Weekly Poem #194

Stalking Horse

 

Green lights cling to the last flicking sparks of life,

Flashing a sickly hue over slick, empty street crossings.

Nothing feels real here, glass window panes warp with distortion,

Shop window mannequins scan for lost limbs in the darkness

And somehow, the air is soundless, even the wind escapes it.

These streets aren’t all real, you see, they conceal lethal secrets,

Find the line between the derelict and the pristine, then comes the reveal.

A wild west backdrop, a road runner tunnel, a matte painting,

A faintly unrealistic notion of humanity, meant to fool us, trap us.

Once bustling, these dark stretches of town became home to hunters,

Creatures which can replicate our worlds almost perfectly.

We wander blindly into shop doorways, down alleys, over crossings

And we are never seen again, our essence consumed by something far beyond us.

So many lost in this feeding frenzy, those lucky enough to flee retreated

And found refuge out in the wilderness, abandoning the urban sprawl.

For everyone else, the affliction spread, it came to our houses, to our rooms,

Swallowed up into darkness by our bathrooms, beds and wardrobes,

No longer able to differentiate between reality and the jaws of oblivion.

People we’d known and loved all our lives, transformed into anglerfish lures,

Guiding us deeper into a pit of blackness so thick it crushes bones to powder.

This is our apex predator, our balance, our enemy, our looming demise,

The slippery ledge that lost us our grip on this lonely, shrinking world.

Where did they come from? How long did it take them to become this way?

None of those questions mattered anymore, as we recoiled away from all we’d built,

And abandoned our legacy to ensure our survival, to preserve our stagnant remains.

Some wondered if, somehow, we had created these things, from guilt, from pain,

Or in our arrogance, we’d never seen them coming, despite all the warnings.

The streets hang open, and hang silent, soon nature will restore itself, but not for us.

Weekly Poem #193

Responding in Kind

 

What should I say? I ask you, how should I phrase it?

Standing ten feet tall across the chest of a dying man

After pressing a blade against his neck and pushing it through.

Fighting off that impulse to plug his wound and hold him steady,

Watching him writhe, choke, succumb to fear, and then the rest.

Silence just doesn’t seem good enough, does it?

A disdainful look and a corridor of silence for his whimpers to rattle down,

Throat growling and clattering like a tin case filled with ground soot

Mixed with foreign soil to take home and place on the mantlepiece,

A testament to an alien world he’ll never have to visit again.

Instead, he’ll die here, and the soil stays put, waiting for the blood to dry up.

A word of comfort? How can I say that everything will be okay?

When you stand over the precipice of a cold cavernous abyss next to a stranger,

How can you claim you know what’s beneath, if all you’re going to do is push them in.

It’s not going to be okay, bodies line the fields and long lives lie shattered beneath them,

Draped entrails of frayed destinies strewn across the dirty ground glinting, and fading,

Like an archive of hypothetical happy lives now vandalised and left for the vermin,

Smashed glass, collapsed shelves and shredded pages of kind words, calm words, loving words.

So what should I say? Am I sorry? Should I be sorry, flip the page upside down and now he thinks the same,

Standing over me watching me clutch helplessly at an oozing neck and waiting for death to set me free.

There’s no sorry here, we both acted out of fear and a split second set us apart,

For one final moment we both stood on a thin blade, digging into the arches of our feet, seeing which way we would teeter.

I went one way, and he the other, and now I’m standing here, and he’s lying there.

Please, help me figure out what to say. There must be words in some language to help me end this day,

Some combination of sounds, histories and feelings that will ease him and ease me,

I’m watching a man turn to stone and I can feel the boned fingers of his soul reaching out,

I’m the only one here to be with him as he dies and I have to offer him something, I can’t face those eyes.

I can’t stand the wideness, the bulging, pleading wideness of those eyes, trying desperately to cling to the sockets,

Before they drop back into the skull and let time take care of the rest.

Perhaps I should just smile, perhaps I should just smile and slowly walk away, perhaps it will awaken something,

Perhaps I can unlock some memory or crumb of comfort in his mind with that wordless smile,

And let him drift into an unending sleep with some sense of goodness in his mind, his fraction of a lifetime.

What should I say? No words are good enough, no words for the fear, the fury, the futility of it all.

We were brought here to fight for reasons we don’t even grasp, and then you ask us to search for words

While we stand across the bodies of men we never knew enough to hate and see them suffer

At our own hands again and again until it’s our turn to gaze skyward until the shutters close.

We don’t want to be here, and yet we carry on, say our prayers, write our letters and load our rifles,

We carry on, because there’s nothing else, whatever world rises after this, it isn’t for us.

What should I say? There’s nothing to say. We left our voices at home. We’ll never get them back.

 

Weekly Poem #192

Locust Wings

 

Ancient things, sat unmoving for hundreds of lifetimes,

Waiting for a precise moment, for conditions near impossible,

Like a passenger waiting on a platform, cold and patient,

Waiting for a certain train, with certain passengers, at a certain time.

Locust wings emerge, like drawn scimitars, and ravage the air,

Cutting it into fine strands as they mass in their billions on the horizon.

Nothing is safe, theirs is a merciless storm which grips and chokes,

A dry blast of heat, barbed with the teeth of decay, all facing out.

Skies of nations are coated, they bridge across seas and oceans

Until the world is enveloped, they mass at every window, blot out the sun,

Push their way beneath doors and send the masses into panic,

Laying claim to everything we’ve built, the garden beneath our paving slabs.

It’s theirs now, all of it, ready to be consumed and turned to wasteland,

A fitting end to a society built on consumption, a new world order.

Weekly Poem #191

Idle

 

Nobody knows what to do with their hands,

You see it every day, the way they wander, aimless.

Curled around a handrail, tightly clasping a phone case,

Scuttling up and down a handbag strap, concealed in a pocket

Or just together, embracing, unable to uncouple.

On the train, on the bus, struggling for an occupation

Before being turned to keyboard, notepad and lever.

They worry themselves, scratching at noses, picking at tear ducts,

Curving against the nape of a neck, or brushing a bearded chin,

But never still for long, never left to dangle without purpose,

All these billions of years, as the cells became more sophisticated,

Grew skin, bone, muscle, tendon and nerve, became more.

Gradually splayed out into claws, flippers, hooves and paws

Before the thumb bent outwards, and our signature weapon was assigned,

Our liberation, our means of transmitting language into history,

Our mutation, our elevation, our pride, our bane and our shame.

You’d have thought that by now we’d know what to do with them

In those moments between tasks, those idle intermissions,

But still we fidget, we fret and we fiddle, as our hands beg for purpose.

Itchy trigger fingers, tingling palms and twitching thumbs,

Longing for a solid surface to grip, or a soul to squeeze.

Work, craft, sex, murder, shame, love, strength, soul, and after all that,

Nobody knows what to do with their hands.

Weekly Poem #190

The Aftermath

 

I stand up too fast, have to hold my head tight to my neck,

Keep my ears level to restrain the spillage of my freshest thoughts,

Slick across the surface of my mind, glistening and gently fizzing.

Feet sinking into carpet, cold against blood-hot skin, throbbing.

You’re somewhere behind me, bending like a light beam in thick fog,

A weaving cloud of vapour trails trying to tickle the back of my neck

And invite me back, invite me back under, invite me back inside.

I strain fingertips to caress the door handle and feel that rush of cold air,

Impacting against my slick skin and letting its coldness wander in,

Little mischievous jolts pushing into my veins, excited, at play.

That pleasant thirst, that blend of a need and a want for water,

Twinged with an ache in the hips, a dull decline of muscle tone

And a heavy, hard pant picked up from between mattress folds.

I wonder how long this moment will last, how deeply I can dive

Into its shadowy reaches, in the moment between you and the door.

I can still feel you scuttling up the nape of my neck, scratching at it,

Tapping against the base of my spine and letting me back in,

But the moment has already left, evaporated into the thick, hot air,

And so you’re caught in a fold, an icy airway, like the drawn breath

Of a giant, ready to heat up and come again, blasting free

Making all the leaves spiral and uprooting all their trees.

Some echo of a thing too beautiful not to die slowly, too heavy to shatter,

It can only erode, until the dust has shivered into the air, and away.

I want you, I want to push myself through you and see the other side,

I want to hold you tighter than I’ve ever held myself, and more still,

So still that the world around flutters and bends inwards around us,

But we stay still, like beings from a time beyond our own

Who might appear as statues to humans, so still, so slow, so serene.

But I’ve reached the door, and I’m disappearing through the slit

And back out into the world, and you’ll just have to wait for me.

You’ll just have to wait for me, and let the moment die,

Let it decay, let it dissolve, and step across it, back to me.

Weekly Poem #189

Night Island

 

Press your head through the surface tension,

Catch cold ripples ringing around your neck

And take a good long look at the night island.

Wreathed in submersible shades, faded back,

Looming, lurked, nearly lost in darkness,

It sits on the ocean floor, silently alive.

Sometimes it shudders in the murk,

Alerting passing fish and scattering them,

A shimmering blast of shattered, oily glass.

It’s a monument to mystery, the night island,

A monolithic ancient, a burial mound

Which corks the caustic cries of old, old ghosts.

How did it grow so big, so heavy, so dark?

How did it come to settle beneath the waves?

Answers lie within, but you’re struggling for breath,

And it’s time to surface, and catch the sun.

Weekly Poem #188

Pathways

 

Cut between a van and a hatchback,

Shrug off the shouts of ‘cunt’ and ‘wanker’ at your back,

And keep on riding, the system stays in play.

Each morning, when millions wake, there’s anger,

There’s loathing, there’s the burning want to just sack it off,

Stay in bed, hide beneath the duvet and let the world melt between the cracks.

No such luck, up for work, helmet on, dart into the 08:30 meat grinder,

So where do you take your anger? You carry it out on your handlebars

And hurl it as passers by, just waiting to pounce on a missed step,

A poorly executed turn or a slow parking job.

You’ve come to the big city to make something of yourself

And now you blasting over London bridge screaming at people,

Behaving like the biggest adult the world has ever witnessed.

Eyes worn and reddened, lips lined with thick spittle

And the office the only beacon on the horizon, looming.

What do you really hate? How do you really feel about all this?

Eyes forward, keep peddling, ignore the shrieks inside your head.

Weekly Poem #187

Available Balance

 

Listen closely.

Audio waves ripple and bristle through the office block,

A fluorescent light glints off a toothy smile and a cap wrenches from a beer bottle’s neck,

An excited fizz and a bloated laugh, for it’s Friday, and it’s nearly time to fuck off early.

Four thirty approaches like a quick release from a pair of constricted lungs,

The ribcage ripped open so it shatters on the floor, the dust emptied into the waste paper bin.

Paul’s monitor stares daggers into him as it stacks unread emails on his conscience,

His fingernails embedded in the laminated desk and his senses flaring and begging for release.

It’s payday, it’s the exalted end of the week payday when the slips land just in time for the lash,

Around him, colleagues crack jokes about how fucked up they’ll be even an hour from now

And Paul knows that they’re only half joking really, and that an hour from now, he’ll still be here.

Two and three quarter hours later Paul emerges, mind smoothed and bruised from being thrashed against his skull

And it’s dark outside, it’s so dark outside, the sun was hiding when he left the house and he never got to say goodbye.

Phone in hand, Paul checks his bank account for the fourteenth time to look at his wad of fresh wages,

Down the street he feeds his bank card to an ATM to make the fifteenth time lucky and sure enough, it’s all there.

Available balance: two thousand six hundred and thirty five.

Paul rounds a corner, then another, then another, and his path home starts to shrivel at his back

As he ventures deeper into the clutches of the city’s thumping, oozing heart.

Attacked by streetlights and clubland drones Paul keeps his eyes down, can’t risk being recognised,

As the drones roll back and the affluent stench of the upper market slithers into his nostrils.

Eyes cast up from his feet, Paul makes a beeline for the most expensive hotel he can find, and heads inside.

A room for one for the night, time’s tight and the price is right, he says, his soul still outside, frozen in the lamplight.

Room booked, available balance: seven hundred and thirty five.

No baggage, no bedmate, the staff look at him with crescent-shaped eyes as he heads for the lift, card in hand,

The music in the lift sounds like white noise to his weatherbeaten cochleas, reflection drifting in and out of focus

Until he reaches the eighth floor.

A woman in a flowing red dress brushes past him in the hallway and it takes all his willpower not to vomit in her face,

His stomach turns itself a few precious times as his reaches the door to his deluxe suite, swipes the card, and heads in.

Huge king bed, tasteful upholstery, massive fucking bathroom, space for days, warmth without comfort, desolation.

He goes straight for the TV and turns it way up, cracks open the mini-fridge, mini-bar rampage, vodka, beer, gin, whiskey,

He sucks it all down until his legs give and he collapses on the bed, runs puke up the spare pillow and watches the ceiling shift.

Available balance: six hundred and fourteen.

Can’t sleep, mustn’t sleep, Paul chucks the puke-ridden pillow in bathtub and makes for the phone,

Hello? Room service, you’re going to want a pen for this, I’ve got a lot to order and not all of it is on the menu.

Lashings of hot lobster, luxury liquor cabinet, fistfuls of fish eggs, seven prime steaks and a selection of cigars,

That’s not the half of it, Paul nudges and winks, reminds them that he’s spending big and within 15 minutes there’s a number in his hand,

Five grams of what, you say? Yes sir, right away, your wish is our command and we can be ever so discreet.

Available balance: one hundred and sixty two.

Forward a few hours, crustacean flesh lined around lips thick with saliva, nose like a hole bored out by a hot drill,

Sweet wrappers everywhere, sauce stains on the white sheets, pillow still stinking of sick in the bathtub,

Paul stumbles around, tie loose around his neck and trousers crumpled somewhere in the corner,

He bangs a silver serving tray across the side of his head and wonders how hard he’d have to bang to make himself dead.

Bare feet crunch against a discarded lobster carapace, whole body slick with chemistry sweat, eyes darting in their sockets.

Paul climbs into the shower, sits under it for what feels like hours, lets his fingers prune into monstrous faces and his heart slow down.

Signs of the end of night through the open window, sill still lined with spent cigar butts, some distant sounds of clubbers heading home.

One last phone call downstairs, Paul lowers his voice as if the room could be bugged and he taps out a new request.

Sunlight glinting into the room, she pulls thigh-high stockings back up, searches her bag and produces a card reader.

Insufficient funds.

What kind of bullshit is this? She cries, quotes his lines about being no price being too high, recounts the events of the last few hours

In excruciating detail, every fetish fulfilled and every nefarious need well met but Paul isn’t there any more,

His body sits bolt upright on the bed but there’s no brain in his head, and his eyes are just glazed seashells,

She screams in his face, scratches at his shoulders and spits threats of further violence but they bounce off his carcass

And seep into the sodden floor with all the other sins.

Paul’s fingernails tap gently against his bare thighs, his jaw clenches and he fades gently into the morning sky as hotel security arrive,

They pull him to his feet and cover him with the only clean towel they can find, muttering utterances of disgust which waft around his head, like a crown.

Outside, dipped in frosty cold and foggy dawning light, Paul crumples, surrenders, as late finishers and early risers snap their camera phones

He withers, finding only the strength to clutch onto his rejected debit card like a lifeline.

Available balance: spent.

 

 

Weekly Poem #186

Thoughts Tumble

 

When the mind meanders towards thoughts of death, it halts, it shunts,

Like a pilgrim ambling between flowing dunes and coming to face a towering wall,

A black obsidian slab stretching out to touch the horizon from opposite sites,

An unknowably ancient obstacle, speaking to him, telling him to venture no further.

How can one thread of thought, however harrowing, carve our culture so deeply,

Draw the blood of all our ancestors and send it rippling out to the furthest corners

To pool in the hollows it finds, settle there, and slowly ferment, and stagnate.

You try to imagine the way the universe began, an explosion of pure existence

Snapping out from darkness, like the storm of white bubbles set loose by a breaching whale,

Or the burst of light as a fork of lightning whips down from the raging heavens.

You stare out into nothingness, feeling your heartbeat and knowing the tank will one day empty,

But there’s no way to know what that’s going to feel like, or what lurks on the other side.

‘Nothing’, some say, ‘everything’, say others, ‘judgement’, say some. A chorus of blind leadership.

Living life based on the outcome of the endgame is like raising a child just to see it disappear,

Or watching a kite catch the swelling wind and waiting anxiously for it to fall back down.

So we hide those thoughts, we let them tumble away and fizzle to nothing in our stomaches,

We drown them out with prayers and hymns and drum beats and numbing potions

Because those are the questions we can’t answer, and the unknown haunts our steps.

We stare out into the cosmos holding back the maddening attempts to comprehend,

Clinging to theories and fantasies rather than accepting that we are hurtling through a mystery

Which we will never really solve, whatever leviathans float out there in the gloom,

So colossal that they drift past galactic clouds of dust, so far beyond us

That the very notion of their existence would tear a human cortex to neat little shreds,

They are no closer to these answers than we, because these answers do not exist.

Our touchstones of time, gravity, the self, the meaning and the questions and the answers,

They all fade away when you yield to the infinite, or to the coming end.

When the mind meanders towards death, it halts, it shunts,

But when the body goes with it, they soften together, and open up to it.

Weekly Poem #185

Chinese Lanterns

 

There are days when I walk out the door and I’m surprised to see the sun,

Still hanging up there, resolute, like a stubborn blister wreathed in swells.

Winding down back alleys, eyes crooked, jaw numb from coke and senses damp,

Waving arms for balance, or perhaps for joy, or even for help, it’s sometimes hard to tell.

Find the edge of a stranger’s wall for balance and vomit over your own shoes

As some onlooker from a perching window leans out and calls you a monster,

Your scales, claws, bulging green eyes and sharp teeth faintly lit by Chinese lanterns.

Those mornings wrapped in the constricting embrace of a crinkled duvet,

Grasping blindly for the glass of water you forgot to leave out for yourself last night,

Letting Netflix bounce off the back of your eyes and flood your brain with white noise.

Someone’s calling from the distance and asking whether you’re out again tonight,

Or maybe it’s just a voice inside your head, kept back by hungover throes.

In either case, the answer was still going to be yes, the door is made of plywood

And you’re wearing your steel toecap boots again, still sprinkled with sawdust.

Sometimes it’s better to laugh, other times it’s enough to turn your stomach into a kiln,

And sometimes you wonder whether or not to just walk away from everything.

You might wear it well, you might drag it up and down town like a burlap sack

Or let the streetlights shine off the diamond edges of your priceless royal armour,

But it’s all just costumes, it’s all disguises to hide from the sun, to spare your skin the blisters.

 

Following the lantern chain until it lights up the next link, the next haven, or refuge,

Somewhere else to lose, somewhere else with nails to screw into the soundproof barrier.

Eventually you’ll run out of hardware, your drill will seize up and you’ll find your hammer headless,

Before it all turns to vitamins and bedrest, before you start learning everything the hard way.

A hollowed out head still sticky with residue, eating away at the borders and seeping through.

Lips so dry that they look like death valley landscapes, sealed together by rancid saliva,

Septum little more than a distant memory, knees all worn and banana black with bruising

And eyes lassoed with rings of red, sunken, defeated, feeling out pathways to the land of the dead.

Nobody said you had to keep doing this, it stopped being about the fun a long time ago,

It became a way to crawl inside yourself and shoo away all the nagging, needful echoes.

Battering your way through pint glasses and saying it’s just a way to get away from work,

As if work was just a necessary evil to stand between you and having a good time,

Not a passion to pursue until you feel content to place it down, case it in glass, and pick up another.

Those times when you’ve charged your brain and fired it down the barrel, streaming reckless,

They mean so much more when they’re just an embellishment of a life that all makes sense,

Instead of scattered fractions, each one fraught and fumbling for meaning in a twisting storm,

Or submerged in a kind of lethargic, suffocation oil to keep the migraines at bay.

Take another look at those lanterns, and then set to work on lighting your own.

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