Happiness

I walked to work listening to Brand New

The first 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 rages and screeches 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

 

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 path trudging through the storm is surer

Bolstered by thoughts of the fires we kindle together

Bound like mast and sail as we traverse these waters

Surfacing in this chorus called Happiness.

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Power

I’ve seen that enraged 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

Police lights coalescing into brandished union jacks

 

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

With disapproving glares

Scornful sneers

Cruel and degrading 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

Seared into 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 find ourselves amidst loss and disrepair

In retreat even as we earnestly stand our ground

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 the 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.

 

These recollections were adrift

Amidst haze and sea foam

As 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 I 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 reign 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 hiding in the shadows

Of this lipstick’s hues

Like I can see them 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,

Ever both performer

And audience member

Whilst never interrogating who dictates

This grotesque show

 

By the end of the night I look in the mirror

And feel like I have been wrenched through a trial

My lipstick no longer gleaming

But etched more like some ghastly bruise

Some ghost of withered dreams

As I grapple with the memory

Of looks of disgust, intimidation 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 rather than 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 I don’t need any embellishment

To instill 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.

An Ocean Between Us

Almost a year ago you called me up

And told me your friend had committed suicide.

 

I remember how the rain struck the windows

As if demanding entry, as if storms

Surged in dirge and bitter salute,

Railed and seethed and raged as if in unbecoming

As if only floods could wash away this anguish

And the devastation craved more victims.

 

I remember how the room was cold, dark,

Shattered, like it could never be whole again,

Like we were clinging to the debris of a shipwreck

Flailing and thrashing amidst the crash of the waves

And all I could hear was your breaking voice

Desperately searching for him amongst the wreckage

As you struggled to breathe, to hold on,

Struggled to resist the overpowering might of the tides

Struggled to overcome the impulse to just surrender

As if you could hear his voice in the storm

Feel his phantom seep through your skin

As the glacial waters and winds numbed your flesh

As nothingness beckoned, crushed and submerged your senses,

And the tempest erupted like a crescendo inside your frame

Like a spectral choir of everything you had lost

Currents hauling in the ruins of distant shores

Every gust of pain incited into whirlwinds

Wresting at your grip

Bludgeoning your resolve

Withering your spirit

 

I tried to reach you, to call out

Pleaded with you to not let go

Cried that I loved you and it was not your fault

But the words were lost in the clamour

And no words could conciliate it

And it felt like there was an ocean between us.

 

They called it an accident

But we knew that wasn’t true

What hurts the most is knowing

It could have been you

That so many cast themselves overboard each day

And we mourn, grieve, but never speak

Of the vessel, the cruelty of captains toward their crew

Or the storms we are consigned to sail through.

 

I remember everything of that night

And nothing at all.

Home

I remember when the words made more sense than this

When the world did

When these twilights felt like home

And I’d hone these fantasies

Until they were real and mine

Mine them of love and loss and courage

Carefully, tenderly, desperately

Consociate, wade, and forage,

Forge, raise, and be remade

As both hero and coward, fool and sage

Seeking refuge in enchantment, adventure, myth

Enshrined by emblems and anthems and withered pages

That whisper of loyalty, grief, grace

Render stronger and more intimate chimeras of myself

Face demons by which I would usually be hunted and chased

Drift, disappear, reimagine myself between worlds

Delve into the fissures and deepest recesses

Of labyrinths and wildernesses

Unearth stories, truths, wonders

Maybe even strength, promise, faith

To treasure, refine, wield, embrace

To shield, decorate, illuminate; lace

Across this cavern’s walls

To lull this beautiful, painful trance –

The abandonment, the derision, the cruel dance

The choreographed steps and motions of violence

Diminished, melded, disintegrated

By this iridescent scintillation

By the sorcery and lightning

That had rent apart a crevice in this mountain

Wrought this hollow, kindled this lambent glow

Where fear is dispersed, ever-present, remote:

Tyrant, shadow, blacksmith, molten flow,

Known and unknown, friend and foe

In this battleground we called home

This sanctuary we keep alone

This brittle armour fashioned from ores of sorrow

And bound together by static and ashes

To veil over and ward away the darkness

 

I sometimes miss this place

And wish I could trace my fingers across the carvings in the stone again

If only for a moment of shelter

To remind myself what it might feel like to unknow the rain

Even though the draught was sometimes coldest here.

Lightning

A voice lingers somewhere beyond the fog,

Beyond the darkness and the mist,

Muted, strained, remote,

Familiar yet alien:

An echo of storms

Seeking to compose melody from turmoil;

Weathered, despairing yet indignant,

Urgent and woven from pain,

Like a cry of fear

A faint longing for rescue, release, relief

Which rails and reverberates like a lament

Rehearsed yet unscripted

Like it does not know what is lost

Nor what there is to be found

Hollowed and deep like thunder

Which expects no response

And clatters without company of lightning

Without rhythm or answer

Without harmony

But cries because it must,

Strident in its grace,

Fragmented, wrenched through the maw of guilt

Loud enough to placate the baying

But too quiet to be heard

As if an elegy, a suspended knell, of resignation

A tribute to demons

Conducted through this ritual of resurrection

As if joy is a breath after resuscitation

That cannot be caught

As we clutch to the crystalline, piercing force

Of stars and moonlight

Riven by the tremors of striving to remember

How to love and resist

Dissonant with the uncertainty of not knowing

Whether this song

Ever had any resonance at all

Or whether it ever will

Whether it can orchestrate the rhapsody

We traced out in sparks of lightning

To break this reciting

Of lines we have no faith in –

Whether we can liberate ourselves from these illusions

This smouldering

And finally, honestly, recklessly

Sing