Vignettes & Poems
Fille Atomique 2017 | Inspired by Philippe Halsman's photograph, Dali Atomicus (1948)
All she wanted was to help the cats get dry. Five hours had passed and this twenty-third throw had been the hardest. Gigi stood shivering by the fire as the girl dropped Nuit inside the door. Poor Gigi, brought all the way from Paris when they fled the Nazis; she was too old for this.
Zazou snarled and clawed down the passage from studio to study, raking anew over interlacing welts; rosebuds embroidered themselves on lace gloves. The girl struggled to push back her dark fringe and blood smudged across his piebald rump, looking comically like a kiss gone wrong. She sighed and involuntarily smiled, then looked up and met her mother’s eyes. Towels in their laps, they got to work.
Her father emerged from the darkroom and stood apart, forehead like a zeppelin hovering over his hands. Even through glass, she recognised the thumbs rubbing away at the print, the chewing of his inside lip, the quick blinking of his eyes. Anxiety tightened her brows, making her squint. The mother watched, cradling Gigi, marvelling at her child.
The assistant limped by with another bucket of water. Gigi was half-asleep, Zazou crouched behind the coal scuttle. Nuit stalked up and down, meowing loudly. The girl almost brought out the fish scraps—but they were for after, when the work was done, when all of them could run free.
“Irene!” her father called. “Irene, Uncle Chava is ready! Are the cats?”
A second’s pause then a circling back to the side street, searching; a sense of inevitability. There, the tall figure hurrying in the distance, slipping in and out of darkness. Almost lurching as it suddenly cuts across the car’s path, picked out by headlights that bounce with the asphalt; cool triangles flash over warm brown. Bare torso like a horse’s breast, taut but fleshy, tapering south, curling towards blue denim shaped by the legs beneath. White plastic straining under the left arm, top folded under. Right arm angling up to protect it, fist closed, as the car passes. And that face: Sour, almost hungry, as though it expects no satiation. Broad jaw, shadowed eyes, and a rushed hostility as the head turns to look through the window… A frisson of danger as our eyes take in everything, and my foot accelerates into an emptier night.
Your Cinema is My Mind 2014
Shells of buildings; this could be Syria or Gaza. Two teenagers stand by rubble, gazing at something they hold, hoodies flung behind curls. A girl creeps along a wall to the right, peers around at the boys; dark attire, headscarf. The camera moves closer. She fills the frame as she turns to looks beyond it, down the street, then swivels her head back… They see her and yell, she darts, they give chase. The camera shifts 180°. Ruined walls and upper stories line this side of the street, few fronts and roofs; the other side is mostly rubble. The girl runs, reaches an empty crossing…and disappears.
She reappears moments later, still running. Disappears. Reappears a little farther down the hill. Disappears. Reappears…standing in the crossing, looking over her shoulder at the camera; rough-edged like a hurried photomontage, flickering like an erratic projection or someone seen through traffic: Flick-flick-flick—girl—flick-flick.
She reappears running down the street…yet also stands at the crossing. The air thickens as both disappear and reappear. Flick-flick. Flick-flick. The boys chase one girl down the street. They cannot see the other, looking over her shoulder, frozen.
Suddenly, she’s unfrozen. Nothing in the scene has changed; flick-flick-flick. Except, she’s become a watcher: She’s watching me. Girl—flick-flick—girl. In the far distance, boys; chasing an apparition. Closer, the apparition; eyes chasing me.
I turn and walk to where the boys were, sensing this is where the ghost originated. Behind where they stood, a room without a roof. In that room, so much more light—as though it has its own sky. And a creature on fire. Like the gill-man but silver-scaled, round O of a mouth as it wordlessly screams, dancing to the back wall, shuddering and burning. Scales tawny at their base, turning black above. Burning to a hollow form, collapsing. I turn away.
From the crossing, a girl watches me; flick-flick.
I return to the doorframe and a bird skeleton attacks, screeching, feathered with the same metal scales. Arms fly up instinctively. From inside, a gust of fire pulls the bird back, setting it alight. Tail like a link-chain, snapping and whirling as the bird gapes with skeletal beak, wings beating, sockets darkly empty.
And then…out of this flying fire and fury, an eagle with shimmering feathers, silver and tawny, edged with black. Focussed beyond me. It lifts its head, pours itself out of the room. Streams down the hill, feathers stripping off and swarming in the air. It pours and pours and pours into the world…above the world…around it…
As far as the eye can see, Scandinavian blue sky. Metallic feathers rocketing, orbiting like manic pigeons, red and black against blue. It is all I can see as I spin: Streaming colour. And somewhere up ahead, an eagle I know is unstoppable.
Three Scenes from a Scattering 2014
Scene One: At the bar of a club, nursing a drink alone. Something whacks me from behind, crashing my teeth into the counter, smashing my glass. Everything is cloudy red and black, shooting white. The friend I'm accompanying is knocked out—black and white chevrons watch me threateningly from the floor. Did she pass out because we collided? Was she pushed? No. The man dancing with her says something inside just stopped… And so, it begins. Hong Kong's crazy skyline, glittering and wheeling above me. Pale blue smudging the sky as I rush from taxi to Emergency, flinging everything out of my pockets. Begging them to wheel her in as they insist on formalities…screaming now because she's turning blue…
Scene Two: The view is black and white, except neither colour is present. This is a world of greys, faintly tinted green—like a bad print job. Flour billows over the room as the camera pans left to right, across a large table with an ominous machine like a meat grinder, to a middle-aged woman. She's kneeling beside the table, facing forward with a prisoner's bob-cut, dressed in a dark shift, wailing with broken teeth. But it's unclear: Is she a monster, those sharp teeth her weapons? Is the grinder cranking out food for her children, possibly playing in the dust and dirt by her side, just out of view? Or is something more hideous hidden there, stretching and sticking to the floorboards? Is she beside the machine to receive something from it…or is she herself being secretly fed to it, behind the table, limb by limb?
Scene Three: A chocolate-coloured woman, slender, impossibly tall. Flowing hair, sparkling smile. Gorgeous. Dressed in stiff, strapless red, endless legs tipped with strappy yellow stilettos. She's entering my house and I want her there. But she attempts this diagonally, leaning back and angling herself along the double door's hypotenuse instead of crouching; she wants to enter unbowed… Almost makes it. There’s a slipping, slithering thump, legs splitting along the doorframe as though it's a shard of glass. She's on the floor now, in pieces. A crazy Picasso painting at my entrance… We spectate from the garden, confused and appalled.
Grandfather saw a man
had lain with his daughter
Raised a thumb to her throat
left a mark; Yes
said my mother, I would—
You are, to me
An Odundo vase
You raise my gaze
You Odundo vase
Lithe (with a start)
Full and rich
We came and knew
I swore, took part;
The earth says hear
Circlets of fire
Toes set apart
Necks that can tilt
Hands that will dart
And truth, we see
Is life, sparked
Smelly Ditty 2016 | to be sung as a birthday present
Smelly socks, you remind me of the places that I've been to
Smelly socks, you remind me of the places I must go
Smelly socks, keep me singing just as my feet keep on stinking
So that I'll have more stories than the holes my toes poke through
For a Godson 2016
You're a charm
In a cup
On a sea
Much too small
For the likes
Of a babe
You will fit
In the sky
And the stars
That you rise
Up to meet
Will make way
As you pass
Into the skeleton of love
falls the flesh of despair
Off the skin of salvation
falls the mark of desire
This Scent [Your Birds] 2002
Molecules nest in folds
Hover over follicles
[du Maurier appears]
A sudden swirling
[The tide turns]