Thursday, 25 February 2021

Today, on Lesbos

Today scientists discovered a petrified tree
on the island of Lesbos.
Twenty million years old - perhaps?
The age is hard to tell
Fossilised through fire and molten lava
I wonder how it lasted so long.

Today I spoke to a petrified refugee
also on the island of Lesbos.
Twenty years old - perhaps?
The age is hard to tell
Damaged through fire at Moria camp
I wonder how he lasted so long.

I ask for his asylum papers but they didn't last
as a petrified tree might do.
Instead he sends a photo from his camera roll
Oranges, brassicas - a market stall
I wonder if it reminds him of home.

I think of other things he's taken
round the world
To tell stories of belonging.
A woven blanket; a recipe, or the way his father
taught him to whistle.

Perhaps one day his wonders
will be greeted like the tree
As if his life is unique
As if his existence is a marvel
As if he were always meant to be here.

Saturday, 6 February 2021

StoryJumpers - Chapter 1

It was a day like any other. (A rather cliched phrase; but for Sam - now 26 months into a full lockdown - it was undoubtedly true).  And so it began just as the others did, with coffee, a quick check of social media, and a morning walk around his local area.

Sam's usual walk took a circular route. He would begin at the corner of a large field and follow the well-trodden footpath across to the canal; after which (depending on the weather) he would either head on into town or join the main road which led back to his house on Sycamore Street. Over the past year he had given in to the new pattern of his life and equipped himself with hiking boots and a proper coat, which was apparently suitable for all seasons. Despite his initial reluctance and hatred of following well-being trends, he had grown to love the walks, and had even (much to his own disappointment) begun to recognise bird song and the various wildflowers appearing on the route.  He figured he was only a few months away from making nettle soup or dandelion honey, and the thought made him shudder briefly. 

As his walks had got earlier (due mainly to crippling insomnia), so his meanderings often coincided with the arrival of the farmer who owned several of the fields he walked across. Being a city boy at heart, he didn't have much of a clue what farmers did.  Nevertheless he had become quite well-acquainted with the various activities that went on throughout the year. Every morning without fail, the farmer spent a fair bit of time checking the boundaries of the fields, sadly not - as Sam might have imagined - in a smock, chewing thoughtfully on a piece of hay, but driving round the edges in a beat-up four-by-four. Sam had reflected on this and now, while he watched the farmer, undertook a daily mental boundary checking process of his own. This involved checking in with himself about his current position at work (stressful), the status of his romantic relationships (complicated), and the state of the latest government pandemic briefing (abominable).  

On this particular day, the process was interrupted by the arrival of a large dog who appeared suddenly from the undergrowth. Seemingly overjoyed to find a potential walking companion, the dog alternated jumps of joy (with accompanying muddy pawprints) and yelps of excitement. Sam's initial pleasure at the dog's appearance quickly waned as the animal's exuberance threatened to ruin his new coat.   He looked around in hope of seeing the owner, and it was at that point that something quite unusual caught his eye.

In the far corner of the field he could see the farmer's vehicle; not parked near the road as it usually was, but halfway up the bank to the canal. Beyond it were three figures, stood at the water's edge; two men and a woman, Sam guessed. They were gesticulating at the water and he could hear the sound of raised voices carried on the wind, although he couldn't make out the words. Sam felt a strange shift in the atmosphere, and the dog seemed to sense something strange as well; the animal cowered behind Sam and whined softly. As Sam shifted his gaze to the direction of the pointing arms he suddenly realised with  astonishment what the group were looking at. On the horizon, and moving swiftly across the water appeared... 

To be continued by @JulianCrockford

Friday, 7 August 2020

Unstable Connections

'Your connection is unstable'
Zoom tells me, and I think
well, quite.

I'm waiting on communication
behind three flashing dots
dreaming with too many windows open
in a life held together with the flimsy lick of cigarette papers
and the anaesthetic of relentless scrolling.

My connections are the loose roots of plants in sand
too soon broken with the scuff of a heel
or washed away in sudden summer rain
(the deeper ones dug up a long time ago;
extracted like a troublesome tooth).

I could reduce my processing speed, but then
there's joy in instability
the shout of laughter from a dizzy spinning daughter
that time I tripped in the rain and you caught me
or the sway of dancing, three gins in.

Give me the looseness of the rhizome connection
because in the end, I know
that the uprooted plant leaves seeds on the scuffing shoe
so that newness can be carried to another shady spot
just a bit further down the beach.

Saturday, 11 July 2020

Cloud Sonnet

(After Nina Powles)

Today scientists discovered the speed of clouds:
The taste of froth on milky coffee
The crumpled bed with duck feathers
The way my computer autocorrects 'cirrus' to 'citrus.'
The day after our wedding was diluted water-colour blue.
A hand unfurls and confetti is found among the debris
along with shards of a day I never memorised.
There is no synonym for clouds -
only the precision of names or the sense of change
My mother says it's us that move; not them.
I write the names nimbus, stratus and mackerel sky on folded paper
and hang them by the window so I am surrounded
inside and out.
Their silent drift is lulling me to sleep.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020


There’s much to forgive, and much to be forgiven for.

Imagined slights, outright rudeness, hate, that sideways glance two years ago in Tescos, shouting, ignored text messages, and the way you always put milk in my tea.

Then there’s pain that reverberates down the years. The sharpness piercing a soft outer shell 
Damaging the tough centre too 
The way teeth bite through a Feast lolly
Or an apricot
Surprised to meet resistance along the way. 
Things are changed and I want to say -
It’s ok with me, what you did - but how can I speak for the molecules intrinsically altered 
by the adrenaline rush of anger 
or for the neural pathways 
rerouted along the magnet path of rejection?

Forgiveness is great 
but have you tried can’t-be-arsedness?
It’s easier to gently pick up the remnants of a too-busy life
And then move off, nomad-like
Skimming the surface
Dropping memories into the water
Like forgotten receipts.

Nothing carried, nothing owed.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Juno and the Book

The Book was three weeks overdue. Juno found herself running with it to the library, seized with sudden guilt, just before closing time on Friday afternoon. The State had tightened up their renewals policy after the new loans scheme proved so popular that the Books were starting to run out. As she ran, she wondered how a reading programme intended to build empathy and understanding through the ‘celebration of difference’ had ended up being a bit of a bun fight.  There was now a three month waiting list for the most popular titles, and even the older books were usually checked out by lunchtime.

“Can I renew it – please?” Juno smiled hopefully at the librarian.  The older woman was clearly embracing her role; she’d put together the classic librarian assemblage, from the pinze nez and bun, to the cardigan and sensible shoes. It wasn’t uncommon for people to dress in costumes which reflected the roles of bygone days (roles known back then as ‘jobs’) - from those times when labour was a commodity, and someone else decided what you were worth.  During her run to the library Juno had seen a waitress, a park-keeper, and more randomly, someone dressed as a priest.  Uniforms of all kinds were banned now, but strangely people still loved to dress up and look like each other. The imposition of difference had ironically resulted in resistance through similarity.   Caught up in the librarian/wayward lender scenario, and the pleasure in acting it out, Juno half-expected to be shushed at this point.  But the building itself was anything but quiet.  Most of the noise, it seemed, came from the Books themselves, and she could hear a low rumble of conversation echoing through the vaulted atrium. Clearly the chatter hadn’t been successfully confined to the sound-proof reading rooms.

True to form, the librarian looked exasperated. “There’s already a waiting list – and this is your third renewal.  What are you doing with it, for heaven’s sake? Memorising every word?”
Juno considered the woman in front of her for a moment before fixing on a strategy. This was a person who clearly loved stories; you had to, to toil all day for nothing in a place like this. 
“I really need to know the ending. Just one more day?”

They’d burnt all the analogue books just before the revolution of 2021. It was during that strange time of interregnum – while the world was dying and waiting to be reborn. A time full of dark words from powerful and dangerous men, foolhardy, arrogant and incredibly self-assured. If there was a mood that Juno remembered from that time – and she couldn’t remember much – it was utter self-belief in the face of obvious untruths.  Not just from leaders, but manifested through denial on a massive human scale; everyone seemingly blind to the world around them - a world that was rapidly falling apart.   Old fuels disappeared quickly, but that wasn’t the only reason they burnt the books.  In the pain of loss and shame, and a desire for new priorities and collective renewal, it seemed best to obliterate the past and just start all over again. 

Back in her apartment, Juno ran her finger down the Book’s spine.  When you joined the library you had to sign a long list of terms and conditions in order to receive your card; it wasn’t like the loan system she remembered as a child.  There had been a bit of misuse of the Books; people using them like the old-fashioned dating app Tinder, taking out things they liked the look of and browsing with no intent to read them properly.  Juno had been guilty of this too for a while, but told herself it was just natural curiosity.  The rules now stated that there was to be no intimate touching of the books, other than the necessary functions of handling them.  But she’d broken the rules twice already with this one.  How could you really immerse yourself in a story unless you held it closely – felt its weight, buried yourself in its scent? 

Juno’s latest book was called Malthe. He came from Denmark originally, and she loved his contrariness.  Malthe dressed conservatively, but beneath the shirts and pressed trousers were numerous tattoos - words overlapping across his skin, so that reading him became much more than just an auditory experience.  The slimness of his hips disguised a love of pastries, and he would smoke cigarettes on the balcony straight after the five mile runs he took every day. Juno loved to hear the strange words of his country and tales of old customs, from days before the removal of borders and the emergence of One Nation.  He told of his life in Nyvhavn, describing the rows of coloured houses stretching down from Kingens Nytorv along the harbourside.  He shared the stories of Hans Christian Anderson, and of other lesser-known traditions and folk-tales, and spoke of the power of  ‘faelleskaab’ – togetherness, belonging and community; not only was it a different time, but it felt like a different world.

There were no stipulations about what you should do when you took a book out, so Juno used her imagination. She read Malthe everywhere; on the train, walking through the park, sitting on benches in the bustling squares, while the people around them bartered and traded.  At night she dreamt of travelling, to visit the places of which he spoke so eloquently. It was loneliness probably – or that’s what Juno told herself – along with the power of Malthe’s story-telling. She’d read an article years ago, about people who were sexually attracted to intelligence. His words moved her so much that when she closed her eyes she could see them dance in all their strangeness, enveloping her in such a way that made her body seemed to vibrate with the echoes of them.  It was very much like the virtual reality games that had been so popular in the days when actual reality got too much to bear. She had a strange sense that Malthe’s words might actually be written on his bones, or borne along on his blood cells.  She wanted to feel him inside her too, but Malthe told her laughingly that he wasn’t ‘that kind of a book’.

That she only had one last day with the Book felt desperately unfair. A loans system should rightly reflect the length of time you actually needed to read something; although if she was honest, Juno knew she could have kept Malthe for a year and still not understood or absorbed everything he had to say.  She’d planned a long walk and a picnic lunch, but for some reason Malthe seemed to want to stay near the apartment.  He was unusually reticient too, responding to Juno’s questions with counter-queries and empty pauses, which she ended up filling.  It took her until lunchtime to realise that this time, she was the one being read.

And once the reading started, the stories rushed back to her in a flood. Tales of childhood, of lost words and phrases, descriptions of food, of friends and pasttimes... and of growing up on a coast where the sea still lapped the shore and you could walk on sand rather than plastic.  Of games that she would play with friends in the street, and of the libraries with real paper books in.

Later, back at the library, Juno signed a new library card.  She hadn’t noticed before, but the phrase on the back read Veritas Liberabit Vos.  Malthe had told her the same – that the truth will set you free – when he convinced her that it was time to tell her own story.  Smiling, and brimful of words, she handed him back, and checked herself in.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Our Rhizomatic Life

We are...
sea lavender
Kentucky bluegrass
daisies and tulips
couch grass
and ants.
by Irene Leach
Bamboo and waterlilies
crassula and rhubarb
Virginia creeper
Venus flytrap
lily of the valley
string figures
and webs.

We are...
what connects us
fragrance and echoes
weavers of memories
brash and persistent
hooking and knotting
embracing the mess
moving outwards and across

propagators, cartographers, seeds.