My Invisible City

Sussurat is a city of dust and air. Varying ratios of each make up the walls of the homes and the grounds to be roamed. The inhabitants float through life, with an evolved sense of delicacy and prudence. Trees aren’t blown in the wind — they whittle away until more dust settles. Pages of books are turned with whispers and stories are written with the tickle of plume on parchment. Life goes by in a dreamy drift until the day when the Outsiders arrive. With one clearing of their raspy throats, the city’s foundations crumble. Upon finding a shapeless mass of air and dust, they leave, convinced that there was nothing there to begin with.

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Inspired by Italo Calvino’s Le città invisibili – my new favourite book.

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Your Most Valuable Weapon

You are so much more
than the numbers and letters
they use to classify you:
you have a voice.

And the dates and the times
and the names and the lines
don’t make a sound…
unless you shout them aloud.

Even when they join the dots
set up by their tabloid masters,
you can erase the lines
with a single breath.

I know we get it wrong time after time,
but can you blame me for believing
that, deep down, this is all we want —
to hear and to be heard?

Social animals,
hungry for the truth.

Too many times
have they overlooked your ability,
have they abused your adaptability,
have they trampled on your dignity,
as you exercised your right to remain silent.

Your strength is in your words:
the vehicle of your thoughts,
the ally of your actions,
the commander of your future.

Be brave with your words.

When ignorance and fear battle against empathy,
they are your most valuable weapon.

What’s in a name?

What’s in a name? A name tells you more about the namer than the named, given that the name is often given before the name-giver gives birth to the named.

The other day I read about how some data buff in an open-plan office with laminate flooring can determine your wealth, intelligence, and beauty from your name. The letters on your passport are powerless, but the choice and arrangement of them allows the buff to categorise your parents into a specific cross-section of society. He has the right to do so because his parents moved in a circle which permitted them to call him ‘Atticus’ — it’s not his fault.

Ask your question to the father who calls his son Mikel, rather than Miguel, because Franco is dead, or the mother who shortens her son’s name from Mohammad to Mo because Western society isn’t quite as tolerant as she had hoped.

They’ll know what’s in a name.

The Unclean

The harmonica wheezes
through layers of dirt,
but nobody hears.

The putrid air nips at our heels.
On we trot.

The chill battles with our scarves,
But we chalk up their privilege:
blankets, books, coffee, cigarettes.

Probably a pile of pennies,
a horde of the hardest hallucinogenics.

And when it is us who are dead on doorsteps,
imploring divine mercy, beseeching sacred protection,
it will be too late to realise:
Our leprosy cannot be healed,
Our devils will not be cast out:

We are the unclean.

Conversations

Real conversations don’t come along often.

anecdotal diarrhoea
the driest drivel dribbling
the me me meaningless

the smallest of small talk

Not even registered by the scales of the memory,
a light breeze blows into one ear while the words trickle out the other,
leaving nothing behind, they get tangled in your hair,
but you’ll wash them off in the morning with the soapiest suds of the silkiest shampoo.

Goodbye. You should’ve said it.

Until today, when the old lady with the twisted toes turned to the student with the Roman nose and asked him,

‘Are you enjoying your book?’

her voice soft above the clacketyclack of nails on screens.

He was taken aback. We all turned. Shocked. Disturbed.

‘I’ve just started it but so far so good.’

They had nothing to give and nothing to lose, yet that was the realest conversation I’d heard all day. The commuters avoided her eye contact. Some shook their heads.

But only after did I notice that the clacketyclack had stopped.

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Watercolours

‘Wow! Look at the stars,’ said the child at my side.

We were in a transparent marquee waiting for a concert to begin and white lights were flickering above our heads. They continued to flicker throughout the concert, but they weren’t stars. They were reflections from mobile phone screens.


 

Watercolours

I want to blur the lines between me and you,
the carefully crafted contours we’ve worked hard to create.
The wall we’ve built in our digital age
is a wedge that will age while you stand strong.
But in these seconds of solace while the sentinel is gone,
let me creep through the cracks to where I belong.

I want the freckles that cling to my nose to be dew drops.
I want birds to perch on my barky skin
and blades of grass to sprout from my scalp.
I want to associate seasons with colours,
not with customary commitments.
I want to feel the weather inside of me.
Don’t send me rainwater in the stream of photons from a handheld screen.
Don’t tell me about tomorrow, I want to know today.
Don’t give me sun, wind and rain: make me wet, sweat, sweep me away.

I want to finger the paper as the raindrops make it translucent
and then feel how it curls up in my hands as the sun dries it out.
I want you to read the creases.
I want you to see how the ink runs and blurs two words together,
I want to blur these two worlds together.

Ordinarily Extraordinary

‘That’s unbelievable. They should make a film about him.’

That’s exactly why you’re wrong.

If they were to write a script about this man, if they were to pin his words to a page before planting them in the pre-owned mouth of some American stud, if they were to cut up the events of his life  into precisely timed scenes and to wrap it all together with the bow of forbidden love, it would make a shit film… because you wouldn’t believe a word of it.

This man stands tall in the morning after hours of work. His time belongs to those who pass through his life. You get the feeling that even when he sleeps, which he loves to do, his body is soaking up strength to gift to us once he’s awake. His feet are like everybody else’s feet: he has hairy toes and sometimes he forgets to cut his nails. Only they’re nothing like anybody else’s feet because when he stands tall, they don’t just touch the ground, they go deep to the core, down and down. When he speaks, you get the feeling he knows something that’s hidden from the rest of us, something that’s being channelled to him through the layers of the earth.

He’s a regular guy with a dodgy passport photo and a pile of dirty washing in the corner of his room. So if I told you his number was on the speed dial of the poorest souls or if I told you he was the one to dive under while my sister inhaled the salty water or if I told you he jumped onto the tracks on his way home from work to save a woman as the train hurtled through the city’s bowels…. would you believe me?

So leave him in the darkness. Leave him there to shed light like the constellations in the desert. In the city they know how beautiful the stars are, but that doesn’t stop them from turning on the streetlights. Leave him there. Don’t you know there’s a reason he whispers and doesn’t shout?