Pregnant Witness

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There are two guys fighting on the street.
One is in a car
mouthing off,
revving,
head twisted back,
one hand on the wheel —
the other, I assume, is on the hand break.
The second man pursues the creeping vehicle up the hill,
speaking in tongues.
The first talks in spits and swerves his wheels.
I can’t hear what they are saying;
I’m sure it’s very important
but I am watching the pregnant witness
who looks out the window opposite.
Glasses on, she can see their very animated picture,
but she opens the window to better hear the drama
because her life is empty of it.
There is no darkness in her
refurbished house in leafy suburbia.
I would like a life like that
but I’ve too many shades on me, it would seem,
a spinning prism is my diadem.
So I’ll watch the pregnant witness
watching the two men screaming on the streets;
she’ll get some junk mail later
and that’ll be as bad as it gets.

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Photo: Martin Parr
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Fancy A Little Guerilla Poetry Warfare In The Morning?

Back in the old days, when things weren’t immediate — when news didn’t travel at lightspeed and creations were nurtured in a bubble of time — things were said to happen in ‘the space of Pater Noster’, the space of God.

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Over the next 10 days (I started at 5am yesterday) I will be gracing my favourite streets in London — mostly ones I have lived on over the years — with a little surprise through the letterbox. The aim of the surprise is to serve as a bubble, a space in time between the bills and bank statements, where nothing is asked of you. At worst it makes excellent recycling material; at best it might add a little magic to your day — if you receieve one, whether you like or dislike, please get in touch (contact details on its reverse). x x x

Spoilt Rotten

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My soul has buckled under the weight of all the strange gifts you have given me,
Crumpled like the silver linings I crushed with the beer cans in the recycling.
But still you keep giving, donating twisted things to a
Cabinet of curiosities that’s already bursting at the seams.
You –
If that is your real name.
Me,
And my essence depleted to the compact crystals of flint.
But still you bleed me like a maple tree,
Leech from me
I walk through the streets like a zombie.
Not hungry.
Dim mist is me.
You
Who kicks stones at the legs that keep marching,
Keeps laughing at the ghost with no life-lines.
“She’s so persistent; but aren’t they all
Drowning in my dream whirlpool.”
Can you see us in the water?
Can you see us in the bright blue-green?
Can’t you see that I’m your daughter?
Can’t you see I’m in the waving trees?
It’s
Such
A
Long
Fall
For
You,
You who speaks in sunlight
But giggles in blackness.
Yeah you,
Who I forgive for the heavy treasures I did not wish for,
That I will not list here –
Did not put on my Christmas List either –
Because there is warmth in the wind, there are grebes in the pools and there is
A man who speaks softly to his dog. Who speaks like the earth.
Press this still-wet summer grass against my flesh.
In the seconds of this particular forever
All is well, and all that is wraps me in its bubble
And rolls me down the hill. To the lake
Where the bathers go to chill their brittle bones.
So cold.
Where did you go?
There are whispers when it’s hardest that
You
Do not exist.
But there is drama in your silence
Like the bottom of the sea.
See me: I am the echo of the waves.
Living proof of
Nothing
But a siren call called
You.

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Painting: Milky Way by Peter Doig

The High Parks of London

 

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At sunset we walk to the highest points:
Promise Hill and Hampstead Heath
To watch the end of our day.
We are coming home from work
We are going for a jog
We are on a date
We are tourists searching for Tower Bridge
In the bay of buildings.
We are old and young and in turn
Young and old,
But all humans love the sun
And the highest parks of London
Are where we watch it burn.
At twilight when the mist settles in
Birds whistle more than men.
Men don’t whistle so much these days
But I
I am wolf whistling this big city to bed
This city of red eyes at night.

 

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New Article for Breathe Magazine

Got another article, Ringing in the New, in Breathe Magazine. About the origins of campanology (bell-ringing) its mental and physical advantages and an interview with the chairman of the Association of Bellringing Teachers, Graham Bell (– no joke, that was his name), who enlightens us on how virtual reality is transforming the ancient practice. This issue also has articles about dreams (plus a dream journal, yay!), bird watching, an interview with Ruby Wax, an introduction to calligraphy and lots of other lovely stuff. You can buy a copy from here.

 

 

 

 

 

Uccello su un Filo

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Adriana,
donna, donna,
how did it get so bad?
Your man’s making eyes
at your dirty-talking friend,
who fiddles with the books
and drinks Appletinis in mink.

What I don’t understand
as I watch you on the
courts, is where
it all went wrong —
from
leopardskin pants and
bin bags of Louboutins
to
croissants with detectives
who say that they’ll protect you,
as you walk the line — and
trip over the curb.

White wine drink driving,
claws like dragons
and crying
on cream leather;
no one knows you better
than yourself
any more. The ulcerations
on your colon, your body’s way
of keeping score;
your blue-black eyes
so deer-like you’ll end up getting shot.

Still,
you have the hair of a goddess —
those cigarettes won’t kill you;
your tresses are immortal.
Diamonds from
pawn shops may slowly
weigh you down; but the
white lines and push-up bras
will keep you on a high;
Adriana walks on stars.

Adriana struts the skies,
popping clouds like lonely hearts:
‘Sionara Arty,
your restaurant’s not enough.’
‘Bon giorno Tony,
and your great big arms.
Take me in your
four-wheel drive, and per favore
over-turn me. Make me upside down.’

Adriana La Cerva,
How will you get out?
You love your man with all you have
but it’s that love that’s
got you trapped – take two
steps back, look at those abs.
You’re a 10, he is a 7 –
and there’s no amount
of ecstasy can change
the mould of heaven.

Adriana,
bella donna, I’d give
seven pairs
of Manolo Blahniks, if you’d
just walk away.
All the glamour in the world
to hear,
‘click,
clack,
click,
clack,’
Adriana’s highest heels
walking down the stairs.

 

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(Quite) Honourable Stuff

My short story, The Promise of Heaven, has received an ‘honourable mention‘ in Glimmer Train’s ‘New Writer’s Short Story Competition’. It was originally published here. If you missed the story first time round, here it is again:

 

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There is a little boat in Istanbul that chucks across the Bosphorus from east to west, west to east, like a metronome set by some absent pianist – and somehow my brother has ended up the captain of it.

Nine months ago we moved here from Ankara, where my brother Amir, my parents, and I had spent our entire lives. It had begun to feel like a warzone already, just, no one was entirely sure who we were at war with, or why. There were bombings almost every month at that point, now it’s almost every week. Sometimes these would be carried out by fundamentalists, but more often than not the boys blowing themselves up had only come into contact with the Quran six months before and were so blissed-out on poppy compounds from the Kush they didn’t know what they were doing. No one knew what they were doing. No one could understand the point. Everything remains the same, just more people have a sick feeling at the core of their heart where once a love had been.

In response to the danger my brother and my father became more conservative; my brother especially, which meant he wanted me to become more conservative, and I’m about as conservative as anyone need be. Fortunately, after the move, it became clear that my father had held on to his already-engrained ideals of equality, and therefore, his sanity; but I feel I’m watching my brother turn into the thing he fears, for fear of it.

My parents had already been talking of moving for a while, my father had been speaking to an engineering company 20 miles from here, where he now works, though nothing was actually in place when the decision was made for us – not by another suicide bomb, but when my uncle murdered a man, our cousin’s husband.

Before he went to jail my uncle had been a professor at Ankara University, but he always insisted he was primarily a poet – so he was already unpopular with the authorities. Our cousin had been the aspirational woman of the family; she’d shrugged off Aunty Nilay’s fatal fall from the bathroom window, worked hard, studied law and become a solicitor. By 28 she owned her own flat in the center of Ankara, and had a white BMW (on finance) that looked like a washing machine. My mother was always proud to have just come off the phone to Ela. “Ela’s meeting with a diplomat … Ela says we must eat more fish … Ela’s going to to Paris …”

Ela did meet with a diplomat, though she didn’t end up telling mum the full story. She only told me. She picked him up – he wasn’t actually a diplomat but a general, and all the company wanted her to do in the end was take him to the airport – he tried to grab her while she was driving, she started screaming, so he took his gun out. She stopped screaming, and the big, white washing machine pulled over.

Omur, our late cousin-in-law, owned an expensive restaurant frequented by politicians, lawyers, celebrities, and occasionally, solicitors. He had been given the restaurant by his father, and beyond the veneer of stainless steel and cods roe, he had little to offer the world. She had married him for no other reason than that she loved him, and maybe more than that, she pitied him – and he didn’t like that. There was never anything stopping her from leaving, from making him look like a fool: she just had to pick up her keys. One night she tried to do that. He beat her unconscious.

I read in one of my mother’s magazines once that when Ava Gardner swam naked in Ernest Hemmingway’s pool, he wouldn’t let the pool-boy clean it out, because she had been in there. The water still held her memory. I want a love like that.

When we were young, on one of our first and last family holidays, Ela and I found a pair of twigs that looked like dolphins. Hers looked better than mine, it even had a stubbed branch that looked like a dorsal fin; but when we threw them into the sea, while mine bobbed bravely out into the big blue of the beyond, hers tipped on it’s side and swung, to shore and away, to shore and away. As lifeless as a dead branch.

It looked like she was going to be ok at first; blood and saline were pouring into her, she opened her eyes a few times and looked around, “she survived a heart transplant” we joked; she had, when she was 8. But she couldn’t survive him. She died at 4.47am, alone, and unable to witness the 9th of January and all the strange horror it would bring.

I woke up early to help mum make breakfast for dad and my brother (Amir moved out when we moved to Istanbul, but he still comes round for most meals). It was around 6am, and we were making ourselves some tea when the phone rang. It was Uncle Kamur; he was at the hospital and the police were there now, a little late we all agreed. He was so consumed by grief and anger that my mother could barely understand him. She woke my father and told him we’d both be going to the hospital, and that there were pastries from yesterday in the fridge for breakfast. When we got there, Uncle Kamur had already left. The doctors said he’d had a pain in his chest and had been having trouble breathing; they took an ECG, and the read-out seemed fine. Uncle Kamur asked if he could see the read-out; the nurse tore off the page and handed it to him. He got up, clutching the reading in his hand, pushed her aside, and left.

We asked if we could see Ela, but apparently because of the circumstances we would need either my uncle’s or the police’s permission; my mother couldn’t get hold of Kamur, and “didn’t want to bother” the police. She went back home to wait for Uncle Kamur to call, and I went off to my shift at the café. I don’t think I said anything to anyone during that shift. I nodded a lot. I still couldn’t quite understand that Ela was gone. She wasn’t supposed to go, she was supposed to be taking me to Paris in July.

Amir used to be happy, he used to want to make things better. Back in 2013, he’d come with me and a few other friends to Istanbul for the uprising. Our parents told us it was too dangerous, but, as he said, “this is history”. Only it wasn’t. For all the people, the chanting, the plastic bullets, the tear gas, the bruises, the blood, the energy, the hope, slowly normal life drummed us back to sleep, for now, and nothing changed. We went back to Ankara, and Amir started hanging out with a few drug dealers he said were “honest men” who had been forced into the ‘profession’. He somehow overlooked that in this profession the men were extremely dangerous. The dealers all had hidden wives, but they also had prostitutes. Amir saw what they did to the prostitutes, and he knew they would do it to me. But he was lonely, and they told him promises of heaven, sweeter than life itself. They mingled in the orchards of the deep web and cherry-picked its most abhorrent fruits. They were the ones who hooked Amir up with his job on the boat, and the two-day training. I told him I’d tell mum and dad, he told me the dealers would kill me if he had to quit the job, and I believed him. So I’ve kept my mouth shut. But I know it’s not tourists on that boat in the dim hours.

At 11.40pm, having heard nothing from Uncle Kamur all day, we received a phone call from the police informing us he was in custody. He had killed Omur. My mother ran to the toilet and was sick, I picked up the phone and asked what had happened. They asked if my father was home, I told them he wasn’t around. Apparently Omur, defiant in his deed, had stayed at the house he and Ela had shared. Uncle Kamur had gone round, and, upon Omur opening the door, fired a shotgun at his chest. He left Omur there, the door wide open; stuffed in Omur’s belt was the read-out of Uncle Kamur’s heartbeat just after he’d been told his daughter had died.

It was grizzly, and not as poetic as I think Uncle Kamur thought it would be in the moment. The police found him the by sitting at the water fountain in Kizlilay Square; he was still holding the shotgun, so it didn’t take them long. It meant Uncle Kamur couldn’t go to his daughter’s funeral and I wonder if it was worth it, what would Ela have preferred. But I can’t say she didn’t want the man who killed her dead.

You kill mine, I kill yours. You kill me, I kill you.

In some respects, Uncle Kamur was lucky; he got a reduced sentence, 6 years; he’s been in there for 10 months, but we’re not sure he’ll ever come out. My father’s started to notice something’s up with Amir, he talks of nothing but what we should be doing, what other people will think of us for not, what they might do. I think of leaving here sometimes but I can’t. There’s something that pulls here; a strange wind, like there’s been a black hole smuggled into some back alley, and it’s slowly sucking us back into a past we were never meant live, but now we must live out. And judging by the way my brother turns his head to it and sails along regardless, it requires as many of us as possible to stick around.