Friday, September 25, 2015

Lines for Farkhunda

Whence water lapped within the hanging basket's parabolic earth,
I went to Nizar Qabbani's grave by quiet agency's worth.
“It come to my atair!” he trilled, to check I had not drifted off.
I drifted off to get there, but knew trough would cancel out a trough,
Rousing me that I should quaff undreaming. I was with him, and not
Of a single absent-mindedness too far, as ballast, forgot
The bench I was sitting at in Crondall, some, that I stayed lucid.
“Aphantasic in grief, I could not see, the way my mother did,
The face of my sister how it was in life. I could only see
Her distraught before her self-destruction. Come to my atair!” He
Continued: “Muslim women, from Eritrea to the Yemen
Up to England, are attacked, blamed, condescended to by Femen,
Forced and enslaved. I could only protest by sly sentiments, hid,

And criticise Arab men, though they could not be certain I did,
But you must write candidly of Farkhunda. Yes, I know that you
Feel painted, that Sitter and Subject are a quiet man, but through
Quietness, through your Apparitionism, you have agency.
No man may touch the coffin; and Farkundha's mother cannot see
Her daughter's face as it was before lapidation's wounds.” Water
Laps colic in the parabolic earth. I am back, transporter,
At the Plume of Feathers, Crondall.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

September 1979

Sitting on a sloping wall opposite the public toilets, I watched two men emerge from the Lion Yard shopping centre, bumping awkwardly together as they approached. I remember thinking that they could be students at the university.

One of the men was holding a microphone above his head, swinging his elbows whilst he gathered up a cable connecting to what I surmised to be a tape machine being carried by the other, taller, man. The shorter man wore glasses. He noticed me and led the way over to where I was sitting on the low wall.

"Hi there."
"Wotcha", I replied.
"Do you mind if we ask you some questions?"
"I'm waitin' for me sister."
I had lived in Cambridgeshire for two years, but my Basildon accent remained strong. The tall man lifted the shoulder strap and set down the silver reel-to-reel recorder beside me.
"It won't take long."
"OK", I said.
The shorter man was scrutinising me now, in a way that suggested he was having doubts, but this determined me to acquiesce.
"How old are you? We would like you to read out a poem for us, do you think you can do that?"
I told him I was 3 years older than I was. He handed me a piece of paper, and putting the microphone close to my mouth told me to read the four lines of verse. I did this.
"How does it make you feel?", he asked.

The verse seemed highly sissy to me. As an 8-year-old accustomed to anthropomorphising in an American accent when making my toy cars converse, I felt greatly embarrassed speaking such an effusion. My face was burning. "I think it's rubbish", I said defensively. The men looked at each other, and then again at me, and the short man, apparently seeing no irony, and without humour, redrafted his question, to which I replied, "Well, it''s just rubbish."

Now I really wanted them to leave me alone, but they asked me to say another line. They asked me to repeat it quickly, over and over. The line was: "They don't want your name." They left shambolically and umbilically, following the curving declivity down to the lower level, before my sister came out of the toilets. I don't think I mentioned it to her.

Early the following year, I saw a video for a song by a band called New Musik. I recognised the singer and the bass player, and I also recognised one of the sampled voices in the song as my own, in the penultimate bunch, the last voice saying, exasperated, "They don't want your name."

Cynically fermenting exasperation with a form I came to embrace,
They furnished their song with apposite insistence. Waiting now at St. Boniface,
Like I waited for my sister, alone, opposite, yet reconciled to the form,
I read lines for Farkhunda at a distance, null, no one here to see me perform.
Tonight, I will throw a bottle into the bay, take honeyed Horlicks by the fire:
Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, I desire; O glowing range, let me reacquire

My taste for sweetness, shyness to read, sensation in the groin when climbing a rope.
I shall write prologue poems, to pioneer, that make me feel agency and scope,
Upbraid the Hungarian police who wear surgical masks as the refugees
Filter, forlorn, into a maize field. Secreted in the attic, where no one sees,
I shall hear the raindrops tapping in the eaves, and hide from the Nottingham Knocker;
As the pluralist transporter of readers' emotions, sound the owlish glocke
By pulling its cord in the dark. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Across the Tops and Never Stopping

At 17, I was overwhelmed by nerves every day, and would steal my mother's beta-blockers and Valium in a vain effort to curtail the symptoms. The pills had been prescribed to treat a fear of flying; I felt I needed them just to sit still in the classroom during lessons.

I wore tight layers along with a scarf and cricket cap to swaddle myself, and habitually held my jaw to prevent my head from twitching noticeably.

Arriving at college, I would stay until the mid-morning break, but then often retreated to Drummer Street, where I would catch a George Jennings coach. I remember my relief walking up the steps to pay my fare, the brutal, self-conscious air outside instantly tempered by the pewter light of tinted windows, and on to the end of the rows of seats, whilst the engine idled soothingly, and the squeak of springs as I adjusted myself so that my knees rose up against the back of the bench in front, and the warm fabric on my hands.

The 10.30 a.m. George Jennings coach had the longest route to Kingston, and with frequently no other passengers, there were no stops before mine, as it skimmed the tops of Cambridgeshire villages, Hardwick and Caldecote; always across the tops, and never stopping; and going through areas that would one day become the new settlement of Cambourne, and past the Caxton Gibbet, I remember that I felt very lonely, but embarrassed of the loneliness. The embarrassment was the worst thing, aware that my peers were getting on with their lives, that I was haemorrhaging rectitude, reduced to supporting my head with my hand. When I got home, I would lie down before the electric fire. It was the fire they said Mrs. Tinkler had been buried behind; the fire that singed the white fur of our pet labrador dark yellow; the fire that my pet rabbit, Jinx, had escaped behind, though we got him back; the fire I had presented my bare butt to when it was sore; that once hurled me back across the room when I touched one of its bars; the familiar fire that was a humourous haven.

On Thursday evenings, around this time of my life, a sitcom called Life Without George showed on television. I tended to watch it before heading off to Cottenham for band practice. It was insipid and compounded my detachment.

Here is a picture of me, age 17. The face poking above the bottom of frame belongs to James Kilsby, the drummer of my band.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

The Quiet Man

Jaundiced in the jason’d months, adjuncts anent my purpose by a stillness venting,
I am the quiet man, unanent, whom adjacent maths of a me is dementing.
A quantum bomb in a different universe enacts all the options at once,
So that I lift keys from the hook in the hall at the moment that I ensconce
The keys, at the moment I tickle them whilst they are hanging; or rather, not I,
But that me who siphons the aboutness from me and every other me by
Being zero and one as well as all other numbers simultaneously.
Yet these ciphers in my adjuncts, like the al-iajaaz of Nizar Qabbani
Writing of his homeland, hint at a grief made ineffable by options vacuum.
Jaundiced by course of oral Nizoral, I am the quiet man, unanent, whom
Adjacent maths of a me is dementing.