22 Feb 2015

One Night in Livorno

It starts with children stealing in the Jewish quarter. It always does, I realise, but it's a part of stories often skimmed over or omitted entirely. These are the sons of bankers and lawyers, you know. These kids are just looking for the broad avenue of purpose before an ever-accelerating train brings them to the narrow alleys of maturity, and they are narrow, sorrowful alleys indeed, let me say.

A lot of thieves steal for the sheer thrill of it, not out of any kind of need. Need is a gauge to be filled; desire is this fountain of unbounded freedom and fulfilment, and the young drink from its cascading nectar-sweet waters until it wearies or, more likely, kills them. Depending on where you come from, that's what's called fate, or perhaps the balance of nature.

So little Agostino asks a jeweller for scrap, which sends the wrinkled man to the back of the shop. Twenty seconds is more than the boy needs to deftly swipe the two gold rings, the jade pendant and the fine silver crucifix. Maurizio, the wider of the two, waits outside on the scooter, kickstand up, engine still on. Agostino is too light and skinny to keep the vehicle upright when it isn't moving.

The pair race off as the jeweller turns his head to the vacant counter. The kids make a dozen turns, winding up and around slender cobbled roads until they reach the nook of a backstreet. There they meet up with the other boys already comparing their illicit harvests, chattering like the magpies they are before curfew, before mothers hang out of windows and bellow their children's names, threatening to deny them supper.

It has become too much, though. The bakers have had enough and the pawnbrokers have had enough and the jewellers—well, the jewellers have most certainly had enough. Maybe it was the time and place, no more, or perhaps it was something greater, something deeper. That would be for the intellectuals to decide, for Agostino and Maurizio's little heist on an ubiquitously pleasant Mediterranean evening shatters, or at the very least greatly confuses, the city of Livorno.

The jeweller takes to the town square yelling curses. The fathers and the elders and the rabbi with his walking stick come to the streets. The jeweller demands to know why these sons of theirs would disrespect their families, would cause so much trouble. The husbands look at their wives in the windows and the wives look at the grandmothers in the other windows, each and every one of them clueless. A great argument ensues. They neglect to wear their yarmulkes! They do not learn their prayers!

The Italians revolt—chaos. They believe the revolution has begun, although its purpose is yet to be decided. As with all their endeavours, it is impassioned; you might mistake the fervour for a night of fierce lovemaking. The men dress themselves all in white, ostensibly the colour of purity—purification, some might say. They rush to and fro with wide belts of ammunition slung over their shoulders, ammunition for machine guns. Why do they need machine guns? Rather: where did all the machine guns come from?

There is a view among some that the Italians are somewhat lazy. In truth, they sleep as often as they do in order to sustain their frequent and lyrical outbursts. There is also a view among perhaps more that the Jews are a greedy people, although those who think so have clearly never met a goy.

Cars stop suddenly, are abandoned, looted, trashed, set afire. One van has crashed on its way to the dockside warehouse for the shipments going out at dawn. Its back doors are wide open, and two identical Marilyn Monroe impersonators perch on the cardboard boxes within. They've opened one and now delicately finger the cigarettes they've relieved from a carton in the box. They ask me for a light with a blasé look, eerie and simultaneous. I don't even have matches on me, so apologise quietly and move on.
The sound of distant gunfire rattles over the city and out to sea. They'll likely blame the Jews for the time being, but a tourist can't get in the way of an insurrection, let alone an Italian one. Giustizia!, they cry, and I will hear it intermingled with errant rat-tat-tats echoing down the streets until the sun rises over strange Livorno. I can't tell at this point if the uprising will be over by breakfast, if I will have bread with olive oil and wine with the overnight revolutionaries on the terrazza. I can't say what became of little Agostino and Maurizio. I only know that I came here to holiday, for my work in Boston was exhausting, and my doctor told me I was suffering from stress. I was to at most practise poetry and go for strolls up into the wonderful hills. It would pain me greatly to know that I, in visiting Livorno, caused this awful mess to happen.
Of course, I don't like to mislead. I can't say that the 1953 Italian Revolution began here or even happened at all, and I haven't actually been any farther south than Milan.


I don't know when it came about, but it's been here a long time. I don't know how it came about. It's like a rock. It's just there, real and solid, and so, so heavy.
Everyone worries.
They live. They smile. They have a problem, and even if it's the kind that doesn't go away, they cope.
You're not the only one.
I know. I wonder if it's something we're given, like getting dealt a bad hand, or if we do something to earn it. Maybe it's both.
You hold on to it sometimes almost as if it's important to you.
Maybe it's a part of me. None of it makes sense. People find comfort in familiarity even in the wrong places.
You cast shadows with your mind. You created a reality.
'It's all in your head.' I didn't create it, but I guess I keep it alive.
It's just a feeling. It's inspired by reality, not based on it.
Fear is real.
Is what you're afraid of real?
I can't tell. Thinking about what's real or not feels risky. Thinking at all is risky. Life is a dice constantly rolling, right?
It's your mind expecting a wild tiger around every corner. There never is one, but you're stuck on high alert as if there is.
Better a tiger than this.
Believe something long enough and it becomes true. Pretend it's not there until you find it never was.
It is there. I can feel it right now.
So accept it and let go.
Right, decide that it can exist but doesn't have to control me. It can be there without weighing me down.
You make it a decision—not the feeling, but what you do about it.
It's like waking up without having been asleep. My hand's still locked around it like a claw, but I look down and it's not there anymore. The air left in its place is so clear I can feel it. I'm unafraid.
Remember how you got there.
It only lasts a moment. I move and the weight of it comes right back and it's like pulling a muscle deep inside me, then I'm right back to where I was, like it was an illusion.
It'll take time. It'll take a long time.
Maybe one day.
One day.

They Called Me Laika

It's cold here in the new cage, but a different kind of cold from the city. It's like a dry winter all the time. There are no bars in here to see out through, only a dark little window. I can hear noises that must be coming from outside—what are they? It's like the humming and rattling along the roads, but it never stops here. The air tastes strange too. There aren't people around anymore, or dogs. There is only me.

The last home I had was big, with bright lights. It was very different from the city, which more and more now I can't remember. The food was soft and strange, but it was better than hunger. The people behaved differently. They looked all the same and seemed scared, and although I never knew why, I got scared too.

There were two other dogs, but I didn't get to know them because of all the work, the exercises with straps on us, the things they did to us I couldn't understand. I did it for Vladimir. He was the only one friendly to me. Once he took me to his other home, with smiling children and warm smells. It felt like something I had known before, long ago.

They called me Laika. I had a different name before, but I don't know what it was anymore, and Laika is fine. It's who I am.

That was before. I'm in this new cage now. The humming is louder and everything is shaking fiercely. My belly feels bad, and it's too warm, but I can't move to get to a cooler place. I can't scratch either. There's no room in here.

Why is it so hot? The noises hurt now, so I fold my ears back. There's so much shaking that it's hard to see, and the straps are sore against me. I just close my eyes. I wish for a blanket to lie on, somewhere away from here. Why is it so hot? I pant, but my mouth is so dry it hurts. Something isn't right. Where is Vladimir? Where is Oleg?

Why is it so hot?

16 Feb 2015

Six Routes


The 11:52 Edinburgh to Glasgow has been delayed. Please await further information.


The train is not running.

/ðə ˈtreɪn ɪz nɒt ˌrʌn.ɪŋ/

trainRunning = false;

The train isnae runnin'.

Th'train ain't runnin'.

Train's no rannin'.

Bloody train's late.

An unexpected event has resulted in the locomotive transport typically servicing this point of access to be unavailable.

The train isn't running, but things without legs rarely do.


I sit motionlessly in the depot as dawn begins to break, a heavy blue over the grey outline of brick and tree beyond the chain-link fence along the rail yard. The cold in my steel is all the more noticeable when the harsh orange halide lights above come on, flickering stubbornly. Then, the engines, the rush that builds slowly, a low vibration moving among all the trains. We hum in unison a hymn of power and industry.



I tried I hope you know I did



The scene is a crowded train station outside a small town. Rain buckets down; the shelter by the tracks is packed. A man stands outside it. Heavy raindrops roll off its arched roof and onto his wind-beaten umbrella, which is close to collapsing.

There is a bell and the loudspeaker makes an automated announcement: 'The 11:52 Edinburgh to Glasgow has been delayed. Please await further information.' A woman, the man's girlfriend, goes out to talk to him.

WOMAN: Hey. That sounds like it might be a while. I think we should just take the bus from town. I dunno. There's no sense waiting an hour out here.

MAN: Let's just wait on another announcement. The delays are never that long.

Some time passes. No one has moved.

WOMAN: It's been, what, fifteen minutes? Twenty? It must be serious… (she squeezes on his arm with both hands) Come on. Let's just go.

The man looks at her, smiles weakly, blinking as a drop of water runs down into his eye.

MAN: You know, I dunno how, but your freckles become more obvious when your face is all wet like that. Usually you can hardly see them.

The woman shyly draws a forefinger down the man's large red nose.

MAN: (sniffing) It's just your sister… it can wait. She'd understand if the weather got this bad. We don't even like her all—

A rail worker in a reflective jacket and red hard hat treads through puddles as he descends from the crossover bridge and towards the shelter. At first his shouts are inaudible in the rain pelting the tarmac and gravel. An old lady cocks her head out of the shelter, one hand securing her hat.

OLD LADY: Did he say something? Is he talking to us?

WOMAN: I, eh—

WORKER: The train's not running.

OLD LADY: Did he say the train isn't running?

WORKER: (catching his breath) Hi. The train isn't running.

MAN: (sighing) We know.

WOMAN: Why isn't it?

WORKER: There was a man on the tracks.

OLD LADY: A man on the tracks?

MAN: Someone jumped in front of the train?

WORKER: Yeah, right in front of it.

WOMAN: Oh God…

The old lady tuts sadly. No one speaks afterwards.

The loudspeaker comes on again after a bell.

'The 11:52 Edinburgh to Glasgow will resume service at: 12:17.'


At rain-slick station,
group of strangers wait for the
train that will not come.

14 Feb 2015

Devourer of Worlds

In this tomb
I dream of endless hunger,
the unsated gluttony
that bound me here,
here in this tomb I built for myself
as a sanctuary.

My universe
clings to fragile arms,
silent elders
clawing at the sky, unreachable.
Fragile as these walls are,
all beyond them is so distant.

I ate the earth.
Emerging, I came upon
a rich world, lush and unspoilt.
I devoured it
and would devour it for eternity
if not for this fleeting life.

My enemies I hid from;
to all others I was foul.
None was of any consequence
on my glorious path.
I feared only the unseen terror,
sweeping pinion, whispering death.

If my alien visage
could widen to a smile, it would;
like my ancestors I know that
my eager spawn
shall spread out as I did
to consume all.

The wait aches my hideous form
in a cruel contemplation.
I will make myself anew.
I will birth myself
from my own corpse.
I will reach for the sun.

The Chase

I move up slowly to that place, my
I alone know;
this pursuit
is my own.

Across barren plains
I seek fertile land
for the living,
the breathing,
a singular and total

Budding trees whisper welcomes
to a hidden glade.
Every time is as the first;
the sensation puts hairs on end.
Each return is a secret

Painted on the wolf's eyes
is the image of the doe,
its transfixed gaze
a still life of

I make my home,
visceral yet unseen,
in the space between breaths.
There is my shrine
for my religion of the flesh,
for my ritual of devouring.

Here I am, always returning
for what sustains me,
like a waterfall, rushing.
I revel in it,
unaware of anything
beyond this bliss.

begs an answer
as I savour the end
of the chase.
This moment
is a little eternity.

Two bodies meet
and each becomes the other.
Life's water runs,
The death is small,
and never sweeter.

A Turkish Poem

Urp gwop, gokok gwuwu,
bawuw gobloblobl,
ubalabl bwupup ku
mrup plupluplupl.

Hurk drwrwop.
Hurk guk bwa tuk,
mwhr gikopkop
brip guk guk guk.


I know without looking
        that the tide
            is going out,
                has gone out;
        as much as I know that
    it must in turn
        come back in,
            the wait is

The pale sea is borderless,
        pink sky timeless,
            dawn asking
                for day,
            a question
        never answered.
    The shore is
        without land, simply

I walk with the moon
    as it emerges unchanged,
        its familiar face
            a blank stare watching
    for a time before hiding again,
        falling away before
        that shroud,
    cold blanket

I lay down
    by the water
    reaching out
between my driftwood fingers.
        I dream hollow dreams
                of the high tide
        that carries away—and
            the deluge
                that consumes.