cells

The city knows I'm leaving

The city knows I'm leaving and although it reacts slowly its judgements are intractable and painful. The roads are becoming difficult — decayed patches in asphalt and tarmac appearing every day, collapsed in on themselves like cavities, like sores in a long grey tongue. The ghosts are getting angrier. Maybe it seems arrogant for me to describe fellow human beings as ghosts, but I include myself. To me they are all ghosts, the grey ones passing me in the morning, stalking their own rain-shadows to work - they pass through me without seeing me, leaving only shivers. I pass through them too. Their faces flicker past me and begin to merge like the images on a zoetrope. Laughing, shouting, frowning, empty.

Everything here seems designed to keep an obsessive mind occupied for all eternity. Late at night, where I used to stand feeling lonely on the balcony overlooking the apartment district, now I stand with a baby, gently jigging up and down. Baby likes to be rocked, and I don't feel lonely any more, but the view is the same: endless lego-block buildings stacked and jumbled like the unfinished projects of a child. Everything is square, rectangular, straight, reflective. Office buildings like grids with coloured flourescent lights, apartment buildings like gigantic nests of cubicles. The window, the wall, the building, all right-angled, calculated for spatial efficiency and economic maximization. Stack us in like sardines and charge us as much as possible. On our walls we have rectangular pictures, the frames strangling the scenes. The windows strangle the world. The buildings strangle the people. Thousands upon thousands of straight lines and right angles as far as I can see. The cellular automata we have created as our dwelling-places and artworks. Our legacy of lines and frames and grids, our blocks stacked to the sky, the triumph of the endlessly repeated unit over the organic whole.

I dream of myself as a country. I dream of myself as a battleground. I dream of myself as a videogame territory, gridlines and hexagons and cubes all bundled together, arteries like superhighways, mapped out perfectly, and those warriors, those soldiers, those thoughts, go to war over my cells. In my body's day they fight by the light of an inner sun and by night they light torches soaked in enzymes. Their feet stamp to the beat of a polka, to the tick of the metronome that replaced my heart.

The city knows I'm leaving and it turns its best face out to me sometimes. The sun sets over the river and all the glass office rooves catch fire and look like the citadels of Byzantium. The canal docks smell briefly of the sea, and gulls and herons gather on the jetty, crying. I can close my eyes and imagine myself at the beach, on the shore of an island, on a hill overlooking the ocean thirty thousand years ago. The pounding rain melts the harsh angles of the windows and doorframes and everything seems to flow in my sight as I sit in the warmth. The baby is asleep and so is his mother and my apartment sits in the sky like a bubble of safe warmth suspended over distant walking ghosts, boats, toy cars. That's how she woos us, the city. That's the bargain she offers.

One day I will miss these shining angles and windows and the million ghostly reflections of myself in windows and mirrors, but not today. Today I miss the trees. The silent language of patience, the way a stone is embraced and loved by moss and rain until it forgets it is a stone and becomes the ghost of a growing thing, a home without angles. The way I will walk ten miles without seeing a straight line that has not been broken by something chaotic - a crack, a branch, a slant, a collapse, a meander. The way I'll feel that obsessive chant in the mind weakening: the city's voice, her final siren song painting images of a timeless perfection. In the future, love, always in the future. Until it stops, and I return to where I was before; to what I always was anyway. Imperfect. Alive. Now.

i have failed

I have failed in your million rows of data     and failed in your moments of pressure     I have failed to become smooth     I am a failed machine     the lines on your wall do not describe my days     I have failed to be represented there     I have failed to arrive or leave on time     and everything I have done has turned out different to how we planned it     I am sorry     I cannot relax on your trains and I cannot enjoy lunch in your canteens     I have searched for purpose in what I do     I have been smiling and I have been polite     I have tried     I am sorry     I have failed in your vast network     I am offline

I cannot focus on my screen sometimes     and I forget my passwords     I send emails and do not understand the replies     sometimes out of frustration I am sarcastic or angry     when really I feel like crying     we are not supposed to cry in the cubicles     my friend looks at me like I am incredible     in these moments     when I have failed     like I am incomprehensible     like I have failed     I do not like the fluorescent lights     I neglect the time management systems     I find the project plan to be a work of surrealist art     I drink too much coffee     I fall asleep in meetings     I do not respect my managers     I have failed to be a model employee     I have failed to show initiative or to improve myself or my co-workers     I have philosophical problems     I have failed to flow     my diagrams make sense only to me     I have the mistaken belief that we are all good people     I have the mistaken belief that none of us take these things seriously     I have the mistaken belief that my reactions are rational and human     I have failed to be objective     I have failed to perform an accurate self assessment     I have cheated on my personality test     I do not function as part of a machine     and therefore by any proper definition I simply do not function at all     I do not function     I am sorry

there are fields of data in myriad forms     dates and strings and integers     we are creating harmonies between networks of order     we are transforming languages that no one will ever speak     I have failed to find this inspiring     characters have begun to blur in my sight     I have failed to become a cypher between databases     I have failed to become a key molded to a lock     I have failed to find a way to maintain focus     I am not clear and present     I would rather be almost anywhere else     I am sorry     I am an anomaly in this world     I am a glitch in the smooth running of the machines that employ me     I have failed to become smooth

my mind is a chaos     everything I have achieved has been by accident     I get headaches     I am not at peace in a forest of screens     I am not at peace listening to the hum of a thousand computers     I cannot meditate     I have failed to integrate the machine experience into my life     I do not collect the things of the past     I have trouble remembering who I was ten years ago     or even one year ago     I have trouble knowing who I am in this moment     I have failed to be consistent     I have failed to apply myself     I do not have a five year plan     I do not know if becoming involved with me will be good or bad for you     I do not know if I am a good or bad person     it is possible that I am bad     it is possible that I am wrong     I am sorry     I have failed to become something recognizable

I will try to escape your notice     I will try not to break the machine     I will try simply to live     I have failed to be assimilated into the glass eggshells     the concrete megaliths     I have crossed the river and I have failed to forget     the grey river and the grey bridge     the thousand souls walking the bridge in the morning     as the river swells in from the sea     as the light squeezes in through the clouds     I have crossed the river with you and not recognized you     I have failed to iron my shirt and I have forgotten my door pass     I am sorry

deserts and caves

we are where we are - high in the air in front of windowbank - we see riverside and flat metal boats - we see sun and red brick - wheels and gulls and white, red, blue, green cranes - treeline of preserved parkland and flash of light from car windows - everything that is dead and still and everything that moves - the zombie river pulsing and heaving at the command of necromancer sea - slain by we the apprentice sorcerors - our golems and simulacra crowding the streets while we huddle further and further into the great square caves of apartments and offices - what we have brought into being will not die - for it was never alive - and we who are alive will become the mind within the machines' cells - we will fade into myth and legend as the hermit creatures - the hidden spirits - the conscious ones in the cells - the ghosts in the machines - the spark of light in the empty head of the golem

lions hunting the trackless wastes of the Gobi - dune oceans of mirror sands - oryx moving in dust clouds - dune edge in shadow as if carved by knife from bone - parched skin on screen and skin of scum on river through window - all walking home to containers of the mind - all walking home skinless over grey bridges - so many undone by death - the new bridges shaking and crying trampled by feet in military lockstep - sand pouring off cliff edge like water and blown back by wind - brought to the edge of the desert we peer across in awe - seeing bluebells and buttercups across the valley floor - irises peeping through beached ribcage of ancient whale - grasses rippling down sides of skin-coloured rock

Cold City Cat Food

Outside the front door, stars, in holes between steel blue rings of cloud. air's almost too cold to breathe, can't stay still, muscles jerking, body trying to survive blindly against the ancient glacier enemy. body doesn't know about time, and the warm living room waiting just a few moments into the future. mind knows about time, forces body further out, past the slippery first step, down to ground level, to see Mars steady and orange above the terrace roofline.

pick up the cat's food plate, pouring off the rainwater and dead leaves. the neighbour's cat likes tunafish, comes to our house every day looking for what we buy cheap in white label cans from Morrisons or Tesco. gets bored with cat food, I would too. domestication and boredom go together. but I remember when I was wild, and it's still there, not just as an artifact in my symbolic mind but as hormonal and cellular memory in the body, chemically-burned knowledge of the way the world really is, waiting. let a giant meteorite or comet strike the Earth, all of the cities fall apart, and watch the chemical, atomic body resurrect itself, rise up to take control. the fighter, eating roots and garbage and doing what's necessary to survive in the unknown present. meanwhile I'm getting a nice domesticated belly and tired eyes from staring at cathode ray screens. there's time for it all, it's all taken care of.

muscles getting a life of their own as the cold buries itself deeper into the meat. turn around to go back to the warmth, but then there's the terrible shrieking sound of cats fighting a few streets away. is it Jose? put the plate down on the wall, run to find out, forget about the cold. bare feet starting to go numb on the concrete and tarmac but they'll recover. breath steaming, jogging carefully, watching for glass and tin and stones to cut my soft feet. the fight's a bad one, someone's in pain, an ear or whiskers or fur torn, an eye scratched,  a claw ripped out? let's hope it's not Jose, he's such a soft little catthing and Stan doesn't look like he can pay too many vets' bills. not like my mother who brings the cat to the vet if he looks tired, at £30 a visit. learned how to manage money from my mother, what a fucking tragedy. still, at least she cares about cats. i got that from her too.

every street is cold and quiet and empty of movement, red brick terraces with lights out and chimneys dark and unused. we all have central heating or electric heaters. no one burns wood or coal any more and even the candles in the wondows for Christmas are electric. they have an artificial waver built into them as if to appear more realistic despite the fact that they are green and red and yellow and placed under curtains that would have caught fire. gardens are paved with concrete slabs and the plants are all in pots. feet numb now, no cats in sight, the fighting noises have stopped and there are only the factory vents and the distant cars and my own breathing. my lungs are getting chilled. I make miaowing noises but there's no answer and any minute now someone is going to wonder what psycho is creeping around the street in the small hours trying to be a cat. time to go back to the warm place. time for bed, even, maybe. no work tomorrow. the faint, faint mist of the galaxy overhead, reminding me how short my own life is. measured in increments between short, pointless weekends, and moments like this, mostly unrecorded, lost somewhere in time, "like tears in rain", like something that never happened. there was no catfight. next morning Jose will be scratching at the door looking for more tuna and luvvins, and it all goes on as normal for another day.

takes a few minutes for my feet to get warm again, held over the heater as i balance on one leg and try not to look silly. the vectors of the house take over my mind so easily, as I count off the next few steps mentally. a cup of tea, some time on the computer, then get ready for bed. lock the door, turn off the heaters and the lights, brush teeth, snuggle, fall asleep. i don't know anything about the stars and i don't know why every night i have to stand for at least a moment on the porch looking up at the sky. maybe something will fall out of it, or into my mind. maybe one day they won't be there. maybe i won't be. there's no story to the moment at all, no compulsion and no reason. like a marble in a bowl, i roll into the zero point and stay there until I'm moved again.