Archives for posts with tag: Semapolis | City of Signs

If you cannot get control, then achieve at least the illusion of control.

In the German Gymnasium, no swordsmen but liqueurs. Spectacular arrangements of flowers, their seductive display of pure nudity — is there anything more naked than a flower? — and green and white geometry, architecture of sulphur and cream. A muted air of the glasshouse, a waxy residue of plastic-wrapped passages through the conduits of commerce, attaches itself to the lilies, and the establishment’s ambiance is subtly compromised: dead feelings. Contrived into position, the petals emit a faint under-image of barcodes and spreadsheets and vans.

In the German Gymnasium.

The joy of modernity is over, the forced games of post-modernity are over, or should be over, but both hangover.

This is no longer the London of Karl Marx and Rimbaud, nor of the Blitz or of a brutalist concrete revival. The city has settled eerily, like a sunken ocean liner on its side. The damage is ingeniously massaged away and dispersed. Neither fascist excess, nor revolutionary zeal, nor liberal decadence hold sway: that would be absurd, any significant re-structuring of the capitalist vessel seems to belong less to the domain of necessity or possibility than to the arena of taste, of manners. Bad taste, and bad manners. If you cannot gain control, you cannot lose control either.

I am of Puritan stock, a whey-faced, doughty roundhead among cavaliers. The clink of my pike and pot helmet and breastplate can easily be heard in the charming landscape dotted by the translucent, ethereal volcanoes of martini glasses. Tramping up the stairs in my Paul Smith armour, I feel guilty, incapable of taking pleasure in a place designed for pleasure and the performance and embodiment of style. No matter how hard I try, I cannot relax into the present era, the fashionable scene. I am clunky and humourless, and of course no less narcissistic than the cavaliers around me — indeed, probably more so.

The new has become a brand, like sonnets, like handguns, like Tarantino. Modernity is a sheath over the past. Make of that what you will, o my masters!

Calmness is a signature look in the German Gymnasium. Not sabres, not rapiers, but mobile devices and Tissot watches. Complete command over the syntax of the efficient expenditure of wealth is highly desirable. We speak in control. We express success.

No Prussian hard-cases, no punch bags the dark tobacco colour of gleaming tropical beetles.

The poets of that era, with their dueling scars of hashish and an innocent belief in art and in the efficacy of iconoclastic weekends in mountain retreats or dingy bordellos, each carrying the neat, jumbled prospectus of the future in suitcases of glass or ivory or petroleum, would not fit in with the clientele of the German Gymnasium.

The icons come self-broken. The weight has gone — for all the impressive floodlighting around the latest urban grand design — the substance has been syphoned off into the realm of the digital, the bombs begin as pixels and the dead have their twitter accounts, their extensive menu of clichés to choose from, the bereaved have information packs on funeral services and coping strategies, the astringent snow to heal in Norwegian fjords or Swedish cabins.

The poor and their “explosive cause”… The magma of history, churning away, unseen, in the chamber below ground: only when it is extruded onto the surface does it become lava.

In my notebook, “social injustice”, “relative deprivation”, the policy statements of politicians haunted by the notes from silver horns — a cold jubilance on winter mornings calling to the hunt — fluttering pearl-decorated fans or strutting in tight breeches. The prophylactic of modernity. The glass pyramid of I.M. Pei, stretched over the treasures.

In the German Gymnasium, the energy of coherent errors is no longer available to pump the situation up into the status of a symbol.

I wondered, as I looked around, whether the sensation of gaining control, or of losing control, offers the greatest bliss?


from Semapolis | City of Signs
(series of poems, unfinished, 2012–present)
(this poem, September 2016)

Some rooms claim us more than others. The slightly startled and neutral space of ‘spare’ rooms, perhaps unvisited for days. The bedrooms of children away for weeks on end at college, or travelling: dolls and idols, last season’s line-up, unsophisticated models… a whole early life faintly frozen in the act of becoming irrelevant. The toy pilot’s eyes, gazing out from his dusty cockpit. Cool blue and white sections of a heat map. The congested, bony darkness of cupboards, with brooms and meters. Attics.

There is a kind of spiritual interior to buildings, the living continued within them by their users. The way, for example, the staff will possess a knowledge of a railway station that is distinctive to the knowledge the passengers have of the “same” place. For the two separate groups of users, the rooms and spaces will connect up according to their divergent interests and occupations. Although the function of a railway station is to form a locus for transport, for the staff, who earn their livelihood by selling tickets or cleaning the facilities, transit isn’t their intention in coming to this place each day. They go not to travel but to remain. They ‘live’ the station differently. || In a sense, then, it might be said that buildings possess a double interior: that of their material nature, and that of their inhabitants’ existence. Each, I am sure, keeps secrets from the other. Which leads me to the notion of a triple interior: we might view people themselves as forms of architecture, as fluid buildings. They could be said to inhabit themselves. And it could also be said, that parts of an individual, like out-of-the-way or decommissioned rooms, remain hidden from self-scrutiny, and are only rarely, if ever, visited. No one can be said to know a building entirely, not even a prisoner in a cell, who has counted the bricks making up the walls, and mapped the cracks in the ceiling. Buildings keep secrets from us: they are never unfolded into knowing. They are buds that never blossom. You only need someone to stand next to you to render the interior of a building uncertain. Indeed, you only need to stand alone in a room, and try to remember the building’s exterior, to find yourself in a place of considerable mystery.


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

Returning to old haunts | quarters of the city you haven’t visited in years, or is it only for months? – how, anyway, with you, they’ve changed || An ancient churchyard, with its pocket of lush garden, 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 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)
(this poem, July 2012)

Your heart is a building, you step into it and out of it | It is the place you are most yourself, where you touch / the edges of the things which make you you alone and not the others, although of course / they are also in the building with you | Often you leave the building with them, and forget / even that you have a heart, sometimes it is a key or an umbrella, you misplace it, leave it in a bar or a hospital waiting room, where the impartial light shines down on it, a spider plant in a cherry red ceramic pot / sitting on top of an olive green metal filing cabinet / the stuff of the details of / your secret, undersea life, the moraine of the forgotten, the humble / debris of the overlooked || Does your heart grow over time? Gathering more rooms as you age, expanding its footprint / accumulating height and gradually / enclosing more and more space / turning into a skyscraper of memory in which / you may wander from apartment to apartment, floor to floor, meeting the guests of ghosts of / childhood friends you haven’t seen for 50 years or your lost spouse to whom / you sent your tears and caresses, the inchoate / messages of so many days / collecting / the clicks of a ticking clock, the seeds of laughter and care of routine / growing their mountains around you… || It’s all relative they say, It’s a state of mind or | It’s a point of view | As the heart is a city, so also the city is a heart, compounded / by tram rides or bridges | the recorded voice in the lift | pigeons milling round your feet in certain public squares, the innumerable / places you left yourself / silently and almost invisibly / an enormous and fragile / compendium of traces || Perhaps, in some ways, your heart / is the most elusive thing in the world / a destination you aim for / a location you can’t / quite find on the map | and at the core of you / is an indistinct, rather nondescript suburb / home to strangers / a far-off, ocean murmur / of the blood in your head / and on the edge of sleep / a soft, familiar yet unidentifiable voice / whispering in your ear…

We took a tube from Finchley Road to King’s Cross | It was a walk-through, in which you can see right down the length of the train, and we were in the front carriage | It was evening, and I was a little drunk | The bright yellow poles receded in a flowing series, and with the perspective I felt it was like looking into a modernist forest, the trunks of the trees these slender verticals of primary colour | I didn’t have my glasses on, and other passengers / rocked and swayed / and they were like / blurred nymphs and fauns from the hazy remains / of a classical idyll in my head | Just before we reached the station, we were gabbling away about nonsense, when you suddenly turned and gave me a small kiss on the cheek, I don’t know where | that came from


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

Perhaps there was a stressor, who can say? | One day, he left the port city, where he had lived all his life, and moved to another city | In a state of fugue | he forgot his old job, his wife and children, his circle of friends, and wandered | He hadn’t planned this trip, he knew it was a train, he knew it was a journey, but | he couldn’t remember a departure, and | couldn’t figure out | which of the destinations belonged to him | There were further journeys, other cities | Years | passed? | In the city in which he now lived, he found work for which he appeared to have a certain aptitude | He rented a flat, began to make friends | He was a foreigner there, it was a landlocked country | Often, he found himself feeling slightly aslant of everything else, as if he wasn’t quite synchronised with his surroundings, including the people in whose company he passed the time | The continent of all the days spread around him | The past was a luminous haze, like looking at the sun through thick mist | His lack of harmonisation with things wasn’t unpleasant to him, it made his life seem to flow more slowly on occasion, and to take on the muzzy, sketchy quality of waking from a dream | Holding a tin can or a hose, he would find himself staring at these items, unable quite to remember what they were or why they were | what they were / He met a girl and fell in love, and they were married | She said she liked his gentleness, she loved the way he was so spaced out sometimes, it made her laugh | They didn’t have much money, but neither of them minded much | He felt he was a very lucky person | The future grew before him, thick and luxuriant like a forest | Sometimes, when he woke up, he thought he heard the sound of the sea

His life had become a series of upheavals | He remembered reading somewhere about a country at war, and how soldiers on the outskirts of a precious city had dug in against invaders and fought and tried to hold their lines / in a cemetery | That detail had struck him very much | He thought about how a cemetery, a place devoted to calm and order and to a sense of the sacred and of ancestral respect / with the changing circumstances of war / had become a place of battle || At times he felt very sad, and his days became events of almost constant revision, of collapsing perspectives and the struggle with exigence | His interior city shed monuments and landmarks | He fell out of love and yet, somehow, continued to feel love… / He wondered if he’d ever known his own life at all, or whether for years it had surrounded him like a kind of bland, untested mystery, or a form of complacent simulation? He feared for the future but prepared to dig in


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

When standing in the shower each morning, he would forget whether or not he’d just shampooed his hair, and the events of the last few intimate minutes thus became | a matter of mystery, food for Dashiell. In the same way, seated at the breakfast bar, he wouldn’t be able to recall if he’d taken his medication, and would stare uneasily down at the foil-backed packet of capsules, lost in that no-man’s-land between the moments | memory. A few instants later, he lifted his head into a forest, and found he was gazing through the mist at a herd of deer in a clearing: the morning was hushed and clarified, and unutterably fresh, as if these animals had walked only a few steps from the beginning of everything, and this whole world was | close to creation

She lifts her head from a magazine and checks the departure board | Primitive hunters move through the lounge, and the fairy ghosts of her thoughts | confect another moment of distraction | The silence of unknowing fills everything, but precisely through its ubiquity does it become unfelt, or felt so gently, it might seem a form of knowledge | They announce the opening of the gate, and the article on super-storms is already beginning to slip from her mind || This was the day they buried a great star


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

All cities are superimposed one upon another, seeking the city, but the city | evades, and is, them all // Time fills the streets, he was early for a rendezvous, he sat in a café and doled out moments into the traffic and the women passing outside on the pavements, and the men he didn’t care about so much, and the sunlight / with its complacent emptiness / shone everywhere and meant nothing || He wished he could attach to all the strangers just a few fragments of his own feelings, the heightened melancholy he experienced, the burnished sense of fragility, but he realised, ruefully, that he couldn’t even attach those fragments | to himself, and so | the day passed and he paid his bill

She flicked through photos on her old Mac | What had these images become, she wondered? – mementos, pointing the way back to lost time, sweetly and perfectly illustrating | the secret aspects of her life | and | poignantly | the greatest secret of all, that her life | wasn’t her life


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

Poor eyesight reduced everything beyond about ten paces to a blur. The limit of those ten paces thus formed a kind of horizon for her, producing an intimate, personal domain from the larger bag of the world belonging to the clear-sighted. When not wearing her contacts, she existed at the centre of a globe of haze, smudge and ghosts. At ten paces, people’s faces began to drop their masks of definition, to lose individuality; at twenty paces, their bodies, too, shed specificities, so that personality, age and even gender became embroiled in the general debate over shadow and fuzz. At first exasperated, and troubled by not having her lenses in, as the years passed, she gradually came to understand her situation not as one of deficiency but difference, and not of loss but of alteration. Was her experience of life any less rich than that of people who could see to the end of a railway carriage? In truth, she became a little more callous: as her condition worsened, so more and more people surrendered their identity, their place in her optical theatre. Her perception’s stage grew smaller and more bare. The showman in each human being was excluded by her inability to focus on all but the most private, chamber performances. Attraction and repulsion became less feasible for her: when most people belong to a crowd of faded and anonymous extras, melting towards the impersonal status of objects, the opportunity to flirt, or to be disgusted, lessened. Indifference set into her like a spell of fine weather. She found she no longer cared, and the current of her libido waned. Somehow, people’s conversation began to blur just as their appearance did. There was no detailing on their clothes, no nuance of cut or stitch; it was all a general conclusion, a mélange of opinion and cliché, a kind of intellectual bric-a-brac. Who knew where the silver in the bracelet migrated? What did her hands have to do with Mozambique? And quasars and quarks and gorgonzola cheese? Curiously, she started to pay less attention to her own appearance, as if it was other people who couldn’t see properly, as if she, too, were slipping away into the realm of the ill-defined, a place of tame and routine spectres. Sitting on the tube, her world was a pearl of inattention, nearly everything expelled from the centre to form a glowing periphery. Bowed over the book in her lap, she read intently. Her taste was for histories, and for epic fiction.

Across the world, no accord can be accomplished: the difference of lives is too great. He read in his book: Politics has become shopping. There were fissures in his hands, a sense of bourgeois loneliness, a solitude composed of privacy and specialisation. Elsewhere, people were engaged in terrible struggles, lives were being lost. What is the weight, though, of a meaningless life? A life that has no one to collect it at the end? To meet it, grade it, place it in the suitable receptacle? There was no room anymore for cemeteries, developers needed the land. The living pressed in on the dead like hungry crowds. He read in another book about the fate of certain species of orchids, plants which had grown over-reliant on the services of particular insects in the pollination process. As the ecosystem shifted, the bees died or moved north, and the forest changed: the orchids were left, high and dry, hanging out the wares of their lovely flowers one year, but no one was buying. His melancholy deepened as the patterns reinforced themselves. His brain was a map for depressions and anxiety: they knew where to come. He loved the strange angles things had, sometimes. When he glanced at the beautiful woman opposite, he thought of the grey and white cat on the garden shed, arching up, sniffing at cherry petals.


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

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)

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)