New, for you, from the superstyle range ||

Sometimes, you become aware of it. In moments of weariness or rest, when travelling, perhaps, in unfamiliar surroundings, in a state of inanition. You have been you for so long, lived out the shape of the life you possess so consistently, and have fitted that shape so perfectly, it comes to you with something of a jolt to detect, inside you, the shadow of another living presence.

The motel room is bland, an identikit structure. Lamp, dresser, bed. In the bathroom, the mirror, light cord, complimentary soap, toothbrush holder. Sheets and blankets, with their antiseptic odour, washed clean of previous bodies. Pastel, restful colours, taupe, duck-egg blue, cream.

The neutrality of the room, its impersonality, possesses the discreet artificiality of a stage set. Night after night, this stage has seen the appearance of different actors. Day after day, the old actors leave, new actors appear. The room itself remains pretty much the same, the scenery only very gently deteriorating over time – a chip here, a small stain there, the onset of whisper, wheeze and bleed of a faulty washer, a gradual patina of pale green scale on the enamel. For each new actor, though, the room is simply as it is, simultaneously both new and old, familiar and unfamiliar – a motel room, in a cabin, part of a chain. Form follows function. Vacancy follows occupation.

Why, on this day rather than another, you fall slightly out of the normal shape of your life, you don’t know. Perhaps it is the character of the motel room itself, which fills you with an unusual feeling of melancholy, the slanted sorrow of all creatures who are aware they are to die and to be replaced, superseded, forgotten. You are on a production line, or perhaps, rather, on a series of production lines. In the motel room, certain parts are added, you are modified in a particular way, and then you move on, to the next stage, while right behind you, another human unit is checking in, preparing to take your place. The motel demonstrates the sequentiality inherent to life, the sense of items marching in series. Perhaps it is this, that has a deflationary effect on your sense of your own significance, leaving you exasperated, querulous, unsettled? Yes, perhaps – but there is more to it than that…

Who is that, living inside you? You test the inner boundaries of your self. There is the face, dimly reflected in the tv set, the features that belong to you. These are your hands. Your eyes move across the text, look at the bed, the picture of deer on the wall. Involved in this, there are names, pin numbers, relationships, addresses, gender, nationality, and other, more amorphous things – hopes, ambitions, a trail of memories reaching back across the days, receding into the darkness like a path of delicate phosphorus stretching away across moonlit seawaves. This is you, this is your self. Perhaps, as you will ruefully concede, it is not quite the structure of your athletic youth, the physically confident creature, who once possessed the psychic architecture of a sleek, singular building, but is rather more a collection of rudimentary shacks, like a cardboard city under a flyover, prone to decay and clearance; nevertheless, it is all still definitely you, all you have gathered over time, and collected under the umbrella of your name.

Yes, but what is that other presence inside you? It isn’t human, or not in the sense that the rest of you is human. It fails to emit the intimacy of your self. It isn’t part of that intractably wrought biography, isn’t stained with the unique dye of your personality. You couldn’t say that you ‘possess’ it. And yet, at the same time, it has found, in you, a specific and solitary method of existence.

You’re creeped out. For these few moments when your skin doesn’t quite feel as if it is your own skin anymore, you have the hazy notion of yourself as a dreamy host, which has gone through life innocent of the fact that, all the time, dwelling within you, travelling along with you, there is an immense, torpid parasite. It is part of your self, but your self is not part of it. Indeed, your self is not part of anything. The surfaces you touch, the sensations you feel, the memories you store, the people to whom you are drawn, the ones you love, the ones you pursue… they go into the parasite, and the parasite doesn’t conserve them at all. It has no sense of individuals, no charge of care for you, or for anyone, or for anything. It is simply life.

A bleak, uneasy thrill. At this moment, you realise, you feel more alive than you’ve ever felt before, but simultaneously closer to complete annihilation. You, your self, the thing that you’ve assumed has centred everything, organised it, filtered it, is revealed as a tiny, fragile, jewel-like thing, a butterfly riding on the back of an elephant. It is the neutral space, the anonymous components of moments, these endure – the rest is a mirage (albeit a mirage you fought so hard to build and preserve), a flare of silver mist across a mirror, water in the instant it is being chucked out of a pail, the scratch of a hard-bristled broom over a concrete pathway, the passive operation of algorithms in a computer programme operating the lights in an empty building.

Needless to say, you can’t quite grasp the significance of this parasite, its scale, the true nature of its relation to your self, nor can you hold on to the vision once it’s occurred. The parasite slips away, into the dark voids of your body – which, after all, belong to the parasite, and not you – and vanishes.


from the series superstyler (open-ended, 2012–present)
(this poem, August 2012)