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 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.
Good morning. Coffee – not
too much sugar, and brown –
or tea. Stir.
There is a church in this cup sounding bells.
Some days are prayers
though we cannot pray.
How did you sleep?
I dreamt, but it leaves you.
Who counts our loss?
Some sadness is unspeakable,
cannot be given form,
as though something nameless died in the night
and was buried inside you in secret.
The Earth itself knowing nothing of graves.
Eyes closed. Water-giving life.
Steam rises slowly,
offering itself to no one.
I watch and count to any number,
come up behind you, cup my hands
over your small blue planets.
They revolve in the darkness
of your head, seeking a star.
You guess my name.
No, I cannot stand.
Cannot begin again, cannot return
to where I left off:
five or six of my shirts,
grey underwear, white socks
– like things that lived –
hung in my small bathroom, drying
while it rains outside,
and there I am, remembering, almost,
as though this rain had fallen before,
or in the knowledge that it will fall again.
I turn the hourglass by the sink
and measure out three good minutes
A chore that I’ll be thankful for in later years.
Tonight the ground will be soft
and I’ll fall asleep to the milling throats
of toads, the sound
playtime, but also other memories:
on my knees, for example,
mumbling at the dark.
At what was out there, listening.
And still others
which I could name or describe
Enough to say my mother
gave me an hourglass
and also a pocket-sized portrait
of a man who looked nothing like Christ,
which I kept because what else could have been done?
who will bring me water from the dark
beyond this quiet land,
or hold my hand?
In the tiny bathroom, beside
the one cake-bristled toothbrush
that remained, in its place,
was the hourglass.
I was surprised to see it there – at first –
then not surprised,
that time that my mother had been keeping.
I spun it in my strangely untrembling hand
and set it down
to watch three minutes trickle irrevocably away,
and decided this too was prayer.
They tied our tails together,
watched us scuttle blind,
hungry, dirty, mewling.
You can’t imagine what it was like
to be born in that place,
in that way.
When one of us died,
we dragged the corpse with us
because we could not let it go.
You toss a busker a dirty moon,
still warm from the touch of your thigh.
It clinks onto other
God bless you. Not a missed beat;
this is normal. The everyday.
The sound, though, will follow you underground,
trembling for a name.
Eyes glitter like sharp teeth
in the headlamps of cars.
Aren’t we all animals?
Piss odd shapes against the wall.
This here’s Art. The rest?
Some rich kid pretended
to be homeless, died.
I was mugged in this alley.
Three rough boys, the moon on their knives.
There it came to me:
Streetlamps are not stars,
but from far enough away
you can dream stars in them.
They took my phone,
the wallet with your photograph.
Not one of us spoke.
What could we have said?
What if the stars are watching us, instead?
I think it was beautiful – sometimes
I still feel afraid.
The face! just like your mother’s, or
was it the hair, the voice,
the clothes – and you are
thousands of miles and decades ago.
Following a stranger
with hooded eyes. Lost.
Then a car horn, someone speaks,
and you are back again, answering
in the wrong language,
clearing throat to unstick words.
What are the names for these things?
The crowd is nothing else. I am fine,
The kerb presses through your shoe-sole.
We are a long way from the mountains.
You understand? God can’t see
Write home when you can.
Easy to end here.
They would rifle through your pockets,
find the plastic rectangle
that names you.
They would call the numbers
on your phone and reach no one.
Take you away, find
who learns – too late –
that in this unfamiliar language
there is no true word for home.
You had an uncle
who moved there.
No one’s heard from him in years.
I forget his name.
This place has constellations.
Not like where you came from.
That was the main difference
– at first, anyway.
You would not tell this to anyone.
Engines or sirens
remind you of home.
These and the flickering words
of your mother
delivered across oceans.
They hit with enough force to drown.
Salt eats faces, voices,
is starting to stick in your throat.
You speak it to yourself
when nobody is listening.
Sometimes, you forget which word means what,
and must ask, when you can, like a child.
When she asks how you are,
you don’t lie:
They treat me well.
I’m happy here.
She asks for photos.
Wishes you’d write more.
From time to time you send back
an image like the real thing.
Your face, the street you live on.
Once you even turned the lens on the night,
but the camera failed you
and in the still the sky was black.