a collection of November's thought pieces and poems
I keep catching visions from the shadows
Limbs and tall top hats
Someone is skulking
Imagining that they are someone else
While the smoke rises from chimney tops
And TV boxes chatter
Cracks re-appear on the pavement
And light the world from below
The rain falls with a vengeance
To wash away the soot
This ladder he climbs starts from nowhere and ends nowhere else
He crushes a snail and his victory mocks the earth
The pavement cracks widen
The old town drops beneath my feet
And I fall into the dream
It is real
The mechanical third dimension swirls into the miraculous fourth
In truth as in dreams
It is bright and it hurts my eyes
There is a coin on the floor
Light, cold and clean
To my left, there are bagpipes
The archaic swan song
And I sway
He falls down beside me but he is lost
The pigeons swarm and peck at his eyes
He is not welcome
In the Realm of Importance
Where bleached angels sing
About the didactic end,
The taxidermy vision.
This coffee is so strong
You could trod a mouse in
Sat by the edge of the table
Untouched and cold
The milk has separated and curdled
It has been there longer than I
It is out of place
Alone amongst the conversation
It does not belong there
It was a mistake
From someone's near-missed train
No More Bitter Tears, we look into the future.
It's not long now until time stretches itself out for me and asks me to fill it. And I will fill it with African sunsets and black coffee, dark-eyed strangers and blue-eyed babies. I'll hold my mother's hand until I can't anymore and I will watch my father take to aging gracefully while I do my best to repay my debt. I will fill it with homemade bread and jam, fresh soup, and roasted lamb. Letters from abroad and postcards from nearby. My mornings will be yellow and brisk, my evenings purple and drunk. My afternoons will take many shapes, I'm sure, but I hope to eat lots of fruit. One day my youth will be stories and the smell of cigarettes will make me yearn for it. But then I will look to my right and see my life in the eyes of the one who helped me build it. We'll look from the dusty shelf of relics foraged from the four corners of our world to the fridge that leans to one side from the weight of magnets collected too. Little feet will patter in the kitchen and we will be reminded that life is circular and what once was can't always stay as what is. And then we will start to notice the stamps on our skin, the forgotten scars and countless freckles, aching knees and thinner hair. But eyes that have grown brighter with what we have seen.
DEAD LETTER OFFICE
Recently I’ve acquired a penpal, perhaps a little bit odd given that we probably live about thirty minutes apart. But the endless days of lockdown are ravenous for any activity which eats up the hours. Letter writing is one of those. The shockingly slow movement of words appearing across a page, so different from the rapid fire sentences of a keyboard. Spending heaps of time alternating between coloured pens, sketching little pictures, pressing stickers between paragraphs turning it into a little art project, then tucking it away into its envelope. I’ve even enjoyed the walk to the post box, unfortunately right outside of tesco, sticking out of the pavement like a big red totem pole.
Opening up my own letter from my penpal got me thinking about something I fear quite spectacularly. Something that makes me feel the same way Ronette’s dream in twin peaks does: riddled with fear and teetering on the edge breaking into cold sweats. (any twin peaks fans will know that this is not an unreasonable reaction) I read Herman Melville's Bartleby in the winter of 2014, filling two school lunch breaks, huddled up against a radiator collecting biscuit crumbs in the folds of the pages (let's hope they’ve been brushed out). I don’t usually regret reading literature but I could have gone without knowing of the existence of the dead letter office for my entire life. Happily living in the idealism of a first-class postal service, everything ending up where it should.
The dead letter office is a graveyard of undeliverable mail; letters and postcards and parcels that can’t get to who they’re meant for.
Usually down to incomplete or incorrectly written addresses, people leaving or moving, an untraceable sender and so on. Bartleby is profoundly affected by working within the dead letter office, a place where his day is spent destroying unfinished conversations, being the hand to cut the lost and desperate lines of communication forever. Bartleby becomes so wrapped up in disconnection that it burrows its way into his own life, eventually becoming utterly detached from the world. Though my reading of Bartleby did not lead me down the path to complete apathy and bewildering emotional detachment, I do feel a heavy sadness being made so aware of so much failed communication. People desperately trying to reach out and connect through language but to no avail, their words dissipating like sugar in water into the postal void.
Right now the world feels very quiet, which has left many of us desperate to just hear another person’s voice, to speak, to be among the imperfect melody of the everyday; the ordinary. Snippets of small talk, a child wailing in its pram, buses gasping for breath lugging their huge bodies across tarmac, horns and bikes and alarms, the heavy clunk of 9.a.m. Life without other people is savagely hollow and the current climate has thrown that into sharp relief. There feels a huge disconnect and I've found myself thinking back to Bartleby often, trying to ignore the parallels between his reality and mine. I am so afraid of ever living in my own dead letter office, sitting with all the words I've left much too late to be said.
The system must fall, read one of the writings on the walls of Westminster Underground Station – the ink still fresh, the letters vividly shouting their message. I’d passed by a million graffiti in my life, each one of them telling a story, usually someone else’s story from someone else’s time. I’d always wondered what it would mean to live in a time of upheaval, until I got thrown into it; the system seemed to have been crumbling down for months now, with prime ministers all over the world desperately trying to make it look like it still stood on its feet. They kept reassuring their people that everything was going to be alright – words stolen from a Bob Marley’s song which definitely wasn’t referring to the system. Bun Babylon was written on the wall opposite the system must fall, the two graffiti looking like a mirror reflecting the same concept in different languages. British, Jamaicans, Nigerians, Italians, Turkish, Spanish didn’t want everything to be alright again. The veil of Maya had been torn: there was no more above and below, black and white, right and wrong. What was going to be alright? Who for? What did alright even mean? Maybe that was alright, the realisation that we all were part of the same system, and that it wasn’t working. Who was man to decide what was what if a simple viral cell had proved to be able to control him, change his lifestyle, and turn his views upside down? And yet, what could man do now that he’d acknowledged that the silliest of his actions, like drinking from a friend’s cup, could completely alter the course of things on the other side of the world? He didn’t have control over the world, but there’s no doubt man could control what he could do with the world.
It was 10 p.m. of the first Sunday of June 2020. I got out of the station walking through a corridor filled with cardboard signs left there by Black Lives Matter protesters. That morning I’d joined them in a march towards the US embassy in London, following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many others, committed during this century and the previous ones. Or, at least, that’s what the media said the protests were about. But the protests were not just about the killings, they were a scream in the night. In the blankness in which the world had been plunged during the pandemic of Covid-19, man had finally been able to see things that had always been there. Proof of this was the fact that me and many others had got out in public for the first time in months to join a crowd marching for a basic human right: the right to breathe. This seemed almost ironic, if we think that the virus that had spread all over the globe at the beginning of the year caused respiratory problems; people had started to wear face masks and gloves, and they kept social distance in supermarkets and in the streets, lest they catch the fearsome Covid-19. Only a few months later a video had emerged of a black man being suffocated by a police officer’s knee in Minneapolis. That’s when the motto if one of us can’t breathe, none of us can breathe had come out. And that’s when man had to choose between staying home and fight for his own breath, and taking to the streets and fight for black people’s breath, everyone’s breath. The streets had been flooded with people.
Outside of the station that night the atmosphere was the same as when your house party’s over and you’re left with the remnants of it. And yet, you probably sit in a corner instead of tidying up. You stand there, thinking of the highlights of the evening, how it went, and you wonder what’s gonna follow – because a party is always the start of something new. I could feel the tension, in the air, between what had just happened and what was about to. From the corner where I stood I could see Churchill’s statue covered with cardboard signs, which I hadn’t noticed when I’d taken a photo of him farting pink smoke that morning from my perspective in Parliament Street. Now he gave me such a grumpy look that I could hear him say “look here, look what they’ve done to me!”
That guided my eyes down to the pedestal where his surname had been crossed off. Right below someone had sprayed the words “was a racist”. One might wonder why they’d crossed off his name if they were about to add something to it. But to them it had never been Churchill’s statue, it was just a racist’s – so they’d crossed off a name and replaced it with a noun. Nothing had been taken from or added to that statue and to history, everything had just been exposed and admitted.
Statues of slave traders were being torn down all over the world, and the names of centuries-old institutions and departments were being changed and temporarily replaced with blank spaces. As if that silence could make it up for all the years a plaque outside a building had been honouring the name of some slaver. As if all those who had baptised those places and erected those statues didn’t know those were the faces and the names of slavers. As if people all around had known nothing about it up till then. Everybody knew, yet no one was aware.
Thankfully, though, Churchill was still there, defaced. And I thought this editing of history was better than the censorship that was being imposed on it all around. Churchill said “courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen” – so I sat in Parliament Square and listened to what was being said, looked to what was being manifested.
I wondered “is everything gonna be alright?” And I felt like it would, because the world just needed people to become aware of things and let things act upon them, as I let Parliament Square tell me its story that night. Maybe man didn’t control the world, but he could listen to it. The silliest of his actions, like listening, could change the course of things on the other side of the world.
After all, what we need is to turn on and tune in before dropping out.
EVERYTHING'S GONNA BE ALRIGHT
MOLLY ROSE DONE
i watch her stretch
and enormous as the moon
white and dimpled she spills into my hands like spring water
i try and hold all of her
bundled in both arms with such blissful effort
each laboured breath heaves the landscape of her body
and my lips meet the horizon
as i make my amorous pilgrimage to each peak my tongue unfurls like a red flag
i feel no ebb to her tide as i explore the pools filled by the rain dance of my own fingers
encouraged by the zephyr breath liberated from her lips
i help her climb
then let myself lay open mouthed to the sky as her cloudburst of rain streams over my
parched rocks turning my cheeks dark
Photography Lyu Rui
blackberries have a deeper sweetness
like me, you said
they arrive back when you miss them
let yourself enjoy more than last time
bruised but sweet
to sit with you near hedgerows
would be more than poetic lines
LYNN SHEIKH MOUSSA