It’s not about race.

Posted: 27/11/2014 in Poetry
Tags: , , ,

“It’s not about race”, they say, a mantra that goes on as police lights are shone in the faces of the dark.

“It’s not about race”, they say, no repentance in that sentence as murder committed without a prison sentence.

“It’s not about race”, they say, “he was just doing his job not wanting to be shot” by the gun that never was.

“It’s not about race”, they say, sons and daughters taken, not murder but identity mistaken.

“It is about race”, we say, at the funeral, no longer blindsided by the spoken words that ceased and desisted with the final hand of dirt on that little white lie.

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Holding My Hand Up

Posted: 05/09/2014 in Uncategorized

The word persona is derived from ancient Greek, where prospon denoted the masks that Greek actors wore on stage in Ancient Greece, lending itself today to the modern usage of persona, used to represent an alter ego or character that we display to society.

We all do it. Some of us have one or two, and some of us have dozens for every occasion and scenario. Before the age of technology that we all now reside in, personas were only on display in person, masks that would be put on when we physically came into contact with people. Then came the telegram, the telephone, and now that we have the internet where we can jump in and out of different personas that we have carefully built over time and have become so committed to, it has become almost impossible to ascertain when you are talking to the person or the persona. And much like our internet accounts, we never fully logout of our personas. They are set on automatic, no longer needing a conscious prompt from us to burst into life.

The poet T.S. Eliot once said “Humankind cannot bear very much reality”. Personas, it seems, are our way of creating a reality that we can live with, and this process is far easier than identifying and facing the difficult questions that for many of us, we never confront. You act tough when you feel vulnerable. You act unhurt when deep down it is agonising. You say you are “OK” because that is easier than explaining why you’re not.

I am guilty of this. For so long (and this struggle is an ongoing one), I convinced/convince myself that I have a plan, that I know what I’m doing, that whatever path I am pursuing is the one that will bring me the most joy and success. The plan is fixed, the plan is a good one, the plan is suffocating…

We associate the term ‘self-doubt’ as a negative concept. That self-doubt is weakness, that self-doubt is the first step to quitting, that self-doubt is an easy way to convince yourself not to do something you really want to do. We of course hear of the success stories of people who did not let self-doubt hinder their progress, how J.K. Rowling was rejected dozens of times by publishers for that little boy character with the glasses, and how Richard Branson was selling postcards on Oxford Circus and being laughed at by friends for choosing not to pursue further education. They did not let self-doubt overwhelm them or make them give up. Yet, we never hear the reverse story, when self-doubt is the not embodiment of weakness but when self-doubt leads to you opening up your fixed plan and allowing for new possibilities you never previously thought of. Stories of when self-doubt can lead you onto an entirely different path where you fulfil your maximum potential, not just the potential you previously limited yourself to.

One persona that I am certainly guilty of is the “I know what I’m doing” mask. That my career choices are all good choices, and that I know where I am and where I want to be. It almost never allows for the possibility to take a step back, hold my hand up and say “I have no idea where I’m headed”. It’s a scary thought because it removes all the protection that I have built up over so long which conceals everyday insecurities that others will perceive as weakness. And as we all know, we live in the world that is dominated by continuously comparing ourselves to our peers, of being accepted and being thought of in high regard. By saying “I’m not sure if my career or life choices are making me happy” we lose precious ground in the rat race that we so value.

Henry Ford, the man responsible for bringing the car into commercial use and for building the assembly line that allows for mass products to be built at record speed time, once said of time: “Time loves to be wasted. It is the hardest of all waste to correct because it does not litter the floor”. Time seems to be everywhere, yet we often use time over and over again for exactly the same purposes. Ten hours at work, eight hours sleep, two hours of television, four hours of miscellaneous hobbies and travel time. Our time is extensive but not varied, and that is because we have personas and plans that are fixed. How many times when you were a teenager or at university, an elder told you “Enjoy this time because you will never have so much free time ever again”? That is because even time is in chains, only allowed to be used in certain quantities and uses. Yet, we never use time for perhaps what is most important, and that is taking precious time to ensure that what we are doing for the majority of the time is being put to good use or to think carefully about whether our life choices are making us happy. Not ever taking the time to consider whether your life plan is/will make you happy is akin to driving 100MPH without ever looking at the fuel gauge and just assuming the car will run forever without petrol. When the car hits a wall or runs out of gas (when we hit the wall or no longer find the energy to continue), that’s usually when we revaluate our life choices. But that doesn’t have to come so late in the game. We have terms like “mid-life crisis” but I would much prefer having a regular mid-year crisis so that I don’t have to wait two decades before questioning my life choices and how I spend my time. The only thing stopping us is ourselves, or more accurately, our personas. We now have so many personas that we use to protect our flaws and project a version of perfection that the very thought of focusing on our imperfections is terrifying.

But we have to start somewhere….I have to start somewhere.

A few months ago I woke up on a Sunday morning and logged onto Facebook and saw a friend of mine with a status saying he had quit his engineering career to pursue a music career. After many years of study and hard work, he decided it wasn’t for him. For many, it would be unthinkable to use so much time for something that you are now giving up. But I wonder how many of us are brave enough to take a step back, to take a deep look inside of ourselves, away from people and our personas, and pose questions that offer new possibilities? Why do we believe so vehemently that the plan we created five, ten, or fifteen years ago, is so perfect? Why does there only have to be one plan? Why does there have to be a plan?

Appearances are deceiving, so much so that when we look in the mirror, it’s hard to guess if the image staring back is the person or the persona.

This is me holding my hand up. I don’t have all the answers because I’ve only just started asking better questions.

Twinkle Twinkle little bomb

Posted: 08/07/2014 in Poetry

Dead baby doesn’t cry.
I hold her close to my breast, offering it to her,
but she doesn’t bite.
Six days have passed since she was bombed.
My little girl.
Bombed.
A terrorist, they said.
Hamas, they said.
I do not understand why my baby is dead.
I wash her every morning at sunrise to the night I haven’t slept
and she didn’t cry all night.
The smell won’t fade no matter how hard I scrub.
I wash her, and my despair, ready for the new day
that brings no life.
Gaza is beautiful this time of bombing
all for one and always more than one dead.
We have become experienced, no, good, at death.
Relatives tell me it’s time to bury my little girl.
But not yet.
Just a little longer
until we rest together.
Any day now it will be my turn,
and once it’s done
I’ll get to hear my little girl cry again.

Clytemnestra

Posted: 09/04/2014 in Short Stories

He can’t stop laughing at her tears. She’s used to bleeding in front of him, salt and the red variety. She didn’t think she would ever get this close but she already knows it’s too late; her decision was taken months ago. He carries on laughing to no one but himself as she struggles to get off all fours. She had been carrying it round the house since she took it out of the kitchen and stuffed it in her Marks and Spencer’s robe that he bought her for her birthday with her money. She puts her right hand inside and feels the smooth black safety handle and it fits inside her palm calmly which she takes as a sign. He doesn’t notice because he’s reached for the Sky remote and is watching highlights of his beloved eleven.

He takes a quick look over to her the way you look to see if it’s a spider or piece of dirt on the carpet. He’s picking at some nuts in a bowl on the coffee table and he’s put his feet up; pleased with himself at very perfect opening of a nut. Her stomach is still contracted from the blows. She doesn’t want to take her hand out of her pocket, away from her hope of salvation, but she has to get herself up. On her feet but still curled over the way old people’s spines start to bend, she understands that tomorrow may come but it’s not worth the wait. She walks slowly towards his back as he resides in his favourite chair.

“I’m sorry my love, let me make it up to you” she says with genuine affection. It is real. This will be love. Love and hate are woven together from the same thread. He snorts a reply and only turns his head slightly in her direction as she comes behind him. He’s smiling because he gets to have it all.

“Good thinking you silly cow, I hate it when you sulk”.

She nods in agreement which he can’t see but he wasn’t waiting for her confirmation. All the world’s a stage and….she liked Shakespeare as a young girl. Macbeth. Lady Macbeth.

She’s rubbing his shoulders; forefingers and thumbs moving up and down and up and down and up.

He settles into her movements and lets out a deep breath of relaxation. “That’s it honey, always been good with your hands” and he chuckles at his own wit.
She’s wondering if she can get another batch of washing done before she sleeps tonight as she rubs his temples and forehead. That always eases him. That’s it. Relax.
The sound of football commentary seems faint even though no one has touched the remote. She can’t see his face but knows his eyes are closed but he’s not asleep yet.
She reaches for it in her pocket. “My love” she says.

He grunts “uhuh?” without moving.

“I love you”, and takes the blade across his throat in one slow motion. The first tear of his skin cut his vocal chords and his screams are hoarse and drowned. His Adam’s apple provides a bit of resistance but not enough. She’s not surprised at how much blood is pouring out on her hands but at the scratching sound the blade makes on the thin skin across his neck. She likes it and laments she could not make its song last. The thickness of the blood reminds her of milk. She stops before she gets to his shoulder and takes her hand and blade back to her side and she doesn’t know if she should wash it now or leave it until the morning. Silly, I don’t have OCD, silly silly doctors, and shakes her head at the thought.

She goes around the chair and mounts him, her legs either side of the arm rests. She lifts his chin, his eyes open, and wants to tell him something important. But beyond his face she catches something that she cannot ignore. One of the light bulbs in the chandelier has gone out and the shops closed half an hour ago.

This friend of mine

Posted: 23/03/2014 in Short Stories

This friend of mine. She called. We sit opposite each other in Bloomsbury at a locally run café. I smell the morning residue of fried eggs and bacon coming from inside. We’re sitting outside. The sun is out but there’s a slight breeze. It’s Saturday afternoon. London is busy. My seat is uncomfortable. I don’t say anything. Last time I saw her she had blonde highlights and she has stuck with them. She’s nervous. She always is around me. She likes to call me an asshole but it has a different meaning each time. The waitress, I read her nametag – Gemma – puts our coffees on the table without delicacy and mine spills over, a thick blotch of brown coffee on my white mug. I am angry at the injustice and my friend sees it and rolls her eyes as if to say “you never change”. I ignore her look and reach for my packet of Marlborough Lights in the inside of my leather jacket. I light a cigarette and take a deep first pull and she interrupts, “I thought you quit?” I shrug and take another deep pull, “They haven’t quit on me yet”.

We sit in silence. I don’t mind. She called. I wait. After taking a fake interest in her surroundings she focuses on me and without any drama says “I tried to kill myself last night”. I’m finishing my cigarette and put it out in the 99p ashtray on the table and I notice, to my further disgust at my stained coffee mug, that there’s no sugar on the table. She’s staring at me as she reads my thoughts. I signal to Gemma and she comes over to the table and I tell her my problem which she doesn’t seem to appreciate. I sigh in frustration that something so simple can be so frustrating. She comes back a moment later with four sachets of brown sugar and I want to cry because I only take white sugar and I’ll need a lot more than four sachets to get through the coffee. I decide Gemma is a horrible human being but I know when I am outgunned. I start ripping the top of each sachet and pour their contents into the mug.

“Did you hear what I said?” she asks, clearly annoyed at me. I give her a confused look and she takes this as a sign that I am taking an interest but my confusion lies with not seeing a spoon on the table to stir my sugar in. I sigh because I can’t bring myself to call Gemma over again and I’ll probably not touch the coffee now.

I light another cigarette and I start to feel better because I have made a definitive decision not to drink the coffee and the sun is on my skin. I think she’s about to raise her voice and I don’t want her to cause a scene so I say something.

“And how did it go?” I ask with the same intonation you would ask how someone’s job interview went.
She can’t decide if she’s happy I’ve said something or infuriated at what I’ve said.
She makes up her mind. “You’re an asshole”.

I take some pulls on my cigarette and shrug my shoulders.

She knows me well enough to know she has to add more into the conversation before I’ll contribute.
“I don’t know why. Nothing is wrong. But sometimes everything seems…hopeless.”

“You’re hopeless”, I want to say, but I don’t. She’s finding her voice now as she starts new sentences in the same breath as she finishes them.

“I tried. I really tried. But I didn’t know what I was doing. I wanted it but I didn’t know why and that annoyed me. That’s why I called you. You’re an asshole, and the devil shouldn’t ask you for advice, but I called. Don’t make me regret it, asshole.”

She thinks she’s witty. Most people do. I would fake a smile to give her some confidence to carry on talking, but I don’t.

“I think my boyfriend is upset with me.”

As she says this I want to go back in time to earlier that day when she called and smash my face into the mirror I was staring at in my room when I picked up the phone. Twenty minutes ago I was in the British Museum reading on how the slaves of Pharaohs were murdered after their masters died so that they could serve them in the afterlife. Then I spot an opportunity in her sentence and for the first time since I saw her I am glad that I am there.

“I know he is” I say nonchalantly, and I lean back in the uncomfortable seat and take a deep pull of my cigarette and wait for her capitulation.

Her eyes screw. “What do you mean you know he is? You’ve never even met him!”

Her voice rises at the end but she manages to grip herself before she gets angry. I’m amused at her fragility but my face displays no emotion except when I look at the packet of Marlborough’s as I muse on whether I should have another cigarette.

I look at her confidently and remind her that “Yes, but I do know his name”.

She’s unsettled now. She knows I speak in Chess moves. She knows something’s coming.
“Cut the crap, what are you on about?”

She says this as cooley as she can muster but she’s biting her bottom lip which unravels her tension. She wishes she had never called but now she needs to know what I’m talking about. Check.
I act as if I’m trying to find my words but I am actually trying to decide whether if I leave in the next ten minutes I can catch the last exhibition of Darwin’s journals at the Natural History Museum. She’s visibly touched at how I am taking my time to choose my words while I try to look at my wrist watch in my periphery vision. I could make it if I leave in the next eight minutes.

I better get a move on.

“I noticed his absence on your Facebook.”

Her eyebrows rise.

I carry on.

“He used to comment and like every one of yours posts and pictures. He hasn’t in a while. How’s your ex?” I say this without any interest.

Her mouth screws and her face crunches. Her body is emanating more heat now and she’s probably digging her finger nails into her thighs because she’s removed them from the table. I reach for another cigarette as I put one out.

“What are you talking about asshole? Why would you ask me that?”

I smile. Not because I want to comfort her but because I am genuinely amused as her pathetic attempts at control.

Should I? Yes, she called.

“Your boyfriend’s absence has coincided with your ex having the confidence to like every single thing you post now.”

I wink at her to give her a chance to gather herself and let her think that I don’t believe what I am saying. That I am just screwing with her. She would believe that. I’m the asshole. She thinks I’m messing with her, that I’m teasing. But her paleness reveals that her nerves have been struck, and her inbox is written on her face as I read it.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about you asshole” she says, but after a moment adds “Are you serious?” because she’s seen a window to talk. That’s why she called. She wants it. I can be told things but no one will believe me if I revealed all. The asshole.

“Should I delete him then?” she asks softly, not waiting for my response, her head bowed in a way that is meant to make me feel sympathy for her but she garners more of my contempt.

I stand up because I need to go before I start eating my cigarettes and I can still make the exhibition if I leave now.

She knows not to tell me not to leave.

“Delete one of them. And next time, take the pills on an empty stomach. I have to go.”

She reaches for my hand and I look at hers touching mine. I just stare at it as she squeezes it and waits for me to return the favour. That doesn’t happen and she’s embarrassed and lets go.

She looks at me with a glare that is meant to be meaningful and deep but all I can see is a lipstick stain on her front tooth. I turn and walk away and head to the tube station. I don’t remember if I left money for the coffee.

One

Posted: 24/02/2014 in Poetry

Twenty every minute, a thousand an hour. You slept as ten thousand passed you by.

I cannot lie that I have laid awake at night counting each one of my breaths as they passed out of my mouth, through my chest, signifying not life but moments closer to our inevitable deaths.

Who among us cherishes each one? Not a single inhale wasted but lived and fought for like it was our last one? Who among us says carpe diem and not tomorrow it can be done?

One. One hundred and one. When will our counting be done that we can no longer remember what was wasted on each one?

‘I hold this dagger for myself for when it pleases my country to need my death’ Brutus said over the death of his beloved one. We remember them today, but tomorrow they and we, and I, and you, will be history. But not remembered but recorded, for each and every last one of us will not have each other’s story to tell of the breath of that one or this one where victory, love, or defeat was done.

One. Two. One again as clocks tick over another day undone. Time humorous to the ones that have already come and gone. They watch up above, down below, or nowhere, who among us thinks their clocks continue to tick when our bodies give way on our final sun?

Twenty every minute, a thousand an hour. Ten thousand will pass you by tonight. How many in their next inhale will do what they are afraid to be done? To make that one breath count. Just once. For one breath never breathes twice, just as you will never come again.

“Read” he demands of her. “Read it again.”

She has not looked at him for some time.

Unfolding the book again, she need not ask what passage he demands.

With a quivering bottom lip, she begins.

“Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die. She saith unto…” “Enough!” he interjected.

“And where is your Jesus that you so believe in, harlot?” he asked with such contempt and cruelty – for her or for the scripture, she was not sure.

“I…” she begins quivering. “You what?” he intercedes, “you what exactly? In this slum of this room that we sit. Where you are not a human, a soul, a spirit, but a thing, the spit of this world, hidden away by the world because it rejects you, and your room with no candle so you do not have to face your face.” His voice never raising above a whisper.

He had come three consecutive nights. Not for her pleasure, but for her torment. Other men paid for their amusement, and this was his.

“I know your secret” she spoke with a quivering bottom lip, “what…..you do. You are no better.”
She braced herself for a blow. She wanted it. Preferred the bruises that heal than the scars he was leaving.

He roars with laughter, gets up from the wooden chair, kneels in front of her, grabbing her by the neck so that she cannot turn away, their noses touching and his eyes trying to creep inside hers.

Whispering, “we are nothing alike, harlot.” She could smell his curse, his sweat, anger, contempt. “I take life. The debase of humanity, the not worth living. The not missed animals who walk the earth. I am unsure why I allow you to live, but decisions can be made. Now tell me harlot, where is your Lord as you sleep in this room? Where is your Jesus when your legs are spread?”

She begins to sob. Not from the pain of his strong grip on her neck, not because she was frightened of his threat, but because she knew he would not carry it out. This meant more to him than her murder. Because he knew her real secret.

“Don’t sob harlot” he says almost compassionately, getting up and sitting back on the chair. “Read.”
“I don’t want to read it!” She screamed, throwing the book at him, falling her to knees, pulling on her hair and bagging her fist on the dusty floor.

A banging from the neighbors below. He begins laughing again. “You hear that harlot? No one cares. They would prefer your death than your life.”

She looks up, still on the floor. Her hair matted with sweat, her eyes bloodshot, and in her state, momentary strength.

“I will tell the world you are a murderer. A Murderer!”

He smiles at her. Pleased she is fighting back.

“Read”, picking up the book from the floor next to him. He puts it in front of her. “Read” he repeats.
Her strength leaves her. Picking up the book, knowing the page number by heart.

Coughing but not wiping her tear stained cheeks. Her voice scratched.

“And I knew that Thou hearest Me always; but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that Thou has sent Me. And when He thus had spoken, He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth.”

“And he that was dead came forth”, he repeated after her. “Any why do you stay dead when you believe in He? Lazarus was revived, and yet you remain in your own filth. Say it.”

A minute passes.

“Say it” he repeats.

She resisted yesterday. And the day before it. But there would not be a tomorrow. And she welcomes that thought.

“Say it”, he says again.

Looking up, the fight over, her true secret revealed.

“I do not believe anymore.”

He smiles, realizing there is more than one way to end a life. Gets up and leaves, knowing there will be no need to visit tomorrow.