Sanctuary II

 

Sanctuary II is here.

As with Sanctuary, it is a combination of my pictures and my writing.  Please click here if you wish to purchase a copy.

Kneeling In Jumpers

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She told me; stop picking at my food.

Chomp, mutter, cough, clink, the exciting sounds of the restaurant.  Can’t relax next to the window.  Taxi cabs beaming across my face, the room flicking yellow as they indicate to go either or.  I drink too much wine, too quickly.  Not even at dessert and I’m glued to the chair.  I cannot move because that’ll give everything away.  I feel like the floor is rolling surf, and I am trying not to capsize.

She told me that God was like Apple, whilst flicking her phone.  Deliberately creating things that were inherently designed to be flawed and eventually fail, just so they can be replaced, and the users punished.  Hacking away at a piece of steak, a rhetorical question meanders over the candles; why create something just to be adored?

I tell her television careers have been built on less, and she doesn’t laugh.

*

It’s the black dress that does it.  Her little black dress drives me crazy.  When she is at work I remove it from the wardrobe and slash it to ribbons.  It’s a ritualistic execution, death by 1000 slices, just so the fucking thing knows how I feel.

*

One morning I can’t find her.  The bed is empty and colder than usual.  In a purple dawn I rush to the beach and find a trail of clothes – and a slashed dress – on the seawall, followed by her unique instep.  I follow.  The footprints end where the tide breaks on the sand.

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The Boy is translucent as he approaches me.  Like a new born fish, his organs shimmer and float behind the gelatinous transparent frame of his indistinct figure.  I see them – a jumbled mass of reds and purples, pulsing and writhing like a basket of kittens, here and there spleens and kidneys jostle for attention.  I try not to look at his head, which is horrific.  Beige teeth suspended and a pair of dreadful eyes, innocent to their own disfigurements.  To see the eyes so perfectly circular, wreathed with veins like seaweed running back from the perfectly round irises.

Through his arms, the ground fluctuates as though behind a heavy heat haze.  Distorted as though made from soap bubbles, he offers out something like a hand.  I have taken far too high a dosage.  I should never have listened to him.  This boy, this fucking idiot, with a pain threshold so distant he could human cannonball through a barbed wire fence and he would complain only about the damage to his clothes.  I want to punch him right now, but to aim for his head would mean looking at it.  Any lower, my fist would plunge into cold jelly and through his vitals.  My hand would emerge, red and silver with blood and juices, as the transparent figure filled with pale.

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To distract myself I look at the ground but this doesn’t help me.  I can see past my feet and through the Earth.  I am standing, as though on a pane of glass, over a huge chasm.  Below me I can see the crusts of the planet crashing and bumping like jetsam, drifting on a sea of lava; a whirlpool around a solid magnetic sphere of impossibly shiny metal, as hard and slippery as marble.  Beyond that I can see the rest of the world getting on with their lives – the Chinese poor running fat westerners around Beijing, Australian farmers kicking up plumes of dust in their jeeps, and a solid band of rough blues as the Pacific sweeps around on a never-ending current.

I see everything and it is too much.  I fall against a tree that begins to absorb my arm.  I feel the gentle warmth of a hot towel draped over my shoulder.  I slide inside it, falling through the rings, falling through laughter and industry, laughing and thunderstorms, through the seventy five circles of human hell this tree has endured and survived, until I am face down on the floor looking down through the world.  The sphere throws magma against the glass and a few specks penetrate through and burn my face.  It vibrates and blurs in my vision as though sending out a sonar warning, as though threatened, and another huge wave of red hot molten rock crashes inches from my face and I can sense the ground beneath me beginning to give way.  I am screaming.  I am screaming for my life.  I am screaming for a lifelong fear of burning alive, sinking oh so slowly into lava, feeling my bones melt and my nerve endings hammered like guitar strings.

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I scream myself hoarse until I am just wheezing and hacking.  At that moment, something grabs me around my waist and lifts me high.  The world falls away, the lava still crashes fruitlessly, the sphere calms down into a steady, relaxed heartbeat.  I begin to cackle out loud, laughing as best I can with no voice.

The Boy asks me if I’m okay.  He’s hauled me up by my shoulders as I lay face down in a bed of stinging nettles.  He is fully fleshed now; only when I stare at him for too long does his skin tone fade away like old paint to reveal the damage within.  I grab his shoulders with the desperation of a lost widower, searching for an anchor in this messy trip.  I cannot focus too long and yet he keeps bringing those horrible eyes close to mine.  Through all the carnage, I can sense and feel and maybe even see his concern.  His fingers grow like vines over my shoulder blades and I make a point of not looking at them.

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It takes me a couple of hours to calm down.  I am exhausted and my face is a blotchy patchwork of red and white bumps.  The Boy tracked down the right leaves to rub across my cheeks but it is my eyelids that cause me the most grief.  I cannot stop frowning, pressing deep furrows into my forehead to take the pressure off my eyes.  If I move my head sharply the entire world evaporates like a sulphuric acid filled snow-globe, so I make careful and slow gestures.  My head moves with the gentle grace of a satellite dish.  Slow, deliberate and searching.

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To calm me down, he tells me the story of how he met Her.  Riding on a condensation filled bus, the windows greyed to the outside world, he saw a bundle of clothes and shoes not far from his seat.  Curled up like a dead spider, her arms and legs folded into themselves, she dozed and bumped her way through a dull landscape until the dank yellow lights of the city strobed into view.  In one glance he saw the arms clasped tight to her chest, the boots tucked under her bottom, her knees jammed into her chest.  Seconds later, on a second glance, she was very much awake and staring straight at him.

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Ten minutes had passed on a half empty bus and The Girl continued to stare – not with flirtation but a clinical curiosity.  As he met her eyes, she never broke away from the glance but held it like a weight-lifter’s handshake, and her head tilted and twitched with the unnerving intelligence of a wild and dangerous animal.  In desperation he tore himself away from her and even as her thought processes burned into his collarbone he reached out a trembling arm and wrote ‘HI J’ into the condensation on the window.

When he finally plucked up the courage to look back her head had fallen deathly still, but the eyes now locked on him, unblinking and committed.

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I cannot lie; I’ve reacted badly to this experience.  The Boy was kind to me but I’m inside the shell of a front loading washing machine and I think I am a sock being thrown around a spin cycle.  The Boy is so sympathetic and so kind, it makes me feel awful to know how the story ends up.  How one day he will swing so inelegantly above that patch of nettles that disfigured me.  I can feel hot water rushing over my arms, hot red water that flows like a delta through my hairs and drips from the jagged pieces of torn metal inside this machine.  In my fucked up head I’ve blamed the smell of piss on darker forces, but my shoes are wet through as is most of my lower half.

The Boy has crossed to the other side of the old railway line and he’s leaning back against a wall covered in half a century of graffiti – from the asinine to the political – from the National Front to gang tags.  I have this memory burned deep inside my neurosis because I am so close and yet so distant, as though I am viewing him through a reversed fish-eye lens.  He is looking back at me and I cannot tell if it is sympathy or revulsion or fear or just disconnect.  He helps me piece everything together in the end, but he won’t tell me about this final image.  I rock back and forth inside this rusting piece of white good trash and The Boy of nosebleeds and fatal attractions is suddenly so effortlessly disengaged…. it annoys me how bent I was.  Or is this part of the hallucination?  He never lets on.

Instead he reclines, one foot cocked back and planted firm against the concrete, as the neon shapes and slogans ripple around him like a kaleidoscope, and I’m staring into a desperate weed poking out of tar covered ballast trying to find some kind of focus.  He may be smoking, or he may be scratching his chin.  I let out another scream, a noise so loud I see it ripple and distort the air, and he watches me with the tolerance of an Edwardian governess.  Later that night he brings me food and water because the stars are moving too fast across the sky and I can’t focus on my own hands enough to crawl.

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I put my cigarettes out on the husk of that washer now because I remember what I did before that; what I did the day I found him.  I don’t need his substances to see the ghost, reclining and disaffected.  When the wind rushes through winter twigs and brushes cold hands against trailing ivy I swing around as though hunted by assassins.  I know he is there and he has questions for me.  I know that I have questions for him.  I know that we can never ask them again.

Bernard Is Close

(Originally published February 2016.)

 

Do you remember the first time?

The first kiss in a nearly empty cinema.  She had Greek blood, warm brown eyes and exquisite curls.  She was dressed entirely in black, even down to her immature knee-high boots.  You wore whatever you could lay your hands on that looked vaguely fashionable in a wardrobe of market knock-offs and stuff that, literally, fell off the back of a lorry.  So you roll up on your first date in slightly too big jeans that are still damp from the previous night’s wash, and a football shirt that still smells musty around the armpits because you wear it all the time.  When you arrive she looks you up and down and laughs, but after that she confidently takes your hand and leads to you the screen.  By the end of the film your mouth is dry from the taste of a cool mint mouth.  You’ve lapped your tongue around hers and felt the peculiar texture of millions of tiny buds.  Your cock is sore from unrequited attention, trying to stand up but pressed down by the tight hem of a stitched zip fly.  You can’t remember the film but who cares?  Fifteen years later, drunk and depressed, you’ll be channel hopping at two in the morning and watch the film again.  Properly this time; no kissing, no warm brown eyes.  Just alone, with a swimming head and the first creeping tentacles of a monster hangover.

Do you remember the first time?

When you sat in a guitar shop and breathlessly held an instrument across your lap under the sympathetic gaze of the shop manager and the confused but smiling faces of your parents.  You look down at the strings as though someone looking at the Rosetta Stone; infinite, untranslatable possibilities.  You twang your way through a few notes that sound nice together, and even perform the whisper of a famous riff completely by accident.  You like it simply for its shape and it goes on to be a good friend – albeit not a long term one.  Years later, with damp eyes, you’ll hawk it to a pawn shop when desperate for cash.  Even worse than the act of selling such a prized possession, every time you return to the pawn shop you notice that your guitar is still there – still with the notch in the neck from when it slid off your bed and crashed against your desk.  Still with the scratches from your studded belt when you posed and preened, still with the faint outlines of glue from the stickers you placed on it.  After a year, you stop going into the shop because you cannot bear to see your cherished memory hanging pathetically from its gibbet with a price tag that you still cannot afford.

Do you remember?

The first fuck, crashing against a bed that was on the verge of collapse, barely glued together in a moment of parental crisis.  A grinding toil of mere minutes, perhaps even seconds, as you looked confused at her eyes rolling back and her mouth agape and you thought back to the brief glimpses of pornography that you’d viewed and wondered why this seemed so different.  But then, in the porno’s, the woman never cradled your shoulders and softly sang ‘Silent Night’ into your ear in German.

The first time you felt scared and thrilled at the same time, you stood on top of an extinct volcano and dangled your legs over the shelf of a 600ft sheer drop.  In that moment you felt, in your stomach, a celestial hook that lifted you above such nonsense as gravity.  You knew that, should you fall, you would be instantly yanked cloudwards into a cold sun.  You looked down at your mud-encrusted boots and you could still feel the warmth of your first taste of whiskey dancing on the rungs of your oesaphagus, numbing your bones.  When you think no one is looking, you place your palms either side of your hips and lift yourself off the ground, just an inch or so.  When it is time to go, time to descend the zig zag path from whence we came, your old teacher gives you a lingering look.  It may be a smile or it may just be a thought passing behind his eyes but nevertheless he squeezes your shoulder and pats the top of your back.  Later that evening you read a magazine about Indian men who have held their arms up for decades or grown their nails to be as long as buses whilst he tells you about your former art teacher who disappeared one morning to be replaced by a carnival of eager substitutes; sectioned for being a potential danger to herself or her students.

Do you remember the narrow road, where you spent hours with that Coke can scoring every World Cup Final goal ever scored?  It still glows and hums now with the vibrations you left behind.  Like a perspex ruler bent over a desk, the molecules continue long after it appears to be silent.  Certain places envelope you in an eternal sunset, perched agonisingly on the precipice of endings without a solution.  I find more comfort in the optimism of a sunrise than the reflection of a sunset.  Sunsets are always too late.  Tomorrow is always too late.

Growing up I seemed, quite by accident, to surround myself with creative people.  All these individuals had their individual dreams – writers, painters, sketchers, musicians, poets, wits, vagabonds and delinquents.  I find it disturbing now how many of these people – friends and acquaintances (whose only crime of distinction is distance multiplyed by time and divided by memory) – have fallen away from their original dreams and decided to passively sit and observe the fruition of others.  I talk to them now, abstracted by distance time and memory, and when I enquire as to their past passions they tell me apologetically that it is all in the past now.  Haven’t done it in years.  Too old for that shit.  Time to start having a real life.

I know they still cling to those teenage dreams so hard to beat.  I know that the wannabe artists still crawl the galleries, the wannabe musicians stare forlornly at the stage during gigs, the wannabe writers still plough through their libraries spitting bile at the trash in hardback.  I’ve met so many middle aged and elderly people who have lamented the passing of a hobby for the sake of A Normal Life, and it scares me to see so many people that I’ve grown up with, whom I honestly thought would make it – and probably still could – falling like so many jumbled race horses over the fences.  Most of them I was convinced would make it well over and above my feeble creative efforts.  And yet, in many ways, I cannot blame them.  Who wants genuine heartfelt music in an iPod generation of auto-tuning?  Who wants penetrating writing in an age of ghost-written celebrity lifewank and E.L James’ prose that would fail a GCSE exam with only the laughing tears of an invigilator smearing the D-?

Which leaves myself and a decreasingly few other horses frantically hammering the turf, approaching every new fence with fear.  One of my worst fears, and I’ve always been a habitual worrier, is being so disillusioned with creativity as to abandon it altogether.  The thought of never creating anything ever again, whether it be a pleasant riff or a piece of Artwank, is anathema to my purpose of being here.

I’ve always felt different.  Partly this is because I’ve always been made to feel different and it is something that I struggled with during my teen years but which then blossomed after leaving the sociopathic viper’s pit that is school.  Ethan Hawke’s character Jesse, in the sublime Before Sunrise theorises that, because he was an accidental pregnancy and was never meant to be born, he’s gatecrashing a party to which he has not been invited and thus doesn’t have to abide by any rules and can govern his life as he sees fit. I’ve always suspected I was something of an unwelcome surprise, piecing together the fragments of my early childhood.  My parents were not exactly wealthy and my biological father took off when I was not even two years old.  Years later I found a note, signed by my biological father, waiving all his rights to my upbringing and care – basically the opposite of a father fighting for custody of his son.  And although this event has never cast a long shadow over me – my mother soon remarried to the man I would call, and always call Father – Jesse’s little theory does provide a succinct blurb to my thirty-two-and-counting years alive.  I like the idea that I am not supposed to be here.

I hope my fears are never realised.  Today, my one day off from a week and a half of Hotel Hell; I burned a lot of incense, did two small abstract paintings experimenting with oils on canvas, finished one ink sketch and drew another pastel piece, played some guitar and wrote this entry.  Aside from good friends, sex and long walks it was about as perfect a day as my mind can conjure.  It was not an effort, it was easy.  I woke up and I realised that I had a day to do whatever I wanted and I did just that.  I hope it continues.  I need for it to continue.

 

 

Magnetic Coins

It all comes down to the footsteps in the end, the point at which you realise you’ve gone too far and you try and retrace.  So you try and retrace, even as the elements have eroded your prints away.  You still see them in your mind’s eye, you just cannot place your foot inside anymore.  They are there.  Every lonely alleyway, every leaf-strewn avenue.  A smear of bubble gum on a bench or a bead of sweat on a bent blade of grass.  Crunching in the loose stones, walking the routes of the old highwaymen.  Sitting on a gravestone to admire a view.  Piece together the forgotten names, and watch their footprints emerge from the gentle bump.

I take the chair in my arms and together we foxtrot, past the windows and down the hall.  Shut off the television from the grim fires, handkerchief waving people desperately plunging.  Smell the old perfume and dance to the radio.

Outside, the moon crosses the sun and we shiver, digging for bones in thirty centimetres of rough dirt.  Rough walls and pine sap caught on your sleeves.  The smell of grass stains, cuts and bruises from a hard day’s exploring.  Dreams, trees and grazed knees, striped socks high up the thigh and a thousand colours of hair, nodding furiously to strong guitars.  She offers me an out of date condom and I politely decline.  As I leave, the cactus plant near the front door comes to life and punches my arm.  I pick out the needles on the slow walk home.

One lonely man is propped up against a tree with a bottle of whiskey, toasting a cold sunrise as he works his way through the sleeping pills.

I’m covered in writing.  It’s all over my arms, instructions on where to go.  Things to do.  I have six people to meet on my left hand alone.  I high five a shuffling man as he emerges from the public toilets with a plastic bag in one hand and a look of guilt in his eyes, beard caked with phlegm and stained by strong bitter.  He’s returning the property to families who missed it.  He’s going to cry on his mother’s shoulder as his father rubs circles on the nape of his neck.  This time he made it and he won’t make that mistake again.

Home now, but that could be anywhere.  For now, it’s here.  Three floors up, through the miasma of someone else’s cooking.  Cold steps.  Heavy doors.  I close my eyes.  Stare at the wallpaper until it stops moving and rests.  A snap and a hum, and everything settles again on a rickety, leaning bed.

 

(Originally published 2015)

Tinker Hill

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Such extraordinary outfits and cackling, smiles and flaking heels, beer and freshly lost knickers, the stale smells of a lived in bed.  Walking carefully over the rust, listening for the creaks and snaps, the ship is planted precarious in the mud, watched over with wildlife by day and echoes at night.  A cracked smile, a moment of euphoria when the music lifts.  The hugs, the squeezes, the fingerprints left on your back, scars from nails indented, perfume stains on your discoloured chest.

Looking for home fruitlessly, twisting on the same spot under your feet.  She bounces down the stairs with yellow and green hair declaring that she’s feeling “all Aquarius today”, and then expects us to understand.  Strange girl.  Everyone nods, but doesn’t make eye contact.  Looks at their shoes.  I used to recognise people by their shoes, a legacy of always keeping my head down.  Now I see over their shoulders.  I recognise the straggles of hair or the patch of missed whiskers pressed against the skin by a dull razor.  Or I see them from behind and examine their mood by their walk, looking at the shoulder blades and imagining the fixed stare from a stone head.

Mezzanines and pot pourris and other things that vaguely rhyme just to kickstart another sentence.  It’s not my job to be content – not anymore.  So many people I know are now settling down.  Making the best of what they have.  Allowing the dust to settle.  They seek the pockets of magic and are content to explore them like advent calendar windows.  A weekend here.  A day there.  Paddling in memories of freedom they regress, dry themselves off and then snap back.  A keyhole existence.  I’m not sure if I feel pity or envy.  I can’t do that.  I want magic every day.  I want freedom.  Poetry.  Sin.

Putting on my old boots, ignoring the clouds.  Rain does what rain does.  I’m smiling as I stand on a high place and observe a sea reflecting the retreating sun back like so much seething, boiling liquid mercury.

 

(Originally published 2015)