poem of two autumns

we got (un)lost
somewhere between a september gone
and now.
i went to the silk road
the tien shan
the himalaya.

tea on kaohsiung sand
with the sun setting auburn
over ships in the taiwan strait.
doors frozen over on the
train to lhasa
like us trying to silence
hearts hell-bent
on happy.

like winter rivers in russia
where my marrow refused to ice
last christmas;
a moscow december couldn’t darken
such starlight love

– we’ll walk these pathways
ticking off the map
while planets whirl past
a patient lesson
to be what we are,
and when it’s done
all that spirits will still
entangle us,

for these lifetimes
those universes
to come.

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paths i’ve walked before

walking along a portion of the north downs way, unexplainable experiences. i’ve never walked here before. otherwise known as the pilgrims way in reference to the fact that pilgrims have come here to walk along the route that st augustine (of canterbury) trod from lyons and rome to canterbury in the late 500s.

the sun is bright and high and a light breeze notes it’s now the first of september and i can feel the beginnings of the end of the year on the air. sunflowers point their faces southward toward the star, now starting to make its own pilgrimage south from this high latitude for the winter. a magpie hops in his tuxedo colours along the path ahead. everything is still in late summer heat, then leaves rustle. the dry chalk path is lined with a gentle layer of dust and small white stones not unlike many trails i’ve walked in the desert.

when did i start believing in signs? maybe i always did. doesn’t the modern world we’ve made teach us to put aside the things we feel but cannot see?

augustine was not the first person to walk here – trading trackways from folkestone to stonehenge followed these chalk hills as early as 1800 bce. after augustine died, canterbury became a pilgrimage site and several centuries later, this formed part of the epic road, the via francingena, along which christians travelled to and from the holy see.  later still, thomas becket became a figure of great veneration after he was slain in 1170 by four of henry II’s knights on the stairs to the crypt inside canterbury cathedral. canterbury’s status as a destination of pilgrimage was solidified, though the modern-day trackway that one walks through southeast england now was lost for at least two centuries and rediscovered in the 1970s.

the day wears on, the trail winds between the tunnelling green of holloways and out on chalk downs with views to yellowed hayfields already harvested and gone stalky for the autumn. i take my lunch on a bench at the lenham war memorial below a giant white cross carved into the hill.

later, past lenham, then harrietsham. more holloways, more fields, more hillsides, northwest forever. the path is straight and unwavering with few ups or downs and virtually no turns. just before hollingbourne, where i’d planned a refreshment at the 13th century coaching inn (and aptly named) the dirty habit, the path opens and the air stalls and becomes almost unbreathable. the whole world goes quiet.

i couldn’t say how long ago i dreamed of this exact spot on this exact path. several years, perhaps. the dream had lain dormant in my subconscious until the moment i arrived on the path and remembered it completely. in the dream, the sky had been covered in thick, grey cloud and the atmosphere was foreboding. nothing further happened in the dream, beyond my presence on that path. i stood for many minutes, staring at the ground ahead, trying to convince myself this deja vu was some trick of memory i’d already walked somewhere else, but the thick air remained and my soul knew for sure this path was the path of my dream.

what are dreams? the feelings of having been somewhere before. the sense you’ve met in some other lifetime. or that you can talk to someone on some other vibration. that your soul knows something your 3D body can’t quite define.

empaths, seers, mystics, those who can sense. we are told that this is nonsense. in different ages, these people have been cast away, hanged, tried by court, locked into prisons or mental asylums, burned at the stake, until science found some explanation for their feelings.

in the 17th century, galileo knew that the earth revolved around the sun. he could feel it. he could even observe it through his telescope, but he couldn’t prove it in a way that the ruling people of the day would make sense of. society blocked the idea as being unbiblical and galileo was put under house arrest, where he died.

the world is flat. the earth is the centre of the universe. there are no such things as other galaxies. the atom can’t be split. it is only ‘natural’ for humans to behave this way or that, until some other social norm replaces it, and we’ve completely lost track of the unseen world, our intuitions, what feels right. these days, most of us can’t even see the night sky, let alone work out what it means to follow our souls in the face of social onslaught.

let’s not be afraid of the magic, the unseeable, the things that move us which we cannot explain, the love we feel that seems contrary to what is acceptable. let’s recognise the paths we’ve walked in our dreams. let’s look for the signs and follow them. let’s love.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 
1 Corinthians 13: 12-13

some summer

dog day nights
fan blowing rounds over lavender limbs
the rings of saturn lapping along the periphery

remnants of grass, gone to hay in tardy sun,
picnic blankets used on blythe hill fields.
squint and you see a vortex of canary-wharf towers

veiled
in convective undulations.

she is a listless star, settling herself upon shropshire
connemara, the gulf of st lawrence.
jupiter steadfast come night, a lantern over the garden,
southampton, nantes.
a crescent moon and venus in the azure settling
over by bristol, kinsale, prince edward island.

and then there will be
the perseids,
another year gone,
the expanse of august,
longing.

i think i will look back on this riot time

as an eclipse.

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independence day

it’s late afternoon in 1988 and we are in the car – my dad’s AMC eagle with faux wood panels down the sides. no air conditioning, and it’s hot in early july. a dry, still new mexico heat, the kind that makes your hair go all static-y and melts the plastic on the steering wheel if the car is parked too long in the sun. we pile out at santa fe downs – the racetrack my grandfather always took credit for building. as a girl, i imagined my larger-than-life ‘papa’ nailing up planks and dragging dirt, his face shaded by a huge stetson and his alligator-skin boots getting dusty driving a backhoe, though later i came to understand that his claim on the track was merely financial and, like a lot of my family history, complicated.

we pile out and walk for what feels like a year from the car to the entrance, where a giant concrete tunnel seems to pass underground and back up again, right out into the middle of the racetrack, over which looms a covered grandstand. for a horse-obsessed girl of almost eight, standing on the soft soil of an actual racetrack gave me the same feeling i’d later experience standing on the great wall of china and ascending the eiffel tower for the first time.

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my sister is four and being pushed in a stroller by my mother while my dad points out the details.

back behind there are where the horses live.

can we go see them?

not today. he indicates toward a semi truck parked across the grass infield. look, see out there – that’s where the fireworks are going to come from.

the sun drifts downwards west behind the slate blue ortiz mountains, lighting the sky to their north above us in a crayola box of shades. a blanket is produced from the basket on the back of the stroller – an upright, spartan sling on wheels made of plastic piping and synthetic polka-dotted material and with a small pull-out sunshade that had done me no good as a baby and was currently not shading much of my sister.

we sit all evening and get hungry and cranky so that by the time the fireworks start going off, i am in an inexplicable rage and my sister, who’d been gazing upwards at the purple and blue blasts, gets a piece of ash in her eye and has to be bustled off to an ambulance waiting somewhere nearby. (she was fine but we were all traumatised and i wonder now what this experience was like for my parents who, i presume even at that point in their marriage, didn’t really like each other very much).

there were other fourths of july. the hour-long drive to albuquerque, past small juniper trees at the turn off for la cienega and down la bajada hill, beyond the pueblos and then bernalillo, where a ribbon of the rio grande could be glimpsed between rows of cottonwoods in years when there was rain, to the airport. my dad said this was the best place to watch the fireworks, which were set off somewhere from adjacent kirtland air force base, and i suppose the 1980s were a time when knowing you could use the open-air top level of a parking lot for a free family fireworks outing (hopefully one where no one got ash in their eye) was the essence of cool.

july 4th is the only holiday i remember us celebrating as a foursome; hell, one of the only things i remember us doing as a foursome full stop.

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when you’re a kid, people ask you dumb questions like ‘what’s your favorite holiday’ and my answer always was the fourth of july. at fifteen, this was highly idealised: it’s not a commercial holiday. i wasn’t wrong, but then time goes on and your family turns out to be messy and then so does your country and you move away to another state and then another country, and start to wonder how you could possibly have loved such nationalistic nonsense.

it was the shitty hot dogs. being smushed onto a blanket covered in pet hair, fingers smelling of ketchup and potato-chip salt. the wonder of fireworks cracking off against an indigo sky. sucking the last juice droplets out of a deflated capri sun bag through a strangely sharp straw that might slice your tongue. making cut-offs out of your old jeans with a pair of scissors and hoping you might get your first kiss under the cover of all that magic. swirling sparklers into fairy shapes that lingered on the thick air for an extra moment.

i loved that the fourth of july made me feel like, for one night a year, perfect life was possible. maybe my parents could be happy together. maybe i would be a normal kid who would meet an amazing crushable boy who liked her just as she was. that i lived in a great state in a great country where things were safe and happy. realities, of course, are different: my parents were so much better off apart, and as a result so were my sister and i. being a normal kid is overrated and turns out to be boring, and yes there have been several boys and there will be others, and so much the richer life is when you allow people to pass in and out of it in their natural time. there is no such thing as a great state or a great country – these are imagined things, it turns out – but the people that collectively make them up can be great and so can their cultures.

the fourth of july represents the unbridled optimism of childhood and a memorialised version of america – my version. it is nostalgia. but then maybe nostalgia is merely a yearning for things you think you remember having but that never really existed.

it’s late afternoon in 2018 and i set a pitcher of sun tea out to brew in the unusually sunny warmth of this year’s british july and think of my grandmother, who taught me this skill. she loved me but openly hated my cousin and it turns out people are really incredibly complex, and we never see all of their sides, even the ones we believe to be soul mates, or family, parents or anyone else.

it’s hot. i stick on a fan and some ani difranco, and sit down to write.

poem from the may stars

god how many tears have i cried
drops in the gaze of arcturus
sad, hot rain in conversation with jupiter
the chill-hard rules you decided on without my consent. you were
suddenly gone
but spica and the moon
in a may’s eve dance
a rotation of centuries that flee while they last.
us in a series of lives.
there’s still time for this to be the one where we
meet eyes in a felt-tipped dream
but if not, i’ll find you

in the next universe.

 

 

 

 

 

the mouse

it was after work some weeks ago, and i’d skipped out at 4.45pm on friday with plans to meet my cousin and her daughter for a special dinner at the oxo tower. they were visiting from california, and it is a rare treat when a member of my family is both wonderful and kindred enough to warrant meeting up with…and also passing through london.

i wandered out of work into a blaze of april sunshine – a treat of a warm, dry day at this time of year – sun peeking through a few fast-moving clouds interrupting bright blue sky. with an hour until i was meant to meet them for our sitting, i thought about a gin and tonic, and given i was due to fly to asia for five weeks in just under 24 hours, a little celebratory sunshine tipple seemed just the thing.

i crossed blackfriars road at the busy southwark street crossing, battling the brisk wind that constantly blows down then up again from the huge glass building where i work. and then the raft of militant cyclists pouring up and down the cycle lane. i skipped past the mad hatter (the only victorian hotel pub within striking distance still standing in the midst of a glass uprising) and a mini-waitrose supermarket and found myself on marigold alley: a small, brick-lane pedestrian alley that connects upper ground to the thames path.

there was a dark-haired man wearing a messenger satchel slung over one shoulder, stopped just ahead, peering at the ground, and below him, a small creature barely moving. approaching, it became clear this was an injured rodent – a tiny field mouse with a broken leg.

the tiny mouse, which may have been a baby – note to self: brush up on murine anatomy and life cycle – was attempting to crawl helplessly across a small patch of the brick. above, yet another modern glass office building and in front a sliver of ‘garden’ consisting in the main of pebbles intersown with a handful of tufty sweeps of urban feathergrass.

the gentleman says he thinks the mouse’s leg might be broken, but it seems ok if not for being on the hot bricks. maybe if we could get it into the landscaped bit, it would fare better.

i don’t want to touch him though, the man says gently, with a tinge of guilt.

no, maybe for the best not to handle him, i agree.

simultaneously, and without speaking, the man begins rummaging in his messenger bag and i flick through the assortment of books, headphones, papers and printed travel documents in my canvas work tote, finding a couple papers i deem unnecessary in relation to the mouse’s life.

here, it’s a script but it should work. the man points a messy staple of papers at me and i wonder if he must be an actor on his way to a reading at the national theatre or somewhere in soho. maybe, like me, he’d taken a detour to walk along the riverside for a few glorious minutes in the london sun, and here we’d found ourselves, caring for a despised animal.

we work in tandem, putting the mess of script and papers down in front of the frightened creature, trying to delicately coax it onto its life raft.  finally, the mouse aboard, we hover in a silently coordinated dance, each holding a ream of papers, the mouse at the centre, walking quickly but unmovingly to the strip of landscaped pebble garden.

we gently lay the mouse down in the shade of the glass high-rise and breathe a paired sigh of some kind of relief. maybe it would be ok. then we stand there awkwardly for a couple of minutes, watching the mouse inhale, nose around and then and bobble carefully along the rockery.

well, hopefully he’ll be alright, i say and i am really hopeful.

yeah….well…thanks. sorry, and…thanks for your help, he says, pushing the mouse script back into his satchel.

it was nice being a saviour with you.

poem from the social

you invented a fantasy
invited me in
a world of mysteries
where we’d swirl, just us, away
from the world, just us
two interlopers lost and found –
in the lyrics of a bedsit poet.
were these your lies
my delusions
they’d say maybe they’re right
but on an evening of soft
light
where the melody dances candles
on tables
and the smell of the danube seems
thick
i would believe it all over
again
in every life
if i could live just once
with you.