Eastern

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Mina pushes another penny into the arcade and it flares into life, the music crackling through the fading speakers.  Around her the floor smells of stale soda and gum trodden in like an indecisive patchwork mosaic.  The machine is almost as old as she is, and so familiar, the light gun practically moulds into the print of her palm.

She’s dead by Level 5, too soon for her talents, distracted by a memory of playing the same game crossed-legged at home in her Nanna’s house.  A two bed place above the weird family, who tried to ‘sell’ them t-shirts by shoving the damn things through the letterbox in the middle of the night and demanding payment, hammering on the door at first dawn.  The arcade is too warm, and as a bead of sweat runs from Mina’s hairline down the bridge of her nose she is back in that stifling living room next to the gas fire, rippling malevolently from behind a copper cage.

That warm memory triggers another; a hot summer day with the neighbourhood kids, including two from the family under Nanna.  Liam; blonde haired, as pale as a newborn fish with bright red lips, and Sebastian; pockmarked with brown freckles, jet black angular hair and eyebrows that seemed to weigh heavily on the rest of his face so you never really saw where he was looking.  On that sweltering afternoon Mina and the gang had been playing football on the green, in the centre of the semi-circle of welfare housing that made up the Estate, when a door flung open, and a grotesque crackling voice blared out into the blue sky.  The ball hung high in the air, as though not wanting to land until the trouble had passed.

All the kids scattered, milling around the confines of the Green, never crossing the dreaded threshold of the Dangerous Road.  Except for Sebasian and Liam who stood frozen like statues where everyone had been moments before, as their father cursed and swore towards them.  Waving shirts above his head, some flecked with paint, he looked like Mario, except a decayed, verminous version of Mario; a piece of fleshy wreckage the result of spending the past twenty years trying to find his misbegotten teen years at the bottom of every bottle he could get his hands on.  Looking back on it now, he reminded Mina of a deranged medieval herald, planting the battle flag of a hopeless hundred before a mass of bloodthirsty thousands.

The Father pushed Sebastian aside, who realised the power of his legs and scampered towards the rest of them hovering before the inevitable spectacle.  Liam had flicked paint onto some of the hundreds of crap stolen shirts that littered the house, and now this was his public execution – as brutal to a kid in front of his friends as being torn to pieces by horses and chains.  Over the father’s knee, pants down, Mina and the gang watched as he belted that pale arse with the heel of a slipper until blood peeked at the edges of the purple horseshoe shaped marks left behind.  When it was over, and with Liam in too much pain to even begin crying, he was hustled inside.  Gradually, tentatively, Mina and the rest of the kids made their way back into the middle of the Green, avoiding the spot where the horror had occurred.  Someone kicked the ball into the air, running alone towards the goal, but the game was gone from their hearts and everyone shuffled home.

Back in the arcade, Mina pushes in another coin.  Wiping the sweat from her brow, she lines up the first three bad guys and pop, pop, pop, lays them out with three head shots.  Another dude appears from behind a door, floored before he can even get a shot away.  The game moves down a narrow corridor, opens another door into a small room, and on screen Mina sees what she has been looking for.  Another bad guy, a Mario lookalike, with a bulbous gut and beady little eyes.  She ignores the head and shoots for the legs.  The character falls to the ground, groaning loudly through the speakers and going through the jerky animation of someone in horrible pain, as text appears on the screen imploring the player to FINISH HIM, FINISH HIM.

But Mina doesn’t finish him… lost in a memory, she just lowers the gun and smiles.

 

 

Bunker (via FreeVerseRevolution)

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(Originally posted on Free Verse Revolution)

*

I watch as her fingers dance across the yellow keys.  Greasy silver hair down to her waist, a tattered and frayed dress dancing around her knees and a pair of filthy ballet pumps pushing down at the ruined pedals below.  When the notes emerge from underneath the rotting wood of the old Joanna, I want to wrap my arms around this strange creationtoo messed up to live and too strong to die.  

 

She flings her pale arms out and announces to myself and most of the oxygen that surrounds us; I will now play the Glorious 9th!  I pick up a piece of crumbling stone and hold it up to the Sun.  I scream into the sky – BYE THIS STONE, I HEAR THE NINTH – but we’ve both had far too many chemicals and yet not enough.  Above us, the sky faintly hums with amber, and the clouds now rush past as though they have places they need to be, people they need to see… that are not us.  

 

It troubles us not.  

 

It troubles us, never.  

 

*

 

Later that evening, on the hill overlooking the machinery, we recline and shiver in the cold blanket of progress.  The ruined piano slumbers peacefully nearby as we point our legs towards the bright lights below.  From up here we can see a sickly neon reflecting from the silver towers, the arc of the orange streets forming like the lank petals of a dying flower, dark smells of sticky macadam drifting up over the dead thistles and dandelions that lay around and under us.  

 

I pass over the bottle of Lumberjack; a lethal, plain label affair with the colour and smell of dehydrated piss.  She gulps, taking it like a shotgun blast to the chin and pulling her lips back to reveal red and puffed gums.  I can almost see her hairs standing on end, like in those cartoons we used to love.  She lies back down, softly counting the faintest stars ahead.  

 

“…fifteensixteenseventeeneighteen…”

A scrunched nose

“…nineteen?”

‘My feet are going numb.’

“twenty…. twenty…one?  No?  Fuck.”  She hisses like a cat.  Pulling her fingers into claws, swiping at the air…  hisssssss!  Hissssssssss!

I’m serious… where are they?’

“What happened to all the stars?  Are they dying or are we just drifting away?  Floating away from some kind of wonderful nirvana… where…”  

She takes another swig and kicks her feet into the ground

“…we might live inside our dreams.  Imagine that…”  Tickling my stomach.  “Inside a dream.”

 

I roll on top of her but she plants a knee upwards into my groin.  We tumble a few yards down the hill and stop in a heap of tangled limbs and clothes, the bottle bobbling along pathetically after us.  

 

*

 

What is the point of progress when it sends us not forwards but sideways, to a new reality but without going anywhere?  We look down on the metallic tentacles sprouting from the ground, slumbering peacefully under a dead moon, cables and girders all anchoring to the old town like a seething blackhead.  I rest my head on her shoulder and point towards the gleaming new glass covered office block, covered in Opening Soon banners like bloodstained bandages on a headwound.  When I close my eyes I can see the fingerprint of the record shop that stood inside it.  All around the glaring lights act like sacrificial bonfires as one by one a meaningful edifice is torn down in the name of…

 

Progress…”

The word dribbles out of her mouth like pus from a septic wound, shit from a diuretic arsehole.  

“That’s all this place wants… progress.”

I nod.  ‘Just trying to be impressive, like hiding behind the school bully and threatening the weak kids.’

She shakes her head.  

“No, it’s not even that.  It’s more than that.  It’s a denial of… I dunno… history I guess, and a denial of an attainable future?  They want to pretend that culture never happened.  It’s a scorched earth policy y’know?”  

 

She gesticulates, flinging her hands out.

 

“Burn the books, shred the music… extinguish anything that might give you a dream and give you an oversized glass coffin to march inside every day for the rest of your waking life until you are buried alive underneath MDF, paperwork and shit coffee.  Wear a trouser suit, do your nails, cover your little plastic idiot box with pictures of the kids you wish you hadn’t squeezed out of your useless cunt.  Fuck the milkman, fuck the nanny, swing your limp dick on the golf course… push it deep inside a cow’s arse and pretend you are still vegetarian…”

 

I sit up, resting on my elbows.

 

“Pull down the bookstores and the libraries… knock down the schools and build another supermarket… wait til the kids can walk and get the little bastards stacking the lowest shelves.”

I stare at her.  She stops and looks back at me.  

“What?”

I take the bottle out of her hands and gently replace a shoe that has slipped from her dainty, blackened foot.  

“Don’t you stop me when I’m in full flow, fucker.”

I hold my fingers up in a crucifix.  ‘May the Lord Jesus compel you towards forgiveness’

“Fuck Jesus!”

‘You can’t, he’s dead’

She fights the grin that spreads across her face.  “I reject all deities!  I am a fucking woman and I outlive everything!”

‘He Died For Your Sins!’

“Then Why Do I Keep Doing It!”

 

She laughs and pounces on top of me.  We roll through the dry grass, kicking out legs, our hair knotting together.  

 

“Every time I try and say something you bring God into it.”

I tilt my head and put on my best angelic pout.

‘But God is everywhere…’

She takes a deep swig of Lumberjack and belches loudly into the ether.  

“Not everywhere… just in here.”  Her black nails tap against the bottle.  

 

 

*

 

‘In all seriousness, what do you think it all means?’

“You’re asking me?”

I sit up and look across to her.  We can hear the first tweeting of early birds and the black sky is turning a sickly mauve in anticipation of the rising sun.  

‘Why wouldn’t I?’

“I ‘unno… I don’t have answers any more than you do.”

I look towards the town as the streetlights blink off one by one.  

‘New beginnings… Prosperity, commerce, opportunity… it has to be a good thing, right?  We’re a couple of wasters, but we aren’t the future.’ 

‘This…’  I gesture to the town, covered in cranes and construction.  ‘This is reality.  We… we’re just stuck… in here.’  I hold up the empty bottle and tap my forehead.  

She looks at me for a moment, then leans in to kiss my cheek.  

Oh bless you.  Three lovely words.  Prosperity, commerce, opportunity.  As if they have any relation to each other…”

She stands up, very unsteadily, and opens her arms out to the weak heartbeat of the town below.  I get up as well, despite my head pounding with every intake of breath.  

 

“This…” she begins.  “This shiny optimism is not a new beginning.  This is an ending.  An end to culture.  An end to the hope of escape.  An end to an alternative way of being.  See the old record store… gone.  See the old bookshop… now just a pile of bricks.  See the old school… now a 24hr mart.  See the people… they don’t look up anymore, they look at their own shoes.  See this sky that once blazed orange, now fluttering in lilac like a dying butterfly.”

 

“There is hope.  We just need to recognise it.”

She cups her hands together, as though protecting a bumblebee, and offers them to me.  I look inside, but there is nothing except her cracked palms.  

 

“Can you see it?” she says, hopefully.  I look deep into her bloodshot eyes, past the pockmarked cheeks and the yellowing eyelids, over her shoulder into the shiny metal town being assembled beneath us.  A breath of wind rattles the dead weeds at our feet and rolls the empty bottle of Lumberjack down into the thistles below.  

 

‘Yes’ I lie.  ‘I can see it.’

 

My Little Empire

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Our hands clasp warmly, despite our mutual cold, as we push through the narrow door.  One small tinkle of that familiar bell signals our arrival – our place as refugees in a town of crumbling faces and grey buildings, where rusted cars compete for supremacy and hearts are broken against nightclub fire escapes.

Behind the counter a lady with a pair of beaming teeth and a row of yellow eyes bows cordially to us, her long black hair running like an oil slick down her shirt.  We release our grip and scan the shelves – column upon column of strip neon cuddled between deep brown wood.  Lone figures stand solemnly here and there on the fetid ugly carpet, noses deep in words; still wrapped up against the outside but here full of colour, glowing from their shoes to their foreheads.  Some corners have sickly lights, some have asthmatic candles dancing unsteadily on their wicks, but mostly the aisles are drenched in warm shadow – the kind of place you want to get lost in.

The Bookshop was our Sanctuary from a race that didn’t read, from a society that burned things it didn’t understand and a generation that preferred to stare at their own faces warped and reflected through tinted shop windows.  Inside this time capsule were the collective imaginations of thousands, gathered from the experiences of millions; an endless galaxy of connections and hearsay, of meanderings and meanings, of feelings and fears.  Inside The Bookshop there existed no fast right or hard wrong; you just simply were, and the words simply existed to be absorbed by those with the right eyes, or jumbled by those with the wrong ones too.  It didn’t matter.  As long as it happened, as long as a dusty page got to see light again, who cared what it meant long term?  What is any story without the tale and only the teller?

She nods her head and we descend into the cellar, down a steep, swirling and crackling wooden staircase.  In comparison to the warmth above, the cellar was always cold and reeked of damp.  But, with the exception of the coffee machine burbling away in the background, everything here was old and waiting to be found; a collection of orphans in their Sunday best with tags on their coats.  Second hand and classics, antiquarian and raggy vinyl.  The ceiling hung oppressively low, the wallpaper brown and ragged with war stories to tell.  Even the couches looked both homely and yet distressed.

We split up and scanned the titles; so many names who had made it, who had broken free.  Thomases and Annas and Gerards and Eves, names that would have otherwise been carved into a stone slab one day, and condemned to being weathered out of existence.  Here those forgotten names shone out in gold plated ink from tattered sleeves and shoulders.  Their bodies might lie in grey now, under overgrown and forgotten mounds, but I can pick apart their thoughts, run my finger over their words and kiss the dust from the tip of my finger.

I picked out something from an Augustus Ligier.  On Temperence And The Common Man.  I opened up the yellow pages, taking a deep sniff of the stale air.  Halfway down a page about the rucks of old navvies, how one beserker had taken hostage of an alehouse in 1855 with a coal scuttle and nineteen pints of mild because the landlord called time, she calls me over with pink cheeks buried somewhere between a hat and a scarf.

“This is filth” she tells me excitedly.  “Proper Edwardian smut.”  I follow her finger as it traces a wonky line.  She reads aloud to me.  Her pendulous bosoms left me in a daze as I mounted the footstool and awaited distinction.  She approaches me and, heaving away, I buried my lips over a single nipple like a barnacle attached to the hulk of Nelson’s Victory.” 

Snapping the book shut with a puff of fibres, she asks me.  “Do you ever mount a stool before you suck on a tit?”

‘I don’t think so?  Then again it has been a while…’

Her hands pinched my cheek through her fingerless gloves.  Awww.. you little barnacle. 

I swatted her hand away.  ‘Are you pendulous?  Have you ever compared your breasts to Royal Navy frigates?’

She cupped herself thoughtfully for a moment, scrunching up her nose.  “It’s weird you should ask me that…”

‘Really?  Why?’

“No reason” she smiled.  “It’s just weird.  You fucking weirdo.”

*

We take the shortcut through the cemetary home.  She points out her ‘favourite grave’; a coupled called Rita and Tom who she thought were called Ita and Tom on account of the ‘R’ going missing.  They died on the same day in 1973.  I hope they were holding hands when it happened, even if it was during a car crash, she always used to say.

We sit down on some old stones, having checked to ensure they didn’t have names carved into them, and compared our finds.  I had a small yellow and purple book with maps of Sub-Saharan Africa (just because I liked the hand-drawn maps), a copy of Mirabeau’s The Torture Garden, and a dog-eared flaking edition of Little Women bought just for the inscription on the inside cover – To Millie, with love from Mummy, Christmas 1901.  On page 65 I found a photo used as a bookmark; it was the top half of a distinguished looking gentleman in woodland, wearing a tin hat and a thick black moustache.  On the back, someone had written Alfie Ypres Nov 1914. 

She put her rucksack down at her feet and pulled out her haul.  Lucia Berlin, Elizabeth Gaskill and… I put my head in my hands… oh god…. she’s clearing her throat.

“No seriously, read this bit…

Clarissa’s buttocks massed before my very eyes.  I could only see the enormous mounds of jiggling flesh backing towards me relentless, like pale tides.  Trying to gather my senses, I mounted the stool and awaited her on…”

‘Fucking stools!’

She tweaked my nipple.  “Don’t interrupt me.  I am trying to read you literature.”

She gestured with her hands.  “Lit-err-ah-chure darlhhing!”

‘How many stools!  Seriously!’  I tried to fight off her squirming hands, fumbling for my chest.  ‘Does this cunt not know that other furniture exists!?  Stop it!’

Her hands reached under my jumper as her fingertips grabbed at me.  Shouts and cries, boots kicking into the cold air, rolling off the stones and across frozen brown leaves.  Our laughter echoed around the cold stones, and those cold faces, as the rest of the world passed us by with indifference.

 

 

 

Patience

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Patience she always told me.  Five fingertips on my chest as my heart burst to be grabbed by that glowing palm.  Patience she said again, and pushed me away.  When it is our time, it will be our time.  She looked me deep into my skull.  Our time. 

I don’t care about time these days.  When I look around me I see time as a cancer.  Time rots wood, crumbles concrete, devours entire coastlines, throws towns and cities into the abyss.  Time eats our flesh and leaves our skin hanging over the bones like a fishing net flung over an old coble.  Time fades like old 35mm film, crackling and hissing into impenetrable white.  When I try and remember now I can’t; it is just the endless whirring of a brain devoid of content.  Hissing and thrashing.  Fuck time.

Fuck time I say out loud.  I meant to say patience but my thoughts overtake me these days.  I’m sitting on a grassy stump that used to be Our Tree, looking towards a supermarket that squats over what was once Her House; I’ve counted the steps and her living room was somewhere between Fresh Fish and World Foods.  The same living room where she told me that cum tastes like mushrooms.  We kissed, we devoured, we probed and we investigated inside jeans and up long skirts, black knickers and white boxers.  She jerked me off, looking me dead in the eye before licking her wrist clean and smiling.  Mushrooms… kinda.  

Kinda.  Well, this is kinda my spot now.  I’ve had enough of stomping my feet around the Fish ‘n Pasta aisles trying to find some echo of carpet or wall lines or fireplaces.  So instead I sit here and glare at the entrance to this pathetic monolith, without even a plaque to commemorate her memory, daring any of the cunts who march inside to enjoy themselves in the same way as I have done many times under those same blue skies.  When everything else decays and dies, no one thinks to look up to the deep blue sky and hope to see some echo of a past that they once knew and now no longer remember.

I remember.  When the clouds form into that strange pattern like the bones of a fish, I am thrown back to a conversation where she told me about how much she loved a particular song by a particular band she was into at the time.  She looked up to the sky and talked about how the chords of the song swooped like fish in an aquarium; a kind of disordered orderliness as though the dance of snowflakes in a gentle breeze.  I was in the middle of extolling my praise for a tune I’d never even heard when she abrupty broke off the conversation and into a sprint.  Running in her wake calling her name I could only look up enough to see raven curls flung from left to right like an intense fire and the soles of her chewing gum stained shoes.

Just as I thought she was getting away she stopped at the top of the hill above her house, breathing heavily, waiting for me.  I stumbled up to her, sinking to my knees and hacking up phlegm.  Eventually I asked her why did you take off like that? 

She didn’t say anything but she looked across to a deep red sun sinking into the horizon.

No reason, she shrugged, barely out of breath.  I just wanted to know you wanted this as much as me. 

*

I get up off the old wooden stump.  Yes, I wanted it as much as you.  With every sunrise, every cuttlefish cloud and every maroon evening, I am reminded.  But I took that word to heart, and that is why I now sit alone.

Patience. 

 

 

 

Bee Jams – Jimmi Campkin — FREE VERSE REVOLUTION

Sitting uneasily on the remains of an old washer-dryer, I look up to the sky and toast the world. At my feet, dead yellow grass paws pathetically at my shoes. I light another cigarette and blow smoke into the day. It is nice to feel involved in some small way with this wider conscious, even […]

via Bee Jams – Jimmi Campkin — FREE VERSE REVOLUTION

Starlings

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She told me; I want to tell you three things and I want you to shut up whilst I’m talking.  Holding up a hand, she extended a finger as she counted.  There’s a dream… a memory… and a verdict.  They are connected, but I don’t know how. 

The bridge creaked in the wind, bustling through the narrow valley below.  Our bare, dirty feet hung into the abyss, as curious animals peered up to see whether we were a threat or just angels.  I passed the half bottle of warm liquor and she ingested it with the grim determination of someone enduring minor surgery without pain relief.

She told me that she dreams about The Boy.  How he always appears in the background; leaning on a postbox as she walks through 1920’s Berlin, or in the seventh row of a Stones gig she imagined she attended.

She told me about a memory of The Boy hijacking a car to impress her but realising he couldn’t drive.  So she took the wheel and got them far away before the car alarm attracted too much attention.  They dumped the car; to stop him feeling too disappointed she nibbled his ear until he got erect and left him alone to finish the job.

The verdict is… that I should’ve saved him.  I let out a disguised cough; this is anodyne for such a sharp mind.

I tell her; he is a severed portal to a place you want to be.

Where?

Anywhere but here.

Raven

Sky XXXIV

I lean back against the rotten wooden stump of a dead friend and scan the parked cars nearby.  Ever since I saw my first crush getting into her mum’s car after school, I’ve been able to memorise plates and make patterns with the letters and numbers.  If I saw that car driving along the street, I would push out my shoulders, straighten my posture and do everything I could to look enigmatic – jawline clenched and profiled – in the off chance that she was sat in the back seat gazing out of the window at the multitudes of shufflers and caught a glimpse of this god.  The plates around me look like fun, or as close to fun as I get these days.  Those add up to 20.  That one kind of spells twat.  That car, in that shade of red, reminds me of Jessamin and her chocolate eyes, and her new surname, and the child she bounces on her knee that isn’t mine and I never wanted anyway.   

* 

Newspapers have been filled recently with the story of a man from Nagoya. The woman he loved died last year and he drowned himself in work—Japanese style—like a madman. It seems he even made an important discovery in electronics. And then in the month of May he killed himself. They say he could not stand hearing the word ‘Spring.’”  

– Chris Marker Sans Soleil 

* 

I am halfway down my first bottle of beer, and I can feel the buzz as the disease winds around my arteries, laminating my cells in that familiar melancholy stupor which will leave me reckless and blind later on this evening.  When I am into my third or fourth my mind becomes sufficiently lubricated as to give me a glimpse of my former self – when life was as simple as a 16bit jump over an instant kill pit, before morality sat me on a fence for eternity, before I knew anything about the future and how influential it will be.  By the seventh, I will listen to the ravens as they sing their songs about death hunting us through the long grass.  I will remember the stuff that never happened, and I will fantasise about things that did happen and happened beyond my remit.  It is easy to live inside a bubble until it becomes opaque and hard, and before you can escape you are trapped inside a marble and condemned to be lost in a gutter or under a child’s bed.   

The last time I sat here I made a bit of a fool of myself.  I begged an old woman for a trampoline because she looked like my grandma and we never had a garden growing up.  I cried over her old dusty tights and vomited maroon over her inexpensive shoes.  That night, in the police cell, I felt too embarrassed to shit on the exposed toilet and too wired to sleep on the mattress.  Instead I added my name to the others carved into the wall, taking care not to overlap ‘Johnny Sumner’ who (from the number of notches underneath) had spent sixteen nights here.   

I look up to a cloudless black sky.  It is just past noon, but the blues and greens and reds have drained out of my eyes of late.  I see everything in a saturated monochrome now – trees, lakes and birds just vague shadows in my mind depending on the strength of the incandescent Sun.  All the cars now look the same, except – of course – for the plates.  I neck the last of this warm first bottle, placing it carefully next to me, and look over my shoulder.  That one is the same make and model of Jessamin’s.  That one adds up to 17.  That one spells Mist.