Strike

It’s morning again
Roused briskly with little rest.
The world swirled past me in transit,
Falling apart and coming together,
The beginnings of an outbreak of snow
Glancing across the windows.

I dwelt on dreams
On the knots and kernels of history
Preserved and borne upon the bracing breeze:
These echoes of memories lulled
By the embrace of union ballads
And conjured in the raw material of banners
That emblazoned those panoptic windows
Overlooking the lake
And ensconced us like blankets
On hard floors that were not our own
And have never been more ours –
When the sky, still overcast,
Was tinged pink with the dawn
And the fields were doused with icy dew
And the trees and lake laced with frost
As we crouched with bated breath in those woods
Just before the world blossomed anew
Under a sky of explosions.

We arrive early to the interchange
And it is enveloped in a snowstorm.
We gather in its surge
Struggling to see beyond armslength
Huddled bodies charged
With nervous anticipation
In the biting cold.

The melodies of union songs ring out on the picket lines
Movements of symphonies at once novel and age-old
Familiar like a history, untold,
Though threaded into the fabric of everything around us
Entwining us together
And summoning some dormant courage

Our banners billow and shelter us from the wind,
Brandished, to wreathe us
In their lambent glow
And the chants swell louder
And carry further
Coursing through the crowd
Impulsively finding harmony
Inflaming the drifting snow
And reverberating on the wind

Electricity crackles through our numb fingers
In some fusion of beauty and pain
And as we march the static is unleashed, liberated, effused
Into euphoric and incendiary refrains
And dances of flame
That thaw our chilled hands
And strike through the snow
In the incandescent refusal
Of a multitude of lightning bolts
Streaking and winding and flaring
Like some celestial tapestry
Banners hoisted like lightning rods
Blazing amidst the blizzard
Cascading like an avalanche
Overcoming the grinding rhythms of construction
Halting traffic
Sweeping past every barrier
Into the corridors of power
Its circuitry blasted
Ourselves – renewed
In this elemental resistance
This rising in love
This infinity of song.

We march, and roam, slowly, gently, furiously
Rippling amidst these wandering flurries
Engulfed in the mantle of worlds still unfurling
Finally in control, and utterly surrendered
To this graceful and strident belonging:
The boundless clearing of this boundary.

The veil of snow upon these walls becomes a canvas
Daubed with rebellion
Enchanted by constellations
That we forge in the blurs of the horizon
A lesson in joy bursting and blooming at fever pitch
Through the offices of every classroom.

I could almost see the future striking through
To welcome us home
And it dawns on us
What it might mean
To believe.

 

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Loneliness

Loneliness is not simply about a lack of company
But rather a lack of community.

Loneliness is an overcrowded party
Rhythms mechanically pulsing
Shrouded in a fever of loveless dances
An ecstasy wrought like a bewitching mirror to sadness
As we hide in recesses of the scintillating lights
Grappling with the shadows
Imagining we are better off there
And that no one sees us anyway –
The darkness hurts
But not as much as the torrid glare
Of these taunting, artificial, evanescent lights

I would often go to gigs alone
And have never felt so at home
Strangers connected together
In a chain of electricity
A harmony of aching
A clarity of unified desperation
If only for a moment –
Loneliness is the idea that happiness is just a moment –
I’m always reminded of The Cockpit
And that loneliness is music venues closed down
Lacerated
Redeveloped
Muted

Loneliness is an empty house
But it is also a home –
The foundations rupture and wither and contract
The hinges of doors screech and jar and rust
Locks contorted and bent out of shape
Shards of keys jammed
Furniture splayed and overturned
Glass shattered
Pictures fallen, torn
Keepsakes raided
Memories decayed, worn
Mould creeping up the walls
Heating cut off
Hearth smouldering
Rodents infesting
Bailiffs prowling
Wails echoing from the brittle walls
Sobs of rain leaking through the cracks
Immured and isolated in the cold
Frozen in
Frozen out

Loneliness is perishing, homeless
In the freezing cold of a gutter
Silhouetted by the glacial glow
Cast by the still humming metropolis
Where opulent warmth and shelter tower
Dazzling and sinister
Gatekept like fortresses
Where only those who pay the toll may enter

Loneliness is a workplace of acquaintances
A taut web of transactions ensnaring us to one another
Labyrinths refigured as refuges
Contrived exuberance grated
Against unsheathed claws
As the howls of vampires
Tyrannize us

Loneliness is an understaffed hospital
The ache of overburdened nurses
Trying to conciliate the frayed patience
Of angry patients who have waited all night
In agony with loved ones, to no avail,
Dreading they would not see the dawn

It is an overcrowded prison
And a monstrous detention centre
Loneliness is the idea that the poor and vulnerable and marginalized
Should be banished into cages
Disposed of
Regimented, abused, denied healthcare
Freedom disposed of
It is the the festering architecture of a society
Designed around repression, hostility, cruelty

Loneliness is the brutal job centre
The expanding lecture theatre
The fragmented block of apartments,
Lavish and derelict;
It is the crush of the rush-hour train
Where gazes are fixed to floor or screen
And heads turned away
Volume turned up
As someone is harassed

It is the dissonance of a society without space
For choirs or orchestras
Just a clamour of shouts faltering in the void
Vied against one another

Loneliness is neglect, exclusion, enclosure
Precarity and binaries and borders
A rhythm without a melody
Insipid and frantic and fractured
Sputtering and fearful and heaving
Like the drone of a cracked record
Or the static of Christmas songs on a worn-out radio
Whirring under tinsel leached of its glimmer

It’s how we used to think the snow was pretty
But now we just fear the ice
Closing in on our home
Loneliness seething beneath the glossed surface
Like a shifting, petrified disquiet
Haunting these structures
As the ground disintegrates
Roots of wilted plants glaciated
And severed from the earth
Transient
Drifting

Remembrance

I don’t know how to mourn you

How to do your memory justice.

You never knew justice

And I mourn that.

You have this day

Because so many were wrested from you

By hatred, violence, policy.

You perished in a den of monsters

And we try to revive you with elegies

With grief and love and rage

And cries of your name.

Your flame blazes here

Because you were extinguished.

And my god it doesn’t seem like enough

With our heads bowed

Ashes burning in our veins –

We know it will never be enough.

I swear something of me disappears

Withers, smoulders

Over and over

Every time we’re preyed upon in the streets

And I almost feel the smoke suffocate me

As time smoulders: ravaged, dislocated.

It feels wrong to remember you

Like a comrade fallen in a war

And yet I can think of no fitting ritual

That is not futile, foolish, forlorn.

I don’t want you to be martyrs.

It feels wrong to remember you

Because I only know you through death

Through the spectres that share the hollow space

Of our draped skeletons

Because I wish I’d known you.

I wish the world had known you.

I wish the future had known you.

And if we channel the sparks of funeral pyres

Into infernos that riot in your honour

Our fierce embraces silhouetted coarsely, delicately

Maybe we’ll feel the embers of your spirit

Become a little closer to knowing you

And finally realize you

Release you

Resist with you.

I know how you fought

And I want to fight too

Kindle new worlds in your memory

For all of us.

We gather around fires

And remember you

And try to tell stories of you.

I wish we knew stories of you.

We are scared, and we weep

But we carry these lanterns together.

I wish I could have met you

Watched the sun rise

Over what once were battlefields

With you.

You deserved that moment

And the world is darker without you

Yet brighter because of you

And I only wish I could believe

That you linger like a promise

Forged with every aurora

We demand and persevere for.

I want to believe for you.

But I do not want to simply write a future

That you should have had the chance to inhabit

If not for this rupture

Of abhorrent cruelty

A horizon without you almost feels like a cruelty

Like something you should have seen

Like something that could have been

Like something that will never be

But it is a horizon all the same.

We must try to write it all the same

Inherit, intertwine, imbue some vestige of your memory

With our own flickering flares of rebellion

And reignite futures that were stolen from you

Reclaim promises that were broken for you

Reassert the promise of you

The promise of us.

I mourn for you

Though I do not know how.

Happiness

I walked to work listening to Stage Four

The last song’s automated voice and haunting refrain

Provoking me to wonder whether this was all there is

The torrential rain broke out on cue

Dousing a male uniform that will never fit

I’m branded and embalmed in that same maroon –

The tone that harbours so much pain –

As the thunder pounds inside my chest, siphoning breath

To rage and screech inside my veins

Like a distant and ubiquitous knell

That aches with each discordant swell

Like a siren imploring us to withdraw

And wait out the coming war

Like a portent as the sky weeps in ire

 

The trees provided some shelter

But then the leaves hold so much water

That when it did fall it drenched me through

And trickled through my fingers

 

But I still want to love, and felt the pendant closer

Against my sodden skin

That one we found on the market stalls of Brighton

When I told you I’d finally felt happiness again

And that the sea

Didn’t scare me so much anymore

About how it glistens and cradles despite its fury

About how beautiful it felt to finally find the shore

About how present and still I felt there

With you, as the tides gently lapped under

A tender sunset fire

And our laughter soared from the pier

In a bliss illuminated from the throes of fear

 

I’ve missed you, missed everyone

It’s felt like becoming unmoored once more

But I know you’re still close

As you tell me of the turquoise, shimmering waters in which you’ve swum

Whilst you’ve been away;

It’s a comfort just to know that you’ve been happy.

 

I sing the music we’ve rested to

Inflect these mechanical routines with vestiges of a melody

And reveries of your company

As I carry out their careless orders

Because I want to remember

That there has been more than this

That there will be more than this

That we’ve gathered together under

Those same trees

As we basked in a resplendent summer sun

That even when joy feels overcast and shorn

The sky still has horizons and memories

Beyond the storm

 

When I left work it was sunset

And I clutched the pendant tighter to my chest:

The sky was clearer, and beneath this uniform

I felt my skin tingle with warmth

And I thought of the ocean breeze

And how the water cascading from the trees

Could have drifted from that Brighton sea

That the voyage through the storm is surer

Bolstered by thoughts of the fires we kindle together

Binding like mast and sail as we traverse these waters

To surface in this chorus called Happiness.

Power

I’ve seen that incensed expression before

Felt the violence it harbours

That predatory, baleful glare

Scrutinizing points of vulnerability

As you begin to intimidate me and snarl

And I’m already on the defence

Ever vigilant, ever tense

Braced for the raised fist, the shove, the slur

Jarred from conflict to conflict

 

I’ve seen you clad in black vests

Bearing riot shields and handcuffs

Erupting in sparks of tasers

Surging forth in barrages of batons

Stalking through mists of CS gas

Displacing and dispossessing and devastating

 

I’ve seen you in fascists marching the streets

Hurling bottles, punches, venomous vitriol

Phalanxes of cops guarding your ranks

Guaranteeing your safety

Until the lines mingle and blur

‘Facilitating’ – participating in – your strategy

To control the streets through force

And menace the marginalized

Police lights coalescing into brandished union jacks

 

I’ve seen you command the spaces of buses and trains

With disapproving stares

Scornful sneers

Cruel and humiliating remarks

Belligerently reminding us that we are other

Unwelcome, a pestilence, lesser

Weak and decadent and impostor

Deviant to be punished

Malfunction of nature to be forcibly cured

Legitimate target to be preyed upon

For nation, for pride, for power

 

I see you in flags still casting a shroud

Over occupied and colonized lands

I see you in glacial prison cells

Devoid of humanity and compassion

I see you in love, manipulated and contorted

Into another territory to be conquered, another weapon.

 

I’ve seen that expression as police descended

And bludgeoned us with a grin.

I’ve seen it reflected in handcuffs

Sealed on to damaged wrists.

I’ve seen it etched in scars

That overlap until I cannot trace the contours

And I blame my fragility and recklessness.

 

I want to wear an eyeliner that doesn’t feel stained

I want to construct myself

Out of more than fragments of pain.

I want more of a choice than

To be either martyr or coward.

 

I want to do more than wait on guard

Railing against the shadows

Desperate for those moments clustered around campfires:

The smoke gathers and advances upon forbidding mires

As we search for ourselves amidst loss and ruin

In retreat even as we earnestly stand our ground

Shivering, still, among the echoes of fusillades

Recalling the lost, tending to the injured

And never truly recovering

With even triumph a prelude to mourning.

 

I fear every crack is a fissure

And dare not wonder how deeply they course

How this hurt engraves itself and lingers.

I see you everywhere

Every quarter claimed

Encircled, until I police myself

And remember my place

Extinguish everything

Outside your reign.

Waiting

I know how dangerous the undertow can be

And that you’re the kind of person

Who would dive headlong into a maelstrom

If there was a chance you might be able to rescue someone

 

I saw you in the colour of a stranger’s maroon dress

That grievous night of waiting

Steeped in the water’s depths,

Frozen in catastrophe

Fragmented memories of dancing

Scattered amidst the furies of the rain and wind

Fibres of fabric fraying

Unravelling and spiralling

Their dreams of splendour and passion

Dashed upon the rocks

Flurried steps capsizing into oblivion

Words washed off worn scripts

As we floundered, choked, panicked

Desperately casting out cords

Hoping something might catch

Clambering with dread

Into the crowded, punctured lifeboat

All our frantic efforts to keep it steady lacking

Terrified the glacial cold would set in

Before we reached the shore

Doubting, even, that there was a shore at all

Helplessly waiting

As reapers patrolled and shrieked overhead

And encircled us in shadow

 

I thought back to that day you said you liked the colour:

It was animated as I watched you draw

With the gentle tones of watercolour

As the rain pattered the window

And tender soundscapes ensconced us

On those afternoons when we didn’t mind so much

That the clouds had shrouded the sun

And the colours had fled from the sky

When you could invigorate every last one

With the tip of your pencil.

 

Like splinters of wood and shreds of sail

These recollections were adrift

Amidst haze and sea foam –

I watched the maroon bleed from the dress

And some part of me wished

You could have been there to repaint it

 

I wondered whether they would ever see

This colour in the same light again

I wondered just how many stories a hue can hold

When here beauty just feels like a stain

I wondered how many tragedies

A frame can endure before it unfolds

 

That’s why I didn’t call

Even though I thought about it

For every agonizing minute

Because I don’t want to expect you

To repair these withered seams

To ensure these nightmares

All transform into dreams

To bear these sodden clothes

With you everywhere

 

I’m so tired of seeing those I love

Devoured by the waves

Yet we must persevere

As if goodwill alone could save us

Huddling as we wait for the cracks to give way

 

Know I thought of you

In every lurch of the boat:

All that kept me afloat

Was knowing you were not sinking too

And all that steadied my hands

As they trembled from the cold

Was the thought of them clasped

Someday again in yours

Communion

You said you saw a feather fall from the sky

And that it reminded you of him

That it was a sign he was okay

Maybe even in a better place

That it descended from heaven

From his gentle and majestic wings.

 

I dismissed it as coincidence,

As just another shift in the wind,

With a bitterness I regret.

For what are these poems

But an attempt to seek communion

And truce with that which has faded

And will not fade?

 

I wish I could believe what you said

And I wish sometimes that you didn’t

Because there is no glory, no elegance, in death

Only desolation, and oblivion, and tears shed

In the throes of pain and mourning.

 

I’m scared that you cling

To this like a desperate vision

Of release, as if hope can only ever be a relic

And that you only believe in heaven

Because of despair that we cannot change the present

As if these conditions of oppression

Are some twisted celestial plan

And we must acquiesce to drudging toil and suffering

As some virtue, as inexorable and meaning something

As if a test restituted by some future redemption

As if compassion were some barb-wired bargain.

 

But I sometimes wonder whether dreams of salvation

Are that different from thoughts of revolution.

Maybe we’re all just waiting

Under the dominion of spectres

Invoking barriers and illusions

To soften their sting.

 

So I hope you see more cascading feathers

And I’ll keep writing

Both hoping that angels can deliver us from here

And envelop the perished with their wings

Hoping we can soar, and surge amongst clouds, and sing

A hymn which soothes the roar of the wind

Hoping, praying, that there is something more than this

Sleepless Nights

I know there are nights that seem endless

When all purpose and promise collapse

When despair seals you, sets itself in stone:

Heavy, unyielding, the asphyxiating tone

Of an elegy, raucous and bereft of cadence

Jarring, defeaning – as if there is no sense

To be made of any of this

As you wander through the cemeteries

Of everything you have lost

And everything that is

Wondering what might be etched on your tombstone

Maybe the fragment of a poem

That you could never quite finish

On whether we truly live and die alone

Whether life is only tragedy and pain

And there are ravages that will not wane

Wrongs for which we can never atone

Whether this uniform of flesh and bone

Is simply a tableua frame

For all our scars, all our failures

All our doubt and desperation and shame

A host for torment and nightmares

An arena for fiends that cannot be tamed

A memorial, a war cry, a siren song

For all our friends and lovers maimed

And for all the things we could not change

Or whether we can nurture blossoms

From these blood-stained cracks and weathered plains

Roots deepening and intertwining to resist the storm

Whether a touch, a kiss, an embrace

Can soothe and rejuvenate us with time

Whether despite vine and mist and mace

Joy can persist, bloom, thrive

And we can together overcome this bane

With courage and defiance

Doused, still, and tired

But determined to remain

Honouring scars that will not fade

And all those futures yet unclaimed

Igniting shadows and rain

Believing, fighting, even if in vain

 

I want to be able to say

I want this, here, engraved

That I tried, I want to try

To hold on and stay:

This is dedicated

To all those sleepless nights

All those aching wrists

All those bruised and forlorn hearts

All that rugged grace written

And that could have been written –

To all that is remembered, loved, missed

 

This is to all those dawns

That could not quite break

For all the moments

We did not feel brave

But still held on to horizons

We could not yet perceive:

Maybe I can enshrine them here

Dancing in the Dark

I feel the warmth of the sun on my skin

Like the softness of your touch.

 

You said you love how everything is more beautiful

When the clouds part and the sun,

Amongst clear skies, shines through.

I love how you believe that the world can be beautiful

You make it more beautiful

Make me want to believe

It can be beautiful

Make me want to write

Of warmth and light

Rather than simply storms and tides.

 

I love how you want to read these poems

Whether I write of either,

That you ask me what they mean

And honestly listen

When I speak about why I write so often of grief.

 

Because persisting through all the maelstroms in the world

Would be worthwhile

To finally be here to breathe with you

To cry and smile and fight alongside you

To savour the scent of flowers with you

To hear the the melody of your laughter beyond the chaos

To explore and dream of visions of the shore with you

To witness pain reforged into glorious tapestries

To feel, to breathe, to be here with you.

 

The clouds have settled again today

But I’m still thinking of the sun

And of what it would be like

To dance in the dark with you

Until the sky is fractured

And the warmth of our bodies kindles wonders anew.

 

I remember the night

When the wind was so ferocious

I thought it might tear the window off its frame.

As we rested under the fairy lights

I swear I’ve never felt so warm or so safe

As I did in your embrace.

 

True Trans Soul Rebel

My untaught hand still shakes a little

As I lace the liner across my eyelids

And smudge it under my eyes

Patching and straightening it out as doubt creeps in

Deriding the lack of uniformity

Like flaws in an unconvincing costume

Like I can still see monsters lurking in the shadows

Of this lipstick’s hues

Haunting my reflection

Mocking me, conjuring some ghoulish pageantry

Jeering like an audience baying for blood

Demanding that I be both less and more

As if I’m a caricature of everything I want to be

And I’m just trying to conceal the fear

The fatigue and anxiety

With stains and shades, a masquerade

Of femininity

That feels more like negation

Than bravery

Not resistance, but concession

To the violence of society

Not a divergence from the performance

But abiding it all too cautiously –

This bleak evaluation

Of how much I want to be taunted or hurt today

Balancing a desire for ‘authenticity’

Against fear of punishment and sanction

A tightrope the dispossessed all tread,

A disguise we all in some form don,

As directors backstage

Instruct us exactly how to perform:

We are both judge and judged,

Faltering at the cues,

Ever both performer

And audience member

Whilst never interrogating who dictates

This grotesque show

 

By the end of the night I peer into the mirror

And feel like I have been wrenched through a trial

The glass booth still confining me as I’m sentenced for fraud

Swarms of scowls besmirching and warping

The unrecognizable visage projected back at me

My lipstick no longer gleaming

But etched more like some ghastly bruise

Some ghost of withered dreams

As I grapple with the memory

Of glances of disgust, insults and heckles

That I screen out with Against Me!

 

And I know the demons have compelled me

To want to rub it off all night

But I curl my lips into a smile

Because despite this fearful trial

I still believe we can be saboteurs as well as actors

And that we can tear down this theatre together:

And each time I apply this liner

My hand gets a little steadier

I feel a little safer

A little stronger.

 

I can’t and won’t wear this binary:

These choreographed steps and expectations of me

Aren’t my reality

And it is not any embellishment

That instills me with coherency

As I feel this punk symphony

Seize the spotlight and occupy the stage

 

Even if I can’t quite see myself as beautiful

I’m trying to be myself

And that’s something

I want to believe that’s enough.