Archives for posts with tag: writing

Hugh knew exactly where he’d find Stevie when he opened the door. What he hadn’t yet figured out though was how to broach the topic with her once he did. He put his phone in his mouth as he fished around for the keys, careful to bite with his lips. Fridays he always finished work early, but purely to buy her a little time he’d decided to do additional grocery shopping. If she isn’t doing what I think she is… maybe we can cook together. Like how we used to.

He turned the key and stepped in. The thick stench of body odour and old sweat knocked him back. ‘Jesus Christ Stevie,’ Hugh said, jerking his nose away. Dropping the phone – and then the groceries as he tried to catch his phone.

He should’ve been used to it by now. The smell. But it had intensified again. This morning when Hugh had left for work, it was far worse than every other day this week. But in the space of half a day it had become more potent again. The stench growth is non-linear, he couldn’t help thinking.

‘Hey Hughie. Back so soon? Hope there wasn’t any eggs in there.’ Stevie stewed around on the couch but didn’t bother to get up.

‘Stevie. We need to talk.’ Hugh left the bag and phone where they fell.

‘Here we go again.’ To her credit, Stevie sat up now and made space for him to sit beside her. Hugh opted for the table instead, windshield wiping a forearm’s worth of mess off it first. He made sure to block her view of whatever game she was playing. He knew it would kill her.

‘Please tell me you’ve sent off an application this week. Just one.’

Silence. ‘Just tell me you’ve started one then. That you’ve found one opening and got a tab open.’ Nothing. He loaded up the laptop beside him. ‘Give me something to work with. Please.’ There were no such tabs to speak of.

Stevie rubbed the back of an arm. ‘Well. I only just woke up.’

‘And last night? Yesterday? It’s three pm, Stevie and you’ve not so much as sniffed a shower. I gave you a whole bloody week. You promised me.’

‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me lately. I can’t seem to do anything. It’s like… it’s like my health bar won’t fill back up.’

‘It’s a soap bar you’re missing. Mum would be horrified. You’re a grown woman Stevie.’ It was too much but Hugh had held back for too long. Perhaps in being so patient and kind he’d even enabled her sloth. ‘You used to go on and on about carving poetry into stone. What happened to that girl? What happened to that fire?’

Stevie shrugged her shoulders. Her eyes cast down to the control pad on the floor. ‘I’ve been wondering that myself.’

These are not really new year resolutions. They’re not even statements of intent at this point. More like the broad strokes that I’m using to tailor the systems and mental processes I’m slowly building. I’m quite pleased with what’s happening on most of these fronts already.

* Developing a healthier relationship with risk and money and commitment.
* Giving myself greater permission to be mean, or at least indifferent, when required.
* More deliberate practice, and deep work where needed. Fuck the amateur hour dilly-dallying.
* Complete first draft of Untitled and get some works self-published.

* Bonus: new job ples. This has been a bottleneck for too long and I should start addressing it as such.

I wrapped my sense of self and meaning around my identity as the big brother. It’s shaped who I am since I was five years old. It has been my north star and my guiding principle. It’s the outline around which I attempted to maintain my colourings.

Obviously I will always be a big brother. Obviously. But still, I’ve always kept one eye on the closing target of all my siblings reaching adulthood. When they should no longer need me. Part of me relished it; the reluctant leader who could finally relinquish control. Who had in fact been purposely loosening the reigns for years. Inviting discourse, discord, discovery.

And now I stand largely free of those old responsibilities. These young women and this young man sit around me as my peers. I offer counsel, not command.

So what next?

The slow creeping realisation that I’ve conceded the only land I’ve ever known. It’s me standing on the far shore of three comings of age, feeling washed up and suddenly finding in this some common ground with my parents.

I’ve been outshed. As I naturally should be. I feel better for it all now. Truly. But that isn’t to say it’s been easy. I opened the door to their personal truths and uncovered ugly mirrored reflections of myself. Glimpsed distortions that shouldnt be seen, perhaps. To find out you haven’t entirely been to them (for them?) who you thought you were.

What was it all for then?

I thought I did the things I did for them(!), for myself. To struggle against type and swim upstream for decades, just to see it was as likely as not to have made any discernible difference on them. I suppose it did make me a better man in the end. So there’s always that.

It’s a curious feeling to find myself in the position of fostering selfishness. Enforcing solitude. Unpeeling the co-dependency that hid in all my noble sacrifice. To realise in some ways I’ve been holding them and myself in a stranglehold, stifling our growth. Does that betray some lack of faith? I’d never considered the possibility before.

I stand haggardly on the far shore now, with these thoughts and questions to keep me company and little else. In due time they may want my assistance again in also crossing over to this side. Should I help then? Perhaps not. Is that the lesson here? To stop nudging things and instead to stay visibly afar, leading from a distance henceforth: knowledge of my safe passage ought to be enough.

I’ve learned this much at least
That you spend the entirety of your life becoming, perhaps – if you’re lucky, that is
But even so, with this particular period, or that one, clearly demarcated from the others, some of the growth is simply more than the rest; stands apart

Those moments or days, weeks, years
when you’re the molten steel in the crucible
the angry hot, liquid empty rage
and at the same time, the refashioning hammer

It takes time and craft and mastery
Self-mastery:
failures and failings both
and those fears faced openly

Chasing it all just to see if any of the new pieces fit
and when some do, you begin to beat away at the clumpen thing again
Patiently, lovingly, with dogged determination

And a thing takes shape.
A re-purposed thing.

As you can track the winds in the flight of birds, so too do I trace the hand of god in your movements
A maddeningly pure grace, simple and honest – made all the more enchanting by your very ignorance of it
Your total commitment to the task at hand, the dedication
as you go about your daily works,
springs forth vitality in your wake
Life, even, as obvious as that which shoots up
from watered soil
Radiant. Glowing.

Perhaps more men have stirred to honest prayer
by the likes of your kind
than by priest or sermon or the knowledge of certain death
whose words are dimmed in your light

Honest prayer:
supplications, enduring affirmations of joy

Disney don’t takedown the image pls

I don’t know if dissociation is the right word
but in recent years I’ve found myself 
revisiting old memories
and seeing my younger self
not as myself, oddly,
but more often as a child stranger
or a younger sibling

Old wounds then unfold and tear again in surprising ways,
catch me unawares in the most unsuspecting moments
A line from some old film seen countless times before takes on new life and cuts me fresh,
leaves me struggling not to weep for little me
Some inoffensive tweet or rediscovered forgotten detail looses old thoughts

And then the big brother in me wants to ball up his fists
and fight something, someone
How could they do that to him? To that trusting child? To me
How could she say that to him?
How could he let that boy think that?

Arman once ran out with a cricket bat to fight a neighbour
who too loudly argued with our mum on the street
and I had to pull him away
even as I, myself the hypocrite, kept a keen ear through the crowding aunties

I on the other hand once mused that the deaths of my parents would be sore days I could easily move on from
– a hurtful truth to admit –
but I would certainly have to die before all my siblings
or God help the world that dared remain in their absence

And that same familial, brotherly instinct
kicks in
when I see small me
Us with our wholly shared genetics 
and him without a big brother to protect him

And if only I could punch a hole through time
just to whisper none of those things were his fault

danse macabre

the ghosts of my forebears hide in my bones,
make them dense, live on in them
they steel me with their collective will
inherited

a hundred stern faces
of strangers
cold women, hard men of small stature and sharp features
some dark, some milk. blue and green eyes amid them.
horse men, mountain men, ganges men.
conquerors, kings and princes. titled lords and judges.

esteemed people of character and repute

the hundred – no, thousand – faces flicker in disgust
as they mount with every passing generation
their cumulated weight ever increasing, as did their machinations
agendas criss-crossing, too many voices at once vying for attention
each straitjacketing another and grinding the whole almost to a halt
frenzied static: a net movement of zero

inert but for their shared disappointments in how things turned out

I wrote over a hundred mediocre bits before my grandfather died just over three years ago. I wasn’t particularly close to him, but I think the piece I wrote in his memory in the days that followed his passing was my hands down best.

And since then I’ve managed to sputter out a meagre six.

It’s hard to shake the feeling that attempting any more poetry somehow trivialises him or his life and/or death. Or that I can encompass any topic as wholly or honestly as I felt I did with that piece. Or that any other topic will ever compare to such a man, who was – in his own way – a giant in his day. I find myself thinking about him more than I assumed I would, post-demise.

It’s strange. I wouldn’t have considered this greaving. But what else can it be? The man has complicated an entire artform for me in his wake.

Sadie released the tight grips with which she held onto the bottommost cereal shelf behind her. She had been sat, legs splayed, smeared across the floor and into the shelving for minutes that felt like hours. Her head turned to one side; her eyes glued to the other, to the boy who hovered in her periphery.

“You’ll be able to move soon. I’m sorry for that. I always am.”

The invisible pressure that trampled her let up enough so she could breathe again. Sadie’s hands dropped to the floor and she turned to face the floating boy. She pushed herself more upright and tried to compose herself, a hundred thoughts running past her as she gasped greedily for air.

“You say you know me.”

His feet daintily touched the floor one at a time. “In this moment in time, yes. Maybe better than anyone you’ve ever known.”

“And you’re not here to kill me.” Sadie looked around her. The people in the aisle were frozen still. Or moving too slowly to be perceptible. One woman was caught in the process of dropping a soup tin from overhead. It still levitated above her eye-line.

“No. Just needed somebody to talk to.” The boy blushed and looked away.

Sadie wiped her clammy hands on her jeans. “Sure. We can talk. About what? Why me?”

The boy shrugged. “I don’t know why. Out of all the people I’ve ever encountered… You’ve always been the easiest person to talk to. Now, I mean. I’ve tried later and earlier. It never works the same. Even when we’ve met before.”

Sadie got to her feet and looked at the boy. “What’s your name kid? You some kind of time-travelling alien robot?”

“Something like that. My name is Ayo: it means ‘joy’. And I’m the last – or only – of my kind.”

Sadie squat down until they were face to face and held his hands. “I’m so sorry. What happened?”

“I don’t know. There’s no way to ever find out. They just stopped existing. All of them. I go back and forwards but none of them ever were any more. But I remember them. I remember my parents. I don’t think I made all of them up in my head. Or else how would I exist?”

Sadie tried to hide her mental gymnastics. “You exist, Ayo. I can see you.” She looked into his eyes and squeezed his little palms. “And I can feel your warm hands.”

Ayo looked at her like an adoring puppy, waiting for her to say all the right things. Apparently again.

“How many times have we met? Ten? Twenty?”

“Hundreds. Maybe thousands. I don’t count. You’re my best friend.” Ayo considered his next words. “We don’t talk about the same thing.”

Sadie stood up too quick and paid for it with a faint head. “Oh Jesus.” She walked up the aisle unsurely. And then down. Up and down she paced. Thinking. All the while the little boy Ayo waited silently. Expectantly. The woman in the aisle still stood under her tin of soup. She’s stuck and doesn’t even know it, Sadie thought. That’s me. “Ayo. You can’t just keep me trapped here. It’s not right.“

“You’re not a prisoner. You live a full life after this.” The boy seemed startled. “I don’t understand. You’ve never reacted this way before here.” Perhaps he was telling the truth and this wasn’t her prison, but only his sanctuary. If so she had shattered it.

Ayo seemed to grow taller before Sadie’s eyes. His hair stood on end and his shoulders lifted. Sadie realised his heels had come off the ground and he was beginning to float again. Higher and higher.

“What’s happening? Ayo?”

The air became heavier. The boy’s eyes began to roll up as he spoke. “Something’s not right. I have to do it again. I’ve got to run it back. You always say the right thing.”

Sadie reached out, through the thick air, grabbing Ayo by his trouser pocket and pulling him back down to the floor. “No!” The boy’s eyes returned to normal as Sadie shook him. “No more do-overs.”

Ayo’s dainty feet touched the floor one at a time.

“Ayo. Listen to me. I know you’re lonely, but you have to let this moment go. You can’t live in this safe memory over and over. You have to move on.”

They both hugged each other wordlessly for a time. Ayo cried into Sadie’s shoulder. And then he left.

(The tin of soup hit the woman in the eye.)

It never got any easier. He only got better at dealing with it afterwards. Sonny took a deep breath in and put the point of his knife to the stranger’s cheek. Perhaps the man would wake up; some did, others didn’t. It ultimately made no difference. The message was clear either way. As plain as the nose on their faces. They would never bother him again.

None ever retaliated or reported him to the authorities, just like his brother had told him all those years past. The best defence is offence. Sometimes Sonny’d cross paths with one of them by the markets. They were always men. And their gaze would immediately fall to their feet. Sonny would pretend not to see them, ashamed of his still-visible handiwork. And they would go about their days without bothering the other.

Sonny penetrated the skin and pulled down the face in a slow wide arc, his other hand pushing the stranger’s face down and away from him. The man twitched underneath him and moved. He didn’t wake. Sonny adjusted his position to accommodate the movements, riding the chest and shoulder with his knees.

He twisted the knife and arced back to make a giant S, that bled into the man’s eye. S for Sonny.

Their eyelashes always fluttered before they opened their eyes. Sonny waited uneasily, patiently. He felt most nervous at this point. What if he’d flubbed the dosage and they just bench-pressed him clean off? The man took a long moment to register his situation: gagged and immobilized, with a blade to the face.

‘Evening.’

He made throaty sounds with his voice and his nostrils flared frantically. Sonny swapped his hands over, keeping the man’s jaw firmly faced away from himself. He lined the knife with the stranger’s eyeline.

‘You settle down and behave if you want to see to morning.’

He could feel the man’s heart beating away under his right knee. His hard breathing blew gloopy strands of red blood across the floor. But the man didn’t resist.

‘You, sir, have only yourself to blame for this predicament. You prey on the feeble and weak. Do I look weak?’ Sonny turned the man’s face to him with the flat of the knife. ‘Look at me.’

The man shook his head and tears welled in the congealing pooling of blood about his right eye.

‘I swore to my brother that I’d never be prey again. That I would choose to never be a victim ever again. And that means sending a message to predators. Would-be predators.’ Sonny slowly undid the gag on the man’s mouth.

‘I ought to take an ear or nose right now.’ Sonny stood up and pulled the man up with him. ‘There will not be a next time.’ The man was clearly in shock, dusting his patterned shirt off even as fresh blood dripped down his face. ‘Say it.’

‘There will not be a next time.’

‘Good. Now fuck off.’

Sonny waited until the stranger fucked off before tucking away his blade. He got as far as a lamp-post before he had to throw up on a tree.

It never got any easier.

Screenshot of Netflix's Punisher season 1 finale, subtitled: "When you looked at your ugly, mangled face, you're gonna remember what you did."
on that note, Punisher season 2, let’s go