London Underground (After Neil Hilborn)

I’ve written this poem preemptively for mental health awareness month, in which I will be performing at Soapbox in Milton Keynes.

This poem was heavily inspired from “OCD” by Neil Hilborn in his book Our Numbered Days and “Flying to Belfast 1977” by Craig Raine.

Craig Raine
(The Guardian)

Fun fact: I hate London. This poem comes from my journey between Euston and Shepherd’s Bush on the Underground last week.

I would not find myself in London unless it was for a good reason, like seeing poet Sabrina Benaim perform live. She was awesome.

NB: The extreme lack of punctuation is making my head go doolally but it’s to show how people who have OCD have a pattern in their own heads.


It was possible to wail
as I found a seat in the carriage;

my cerebral chatter slowed to a boil
snake tails toiling away

when you have OCD peace is a myth
like Perseus and Medusa –

writhing eyes. I squirmed at
the eyelash on the woman’s cheek

and dirty seats. And yesterday’s papers’
ink looking like that July bomb blast

you know like a tattoo
running riot through Covent Garden

the dirty seats
the dirty seats
the dirty seats

in an expanse of claustrophobic noise.
The doors open. I leave

but I notice the exterior
perfect like Elysian Fields

Elysian Fields
Elysian Fields
Elysian Fields

Desire, not Cemetery.
Intricate neat and orderly

I thought of clean white linen
and pristine sheets

folded on my bed
and my A-Z book collection

A to Z
A to Z
A to Z

as I ascend the stairs to the overland
of London Town Armageddon

me, a laughing man
dreaming of empty cities

rather than the cesspits
of sugarcane floors

What’s Up, Trouble?

I’ve broken ranks here. As well as poetry and journalism, I do write other stories as well. Inspired by the short story “No Results Found” by Nicholas Montemarano, this is “What’s Up, Trouble?”


General opinion suggests you should not look to grief counselling until at least six months after the deceased’s death. You should let the dust settle. I lasted six days. The dust hadn’t settled.

Auntie Luisa was barely in the ground before I started taking steps. I can still hear her voice. “What’s up, Trouble?” she’d say. She was always the artist. Even the way she walked was that of a practiced actress, elegant and tall. Always the performer and storyteller and when she told those anecdotes from her childhood, she would always have a voice for every member of our family.

No matter how hard things look, people say it’s better to read about grief and talk to your family than to rush into counselling. Not for me though. I rushed in. Counsellors seem to know a little about lots of things.

Ask Natasha about: “books with terminal illness or losing someone.” Natasha says: “A Monster Calls, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Me Before You, Still Alice, Thirteen Reasons Why, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, My Sister’s Keeper.” All those books are just interpretations though, aren’t they? People say everyone reacts to loss differently. Perhaps it’s best to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a story about a boy called Charlie in an American high school who is lonely and depressed after the death of his aunt (like me). Fitting, isn’t it?

Ask Natasha about: “dead aunties in popular culture.” Ask Natasha about: “grief over dead aunties.” Ask Natasha about: “grief over best friends.” Maybe it’s best to leave her alone with things like this. She can help in all numbers of ways but she didn’t know Auntie Luisa like I did.

Maybe I should look at photographs of Auntie Luisa with my mom and Uncle Dean from their childhood. I know Grandma has them somewhere. Maybe look at photos from Dean’s 40th. Maybe look at photos from her wedding to Uncle Morten who she nicknamed “The Viking” because he happened to be from Denmark.

Should I ask Natasha the questions my younger cousins ask? Should I ask her my brother’s questions? “What happened to Auntie Luisa? What was her illness? How did she die? Will I die?” I could write a poem made up of their questions and my observations and fictionalise the answers. Maybe I should read some Sylvia Plath. ‘Widow’ and ‘Insomniac’ and ‘Mirror’ – the words consume their victims like fire on oil. However, I might learn something new from poetry and imagery and the connotations that poetry brings after you lose the ones you love.

I remember how Auntie Luisa was the one to turn to when I finally had the courage to talk about the school bullies – their own version of discipline – the the racism, the abuse and psychological torment. And all those memories were resurrected when I watched Goodbye Christopher Robin. On our many trips together, you were Nanny and I was Billy Moon. And whilst my parents bickered, you were there. You knew that I wanted someone to think I was important, that someone cared about me and you were that person until the day you died. I won’t ever forget.

If I were to read this ten years from today, it will certainly trigger off the memories of spending many a weekend in Colindale, with you, dying, in your North London flat. We’d go to the Tate or we’d stay in and watch The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (back-to-back) or meet your “friend” Morten at the New Chandos after he had finished work. I’d have an Ocean Spray cranberry juice and you’d have a Martini Rosso on ice.

When you both came to Northampton, we’d go for walks. We’d play in the woods. We’d go to Delapre Park and Salcey Forest. It would often rain and that’s when we’d run back to the car laughing.

I always imagined that one day you’d collapse right in front of me but you never did. You always played a role. You were the fun auntie and I can understand why you did that – a kid who grew up before his time. You were forever the performer pretending you weren’t sick, even in front of me, whilst you smiled and laughed. Quite like chess, you were playing a game within a game. You were the queen. You went here, there and everywhere. I was jealous: Denmark, Spain, Japan and most recently, going to live with Morten in America.

Woody Allen once said something about life’s absurdness in one of his films: “life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy writer.” I took that as him saying live everyday like it’s your last because it could be and that’s life’s great joke isn’t it? One minute you’re a pawn one square from the end of the board, ready for your coronation, and in the next, that very same pawn, (your last pawn) has been outmanoeuvred. And in the next moment, you’re moves away from being checkmated and you don’t even see it coming.

It’s a famous fact that Auntie Luisa was vain. She told me so herself; ‘one day I said “auntie” and she replied “don’t call me that. It makes me sound old.”’ And when she got sick she felt even older. I felt older as well – at twelve years old subjected to mortality’s dread. I have been twenty-two for the last ten years. Ask Natasha: “what happens to a person’s body between being diagnosed with Scleroderma and death?”

Or ask Natasha about: “feel-good films with terminal illnesses.” I could watch Me Before You with Mom; or Breathe with Grandma; and Forrest Gump with Uncle Dean and Auntie Mary. Forrest Gump is somewhat uplifting – spoiler alert – until the end when Jenny dies. As if YA fiction and coming-of-age films will somehow change my reality. It allows me to hide, to run like Forrest. “Run Forrest, run” Jenny says. But then her heart gave out – much alike how Luisa’s did. She could no longer see. She could no longer hear or speak. She just was. She was no longer in pain though. No more pills, no more mid-street panic attacks or shivering hands from sudden changes in temperature.

I was home alone with Grandma when Morten called. In Auntie Luisa’s solemn silence, he talked with Grandma. Thousands of miles away, her daughter lay punctured with tubes. Covered in blood. Ten years and done. “We can keep her on life support”, Morten says. “The doctors can’t do anything for her. You must give consent to turn the machine off. It’s breathing for her. Do you understand?”, he sobbed. “I’m sorry Cathy… our Lu is gone.”

There were some murmurs. Then the screams came, paralytic and piercing. Grandma clung to me. My mother arrived as I was giving my grandmother words of endearment, seconds after she had consented for her child to be taken off life support. “It’s okay Grandma. It’s okay.”

It was definitely not okay but what else could I say? Your child is dead and there’s nothing you can do about it but I’m forced to lie to you because that’s what people do in times like this – words of endearment in times of grief. You probably won’t be okay ever again.

Tennyson wrote a poem called In “Memoriam A.H.H” in which he talks about the loss of a friend and how people who grieve often struggle to find meaning. If anyone has had similar experiences, I get it.

I’m sorry for jumping around like this between these different events but they are important in showing the different perspectives, as my family are extensions of my own consciousness. Ask Natasha: “how long is the proper time to grieve?” Ask Natasha: “Do human beings have souls?” Ask Natasha: “Is there life after death or do we float through a void for eternity?”

Do we do away with Auntie Luisa’s possessions? You know, like her clothes and hairbrushes and handbags – and her iPhone4, her philosophical teachings or Jane Austen novels. When is the right time? When Granddad wails asleep or is it when Grandma sobs over the kitchen sink?

I think back to the good times in London as a child. And I’d often watch Auntie Luisa sleep, as children often do with their parents. But she wasn’t my parent; at the same time, she played both mother and father to me. She’d lay snuggled under the duvets and all you could see were her long hairs. “Wake up auntie,” I’d say and she’d smile and laugh. However, in one of my dreams recalling these weekends, when I said “wake up”, I wanted her to smile and laugh (like she normally did) but she didn’t. She was only forty-four. She was too young to fall asleep forever, and when she did she reminded me of the dead.


Despite the subject matter here, I really enjoyed writing this. At some point in our lives we will have to bury someone and it’s pieces like this which define soul searching. It’s possible to learn things about yourself in stories of self-analysis and evaluation.  And if you managed to get to the end, well done.

Watershed (After Allen Ginsberg)

This is a poem that I wrote in my head in November and only articulated it onto paper two weeks ago.

I came into contact with “Howl” years ago but I only recently engaged with it personally last January, not long after starting university.

Allen Ginsberg is one of the figures of The Beat Generation, along with Jack Kerouac (On The Road) and Ken Kesey (One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest).

In short, “Howl” is a declaration of personal experiences with religion, sex, drugs and society’s absurdities. Part I is about individual cases.

Part II talks about the  Moloch of society, which represses feelings and forces the victim to declare themselves mad if they do not suppress the said emotions.

Part III is a proclamation of sympathy with Carl Solomon (he’s in an asylum). In that last part, Ginserg is standing in solidarity with his imprisoned friend, extending his hand in friendship. This is an act of emotion in the poem, an idea that society seems to be subjugate.

In this act of rebellion, Ginsberg is embodying an anti-establishment attitude, thus sticking it to The Man, to put it bluntly.

“Watershed” was written as a stark contrast to “Ode to the Millennial Generation” and a modern rewrite of parts one and two of “Howl”. The title comes from that time after 9pm on television when all the darker / morally-ambiguous shows arrive on air.


I

I saw the greatest people of my youth destroyed by society – pure, naked, rancour; hauling themselves through the streets in the midsummer looking for something to do,

music-headed millennials listening to the sounds of Paul Weller and Bob Marley looking for a connection to their parents’ generation,

the people who plodded through poverty and sat up smoking seeing the supernatural silhouettes of spectres floating across canopies of towns and cities in an existential crisis.

Photographer: Stas Svechnikov

These are the millennials who bared their knuckles to Snapchat and Twitter, hash-tagging their way through Wikileaks and Edward Snowden,

who passed through university swimming from the loan shark – dead eyes hallucinating like seeing giant chickens on the streets of Amsterdam,

those who cowered in cubicles making memes with nooses to hide their depression –

today’s kids who advertise their beards and long hair like Gandalf posing on the cover of Vogue.

They’re confused, like fish seeing land for the very first time, along with dreams, drugs and disillusionment. Walking nightmares, alcohol and one night stands that turn into functional relationships

on the blind avenues of a sporadic cloud and thunder in the landscapes of Bangkok and Melbourne, illuminating the rude awakening of real life.

Photographer: SHTTEFAN

Rookie soldiers of the twenty-ones to thirty-fours, responsibility and family life dawns while wine drunkenness catches their eye –

joyriding and jaywalking with no care, sun and moon and nature’s touch in the season of orange in Central Park, as poets and actors preach in the streets,

as feminists protest like Civil Rights activists marching from Selma to Montgomery under the threat of dog’s teeth and tear gas and police chants and horses and riot shields and batons and the legacy of Jim Crow,

and the millennials would yawp and whisper war stories about when they’d been arrested and on which march – the shocks of A & E, jail and combat – whole minds deteriorating in a seven-day layover with prison food, like vomit from concentrate,

those who disappeared into the cracks of Birmingham. Broad Street and New Street, leaving a trail of blood to the Rep Theatre,

watching poverty run riot by the riverside restaurants, as the homeless wander asking for change so they can live another day.

Photographer: Spenser H

The millennials who jump in taxis to go two minutes down a road, those who lay hungry and broke in cafés talking about literature,

and those conversations disappeared into the tattooed trees on the table and into the local narratives and told tales of Northampton, Bedford and Cambridge,

and further still – into the West Country of Devon, Dorset and Somerset, places that investigate newcomers and make you forget city life and its liquid lunches,

inflicting scorch marks on the anticlimactic nature of capitalism in The West – places where police create more black stars than Hollywood,

millennials who broke down in jail cells and wailed like sirens when they just happened to be wearing a hoody in a white neighbourhood –

who were raped by those who preyed on low self-esteem, taken advantage of like the slaves who worked the plantations in Mississippi and Morant Bay.

Photographer: Maciej Ostrowski

But the millennials went on partying through Manchester and Liverpool – a juxtaposition to the legacy of slavery. Myriads of slaves at auctions who stood all day with bloody feet.

My generation who watch Black Mirror and Westworld as Theresa May perfects the art of crashing the NHS,

the young people who read romance novels in Costa whilst plugged into bad music, who sit depressed under their own storm cloud,

who had suicidal thoughts in school and were told to get over it – like depression and anxiety were no different to burning your hand on the grill.

The generation that murmur all night, scribbling incantations on how to be happy in blank verse, who watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower like it was the story of their lives,

who cut their wrists at breakfast, lunch and dinner and were forced to open nostalgia shops when they failed, who hanged themselves in their bedrooms and were forgotten.

Photographer: Jens Thekkeveettil

The people who sang  in Warsaw and retired to their beds… forever to tend their war wounds like it was 1st October 1939 all over again,

who were given daggers for their “ums” and spears for their “likes” and electroshock therapy to cure their anxiety of the tomorrow.

Camden Town and Oxford arguing on how to talk and how to live, tongues wagging from midday to midnight,

and those who dreamt up stories on the bus in long sentences, trapping the metaphors and similes with semicolons and subordinate clauses,

who boobie-trapped the verbs and nouns with dashes and commas in long sentences like Oscar Wilde.

And in the spirit of jazz in New Orleans, saxophone’s cry across the water with the tears of a thousand years of blissful adolescence, and are good to grow one thousand years more.

Photographer: Jens Thekkeveettil

II

What foul creature carved out their souls and imagination?

Society – isolation – independent loneliness and inflation. Young people screaming in their homes. Children caressed by Hollywood divinities.

Poverty sleeping in the parks. Society! Society! The nightmare of society. Loveless in its mutilated Marxism, the brutal judger of broken people.

Society, the unimaginable jail. Society, the black dog walking through the graveyard. Society with its logos of judgement and stunned governments,

whose minds are machinery; whose blood is money; whose fingers are on the nuclear codes; whose torso is a bonfire of the youth; whose souls are stocks and shares.

Society where people sit alone, scared of their own faces. Society with its containment culture and cookie-cutter flats and invisible poverty lines and fake wars –

visions, symbols and miracles down the Thames. Dreams and aspirations gone with a whole truckload of toxic political correctness and fragile masculinity.

A storm. Epiphanies, politics and religions gone as the boat flips. Despair! Years of suicides and crazy crucifixions into a haze of holy yells.