choice

The Wrong Girl

Bare knees and need on dark wet grass,
our pasts are killing the wrong girl and me -
desperate drunken kisses in our Eden,
we are the bodies in the bed of the garden.

Tongues and voices and unvoiced promises
and need and lust and just a little fondness
and lonely and chanting and prone and wrecked
and terrified, exalted and momentarily perfect -

I strained to hear that hidden choir,
dead-language words about mind and time,
dead futures passed over and left unseen -
the wrong girl and the lost dream, and me.

Secret Green And Glowing Things

I used to have secrets - things that lurked under bridges in my mind. My sister spoke with spirits under a willow tree near our gate and grew up to have demon dreams. Imps squatting on her chest breathing out her life, and when she woke up the daylight was already seeping out of the sky. My secrets were about pale skin and sadness. hers were about doors to other worlds - worlds or perspectives, no difference. We had a secret, doors and gardens and cold rooms on holiday. We could have gone a whole lifetime without remembering it, and that would have been a different lifetime, a different world, a different perspective. Universes that will never exist.

Carl built stone villages when he lost his mind, and slowly he found it again, and came to the centre, the vortex, the centrifuge that purified him and made him certain. He wrote later on that to him the world was like a maze of transparent walls that he looked through to see other minds and the universes they would create. He reached into those minds and spoke with them and tried to heal them. New perspectives, new universes. He was never fearless, but he walked the labyrinth to the centre anyway. Those paintings and drawings of circles and whirlpools, so many of them, too many for sanity, too many for anyone but a healer who had given up everything except purpose.

Sister, mother, father: my world. Like a knife dance in an amphitheatre made of hills and fields and broken stone seats - and we spin, we cut each other, we play out the choreography as we were taught. Glowing things in our arteries and our minds, painting trails in the night-time as we circle each other. Flickers of moss and grass and needles on the edge of vision, radiant green splinters. We dance but we don't speak - if we spoke we would spill everything out. Blood, sound, secrets. We prefer to dance. The knives flicker closer, closer, closer. Glowing cancerous and free.

Draw a circle between you and I and there is something that will always be secret - I have nothing left to offer. Everything emptied out into past and future - a past full of memories I lovingly keep alive, a future full of new life, the only thing I had to offer. And so on, and so on, moths circling a lamp, comets falling in love with the sun, you can make the rest up yourself. Electromagnetic secrets rippling emerald in a solar camera, glowing and burned-out a million miles from where you are. Where I am, where you are - bits of information smeared over a soul like iron filings lining up around magnetic field lines. I had a sister who saw secret things, I had parents who blinded themselves, and I myself wished only to be clear and empty, clear and empty, without secrets, only walking in my mind out over that radiant field, green grass stretching out in a circle to every hidden horizon.

A Mind of Glass

what they told me would come to pass     what I promised myself     a mind of glass     and shantih shantih shantih     the peace that passeth understanding     I promised you I would be so     sitting underneath library windows     long lonely afternoons     friends and classmates in lectures     rain gentle on chestnut leaf and windowpane     butterflies in stomach     mantra poised on recently kissed lips     lonely all the time     even in bed even at parties even in kisses     mantra in a library chair     2nd floor dark corner bare concrete walls     books no one ever read     lost in frozen time like me     lost in broken light like me     happy voices from the stairwell and the study desks     mind of glass     body of feeling swelling into the crevices     all my life just a story     called "lonely all the time"     written by my parents     and their parents before them     back all the way to curious monkeys     beached fish and bacteria and cosmic dust slowly condensing to stars     glitters in the sky on cold winter evenings     outside the library waiting for friends and lovers     for words and embraces passed in code     for minds of glass and minds of metal     for an end to the story "lonely all the time" to be told     and next day all embraces and joy and words and linked hands lost in time     lost into memory and memory to become glass     mind of glass lonely all the time     and next day to the library to sit alone     pine needles and sycamore leaves collecting near base of window     washed by rain and wind     grey walls and fluorescent light     and I am just a shadow you passed on your way to a lesson     what I promised my family     that I would turn them into glass     precious sculptures drained and peaceful     lonely all the time     blood washed from the doors and walls     blood washed from the car keys and the garden tools     blood washed from the bunk beds and the playroom     what I promised you I would become     something more than a silly monkey     something more than a selfish asshole     something to justify all the hurt I gave and all the hurt I received     a mind of glass and rainwater     joy in our hearts     where we stand and watch the moon fade and glow behind breeze-blown clouds     where we lay down and kissed underneath the trees in the schoolyard     lonely all the time     especially together, especially together

and then on fire     on fire in the cold sand     on fire in the conference centres and the musty cellars of the holy houses     on fire in the woods of stolen car shells and bluebells     every sunset and every shopping trip on fire     the creak of the front door in the early hours reeking of smoke     the dark hum of the painted hall before dawn     on fire the incense and the leaves     on fire the car engines and the quiet mind     as we walk away weeping     or as we walk away blind and burned and breathless     as we walk away into another life     as we throw away one of our most potent destinies     as we discard one of the universes that brought us into being     not understanding what we chose     all things remained true that were true before     dances still ended in peace     poetry still bled out of the mind     the light was still clear and blue and soft     only that we chose love over death     unlike Nero we cast aside our rod and dove into the mind's dark waters     do what you have to do

now lost in the mind of glass     rainwater the only everlasting thing in memory     what I promised myself forgotten     that I would not let it slip away     and what was I for those thousands of days but a window     between the mind and the world     reflections to each other     while I do what I have to do     sparkling river pulled through circuits of great machine     for generating the future     "lonely all the time" the story read to all the children     born into cells     here I am too     now that the confusion seems greatest     I might be as close as I have ever been     staring out through windows at trees or rivers or walls     staring at empty chairs and empty screens     all of it without end     what I promised to say     something to make you happy     something to help you to remember that you are happy     to do what you have to do     but all along I only wanted to become more than I am     more than a self and more than a window     and in the end as it all burns around us     we will see the flames caught and dancing in the mind of glass     caught a billion times and sprinkled into confusion     we are caught in a peace that passeth understanding     knowing that all of this is nothing     in the mind of glass

Health Warning

we should warn each other when we feel like kissing -
that in a few weeks time one of us might be pining
or in a few years time one of us might be crying
things that you would think should be understood -

because things don't always work out, for so many reasons -
in fact, they rarely do -
in fact, given a long enough timescale,
they cannot.

So we should warn each other, and ourselves,
when we feel like kissing, or maybe more,
and our skin is tingling and our pupils are dilating
and our hormones bubble and we get excited
about life and love and all the pretty things
we had allowed ourselves to become cynical about -
when our faith returns as chemistry in the blood -

we should warn each other, I may be the one for you
but you may not be the one for me - or vice versa -
we should say, I may cheat on you, or you on me -
we should say, you or I may be secretly psychotic
beneath these skins of attraction
or worse, I may want to marry you and have children with you
I may fall asleep with you into twenty years of destiny
and we two may only wake when we are old
and think it has all been a waste and a mistake -

or worst of all, my maybe-love -
worse than any of the above -
we may be in love our whole lives -
problems overcome and age accepted,
children and marriage beloved and finally irrelevant,
growing old under the same ancient sun,
and then one of us will die, leaving only one,
and then that one is gone, and of us two
only memories and dust and a space for something new

so how can we be expected to warn each other -
what is there to say to a potential lover -
everything ends, but what else is there to do?
everything ends, but you're so beautiful?
and for as long as neither of us fucks it up,
lets just enjoy it for what it is -
no past or future, nothing but us
and a feeling like maybe we want to kiss

John's Perfect Heart

John's life was a quiet disaster
of needles and computer screens and alcohol
bank notes drifting gently down
onto the bodies of his parents

pets asleep in the filth of a swollen toilet
doors and windows blown open
in his mind, lights winking down a river
walking to work in the rain and the rot

he saved lives and stole them, ran screaming
down stunned streets, smiled carefully
in shops as he bought suicide implements,
melted and shook and snarled in the gym,

drove endlessly along roads, roads, roads
as future memories swam in his veins
- he would marry and father sad children
- he would die at someone else's funeral

John's life was his own, and every choice
split the universe in two, each half perfect -
perfect in panic and pain, in rain, in madness -
such a heart raging in such a savage heaven

Invisible Road

everything we ever hoped for, swallowed
in the last desperate act of a suicide
refusing the places that the mind wants to go

the sound of the cat scratching at the door
the stars are biting the blue air and the moon
is lighting up the clouds like chemical flares

ambient music in the chilly front room
sound bubbles popping craters like raindrops in sand
a link back through memory to another city

the road ahead is invisible
and all the lives behind us
forgotten

In The Country

I was in a large complex building very like the Leeds University Students Union, but as with all my dreams it had many more rooms and passageways and wasn't exactly like any building I'd ever been in. I'd just decided, after a lot of agonizing, to quit studying there, but I was still hanging around the campus for another few weeks. My friend and I were sitting outside a new, trendy bar in the Students Union. It was yellow-and-orange themed in a headache-inducing, cheesy-retro style. The tables and chairs were a bright, neon, chequered yellow and orange mess. Even the doorman was dressed in a kind of yellow and orange jumpsuit. I made a funny remark about the eighties coming back, and the owner of the bar, who was listening from inside, took offense and started shouting at me and calling me names. I wanted to explain that I hadn't meant anything offensive, just an ironic social statement and not an insult to him personally, but I couldn't find the right words.

Then I was outside myself, watching myself. I wasn't being someone else; it was an out-of-(dream)body experience and I could only do it by closing my eyes almost to slits. I was fascinated with how I looked as I did simple things. It was like knowing how other people see me, and I felt a kind of detached love for myself as a beautiful person. My hair was short and I wondered if I had looked better when it was long. This became relevant later in the dream.

I wandered around the Union a little. It was full of people. Parts of it were like the corridors of a hospital, with people waiting around in dingy rooms, staring at the walls. A group of black men were hanging around in front of a TV which was attached high up the wall. They were all eating pizza and drinking cola. I "remembered" at some point that I was supposed to get to the main office to watch a guy who was going to castrate himself after applying a local anaesthetic. I'm not sure if he wanted to become a woman or if he was just doing it for a bet. I really didn't want to watch but for some reason I knew I had to be there.

While I was wandering around looking for the head office, the Leeds University Students Union somehow metamorphosed into my old family home, and instead of a guy castrating myself, I was supposed to watch while my parents cut our cat Velvet's tail off. I found Velvet cowering in a cupboard, and I picked her up in my arms. I didn't want them to cut her tail off so I was trying to find a place where she would be safe. While I was carrying her she turned into a colobus monkey and started wriggling away from me. I managed to get her into a small room where I thought she'd be safe, but it was full of hostile monkeys of a different species, and when I closed the door I realized she'd be in trouble, so I went back inside and got her out again. I brought her out to the edge of the garden and let her go, and when I was turning away I noticed her twisting around and contorting. I realized that she was choking, and stuck my finger down her throat to fish out the bone that had caught there. After I did this I realized that saving a life is an incredibly powerful and significant thing to do, because you are adding to the universe. All the new possible universes that can be created by decisions of the being whose life you have saved are your responsibility.

I found a present from my dad waiting for me on the stairs. It was an old raincoat, and he'd left a note saying that it needed to be washed but that I might like to wear it anyway. I went to find the master bedroom, where I knew he would probably be. When I found him he was standing in the doorway. He was really tall and big, as if I was seeing him from the perspective of a small child, and he was smiling broadly. His hair was quite wild and long-ish, and he looked so youthful and happy that I almost wanted to cry. He hugged me, and I wanted to ask him what had happened, because I knew that he had been away "in the country" and I wondered what had made him come back so different and alive, but just then my grandad (my mother's dad) came up the stairs. Everyone was coming upstairs for a dinner in the master bedroom, which now had a large table and an oven and a fireplace. There was a pile of chocolate biscuits in the fireplace, and I took one and started eating it. My mother came from the oven with food on a tray, looking flushed and happy, and I realized that she and my dad had had sex.

I asked her what had happened to my dad on his trip to the country, and she said that she didn't know because he was being very secretive about it. We all sat down around the table, and I asked him straight out in front of everyone, "So, you have to tell us what happened when you were down in the country." He wasn't annoyed. He smiled and looked down almost shyly and began with "Well, now..."

Then I woke up.

Buddha Bookshelf

It stretches out like a psychedelic skirt pulled taut -
they're shoulder to shoulder, smiling softly
before infinite setting suns shining
like rings in each planetary ear.

In each eye he sees things that have no explanation.
Today it's flowers for the famous faces.
The Pope is a marigold printed on a summer dress.
Tony Blair is a carnation held under a crying child's nose.
Dubya, such a silly lily, someone gave him as a gravestone gift.

He used to hoard his mother's cookies
in a heavy glass jar shaped like a bell -
once he dreamed that she kept a young boy's head
in a blue metal bucket by the fire.
He woke up so afraid of being a beggar,
lost in the dark, rainy streets, skidding, crashing,
his fingers tracing some remembered music.

He knows history. He read about the ovens,
the war machines and the Nazi lampshades,
but he keeps seeing them in blue,
made from Krishna's skin, stretched taut,
immortal fireflies for stars within.

No one would ever know he isn't crazy.
No one sees the Buddhas on his bookshelf,
endlessly mirrored, one for each decision and each life,
the cut of every knife, the kindness of every kiss,
the blindness of his soul and his unanswerable bliss.

Heroes

I never moved the mirror
from its stand in the corner
where it was left, like a sentinel,
by the previous owner –

the still water of another mind
full of old reflections and purposes.
I used to be surprised to see myself there,
a ghost in my own home, lost on the surface.

I was hardly even aware
that on my way to the office, walking
past the arcades, threading the crowds,
rushing in the sharp, late morning,

I could have turned aside
where Westland Row meets Merrion Square,
under the windows of the Davenport Hotel –
or, really, any road, anywhere –

just kept on walking,
through Ringsend and beyond,
past the tailbacks and the trailers
to where the sea meets the long strand;

boarded a small sailboat,
anything that floats on water,
a catamaran, even a dinghy;
and set off into an unknown future.

I was hardly aware of my own hands,
their softness, their blunt power,
the way they callus so quickly
if I have to lift and carry for a few hours.

Or of my nose, its many colours,
brown and orange and pink,
the blocked pores, the faint sheen
after an evening on the drink.

The way my hair shines
under a yellow light.
The happiness of breathing.
The freedom of being awake at night.

Night-time when I was younger
was cool sheets and my mother’s voice,
telling stories from picture books:
the poisoned land, the hero’s choice –

the silly rabbit and the duckling
who hugged each other at the end
and made the whole world happy,
‘and no-one was ever alone again’ –

I’d go to sleep in the shuddering darkness,
the power of the stories whirling
in my stomach and behind my eyes.
I became a dreamer in the world.

I burned with that energy;
I chose to be the flame-haired hero,
to make his choices, to be the brightness
in the story, without fear.

I didn’t know - at every turn, every choice
I could have gone elsewhere.
The catamaran; the other girls;
the boy with the untidy hair

who smiled at me in the library,
and my spine tingled from end to end;
the thousand countries and cities
where I would have made friends;

the way I would have kissed
the Spanish girl in the sunlit alcove
if I’d been braver, if I’d known
she too was only looking for love.

In some weird future, the hero
maybe is dying on the dirty floor
of a Bangkok shack, heroin
in his veins, voices at the door –

or sitting at the kitchen window
as dawn begins to light the rooftops
of any city; she’s asleep in the bedroom,
and there’s coffee on the hob.

Maybe in the million stories
there’s just one hero, wandering
from room to room, screen to screen;
moving with open, wondering eyes

through the labyrinth of mirrors,
while the audience, if there is one,
accepts each change of mask and scene
without fear, even with a sense of fun.

Just to look at a tree, to really look –
a tree in a dream, on a diamond plateau,
or a tree in the rain in Merrion Square,
leaves dripping, branches dark and soaked,

the way the leaves open like hands
to catch the raindrops, as a child would –
you can’t be in a story.
You never hear of Red Riding Hood

stopping in the woods, fascinated
by the shimmering moss, the ancient stone,
forgetting her errand; in her immortality
she doesn’t have that freedom.

But you do; even the eyes of the girl
when she tells you she likes you;
if you really want to see her,
you can’t be a hero. You can only be you.