life

dubai

by day

Once you see one Palestinian flag, you start to see them all. From my window I can see eight without even looking too hard, stretched across buildings finished and unfinished. I am too far distanced from that situation to comment, but their presence strikes me. I did not notice them six months previously. There’s no flag on the world’s tallest building. The Burj Khalifa, like an iPhone X alongside older models, sends everything around it into crashing obsolescence. And yet it’s funny how the world’s most celebrated building is the one that looks most likely to leave us for outer space. I guess we all aspire to the stars, because we’ve already conquered everything on Earth. There is nothing very far away anymore, nothing too crazy: weekend trips to Dubai are, for some, perfectly normal. Building high-rise and ski slopes in the desert, perfectly normal. Sixteen-lane motorways, perfectly normal.
So of course, when that’s all so mundane, we need a new fix. 

by night

The city’s highways never sleep, its high-rise never stops winking. There is no city closer to the pinnacle of human ingenuity, no city further removed from human roots. Why was this necessary? For what it demonstrates is that progress can only come with consumerism, with waste, with haves and have-nots. A city so at the cutting edge of our prowess as a species that it blunts everything else – a candy-cane of a city that nowhere else can live up to, because other cities have to be grounded in reality, at least sometimes. Except maybe Vegas and Cancun, there’s no cities with its head in the clouds and feet off the ground as much as Dubai.

And yet, it’s cool. People wouldn’t entertain the dream if it wasn’t. The opulence, the theatre, the improbability, the incredulity – that’s cool. The lights, the architecture, the fact anything is possible if you have enough money, even that’s cool. But the whole place is sprinting – to stay shiny, to stay hyper-relevant, to stay candy-sweet. 

And you can cover a huge distance in a short time if you sprint. But how long can you keep it up?

Going back to London feels like stepping off a cloud, pressing the Home button to leave the Instagram feed and go back into the real world: colours duller, buildings smaller, everything altogether less opulent. But at least it’s real. 

push/pull

push snooze
push snooze again
push eyes open
push back sheets
push toothbrush
push arms into sleeves
push feet into shoes
push food down throat
push out the door
push Oyster card on reader, watching out for card clash
push through platform crowds
push down inside the carriages
push headphones into ears
push back at space invaders
push out and gasp air
push card to swipe in
push button on lift
push start button to bring life to screen
push delete on emails
push cup under nozzle and push "espresso"
push "espresso" again for good measure
push the hours forward
push problems around, solve none
push away the thoughts of mind-numbing boredom
push away your dreams till 5:30
push "espresso"
push back at increased workload
push notifications
push the system forwards
push button on umbrella
push Oyster card on reader, watching out for card clash
push headphones into ears
push past dithering shoppers
push key into lock
push food down throat.

pull back a chair
pull cork from bottle
pull on comfy pullover
pull open the window
pull back your dreams
pull ink across page
pull reality from the mind
pull open Pandora's Box
pull out all the stops
pull drooping eyes open, again
pull yourself up to look at the stars
pull pullover tighter round
pull further thoughts from where you thought none remained
pull no longer
pull back sheets
let eyes fall closed.

a bear from Peru

they’ve closed the Bakerloo at Paddington;
and three hundred people have no place to go.
they’ve lost a bear, the announcements say,
but he’s here on the platform with us,
and look, we’ve cleared a space for him.
we look after this bear,
this bear with nowhere to go,
he’s one of us.

this bear from Peru, 
we’ll look after him,
cause he’s furry,
cause he’s cuddly,
cause he munches squashed sandwiches from under his hat –
and a bear on the tube,
that’s cool right?
like when a dog gets on your carriage
and everyone’s suddenly fawning,
and human again,
and we look at them,
and we look after them.

so why won’t we look after three hundred people
who’ve crossed seas in rickety boats,
and jumped trains to survive,
like kids here do for fun.
why then do we close down stations,
and put up walls,
and keep them in boxes,
and give them nowhere to go?
because they’re not bears,
but if you chain them up
and make them dance,
they’ll act like bears soon enough
and soon enough the fingers point
and say: ‘see?
we were right to lock them up’
but they too step aside for bears,
they too fawn over puppies on trains,
they too are humans,
like all of us:
we’re the humans who take care of bears
on the closed platforms of Paddington station. 

farewells

it's fitting now that rain falls
in puddles and buckets
and torrents and floods;
flowing and overflowing,
soaking me until I feel cold
and sad and sick of spirit.

cause by now,
I've got so used to people leaving,
that I can't shed tears
or feel anything
bar a flood of nothing:
another number,
a statistic,
that I'm happy for -
or supposed to be happy for,
cause each time they leave
they take a little part of me:
a section of soul that for a second was theirs,
a portion carved of drunken nights
and long stories under bridges
and laughter on silent streets
that made things better,
that made big city life tolerable,
and when they leave,
those nights leave with them
puffed up in a whiff of smoke
leaving only a memory
and a smile of their passing
while their train rattles on
through the night.

in transit

faces raised to screens
eyes glazed at a hundred ways to leave,
and everywhere voices
with no bodies
and no souls.

and delays and layovers
that just go to show
that the waiting game has no rules
and not even really any players -
just waiters,
the bored, sick of their job ones,
who'll spit in your food
just to pass the time.

untitled

i live my life in poetry
that makes most things alright:
i'm not one to get too angry
and not prone to get uptight.

i live my life an artist
no rulebook guides my way
and night carries my burning wick
deep into each new day.

i live my days observing
no two things look the same,
the street provides my painted scene
the houses are its frame.

i live my days a-pondering
the thoughts inside my head
with days gone by they're watered
with literature they're fed.

i live my life in poetry –
that's quite okay with me –
for another way to live my life
i simply cannot see.

o tainted dove

o tainted dove
mere twin to winged vermin
destined to cast your doleful eye
upon all that is refused
and fallen.

no crutch for club foot,
nor shower for ruffled plume, 
you languish, wretched among beasts.

'lo as you swoop
wings held back, tiny head held high
a minute phoenix rises from sad dirt
glowing all shades of turquoise
and king of the air
for an instant –
for an instant
too short
o tainted dove,
too short by far! 
as club foot hits breadcrumb soil
you languish, wretched among beasts.

we could have saved him

we could have saved him,
if words were not mere backdrops
to city life half-heard
through tinny white buds.

we could have saved him,
if we’d listened,
really listened and heard and understood,
the line upon line of angst missed.

we could have saved him,
if we’d asked
but they were just lyrics scrawled:
a lifelong suicide note.

we could have saved him,
if we’d connected art and artist:
put two and two together
and made five, just in case.

we could have saved him,
if that was the kind of thing we did
but decay sells papers
and we’ve all got bills to pay.

we could’ve saved him,
if we hadn’t fetishised world fame
and shone bright beams on meagre souls
and made them dance by spotlight.

we could’ve saved him
any of us
and now we wonder why he sleeps
and we cannot.

swim by streetlight

When it rains, puddles form on the road outside my window. Some people love rain for the sound it makes. I love it for the windows it creates into a world far beneath. I love the sight of tiny droplets, seen only upon impact, as if the sky is trying to become one with the earth. In another world, they are fish, nibbling the surface of a gigantic underground lake, only revealed through the rain. 

I shut my front door behind me as I go out onto the street. Droplets flow towards the underground lake past my ears, looking to return from whence they came. It’s been raining all afternoon, and now the lamplight of the street is shone back at me in a golden path. If I sit and watch myself in the pools, and look really close, I can see myself reflected back in the eyes of my reflection. Through my own eyes I watch myself sit motionless, a tiny mirrored me under streetlight.

When I decide the time is right, I sit on the edge of the puddle, my legs trailing in the water as one would in a pool. It feels cool, and the ripples my entrance caused send tiny wrinkles of light dancing across my legs. The impact marks of the pitter-patter rain cease to be falling drops and become instead tiny fish, gasping at the surface of the puddle. 

I hold my breath, and as I break the surface, a world of light floods my senses, a world of azure and sunshine a million miles from the grey city I’ve left behind. I find myself swimming, quite naturally, eyes open and seeing all that swims with me. Below me, I know from previous dives, lies a giant outcrop of coral, in which I know my soul resides. Swimming down, sans snorkel, I see it surrounded by clownfish and parrotfish and many others whose names I’ve never looked up. The only sound is the crackle of the sea floor. I leave the reef of my consciousness behind, and swim, outwards, to where I know cliffs block my path, dotted with caves. In two of these lurk my eyes, in two more my nostrils. My mouth is a great outcrop, still now but for the rise and fall of breathing. I take in every inch, edging along the lines that I know must form my chin and back up, swimming in the maze that is my ear. Then I swim back to the enormous blaze of colour at the centre. I spend a fair bit of time here, watching the coral and the fish around it, swimming, darting from crevice to crevice, carrying messages and thoughts around my personality. It’s rare that I get to observe my own thoughts as though a third person. The city above requires so much of my attention that these dives are few and far between.

But I like them. It’s peaceful down here. I feel safe swimming these waters. That promotion, those groceries, that festival you’re planning; it’s all meaningless here, lost in the face of eternal beauty and stillness. Time is immaterial and I can’t say how long I’m here, but eventually I feel a tug and must return to the surface. The outside world may require my attention. So I swim to the surface as slowly as I can, to linger ever so slightly longer in this paradise, then break the surface once more and am back on the street.

It’s still dark. The lamplight still shines. I have no idea how long I’ve been gone. It doesn’t matter. I emerge and climb from the puddle, dripping like I’ve just been born. If it’s still raining, I can’t tell. On hands and knees, I survey the world: the pavements, the parked cars, the sad dripping trees. Paradise it isn’t, but some days are pretty good. I stand to go inside, then turn to take a final look round at the puddle, by now still. Still waters run deep, I say to myself. I’ll be back, I know. But now it’s time to return to reality. After all, there’s a festival to be planned. Who's headlining that one again? Was it Radiohead? 

On the Bakerloo

today
i smelled the Underground
smell as it used to smell
aged five
sooty and inviting
exciting
the way boarding a train should smell
when the domes of St Paul’s towered high
over the city
and the Shard was but
a jagged figment of thought
a rush of pigment on an artist’s impression
an altogether fresher
less jaded by the nine-to-five
eager to arrive
desperate to strive
London.

it got me thinking:
as blurs form like smog
not one day on and one day off
but gradual
lying and mystifying
and pulling all I know into question marks:
was I five, or was I five times that?
and where then lies the line
of cruel historian’s pen
between my London of today
and that of then?

but one smell told me:
the Underground marked that boundary
sooty and inviting,
exciting. 

the politics of language

I know all the words to this city
but none of the actions to go with them.

Will different words
take me different places?
Do I greet in English
and give away my tourism?
Or stray into hometown Dutch,
and let my accent do the same?
Or pick up French,
that rusty fork of mine,
and prod people with that?
In three languages
I'm still lost for words.

Instead,
I speak the language of everyone I could ever wish to speak to,
and order a beer.