the shape of your thumb.

I wish you wished for the feel of my fingers

Running through your hair,

Or along your earthly back.

I would count the notches in your spine

And ask you questions over wine-

What would you do;

Who would you be;

Why have you let me see the inner

Workings of your spirit?

I’m nothing.

I’ve only seen the gargantuan sky

Turn purple at dusk, and for God’s sake,

I’m just how learning how to breathe,

Or count stars in the dark.

I think, in fact,

I’ve mostly made you up.

My eyes are raw, and my nails have disappeared,

Leaving canyons of red clay and crimson holy water

Creeping out of my capillaries.

And because we haven’t done anything but touch,

I would have broken the mirage

By asking you about yourself — so I had to

Make you up to keep you running.

And run you did — away from me.

I remember standing at a traffic light,

Talking to everyone but you,

And I heard what happened at that party

I wasn’t invited to.

Instead, I’d stayed at home and learnt my lines,

As if this play would finally teach me to speak when

I stepped off the stage-

But I know better than anyone that that could never happen,

Because the person I am between the two darkened corners

And five blackened planes is someone so different from me.

The lights illuminate, and the makeup hides,

And maybe, just maybe, I thought:

You could have fallen in love with me that way.

But at that traffic light,

I might have been transported back a thousand years,

Back to when that exact point was at the bottom of a river

And my feet wouldn’t unstick from the ground.

The last time that I touched you,

I disappeared for three weeks,

Maybe that’s what between us-

But look at me now.

I have come so far from yesterday or yesteryear;

I am alive and kicking.

Why I Write

I write to put at least the thickness of a page

Between myself and my day.

 

Pen on paper is my type of speech,

And poetry gives me more time to think.

These words will serve as my script for the future,

And have acted as a scrapbook in the past.

 

My writing is fairly formulaic;

I sift through the strings of echoes

And flashing words inside my head

To spiral in and in;

Trying to increase the accuracy of my words 

To best reflect what I mean to say. 

It doesn’t always come out right,

But I think it comes out how it best should be.

 

I write to be able to turn pages on top of

My problems and begin anew

With a crisp blank page on which to scribble

Out a message or a story

Or a story with a message.

 

My writing helps me put an issue in the past;

Time-stamped, page-turned,

That I can then look back on and think:

I got through that — that’s something to be said about me