Archives for posts with tag: Semapolis | City of Signs

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)

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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)

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)