In or out
on this side of inside
or out on the side of the outsiders —
Is it really that simple?
Stick by reed,
day by month,
the swan builds a nest
destined to drown
in the first summer storm
of spring —
but I’ve got torticollis.
Doesn’t she feel
the weight of her wings?
How long is a minute?
If you answered 60 seconds,
then how long is a second?
Save your neurones the workout:
I don’t want you to cut bits into pieces with your mathematical magic —
I’m not buying it.
I’ve lived seconds that stretched out across sandy deserts and sleepy states,
and minutes that measured millimetres, so microscopic I might have missed them.
What does it mean to turn the hands of a watch?
Hours of daylight and geographical position
creating the pretence of an authority that is not mine.
This train is a blink in the frame of those waiting for the barriers to be raised so they can pass the tracks, but a long and rumbling line in mine as my bum goes numb, warming the seat.
Is there someplace I can fly where I can turn back the hand to when yours was last in mine?
With as much starch in wardrobes as on plates,
the stiff neck comes with a stiff skirt.
Watch her swish by.
Don’t take it personally if she doesn’t see you,
the tip of her nose is in the way.
The Fashion Capital
The Fascist Capital
The Racist Capital
The Race-to-the-Top Capital
I can’t be arsed with the capital.
The water comes out of a tap.
The sand is dust on brick.
The only mountains are the piles of dog shit
they are too good to pick up.
Watch her swish right into
Dino’s digested dinner.
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.
Inspired by Italo Calvino’s Le città invisibili – my new favourite book.
I haven’t seen the sea yet but I know it’s nearby.
Anchors on ankles and waves on wrists give the game away. Girls with bodies as waxed as their boards push by. Boys flip and flop, but stay in one place: they’re chilling, bro. They talk about the sea as though it were a drug: with a heavy dose of respect, a tinge of fear and an evident addiction.
Not even the tepid waters of the Mediterranean could ease the July heat in Barcelona. It’s a wet, heavy heat that forms a barrier not unlike a strong oncoming wind, slowing down the pace of life to a barefooted wander. So that’s what I did this month in Barcelona: I wandered. I got lost in the windy alleyways of the Born district, I was led by locals through the greenery of Montjuïc, I metro-hopped until my travel card ran dry and I walked the coast without a plan. I traded in my maps and guides for Catalan kindness.
The more time I spent with the locals, which, as the necessity of sleep was overruled by the exhilharation of wandering, became around 20 hours of my daily ration, the more I adapted: the longer I left the salt festering in my hair, the less I worried about tan lines, the more I relaxed. You know that feeling of panic when you’re floating in the sea and you’re obsessing over what creatures might be licking their lips at the sight of your ankles or over your fear of the rising waves or over the possibility that your legs might tire of treading water before you make it back to s
hore? You might not but I definitely did. Until one day when I was bobbing up and down in the Mediterranean, I realised that the only thing I could focus on was the hypnotic ripples on the water’s surface.
All throughout July, I looked around me and saw people living life. They were soaking up each day, drinking it through their pores until they felt it in their bones. In Britain, there are days when I wouldn’t even make eye contact with a stranger in the street. In Barcelona, I got on the back of his motorbike just to feel the droplets on my face as we raced down the backstreets. No questions asked.
August comes and they plan their migration to the north where the waves are bigger and the sun is cooler. I’m heading north too, but I’d like to think that what Barcelona gave me, I’ll take with me as a souvenir.
I’ve got that feeling again: that strange sensation in my stomach. It could be excitement or maybe the delayed digestion of the truffle oil pizza I inhaled at dinner. New York will do that to you. It worms itself deep inside you and pulses through your veins, feeding you like your new oxygen.
The metro plays a symphony. The brakes screech out the high notes; the chattering is a steady bass; the unabating pacing of passengers keeps the beat while the preacher in the corner takes the solo. The phrase ‘melting pot’ falls short when describing the metro in the Big Apple. A suited-and-booted business man with a Rolex and a frown is sucked into the screen of his iPhone, unaware that there’s child wiping her dirty hands on his briefcase. At his back, a gang of hustling teenagers bust a move for a dollar bill, while some French tourists loudly try to decipher their map. The whole scene is framed by a series of advertisements in Spanish. Are you dizzy yet? If not, then you’re about to be.
The metro screeches to a halt at 42nd street and we flood out onto the streets. It’s late at night but Times Square is lit by its own galaxy of superstars. Models, footballers and actors stare down at us from the sides of skyscrapers. On a recent trip to Florence, I was bemused by the idea that some of the tallest and most beautiful buildings in the city were built by aristocratic families who wanted to get one-up on the others by being the owners of the most grand palazzi. I think Times Square would be the modern equivalent. Brands and campaigns enter into the contest of who can create the biggest, flashiest, most colourful advertisement, of who can blind the tourists most extravagantly. When you remove yourself from the square’s glare, your eyes readjust as you melt back into the maze, but you never get over that sense of pure excess. On the most humble corner of the most discrete alley, the most unassuming diner will brag about how many grams their excessively-whopping whopper weighs. You go to a sports match and they surround you with screens showing other sports matches. That old custom of ‘waiting’ has been stamped out by an army of busy bees that drives around the city, ready to whisk you away at the wave of a hand. It’s the biggest, fastest, shiniest, loudest mass, bursting at the seams. The energy overflows the neat grid of concrete lines which are entrusted with the impossible task of imposing order on chaos. New York is a benevolent beast that lives and breathes and helps you to do the same. And all the metaphors and similes in the world will never do her justice, because New York isn’t a city you can describe, it’s a city you have to feel. And even when you make it out of the maze, the vertigo you felt at the top of the Empire State Building remains in the form of that strange sensation in your stomach, calling you back.