Trade Burdens

Put your shoes to one side,
Turn around
Open your eyes
Then remove the blindfold
Really open them
What can you see?
Is it a pretty picture
One you would hang
On a bedroom wall
To gaze upon
Each broken dawn
Or one you would bury
Deep in an album
Kept in a box
Under the bed
Dusty with disuse
Only to see the light
When grandkids visit
At some idyllic future time
Of tolerance and teaching
That is yet to come
And may never happen?
Truth be told
It doesn’t matter.
Whatever your vantage point
Gender, skin tone, genetics,
You see things
As you see yourself
And feel excluded
From any grouping
You view as ‘other’.
This is life
(Or something like it)
Your experience
Will not match
That of those ‘others’
Nor theirs, yours.
We are all different
And empathy is not
Experience.
That certain knowledge
Of the unknown,
The unknowable
Could be our strength
But differences also
Divide us
One from the ‘other’.
Those who would understand
Take it further
Try to get closer
To forbidden wisdom
Fail in their attempt
For alas!
We cannot truly
Experience ‘otherness’.
Plato’s cave all over again
Nothing but shadows
Elusive and unfeeling.
We are not all filled
With benign curiosity
Hardly surprising.
For those whose world view
Does not admit equality
It only ends in tears,
Accusations,
Mimicry, farce,
Inappropriate
Cultural appropriation
Labels, stereotypes,
Profiling.
So what do we make of it
This unfathomable ‘otherness’?
Racism, misogyny, xenophobia
Fear of the unknown
Misunderstanding
Embarrassment and even
Murderous hatred.
The persistent among us
Keep picking at scabs
So old wounds fester
To the point of eruption
Irritated by irrational isolationists
Lodestone
To the bitter iron
Of bad blood
Drawing down ire like
Hera in her lousy marriage
Choreographed blame
Detracting from the culpable
To the scapegoat.
Bringing forth bolts
Of heavenly fire
Raining misery
Down upon us
All mere mortals
And still we stand divided
Our own ugliness comes to the fore
Humans racing
Competing for each burden
Losing face and patience
Fraying, unhappy peace
As we ignore our ignorance
Setting aside compassion
For righteous bigotry
Small-minded acts of defiance
Banner waving, street fighting.
Fail Army?
Too bloody right!

 

Telling Times

Wedged into the sofa cushions

Gazing at other people’s parroted opinions

Wasting precious moments on Twitter

My daughter asleep in my lap

Waiting to hear more news

From the hospital

Wondering if grandma

Will need brain surgery

As her Googled symptoms suggest

The paramedics were not optimistic

Though they thought it was just

Concussion at the last visit

Repeating the same tests

Hoping for a better outcome

Can we allow ourselves to believe in miracles?

Or will she, like grandad

Go downhill quickly

Seduced to eternal sleep

By a mundane global nightmare

Transmitted in a hospital corridor

After a fall.

Strange these parallel lives

It is barely a week

Since the last funeral

And already I fear

There may soon be another.

Will my employer be willing

To suspend their disbelief

In the cruelty of the Fates

And lend grudging credence to the notion

One family could be the seat

Of such frequent misfortune?

I cannot say

Only Time will tell

And I continue to offend

That elderly gentleman

Numbing my senses

Scrolling past the paltry nonsense

That passes for news

A political procurer of

Public opinion is protected

By his powerful protégé

After a very public breach of policy

Big whoop. Conservative tastes

Do not lend themselves to

Common causes. He’ll not swing

Unless someone else has something

Sleazier than he can sell

To buy themselves his job

Dead men’s shoes, don’t you know?

The anxiety mounts with each beep of the phone.

We are all waiting

Sick of this virus

And the dread

And the endless grind

Working from home

Trying to focus on the Big Picture

Alongside the minutiae

While kids run amuck in the background

Leap-frogging over the broken and unwanted objects

We can’t yet take to the tip

For a decent recycling

Attempts to home-school abandoned

In the face of reality

They are creating new patterns

In the junkyard of our

Once orderly home

While the pile of dirty clothes

Mounts ever higher

Overspilling the laundry basket.

We have an excuse

We have forgotten whose turn it is

To do chores

All days blurring together

In this strange world of lock-down

At first we were industrious

To a fault

Clearing the decks of any

Half-assed DIY projects

Every evening and weekend

Buying improbable shades

Of garden paint online

Two months in

It’s a matter of sheer chance

If we remember when to put

The bin out.

The phone vibrates with news

And as the hopeful message

Trickles down the airwaves

Past the sleep deprivation

Bypassing nostalgia tinged with fear

To sink slow, clawing relief

Into my foggy brain

I am alerted to a new sensation

The damp embrace of a child

Whose nap time has now

Exceeded their bladder control.

At once I am reminded

It must be a Tuesday.

Bugger.

The bin will have to wait another week.

Loneliness of the terminally challenged

I’ve got nostalgia for the way things weren’t
Aching out of every pore
Oozing and cruising and snoozing
A way around the darkened room
Humming lonely tunes to the dusty
Second-hand curtains
Striped ambition swaying in the draught
That strips the jangling nerves
From my fingers to the fingering of keys
Old style letters locked at arms’ length
Just in and out of awkward reach
Trying to find a balance
On a dented mattress
Elbows sore from shifting weight
Dusk ’til birdsong
Gloom lingers on the brow
Leaving lines from one ear to the other
Hoping to hold my cold cup of Joe at bay
With bayou blues rockin’ ‘n’ rollin’
Across the lonely 3am airwaves
Surrounded by the gently snoring chorus
Everyday keepsakes firmly rooted in reality
Strong stock piled in corners
Well-heeled feet nailed down
To their own groove
I am adrift, tethered by a fraying string
My mind prowling through its wonder-land
Howling a song for the moon

Rediscovering myself

I am looking for the joy that sang in the world
When I wore out my hand-me-down shoes
Saving my fare and walking home
Through Portuguese neighbourhoods
Listening for conversations
Whose words tasted foreign on my tongue

I can almost remember
Watching the sky grow dark with cloud
Anticipating lightening playing
Across high Victorian windows
As voices droned at the edge of hearing
From my seat on the mat

I am sure it may be found somewhere
This sense of wonder, just out of sight
Perhaps around the next corner
If I can hold to optimism
Grit my teeth in a rictus grin
And let tired bones carry me onward

I may see myself reflected in memory
Surely I am stood there waiting
Perched on a doorstep, just out of sight
Down a dusk-dusted alley
Outside the daily grind-you-down
Of this commuter-belt world we inhabit

Where yesterday’s news is recycled, repurposed,
Shrunk to fit the typeface and house style
Even opinions can be retrofitted
For safety’s sake, toned down to win arguments
Bland, dulled to match our senses
Sleepwalking through middle age

While violence echoes around the chambers
Of our video games, our online escape
The falsehood in which we lurk, concealing our true faces
With old images, carefully posed
Retouched for personal vanity and public use
Long before fine lines trailed roadmaps across our skin

Meaningless arguments abound across the Twittersphere
While the atmosphere of the living room
Takes second place and we sit, heads in our screens
Commuting our sentence, communing with contemporaries
To the whine of an air conditioning unit
And the slow, but certain death of adulthood

Who are these selfie-prone, entitled shadows?
I bite down on their tales
Squaring the circle, trend-bucking
In this year’s Melancholy
Today I will be wearing blue once again
Practising mindlessness, in search of me

Counter Culture Cafe

The place where the antisocial
Gather to be alone
Each claiming a four-seat table
As space they can call their own.

We read, write and sip in silence
Observing our counterparts
Affronted by vocal violence
Where chattering children pass

I’m nearing the end of one cup
But pause while another stands
It wouldn’t be fair to counter
The pull of their drink demands

So queueing for table service
I duck to avoid the eye
Of waitress who makes me nervous
By bussing a bench nearby

We know those we see here often
But only on nodding terms
Some barriers never soften
And hand-shaking passes germs

Anxiety takes no notice
With all interactions dear
We pass out our days in closeness
And try to ignore our fear

We’re hardly inventing lonely
Though solitude equals peace
And we are our one and only
Unlikely to breed – we’ll cease

It isn’t a cause for wonder
That our generation stalls
When clearing one’s throat is thunder
Too sensitive for applause

And here in our counter culture
We’re safe from the fond embrace
We run from our awkward feelings
Too late to be in the race.

Comparabolic Religion

Under the same Abrahamic rite
Why is it one tribe must shoulder blame
For all the ills our tongues in spite
May mutter, hiss, jibe, joke, proclaim

Can all those bearing guiding star
And shunned as less than fully hale
In truth be held as such they are
Accountable by any scale

From other creeds and careful groups
And once again, ill fated, mean
Cast out as ‘other’…  Story loops
Unfit to mingle, foul, unclean

How are we in point of fact
In any way so different
When we all, with lesser tact
Live and die with base intent

Dogma and self-interest
Returning fellows to their clay
Here with darkness in our breast
We’ll charge along this alleyway

Now ignorance and cruelty
False, Godless words have spat to shine
We in our turn may twist and see
Of those whose creed does not match mine

Our own ideals overturned
With harsh contempt, disowned, decried
And know ourselves as those who earned
The scaffold built when first we lied

And chose to follow to this end
The unrefined, archaic lore
Hanging decisions on the bend
Of what worked once some years before

To weigh as wanting one who had
An equal claim to all the Earth
As we ourselves who in our greed
Conspired to steal more than our worth

Survivor

I am right there
Surrounded by cockroaches
Squatting in the ruins,
The wreckage.
Collateral, damaged
In the fallout
Of a truly
Decadent society
That looked up to its
Graven images,
Photoshopped.
Idols, now idle.
How they glittered
In their lame, sequinned
Lifestyles.
Just me – a bunch of
Bad habits
And under the rubble,
One drug-addled
Rock guitarist.
Perhaps if we put our
Heads together
We can try
To find words
To remember.

Outsider

Otherness, that Big Brotherness
Shy, awkward, standing-in-the-corner, self-hugger. Stressed
With anxiety. Though sobriety
Lends an inevitable hand to propriety. I stammer
Stuttering a greeting that gets lost upon our meeting
In the chaos, overheating, panic seeping ‘til I’m cheating
Stepping out for some air, with strangers turning to stare
At me becoming aware, of laughter everywhere… Surrounded
Following a pealing that can set all senses reeling
‘Til I’m floating near the ceiling, tongue-tied, fingerless, unfeeling.
Shake my hand? No conversation with the cowards of creation.
I am sinking with sensation when I hear the celebration –
Party pooper! Join the group-er! Super duper! Have you heard?
I am chatting through my hat and it is really quite absurd
Can’t stop thinking while you’re drinking that I’d rather be back home.
In the company of others I am stubbornly alone.
Please believe me that I didn’t want to crowd your little clique.
It’s not personal, no, not at all, I’m shy and quiet. Quick!
While they’re quizzical, get physical just grab a bag and go.
I’ll be cruising while you’re schmoozing, floosing, boozing yourself slow.
Thumping heart, still overheating, terror-beaten and guilt-eaten.
Stumble, tumble an apology then fumble past the seating.
Through the constant sea of voices calling for too many choices.
‘Bout to lose my cool again if I give in to Twist and Shout.
God, it’s lonely on the fringes of the automatic out.

Inner Peace

Lie to me, I beg of you
Tell me pretty tales untrue
Undermine my eyes and ears
Petty crime to soothe my tears

Hide what truths I must not see
Lest their enchantment undo me
In Plato’s cave may I reside
Until I crave the world outside

Something to declare

They’re closing the borders
And checking for crime
We’ve signalled our orders –
Each kiosk; its sign
For twenty-one days
On the honour of those
Running far from the virus
No quarantine slows
Here’s the health of a nation
Held palmed in your hand
Shaking; quaking relations
That no one can stand
Find they’re no longer welcome
While terror’s abroad
Though the shape of their income
Is what we applaud
It’s a risk to our public
Unhealthy and pale
No banana republic
With goodies for sale
Will be bribing their way
Past the guards on the line
Who know only to say
“Gosh, yes, everything’s fine!”
Though you’re likely to bring
Things that may cost the Earth
Still we can’t let you in
More than our job is worth
As the siren is sounded
The gates clang at last
All asylum for hounded
A thing of the past
We suspect you of sheltering
Dangerous germs
So we’ll lock down the sweltering
Under our terms
No sex, please, we’re British
The same goes for fun
And in case you seem skittish
I’m holding this gun
With no end of compassion
Our hearts on our sleeve
We’ve resources to ration
So, kindly, just leave.