Tuesday, August 12, 2014

In Memoriam: Martin Kemmish

Almost two months, and counting. If I could number the actual days, I would, but I can't because the pain has been too sharp to bury. The mind has a merciful anaesthesia of its own - a blessed coping system. The loss invariably slips through, floats to the surface though. 

There's a big Martin-shaped hole in the fabric of my days, something my heart refuses to acknowledge even if my head technically has. I still look at my chat list, expecting to see you pop up on it, all ready to say MEW MEW MEW at you one more time, and then I remember that I can't. Not any more. Not in this lifetime anyway. I still catch myself thinking, oh I HAVE to share that with Martin, and I have to remind myself that I can't do that either. 

How do you even begin to recover a loss like this? So much of the warp and weft of my life over the last few years has been inextricably bound up with the solid bulwark of your presence there. A solid confidence, knowing that you'd be there when I finally got online to bitch and complain, or maybe just squee guiltily like a 16 year old over something that had caught my rare fancy. There was never any shame in it, never any judgement, not in your eyes. Not even when you were caught in the crossfire of my considerable fury, the inevitable bad choices, the grief and the selfish bitchiness that I always apologised for once I'd given myself a good shake.

It was a fragile solidity perhaps - a tenuous one, but to me you were indestructible despite realities. You weren't allowed to go before I did, I told you, and threatened you with eternal wrath and beatings, and you just laughed and said, Yes, you would wouldn't you. How were we to know that we'd have to face this sooner than we thought? How did anyone know.

You made it ok to be a redhead, even if I was just a redhead in character, not hair colour - although I did change the colour more than a few times too. You made my days more vivid, my conversations more surreal, my entire life more interesting, because I had your chats to look forward to in the late nights and early mornings. 

Almost all our conversations took place at the most ungodly hours, thanks to time zones. Not that it mattered - I've never really gotten over being on US time anyway, since I'm up all hours of the morning and night. So much to say, and yet nothing, because I knew you understood all that I couldn't put into words (and the ones I put into words very badly). You accepted me, considerable imperfections and all. There was safety in those wildly far-flung conversations we had; freedom to be myself, and not be belittled or criticised for it. 

It is so hard to write even these short paragraphs because I don't know what to say. My heart is too weighted, too full, too everything, to be explained in the inadequacies of language and words. All I know is that I miss you, I miss you, I miss you, so much that I can't accept you're not here to hear me say it any more, to go MEW and WUMP, and have it reciprocated in kind. 

Rest in peace, Martin - 'friend' doesn't even begin to cover what you were and are to me. I love you, and I will always miss you, and I hope that if you're looking down at this now, you'll read everything between the lines that I can't say because I don't know how. If nothing else, I hope that I made some part of your life happier, maybe a little better, and that our friendship was as special to you as it was to me.

Love always,
--The Major

(For Martin Kemmish)

Not so long ago when you were ill
Hospital-bound and cranky
I told you this: that you were not allowed
To predecease me
That I would drag you back 
Just so I could yell at you
And throttle you properly myself
For daring to leave us before your time.

Forgive me my friend
For this broken promise:
That this limited, mortal body
Cannot transcend time and space
Impotent fists beating, futile
At the barrier between us
Thin as gauze, impenetrable as sorrow
Where you stand –
So near, yet so far
Your outstretched hand
Passing through my clenched one
Like a sigh in a storm.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


There is the blood-red glory
Of the angels of war
The lightness of the angels of air
Of earth, of sky, of water
Of terrifying beauty and grotesquery
The cat-cold eyes of dark angels
Watching in shadow
The scaled skin of fallen angels
Burning in unrelenting sun

Let me be the angel of the dust
Crouched in the dry concrete of back alleys
Near to the ground, the swirl and churn
Of a thousand feet measuring lives
In steps on the cracked pavement
Spread-eagled in the sand
Of long-demolished houses
The taste of worn-out hopes
Fine-grit in the mouth
Puddled in the mud of faded streets
Spackled by sullen drizzle
Tired scents of stale futures
Seeping into my skin

 I gather the ashes of broken dreams
Sifted like chaff in the palms of my hands
Ghosts of long-dry tears
Exchanging kisses with old regrets
Before fading into dust.

Friday, June 13, 2014


All quiet now.
All quiet in that solitary place
Where all is still and your inner reflection
Stares back at you from a tarnished mirror:
Patchy, half-formed, unclear
Speckled through with rust and age.

There are no rewards for being a 'nice girl’
Nor for being a ‘nice boy’ either, really
(If one thinks about it a little more, that is.)
But if nice boys score sometimes
Nice girls don’t score at all.
In the end all that’s left
Is solitude, and that
Is utterly embraceable – unlike you.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 30: Balloons and Balloons

Inspired by the amazing Jennifer Liston and her wonderful 'Mrs. Noah' poem, and the Mary Poppins story of the Balloon Woman with her 'Balloons AND balloons, my dearie ducks!'

Three months and dithering
Verklempt, unsure
She gave in finally.
Walked to the store, money in hand
Bought that damned book
The one with the detective (she hated the dames)
The one she identified with so much
She wished they could have dinner.
Talk all night. Dance all night.
If wishes were horses – but she didn’t ride
And she’d fallen off the one time she did.
She went to the park. She felt it was calling her.
Breezes, sun, perfect lazy weather
And there at the entrance was a Balloon Woman.
“Balloons and balloons, my dearie ducks!” she cried.
“There’s a balloon for everyone
If you only take your time!”
What the hell, she thought, it’s only fifty cents.
So she paid, and took her time
And picked a balloon, scarlet as the bright stripe
On her defiantly undercut hair.
To her surprise, initials appeared like magic
On the balloon’s spherical surface –
Beautifully calligraphed, an O and a C.
“…Those aren’t my initials!” she exclaimed.
“They’re mine though,” said a voice beside her.
Startled, she turned, and right there was The Detective
(She recognised him at once, she knew his description so well.)
“Maybe this is yours?” he asked, and handed her
A deep blue balloon that looked like velvet and stars
And sure enough, her initials.
“Thank you,” she stammered, and handed over his balloon.
“They say if you wish hard enough, you can fly,” he murmured.
She looked at him. At the balloon. Then back at him again.
“Let’s go flying,” she said, with a smile like sparkling lemonade.
And the Balloon Woman watched with a satisfied dimple
As they held hands and swooped into the air
Balloons flying joyously like flags –
The Detective, in his dapper suit
And the Dame, in her tank top and old blue jeans
Laughing and talking, light as dandelions
On the good spring breeze.

NaPoWriMo Day 29: Portrait

Prompt: Incorporating Twenty Little Poetry Projects into one poem

Gimlet eyes, focused like a smoking gun
The candy-corn stripe of her sinuous upper lip
Trembled in the dark like a Cheshire cat smile
The air tastes butter-warm in cold mouths
Her scent is that of old bones and talc
Charged with electricity:
Musty, dangerous, a tangible prickle
Over my skin
Hell Helle Hellebore
It’s noon in Paris, the ticking minutes
Reflected in her metronome gaze

She drifts by, scentless, silent
The lilacs bloom in Central Park today
Clustered like grapes on the vine
Overripe, sweet perfume like sticky juice
Dripping over nose and mouth
A finif will get you a bet going nowhere fast:
Hell is her name, therefore, hellion
Yo buska ku bos teng kantu sen
Ke faze fabor
The reticulate shadow of seduction
Is a gauze curtain veiling a mystery
A verdant tree sending roots deep
Insidiously breaking up foundations and ground
A weed in an oasis of plenty
She walks on air, and her wings unfurl
Black as steel, sharp as words
As she steps into the night towards the moon

The Dame is a flower at evensong
She shall unfurl her petals like a skein of silk
Watching as knights and errants war in times soon to be
For the favour of a dropped pearl-smile
The stars are her heartbeat, tu l’as vu? Mais oui!
The gun in well-oiled silence
Settles with a wordless purr
Into the cradle of her warm, warm hand
In her hair a rose blooms like a blood drop
Scarlet as the painted mouths of the dead
Their old bones shrouded in lace
And the scent of old women’s talc.

NaProWiMo Day 28: Archie Goodwin

“Will she report what she told me?”
A corner of his mouth twitched. “That’s why I put up with you; you could have answered with fifty words and you did it with one.”
“I’ve often wondered. Now tell me why I put up with you.”
“That’s beyond conjecture…”
—‘Death of a Demon’, Rex Stout
Cat nerves
Dog bold
Dance floor electric
Dame magnetic
Street smart

NaPoWriMo Day 27: Of His Bones Are Coral Made

Prompt: Use only words from a newspaper article

Good night Malaysian three seven zero
No explanation, no fruitful news
Seven weeks of intense searching
New details but no blueprint
For the search ahead.
Found? Not known:
Nothing happens fast underwater.
Good night Malaysian three seven zero.

NaPoWriMo Day 26: First Class Post to Doom, Did You Say?

For Jer, and let's hope that damned package turns up soon eh?

The International Postal System
Is run by a series of  accidents
Disguised to look like organisation.
The mail, sorted by sugar-high monkeys
Is then fed to dyspeptic dragons
Which, being dyspeptic, regurgitate it
Into a mud pit inhabited
By lumbering drunk Godzillas
Duking it out with highly hyperactive Mothras.
The resulting carnage of postal material
Gets sucked down the Black Hole of Doom
From which nothing ever escapes.
It’s said there is a vortex within the Black Hole
Swirling thick with countless billions
Of lost pieces of mail, each spinning endlessly
Forlornly, for eternity.
So the legend goes anyway.
No one’s emerged yet to tell the truth
And neither has any of that damned mail.

NaPoWriMo Day 25: The Boys of Nero Wolfe's Brownstone on Poker Night

For Escamillo, who loves the Nero Wolfe books as much as I do

The boys of the brownstone, in shirts and ties
Studying cards with jaundiced eyes
Every Thursday night the same
(Though work could interrupt one’s game)
Lon’s the dealer, Fred plays aces
Saul’s the king of poker faces
Orrie hopes his luck will turn
Archie’s hand might crash and burn
3am, Saul wins once more
“Next week,” growl the rest and they’re out the door.

NaPoWriMo Day 24: Closure

I close the book on this chapter
And let you go
The memory of you
Like garlic kisses:
Pungent and sharp while fresh
Stale in the mouth after.

NaPoWriMo Day 24: The Gift of the Magi

For my choristers, preparing for competition

There can be only three, of course
In this race for dominance.
Three winners.
Your eyes say it all:
How sweet, to be one of them.
I tell you this:
The measure of winning is not in points
Not even in skill
But in the journey:
The cost of time and discipline
In gritted teeth and sleepless nights.
You lay at my feet
A sacrifice of grit and guts
The best of your abilities
Your all, held in cupped hands
Offered freely
The gift of the Magi
More precious than any treasure.
My children, my loves, know this:
Stand tall, stand proud.
You have already conquered
And I, recipient of such bounty
Can only stand, amazed
In humble gratitude.

NaPoWriMo Day 22: Disconnect

Flattering words
But I stopped listening long ago
About the same time 
I stopped believing you:
If this is what it is to fly
Then I'll stay firmly grounded.
Better mud huts in scorching heat
Than castles in the air
With no substance.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 21: I:Eye

all in the seeing
all in the choice
and i choose
not to dwell on i:
my discontent
my wants
my keeping up with never-ending jones
but to see with the eye
beyond the i:
to be the change
instead of mere talk
to be the voice
where there is none
to diminish i
so the eye
can find needs
so my hands
can fulfil them.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 20: Standards

I stifle in the corset of words
Society has created for me
Nipping in the waist
Of my behaviour, creating
A long line, an elegant silhouette
Shaping my perception like an hourglass:

Proper. Ladylike.
Tall. Beautiful. Slim.
Successful. Smart. Sexy.

Words, bolstered by steel bones
Of societal expectations
Unrealistic as carefully Photoshopped images:
A manufactured standard
Designed to control
To keep us in ignorance
Of the liberating power of being ourselves
And not giving a damn.

Monday, April 21, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 19: Secrets

Four years of silence
Watching the girls
With graceful limbs
Articulate features
Revolve like constellations
Around your world
And I, an asteroid 
Caught in your gravity
Praying you would catch me
In freefall.

NaPoWriMo Day 18: My Grandmother In The Last Stages

I can’t even try
To understand. It isn’t fair.
To say otherwise would be a lie. 

Even though I pray
That all will be well, I know too soon
Inevitably, you will fade away.

Delicate as air
I hold your comb, as you once did mine

Drawing it through your snow-white hair.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 17: Intimacy

peel me
like a new-boiled egg
like birch bark for a whip
like a grape from its skin
until my thoughts are laid bare
an onion stripped of layers
an artichoke heart plucked clean

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 16: Reclaiming No

As girls we’re taught to fear it
To believe that the root of all evil
Lies in saying: No
No this is not right
No I will not submit
No you will not have power over me
No no no no cries the woman who wishes
For a life of her own
And tongues wag and old wives condemn
Calling her rebel, calling her faithless.

Like a mantra we tell our children
Yes. Always, say yes.
Yes until the bottom of your well runs dry
Yes until blood flows and bones shatter
Yes until nothing remains
But a dried-out husk.

We tell ourselves that to say yes
Is to be virtuous
Not knowing that No is power:
Power to create negative space
To push away distractions
To regroup, to grow in the darkness
Like a germinating seed
That to reclaim the power of No
Is to begin to blossom and live.

NaPoWriMo Day 15: The Gift

She greets me with a quick smile
Bright as a sparrow’s eye.
Her taxi-driver husband
Unable to make my pickup today
Has, with rare kindness
Recruited her help.

Her name is Rosemary, her voice
Lilting and laughing, her chequered shirt
Yellow as  sunshine.

Her friend Joan, coffee-skinned and trendy
Wears pragmatism and sunglasses
Like antique pearls.
Around one mobile wrist
Her Pandora bracelet overflows with charms:
Statue of Liberty, a ship
A green glass bead
Glowing like an idol’s eye.

They banter, these two, with the ease
Of old friends, comfortable
As soft flannel pajamas
On a cold night.
No awkwardness, not even with strangers
Their conversation invites, even welcomes
Drawing me in.

Their gift of intimacy, their benediction of kindness
Stays with me long after the afternoon ends.
Having received, it is now my turn
To freely give.

NaPoWriMo Day 14: Elegy

For Robin, in memory of Shane Gibson

Earth and air.
Earth, warm and bold
In each smile
Each goofball moment.
No airs, no pretence
None needed.

Air. Aire. Music
Soaring like air to the heights
And beyond
Virtuoso skill
Drawing life, love, breath
From taut strings.

Troubled Apollo, crafting beauty
From the ashes of your pain
Who knew that your song
Would be silenced so soon.

Lay your weary head down
Upon your strings.
Earth and air:
From grief, from brokenness
Your memory rises from the pyre
From the fire
Like a phoenix, evergreen.

NaPoWriMo Day 13: War Song For Teachers

This is a song for the children
For the broken
For the ones who always hear
You are not good enough
In subtext, in words, in actions.

You are not the sum
Of anyone’s thoughts.
You are not defined by your mistakes
But by your actions and reactions
Your future is more resilient
Than one bad grade.

I will not give up on you.
Success and failure do not define
The sum total of who you are
And will be.
Fail when you try
Fall when you learn
But stand up and try again.

 I will teach you to believe in yourself
That there is nothing you cannot achieve
Through discipline, teamwork, and perseverance.
I will not let you give yourself excuses
I will not allow you to blame others
For your shortcomings.

This is both war song and love song:
I will fight to break those words
On loop in your psyche:
Failure, stupid, useless, ugly
I will not measure you with these standards
But by the yardstick of your capacity.
I will stretch your horizons and show you
Worlds beyond, for you to explore. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 12: To The Person Who Stole My Shoes

May your feet rot in everlasting agony.
May gout strike you and keep you prone
And may your liver sicken with unknown cancers
And give up mysteriously on you.
May your hair drop and your eyes blear with cataract
And may your thieving, greedy hands 
Thicken with arthritis and atrophy in two weeks.
May you never know a month’s wage or even a day’s pay
Because no employer will keep you for longer.
May everything you care about
Be taken from you and may you be destitute
For the rest of your mean, useless life.
May nothing you set your hands to prosper
And may everything you touch wither and be destroyed.
May every traffic light turn red for you
In your worst hurry
And may diarrhoea strike you in the middle of a 4-hour jam
With no lavatory in sight.
May roaches infest your house and mice your kitchen
May your children be devoured by snakes.
May your blood vessels burst and give you aneurysm
And may you not reach hospital in time to prevent brain damage.
May your skin crawl with the pain of shingles
And may you find no rest nor cure.
Be stricken with terminal illness, and be unable to die.
Be humiliated, and unable to defend yourself.
Be cuckolded, time and time over, in public
May pain and suffering strike you over and over again
May you be paralyzed and unable to move
And may you have not a single moment's peace or relief
For the rest of your blighted, unsightly, unproductive life.

NaPoWriMo Day 11: Drawn Threads

A tiny snip. The careful separation 
Of warp and weft.
Drawing out threads, meticulous 
As a weaver bird crafting its nest.
With needle and thread
Fashion patterns from negative space -
Intimate, delicate, lovely.

Teach me to endure:
To see each hardship and pain
As a drawing forth of threads
Making space in the close fabric of a life
To exhale – to breathe –
To create from its sparseness
Transcendent beauty.

Friday, April 11, 2014

NaPoWriMo Day 10: Challenge To A Self-Styled Indiana Jones

Archaeology: the study of human activity
Through clues and artifacts
Left behind from the past
A puzzle to interpret
A key to understanding.

Excavate me
Like a geological strata
Like an archaeological dig.
The clues are there to interpret
The artifacts open for understanding.

NaPoWriMo Day 9: The Secret Life Of Phone Booths

Note: I know I read a poem ages ago about levitating phone booths, and I cannot for the life of me find it anywhere online - the book's in my hometown. So, apologies to the poet whose name I can't remember - this is a fond tribute, not a rip-off because I have very fond memories of that particular poem.

The secret lives of phone booths are complicated.
They stand, solitary street confessionals
Inviting telephone confidences.
Unwilling eavesdroppers of conversation
Each graffiti mark has its tale:
Marz luvs Joolz. Call Me xx-xxx
U sounded like coordin8s 2 avoid were an invitation 2 bed
Down with taxes! right next to Have more sex, it’s free.

Phone booths hold the weight of the world
Within their cramped, four-walled confines.
Close, heavy air laden with secrets
Claustrophobic with anxiety and sweat
The rank odour of dead dreams and stale food
An insistent, insidious permeation.

Such gravity is hard to carry.
Last night I heard a phone booth whispering to another
Through the telephone line:
A soft, dull patter like the rustle of directory pages.
They stopped politely when I made my call
Coins dropping through the slot like cheap marbles.
When I finished, I heard them resume
Before I put the receiver down.

When I exited, I swear I saw my phone booth float
Two inches off the ground, then lift off quietly
Into the air where another phone booth waited
A silhouette against the crescent moon.
But in the morning, it was back in its place
Solid, unmoving, a perfectly ordinary phone booth
On a perfectly ordinary day.