It is lonely, breaks your heart,
for the quiet afternoon
to pause a moment in its stillness
as an airplane passes overhead
– the news reported on those
somewhere, elsewhere, distant –
or for a moving-truck’s ponderous engine
hauling several cardboard lives.
A neighbor you will never speak to
becomes engine noise
that will not fade
until, too suddenly to wonder – or
for bells to ring in a village church,
the sound bringing you nearly to tears.
As though each second
were large enough to hurt you,
or for the rumble of a running van
driven by faceless, unfound men
who came while you were out
and took apart your life:
television, handsets, jewellery
the little money you had saved;
who moved couches, dressers, bed
to reveal for your return
the years of grime collected underneath.
A store of bad dreams.
You walked through the emptied house,
smaller than you’d felt in years.
For weeks you slept in fear.
Even now you remember spying
strange tire-tracks on the driveway,
and for a moment not being able to understand
where they led.
I remember my sister singing, her breath
whirpooling the sea of dust
shaken loose from ceiling, walls,
her own voice trembling into silence
as outside, men shouted, screamed;
the fear – somehow – of drowning
in our empty, crumbling home:
I’d read of how all empires
are long ruins. We were not kings
but exiles of nothing, waiting,
the whole world
shrinking to our fearful street,
shut doors, barred windows, silence.
When it was good, we slept
without space in our bodies for nightmares.
One time, when it was safe, I snuck out;
the town was a skeleton
of someone I’d known all my life.
Later, I found a hole
the size of my father’s heart
in a concrete wall.
I placed my palms against it,
imagined I was a child, somewhere else,
holding back the flood.
A drunk priest marries my shadow
to a wall,
nails it there, open-palmed.
They know what they do.
When I return
I will call bodies by names
they do not own.
Be asked to perform miracles.
Cure no one. Bring nothing back.
From my hands you will prove I’m a liar.
The dog’s at the window again
barking at nothing,
at sunlight and winged commas,
the full-stopped silence of a plane.
He barks like a typewriter and the world
is a broken paragraph in my head.
What time is it? Where?
America, Egypt, Japan?
No good. Here?
Clock on the wall
hasn’t worked for years,
maybe. Or days. Or maybe
it’s always been eleven to two.
No, don’t fix it.
I prefer its hands still.
This way we live forever.
Read my mind. There are whole hours
during which we don’t speak a word
to each other. Then
occasionally, I hear you exhale,
like you’ve suddenly remembered to breathe.
The fan stutters in a corner.
The room’s dark.
On the windowsill a brand-new lightbulb,
Your small fist of a heart.
What if love
-like anything organic-
Recall early words, sounds
dredged up from a swamp of years.
The bottled firefly of childhood
beating wings against glass.
Biting into a red apple,
its worm splitting in two in your mouth.
You used to sing hymns
and the sight of railways thrilled you.
The space between then and now is irreconcilable.
You would have never pictured this
among the drawings on your mother’s fridge,
among the football-and-grit-your-teeth
dreams of your father.
None of what came later was hinted at.
What would eventually be possible was kept hidden,
squirrelled away in the dark.
So the lamp is empty.
You still have the dead bulb;
it rattles when you hold it to your ear
like a dried-up sea.
What if the whole earth is a puzzle-box
you lift with trembling hands
to your face?
whose wooden lips part
to reveal a revolving tongue,
someone’s infancy chewed slowly
between teeth and song?
whose weight must be shouldered?
the seagull is dead
I would like, I believe, to be a hole in a wall
a small hole not a crack not a mouse-hole
or a fist-smashed-through hole
not a keyhole or a knothole
certainly not a peephole
or a pinhole – too subject to use,
I do not care what kind of wall
if plasterboard or concrete
or mortar and brick
they are just as cold as each other
and fulfill the same function
of sheltering and delineation
which are sometimes one and the same
I would like to just be a hole
the negative reverse of being
like a donut hole is the negative reverse
of donuts, except that donut holes
carry too much weight as a concept
for my liking
are an integral part of a whole
I would like to be a hole and nothing but
not wide enough for the finger
of a small scared Flemish child to fit through
I would like something like wind
to whisper on the other side of me
not words at all just wind
and maybe when you listen closer even that’s uncertain
I would like you to put an eye to me
and look straight through
into the unfathomable useless darkness
that exists in the space between one side of a wall
and the other
and see nothing
a blank darkness without feeling
not anger not frustation not sadness
just this blank emptiness which goes on forever
and ever, world without end
inside every wall that’s ever been built
between us both, surrounding us
waiting patiently like locusts in winter
for a crack
That is what I would like you to see.
It takes only a little while.
Then he lies back
Nothing about this has changed.
You are one small part of a machine
that unthreads days.
Get up. Wipe yourself clean.
Clean? We are practically made of bacteria.
More inside you than honest men
on God’s green earth.
You learnt their names as a schoolgirl:
Thrilled by their names,
as if you were a planet
inhabited by these creatures.
But most planets have not played host
to so much as a cell.
Stare a while at his face.
This, too, is a world sleeping in darkness.
Reach out into that darkness
to touch his warm skin,
the slow rise-and-fall of his chest,
the organisms within.
He doesn’t stir.
If there’s life out there,
where is it?