Cologne Cathedral: The Asylum Sleeper

I will close my eyes
and wait for them to ask why
I am not hopeful sleep will have a chance to infect

Before one of them whispers in my ear

Because this home is never empty

I am a refuge

for their fantastic pulsating bodies persistently animated
even in the silence of prayer
walking room to room
burning holes as they go
they think I am immune to pain
they think of me as their building
I have no skin

therefore I gain no bruises

I watch them hour after hour door open and closed
the hair, the eyes, the lips all the same

but each voice different
some complain and others beg and pray

but I never shout back
not a word, not a sound
they know I hear everything
when my candles flicker and light echoes

they can offend and blaspheme
and fight each-other
then loiter around my tombs trying to find me and declare asylum
then fall asleep on my lap
even then my lights stay on

outside their flags and posters pollute the skyline

the air is dirty with hatred, yet still
I manage to exhale and stay upright
the strong one at a funeral

I am their godfather
the first guardian on the reserve list with thousands of children
I treat each one equally

when my candles flicker and light echoes

they think they are safe

I will still be here waiting up

I will not turn out the lights at night when everyone else gets to retire

I am sorry
they have forgotten about my entrance fee

I am sorry they cannot bear the thought

of touching each others palms
and I am sorry I am ready for bed now
I want lights out
the candles that surround my corridors are seducing me

out of consciousness

they want to cradle me
and slowly swaddle me in smokey ribbons

blankets as thin as wafers

promising to keep me hidden
with curtains drawn I can sleep

and I know seekers will knock on my doors

With their questions and justifications

But I will sink further into my bed

their chants will be mere lullabies

I will be the asylum seeker

safe within my concrete walls

burrowed in the highest steeple

Unsure of the sound of my voice unsure if I have a voice
I would ask so many questions
why do you crave protection?
why are you always cold
and wrapped up in your coat of arms?

why must I watch your demonstration

when you can choose
to see me or turn your gaze and ignore?

I would also give thanks for your noise and distraction
because at last my nave is clear

and I can search and pry until I see what my voice looks like
the bells of St Ursula and Peter

the caves of the pinnacles and spires

the beating organ of the swallows nest

humming still until the next song

my voice is the shrine of the three kings it is medieval gold
and Richter’s stained glass rainbow my voice is a floodlight

and it has fallen onto its old face

rattled by harsh intolerant winds and anti-islamic gales
the candles cannot find their wicks

and they mourn for each human whose voices

were once melodies lengthly democratic songs
the tunes came from east and west north and south

illuminating the other side of the Rhine

and we remember when you imitated my stained glass window
with a gallery of nationalities

until you didn’t

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Old Habits

Saturday October 27th the anniversary of the closing down of Leavesden Imbecile Asylum, the day Diana and Stephen Ryle made the move from their London flat to their new house, and the day a young woman’s body was found in the shed in the bottom of the garden of 45 East Lane, stabbed to death by garden shears.

“You’re not wearing your coat” Diana mimicked a shiver and turned on the cars heating.

Stephen smiled. He loved her caring personality, he believed she had enough care for every and anyone that needed it. Stephen glanced into her eyes, and felt sorry for his wife for being cursed with an aptitude for kindness he had witnessed nowhere before.

The road was clear of the usual weekend traffic, and the journey was as effortless as he had envisioned when he was lying awake and anxious in bed last night. In the early hours of the morning as Diana slept, he watched her, mesmerised by how vulnerable she looked asleep.

“We should be there in twenty minutes Di” reaching the end of the motorway, Stephen stroked her cheek imagining her in the home he had been waiting for since they met. As soon as he could he used his inheritance to put down a deposit for a house. Stephen spent no longer than half an hour in the estate agents before deciding on a new build in the leavesden estate. A fresh red brick, two bedrooms, with a large garden, and easy access to the Country Park and chapel.

As they pulled up to the entrance of the estate a mid morning fog was falling on the houses, restricting their view of the new slate rooftops. Stephen stopped quickly swerving to avoid the man in the middle of the road. The man who was dressed in brown suede trousers and a dirty grey shirt revealed a tobacco stained smile as he limped to the pavement.

“Great way to introduce yourself to the neighbours Ste, by nearly running them over!” Diana chuckled as Stephen turned the engine back on.

“Knowing our luck the poor old sod probably lives next door” she opened her window to wave the man over and introduce herself, but when she looked out he was gone.

“Here we are Di! 45 East Lane” Stephen pulled up on the drive and leant over to kiss his wife

Getting out of the car and looking at the house, Diana’s face froze. Her pupils dilated, and her skin acquired sheen of frost. She had the face of a frightened little girl, her fear was confirmed with a zipping of her coat right up to her chin and the folding or her slender arms. Stephen went in, and she followed. She stopped on the doorstop and glanced back at the street, scanning her eyes across the view searching for the limping old man. Disappointed, once inside she closed her eyes and inhaled the smell of fresh paint and removed her coat.

The house was empty, and undecorated. White walls, and white carpets. The removal van had been the day before and the living room was full of boxes and furniture. Diana sat on the kitchen worktop and ran her hands over the granite surface in a motion similar to disturbing the surface of a pond with your little finger.

“Hello in there! You okay?” Stephen’s voice was uncomfortably loud and he pressed his face against hers.

“Shall we start unpacking?” she jumped up, and out of her momentary trance.

It was late evening before even half of the boxes had been unpacked. They had unpacked the essentials, the bedding, a lamp, the wine glasses, the toiletries, her books, the case of wine her mother gave them as a small moving in gift, and her rocking chair. As dusk gradually calmed the walls of their luminosity they stood and looked out at the garden.

“You look tired, take a break” Diana whispered as she moved his fringe away from his eyes “I’m fine, where’s the rest of those boxes?” he took a sip of wine

“Stephen the boxes can wait until tomorrow, nothing else matters tonight, the bed is made. Relax” she took the glass from his hand and stole a sip.

They stood there watching the sun fall and the autumn darkness exhale its maroon smoke into the air. She looked up at her husband, back to the mess of boxes and furniture, and back at him again and let herself smile genuinely for the first time that day.

“Ste did you see the local down the road as we drove past? Why don’t you go, check It out, have a pint, relax?” She asked finishing his wine.

“I’ll be okay, I could do with a long bath and when you get back we’ll have a nightcap in the garden” she picked up his wallet from the kitchen counter.

“It’s our first night here Di, and you want to get rid of me. It’s my house” he teased as he retrieved his wallet.

“Maybe I’m planning a private housewarming and want it to be a surprise” she leant in and kissed him.

It takes Stephen seven minutes to walk from his house to The Swan, he walks briskly. He walks, with his hands in his pockets, facing the ground. It’s only 7pm but the street feels emptier than London in the early hours of the morning. When he gets to the pub he considers turning back. It isn’t what he’s used to, it’s dimly lit, what Diana would describe as homely and he misses her. He crosses the road, and walks in.

“I’ll have a Brandy please” he leans over the bar and scans the shelves.

Sipping his drink he searches for a place to sit, he decides on a round table with one chair beside the open fire. He falls into the chair and let’s himself deflate. He feels the flames of the fire comfort his cheeks and palms and offers his hands into the fire.

“Careful, one more drink and we’ll have to rush you to hospital with burns” Stephen stood up startled by a man’s voice, wavering and interruptive.

“I know you, I, I think I owe you an apology” Stephen reached for an extra chair and hurriedly places it beside his own

“It was a joke, put your hands as close to the fire as you like what do I care” the man laughed revealing a couple of eroding teeth

“No, I think I nearly hit you with my car earlier? I was with my wife and I couldn’t see you through the fog. I swerved and you ran off”

The man prolonged his grin and sat down beside Stephen, offering his hand to shake. It was unusual for Stephen to experience such humility and carefree a nature in a person, he found it hard to respond initially and simply shook the man’s hand and smiled in return. All Stephen could see was a grotesque smile and dirty clothes and he felt an unusual guilt surface, realising he was one of those people who judges a person’s intentions by their appearance. He picked up his keys from the table and half stood up, it was an easy time to make his excuses and leave, his drink was finished and the silence between them was becoming awkward.

He stood up and went to the bar to order two brandies.

“You’re definitely new, no one orders Brandy in here, rip off!” the man was laughing so hard he spilt half his drink before even taking a sip. “It’s Roy by the way”.

“I’m Stephen, I just moved in down East Lane” Stephen sunk once again into his chair

“East lane, that’s where I used to work before they laid me off. That expensive new housing estate made sure of that. I used to work as a gardener in the asylum, but three years ago the decided to shut the place down and build houses. East lane was the chapel and recreational grounds. Being a gardener wasn’t as carefree as you would think! My god were they strict, they made a fuss about what we had to wear, how many hours we worked, how short we cut the bloody grass” Roy rolled his eyes.

“The asylum? The estate agent said it was a hospital”

“Ha! Is that what they call it? Flaming ignorance. Forty five years I looked after the gardens there, with the help of Eric mind you. Eric is a better worker, but that’s because of his ways. He’ll do anything you tell him, anything. He came to Leavesden as a patient in 1958, he was accused of murdering his young wife. They thought he did it because of his ways, you see he’s particular, likes routine and doesn’t adjust to change. That’s all he was. Eric was no murderer, I’ve been there long enough to know which of em’ where criminals and which were misunderstood.”

“If he was there for murder surely they locked him up?” Stephen struggled to conceal an amused expression

“Sure he sounds suspicious, but they proved him innocent in the end, like I said. About fifteen years after admission, he was cleared of charges. They said the girl killed herself and made it look like he did it. Then he was allowed to work. Stabbed herself she did, who would be able to do that, sick woman” Roy smiled, and offered Stephen a cigarette.

“Bloody hell, I didn’t realise. I hope you don’t mind, but how could you really be sure he didn’t, you know, kill her?”

“Ha! Ha! Because he’s as daft as anything. Let me tell you, whatever them instincts of ours are, they’re rarely wrong. I knew he was innocent the day he turned up all tears and wails he was” Roy exhaled the smoke from his cigarette.

“You’ll see if you meet him, daft as anything. Harmless.” They finished their drinks.

“Oh stay! Stay for another” Roy leaned closer to Stephen, forcing him to wince at the smell of his sour breath.

“I would stay for one more, but Diana’s waiting at home. But it was great to meet you properly. I need to tell Diana your story, she loves all that stuff. Safe journey home Roy” Stephen picked up his keys

“Let’s hope I don’t get run over” Roy laughed uncontrollably. Weeping with laughter, he was stamping his feet on the floor and saliva was seeping through his charred gums.

Stephen made sure he had his wallet and his keys, took the glasses to the bar, and thanked the young boy polishing the taps.

“Poor old guy, comes in here every night and gets himself plastered. Been that way for years Dad said, he calls him a raving lunatic, but I think he’s just bored” the boy dimmed the lights and rang the bell.

“Roy, last orders mate!” he ushered Stephen closer and whispered “we have to make sure he doesn’t leave Eric home alone for too long”.

Diana poured herself more wine, and took the bubble bath and the bottle of Chardonnay in either hand. Switching off the lamp she let out a sigh of relief that lasted the entirety of her journey up the fifteen stairs to the bathroom. Turning on the taps and removing her heavy jeans, she climbed into the bath. She took a long sip of her wine as she poured the bubble bath under the faucet leaning in to inhale the scent of rose and lavender, the scent of her wedding night.

When the doorbell rang she giggled. A little drunk, she took no precaution getting out of the bath. She nearly slipped as she grabbed a hand towel that only covered her torso.

“Forgotten your keys yet again! Oh old habits will definitely be dying for you darling” Assisted by another giggle. Feeling a draft she paused as she reached the hallway, she wrapped the towel tighter around her shoulders.

Then opened the door.

half-crow, half man

Look at you

Perched on my porch

Staring me out with raven eyes

All pouted lips and protruding chest

Bent over double

I may as well have barbed wire

Churning inside my abdomen

I’m ready to vomit at the thought

Of you barging in and rummaging through

My home, then jutting your beak

Into my Jewelry box

A magpie dumfounded by gold

You’re supposed to be a man

And here you are acting like a bloody crow

A cheating crook, who will try anything

To swell his nest egg

Half-Crow

Hearing you knock sends me squatting

On the floor and rocking

So I can’t remember sitting still

So I can’t remember what my blood,

Sounds like when it’s the only thing in my ear

Bloody Jay on the porch

Stop mimicking the magpie

Because you will never look like him

at best you will be a half-crow

And at the moment

Your voice is plastic cheese

Ruining my expensive grater

And I’ll tell you this

My stomach cannot cope

With one more fraudulent dinner

The Fish Pose

I have had a small fish inside of my body for some weeks
It’s small enough to swim the channels of my veins
But too big to rest anywhere
Some days it slides up and down my intestines
But today it’s stuck in the crevices of my spine
Slapping my bones with its acidic fins
I guess it’s hungry
It needs to get out
Thrusting my back up high I’m attempting to coerce it into my stomach
So I can vomit the poor little thing out and we can both go find something to eat

When writer’s block comes out to play…

writers-block

Writer’s block is like the sensation of sleep paralysis, convinced that you’re awake, yet you physically cannot wake up. Plain creepy and awfully weird. Writer’s block is terrifying, especially seeing as you’re likely to be writing to a deadline. I cannot really tell you how to banish it because I don’t know how! All I know is that it visits me all too often and I have tried and tested numerous ways of coercing it to make a swift exit. I have put together some of my best tips, and I hope that if you suffer from this numbing bee sting that you find this short list useful.

  1. Keep Calm and Carry on Writing. When writer’s block strikes by all means take a short break. Do something you find relaxing, take a short walk, listen to music, or (my favourite) do some breathing exercises, but do not abandon your work entirely. This is the worst thing to do. I cannot help but think that writer’s block could be re-worded as ‘fear’. More than half of the times I have experienced it I couldn’t write because I was scared. My head was blocked by hundreds of ‘what ifs?’ What if this is terrible? What if no one likes my work? What if I’m just not a good writer? What if this never goes away? Whenever I have experienced writer’s block these are the questions I have turned over and over in my mind. The problem was essentially just a wave of fear which was eroding all of the creative ideas and plans in my mind. On the basis that writers block is nothing but fear, I figure the best way to try to relieve it is to face it. Take the old ‘face your fear head on’ advice and put your pen to paper. Such simple, yet such difficult advice I know. Your creative ideas and your confidence need to outshine and blind every niggling ‘what if’. This is rare fight, because it has to be won verbally.
  2. Be the reader. Just write, no matter how ugly it gets. Remember the only person that has to read this at the moment is, well, you! You are alone and that means you are in complete control.Not only do I think that this time can make you feel as though you were not invisible but in a room full of people painfully visible and plain ignored.  I think it’s really easy to let anxieties jade the simple fact that no one else is involved in your writing and that being alone is what you need. You need to spend time accepting this blockade of anxieties in order to understand the root of the problem. The critics, the publisher, the potential reader are all fictional. Yes, they matter, and of course someone will have to judge and recognise your writing for it to go anywhere public. However, right now it is just you and your pages (or page) and fear needn’t let you forget how much power you have. For this time let yourself be the reader that loves how you write, heck, let yourself be the reader that is obsessed with your work and absolutely loves it! See your work through the eyes of someone who admires it, it will banish the anxieties that are lowering your confidence.
  3. Summon some support. If I had to select just one tip that I thought really worked well, and that wasn’t just me rambling on about loving yourself in order to ‘banish Mr Writer’s Block and his brother Mr Fear..’ it is to summon some support from all the writers who have ever inspired you. When I’m at crisis point and the words just aren’t coming out, it really helps me to take half an hour out and switch writing for reading. I surround myself with all of the work that I have every admired. The books on my shelf that I am quite literally in love with. I summon support from my favourite writers by reading and re-reading their work. In doing so I stop to remind myself what amazing writing sounds like. It’s like I hear their voice demanding me to write like I know I can. To do the thing that they first inspired me to try. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that whenever I read my favourite authors it’s not long before my fingers are burning to write something!

Writers block is certainly debilitating. If approached the wrong way, for instance, by abandoning your work for days, you can easily feed it and it will grow stronger. You do not want to let it grow beyond your control. Remember writer’s block is only ever temporary. You are not a bad writer, and you are not the only writer to experience these fears and anxieties. With persistence and pride you will be back to being the enthusiastic word loving nerd that I know you all are!

I Want My House

“When I’m inside my house

I am funking and I’m doing it alone

The music is just a beat

No voice will interrupt

Because it’s my disco I will funk until I die”

Damn it I want my bills to be paid for

I want my lights on full beam

I want to be naked

On the coffee table

I will Indulge in a hilarious game

I am in a gallery

And I am the masterpiece

‘Madame Mystere, Flesh on Four Legs’

I want all of the windows to be open

Oh feel that Italian breeze

Breathe in deep

Fresh espresso

I never want to sleep again

I want to funk out on the coffee table forever

Will I Ever Be Able to ‘work out’ Dick Diver?

tender-is-the-night

I’m not going to deny that Tender is The Night isn’t without its flaws (compared to The Great Gatsby) it took Fitzgerald nine years to write, yet arguably it reads as though it were still in draft state. However, I actually think that such flaws are appropriate! After all, the novel is all about flaws. Initially everything seems overtly romantic, idyllic! Between the settings of the French Riviera littered with gorgeous couples with glamorous names, and the title of the novel, taken from Keats ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ an expectation for the devastatingly beautiful romance we know Fitzgerald masters is certainly put in place. Yet, below the surface of the title, and below the surface of the characters, there is darkness, secrets, infidelity, and devastating personality flaws.

Out of all the characters, Dick Diver frustrates me the most. I just cannot work out who he is, or why he behaves the way he does. However, I do know that I can’t help but have an annoying sympathy for him. It feels ridiculous to have any sympathy for Dick, he spends most of his time in the novel in an alcoholic stupor making it difficult to fully understand and engage with his character, and he is unfaithful to his wife. That said, I was still almost reduced to tears by him. I see Dick as a deeply troubled, perhaps even a reflection of Fitzgerald himself, I see him as a man who cannot bear himself. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I excuse infidelity. However, I think that I only came to the conclusion that Dick has such a dark relationship with himself, because of his behavior. Rosemary Hoyt is 18, and Dick is a married man twice her age. It is interesting to analyze exactly how he reacts to her instantly falling for him. It is most interesting that initially he doesn’t entertain her advances, he’s married and she’s just a ‘naïve child’ compared to him. Yet, it really isn’t long before this changes, and before he quickly lets his ego take over. This makes me question whether his alcoholism and infidelity are ‘cries for help’ ( I suppose I like the irony of the psychiatrist who turns out to be the most mentally damaged) or whether he is in fact simply demeaning and disrespectful to women.

My interpretation of the sudden change in his course of action with Rosemary is that it is indicative of someone battling inner demons. The fact that his wife is also his mental patient makes it all so much worse. As a psychiatrist, one would expect Dick’s character to be the sanest; they may read his infidelity as being a selfish action by a selfish man. However, I still believe that Dick is possibly the most mentally troubled character in the novel. Spiraling deeper into alcoholism, he spends more and more time drunk, his prose becomes difficult to follow, his actions contradict. I suppose I also feel sympathy towards Dick because if I consider him as being ill, I can accept the way in which he can be seen to use women. Perhaps I’m deluding myself, and Fitzgerald has given us a character we are supposed to hate and that’s that. However, arguably he only married his wife because her mental illness provided him with the opportunity to write the psychiatry manual, that was his life’s most successful work. In terms of Rosemary, perhaps their affair was not purely blamable on Rosemary’s naïve behavior driven by an infatuation that blinded her morally. Perhaps Dick was using Rosemary as an ego boost, a validation of his virility? Who knows? Even so, I struggle to work out whether I despise him, or whether I feel sorry for him. Maybe I’m infatuated by him! (not that I get that emotionally invested in novels I read…).

Even if the novel has flaws, and even if the characters are flawed and they contradict. I am still in love with the novel, and its challenged. Tender is The Night certainly doesn’t disappoint in terms of providing a rare and exquisite type of romance that glistens from every page. The moment whereby Rosemary instantly falls for Dick on the beach illustrates how magically Fitzgerald crafted and weaved words.

“He looked at her and for a moment she lived in the bright blue worlds of his eyes, eagerly and confidently”