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Standby

onehundredandfiftysix

If you called tonight.
Where would I put my tongue?
Though this was never a problem.
Coming through the rye.
Right where it belongs.
But now.
If you called tonight.
What then?
I’ve no more appetite
No longer.
It’s skin on bone.
Whilst everything else grows stronger.
My rage.
My resignation.
My venerated decay.

But I’m okay.
I’m dying
And that’s fine.
Stay in the house.
Stay out of trouble.
Stay on the narrow.
Stay in the lines.
What’s yours is theirs.
But what’s mine is mine.
They write this in the contract.
But the print is fucking fine.

Leeches for gauze.
Bleach as soap.
The audacity of realism.
The nihilism of hope.
You laid down your guns.
And left it to luck.
But the Facists are here.
And now you’re fucked.
Of course, so am I.
But when they turn on the gas.
It’s you who will choke.
Whilst I lay back and laugh.

Purgatorio

onehundredandfiftyfive

I

The yacht was anchored a kilometre off the island. Beyond the sail boats that bobbed exhaustedly in the harbour. Beyond the bleached, limestone houses that peppered the lowland hills of the island, any one of which, brought before the yacht, would have been dwarfed. Beyond the parched heights of the island that bore the perfume of olives and lemons into the the still air. Beyond and above and below paradise. And it was paradise.

The unbounded crisp blue of the sky had to share its take of one’s breath with the sparkling green/blue of the sea, whose colour and clarity seemed to belong to some strange other Earth.

The silver yacht, in comparison, was like some gargantuan monster fish. Shimmering silver in the light; gross and sluggish. Tiered and titanic, the tiny figures on board moving in and out of its decks were like mites or worms squirming around the gills.

On the top deck a beautiful young woman was propped up on a sun lounger, her mobile phone held at arm’s length. She studied the image on screen, studied the face that copied the miniscule tilts and turns of her head exactly. Satisfied with what she saw at last she broke into a soft eyed smile and clicked the shutter button. The smile fell from her face, she looked down and began tapping at the screen. She set the phone down and lay back.

She was watched from the opposite side of the deck by a man on an identical sun lounger. His mobile phone buzzed and he looked down at its illuminated screen. He looked at the woman and then back to his phone. The screen light flicked off and he caught his reflection. The sun shone through the wispy hair at his hairline. He grimaced and turned the phone face down. He watched the young woman once more.

A deckhand stepped out onto the deck from inside the yacht, carrying a tray on which were balanced two martini glasses. He left one next to the man and carried the other to the young woman. She propped herself on one elbow and gently lowered her sunglasses as the deck hand placed the drink beside her. She smiled and mouthed;

Grazi”.

He smiled back. His crisp, white uniform was pulled taut against his tanned skin which was, in turn, pulled taut by solid, working muscle. She followed him with her eyes as he walked back towards the interior of the yacht. The man on the sun lounger called after him and the deck hand turned, at first to the woman and then, following her gaze, to the man on the sun lounger. He walked over and stopped. His shadow fell across the man on the sun lounger.

“This drink isn’t right”.

The deckhand shuffled from one foot to another.

“Sorry, senor, I will make another”.

“Good”.

“You will have the same again?”.

The man in the sun lounger sighed an exaggerated sigh.

“Yes. Properly made”.

“Of course, senor”.

The woman opposite was watching all this from behind her sunglasses.

“May I ask, senor, what you do not like about this drink?” the deckhand said.

The man in the sun lounger scoffed.

“Try it”.

The deckhand looked back at him.

“Go on” he said, gesturing at the drink.

The deckhand bent and picked up the drink and, as his shadow slipped, the man in the sun lounger squinted against the harsh sun. The deckhand straightened up and sipped the drink. His bright eyes flicked from left to right. He took another sip. He put the drink down and looked down at the man on the sun lounger.

“I’m sorry, senor, what do you wish to be different?”.

“Jesus! If you don’t know…”.

The deckhand looked back silently. The man in the sun lounger shifted like an uncomfortable child. He sat up and pushed himself back on the lounger. He placed a foot on the deck and then shifted it back to the lounger, bending the leg at the knee. He ran a hand over his face and through his hair.

“Look” he said “ get the chef to make one if you don’t know”.

“I’m sorry, senor. I’ll make sure it is done to your taste”.

“It’s not a case of…” he began to shout and then checked his volume. “Have the chef fix one”.

The deckhand bowed slightly and went back into the ship carrying the drink.

The man in the sun lounger looked to the woman.

“Christ, honestly” he said.

She looked back in silence and began to lay down again.

“Idiot” he muttered

She turned her head to look at him from behind her sunglasses and smiled weakly.

He lay down.

“It’s not fucking hard to make a Long Island, honestly”.

She picked up her phone again.

He turned restlessly and then stood up and walked off into the interior of the yacht; the gills of the gross fish.

II

Later, he stood on the deck, staring out to the island. The clinking of plates and cutlery being cleared away rubbed against a subconscious nerve and his grip tightened on the railing. He watched a tourist boat come out of port and pass by the yacht. Huddled masses of pale, overweight sightseers were clumped together on its wooden benches, clutching bags from the souvenir shops that littered the little island where they competed with the high end boutiques for real estate if not for clientele. The passengers gawped up at the monolithic yacht, some drew cameras and smartphones to take photos. The tour guide, a cheap little local in a polyester shirt, was trying to direct interest towards an historical building on the distant coast. Some of the blotchy, burned children waved up at the figure on the yacht. He looked back impassively. One of the deckhands came up behind him, stopping respectfully short.

Senor? Telefono satellitare”.

It was his father. He gazed around the yacht’s lounge from the sofa as the voice droned in from New York. The voice spoke about shares and holdings and shareholders. It spoke with the concentration, pragmatism and disregard for others that it took to earn enough money to buy a yacht larger than the houses on the island off which it was moored.

“What do you think?” said the voice on the phone.

“Yeah Dad, I mean, I don’t know. Is it a good idea?”.

He had no idea on what he was offering his opinion. He hadn’t been listening. The voice droned on. Its tone said “of course it’s a good idea, it’s my idea”.

He listened with half his mind and thought of his father’s affair. It had happened in the eighties, before he was born. The woman had been a movie star, fleetingly. She had been half his father’s age. She had been extremely beautiful. The affair had appeared in the papers. He looked it up online sometimes. The photo that always accompanied these mentions was of his father, balding, bloated and be-suited, stood next to the movie star at some premiere. The photo was washed out and lifeless as if it were bleached. In it his father was smiling broadly, his arm hovering behind the back of the woman who looked straight into the camera with a shrewd Mona Lisa smile.

He thought of his mother. She had been at the same premiere. She had worn a black velvet choker and a chenille dress. He couldn’t remember the name of the movie. It had been forgotten, as most movies are once the parties and glamour are gone.

His father’s voice continued to expatiate on “the idea”. There was no need to listen. The idea would be realized and would then expand. Would break the backs of the men charged with turning it into action. The action would crush anyone who opposed, even passively, its aims. Perhaps the idea was based on crushing to begin with? To grind men or property down to pure, intangible capital and suck it up like smoke. This was the founding principle for most of his father’s brilliant and horrific ideas.

The deckhand passed through the cabin. He clicked his fingers at the deckhand and pointed at the empty glass on the table. The deckhand picked it up and asked;

“Another drink, senor? I’ll have the chef make it this time?”.

“Do”.

“Who are you talking to” his father said.

“Just the help”.

He stared at the retreating deckhand’s back and ran a hand through his hair. He cut his father short and hung up the call. He went out onto the deck.

III

She was on her tiptoes, leading over the starboard rail. Even the soft soles of her feet were tanned. The air was as close and dry as a fever. A gull sounded overhead, flying out to an empty sea. He shielded his eyes from the sun and watched her. She shifted her weight from one delicate foot to the other. She was talking to someone below the rail. Her voice carried indistinctly, the words suffocated in the thick air. He heard her chilly, little-girl laugh and she tossed her hair as she laughed. He called her name but she did not turn. He heard the sea lap against the side of the yacht. He walked towards her.

She wasn’t speaking as he approached and he strained to hear another voice. She continued to stare down from the rail. He touched her on the shoulder and she jumped. She was saying something but his mind did not process the words. He was looking down at the small fishing boat that heaved on the crystal water. He was looking into the eye’s of the man who stood in the boat. The man stared back.

Buongiorno” he called down.

The man in the boat did not respond.

He nudged the girl’s arm.

“What were you talking about?”.

She didn’t say anything and glanced towards the cabin.

He nudged her again.

“Hey, what were you talking to him about?”.

“Nothing. He’s just some fisherman” she said with a scowl.

He looked down at the fisherman.

“What do you want, pal?”.

The fisherman’s face was as still as the air. He turned and started gathering his nets.

“Hey, I know you understand me, what do you want?”.

The fisherman glanced up disinterestedly and then went back to his nets.

“That’s right, man, pack up your shit and go!”.

The fisherman put down the nets and looked up again, squinting his eyes against the sun. His face, as cracked and red as clay, was a mass of deep wrinkles. His hair was a thick shock of jet black strands, stiffened in sun and saltwater. He wore simple linen clothes; a blue shirt, white pants, both were worn and damp but scrupulously clean. The whites of his eyes were bloodshot from the spray, but the irises were the same unearthly blue as the sea.

“What are you waiting for, man? Go!”

The man squinted up from the fishing boat, his lips slightly parted. He ran his tongue delicately back and forth on the tip of his incisor. He rubbed his hand on his shirt. He looked at the yacht and the girl.

Sto aspettando Dio per tagliare fuori la lingua” he said.

He spoke with the accent of the Northern territories.

“What did you say?”.

The girl touched his elbow.

“C’mon, leave it, he’s not doing anything”.

He pulled his arm away. He pointed at the fisherman.

“Look, you got 5 minutes, man. And if you aren’t gone I’m calling the fucking coastguard”.

He stepped away from the railing and turned to the girl, running a hand through his hair.

“What the fuck was he even talking to you about?”.

“Jesus, Julian. He was talking to me about the fucking boat, OK? Relax”.

“So what was so goddamn funny about the fucking boat?”.

She sighed and began to walk away.

“Where the hell are you, going? Li….”

He looked down. The boat bobbed lazily on the water, the nets dangling in the water. The fisherman looked up.

“I thought I told you to get the fuck out? Pack your shit up and get that dirty little tub the fuck out of here or I swear I’m calling the harbour master!”.

The sky was as as clear as the crystal water and yet something, something dark, something between a sin and a shadow, fell across the fisherman’s eyes.

Julian turned towards the retreating girl.

“Come back. Look, I’m sorry OK? I…”

She went into the interior of the yacht.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake” Julian muttered.

He ran a hand across his dry lips. They had a reservation at one of the more upmarket restaurants on the island that night. He loved the restaurant. The food cost good money but the waiters didn’t make a fuss. It meant that their diners were accustomed to luxury. His father had always said this was the mark of a “proper place to eat”. And now the girl was going to sulk and ruin the whole damn thing.

He looked down at the boat. The boat was empty. He scanned the surface of the water. He leaned over the rail. The water was empty. Despite the blazing heat, he felt a tiny, almost imperceptible, chill.  He hurried to the port side rail and surveyed the waterline. Nothing. He looked towards the cabin. Through the window he could see the girl. She was curled on one of the sofas twiddling with her phone. He looked out to sea. In the far distance he saw one of the tourist boats pulling into the harbour. The world seemed very still and he listened.

IV

A loud bang ripped through the stifling air. In the cabin, Julian saw the girl jump and drop her phone. He began to run towards the rear of the yacht. He heard one of the deckhands shouting in his own language. The shout was strangled by a strange high pitched noise.

Julian rounded the cabin and looked to the lower deck. The emergency dinghy was sagging and wheezing around a ragged tear in its surface. The deckhand, the older one, was laying on the floor in a puddle of blood and seawater, his legs dangling into the ocean. The fisherman flicked his knife at the floor. Water dripped from his hair and clothes. He reached down, grabbed the body of the deckhand by the belt, hauled his legs out of the water and rolled him fully onto the sodden, bloody deck of the yacht. The fisherman looked up at Julian.

Julian’s lips were moving but no sound was being made. Like a dream, where the mind exhorts the legs to flee from some dark something but they do not obey. He wanted to call the other deckhand’s name and realized that he did not know it. The fisherman stared. Julian absently noticed that, on the man’s forearm was the folded, semi-circular puckered scar tissue that told of a shark bite. He wondered how the fisherman had survived and then remembered, most sharks leave humans alone after the initial bite. They mistake them for seals or large fish and attack, but then, having torn pounds of flesh or muscle from the leg or torso, casually disappear back into the deep leaving the strange bleeding, screaming scrawny thing to its fate. It was called an “exploratory bite”. The fisherman took a single step forward and Julian ran.

The chef, a large pot bellied man, was coming from inside the ship. He was holding a large kitchen knife. The other deckhand, the one who had made the drinks, was with him.

“Qual è stato il rumore? Dove si trova Giovanni?” the chef saide.

“The fucking guyfrom the fishing boat. He has a knife”.

He pointed to the rear of the boat. The girl came running out of the cabin.

“What’s going on?”.

Her hands were trembling.

“Go inside, get your phone, call the police”.

“But…”

“Fucking do it! Now!”.

The cook was leaning hesitantly around the corner of the cabin There was a whistling sound followed by a thunk, like a dart in a board. A pinprick of sparkling light appeared on the chef’s back out of which flowered a scarlet pattern that spread and soaked the white of his uniform. He took two deliberate but uneasy steps back. A length of thin steel emanated from his chest. His arms were thrown out in front of him like a man sleepwalking. His fingers were twitching and grasping at the air beyond the end of the speargun dart that had run him, almost entirely, through. The girl screamed and ran towards the prow.

Julian watched as the chef collapsed to one knee. A tiny hysterical laugh fizzed in his chest. The overweight man on one knee, a sliver of silver like a rapier or poniard jutting from his tabard, the bulging eyes and mouth agape. He looked like a character in an opera. A ridiculous vaudeville. The chef’s fingers ceased to flail at the end of his hands, he vomited a large quantity of dark blood onto the deck and collapsed.

The fisherman appeared at the top of the opposite stair, behind them. He tossed something behind him that clattered on the lower deck with a metallic clang. His soaked clothes were already beginning to dry in the baking air. His hand, clutching a brutal, serrated knife, hung at his side. The girl screamed and Julian backed slowly towards her.

The deckhand who had been mixing the drinks came at the fisherman with the kitchen knife. The kitchen knife was 8 inches of laser cut steel. Julian’s father had had it imported from Sweden. It had cost €300. It came in a set that cost more than the deckhand would earn in a year. The deckhand slashed at the fisherman and missed. The fisherman wrapped a large, reddened hand around the deckhand’s wrist and pulled it towards him whilst, with the other hand, he drove his own knife deep into the pocket of flesh between the deckhand’s clavicle and shoulder blade. The deckhand staggered back, cursing and roaring. The fisherman looked on. He made no move to strike again. The deckhand raised his knife. The fisherman smiled, revealing a row of perfectly white teeth.

Julian looked at the girl. She was stood next to the sun lounger, wringing her hands; her eyes frantically flicking from the fisherman to the deckhand. Her phone was laying on the deck by the sun lounger. Julian cursed and picked it up, pushing the catatonic girl aside. The phone’s battery was dead.

Drops of blood were dripping from the limp fingertips of the deckhand, spattering and sizzling on the hot wood. He pointed the kitchen knife at the fisherman and swore. The blood formed a small pool that shimmered in the sun’s light. The fisherman began to advance on the wounded man, raising his own knife. The metal was dull save for its blade which, as the fisherman traced it back and forth in lazy sweeps, gleamed with a terrifying, precise glare, as if it were cutting swathes in the sunlight itself.

The strike was like a whip cracked or a frame skipped in a movie. The deckhand dropped his knife and his hands went to his throat. The fisherman clapped his hands on either side of the deckhand’s head and, as the man hit the floor, he pushed the dull knife into the deckhand’s temple. The deckhand tried to scream, to shout, to beg; to offer whatever prayer the dying devote but all that came was blood.

The fisherman pulled the knife free and looked at Julian and the girl. A gull sounded overhead, he looked up and watched it circling languidly in the brilliant sky. He tucked the knife into his belt.

Fretta nega tutti gli atti loro dignità” he said.

V

When Julian awoke on the lukewarm deck the fisherman had gone. He heard the groaning of the girl behind him and tried to turn over. He found that he could not move. As his conscious mind came fully to wakefulness he felt the ropes biting into him. At the ankles, at the wrists, at the crooks of his elbows. At his throat. The knots used were sure as tides. He was bound to himself and, in turn, bound to the deck. His heart raced and he tried to open his mouth to draw a breath. His mouth was bound with industrial tape. He groaned and a spot at the back of his head thudded painfully in time with his pulse. The girl  moaned again, a soft, pitiful sound like a child in sleep. He looked up at the sky.

It was evening. The sun would be disappearing behind the horizon soon, the sky a pastel of tangerine orange and bruised purple. The harbour would glow softly, become a welcoming galaxy of candles and lanterns. The air would grow balmy, occasional streams of cool air wrapping round you like fresh cotton. The harbour and the sea would slumber, rocked into dreams by the tides. But tomorrow; tomorrow, the sun would rise. The sun that had bleached the hills and turned the soils to dust. The sun that scoured its perfect, cloudless sky. Julian prayed, weakly, to a God that he did not believe in. He bargained and bragged and begged and, when he had weighed all the options and outcomes, he asked, very quietly, for a quick and merciful death.

The authorities from the harbour did not bother the huge yachts, or anyone aboard them. They had learned to leave those with the power alone. Men had lost their jobs for presuming that the rules applied equally to all. And anyway, what did it matter? “Lasciala stare”, as they say. Let the rich have their distractions. The ocean was wide enough for all men and the sun shone on both the rich and the poor as equals. Besides, there was real work to do.

Pornography

onehundredandfiftyfour

I caught a train on a winter morning
The last dawned day of November.
The ground was frost.
The sky was nothing.
My boots crushed the bones of the snow.
I felt like a god in that silence.
A prophet.
A gunslinger.
A carver of stone.

I sat alone on the train.
Staring out windows soaked to their skin.
A darling.
A carving.
A marvel of self importance.
Ashamed of myself.
Ashamed of everything.
You called.
I smiled.
And never answered the phone.
There was already too much to do.
So many ways.
To plan the destruction of you.
By acid.
By ire.
By a kiss on the cheek.
By the impotent hatred.
Of frustrated desire.
The brinksmanship.
The nihilism.
Only felt by the weak.

A baby cried in the cheap seats.
The train rattled and groaned.
I opened a paperback.
People stared at their phones.
I imagined a mountain.
An elder god’s throne.
Of incalculable horror.
A monolith to avarice.
A temple of bones.
A world gutted and gassed.
And sewn up with wires.
Where fire burns like ice.
And ice melts like fire.
As the train pulled in.
I knew I’d arrived.
Where the dead are still walking.
Because they haven’t realised they’ve died.

Seeds for the Seamstress

onehundredandfiftythree

You dreamt of living an aesthete’s life.
But you lived the dream of the fisherman’s wife.
Stalking storm clouds out at sea.
The feeding times, the tepid water.
The nursery rhymes of casual slaughter.
Were all the storm there’d ever be.
Jack and Jill.
Your sleeping pills.
The only source of fun.
Three blind mice.
Your laddered tights.
How the desperate run.
But there was no escape from what you’d done.
Pared by partum.
Put to pasture.
No concerto.
No old master.
Reared for Pollux.
Razed by Castor.
Faster fall not the fallow one.
The hallowed ground we’re grown upon.
Drives the misery ever on.
Life’s not weighed in blood and stock.
But the art of blood on stone.
Painting shadows whose source, forgot.
Are the only joy we’ve ever known.

Tetsuo

onehundredandfiftytwo

You looked like Carson McCullers.
And you wrote.
And you smoked.
And you struggled with drink.
You were a suicide, denied.
An ugly triumph.
I was never able to reconcile.
Admiring your need for annihilation.
And then finding.
You were the only thing that made life worthwhile.

You played the piano and spoke a little French.
But I was better read.
You were beautiful on the roll of a die.
I was handsome in the conventional sense.
But when you smoked a cigarette.
Laying, in my cheapest shirt.
Your small, pert breasts.
Barely showing in the meagre light.
I was a deaf-mute.
A strip of flesh.
Nothing.
An empty Samhain night.

We walked in Regent’s Park.
Through razor, biting air.
And your golden hair mingled with your ochre scarf.
With the leaves on the ground.
Some Salvation Army band.
Played Christmas carols for the glorious poor.
And as it got dark.
And my heart ran like meltwater.
Trembled like Joan of Arc.
You squeezed my arm.
And we wandered towards the Arch.

We stopped at a little cafe.
On the way back to your flat.
Idling in the cold, black night.
Condensation wrapped the window.
Men and women outside.
Were watercolour smears.
Red and black lights.
Hurrying home to fabrications.
Borrowed dreams and novel life.
You stretched your finger to write on the glass.
But it was all an affectation.
A selfish, illusionary act.
I held your hand.
And begged you.
You said my name.
And I said hers back.

Lilliput

onehundredandfiftyone

We drank hot tea.
And stuck ourselves with pins.
To chill the sweating room.
The forge of unsaid things.

You bemoaned the cruelty.
As rain gurgled in the gutter.
Of tyranny in the tea leaves.
And slavery in the sugar.

I wondered why you felt the need.
To please an absent God.
To reap the wheat but curse the seed.
In a garden he long forgot.

There were parts of you I found that day.
Whilst you brushed your ruby hair.
That were hard as bone and soft as clay.
But in me, were never there.

The cat is a lie.
But the smile is true.
Measured to inch but cut by the yard.
What did I ever care for you?
You were nothing but a pack of cards.

Colossus

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Beauty.
And ambition.
Have made you sick.
Point.
Smile.
Click.
Point.
Smile.
Click.
Like a tic.
Like a tick.
A Gorgon smiling into Athena’s shield.
If nothing’s recorded.
Then nothing is real.
And nothing really is.
When you ignore how you think.
And adore how you feel.
A cog in the clock.
A spoke on the wheel.
All their precision.
But none of their worth.
A byproduct of invention.
An accident of birth.
I scarcely need to mention.
That I’ve seen it all before.

You dress your lips with poet’s blood.
And expect the crowd to roar.
But the stands are filled with mirrors.
And the theatre itself, a trick.
The shield beguiles and glimmers.
Point.
Smile.
Click.
Point.
Smile.
Click.

The spider spins his pretty web.
And it sparkles in his eyes.
Adorns it with its due of death.
Whilst stars vanish from the skies.