Some time ago I was like an open palm held out for a reading,
all its lines criss-crossing
and indicating one determined future or another.
I only remember my waking dreams from then,
as if sleep was too close to death
to access the underlayers of my mind,
which were thermals warming over-sensitised nerves.
These dreams took on the properties of visions –
they imagined the world as a book with the middle torn out
so as I read the last sentences I could only speculate
how the story had gone
from what it had been to what it was.
I didn’t understand but felt compelled nonetheless.
After tea, I was always restless and used to go for walks,
letting the visions overflow as I wandered around
all the wealth of my immediate surroundings.
I saw the beginnings –
the fervour and longings for a definable existence –
and I saw the endings –
the void closing in, the voices getting louder,
demanding an account for why every action had been surface,
Everything in between remained a mystery.
How did the ordinary process of accumulating time play out?
The material taunted me with its visibility,
daring me to believe in the invisible,
like such was the strength of the collective spirit
it could even force a pulse inside brick and stone
so they breathed all the recollections of the memories
that had lived within them.
But I just couldn’t do it, couldn’t hear
any experiences seeping out of the giant houses
lining the hill I ascended.
I didn’t believe as I peered through the railings of Highgate Cemetery,
glancing over the crumbling graves,
hoping the body was a temporary accommodation,
that matter is matter irrespective of form,
that we do not simply vanish
but mutate into something undetectable.
Returning home, visions fading,
I would remember I was on the dole.
I thought about money and the need to procure it by any means.
In the dark, I lay in bed looking up,
trying to sleep with my eyes still open.
On one evening,
one that came after a day unmarked by any distinct flavouring,
I was on my walk as usual and had reached the top of Swain’s Lane.
We were deep in spring,
or had waded into summer depending on your calendar,
and I was looking out at the sun floating over the hilt of the city
when I felt the words of Saint Teresa of Ávila –
I die because I do not die –
and a sudden ecstasy overcame me.
Then I believed everything.
I was a thoroughly secular creature
but, ultimately, the supernatural found me,
or rather it had never left from the time I sat on creaky pews
listening to a mild man describe the juvenile jealousy
of an all-knowing power
raging over kids at birthday parties
neglecting to focus on its might.
It’s not as if anyone really expected spiritual fidelity
in the Church of England,
especially from children under 12
obligingly sitting through assemblies.
We were just to absorb the aesthetics –
get the vibe and promulgate
the Anglo cultural tradition of a one-way morality.
But I did get personally involved in conceptualising
something vast and known only through its absence,
something that was the stuff inside myself I couldn’t touch,
the stuff that was so particular it was universal,
the stuff of every one and every thing.
If religious appointees are fruit pickers gathering the single pieces
to make a whole economy out of the lot,
then I was ripe.
None of that inner intensity was externally observable, though,
as I lived as the unchristened, non-denominational girl I was
because, obviously, a sky-spirit was irrelevant to the issue at hand:
the business of cultivating a personhood
to fit in a rote world-by-numbers.
And then on that hill all that I denied daily erupted throughout me –
the joy, amazement, exhilaration, dazzlement,
and terror of consciousness,
not only my own but that all my complexity –
the sashaying dance partners of emotion and thought,
the ferocious contradiction of time inwardly contracting
while outwardly expanding,
the empty nightclub of solitude –
all of that was seven billion,
and all of that was barely a fraction of what was.
I died because l was plurality welded within singularity
but I lived because I would die and not die,
I would exhaust my body and not go before one omnipotent spirit
but thrive with all who had once come to be
in complete security
as molecules amongst molecules.
There I was, a contemporary 22-year-old,
awe popping like hives across my pale skin,
savagery – that is, purity – developing like skeletal extensions
bursting through my chest,
releasing myself of that conditioned rationality
as I stared at the shiny towers of economic reason on the horizon.
Some years later, I was in a friend’s bed,
gainfully employed and utterly rational again,
as ripples of pleasure travelled up my spine
after taking LSD for the first time.
And I thought this is wondrous but nothing
compared to the unadulterated chemical overspill of mine
at the top of Swain’s Lane
when I felt the entire universe in my brain.
Most of my experiments with stimulants and depressants
have been, to some extent, an urge to replicate that feeling,
and while some have come close,
all have failed in making me believe in that which I am repeatedly told
and has nothing to do with me anyway.
Now at night, I dream of middles.
I dream of wild banality imprinting itself
on the back of humdrum oddity –
the day-to-day, the time pile-up,
the ongoing and obdurate amassing.
Last night my parents wandered through this sub space.
We were in a caravan in Anglesey watching TV,
smearing the division between inside and out.
And I had a sister suddenly who smiled more than me,
talked more easily,
and gave herself over to our progenitors so freely.
Later, somewhere else entirely, my dad asked if
I preferred the light being kept on.
I couldn’t recall any of my preferences.
The blinds were halfway down or halfway up
so I could see the darkness trying to enter under the windows.
An acute loneliness spread from my head to my toes.
I had been abandoned.
I was remote, removed.
It would be here in rooms I semi-recognised
that I would have to travel in two directions:
I must search all the way inside myself to get out
and I must go as far afield as possible to get back in.
Road seeks completion
round the corners it makes
as a girl and a boy
enjoy winding their way,
circling the perimeter
of a hemming and hawing town
that’s never in the throes,
only as static as monuments
masquerading villains as heroes.
Don’t underestimate the significance
of your transgressions
she tells herself as the car,
which neither boy nor girl owns,
divests the afternoon of its usual slump,
carrying teenaged bones
towards siloed selves set to mourn
their future’s past
while his fingers trap
the wheel in their jaws,
his upward knuckles the spine
of an albino dinosaur,
the only part of his body betraying
the affront of his words,
the brazen injury of syllables
jabbing the air between him and her.
And then, she falsely adds,
we went all the way to Liverpool
when she recounts the tale years later
to people who grew up in the capital.
I’m an adult now, she chides herself,
and something isn’t nothing.
That was a thing.