If you want to kill a thing,
do not revile it.
Do not treat it as a dead thing,
fat and damp with squirming scavengers.
Do not shudder.
Do not pity it.
Do not treat it as a helpless thing,
bruised and punctured in bleak corners.
Do not cry.
Do not seek it.
Do not treat it as a lost thing,
puzzling and furtive in clandestine shadows.
Do not wonder.
It must not be a thing that is gone.
Gone things leave footprints.
The poem, the song,
the thorny king, the fortune teller
and the market seller.
The him and the her and the we of it.
Snub even its embryonic state,
the membrane and the eye-blink fusion of it.
In this way
tiny acts of murder happen.
In this way,
you kill a thing.
If you want to kill a thing,
This will be the last thing
I ever say to you:
The leaves will return
to the trees soon.
I hang my thoughts
on bare branches,
let the birds come
to feast on them
as you flop in life’s belly,
from night to day.
When the first leaf appears,
it will suffocate
the crumbs of
you. And you
will miss me
after it’s too late.
This will be the last thing
I ever say to you.
The birds are hungry
and I promised them
Japan is not where I thought it was on a map. Lucien said I would die today and I nearly went without ever knowing the exact location of Japan. It’s closer to Russia than it is to Australia and it’s shaped like a dragon rather than a roundish blob. I love sushi and Murakami, you’d think I’d have known better. I nearly wrote “Here be ninjas” over it, but I don’t have a pen.
I wonder where Japanese people think Scotland is on a map. Maybe they’re smarter than me. Maybe they know. Or maybe they think it’s right next to Germany and write things like “Here be kilts” in Japanese over us.
On the day of my death, these are the things I have: a map of the world and a watch. I’m not thinking about my family as much as one is supposed to in these situations. The ticking watch, on the other hand, is really pissing me off. It’s got diamonds on the face. Fancy. I throw it on the floorboards and it still doesn’t break so I grind into it with my heel. Tick tick tick. Damn it.
I suppose I should think about love. That’s the thing to do. Love you’ve had, love you’ve lost, love you’ll miss. But I went through my whole life not knowing where Japan is. Love has never taken me by surprise; my abominable geography has shocked the proverbial socks off me. Maybe I would have loved a Japanese man. Maybe he would have surprised me. I have not been surprised by myself often enough. My tears are for that fact alone.
If my body was a map of the world, I would know every location. Here, on the Finland of my left thigh, there would be no cause for astonishment. The Canada of my left earlobe would be exactly where I always pictured it. My breasts are as familiar to me as the Italian tongue is to the Sicilians. They have even tasted Italian tongue. It was pleasant, but no real revelation. They responded exactly as I expected them to. The Nicaragua of my big toe was broken once. It’s fine now. That’s what happens when you walk into walls.
My brain is Belgium. Maybe not as the Belgians see it, but it’s Belgium to me. My cerebellum makes nice chocolate and people come to taste it from time to time, but there are other places they’d prefer to visit. Truffles. Praline truffles. I wish it had made a nougat or a fondant. Even a coffee cream, just once. But it makes praline truffles of thoughts that plop onto little silver trays and people sometimes like them, tell their friends good things, then go to brains that are more like Outer Mongolia or someplace that ends in a –stan and taste thoughts that would never even dream of being praline truffles.
The click of the safety being released shatters the air. Lucien wasn’t lying: I will die and it will be now. I grasp at the map, my tears overriding my ability for cohesive speech. I don’t know if he understands what I’m saying. Or if he cares.
But I’m begging to look at the map once more, to find something I didn’t know was there. I’m pleading for a chance to surprise myself just once more before I die. It is my final thought.
Does the size of the aubergine really matter? None is so different from another as to be noticeable and it’s not like she wants it for a specific recipe. But still she examines each one under the synthetic light as though she’s judging a contest. I want to go home.
The skin of the aubergine is smooth and unblemished; inside lies a tougher flesh, one that does not yield easily and will offer only bitterness unless care is taken in preparation. She is the antithesis of it.
When they first sent me to her, she gave me money. She seemed to think community service was something people volunteered for and their generosity should be rewarded. When her lip quivered, I stopped trying to explain and took the cash. I bought a packet of chewing gum with it.
On my first visit, she showed me thick albums of photos that were cracked with age and I forgot who was in them when she turned the page. On my second visit she told me the stories behind each dusty ornament in the glass cabinet that dominated the living room. My third visit brought the mutual realisation that our time together needed a focus. It was that or feign interest in each other’s lives until smiles became snipes.
Cleaning was out – she had someone who did that for her while she napped. I can’t cook and she didn’t seem to want me to, so there was no sense in trying that. No garden to speak of either.
Care and interest can be mutually exclusive. I had never seen such a delicate creature until I met her. Her sweetness seemed less to do with age than a naiveté imbued in her DNA. There had been a husband once. I tried to imagine her having sex, but in my mind, it snapped her. Perhaps if she had been born in another, later era, she would have found a woman’s touch preferable, softer. Perhaps she had. I wasn’t going to ask her. The past holds no more interest for me than the future does for her. The present wasn’t something either of us had much to say about. Hovering death smells like urine and boiled potatoes.
I wish I wanted to hear her stories. I wish I could give her that. She won’t be hearing mine – the purity of her shouldn’t be sullied with my tales.
So, we had a stalemate until visit number six when she mentioned the supermarket had stopped doing home deliveries. Perfect, for both of us.
When I arrived for visit number seven, she greeted me at the door wearing a hat, gloves and coral lipstick that hadn’t quite stayed on her lips. We bought milk that day, and butter. She studied every carton of milk on the shelves before settling on just one and my visit took nearly an hour longer than it was supposed to.
Visit eight took us to the canned good aisle to pick up two tins of sweetcorn and some sardines in brine. She’s very selective about her sardines. I was late for my meeting with the probation officer after that one.
And here we are, visit number nineteen: aubergines. We’ve been standing in the vegetable aisle for over an hour. Everything looks too waxy, as if the shelved items are showroom cars instead of vegetables.
Finally, she selects the aubergine she wants and pops it in the basket.
“Ready to go to the till?” I ask.
“Yes, dear. Oh, look – a two headed mushroom! I bet your Billy would get a kick out of that.”
“Billy? How do you…”
“The day we bought the cereal, dear. You told me all about him.”
I had, now she came to mention it. Funny, I hadn’t realised it at the time. We pay for the single aubergine and I take her arm as we return to the car.
When we get to her house, I go through the ritual: place the aubergine in the crisper section of her fridge after removing the mouldy vegetables that have been gathering all week; not a single one of them with so much as a bite out of it.
Think Tom Waits’ voice after a night of sex and booze. Think the corner of Hieronymus Bosch’s brain that even he didn’t know was there. You wouldn’t really be close, but it’s something to work with.
I thought the cat would talk first. He seemed the type. But no, he laid dead mice at my feet like I was his disgusting queen and never uttered a word. The cactus did the talking instead.
There’s nothing wrong with me, you understand. Not the kind of wrong that needs to be whispered about behind my back, sympathetic overtones masking relief that it’s not you, fear that one day it could be. I pay my bills on time and button my coat up correctly. Folly finds me no more or less than it finds everyone else. My parents are neither happy nor sad enough to give me cause for issues beyond the usual childhood wishes of finding out I was secretly adopted and my real family are royalty from a country whose name I can’t pronounce.
The cactus just started talking.
Cacti are members of the Cactaceae family. The flowers are bisexual and, in this particular cactus, only bloom at night. I’d like to say that’s why I bought it – so that when the moon was ripe for milking I could watch flowers bloom in the half-light and be in wonder. But I bought it because I pricked my finger on it and taking home something that had made me bleed by virtue of sitting there doing nothing seemed like the thing to do.
For seven whole months, it didn’t say a word. The cat got a face full of spines in the first week after a failed attempt at domination and refused to look at it again. The seasons happened, as they do, and when spring came around, hitching a ride on winter’s coattails and thickening blades of green, the cactus told me I had nice hair. I said thank you. Manners are a reflex conducive to sanity. If you ever find your houseplant complimenting your hair, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Upon asking the cactus how life was treating it, I discovered that cacti don’t think in terms of life doing anything for them. I discovered this because it laughed at me. I asked it if it planned on creating some kind of cacti army to enslave humanity and it made a noise that sounded like what a shrug would sound like if it had a noise. Then it told me I had pretty eyes. I blushed.
When I came home from work the next day, it wolf-whistled at me. I took my hair out of its clasp. It told me the cat sometimes peed behind the television when I wasn’t home. I told it about Louise in accounting’s obsession with counting the staples in the stationary cupboard to make sure nobody was stealing supplies. It tutted at me when I reached for the cookie jar – I lost four whole pounds in a month.
We watched movies and soaps together. I discovered it had a thing for French cinema so I pretended the subtitles didn’t give me tension headaches. I started taking baths instead of showers so it could sit on the windowsill and talk to me whilst I scrubbed.
The first flower grew out of the top of my head four nights ago. It tickled. Now, the spines have begun to form on the tops of my thighs. Louise in accounting told me I looked a little green. I smiled. It’s waiting for me when I get home. Just for me.
I am sure, if you were to kiss my ankle,
you would taste salt.
While unarticulated thoughts squatted in my cortex,
threatening to leave if I should force them
to show themselves,
a tear happened.
Actually, it was more like two or three
tears, but I didn’t count and my poems
are mostly lies that don’t mean to be
till the words scuttle onto the page with their
nutshells and similes
so let this be accurate
for the sake of… something.
Oh, there was a boy,
of course –
rendered both handsome and god-like
by his nature and by my own
In that order.
This tear, it came with
a warning, which was nice of it,
My face collapsed against
the will I like to pretend I have,
brow, nose, mouth,
the whole bloody lot of it
then the tear came,
and landed on my ankle.
The nature of the universe
makes certainty unwise.
If you were to kiss my ankle,
just under the slender silver chain
that sometimes surprises when seen,
slightly to the left of the single freckle,
lightly flicking your tongue
over the narrowest curve
between calf and foot…
If you were to kiss my ankle,
You would taste salt.