The School For The Dying – Free Verse Revolution

Flower Steps

When I wake up, my room is a deep pink from the sunlight passing through the cherry blossoms that cover this place.  It never fails to give me a warm feeling inside, as though the rays are diluted through the petals and into the cells on my bare arms and legs.  It takes me back to a colder memory I often have from five years ago of a windy dock and a rotten jetty poking forlornly into the harbour, reinforced by a finger of steel pointing towards this pink dandelion island nestling in the middle of the bay.  I took the boat with other kids all looking at each other with the curious mix of shyness and knowing – that our sunken eyes and strong brows gave us all something in common we all knew too much about. As we sailed towards the island where my new school was apparently located, we began to see that this beautiful marshmallow floating in the rough ocean concealed bright white buildings, whose small towers seemed to furtively whisper to each other at the latest intake.

It took me a few days to realise why I was here.  Sitting through an easy math’s exam to determine our respective abilities, I finished early and glanced over my shoulder.  I was the second of five rows with a sixth row of kids all attached to trolley drips – thin hoses to noses and arms. After the exam finished I took a wrong turn down a corridor looking for a bathroom and saw another exam hall filled with beds and machines all bleeping in unison, the participants propped up and scribbling frantically on trays attached to the sides, with far more invigilators than we’d had in our hall, dressed in brilliant white.

I was now a permanent resident at The School For The Dying, an institution that allowed kids with incurable ‘situations’, as the staff euphemistically called it, to see out their education.  Anyone who couldn’t realistically continue their studies and who wouldn’t make it past graduation could be considered. Inhabitants stayed on the island in rooms of varying degrees of intricacy – mine was just a bed with a desk, drawers and a small sink and wardrobe – but others were the size of operating theatres with machines and instruments that meant we couldn’t have the lights on after 9pm every day.

I got up and stretched my thin limbs, shivering in the warmth from the window.  Today is a good day – double History followed by double Art and a single English Lit lesson that will probably be silent reading.  It took a while but now the rhythmic hissing of ventilators helps me to concentrate during the quiet reading periods. I also get used to seeing our single desks slowly become more and more empty as the school year progresses.  We all make friends as quickly as we can, because we know that our lives exist on fast forward.

I dress quickly, wash my face and prepare my books.  My classroom is just across the courtyard from this dorm block, but I take the longer way around so I can get a glimpse of the sea.  From the outside the cherry blossoms seem impossibly beautiful, until you are inside them and you realise they are blocking the outside world.  But standing on the right bench, when the wind is blowing in the right direction, you can see through the canopy and get a sniff of that salty air or, if there is a storm, maybe a splash of real, unfiltered water.

As I leave, I see Prof Maguire talking to a group of young girls.  I sneak away to the outer path, knowing that walking too close to the sea is technically forbidden – not that anything is really forbidden here.  Maguire is well known for scolding the girls who hide in the bathrooms to smoke, telling them it is bad for their health, but the arguments always end in laughter.  There are no real punishments here because no one ever really misbehaves. Life is too short, it seems, to spend it being a cunt.

The outer path is cut by curious feet to wind between the mass of trees that separate the school from the sea defences.  I tiptoe through the mud of a recent rainfall so my shoes don’t give away my location. The air is still today so all I can see is a noisy curtain of pink, but I can hear the roar of the ocean as it breaks on the rocks that guard us from storms.  I stand for a moment and try to remember a landscape that I haven’t already seen every day. I see the paths between buildings and I try to remember a street. I see puddles forming after rain and I try to remember seeing a lake, for real, not as a picture in a book.

Eventually I make my way to the classroom and take my seat.  There are not many of us left who are so close to the end of their teen years.  I have already repeated the final year once, so when questions pop up I keep quiet because I know the answers and I know the way to the answers.  A couple of the seats have been filled with new faces this past week, and the other empty desks sit sadly like dogs tied up outside a shop waiting for their owners to come back.

I lift up my desk lid, now covered in deep little carved marks, and add another one to the gathering army.  I wasn’t supposed to see my 15th birthday, so after I had passed that milestone I started carving little notches to mark my ongoing, bewildering march towards irrelevance and a little headstone on the mainland – my marble ticket home.  I have to carve them deep, the sawdust falling over my wrists, to distinguish them from the other lesions and scratches left by previous students who also marked their time, however fleeting or lingering, but it gets harder every day to have the strength.

I am 17 years, two months and six days old… and I am running out of desk.

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There’s A Rhino Loose In The City

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It’s catchy isn’t it?  Basically, it’s a screenplay idea I’ve had… this guy, who is like Burt Reynolds in Smokey And The Bandit, is a zookeeper with a hot female apprentice, and together he saves the city, and she saves him from his whiskey problems, and along the way there is gore and rhinos – fucking rhinos! – or I guess just the one, and there’s love and mystery about who or what is causing so much destruction, and at one point he drives a car – probably a black Trans-Am because why not – down this alleyway through some boxes as the rhino chases and….

I turn around the corner, flicking a stone up with the tip of my shoe and volleying it with a loud cymballic crash against a nearby garage door.  I feel the sun dancing with the atoms arranged on my cheeks, the downy hairs waving like a festival crowd with their lighters in the air.  Last night was a bad night – one grimy blotter and me shrivelled up like a dead prawn hiding underneath a truck as the driver snoozed in the cab – all because I saw a child running towards me and as I bent down to say hello he ran through me and screamed – such a god-awful noise that I felt my bones rattle from my ankles to my skull – and with everything splintered and marrow leaking out from pulsating arms and legs I crawled into this dark place to die.  When I woke up this morning, cuddled by a cold blanket of morning dew, the truck driver had left without knowing I was there, and all my achievements could be summarised in the perfect shape of a foetally-curled form, light grey against the wet dark grey concrete.

Walking down this side street, the houses on either side are either bravely inhabited or callously abandoned.  It’s all squats and gardens here, where the windows are either broken or open, and an old boy carefully takes the scissors to his roses with a kitchen knife jammed into the belt loops of his trousers.  I admire both – the nomads who find a clean space as far away from the smashed windows as they can to light fires, smoke cans and try to see the very molecules that they inhale drifting down inside their chests and creating light like so many fireflies sucked into a transparent vacuum cleaner – and the old timers who try to maintain the dignity of a perfectly cut and chipped lawn even as they throw out the needles and burned Coke cans.  It is always Coke, never Pepsi… maybe it’s a moral thing.

Underneath an old teacup buried in the middle of a nest of thistles I pull a ten out from a roll of notes.  It’s safer to bury money underneath junk and painful weeds than to keep it in your pockets.  Somewhere around here, before the council relaid the road, I buried an old mobile phone, a childhood photo of me with a dog I can’t remember, three packets of Jawbreakers, the arm of a stuffed toy and an old Super Nintendo game that pissed me off so much I almost broke my heels trying to stamp it out of existence.

I would love to lift this road again and see the treasures underneath.  Whether it is the faint acid echoes or just memory overtaking me vibrantly, I see two young lads ahead of me – hitherto unseen but no less real – in bright rucksacks laughing and chatting about what they want to do tomorrow, not even thinking about the next day or the next week.  Being an adult means that forward plans sneak up on you as they stretch out in their breadth, no longer so focused but spread thin like the last corners of butter smeared across toast.  Nothing is about tomorrow anymore, it is always next month or next year… or the year after that, that, that, that will definitely be the time.

Playing with the ten between my fingers I hurry past the old hotel, now so evil that the windows run red with blood when it rains, whilst lingering around the old bus stop carved with so many names that long to be reunited with their owners.  It was here that my first, and probably only, love told me she was bored of men and wanted to live in a lighthouse; never mind manners and chivalry… what happened to fingering… why does every guy I meet search inside my vagina like they’ve lost their car keys?  I kept my hands deep in my pockets and shrugged.  Given the opportunity, I’m sure I would’ve been much worse.

The pub doesn’t have windows, just shutters and metal grates covered in old circus posters.  Inside, the floor vibrates with the steady hum of the cellar fans and stale peanuts jump and dance over your shoes.  No matter; I enter with a creak and the pale neon lights of the mirrored bar against the ceiling lights and the optics draws me in.

Sitting on a stool I order my first beer and lean over to a man with eyes as pale as milk, and a malformed head resting on a lumpy carcass like too many potatoes crammed into a sack.  I tell him about this great idea I’ve had.  It’s a screenplay called There’s A Rhino Loose In The City.  It’s about this killer rhino who escapes from a zoo and starts slaughtering everyone.  Basically, Val Kilmer is a private detective called Johnny Sundays and together with his hot young secretary they have to….

 

 

 

The Cost Of Endings Is Sunlight

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She keeps me safe in the terrible places.  Partly because of her spirit and partly because of the knife jammed into the belt of her jeans; the same cold blade that keeps her grouchy for the first half hour of every meeting until it has met her skin temperature.

We walk down sloganed spray-painted alleyways where rapists fear to prowl, and we stand at the apex between modernity and decay, bordered by a mist that permanently laps across this town like dying tides.  On her haunches, wild hair flecked by raindrops and dust, she kisses the nettles flinging themselves desperately out of the concrete until her tongue is blistered white like mould on bread.  Planting a triumphant foot on the burned out remains of an old car, we stare down this brick tunnel towards a fetid beige light that hides the brown blood seeping from the disused and dead structures beyond.  The only life around here are the black specks that dance around the sickly yellow of streetlights, and the shine in her eyes when there is mischief to be had.

She kisses me, and as her ruined tongue laps around mine I feel the stings still planted in her own.  Even as I think about releasing, the warmth around my hips, my chest and my legs draws me in, and just in case I have second thoughts she clamps a hand in the small of my back and presses me closer.  As we kiss the tapping grows louder, and soon heavy drops of iron rain, moving on the shoulders of the perpetual miasma, are pounding down on our eyelids.

I want her and I am having her, but I know that I can’t.  This is not a chapter reading but a glance at the cover.  Releasing herself from me she takes steps backwards, her arms raised out.  I feel something warm on my skin and then a sharp itch – she’s slid the knife inside my jeans and left a thin laceration down one buttock.  I look left and then right down the alley – empty except for the loud nothingness – as she presses her back against the wall.

The rain gets heavier and behind me, through a chain link fence and a tangle of confused dead trees, the town steams and broils in protest.  There are no colours except yellows and browns – even the blackest night skies are coloured in a film of grime.  I can smell sulphur and feel the heat through my shoes, as I lick the corners of my mouth and taste the poisons.

She’s against the wall, spread like a crucifix, her fingers splayed out and head thrown back.  I go in for another kiss but she plants a firm boot into my groin and pushes me backwards.  The graffiti covering the wall is bleeding into her fingers, the faded reds blues and greens now growing bold in the tiny veins under her skin, past her wrist and into her sinewy forearms.  Her hair crawls up the bricks, infesting itself like ivy and taking on all the colours around it.  She is bleeding the wall dry of its art, of messages and memories.  I look her in the eye and I see that they change colour as though flickering through a prism.

I sit down on the floor and cup my hands around the back of my head, because my neck is burning from the deluge above.  Her feet are no longer touching the ground but pointed and poised like a ballerina, hovering a few inches above the gnarled path.  Colours sap from the wall and bleed through her, processing themselves, and I realise that parts of her are growing fainter.  The razor cheekbones are dulling, those shapely thighs less distinct, the hips that shook Paris are now translucent and warp when I move my head.  Worst of all, I see that face fading away, the light in those eyes dying out like a pair of lightbulbs coughing and spluttering towards their eventual end.  And far from fear or regret, I see contentment in her.  I see a person becoming a ghost, becoming a memory, that disintergrates like ancient papyrus exposed to oxygen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inverted

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I walk unsteadily through a tunnel of trees, the ground squelching under my feet.  On either side, like the pillars of a cold cathedral, I see those white shapes waiting patiently.  They are eyeless and alone; I stare one of them down and the pair of black voids in their heads pulses and throbs like bags of agitated worms.  I look away.  My arms have disappeared and I’m scared to walk faster lest I fall and cannot catch myself.

Fetid streetlamps scrape through like dull razors on skin.  As the shapes lean in closer, I pass through some of them and I am hit by smells from my past – grandmother’s perfume, the dead grass that I lay in after losing my first fight, the musky iron odour of my high school sweetheart.  My fingers shrivel and slime, squirming into tentacles that claw at my shirt and force themselves up my chest and towards my neck.  Feeling the first grooved tips poking at the corners of my mouth I put my head down and run for the grey in a tube of utter black.

The Playground is invisible in the night, so I walk towards a black mass.  Everything is silent, as though the entire world is judging my current performance.  Vaulting the gate, I pause to take a bow.  As if lit by spotlights, I can suddenly see everything within the fence and nothing else beyond.  I lose my coat and shirt and make my way towards the zipline.

Climbing to the top of the launch point I clamp my thighs around the old car tyre and grip the cable.  Leaning back, I throw myself off the platform.  The tyre bucks and spins like distressed horses, and my feet are suddenly skywards as my cheeks skim the surface of the chipped bark floor.  Feeling the splinters grazing my skin but not entering, the wire slowly peters out and fades until I am left dangling, upside down and twirling faintly in the dead air.  I let go and unceremoniously clatter to the soft floor and begin to eat the dirt.

I have three more goes at this, and every time it ends the same way.  Feet up, head down, I skate across the thin veneer and see the churned up ground rushing past my mouth.  On the final go the brakes fail and I hit the end point at maximum force, trebucheting me weightless for a brief few seconds until I crash down on the damp grass.  I lay there for minutes, maybe hours, letting the midnight dew soak into my clothes and hair.

When I finally get up off the floor, The Playground is surrounded on all four sides of the fence by the white shapes; loose bedsheets of various widths and heights all formless except for two black, pulsing holes in their heads.  They watch me silently, with judgement but without words or actions, until I have spun around six times and tried to find an exit from all this.  I look up towards the sky but God is empty, and the stars all shun or hide from my terrible behaviour.

I feel my heart trying to escape through skin and my fingers seizing up; writhing maggots turning into broken fences.  I wrench the belt off my waist and claw out the pin in the buckle.  Raising it up to my face for a symbolic moment I hook it inside my eyesocket and begin to hook out the jelly within.

*

Eyeless and alone.

I am on my hands and knees, feeling the wet grass under my fingers and soaking into my jeans.  Salty fluids run hot down my cheeks and into the corners of my mouth.  I cannot stop shivering.

Kneeling against the black, I look around for white shapes but I cannot see anything.  I cannot feel anything.  The wet grass dulls into sand, and the wind dies into a vacuum.  But I know they are still there.  As I grasp handfuls of the earth it fades from my fingertips, and I cannot tell if I am being lifted away or disappearing entirely.

 

 

Touch The Endings, Hold Them Dear

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Self-righteous and profane we tear up the streets with the force of Love… or is it just Cacophany… or just raw and naked Lust, that primal mud in which we swim and suck, fondle and fuck, until our eyes roll back inside our minds.  This bewitchment that drives us into slander and insanity, where every friend is now an enemy, and all tongues suffer only to taste each other’s organs and selves.

After driving recklessly for a few hours we abandoned the car inside the pet shop, crashing through the main window into a haze of sawdust and straw.  Clambering from the wreckage, we stand by the ruins smoking a pair of cigarettes and encouraging the more timid animals to Get Out There and Be Free.  We say quiet prayers that nothing will be eaten, nothing will die.  She whips her arms around like a ferris wheel, as parakeets fly, imploring this dank world to be free.  Be freeeeeee!  BE FREEEEEEEE!  I stamp into her spinning top path and grab her shoulders.  BE FREEEEEE I scream into her face and she eats my tongue without spilling a drop of my blood.

We take each others hands and disappear under the dark archways and into the backstreets, shelter of the angels.  People might call them junkies, winos, whores, but we hear their laughter and we smell their dead flesh as it drops from the bone to blossom and seethe and spread as black tar on the cracked paving slabs.  We see them falling like autumn flowers, infesting concrete cancer with societal guilt… and there is nothing anyone can do to stop us.  Behind the terraces Lady B, in her plaid skirt, fucks a priest who demands to be called Father.  There is no salvation from the damned, it’s just them and us who choose to melt into the streets to grow society anew – without guilt, without principle, without malice.

One day, I want to take a chainsaw to the tree bark that grows under her skin until the dust flies.  Resting under the old railway we smoke from light bulbs and cut our foreheads open until we see the knits of our skulls.  She is autumn to me – straggled and terracotta, wise and damp.  Above us we can hear unfamilar cries mingling with the usual circus; the melodies of the fallen who still sing even as the ground absorbs them into a stain, and the gentle cackling of freed tropical birds.

 

 

Dead Boxes

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I look across and you are asleep already.  You look so angelic my eyes flood and I blink away the tears that tumble from my eyelashes.  The moonlight illuminates your skin, hiding the dark circles around your eyes and your chewed lips.  In this light you aren’t slumped anymore, but elegant and wise, your jawline casting deep shadow over the nape of a pale, spotted neck.  I feel like an astronaut, peering out of the capsule window over a foreign landscape, looking for a safe place to touch down.

Carefully, I pull the needle from your arm.  In front of me is a chain link fence and, picking a hexagon, I aim the syringe perfectly through… it lands with a faint puff of dust on the other side.  It can’t hurt you now… hurt us now.  I stretch out my boots and click my knees.  My jeans are caked in oil and grime so they creak when they bend.  Running my tongue through my mouth, my feet are as furry as my three year beard.  I wish I could sleep, but my heart keeps beating.  Thump thump thump, it pounds away, the only healthy thing I still own.

We’re resting in the alley, because it’s too warm to sleep.  Even outdoors, the air is heavy and dismal with pollution.  Buildings sweat, trees die, people go away.  From here, between my legs, I can see the churned turmoil of a diseased Earth covered in the detritus and mistakes of Man.  Chimneys and rigs, steel and sulphur, lit artificially and haphazardly and now abandoned, to be reclaimed by a mutated Nature that does not grow so much as manifest and pulse, tentacles of thorns grasping everything it can.  This is Gaia on life-support, her bed left unattended as her flesh rots into weeping sores.

I look over to you again.  Your head has shifted towards me, so I can see the jagged parting in the top of your greasy head.  A single trickle of blood is making its way between the hairs on your arm, so I lick my finger and gently mop it up.  I have dreams of us leaving this place.  Daydreams and night dreams where I get it all together, get a real job, rent a flat, buy a dog, do recycling and go to the funfair to win teddy bears for you.  But I know you can’t do these things.  The umbilical didn’t sever, it just clung on and became septic.  You can’t leave this place and I cannot leave you.  So this is now our life – mossy alleyways covered in graffiti, the rusting monuments of industry, old shacks covered in ivy and stinking of piss that we sleep in when the snow falls from November to March.

We play in the wreckage of those that failed.  But as we get older those paints don’t fade but become bolder.  Old ruins glint sharp.

As long as we still breathe, we still have time.

We don’t have to fail.

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.