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.

 

 

 

Flux – via FreeVerseRevolution

Golden Canal York

We wait patiently in a hot summer evening haze, expectant of some event or apotheosis.  Everything ripples before us; the horizon, landscape and the cold shells of the old furnaces undulating in this new heat, leaving us drowsy as though languidly awaiting the Rapture.  We’re reclined in a pair of old car seats dumped in the midst of a daisy and buttercup sea as all around us, yellows, whites and dainty pinks, Louis XVth greens and platinum silver rays flow like the tides, sweeping and retreating in disorganised order.  

She rolls up her skirt, pointing a toe into the heart of the Sun and plunges a small penknife deep into her calf.  Blood begins to trickle out from the slit, and I can hear hissing – perhaps from her in pain or from her fluids hitting the hungry vegetation around us.  I don’t ask questions though.  I just try not to stare too hard at the blossoming crimson below her knee, spreading over her ankle.  If I make this a Big Deal, I’ll probably be next.  

So I pass her another rolled smoke as she reclines again, allowing one bloody leg to cross the other.  I lay back into the creaking old leather instinctively fumbling for a seat beat.

The wind whips around us, eager to join, and I feel her smoke burning my eyes and tongue.  Around us everything has taken a day off – birds stand silently in trees, the few clouds remaining stationary in a rich blue sky like ocean liners.  She holds up a clawed hand, in the vague shape of F# and tells me, as only someone under the influence of powerful narcotics can, the importance of the chord progressions in Tonight’s The Night by Neil Young.  Strumming her hip and making gestures at the air.  And then you go dnng dnng dnng ng.  Ng nng nnnnnng.  

I point out the shadows creeping across our feet like burst oil across a clear sea.  The old factories and cooling towers loom over us now, once gleaming bright but now turning orange as the Sun sinks lower.  All I hear, other than her words and the wind, is the deep ringing of silence.  The buildings around us barely emit a hum, and I can hear every languid flick of her air, every crack of her spine and every crackle of burning cigarette paper.  

The evening sets in, deep terracotta, the little black silhouettes of birds now gathering on the ripe saplings dotted here and there.  She takes a deep breath and asks me; do you remember your finest moment?  I shrug.  Beating a one-legged kid at tennis in three sets of 6 love in half an hour?  Building a home-made parachute out of old sheets and leaping out of a tree?  Scaling the fence into the old factory and finding the cupboard full of glue and pornography that kept us awake and alive for an entire autumn?  She waves her hand dismissively away. 

“I remember… ages ago… you put on a pair of stupid glasses, jammed some flowers into your jeans and then hid in the toilets of a nightclub for an hour.

Until they played a track by The Smiths and you… just… fucking… emerged, dressed like a Poundland Morrissey, in the middle of the dancefloor, twirling daffodils about like a deranged helicopter, until the bouncers dragged you out and kicked the shit out of you.”

I laughed.  

‘Yeah… I was a dickhead back then…’

“Yeah, you were” she smiles.  “But you were also brave.”

*

On misty evenings even machines leave ghosts and echoes.  As I sit, surrounded by a damp curtain, I can hear clanks and grinding from mechanisms long since rusted beyond repair.  Nothing makes sense in this cold.  My fingers and legs stretch out before me, pale grey and barely emitting any light.  I perch uncomfortably on brown springs – the leather long since torn or rotted away.  Around me dead yellow stalks hiss and scream uncomfortably, whilst at my feet a wide circle of burned black punctures the earth like a missing eye.

I’m on my fourth can.  Once upon a time I put a hand on a shoulder, and felt the warmth evaporate my fingerprints, absorbing them into her constellations of freckles.  I looked into deep eyes and floated – always floated – even for someone who could never swim.  

I look up at the sky these days and it doesn’t feel empty, just overwhelmingly crowded and noisy.  I remember the days when I could eloquently scream and cut through the white noise with ease, setting my target for the heart of the Core and exploding with confidence, sparks dancing from my shoulders as my emotions brought down mountains.  Now I fumble over broken words that bounce pointlessly away like airgun pellets against a Battleship.    

 

The noises don’t intimidate me anymore.  If I hear the grumbling of a ‘78 Rolling Stock Diesel vibrating under these rusted springs, if I see its shape rolling past in the fog, I can pretend that it is meaningless.  Just the ridiculous echoes of an old time bouncing off the walls for perceptive ears.  Except everything feels so numb now.  Nothing is rich anymore.  Nothing burns, nothing hurts, nothing excites.  When a forgotten past bleeds into a forgettable present, where can one exist? 

I finish the fourth can but it won’t be the last.  I am too cold to stop now and the dawn is at least another couple of years away.  As my feet stamp and crunch into the black soil I have a vague memory of auburn hair smelling faintly of cigar smoke and pollen.  One leg raised against the dying sun, blood streaming from a single wound and forming a pool at our feet, as all those whites and yellows, Louis XVth greens and platinum silvers were slowly drenched and drowned in her deep, oppressive red.  

*

Eventually she began to lose consciousness.  Even as the smoke rasped my lungs I could tell that she was in a bad way.  Her eyelids ashen, her sockets sunken, her flesh pale and old.  The blood that once streamed now patted rhythmically on the stubborn head of a Buttercup, determined not to be deterred, unflinching.  A deep pool of red formed a circle at her feet.  The ground beneath us gargled like a drowning swimmer.

She told me; when I was a kid I was obsessed with Space Oddity by Bowie.  I used to listen to that song over and over and over and over again on my little kiddie cassette player.  And then, when my parents got pissed off and wanted to sleep, they’d hide my tape player.  But it didn’t matter to me.  I knew that song.  I knew the lyrics.  I could feel every vibration of every note in my ears.  So I would creep out of my bed when everything was quiet, go to my bedroom window and stare into the night sky imagining that Major Tom was real… that he was actually floating out there in his old tin can, just a dead man perfectly preserved in a vacuum, endlessly orbiting the planet.  

I wonder what happened to that girl who didn’t look at the floor but looked up to the sky.  

She took another deep drag and lifted her toe up to cover the sun.

What happened to the girl who believed in Major Tom?

*

I wonder that as well.  I wonder what happened to the boy who believed in the girl who believed in Major Tom.  There is no wind now, but I still hear the hiss of the dead stalks around me.  I remember, only just, when this meadow sang with colour.  

I cannot keep the flowers alive with memory alone.

(Originally posted on freeverserevolution, with thanks.)

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. 

 

 

 

When We Were Tigers – Free Verse Revolution

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Under a piece of tarpaulin, draped inelegantly over a pair of upturned shopping trolleys, we listen to the patter of the rain above us, a pool developing over our shoulders.  The damp seeps into our shoes and clothes, our hair is lank and clotted with wet dust. She pops another codeine between chapped white lips as we watch a pointless landscape disappearing into the murk.

As kids we played as a pair alone, long days and evenings, not pausing for breath until we were profusely bleeding into each other.  We scrambled over barbed wire fences, took out security cameras with fishing slingshots and lobbed aerosols into the fire, holding our nerve to stand still and feel the white hot ice of glowing shrapnel slicing through our shins and thighs.  We pissed in doorways, cuddled under hailstorms and licked each other’s muddy arms until we looked like a pair of half-starved and shaved tiger cubs.

I look across to her now; twenty years older and forty years wiser.  The cheekbones are hollow, casting deep pools of shadow like bruises on a fallen apple, but I still see those fresh razors just concealed by puppy fat.  The most beautiful faces and bodies are the most lived in – just as the most cosy house has dust in the corners and the smell of old dinners. I put my hand on her bony knee and give it a squeeze.  She smiles at me, but I can see the first waves of codeine are assembling with the tails of the previous hit, creating the chaotic confusion of a torrential river flowing out to sea and meeting the incoming tide.  I could be a sack of potatoes with a face drawn on them now, so I reflect on our first meeting.

It started with a fight and ended with a sprint.  I hadn’t slept in three days, and decided to walk down an alleyway I knew was dangerous.  The air was always heavy with musk and rotten things – dead wood, dead plants, dead tarmac; disintegrating animals with ribs protruding outwards like awful flowers.  I could feel myself nodding as I drew in the thick miasmic skunk, clinging to my nose hairs and eyelashes when I saw her casually leaning against a lamppost talking to a guy.  She was having an argument and had been called a cunt, and her response was inspired; you wish you had a cunt.  Cunt’s crush dicks like paper covers stone.  Moving her hand from behind her back, I saw a triangle of glass jammed between her middle two fingers.  She smiled, cocking her head to one side and said, fist bump?  A few seconds later the boy had the glass embedded in his cheek, the silent scream only serving to tear the flesh further apart as bright red juice spilled down his jawline.

As we ran together, I tried to introduce myself but I could only make breathless noises.  So from that day on, my name was ‘Tah’, said as though suffering from an asthma attack. We ran past the point of his muffled yelps, beyond the visual sight of the alley, beyond that tree-lined avenue until it was a moment that had never happened.  We rested until the stars came out, when the night was dark enough that we didn’t have to retrace our steps and see the trail the boy left as he staggered home.

Reminiscing does none of us any favours though.  There’s a reason I tend not to dwell on how we met, and as I look back to that face now finally settling into an agreeably numb groove, the chemicals aligning to form a comfortable compound, it’s hard to imagine what those eyes have seen.  I look down at her hand and she’s idly flicking a triangle of broken glass between the gaps in her fingers, back and forth. It’s a dreary day, but she seems happy enough. I pop a pill, wash it down with a polystyrene cup full of cheap vodka, and settle down for an evening of sensory drumming as the rain sprinkles down on our pathetic little tent.

 

Originally posted on Free Verse Revolution

Lines In The Sand (Part I) – Basilike Pappa & Jimmi Campkin

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To call you love would twist my tongue.

I never sing love songs with eyes shut; and neither would I share junk food behind the Hilton with you –exhaust fumes, saucy lips, a light breeze through our hair– before we kiss and go to bed as animals turned pets, our biggest sin forgetting to floss.

But from the moment you said my name, sanity performed a pagan dance, silver jewels gleaming naked.

So why not conspire against the national demand for ironed sheets, and go riding drunk under the moon? Sneaking into each other, we will exchange bass lines, starry eyes, blinding treasures and the secrets to a perfect kill. And if we turn each other into poems in the flesh, we can always blame the weather or a collapsing bridge.

From the moment you said my name, my senses did a pagan dance, spitting out neon, perfumes, smearing lipstick on it all.

So why not kiss all the way down a perfect fall?

But I’d never call you love – I’d rather bite my tongue.

*

My earliest memory of you; on a trampoline, your hair backlit by a radioactive green sun, and one hand reaching for the pale blue above.

Another early memory; a crowd of no-one, pointless under-formed bodies and ill-fitting clothes, and a pair of eyes that parted them like the red sea, like a blowtorch through ice. Your eyes weren’t shimmering, or beautiful like those described by the shit poets you detested so much. You carried harpoons with hooked blades that penetrated my flesh and locked into my ribcage.

The first fuck; freezing cold behind the bowling alley, knocking over beer bottles with our feet. Your jeans down to your Chuck Taylors, my boxers locking my knees together, our breath mingling, my cock fighting to stay alive between you and the frost.

You are my nightmare, and I cry to hear the words I want.

But you always look away, and those dangerous eyes dull and fade like the end of a candle.

When we kiss, I suck the air out of you and keep it in my lungs. You tell me I’m a terrible kisser, that I devour you. And I say nothing, but think the same words…. and your point would be what?

*

Our first fuck be damned.

We went deep into the orange grove, where the trees wear climber thorns for hair and our feet sink in the undergrowth. I showed you the house of stone and ivy. Snakes, I said; spiders and rats; these weeds feed on dead oranges. Insects, dust, maybe someone forever hanging from the ceiling, or someone mad and hungry. Still you wanted to go in. I waited for you outside, waited until the night thickened and my skin began to peel off. I thought to come find you, get you out of there, take you away from the grove and back into the streets of lamplight and Saturday best. One shin-tangled step towards the door, two in shoes of lead. You said my name, your voice a whisper in my ear, but you were not next to me. I saw you standing at the window, behind shards of glass hanging on to the blistered sash. The grove was still as I watched your lips stretch back from your teeth to shape a smile mad and hungry. All around us fallen oranges leaving their last rotten breaths on the ground, soft green flesh feeding the weeds.

The ceiling, I thought; the chair I left my clothes on. But the smell lingered in the room and I couldn’t blink it away. I kicked off the covers, sat up and started sniffing at my skin. There, on my thighs and knees, I found the smell of oranges and dark earth – where our bodies came together in spasmody, that frostbitten fuck be damned.

You smell like home.

You smell like me.

 

*

Words by Basilike Pappa & Jimmi Campkin

Photography by Jimmi Campkin

Silent Hour sits with a notebook on its lap or in front of a computer. Its pen is fine-tipped and black, its current notebook is also black and almost finished, and the computer is rather old. Silent Hour is mostly night.

There is a window in Silent Hour’s room. A blue neon light appears from time to time across the street. It comes from a recording studio, whose owner seems to also prefer the night. Silent Hour misses the light when it’s not on.

Silent Hour is a bookmonger and a wordcubine. It reads, writes, watches.  It is thread wrapped around a spinning wheel.  It howls with the wolves with whom it wants to be.

Silent Hour is Basilike Pappa.

Crimson Lips

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I took her to the disused railway line.  The trees form a green tunnel, with patchwork sunlight dappling through the leaves.  Looking eastbound, I see a circle of green pierced by light and flanked by the twin brown lines running to meet in the distance.  In dim shade, there are grey walls coated in faded paint, covered in the icons of those who no longer walk here.  In the long grass burned spoons and aerosol cans, all the pathetic detritus of a people that have failed their home.

When I told her where we were going, she rolled her eyes… must we?  Haven’t we done this already? 

She told me once; I have fantasies about being tied to the tracks, bound at the wrists and ankles, as a train is approaching. 

She told me; I feel the vibration from the rails on my skin and in my bones and I’m writhing to get away, pushing my chest out, and I can’t… I just can’t.

And I have to walk away.  I can’t abide the thought of her in peril, but I can’t explain the bulge in my jeans either, or my dry mouth, or my breathlessness, or that I’m trembling like I’m cold under this midsummer sun.

So I bring her back here out of confusion.  I’d never tie her to these rusty old girders, and no train has run down here in sixty years.  I just want to hear her story again.  I want to hear her desire something.

Creased

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We are such delinquents, and what a joy it is to swill that word around our mouths like bad bourbon.  So what if we’ve started a few fires?  You can walk on water and I can follow in your footsteps.  You tread the waves flat and I aim for the shoeprint.  It’s easy.  It’s so easy.

Because this is what we do.  This isn’t an affectation or a hobby or a cry for help.  This is why we breathe.  Surfing clouds is easy, swimming in a blue sky is easy.  Opening our eyes to the rain and letting it drip on our cornea’s without blinking is easy.  We run our fingertips through the concrete of a subway and carve our names into the dust and disappointment, and it is easy. 

Time to soar, time to beg for more.  A handful of hair and a crease on the hip, we collide and disperse, atoms flirting through space and dancing around our charges.  I inhale the scents of activity – cheap ass perfume covering the seven days since you last saw a shower, the rich iron of your recent cycle and dry sand in your armpits, in the folds under your knees.

I whip off your dress in one motion, drive a stake through the shoulder hoops, and plant it firmly in the ground, in the name of…. something.  Flapping in the breeze we get down to the basic instincts, as the stars revolve above us like voyeurs, trying to appear indifferent but unable to stop staring.  I finish too soon – and isn’t that a well told story without a decent ending – but for once you don’t seem to mind.  Lying on the beach, our only contact is your ankle crossed over mine.  I’m breathing deeply, sticky with all manner of things, but you lie still, absorbing the constellations into your eyes.  When I look across I can see them glittering like sunlight on fresh snow, changing with every blink, and every languid puff of your awful smelling cigarettes.

It’s hard knowing someone who only comes out at night.  I walk alleyways and shopping centres, fields and forests, trying to find the point of it all, waiting for the sun to die and my hope to rise.  But every now and then, under the unforgiving and judgemental glare of daylight, I hear a familiar noise and look up.  I see the kite’s flying above, swooping in circles, wings hooked like your shoulderblades, and all is well in this garish, vulgar, unsubtle world.