past lives

Doors In The Dead Cities

In between the river and the roads,
day or night, you can see sparkles -
ocean slowly pulsing into tidal river,
transfusion for diseased city, and
in between the movies and the ads
sparkles invade your mind -
split seconds of nothingness -
splinters of dead air and dead cold
whispers of a million words on bookshelves,
a billion chords on compact discs,
a billion beating locust wings,
desert roads in the mind, green blurs
on mountain horizon: trees, fields,
steaming volcanic lakes, whales and herons,
landscapes internal forever -
and lost at the moment you die?
at the moment you die,
lost forever?

You find portals beacuse you need to:
the museum behind the fake technicolour castle
with the prayer wheels and jade knives,
scraps of ancient bibles and screeds,
where they play chants through hidden speakers
between the glowing display cases,
and between floors you count a few empty shops
stuck in the haze of winter and old cloud -
between shops and between hours
you find a space you recognize
where someone sits who died before history,
shaved head bowed before a newer moon,
still pool beneath willow bridge, sandals
placed carefully beside shawl, pen, ink -
knowing something that you once knew.

Between pulses that tell us were are alive,
between instants of stimulus and response,
between droplets of this endless rain -
words, notes, snow, kisses -
flashes of something familiar from long ago.
Between work days and sofa evenings,
in between years of shifting identities -
frozen windscreen wipers sweeping
centuries off eyesight of lifetimes -
strobe flashes and advertising lasers,
glitters caught on river water and
apartment block window fronts,
cranes dancing in winter wind
like weather poles and wind chimes
beside glass-still pool of mind -
in a pure instant between instants
you are bowed down before a memory
that you do not know is a memory.

As if in a dream, there are those
who try to remind us -
in between meals and games and
in between all the sparkles -
rituals built into the chaos:
of sitting before a wooden tray for tea
of kneeling before icons and cruciforms
of sitting with someone strange -
someone of still pools and dead blossoms
someone of dead screens and dying rivers
someone in between the moments
of attention to this or that lifetime -
intersecting universes, colliding realities -
someone we find in the place where we are -
someone who is a memory
that you do not know is a memory.

Like cats' eyes peeping out from the dark -
in between our madness, our fits
of distraction, racing uphill,
looking out over frozen ochre city,
wide harbour, lumpen island and white boats
and sunlight thin and red and distant -
in between making love among the trees,
underneath fallen roots, luminous
emerald moss, tiny sprinkled mushrooms -
in between desperate hours of stillness
heart pounding as nothing happens,
guts wrenching as nothing is transformed
into other forms of nothing -
and all the forms of the mind,
demonic, angelic, ridiculous and tender,
pour into this moment as a billion sparkles
and leave you as empty as an hourglass,
timed out and clear, in between epochs,
waiting for someone's hand.

Between images of yourself
caught on windows, mirrors, pupils -
an old, tired theme of searching,
so sad and desperate and surrendered -
and yet the one last desperate hope
is that in between these ghosts
and false gods, false selves and wraiths,
you might glimpse the doorway -
to the frozen land through the back of the wardrobe
to the unreal city below the lake's bottom
to the magical land on the other side of the mirror
to someone strange waiting patiently outside time,
as if enclosed in a pale moon heaven
that you do not know is a memory.

The City of Ghosts

no way out of the city of ghosts
mum and dad are asleep alone together in a burning bedroom
she always wanted her words to fly up to heaven
this firestorm is her revenge for every cold cup of tea
every plea unlistened-to
she had the rotten teeth pulled from her jaws
and replaced by beads of poisonous metal
while he worked late at the office to pay for this transformation
a red brick building on the quays staffed by wraiths and ghouls
and he himself was a golem animated by parental sorcery
unbowed and polished by two thousand years of storms
heartless and beautiful and vampirically cold

their carpet becomes a lake of blood and bile
upon which their bed-raft floats
as they cling to the ancestral photo albums
and mutter their own names against a tide of amnesia
citizens of a republic of isolated house-states
with language abolished by referendum
we worship instead at the church of the repeated image
we have built a self-repairing machine
our bookshelves come to life and chant mantras as Gaeilge
our rooves sigh and slide gently away to reveal unnaturally dark clouds
Dublin turns black as the stars cough up eons of cigarette ash
and the sun itself swells and prepares to inhale us

mother and father have forgotten why they had children
maybe it was because they were cold and wanted to get warm
when they reached for each other they annihilated two universes,
set the bed adrift on a bloody sea,
and here we are, babies with gills and crimson irises
foreigners in our own country and strangers to each other
the hosts of the unborn are gathering beyond the veil
ready for the puncture when it happens
when ma and da finally die
and the kids' memories come crashing back
through lost lifetimes like meteorites of archetypes
through cloudbank and starlight

we will know who we are
when the cafes serve only haemoglobin from living veins
when cars wake up and start eating people
we will know who we are
when every door leads to another world
a wilderness of Narnias in the wardrobes and hallways of the ghost city
when the statues in the churches come to life
and herd the wailing faithful to the altars for sacrifice
when the government closes its doors and settles its affairs
and the TDs take cyanide on the orders of their leader
we will know who we are
when materialism is known for what it truly is
the acceleration of the birth of a glorious but inhuman deity

it may be true that we are killing ourselves
our obsession with ingesting poisons, our love of weaponry
all this is legendary in the houses of spirit
but like the man said, what is man
but a bridge over an abyss
we are not the naked monkey in the marital bed
the monkey lost and shivering under unforgiving stars
we are not the ghosts in the city windows
and mammy and daddy will one day remember
that they always loved each other
and the unborn will come crashing through time
in endless lines through endless doors opening to one room

until I knew you I did not know myself
says each reflection to each face

Bone Machine Operator

you aren't going to hurt us, are you? we of the rngs and gauges and endless interphysical circuitry. lurking in some vague electricity. listen to me carefully. I am looking for a virus. I think it's inside me, a cancer of my marrow. I want to know what's wrong with me, why I want to blow it all away. destroy myself, destroy everything else, I do not want to be this murderous impulse but I can no longer deny it exists in the robot core of me. we're not in the present now. all of this has already happened. the shotgun and the baby falling through the broken floorboards. the. we're animals, animals, animals, drugged and broken and translated into a million forms, and yet we have a key, we have been given one last chance, here. now. last chance. GO!

beaten senseless naked under neon and neoprene maybe we are crazy, finally and dreamily. all wars one war, all books one book, all minds one mind. time is a gap between memories of gaps between shapes and colours of photographs of frozen instants of time. in a voice bubbling and choking the bone puppeteer sings that the earth died screaming. while I lay dreaming. in the underworld chapel of rape and sulfur and snow churning out guerilla fighters for the futile snowball fight at the end of the world as the lava tsunamis lean over the horizon and blot out the sunspots. a monkey and a roast beef sandwich and a midnight run through luminous mists. sparkling stars in the gaps between trees and dogs running between split seconds of thermonuclear futures. I am insane. wouldn't that be beautiful?

scrabbling for leftover croissant in the bourgeois bins, fingerprints shaved into a bloody unknown, lost faces scattered underfoot. underwater. drifting down with lit candles in their mouths, teeth locked and lips stretched into endearing grins. we relied on our wit and charm all our lives hoping no one would see through us, praying we would go unnoticed, lying and acting even in the clenching jaws of the crematorium. candlelight fusion to sift us gracefully to ash. the shadow of our death writes the story of our life. the future causes the past. that's vertigo. that's hindsight. that's the triumph of the chaos lion, paw raised to tear down the screen, the maddened roar of the unwinding reel, the flickering tail of filmstrip consumed by a soft flame. the director and the scriptwriter give their lives to summon the animal army. I never knew what he meant: the sad quiet beaten morphine addict who shot his wife and only wanted to stare at his shoelaces for the rest of his life. for the eight hours it would take the blessed grains to sink into his innermost marrow and cross the barrier into the western lands of his soul. born cognizant of his own death. suicide re-enacted daily in his pages and his goodbye kisses. the smile she gave as his finger squeezed the trigger. palm touching palm in trust. her thoughts painted on the wall behind her. her thoughts that he would never tire of travelling in his opiate dreams. he's missing his teeth and his makeup is running under the spotlights and he's been high for so long that the earth is screaming for the touch of his whole body. it wants to love his bones into powder. he owes it an entire lifetime. her dark matter draws him back to its mercy. its mercy is the circle of dreams through which he will chase her. real and unreal bound together forever. or as long as he loves her.

Nemesis

Something was chasing me through underground catacombs, the same vaulted, rough stone that I always found myself running through, with muffled detonations from the surface shaking my breath in the cold air, and my family trailing behind me, half-conscious and vulnerable, hardly even alive in the same way as me. I'd shake them, "This is just a dream!" but they just looked at me reproachfully and turned their faces back towards their destinies again. So I'd stay with them, and sink back into the story of the dream, losing my wakefulness, until all that remained was a numinous awareness, an ability to communicate that exceeded most other beings in the dream.

Except the creature that caught me, finally found me, in some deep, fluted recess in the underground passageways of a forgotten citadel. It was golden and yellow and orange, shaped like an eight-foot-long lionfish, and it floated in the air, moving with implacable swiftness. I had been running from it for a long, long time, and I couldn't run any more. It was the end of a thousand dreams of flight from death. It had been following me all this time, and its purpose was to end my life. We had both always known this.



We spoke. I found that I wasn't afraid any more, now that it had caught me. I asked it why it was following me, why it had to end my life. It couldn't really answer the questions in the form I was asking them. I knew that I had once been a very different person, but to save my life, my whole psyche had been replaced, wiped clean. I could no longer remember anything about my old life and the person I had once been, so I asked my Nemesis what I had done in my past lives. It knew m,y thoughts and everything about me, but it wouldn't answer me. I kept asking, and he showed me images of a sick young man hanging around a school playground, tempting children away, waiting for them to wander over to him, the sun bright on their legs. As soon as I saw the images, I said "Yes! I knew it...I knew that in a past life I abused children," and it said, "You know everything you've ever done. You could tell me right now the whole story of your past lives."

>-<

The baby crawling towards the jagged hole in the upper story floorboards, like a scene from a movie rolling in slow motion through the water of my mind, and I spring forward to cath the child, but it's too late, it falls through the hole and falls three floors to its death. I stare down at its broken body, waves of horror and nausea washing over me. This baby was my mother's, and it had been entrusted to me. I had allowed something to happen that I could never get away from. I knew that I was as good as dead.

>-<

The man's body, bones broken, at the bottom of the deep, long staircase, where we had pushed him to his death. The air smelled musty and cool, heavy with memories from my school days, and around the corner was the tiny room, hidden in an alcove, where we played chess on Wednesday afternoons. It was a time without threat. Now we had murdered this man, and it was as if his blood became a tide washing over my mind, so that everything became dark and fluid, and the connections between my thoughts and my identity were lost. When I returned, and my mind was healed somehow, I was standing in front of my girlfriend and my father. They were crying, and lookinng at me, and I held up my hands in incomprehension, looking at the lines on the palms while they explained what had happened. I'd been in a lunatic asylum for the last 20 years, after something terrible happened in my past, something my mind couldn't bear, and sent me into darkness to keep me alive. The shock of all those lost years came upon me in that moment as I saw my own face, lined and full of sorrow and waste, and I looked at the people who loved me, and felt ashamed. But at the same time I felt free, like a soul coming out of purgatory. I'd gone as far down as you can go, and the sky was still blue and I was still loved, no matter how many years had gone, or how undeserving I was. I cried until I woke up.

>-<

I was crying while my nemesis talked to me. My mother was there too, and she told me that it wasn't in a past life I had committed these crimes, but in this life, only my memory of it was gone, destroyed. She showed me a bunch of small, plain flowers and a book of handwritten poetry that I'd sent to the parents of the children I'd molested, after I'd been caught and punished. I'd repented and become self-aware, and I'd been healed somehow, and that old me was dead, literally dead. I was crying really hard, because I didn't want to have done those things, but I knew that I had - that this was my legacy, my karma, my story that I now had to deal with.

I spoke to my nemesis some more. It explained that it was trying to find a way not to kill me. Its only purpose was to kill me, but it was trying to find a way out. I said "Is it something to do with stories?" and it replied, Not exactly, but close. It was something to do with stories and thought, and the inevitable repetition of old patterns and stories through the mechanism of thought. If I could change the nature of my thought, I could escape the destiny of the death that was waiting for me.

>-<

I went walking with a shifting-girl, an amalgam of several people I know, trying to explain to her the nature of thought. We wandered through nameless suburban estates full of white houses and walls covered with graffiti - "TEEN BRIDE IM SORRY", "CIRCULAR SELF PORTRAIT IN GREEN", "GOURANGA". I pointed out a tree branch, and said that in the mind, this was an 'image' or 'thing'. The image was made up of 'feelings' - the feeling of the bark, the feeling of the knots and shapes of the branch, its colour and weight - all feelings in the mind. And then I explained that when the branch moves or is seen to act, sprouting leaves, or moving in the wind, the mind tells a story to represent that action and explain it. "The branch is moving in the wind". But the story is false, because in reality the branch itself does not act, and there is no story governing its movement. It isn't even a 'thing'. Thought warps and alters reality by isolating portions of its flow and calling them 'things', and then telling stories to interpret the seeming actions of those things. This is the nature of thought. And it locks us into our already-written destinies, our personal stories, in which we are isolated actors reciting our doomed soliloquies to a presumed audience, poor little branches doomed to wither and fall, unaware of the life we share with the root, the blossom and the bole.

This is what my nemesis was trying to tell me, and I woke up explaining it to the shifting-girl, so that the last words about the branch were spoken into the silence of the bedroom before I even opened my eyes.

>-
 

The mind giving birth to the mind

"I recognize you," she said. His face was the colour of pale wheat. He was hunched over a dark pool, staring at the space between his outstretched hands. deep in that space, a tiny spark. a white snake, a filament, wriggling and glowing. the force of his will heavy in the air, making a sound like the moaning of a high wind in the folds of the damp rock.

she shakes her head. this is not real. she says that she knows him. that they have been in this place together many times before. his eyes lift briefly from his work. the writhing light fades, and his attention returns to the space between his hands. she touches his shoulder and his skin is cold and hot at the same time. he is giving birth to his own mind and she knows that this must not happen.

my friend's eyes are so soft, his pupils dark with drugs, and he feels like everything is underwater. I felt that way once too, and there was no sense to be made of anything. he is sweating, smiling, in his mind he is naked. he leans close to me in the luminous dark and tells me things I already know. we are friends. he is lonely. his work is destroying his heart. in my dreams he is always just like this, like a child with happy, tearful eyes.

he's asleep under an old willow, like a faery imprisoned in a christmas bauble. the willow branches trail in the bright water. he doesn't know about the world any more and his brain is empty, full of sounds and tastes and sights only, and silly dreams of circles. he sleeps and wakes as if there will always be tender arms to hold him. and in my dreams, there always will.
 

Washed

woke up from dreams of murder
into tears of the heart and throat,
sobbing into my pillow
on a sleepy, rainy sunday morning
because I'd died, because she was still alive -
she was me, walking home alone, head held high
though washed and wrecked by pain

I remembered my years of forgetting,
of being at war with my own soul -
please god, let that soft touch on my forehead
be the fingertips of the one I love,
invisible, impossible, distanceless -
I'll be crying for everything I ever hoped was true
this joy, this rage, for finally finding you

Spider Temple Dream

I'd been wandering through the rain forest for a long time. The air was sodden  with rain and I hadn't seen anything except massive green leaves and ferns and water-darkened tree trunks for days. I had only the vaguest understanding of where I was - Vietnam or Cambodia,deep in a forgotten part of the primordial woodland. I came across a dark door at the front of a temple overgrown  with vines, and I walked inside.

After my eyes adjusted to the darkness I found I was in a gigantic enclosed space, roughly circular, surrounded by huge, carved walls of dark brown stone. There were countless alcoves and gargoyles and buttresses rising to a smooth, domed ceiling which was almost invisible in the gloom. The floor was a mass of large, flat paving stones, slightly lighter in colour than the walls, cracked and torn up in places. The air was utterly still and silent, with no sound from the jungle outside. It felt like nobody had been there in thousands of years.

In the center of the temple was a huge stone structure, like a series of raised circular plinths with large statues all around, twice the height of a human being. I walked closer, amazed at the hush, and the heaviness of the air, and I saw that the statues were basalt spiders with bulbous bodies and arched legs.

I started to climb. For some reason I was able to do this with no problem, even though the stone spiders were so enormous that I could walk underneath them only slightly hunched over. I reached the top of the plinth, standing on a thin spire that almost touched the ceiling of the temple. From here I could see the pattern of the floor paving and the statues, but I couldn't interpret it. The language was long dead. As I watched, the air shifted slightly, and I felt something change, like feeling an electrical charge build near a power station.

The spiders moved. As I watched, they descended with graceful steps from their places on the plinth, their feet making no sound whatsoever as they touched the floor. Stone legs flexed and bent with the delicacy of ballerinas. They arranged themselves in spiral patterns around the center of the temple, and began to dance.

The dance was ancient, its meaning utterly lost in time, forgotten along with the names and families of the priests and acolytes and worshippers to whose religion the temple was consecrated. It was a sacrament from a time when the world functioned according to different rules, and yet here in the deep forest the spiders were still dancing, every night, their feet moving along the lines of a sacred geometry that described a different universe.

I watched for a while, until I felt myself rising out of the temple. The spiders grew smaller and smaller, until mist started covering them, and the walls began to stretch and fade, and I left that dream and passed into another.
 

The Spider Temple

In the Spider Temple the stone has no voice -
the millions of tons of its silence drip like water
down the countless limbs of its statues.
Centuries of unbreathed air
cling to the flagstones and the altars;
the kind of stillness that old women mean
when they say, “Everything is becoming still.”

From the roof the Spider Temple is a dance of gargoyles,
pale brown in the darkness,
their heavy legs not scraping the rough-carved floor –
quiet as ballerinas, the beautiful golems curve
to the physics of their forgotten religion.

There is no fear in the Spider Temple,
so ancient that it has forgotten its weight, its meaning,
and floats in the soaking forest like a baby.

Cain's Machine

My dream resolved to a face, blonde and pale -
eerie blue eyes lost in the distance,
Cain's horizon without a sky -

hypnotized by unfamiliar constellations
points of light spattered as if sneezed
into the raw, frozen darkness -

he was trying to see to the edge of time
in a glass observatory on a remote moon,
steam pluming from alien machines -

trapped in his own dream of immortality,
to be unbreakable and unchanging -
the dream had become an agony of millennia

in the grip of his own revolving destiny
bound upon a wheel of fire
a point of life in the vacuum, heart-frozen -

eventually, everything of him was broken
like the fable of the reed and the oak
and the storm from the Chinese mountain.

He couldn't live and couldn't die,
his mind locked in amnesiac torment
haunted by voices from past and future lives

whispering their regrets, their lessons
the time he lost and the love
he threw away, the strength he didn't need -

he had enough will left to plead with her,
the only one who loved him,
to feed the unkillable flesh of his body

into machines built to crush him,
grind him to meal to be scattered
throughout his empty universe.

I saw him lying there, mind gone,
as she made the preparations, head held high,
though washed and wrecked by pain.

She could neither forgive nor refuse him
his escape from the machine of light -
the white centrifuges, the galactic octopi

boiling around their black hole cores -
their dervish dance of confusion -
the terrible rebirth of their collision -

he thought he wanted never to be hurt,
to live without the touch of death
and her promise of sleep after too long a day.

She spoke to me, sadly, dark eyes
full of a different kind of strength:
iron in her heart, for surviving -

she explained everything.
Cain was no longer there.
I was only watching the tragedy of her,

a lover, a mother, watching a man
go to his death in a war of his own making -
"the endless conflict of dead matter," he'd said -

and she only knew she loved him;
that he would return to break her heart again
until the stars died into the everlasting darkness.

Sundari

I remembered, touching you,
how soft and loose your skin
how you smell sweet
the place on your neck for a kiss
your strength that costs so much
and your secret weakness

there's a house that's ours
it looks like every house of light and floorboards
we are the brightness there
and no story told of the house is true
no story told of me-and-you

lover, everything happens anyway
something in the silence
sleeps us through the night
and remembers to renew us in the morning.