Word Play

 

There is a thick lipped rumble tearing from the clouds above, and I think that I was wrong.

I step outside and stand in the porch, arching my neck and breathing in the close air. Rain paints polkas on the pavement at my feet and I shrug my cardigan closer, wrapping it around me like a straight jacket. Your words and mine are tumbling through my mind at break neck speed, crashing into each other and veering off course until I don’t know who said what. Or why.

To my left I can hear the shouts and excitements of teenage boys, their taut voices springing over the garden wall. They are waiting for the strike, just like me. The strip of blinding light that then ignites the sky brings stark contrast to the world. It is disorientating, to see night in the light of day.

Now for the wind: this is like a well-known performance. The flutes and oboes of the sky let loose and tongue great bursts of violent air at my face. Clothes and hair whip around me and into my mouth; I feel it scratching on my tongue but make no effort to remove it.

I fumble at the door handle and hurry back inside as wind tears at my hair. I am a set of scales, with weighted words clunking from your mouth and on to my heart until I dip under the strain.

The door bangs into its frame with a plastic thump, and all sound dies. My chest heaves.

Drip

Drip. There it is – can you hear it? Drip. It’s a leak, there’s a leak in the pipes somewhere, god knows where. I can’t seem to find it. I can hear it though. Drip.

I saw Daniel today. It was the first time I’ve seen him in four months, one week, two days, and three hours. Roughly. He looked the same, exactly the same. His eyes were still brown, his lips still hooked into a smile. When he spoke to the guy at the coffee cart, his tongue was still thick with a lisp and he still wore that gold watch. On his right wrist though – that wasn’t the same.

He didn’t see me. There were a lot of people around; we were in a big crowd. I was third behind him in the queue. That’s the fifty-eighth time I’ve been third behind him in this queue. We used to joke about how we never noticed each other even though we were so close so many times. How could we have missed love when it was standing to our left ordering a cappuccino every morning? God knows.

Daniel was the first one to notice the drip. I woke up one morning to find him waist deep in cupboards, poking around under the sink. It was driving him mad, he said. So I put my hands over his ears and held him close.

It never used to bother me. I heard so much more when I was with him – the hiss of a kettle, the foot tread of neighbours, the thump of his pulse. And now he’s gone.

Drip. I wish this would be gone. Drip. It’s a leak, there’s a leak in the pipes somewhere, I think Daniel knows where. I can’t seem to find it. I can hear it though. Drip.

Source: Frank Baron, http://www.theguardian.com

Stumble Upon Magic

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We all have a place where we find magic. It might not always be in a place that makes sense, it may creep up on you, it may only reveal itself to you in its absence – but we’ve all found it.

I’ve found magic on my travels this summer. In the people I have fallen in love with, the places I have discovered, and the challenges I have overcome, something everlasting and pure and fizzy has bubbled under the surface of the everyday. I felt it in the air last night: in the brightness of fairy lights as they hung from trees, and in the furry skins of stuffed toy animals. I piled my bags into the taxi on my way to finding home, and I met a man who held a very different kind of magic.

The driver had a thick tongue that caught on the roof of his mouth as he spoke, and a lawn of midnight black hair wrapped around his lower skull. He gripped the steering wheel with an attentive hold, and would anxiously glance back to make sure I was comfortable, pointing out bottles of water and offering me gum.

Soon he began telling me stories about his past as a musician, his qualifications from Trinity College in England, his passion for the drums.

‘But I don’t play for the world anymore. I play for Jesus. I play for him.’

I am not a religious person. I don’t know if my faith would have a label, but if it did, it wouldn’t be Christian. I wouldn’t name a being called Jesus. I wouldn’t clasp my hands over rosary beads and mutter to the heavens.

But I am in awe of the faith that resides in those that do all of those things.

I asked this man why he stopped playing for the world, asked him why the world doesn’t deserve his music any more.

‘Ten years ago, my life did a 180. I was a bad man, doing bad things. I drank too much alcohol, and I smoked – oh I smoked 80 cigarettes a day. Soon, everyone hated me. My wife, my children… they only stayed because I had money.

Then one day, during a rehearsal, I fell down with a heart-attack. For two days I lay in a coma, and while I was unconscious I had a vision. It was Jesus. He came to me and said ‘I want you. Come to me.’ When I woke up, I told my doctors and my family. My wife was always religious and she cried on my face. They ran tests and found no nicotine in my blood, no alcohol. I don’t care what scientists call it, I call that a miracle. Jesus brought me back and gave me new blood.

‘Every day since, I play in the Church. I serve. I don’t play for the world any more, but I do serve it. I make sure people like you get home safe at night, and I play them my music, and I tell them about God.’

So it was at midnight last night that I found a new blossom of magic on the freeway to home. I saw this man and I felt that buzzing feeling when he spoke. Something extraordinary was thrumming behind his words; that something that I had felt earlier in the lights hanging in the air. Like me, that man knew magic existed.

And like me, he was going to hang on to it as hard as he could. 

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Ribbon City

Along the side of the freeway is a strip of land, wedged in between racing cars and suburban yards. It is marked along its borders by chain link fences that ripple when they’re touched, the dull metallic scales undulating like the lazy swim of a fish.

It is its own city with rules and family. Tents are pitched, sheets of plastic tied around trees and stretched out to the pins in the dusty ground. Towels, grubby clothes, an umbrella, are piled on top of the makeshift roof, shrivelling in the sun.

The cool blast of air-con is whipping strands of hair back from my face as I zoom past and see an exhausted man in this ribbon city, bending over a small girl. He is topless, the folds of his stomach overlapping the waistband of his jeans and his pale skin gleaming in the harsh sunlight. He is holding a bottle in his hand; squirts white cream into his palm; rubs it onto the child’s nose. Before they disappear I see a grin hoist up the weight of the young child’s face.

A few meters along is a gathering of women, sitting around a small stove fire. They are perched on floral loungers, the rusted legs digging into the dirt. Limp cigarettes hang from their mouths and the soles of their feet are grey. One of them waves and shouts something to a person out of sight.

Along the side of the freeway is a strip of land marked by chain link fences. There is family and love and story telling here. There is dirt and poverty and blistered skin from the sun.

There is a whole ribbon city, in the shadow of the free way to home.

Black Cat

You are my feline, whispering stealthily from ear – to head – to heart. Promises you can / cannot keep, wishes you grant / cannot grant; I hear the purrs and grasp your neck between my fingers.

Be mine.

You are still. Frozen; you know I have caught you but instead of bending to my will you pretend you are not there. You embody, you become the oxymoron. Fluffy feline and foxy predator. If I hold my breath for long enough you will think I am no longer there. And oh, so wrong you will be.

Longing does not exist with lust. Longing is the aftermath of lust, tinted with ‘what ifs‘ and ‘should I’s‘ and ‘maybe’s‘. I long for you. With every breath I wish you closer.

And with every breath I wish you gone.

Walking home in the dead of night, you visit me. Sleek black coat, claws that click on pavements, sharp eyes that glint. A tail swishes from left to right in the afterglow of an orange street lamp.

Still here.

Waiting.

Embracing.

Inkmen

When nib kissed paper, electricity fizzed outwards in a spider web of sparks and you were born.

You shocked me at first. You were thinner than I had planned, with a smudge of a moustache on your upper lip. A rumpled suit hung off your body; a pair of spades for hands poked out from the sleeves as if curious to see the world. When you walked, your chest curved inwards on itself, shy, despite the confident stride of your loafer clad feet.

Not a word was spoken until sunset. You sat in the margin and hugged your knees while I sat on my giant’s throne and squinted down at you. Mine. My tiny creation, perched on the edge. When you looked at me, I gasped: I had forgotten to give you an eye colour. Two dark coals were buried in your sockets, burning with a flameless heat. Who am I? you asked.

I haven’t decided yet. I think your name might be Jonah.

You rolled the name around in your mouth like an oversized marble, raising one eyebrow. Every move you made was beautiful to me. I picked up my pen again, eager to fill you out, but you stood up, shaking your head in fear. You hurled your thin body at me and tried to batter down the walls between us. Vaguely frightened, I looked on in wonder. The screams coming from your mouth were strangled, muted. There is no escape for you here, I tell you. This is the world I built for you.

I don’t like it. This is not what I wanted. Oil tears fall thickly down your face and silhouette hands press into your eye sockets. Your shoulders shake.

It is not what I wanted either. Heart pounding, I throw my pen to one side, slam the pages of the notebook shut and stuff it hurriedly onto a crammed shelf. Not only yours, but many muffled sounds issue from the long row of identical jotters: snippets of song, laughter, the miniscule taps of feet pacing. If I close my eyes, I can almost see every birth, every creation.

And I wonder if it was good.

La Traviata!

The world – the one around me now – has stopped. This is my photo-still. This is my fragment in history. Placing one deliberate foot in front of the other, I walk calmly on stage.

Arrayed in front of me are the thousands of egg-shell faces, neatly packed into their velvet rows. A glaring veil of light separates me from them, smudging their features and smearing the details of everyone beyond the second row. Although I cannot see them, I can hear them. There’s a thrumming force pulsating outwards as they wait for me to begin; a sound like a distant vacuum presses against me as they breathe as one. From behind me I sense the stage hands who, plugged in to their headsets like excitable droids, have stopped unnaturally in their tracks, waiting.

They tell you to breathe when you panic, as if the simple act of inflating your lungs will quiet your nerves. You see it countless times in television dramas: a brown paper bag is cupped over the mouth of a startlingly red-faced victim, crumpling in on itself before expanding again at a comedic rate. The ruddy face drains of harsh colour as calm is restored, an embarrassed smile apologises to the screen, and the world is reset.

There are no paper bags here.

Nervous air judders past my lips and my chest heaves – but then I spot an old man in the front row with wrinkles around his eyes so deep that they look like two balls of crumpled tissue. He isn’t looking at me: in fact, his eyes are closed and he is resting his head against the back of his seat, as if he is about to fall asleep. The only reason I know he is paying attention is because of the soft smile twitching at the corner of his lips. The rapid panic ebbs away and filters through my veins; now it is a mere tingling in my fingertips. I raise the soft palette, imagine a cavernous hall in the back of my throat, and open my lips to inhale. The air slips down my throat with the cool silky touch of water, trickling into every limb and blossoming in every muscle.

This breath and the breath of the vast crowd before me is like the ocean: an endless, surging, effortless tide that washes over and in and around. There is a magnetic reflux to it, tugging and releasing, rising to crescendos and dipping to pianissimo in silent unison with the moon. It is an unthinkable act, inconceivable in its very existence. We suck in the salt water of the air and crash it onto private pink shores.

Just when I feel full, I inhale a fraction more. The breath burrows deep into my lungs, nudging at the diaphragm, inching it into expanse, and I am ready. I am pregnant with air from my collar bone to my womb.

The familiar grip of the rectus abdominus provides the foundation, setting like a well of cement in the contact with oxygen. I am buried in the slatted stage; I can feel the tactile reaction of it against the balls of my feet, feeding strength up and into my softened knees. From the waist down, I am solid, steely, pushing outwards and downwards. The breath squats like a bunker deep underground, anchoring the store of oxygen in a concrete box that fastens the balloon breath billowing out the rest of my body. Slowly, I begin the release, and feel the air rising in me, a warm cloud waiting for transformation.

Up to the diaphragm, this arched dome under my lungs where the air sits like a rubber ring around my waist. It is grazing against the sacks of my lungs; I can almost hear a grating squeak as they rub together. Sque-eze. It is a drawn-out, exhaustive movement that saps the strength from me and squashes the air into a concentrated flow, steering it with purpose. Drawing on the lift from the bunker store below, it funnels the air higher up towards the larynx, the colour of the muscle pinkening, before releasing duties over to the lungs.

They are still fat with oxygen. The branched bronchioles bulge against the air sacks as if seeking more, greedy for the sweet taste; the main store in the lower lung is a sunken treasure trove, rich with product and pompous in its surety that soon it will be in demand. The ground beneath them shifts: this is their cue. Reluctant to let it all go at once, a slow release ensues, a battle of control as all three litres of air whistle back up the bronchi and into the trachea in a victorious race for freedom.

In a wild rush, the air flirts past the vocal chords, revelling in the journey’s disturbance, twanging on them like guitar strings and pocketing the vibrations on their way. Atomic couriers, they whizz through the vocal flaps on humming mopeds, one note clinging to the exhausts in an anxious state of pre-delivery, before re-entering the cavity under the soft palette.

This place is now huge, rounded. It opens up through the nose and billows out the throat; externally, a new chin has appeared. It is like a rouge ballroom, the tongue as rough flooring, the palette a soft, gathered ceiling. The couriers delight in this place, dancing around the pearl columns, gathering each atom into a mass of sound ready to dance their way across the tongue to freedom.

A slit of light bursts into the space as the lips are parted. The mass is released in a perfect, smooth stream; vibrations fill the mouth, tickle the tongue, swirl around each tooth, and burst with triumph into the world. An A, two octaves above Middle C. It pings in the listeners ears, a crystalline drop in the vast ocean of opera.

The old man in the front row, his comforting tiny eyes gummed shut with old age, grins.