My favourite place
Is not on any map
It is in that special time
Between asleep and awake,
Second star on the right, straight on till morning
It is the secret kiss
On the corner of Mrs Darling's mouth,
And beyond the back of your wardrobe
You can follow a tardy rabbit
Or step in through the mirror,
Making sure to carry a needle and thread
To mend any fallen shadows
Beware old ladies bearing apples
And watch out for the snow
But do not fear too much,
For the purest heart will always prevail
And the ticking alligator
Is really your friend
But carry this with you always, my angel
Never stop tapping the back of your wardrobe
And long after I am gone,
Sleep with your window ajar
And place a thimble on the sill.
My favourite place
| You smell like flakes of tobacco and rock 'n' roll,|
like drying rain on concrete at dusk.
I skim past your skin and catch it;
compartments of scent
and I have the key to each.
Here, in this one, a soft glimpse
of toffee and vague hope;
and here, another -
the heady potency of red wine and desire.
I drink down each one,
even as we sleep entangled.
Lit matches and tumbling dreams.
I know your smell
and when we are apart it brushes
my cheek as I go to buy milk,
strokes my hand when I cannot sleep.
I wear it like silk.
The town slouched at the bottom of the hill
Looking like any other town
Which happens to do the same
The Mayor's heart was smashed
(his wife ran off with the gardener)
Mrs Grey's heart was smashed
(her daughter was killed in a car crash)
The Vicar's heart was smashed
(his beloved dog had cancer)
And so on
Meeting after meeting
Debate after debate
It was decided
There would be no more Sorrow
Admitted through the gates
First to go were the clocks
It would not do to be reminded
Of Time's ravenous maw
Next, the photographs - for
What were memories but
Time's hoggish minions
Then the grass was painted brown
To please the six people
Who despised the colour green
The Vicar disposed of his sick dog
Miss Steel dug up her prize roses
Since the Mayor could no longer stand gardens
And as Mr Silver's cat yowled
Every time he heard a B flat
The piano in the Town Hall
Had its lid glued shut.
One day a stranger came to town and
Remarked that a musical instrument forced into silence
Was the saddest thing he'd ever seen.
The townsfolk stared at him then
Using up the thirty seven words
They still permitted themselves
Asked him to leave.
| I met a man who stole an elephant|
From the local zoo
He was standing outside Woolworths,
72 handkerchiefs knotted together
To make a lead and collar
And, of course, I had to ask
What the hell he was doing
He leapt forward,
Grabbing my shoulders,
Knocking the surprise right out of me
And he yelled,
He YELLED -
'The funniest thing said
Is always said by another
The saddest soul
Is never your own
Two lovers in perfect bliss
Is never one half you
The greatest invention,
The sweetest melody,
It was Others
Of whom Stendhal spoke.
I stand here
With a stolen elephant
And you will tell people
Of the craziest thing you ever saw
And it will be me
And with that,
He released his grip on my shoulders
As the elephant,
Calm as you like,
Shat all over his leg.
A self proclaimed -
(well, read the title, you'll get the idea)
He was interested to see
What price he'd get
He was a wee bit bored.
He stepped out of his soul
And folded it neatly in his back pocket
He asked God first
(best stick with the good guys, he figured)
But God wasn't buying
'My child, this is not really my forte.
What does your soul have to offer me? '
I'm just an Ordinary Man.'
'Well, I didn't make you that way.'
He went to Hell
Where Lucifer greeted him,
Pitchfork in hand.
What will you give me for my soul? '
'YOUR soul? Ha!
What use is that to me?
I have Henry VIII looking sad and forlorn
(all those wives and not once did he mourn)
There's Rodrigo Borgia fizzing with malice
Feeding Savonarola out of his chalice
Hitler's got his own eternal crooner
None other than Sammy Davis Junior
And the waiting list is pretty long
(though boybands move higher with every song)
I'm waiting for Death to give OJ a shout
Though sadly, on Castro, the jury's still out
(Che got to go Up cos of the angels he pleases
With his somewhat uncanny likeness to Jesus)
So, with all that seen and all that said
What price should I put on your little head? '
I'm just an Ordinary Man.'
'Well, I didn't make you that way.'
'Oops, need to put on my hooves for the tour Virgil's giving
You know how it is - gotta make a living.
(And I do so hope you liked the rhyme
Took lessons from Homer - he's still serving his time.')
So the self proclaimed Ordinary Man went back to earth,
Soul in pocket
And a little bit glum.
And for the whole time
He had wandered dominions
Without his soul
He hadn't even noticed
It was gone.
Awa' an bile yer heid
Ye lanky streak o' pish
Yer maw's a haw bag
Yer da's a ba' sac
An' see you -
A translation for those of you not blessed with Scots genes (and thus an innate ability to understand violent insults in all their forms) by my fellow countryman Mr Danny Reynolds -
Oh wouldst that thou
Couldst take thy head
And boil it in a saucepan, red
Thou lean and lank, I must define
Compare thee to a pig’s urine
Thy mater, we detesticle
Thy pater, the skin round a testicle
If thou comest here now
The crowd will amass
Whilst I shall kick
Thy scrawny ass.
The bairns come to her
Forced to visit, armed to the hilt
With brain numbing gadgetry
Anything but Rooted
But she has weapons of her own.
'Beag air bheag' she tells herself
'Beag air bheag.'
She starts with the wee ones
A song before slumber
'Griogal Cridhe' swims from her lips
The bairns don't understand the words
But her voice,
Swollen with the lilts of their ancestors,
Soothes them into heavy liddedness
The bigger ones shift and fidget
This is not the life
The adverts promise them
But she is undeterred
And tells tales
Of Grey Men
And a land that cries daily
To be remembered
The bairns are grown
As We are wont to do
People hear the accent
And ask about home
The land they, as strangers
Have heard so much about
And these bairns who are grown
Remember the Highland Matriarch
And pass on her tales
With fire in their eyes
And pride in their bellies
As my thighs and my jaws and my fingers ache,
I want to be touched again;
in the midst of grey bleakness I want
to be privately smiled at,
for wine to warm me like that first sip of brandy
after six days stranded on an icy hilltop.
I want you to read to me.
Save the florid declarations of cliched quotes
for descriptions of us to others who ask -
for me, give sinew to words
and show me in deed.
As I shudder into deep rage, dismantling
my stop-mechanism to shriek the thickened
screams of a thousand ugly goddesses,
hold me when I'm done.
I want you to make me believe I'm beautiful.
And when you see me stripped and sex-drenched
on the threadbare carpet,
spitting X-Ray vision into your retinas,
I want you to take my face in your hands
and tell me you fucking love me.
Give me a boring man,
the type who pays his bills on time
and has a section in his wardrobe
just for his shoes.
Tell him to tsk-tsk ever so gently
when I've refilled my wine glass
just often enough to get a little rambunctous
and make sure he is always on time.
Give me a man whose smile is for
ease of expression only
and knows how to play an instrument
but never does.
I will exchange him for my sleepless nights
and vase-splattered walls. I will always know
what he is going to do. And so will he.
Give me the man
with a hanshake like an over-ripe banana
and the same polo shirt
in six different colours
(none of them red or purple) .
Yes, give me a boring man,
and when I'm flat on my back
every Tuesday evening at 9: 45 precisely,
I can stare at his perfectly artexed ceiling
and smile at the thought that up till now,
it really hasn't been so bad.
Your innocence astounds me. It just
sits there, blinking incomprehension at these rocks
I drag behind me, the ones I hang like the teeth of
enemies from my neck.
You have not been hurt enough. But I cannot
bear anyone but me having the power to
do it to you now. So we are here.
I need you to get this.
I want you safe. Because I love you.
I want you to hurt. Because I love you.
I want you to understand.
My demons feast on things you cannot comprehend.
And so I seem as I do to you.
Tonight, I'm going to fuck you like I hate you
and you will thank me in the morning.
I remember the midwife when I was in labour
An ugly old bitch with skin like crepe paper
"And where is daddy?" she scornfully asks
"With his new girlfriend, smoking grass"
Of course, I don't say this out loud
Telling myself it's because I'm too proud
But then I have to gently remind her
She's got her hand in my vagina
"You're having his baby, why did you go?"
"Two black eyes and a broken nose"
"If that was me I'd have used protection"
"That's cos your face is your contraception."
I have swooped upon experiences,
With a tongue tip taste,
Swallowing them whole should
My curiosity be piqued one notch
Above the norm.
I have breathed out men like dust.
I have sated myself,
Yet left them wanting more
As I smirked.
I have spied from great distances
Faces that intrigued me
And wordlessly brought them
Directly opposite mine.
I have feigned ignorance
Then made pretences of knowledge
I did not possess.
I have grown into myself
And been only myself.
I have seared through men like white heat,
The swift passing leaving me unsure
If I have even left a mark.
I have excused myself with phoney pleas
Of ascetic needs.
I have shamed myself, once or twice,
With all too real pleas
For the status quo to remain in place.
I have yearned, hurt and fucked
Gripped fat swollen dreams
And handfuls of hair
As reality ebbed like
From under me.
Each sense in its entirety,
I have gulped it down.
Steadfast and reciprocal
That eludes me still...
My Auntie Margaret reckoned people with hazel eyes are not to be trusted. She told me this one day whilst pouring tea stewed to within an inch of its life into the cracked china cup on the table in front of me. The teapot was ensconced in a knitted shade of yellow that can only be described as urine-coloured, the shape resembling either dog or cat, depending on the light. I remember ordering tea in a café once and being shocked by the nakedness of the pot; it seemed indecent somehow.
“I’m telling you Lisa, it’s not right. Now, your blues, your greens, your browns – you know where you are with those colours. But hazel? Greedy enough to want a bit of all of them, too flighty to pick one and stick with it. Hazel eyes!” And with that she’d given a snort like a horse, disdain rippling through her enormous mono-bosom. “Biscuit?”
Mark had hazel eyes.
I’d called her Annie-ma for as long as anyone could remember. It was one of those cute kid-talk things that seemed to have stuck. Sometimes when I heard other people refer to her as Margaret, I would look around, confused, wondering who they were talking about. But Margaret she was, to everyone else (never Maggie though, that would just have been asking for trouble), and Annie-ma to me.
Mark had hazel eyes, and when he told a lie, a tiny yellow fleck would appear to the north-east of the pupil in his left one. Towards the end, I stopped searching for that yellow fleck and starting praying for its disappearance instead.
“…I’m telling you Lisa, it’s just not natural.” A chattering of birds sailed through the open kitchen window. Annie-ma could have told you in a second what kind of birds they were; I know what a seagull looks like, and that’s about it.
“No thanks Annie-ma, I’ve had three already.” I said as she lifted the plate of digestives from the centre of the doily-smothered table and clattered them down in front of me, casting a disapproving eye over my disgracefully skinny size 12 frame.
She continued talking without missing a beat.
“I mean, face, arms, shoulders: fine. But feet? Nothing good could ever come from a person with freckles on their feet.” The birds were silent for a moment as Annie-ma looked down at her own feet with a nod. “Tea?”
Jodi had freckles on her feet.
Annie-ma was rumoured to have a thick notebook full of hazel eyes and freckled feet and all the other genetic imprints of a bad sort. My mother swore she’d seen Annie-ma writing in it when the two of them were teenagers and had often begged to be allowed a look. But Annie-ma would tut-tut and hide the book somewhere my mother never, ever managed to find it, though she scoured the house and garden on more than one occasion. She had given up looking after their parents and died; she’d met my dad, had me and then Jodi, and the notebook had been relegated to the part of her brain that told her she should get a new coat, or remember to phone such-and-such. Meanwhile, Annie-ma had stayed on in the house, alone save for the birds at the window, myriad doilies and several tea cosies of questionable taste.
Jodi had freckles on her feet, one on each, about a centimetre downwards from her big toes. She would tell me that was where God had kissed her when she was born. Sometimes would forget that I was supposed to be the older sister and would stomp off in a huff when she said this. I told her it was because I hated having her feet shoved in my face, but really it was because I couldn’t contain my jealousy: God hadn’t seen fit to kiss me.
I’d asked Annie-ma about the notebook myself one day, not long after my mother had told me about it. I was desperate to see what might be contained within its pages. I remember it being very windy that day, the sort of wind that threatens from corners then attacks with a slap, leaving you breathless in a way that seems unpleasant until you realise it wasn’t.
As soon as the question about the notebook was out of my mouth, Annie-ma went completely still. I had never seen her still before, she was always tapping or bobbing or busy, but yet here she was, her back to me as she stood over the kitchen sink, pouring away the last dregs of tea: still. Even the tea seemed to freeze between the teapot and the sink. The stillness lasted only for a split second, then she came and sat beside me at the table, covering my hand with hers.
“Lisa, that book will come to you. It was always for you. Not yet though.” She sighed softly. “It will come to you when you are ready for hindsight, and only then. But,” she tapped her right temple with her index finger “I’ll tell you something girl, you pay enough attention to hindsight, and you can avoid having to suffer from it in the future. Your old Annie-ma’s learned a few things that way, I’ll tell you that for nothing.”
I handed Jodi the all the money I had in my purse. This was wrong, I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t believe I had the reserves left to hear her taunts if I refused. Did she think I didn’t already tell myself these things when I should have been working, eating, sleeping?
Her face was gaunt, her pallor a limpid grey. The defiance in her eyes as she demanded money and the trembles that racked her body, I recognised from Mark. It took me too long, far too long, to admit to the signs from him, but now I was like a satellite poised for a signal from anyone, anywhere. Jodi’s signal was loud and clear.
I saw Mark leaning against his old red car, drumming the door impatiently. He was looking very deliberately in the opposite direction, a sure sign of guilt. But which did he feel worse about? Jodi, or what he’d done to her? Jodi, with her need for newness, her zest for experience could not withstand the temptation. I could. Filthy stuff. But not her.
I was about to beg her not to get into the car with Mark, plead with her that he was in no fit state to drive, but then I saw her catch the glance I’d made from him to her, and, mistaking it for something else, she gave me a smirk of satisfaction. It was a smirk that said you see? I’ve won. I said nothing.
Annie-ma went as I would like to – quietly and in her sleep. The birds still come to the window every day and I feed them crumbs from the toaster. I’m sure they had a better diet under Annie-ma’s care, but I’m still learning. I have the book too; Annie-ma was right about the hindsight thing. Oh well. I haven’t moved a single doily.
Jodi stole my favourite doll when I was eight and she was six. I screamed and raged and took the issue straight to my mother.
“Jodi, why did you steal Lisa’s doll?”
“Because I like it better than she does!”
My mother nodded her head slowly and that seemed to be the end of it. I never did get my doll back.
I’ve read through the notebook five and a half times now, and I think I’ll start to add to it myself. I may even need to buy a new one. People think I must be lonely here, but I’m not. Annie-ma’s life is still all around me and it’s comforting in a way that I doubt anything else could ever be. All I need is to be here, to feed the birds, and to have the notebook.
Jodi’s body was easy to identify. Because of the freckles. Mark’s was more difficult, I had to ask them to open his eyes. The yellow fleck was gone. I wondered if he’d offered up his honesty to Death, or if Death had demanded it of him regardless.
The man at the door is what my mother would call a lovely young man for you to settle down with, dear. She would have been right. He’s handsome in a gently reassuring way, articulate and seemingly a pretty good sales rep. I can tell when he starts to blush that he’s about to ask me out.
But I shall have to refuse him. His earlobes are not separated from his head, and that can only mean trouble.
If you have any suggestions, please, let me know (I won't pay you for them or give you any credit, but you get the reward of having helped someone. Apparently, that feels nice.)
| I am the laughing eyes, the tear stained face|
The droll remark, the sweet embrace
Writhing naked on the floor
Oh yes, at times I am the whore
Shrieked out a child from womb to earth
Twisted pain and soulful mirth
All the rules and each exception
Sprayer of wrath in every direction
Passion shooter, thighs, ass, hands
Fleeting trysts and wedding bands
Mother, writer, drinker, cook
Shrivel your bones disdainful look
Liberating salvation, possessive traction
Your most frustrating satisfaction.
('He had never met anyone as alive as Ursula Brangwen or as gloriously wrecked as Heathcliff. No teenager in the world was as likable as Holden Caulfield, no villian as irresistable as Iago...It was the terrible curse readers lived with, that art held out this dream of possible life - of conciousness as gripping narrative, of individuals as violent and epic forces - but actual life undermined it...Great literature was an unsettling revelation, life was just mediocre prose. Exceptions were few and far between.' from Love Remains by Glen Duncan.)
A strange bunch indeed are
We, the Wordeaters.
Instant everything, television stew
The rat-race, the drudge -
All have conspired in our downfall.
None have succeeded
For none can offer us
The alchemy of words.
You can find us in the unlikliest of places,
Chewing thinning lip membrane
And slicing diction across our skins.
We are discernable to the practised eye,
Our responses spattered with
Thoughful pauses and droll dissections
Or silent and cock-headed
As we reach innocuously for our ink tipped shields.
We sit in cinemas, pained and indignant
As we watch another's imagination
Brush clumsy strokes over our own.
But these are letters, mere sweeps of a pen!
Do you not see it,
That they can be arranged in such a way,
These seemingly random symbols,
To give life and love and thought,
That we might fall in love?
Do you not see?
We try to be like you,
But it is futile.
We eat words. It's what we do. Big words, small words, similes, verbs, clean words, dirty words: we eat them all. Our diet is varied and does not discriminate (well, except against adverbs - they taste weird).
Welcome. Please, tuck in. There are always seconds.