Breathe

I woke up, as in my eyes were open, but I was acutely aware I could not feel myself breathe. It was as if my lungs had somehow moved on, my ribs seemed to have decamped to some other part of my body I could not feel. I grabbed my phone and flicked to the meditation app. There it was, her cool calming voice giving me instruction, breathe in, breathe out. My breath though, had left me, had just gone from my body. I lay there listening to her, my hands on my unmoving chest, yes my ribs were there but they were still. I rested my hands as low as I could, I daren’t feel for the heart beat in case it was gone as well.

And she kept talking, gentle, soothing, the meditation woman telling me to take a breath in and then a long slow breath out, but how? It had all stopped working. I tried not to panic, this was meditation after all. I tried to focus but my hands were sending that signal to my brain, you aren’t breathing, the lungs are not working. There is no in and out, no up and down happening. At this point I wondered why the meditation couldn’t focus on some other bodily function, like digestion, but it did not.

I am not dead, I know I am not dead. I wiggle my toes, probably I have just forgotten, just forgotten and somewhere at the back of my brain is that thing that will kick start the whole thing again. Thank goodness I woke up, otherwise I might have actually died. Meanwhile the meditation app gave slow pointed instructions, in and out, in and out. I kept looking at my ribs, nothing. My lungs literally sat there, not bothering to inflate, like the last balloon in the packet that no one wants, probably the green one or the yellow one or the horrible pink which is too see through.

I wait patiently thinking what a waste for the meditation app. I wonder how much I am paying for this app that does not seem to be inducing my lungs to act. There is still no breath going in and out, I am panicked but without the capacity to demonstrate it. I couldn’t be less calm and all I can do is wait for that one heaving breath that indicates I am back on the planet.

And then it comes, sweet luscious air rushes in, I suck it in, my lungs finally inflate and the ribs move and my hands lift and I wonder about the delay! Who knows what would have happened if the blood I drank yesterday was not pre-oxygenated.

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The Conference

I have always thought I could become an expert at something, but what? Somehow bring myself to focus in on the minute detail of some corner of history or science, in truth I can barely focus long enough to vacuum, but somewhere I have always thought I would be able to espouse wisdom on some such topic at dinner parties. In my head the whole table are always enraptured as I drop pearls of factual delight, when in fact I have met such people myself and turned immediately away and began to discuss the weather.

I remember one particular erudite person I sat next to at dinner who saw nothing more than the back of my shoulder for the entire evening and to make it worse I was wearing a particularly ghastly brown paisley thing with a mosquito bite on the edge of my shoulder for good measure. No I lack the application, the attention span for expertise, but I can do generality which makes what happened seem quite odd. I think perhaps there was a moment of confusion, a point at which someone thought I was something else, someone else.

And so I found myself on the stage, in front of the audience, with a lap top open before me. Of course the audience could see the slides, but I could see the slides and the speaking notes. And what could I do, but speak. I did not think I could say, there’s been a mistake, I am not this person. I am not even presenting at this conference, I am just here with my partner.

So I gave the speech, at the conference, the conference I was only attending with my partner. Its not easy you know, to stand up and speak, to follow the words when you have not read them before at all. But I did and there was rapturous applause, and to be honest I am not even sure what the speech was about. I don’t pretend to remember a word of it but it was well received.

I feigned a stomach bug instead of dinner only for it to be reported to me (by my partner who had not attended that session but was watching another session at the time) what a standout performance it had been. The highlight of the day, maybe even the conference. I said nothing, what could I say? He would want to know why and I even now, am not sure why.

I tried not to think about it, stayed in my room. I was embarrassed by it, until my partner mentioned that it was available on a website, me giving her speech. He had watched it, said what a great speaker she was. I thought he was joking, he had realised but it seemed not. I googled it, there I was, me- giving her speech, with her name on the banner underneath. My first thought was to get in touch, apologise. But I just wasn’t brave enough, wasn’t bold enough and the moment passed and we travelled home.

And then it came, a week later, by post, not even by email, a short note, three words, ‘We should meet.’ And so there I stood, waiting outside the coffee shop for the woman I had impersonated, who’s speech I had given. I had no idea what to say, I was so embarrassed. And there she was, a little taller than me, same hair colour sort of, different colouring, not my sense of style.

And so we sat for coffee and she thanked me and showed me her other speeches, all of them given by different women, all of them just whoever was there, like some kind of weird experiment, and that’s what it was, at least how it started – as some weird experiment. She had a mad fear of public speaking and so at conferences she angled it so someone else gave her speech and she discovered that almost no one spoke up, no woman took exception and nor did the men, men who knew who it was, who knew it wasn’t her, said nothing. All of them complicit.

And then she told me more, she wasn’t the only one, lots of women did it, they just subbed in to whoever was close to the stage. There was a club, a group, on line, off line, all of them, quietly lauding their victories. It had long since stopped being a way of avoiding public speaking and become more a way of just subtly undermining the status quo.

She gave me her card with a phone number, in case I ever had to speak at my own conference. She said she would arrange it, make it happen so someone else could speak. She said she couldn’t remember the last time any woman ever gave her own speech at an international conference. It just doesn’t happen.

Of course, I was horrified, I would never do such a thing, until of course. It was just a small speech, a nothing speech, a tiny conference, a nothing topic, a general topic, nothing specific, but well, I mean you would, wouldn’t you? And no one noticed, and no one was harmed and so the chain goes on. And if you are speaking next, well get in touch, we can sort something out.

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Melt

 

I am writing this down because we are near the end. I can feel the sun beating down on us. There is not much time left. Was the sun worth it? No. We should have listened to our mother.

We spent the summers sitting in our freezer. All three of us. Every summer. It was a big white square thing that we climbed into in the early dawn. Mum kept it on all the time. We sat in the big ice box and ‘chilled’ all day. We had pencils and books that were endlessly soggy from the melt. The freezer was propped open so we could breathe. Mum struggled to breathe in it but we never had a problem.

We were mostly home schooled. We moved a lot in the early years. Winters weren’t so bad. We sometimes went to a local school for all of autumn and all of winter. It depended on the climate. Mum didn’t like the heat. Didn’t want us out in the sun. Ever. We never left the house in the summer. We just sat in the freezer all day. Every day. I liked the cold. I felt like it held me together. I was right. My little brother was the same.

I am writing this down because Mum wanted there to be a record. She kept telling us it’s important there’s a record. But I never saw her document anything. There never seemed to be any paperwork when she needed it. She always seemed cold in the freezer, as if she was different from us. I think sometimes she wanted the sun maybe, even though she said she didn’t. I don’t think she loved the freezer. She did it for our benefit, at least she thought that was the reason she was doing it.

It wasn’t a normal upbringing. The windows were covered. We stayed away from the light. There had been an older brother. Mum always talked about how he had gone outside and melted in the sun. Neither of us were ever able to figure out what had actually happened. We knew she was a bit odd. We did ok. We always felt loved, even if that love was a bit overprotective and paranoid.

I don’t remember social services ever coming around. I remember an aunt. Mum spent a lot of time researching climate change when she wasn’t looking after us or schooling us. We had a lot of stuff about it around the house. She was worried about the temperature rise. She talked to us, told us what we had to do. How to survive. I think she thought it was impossible but she wanted us to try.

We thought it was ok. We knew it wasn’t normal, the books told us that but we thought it was ok.

Then Mum got ill. It was autumn. She refused all medical help. Then she got more ill. Eventually that aunt came and nursed her through the final days. It was the end of winter by then. I don’t think the aunt knew what to do with us. She would peer into the freezer and wonder. She talked of another aunt who might take us. Life seemed empty, beyond our comprehension. Mostly both of us just felt numb I think. We felt nothing on the inside. It sounds like we were cold but I honestly thought we would be fine, so long as we could stay together. We knew nothing of the world. We only had each other and our determination.

It is summer now, here today, the day we are to leave this house. I think I should feel more something but its like I am made of ice. I feel nothing. Mum is gone. The freezer unplugged and useless in the kitchen. We are to go into the sunshine. We have never before stood outside in the sunshine. Mum had always warned us against it. I sat down to write this. Outside. On the steps. In the sun. But it feels so warm as if it could-

Part 2

When I arrived, there it was on the porch. None of us had ever believed Elsie. But there beside two little brown suitcases was the evidence. Irrefutable. Two pools of vanilla sludge, melding together at the edge. She always said her children were made of ice cream and when they went out into the sun, they would melt. We looked and looked but there was no evidence that they ever existed in any other way. They had gone out into the sun of their own accord. They had simply melted away.

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A passage of judgement

And the sky went pink, vivid pink
Like all the bubble gum I had ever eaten
Had somehow come out
And been spun into clouds.

I stayed in bed

An unnamed woman,
She came into my room
She sat on my bed
I saw the indent where she sat

But I couldn’t see her at all

I felt her weight as she sat down
I felt the bed move
I turned over
Pulled the covers over my head

I tried to pretend she wasn’t there

I thought it would be easy
Because I couldn’t see her
But I could feel the weight on the bed
I knew she was there

I could feel the bed move with every breath she took

She didn’t say anything
She just sat there
She was judging me
I could feel the weight of her judgement

As heavy as the weight of her body

On my bed
I looked out from under the covers
The sky was still pink, vivid pink
I wished I’d closed my curtains

It was the middle of the day

I had nothing to say
No defence to offer
And she was just sat there
Waiting, like a cat for a mouse

I stayed facing the other way

And I couldn’t see her
But I know she was there
Judging me
I hid under the blankets

Waiting for the weight to be gone

But she was there
And so was I
I pretended to sleep
Then slept

And when I woke in the morning

The sky was blue
And I was sentenced
Without a word said in my favour
I breathed out

I did not inhale again.

Dismembered and Unjoined

The noise of the train is a kind of silence.
We have to lean forward to speak
Strain to hear each other

I think its deliberate

I can’t be this person today
The person that I normally am
She has up and gone away

I have disconnected
Dismembered
Unjoined.

All the things that join me up

I have let them go
To run amok on this train
Without consequence

I have released my fingers for example

Released completely
From their obligations to obey me
They are splayed knowingly somewhere else

Strung out on the seat next to me
Pretending to play a piano
That does not exist

Taking up a space that is not mine

A woman looks at me.
She wants to sit down
But I have ceded control

They can do what they want.

My toes, my feet
Have simply walked away
Gone into the next carriage

They have left my shoes
Along with my socks
Astray in the aisle

My lungs are heaving in great chunks of air

They hate the train smell
They are hanging out the window
Sucking in the moist morning fog

My heart is beating to a tune I have never heard

Thumpedy, thump, thump, thump
And thump again
I think about my liver

It might have remained loyal

But my eyes are resolutely closed
I am in a darkness
Against my will

My mouth is making shapes
My ears are on my knees
And my nose is running

It is more of a jog to be honest

But it is unpleasant.
For me
and for other passengers

My elbows are poking people I can’t even see

It is one of those journeys
Where I just don’t feel like me
The shapes don’t fit

Nothing makes any sense

My body has run amok in the carriage

And no one will speak

Train noise is a kind of silence.
It hypnotises.
Its a kind of social blindness.

As we pull into the station,
I put out a call to arms
Thankfully my arms respond

They collect all my pieces
Put them back where they belong

I may not be me

But I will be whole again

At about midday
I wonder about my liver
I wonder, is it loyal?

I am still not sure about my liver

Divide and multiply

I want to know why
When I undivide
Pay my full attention
I don’t multiply

I am simply whole

I unseat myself
I stand up
And shout out loud
No one hears me

I don’t under-stand

I stand up really straight
I don’t slouch
I make noise
I yelp, I scream, I call

No one responds

I unkind them all
Repaying all the kindness
I take it back
And pay it over

It does not work

I unhinge
And take the door with me
When all I had to do was
Was turn the knob

I want to fly

I need to resole
To find my spirit again
Not a simple make over
I don’t need to resurface

I dig deep

I decry
Let the pain slip away
I unwind
Closing the door to the breeze

Yet still I am ajar

A bottle
On a window sill
Liable to fall
To break

An infinitely impossible number of glass pieces

I recede
Plant myself firmly
in the ground
Hold back, then go forth

Redouble my efforts

I redouble
I multiply
And there is the answer
I spread out across the universe

I come apart

And I spread out across the universe
And it is joyous
To see the world again
To re-view

I give it my undivided attention.

Exo-skelete!

Rhythm

Beat-beat-beat-beat

Heart

Beat-beat-beat-beat

Have been thinking
Turning it over

In my mind.
The outside
Covering.

Soft and permeable
No use
In this harsh world

I cut myself

Bleed.

Drip-drip-drip-drip

Like a dodgy

Tap-drip-drip-drip

To prove my point
I want to-I
have made the word

up-‘exo-skelete’!

To go from this
Soft outer coating
To something

Armoured

To bury my pulse
Beneath a heavy
framework

My pulse

Dot-dot-dot-dot

You are questioning
my idea

dot-dot-dot-dot

Sat in my chair
this afternoon
I thought my bones
outwards

I expanded them
I thought them out
in fragments

Out-out-out-out

Through the pores of my skin

Out-out-out-out

Armour, body armour
On the outside

And now I sit here
Enthroned
Resplendent
Complete

An ivory tower
A tower of bone
A hardness
Worn on the outside

I wake from dubious
slumber
Assured of who I am
What I am

I stand to shout

But

Crackcrackcrackcrack

My bones are brittle
Old
It is not how I thought
It would be

I am a seething mass of blood and organs on the floor
The dog comes and licks me away
The rug is stained forever

And I am gone

Gone-gone-gone-gone

The Last Carriage

We of the last carriage
Every jerk, slide, push or pull
We, in the last carriage
We get to feel it all

We dawdle down the platform
Frowned on by the guard
Last through the barriers
Searching for our card

Warriors of the feel good
Into work a little late
Stopped for a coffee
Chatted to a mate

We slide into our chair
Around about ten past nine
You should be glad for us to be here
Because we’re not all the time

We probably spent ten minutes
Tizzing up our hair
We look at the computer
As if there’s something there

Then we chip a nail
And leg it for the loos
We probably come back again
Around about ten past two

And then its nearly time to go
Yeh, officially its five
But ten to four is close enough
Work less and stay alive

We have no regard
for your silly stupid rules
The ones that chain you to the desk
They make you look a fool

We had a ticket for the train
At least we did last week
It’s a season ticket
Oh it might have been, I think

There’s a reason we haven’t got it
How it came to be lost
Yeh for the price of the fine
Not bothered by the cost

Here in the end carriage
It’s like a second home
Everyone is someone
And no one is alone

Sometimes its like the train
Is going to jump its tracks
But we all just chill
We just stay relaxed

We look on with scorn
At those early carriage prats
At the man with the fold up scooter
But really –in solid black

An act of half rebellion
can’t make you woke
We in the last carriage
share another joke

The conductors never make it
Last carriage, their place of fear
You should think about joining us
We’d love to have you here

Literal Yoga

And the yoga instructor says cactus arms
I look at everyone else
It is clear no one is thinking what I am thinking

In my head, my arms are turning green
Spouting giant spikes
I am at a children’s party,
Walking through
Popping all the balloons
Adults look on horrified

The yoga instructor’s voice is calm, relaxed

But I am in the ocean
Swimming with my cactus arms
Spiking fish
Deflating toddler armbands
Parents are yelling and screaming
As small children drown

I don’t find yoga relaxing

Then we’re on to cat- cow
A cat? A cow?
A cat cow? What does that even look like?
Is it a really furry cow that meows?
Or a really large cat that is particularly stupid?
Seriously what is a cat cow?
I’ve never seen one,
Does the milk taste the same?

I find yoga conceptually difficult

Then there’s downward facing dog
Why is he looking down?
Why does the dog have to be so sad?
The poor dog, in a downward spiral
Head on its paws, chastened, sad
When it should be chasing its tail
Instead its caught in an endless downward spiral
Only depression awaits it

My friend says I take yoga too literally

Then there is a rabbit and a camel
And a dolphin
A whole bloody zoo of animals
All of them captive to the human spirit
There’s one legged pigeon
Oh poor one legged pigeon
How one legged pigeon suffers
I have never done two legged pigeon

I recently went vegan
And felt I had to give up yoga

The Captive Page

And so there it is
A blank piece of paper
Pure and clean and expectant

Waiting

Will this be the piece of paper
where the best seller scrawls her words
Or will this simply be a list of

Groceries

A note to a lover,
a wife’s final words as she walks out the door
‘You should have washed up more often’

Arsehole

Is it to be folded, crumpled
Will it get the soft sleep of an epoch
Breaking down in the rubbish or

Recycling

The harsh teeth of the retreatment plant
Gnawed by fraught machines
Pulped, pulped again, reinvented.

Reworded

Does it still know that it was once a tree
Tall and strong and proud
Before its feckless enslavement to human thought

Scarred

By a pen across its silky surface
Marked forever
With blue and black and red ink

Humans

As the first letter forms on its bright page
Does the writer know
Is she, does she understand

Culpable

For a moment does the echo of a tree falling
Does it make her pen wobble
Does she hold firm and write on

Guilt

Do fingers of guilt
Lick the sides of her ideas
By that, is her ocean of thought

Limited

Free the page! Let it flutter in the wind. Let it fly til it finds where it wants to be. Let it be free of your words and your ideas. Unshackle it from your need to express yourself. Let it float down your manicured street. Free. Let it go.