Archives for posts with tag: Semapolis | City of Signs

In Eddie’s Barber Shop, a good haircut. The drone of the clippers, the way they dance up and down the nape of the neck or the temples like chunky geometric insects exploring flowers. They also snarl and snort, like dwarf Hondas or Vespas revving, but the room’s overall vibe is one of great peace.

The young men are charming. They are good-natured, talkative in their chairs, but I am silent like an idol, studying my lined face and the whiteness of my hair. I think of a cod Japanese proverb: Snow lies always on the higher mountains.

Am I mountain, now? Proust’s characters, extended in time, were giants, though in the flesh they were twisted and shrunk, arthritic, sapped. Like coral in a bottle.

All the way up the mountain, to the cold peak, there to find a shapely bottle, very clear glass, with a branch of faded vermillion coral displayed inside it.

Forget it, no worries, bro

The young man next to me is umming and ahhing about his look. The goatee may be a problem.

Barber: I thought we were taking it away here?
Young customer: Yeah, but now I’m having a look at it, I’m changing my mind. Can I keep the moustache long?
Barber [With a soft laugh]: You can have whatever you like, man, but we need to make a decision, because we need to know what we’re doing.

We are being transformed: trimmed, pruned, shaped. I wish to look younger, or at least a bit smarter, the young wish to look cool. They are unashamed, relaxed, do they know about mountaineering, about the whiteness of the snows against the resolute blue of the clear sky, the nature of summits? — they probably do! Of if not, they can find out.

I like it man, it suits my head shape

I notice later when doing searches that Facebook tells us:

Jun JB Baraquiel was at Eddie’s Barber Shop / 21 December 2013. I am drawn to the name, it has the intricacy and music of netsuke, of carved boxwood or ivory, and I hear the ripple of guitar strings, in a mist spray before the cut, a scent of the ocean, marlin and ozone.

Sentences beckon us forwards, refer us backwards. Framed by a mirror, and by the mirror’s secret. I stare, an old man, familiar with heights, finding it a little hard to remember the mild climate of the valleys, the green, the ravishing monotony of spring rain, tractors in mud: the village girls, rather provocative, daring the vampires to come.

Then the mirror’s curtains swing closed, and there is the darkness that is slipped, like a fine black plane, between the unnoticed explosion of each thing into its place, the grasp of the point, the way the sticks of Mikado fall and their unique array.

Product placement:

Jack Black Pomade (Beeswax and sunflower oil give your hair shine and hold, while mango and shea butter keep your scalp clean, smooth, and moist)

So this is part of the mountain — Maybe in the course of Japonism in the 19th / 20th century the “Zitterwackel” game had changed to “Mikado” (probably first named “Tsuchimikado”).

The weight of snowflakes, the weight of the snow.

I dream of the valleys. I wake asleep. The perimeter of the dream is fluid, by patrol is it defined. When there are no guards, there is no perimeter, and into head, the mountain rears.

The weight of each snowflake…

 


from Semapolis | City of Signs
(series of poems, unfinished, 2012–present)

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Cities at work. The orange flashing lights on dustbin vans, the rhythmic hiss and sputter as the vehicle makes its way down a street, the saurian crunch and grind as refuse is compressed and fed into the hopper, a common sight, in a kind of mechanical ecology. Civic workers, leaving for night shifts. Contractors in overalls, maintaining the underground railway systems at night | mouths to feed. Smoke from incinerators and crematoria. The disks of sedimentation tanks at sewage plants. The city as mechanised organism, with media senses and digestive tract of enamel and plastic, cafeterias and public toilets, people’s taste and miles of sewers, points of intake and excreta. Mass living and the unique form of loneliness it produces, the melancholy of deserted playgrounds in the shadows of tower blocks at dusk, the goring cries of crows haunting the aerials and satellite dishes. The natural habitat of crowds, the headache of traffic flow and congestion. Rare moments of silence. Compilation of records, analyses of modes of behaviour, social trends, a gradual shift into digital existence, the streets eaten by their own images, filtered through maps and reviews on clubs. Funfair ride on the Northern Line, Vanity Fair on the Piccadilly Line, waltzers of stock exchanges and pantomime riots, shows on CCTV. The latest formation in a perpetual assembly. Pest control. Hygiene. Wealth. Crowd control. The lit stadia at night. The skyscraper in the architects’ promo, outlets for retail. Mood control. Purchases and services. A diet of images. Cultural effects. Security measures. News-feeds. Happiness.

Her particular interest was Persian carpets, and she was considering a trip to Iran. Although her income was modest, she had two very fine rugs in her flat, and she would often spend hours simply studying them. She was growing more knowledgeable about patterns, designs and motifs. She looked up. The driver announced delays. She sighed, and then returned to the book on her lap. There was a lovely photo of an antique carpet. What was it about the pattern that so satisfied her? What was it, made her wish to gaze and gaze? Some subtle dissatisfaction, called beauty?

 


from Semapolis | City of Signs
(series of poems, unfinished, 2012–present)

The city is also the rain. The movements of clouds across glass, shadows travelling over dry pavements, the call of ancient spirits where the coffee franchise faces the station | the need for water, an elemental perspective. Plasterers covered in white powdery dust, angels and bakers, zombies maybe. Infinite building is our way, we accumulate by limitation, forever creating borders and walls, wrapping and excluding space, inviting in the emptiness. A fluid superimposition of blocks and planes, the city churns like a sleepless mind, sweet little Viva wailing next door, unable to rest without her Mama, or Sunday disturbed by the carping of jackdaws from nearby aerials, chimneys and trees | though the city, unlike a mind, has no direction, for the sleepless mind must always be granted | eventually | the bliss of oblivion and the loss of self. Old buildings in the process of demolition, newbuild, a temporal flutter of concrete and brick, slate, timber and steel, fabrics flickering, the vanished structures in-filled with the current, passing in a blur of forgetting, wings in motion, the flight to and from water. The city is also the rain.

FIRE HAZARD HIGH | the signs said at the | height of summer. Bushfires were a constant menace. I was a foreigner in that city, with my temperate inheritance of downpours and drip, moss and chill. The mind motor racing, unable to sleep, I end up back there, although | really | I am in December with frost coating the windscreens and erratic central heating clicking and chundering in the background. 4.20 am, memories of Balmain and Cammeray sprout, the sulphur-throated frangipani and flung torrents of bougainvillea, for me, the heat was new, a tremendous experience, firing out parrots and lizards, and the blue of that sky was a kind of vision, but a vision of utter blankness, like a slate swept clean.

 


from Semapolis | City of Signs
(series of poems, unfinished, 2012–present)

Resting tenderly, tiny bubbles on the underwater stems of cut flowers, the bouquet bound together by frayed string, in a half-pint milk bottle once belonging to the Co-operative Dairy Society Ltd Guildford. Tenderness and repose: two qualities I treasure, perhaps because I am cold, selfish and ascetic by nature, and my spirit is restless, so that both repose and tenderness are rare in my life, dedicated as it is to the cool greed art has become in this era, at least insofar as I am capable of making it. Lethargy is different to repose: lethargy I possess in abundance, a terrible internal sloth, like a slag heap amassed over centuries of mining, a mountain of black waste that has permanently changed the ratio of earth to sky, and which can’t be shifted — all that can be expected of it is a trivial modulation in topography, a creep and trickle at the edges, the wind blowing dust on the surface, nothing moving at the core. If the women who lay by my side could have sensed this doomed landscape within me, would any have stayed longer than, in the end, they did? Why would you? There are lost causes too lost for a person ever to contemplate even an attempt at futile loyalty to them. Certain kinds of futility may be enjoyable, in an odd way, and some may be beautiful, but remaining loyal to a species of unwitting treachery is just stupid, a pouring away of life. I should know this: it takes us back to that cool greed, takes us back recessively, insidiously and yet, as well, emphatically, in the fashion in which, according to that description by Yeats, a good poem is meant to finish, with the sharp neat click of a closing box. Words and self-regard are never far away. Hence, a cycle of wandering and fear, emptiness and restlessness, Ulysses under the Tennessee pines. Which leads, in turn, to the language of Bedouin and Hottentots, of tumultuous, silent Patagonian clouds, of stooping and kneeling to drink with our bare hands from Arctic streams, the knife-cold waters entering us with an atrocious clarity, worth the sins we committed to get here. But this, as you will have realised, is beside the point. Tenderness, and repose: wonderful in themselves, but together, inexpressibly lovely. The text begins to put off its own references, we are heading out to a place of indifference, like a waking sleep. If it is lonely there, it is lonely because of those hands that may still reach forward, and touch, those lips that have not yet lost their taste for kissing: the space, I mean, is very fine, and renders us, even now, very sensitive. The old war has cleansed the bones, the new war is yet to begin. We can take our time, knowing that death has its own rules, and we have earned our rest, after a long and honourable race against oblivion. Leaving at dawn is endlessly postponed, but the freshness of dawn and of the unknown prepares us, a clearing of decks. Stillness comes. I don’t love you.

 


from Semapolis | City of Signs
(series of poems, unfinished, 2012–present)

The city inside him rarely fell still. It was a mistake, he was sure, to think of himself as separate from the city, a sovereign state, even though, it was true, he could leave the city and go elsewhere if he wished, a village on the moors, a small port town on the south coast, with a snub white lighthouse, in winter. He didn’t contain the city, as a phial contains a particular liquid; and he wasn’t a passive object, like a white screen upon which the city was projected in a series of images. Everything was more porous than that: the city was a field of interactivity, in which the citizens were participants, coming into and out of existence as thoughts fire and fade in the mind, as lights go on and off in a building. Pronouns felt increasingly deceptive to him, the clumsy “I” and the “you”, the “it” and the “me”. His mother was in the advanced stages of dementia, and despite the grief and disorientation he experienced at watching her metamorphosis, he marvelled at the way his mother’s brain had progressively jettisoned parts of what had once been essential elements of her life, including her son, whom she had loved and cherished for decades, and including even herself. It was terribly cruel, to be introduced to her over and over again, the person she’d borne in her womb, and dandled and taught, guided, punished and adored, now he was somebody with a question mark for her, a “Joe?”, or “the television man?”. A conjuror inside her was making items vanish — a goldfish in a bowl, a white rabbit, doves — but never returned them, so her world, in theory, grew smaller and smaller, less and less populated, more and more empty. She was a periodic table, dropping members, first without mercury, then without sulphur or plutonium: failing connections plucked from her titanium, cobalt, zinc… Instead of the full 98 elements, hers was a table of 50 or 40, a dwindling amount. She was far less her “self” than she had been ten years earlier, her husband, two children, pets, her home, all had been mislaid in the mysterious zone of forgotten memories, their status problematic, their survival unknown, perhaps they were only extant in fragments, shards among the shards of broken dreams. Was she any less of a person? Of course not! She had her world, her routines in the assisted facility at the hospital: it was only that, quite evidently, she was not in control of who she had been, and she was not in control of who she was. She was not her self. Other powers held her in their sway, and yet they weren’t malicious or impish, they had no sentience, they were impersonal, systems that ran with no aim and no choice, cells that helplessly mutated, chemicals that were forever combining and re-combining in different formations, atoms that rose and fell in their own tides, swept back and forth, fluid and unresting… In other words, she was a collection of energies, but not in a stable or fixed condition, but like the collections of great patrons and museums, over the ages, first accumulated, painstakingly, treasures sought and added in, built and built up, then broken down, when finances or circumstances forced it, scattered, some artefacts destroyed, others lost, still others drawn into the holdings of new collectors, representatives of nascent empires, newly wealthy republics. And he was like this, and even the city was like this. And the girl in the boat looked so lonely, he felt like weeping: did she have any idea, how sad and how funny it was to mourn an illusion, to cling to a wreck that seemed so young?

 


from Semapolis | City of Signs
(series of poems, unfinished, 2012–present)

Everything is made of loneliness | which may be defined as a particular proximity to death | a state of intimate estrangement with one’s surroundings and with other people | a sense that life is sterile, childless | If one is alone, somehow one’s voice doesn’t carry, and other people’s voices, even those of close friends, don’t quite seem to reach you | There is a shortfall, a zone of muteness, at once vague, occluded, peripheral, but acutely cold and clear, motionless, like bright sunshine on a landscape one early morning after heavy snow | Distance permeates each object | the sugar cubes in a café bowl are precisely sugar cubes, but in a calm and unspectacular way, have Samarkand in them, or Atlantis, the Sea of Tranquility | Paradoxically, they contain what they are not — they contain where they are going, what they have been, how, at a point in their past, they were not sugar cubes, and how, at a point in their future, they will cease to be sugar cubes… | Is loneliness lack of love? | Not necessarily, not directly | A lonely person can be deeply loved, and love deeply, but the same odd embargo on intimacy remains enforced | Indeed, a lonely person who is loved may feel even more lonely | even more childless | A mockingly precise relation to space is one hallmark of the lonely | but even more so, a fraught relation with time, a hyper-awareness of moments and months and years passing | an instinct for ephemera | that each thing is lost, even in the event of its approach, the exquisite | instant of its presentation | its brilliance lying, in part at least, in the fact it cannot return | it must go this way | it must change | it must pursue its natural path | into other things | even the dead | mighty as they are | still possess a butterfly delicacy | a flit and ragged lift | they evince | an inability to stabilise their meaning to us | (sometimes we think of them, sometimes we do not) | they are restless | pinned butterflies in cases whose wings | unnervingly | still occasionally move | A lonely person has a very poignant relation to monuments, and to the monumental: in Rome, you can be very lonely

Looking across the city, he felt as if the churches had cracked, the palaces slumped, statues lost arms and heads | As if a whirlpool of fluid stone and tarmac, brick and plaster | were turning slowly | and at the centre, a darkness, calm oblivion, drew the whole city towards it, and downwards | into nothing | His friends might laugh at him | flip a coin | angle a bottle of beer into themselves at jaunty café tables | mount their scooters and snarl away into the bright, warm evening | driving off somewhere into the intimate splendour of their lives | but what had they left behind, in the shape of the person they knew by his name? | His loneliness proved the whirlpool was there | Into his existence, silent and beyond blame or cure, the city stealthily crept and crumbled | moving, invisibly to others, but tangibly to him, with the seething inevitability of fresh lava | a whole planet on the move | heading into the hole in his head | where children lay | sleeping soundly | so sure, the previous evening, that they would never sleep again

 


from Semapolis | City of Signs
(series of poems, unfinished, 2012–present)

Each thing is prolific. The lamp, the courtyard, the lime tree. They are seasonal, episodic, undergoing periods of stillness and inertia. At such times, they do not publish, they abide, patiently. At other times, and particularly under the excitement of a human eye, they begin to pour out new works, volumes of association and electricity, sketches of shadows and nostalgia — broadsides, epigrams, histories.

If you were to take an ontological slice through any item, no matter how inert and quiescent it may seem on the surface, you would discover that it is actually teeming with life. If there were an instrument that were capable of capturing relations, and you passed the most common article – a button, a shoe, a paintbrush – beneath the lens, like bacilli blooming under a microscope, you would see at once stupendous forests issuing out from the object, a web of threads and anchors so complex it would defy your ability to process it, and would ultimately fade out at the edges of comprehension, as with dreams at their beginning and end…

Often, a person is completely unaware of the spectral flurry of activity they cause in the objects around them. People follow the lines of utility, of immediate desire: they’re conscious of the lamp’s switch, the sticky glisten of the lime in spring; they don’t notice the wings, the moonlight, the tides, the Carboniferous. The extraordinarily subtle shimmer of possible relations, evolving right before their eyes, is almost entirely intangible to them. Perhaps only on rare occasions may they be aware of the murmur of the sea in their heart, the endless ramifications of the waves, the bleak squawk of seabirds swirling and diving around a black granite cliff…

 

 


from Semapolis | City of Signs
(series of poems, unfinished, 2012–present)

Returning to old haunts | quarters of the city you haven’t visited in years, or perhaps only for months – how, with you, they’ve changed || An ancient churchyard, with its green gardens, surrounded and walled in by office blocks and skyscrapers, kept back like a secret or held in reserve | like a kind of spiritual fire escape | it isn’t quite how you remembered it || The copious rain of this summer has slicked and beaded and lubed the plants with moisture, the stone is darker from the years before, even the shadows feel wet, and the gloom of the interior, sliced into a slender vertical slat through the partly open door, seems almost submarine, belonging to the stoven-in hold of a sunken galleon, or to a building from a drowned village on the eastern coast || Today, as the rain cocoons the violet skin of your umbrella, you recall the signorial heat of last August, how the sun filled this courtyard with its direct light and late afternoon shadows, and in a corner the grass pulsed to the dry serenade of an urban grasshopper (how did it get so far into the city?) || Like oil floating on water, your consciousness flows over the mumbled headstones, paths and encroaching vegetation, a smooth but (to you, at least!) a sometimes unsatisfactory co-habitation, and the sea of the streets and buildings | carries you / as you carry them | away… || On that occasion, as you ate a sandwich, sipped from a bottle of Evian, you looked through a book by Luis Cernuda || In the end, you don’t have much time left, and who knows if it isn’t better to live like this, stripped of possessions, perpetually ready for departure | You kept glancing up, sensing this place was the location of a hidden and recurring | nativity | but the nature and identity of the thing being born seemed to fall just beyond the limit of your conception || Perhaps you already knew that those moments would be the subject of a gently fraught nostalgia?

If you stand and observe a thing for any length of time, presently the rind of your assumptions surrounding it begins to fall away, like a fruit being peeled, and what lies revealed is an entity without context or purpose, self-enclosed and serene, offering a scent of alien sweetness

 

 


from Semapolis | City of Signs
(series of poems, unfinished, 2012–present)

Planes in the sky | stacking | climbing | descending | Airport | Chain-link fences | the sky so | pale and | fine and | beautiful | And all the gods and the dogs of | summer | hang their heads and are | bored ||  ||  || Planes in the sky, the hot summer, fire trucks on the ground | The runways ripple in the heat, baggage crews assemble for their shift, they will handle | the scent of cinnamon, Tracey’s V, the crumbling petals of an emperor’s lotus || City of souvenirs, on conveyor belts or carousels, the capsules of memory are gathered for a few minutes before beginning their long journeys of dispersal

He felt his life was disintegrating | Every morning he woke with a feeling of something banal and yet ominous – which, he realised, was his own heart – and with the kind of sensations you might feel as, after a left turn, it dawns on you that you are driving | the wrong way down a one-way street

 

 


from Semapolis | City of Signs
(series of poems, unfinished, 2012–present)

There was a severe winter | In a way it was like a fairytale, with icy cataracts and burial snow, the grip of an ancient weather || She felt marooned || She was old, and slowly the city had been growing | greater and greater around her, further and further, more and more unknown and | mysterious | It became harder for her to negotiate stairs, to take a bus, to navigate | tubes and timetables | A lift out of order would block her way, it was a major setback, may send her home | Her knees had | gone | she had pain in her joints and muscles, she had begun to | wizen | So, she went out less and less, and her city | shrank || She became a blurred creature, quasi-spectral, lost between the two lenses of perception, the public and the private, they would not | focus on her || If you had asked her how | this white-haired, delicate figure | had appeared | out of the nubile / cocoon / of her student days, perhaps she would be | at a loss | to answer, or say her only explanation | was a form of dream or the product | of incantation | As in classical mythology, when the gods roamed our world, she had been | metamorphosed, changed | profoundly, only not in an instant but in | a series of instants so extensive and elastic that, at times, it appeared infinite, and all her days / were entire worlds… || Gradually, now, she is becoming | rooted | and the spell of the years | cast over her | Her body twists and stiffens | the agile | mercury of her pulse | grows sluggish, torpid | and she begins to exhibit | the two major signs | which mean | she is ready to be | marked | in the book of oblivion: she forgets, and she is | forgotten

I really just want to create work that’s beautiful. I think people are drawn to beauty, and want to be beautiful, and beauty is that moment you | are caught | without an answer to a question that is most insistently | being asked by you. Of course, the question is endlessly changeable. Sometimes, the answer is | no.

 

 


from Semapolis | City of Signs (series of poems, unfinished, 2012–present)