Bob’s Revenge by Ayndrilla Singharay

In response to: Twin Peaks

A bedroom.

Abi, a 30 year old woman is holding a mirror out in front of her, staring into it. She is alarmed by what she sees. She looks away, then back up at her reflection. Her face begins to contort, in horror. There is a knock at the door.

Abi looks towards the door, then back at her reflection. She begins to panic. There is another, more urgent knock on the door. Abi puts down the mirror. She slowly walks towards the door and hesitantly opens it. Miriam, a 35 year old woman enters and walks straight into the room, holding two plates of food. She barely glances at Abi. She puts the plates on the table and sits down. She starts to eat.

Miriam: There’s a documentary on later. About American prisons.

Abi closes the door but does not move.

Miriam: I always thought it’s weird in those programmes how the black people and white people hang out in separate little groups. It’s like when you start school and you’re too scared to make friends so you just hang out with the girls who are wearing the same kind of shoes as you.

Abi stares at the door.

Miriam: Anyway, I thought we could watch it later. If cow-face isn’t hogging the TV.

Miriam turns and looks up at Abi, who is facing the door.

Miriam: Come and eat.

Abi turns around. She slowly joins Miriam at the table and begins to eat.

Miriam: Tell me you did something other than cry today.

Abi stops eating.

Abi: I did something other than cry.

Miriam: Hallelujah.

Abi: Do I look ok?

Miriam: What do you mean?

Abi: Do I look like me?

Miriam: Abi, I met you five days ago. I have no idea who you are.

Abi: But I don’t look different to you? Different than I did yesterday?

Miriam: Your hair’s a bit greasier. You should watch that. A little shine can very quickly turn into something you could fry chips in. Slippery slope.

Abi: I want to tell you something.

Miriam: So tell me.

Abi: Promise you won’t think I’m crazy?

Miriam: I can’t promise I won’t think something. I can promise I won’t say you’re crazy.

Abi: Seriously. You’re my only friend in here.

Miriam: That’s not my fault.

Abi hesitates.

Abi: Have you ever looked in the mirror and seen -?

Abi looks at Miriam and gestures with her hands.

Miriam: Seen?

Abi: Seen – not you.

Miriam stops eating.

Miriam: All the time.

Abi: No I don’t mean like that. I’m talking about seeing a completely different person.

Miriam: Abi, look. I know it’s shit, but you did the right thing. We all did.

Abi hangs her head, frustrated.

Miriam: Who we are now is so much better than who we were then. We were scared shitless all the time. I was, I know you were too. My boyfriend, your husband, they’re the same kind of person. They like seeing people scared. I know it’s crap in here but maybe being sad is better than being scared.

Abi: (raising her voice) You’re not listening to me.

Miriam: What?

Abi: When I looked in the mirror just now, it wasn’t me. It was a man. And he had long grey hair.

Miriam stares at Abi and laughs.

Miriam: Well that’s not what you want to see.

Abi: Don’t laugh at me.

Miriam: What do you want me to say?

Abi: Has anything like this ever happened to you?

Miriam: Can’t say that it has.

Abi: Will you look with me? In the mirror?

Miriam: Ok.

Abi picks up the mirror and holds it in front of her. Miriam stands up. She slowly walks over to Abi and looks into the mirror with her. Her eyes widen.

Miriam: What the hell –

Abi: You can see?

Miriam: Yeah I see. I’m growing a full blown moustache here. Man, Abi. You could have just told me.

Miriam laughs. Abi puts the mirror down and sits down at the table.

Abi: I see him. Every time I look.

Miriam sits down.

Abi: You must think I’m mad.

Miriam: Is he someone you know?

Abi: No. But I feel like his name is Bob.

Miriam: You feel like that’s his name?

Abi: I know how it sounds.

Miriam: I’m not sure that you do.

Miriam breathes deeply.

Miriam: What do you want me to say?

Abi: Just say you believe me.

Miriam stares at Abi.

Miriam: I believe you.

Abi: It’s the weirdest thing. I can feel his presence when I look in the mirror. He’s really there.

Miriam: Inside the mirror?

Abi: Maybe. The worst part is, I’m sure he’s –

Abi hesitates.

Miriam: What? What is he?

Abi: I think he might be –

Abi leans closer to Miriam and lowers her voice.

Abi: Evil.

Miriam leans away from Abi.

Abi: He’s not a good person. He’s done – bad things.

Miriam breathes deeply.

Miriam: Ok. I’m starting to not like Bob very much. Can we give him a different name? He doesn’t sound like much of a Bob.

Abi: But that’s his name.

Miriam: Bob’s are supposed to be friendly. Bob Marley, Bob Hoskins, Bob the Builder.

Abi: I don’t know what to tell you.

Miriam gets up and paces up and down the room. She looks at Abi, then looks at the mirror.

Miriam: Maybe we should break it.

Abi: Why?

Miriam: You said you think he’s inside the mirror. Maybe if we break the mirror, this Bob character will disappear.

Abi: I don’t know.

Miriam: Well have you seen him in any other mirrors?

Abi looks around the room.

Abi: I don’t have any other mirrors.

Miriam: Don’t you have a make-up compact?

Abi shakes her head. Miriam reaches into her pocket and pulls out a smartphone.

Miriam: Here, use my phone. Check your reflection.

Abi holds the phone in front of her face and stares into it.

Miriam: Well? Is he there?

Abi: No.

Miriam: Ok, good. So it’s just that mirror. Let’s do this.

Miriam picks up the mirror and lies it, reflective surface facing upwards, on the floor in the middle of the room.

Miriam: Hang on a sec.

Miriam leaves the room. Abi crouches over the mirror and looks into it. She rocks back and forth, distraught at what she sees. Miriam re-enters, holding two large wooden rolling pins. Abi looks up.

Miriam: I guess they think we have all the time in the world to make pies and shit.

Miriam hands one of the rolling pins to Abi.

Abi: I don’t know if we should do this. It belongs to the refuge.

Miriam: They’ll understand. We’ll say it was part of the healing process.

Abi: What about shards of glass?

Miriam looks around the room. She picks up one of Abi’s shirts lying on the bed and ties it around her head, covering her eyes like a blindfold.

Abi: What if we miss?

Miriam: It’ll be fine. There’s like three things in this room anyway.

Abi picks up another shirt and ties it around her head so that her eyes are also covered.

Miriam: Ready?

Abi: Wait, how do we know this is going to work? What if it makes things worse? What if breaking the mirror releases Bob or something?

Miriam: If that happens, we’ll come up with a new plan. Ready?

Abi: Wait, isn’t breaking a mirror meant to be bad luck?

Miriam hesitates.

Miriam: That’s if you do it by accident. We’re doing it on purpose.

Abi: Oh. Are you sure?

Miriam: Hundred percent. Come on now, let’s get rid of this bastard.

Abi: Ok. Wait –

Miriam: What?

Abi: I can’t tell where you are. I don’t want to hit you.

Miriam reaches out one hand towards Abi.

Miriam: Here, grab my hand.

Abi reaches out with her hand. Her hand meets Miriam’s and they clasp them together.

Miriam: Ready?

Abi: Miriam, what kind of shoes did you wear at school?

Miriam: What?

Abi: You know, that thing you said before. About when you start school and want to hang out with the girls wearing the same shoes as you. I wore lace-ups. All the others wore pumps. What did you wear?

Miriam hesitates.

Miriam: Isn’t that funny. I wore lace-ups too.

Abi smiles.

Abi: Let’s do this.

Miriam: On three. One, two, three –

Abi and Miriam swing their rolling pins towards the mirror with full force. The sound of an almighty smash. Blackout.

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Jude Finds Himself Locked Out by Matthew Halliday

In response to: The music of Henry Purcell. His music is very pure, often employs little vibrato, and has a baroque respect for order and proportion. The music, which I often like very much, often sounds very sanctioned; god-sanctioned, or sanctioned by royal prerogative/absolute power. It is very pure and angelic, and very seemly.

It is not known exactly how Purcell died, but one story is that he was locked out by his wife one night, who was angry with him for being out late drinking, and he ended up dying of pneumonia.

It is the contrast between his life, which was devoted towards creating these divine constructions, and the absolutely imminent real facts of his (purported) death that inspired the poem.

Jude Finds Himself Locked Out

Jude has been drinking. He is throttled with himself, fondled.
His heedless feckless gentle street light.
He could have done not this
and suffer less, and the precipitation: biblical! Awful!

The external suddenly becomes clean and hard and not unkind.

Thick clouds are emptying themselves clean above.
The ambulances flash in and out of Kings College Hospital

communicating
blue-and-red…  blue-and-red…

Jude pulls an invisible stool up and finds himself
                                                                                                              distracted by the present,
The rapture-rupture and hatcher.

He perches on his doorstep on his toe-tips like a goat.

Crowds of stragglers dressed in black
march along the pavements, inclined towards the earth.

They have other problems on their mind.
The sea of late night wandering in the reverie,
cow-eyed kind and oblivious,
the anemones unfurl just slightly.

While he lies there naked Jude tries to see what their souls look like.

Galileo peering through the wrong-end of the telescope
at the frowning cardinals.

The line of the Catholic church is: we have eaten enough apples.

                                                                                              I found a planet far away from me, from here.
                                                                                                                                      I’ve seen a luminous moon.

Ah the days spent grinding my lens,
not a damn to give for the suffer I need not have!

He hates these masses
too concerned with the pragmatic business of being
to let anything else in.

(Hate the agglomeration not the molecule, Jude!)

He notes how they resemble all the things they doubtless do not know about;
                                                                               sculptures by Rodin, knotty and covered in craters,

or his beloved limbless busts from ancient Greece
ruins with perfect pedicures
                                                                                                                                      washing down the streets.

Careful Jude, that looks nasty.
You should put some lotion on it.

Regrets and let-it-be. The boredom is here to stay for now.
Like Purcell, locked out by his wife when drinking too late one night.

The fury of a lover consigns the other to the gutter.
Purcell: The real McCoy, the English baroque,
                                                                                                          rarer than mink,
                                                                      spare and clean voices that only know harmony.

Purcell died doing what real men do.
The learned and studied gentleness.

                                                                                                                          This absolute absence of a penis.

.
And the rain, strains of assenting angel wings
                                                                                                         beating soft as snowdrifts

ardent, chaste, and otherwise unadorned.

Miniatures for the Court to pronounce beautiful.

Jude pythons round the bus-stop, plunges his hands in pockets full of ash.
He wonder how one could sing so clean
                                                                                        when so ravishingly empty.

He wonders what patronage he will receive
at the end of his aspiration culture. (Dare to dream, Jude).

Staring at the sexual health centre, in a building that proudly announces 1926.
The year of the general strike.

Jude shivers when he thinks like this, like a dirty communist.

He idly checks his prostate.

Purcell was supplicant to a fault,
he finds Jude singing in an octave higher than Mount Olympus
on an isle in an agitated lake of fag ends and Gin

squatting on the threshold, practicing,
you find him
                                                  here
                                                                                                                          in his hour of humiliation

daubing his escritoire with gaudy and holy
an involuntary onanism inspired from on high.

I ask the Court to let in
this sincere expression of bafflement.

The Divine Bow by Stephen Nashef

The Divine Bow by Stephen Nashef

In response to: Shen Gong by Aku Wuwu.

This is a translation of a poem by Aku Wuwu 阿库乌雾 called Shen Gong 神弓 (The Divine Bow). Aku Wuwu is from the Yi 彝 ethnic group which originates in southwest China and is culturally and economically marginalised. This poem is originally in Chinese but Aku Wuwu also writes in Yi script. It might be useful to know, when reading this poem, that in an increasingly mono-cultural and mono-orthographical China, fewer and fewer Yi people remain in touch with Yi literary tradition.

Aku Wuwu
The Divine Bow
for the hero-worshipping age

Divine One      take you that unseen wooden bow
shove it into your footprint abyss
this people’s chaos history
can move no longer a half-step

You     Divine Surviving Foal
use your wings    fight back for your life
the distant drumskin of sky
shudders loose the sometimes mobile stars
who drop and enter your footprint pool
like the ripened wild sour plums
do send out acrid snores
nightward

Divine One      your greenly folded kinship hills and peaks
begin and raze the brown land low
the wooden bow by dreams back-eaten
lightly calmly scorches some things sore
not only legend stuff

from this          one small wooden vessel
ferries a sour fruit boatful
depicts a heavy autumn
there is only whats between sky and sea    countless unspeakable birds
themselvesly                 flying to
flying fro

Hearts of Darkness by Nadia Jaglom

Hearts of Darkness by Nadia Jaglom

In response to: Redfern Now, Embrace of the Serpent by Ciro Guerra and Palmeras en la Nieve (Palm Trees in the Snow) by Fernando González Molina.

I am self-employed, which means 90% of my time and energy goes into over-analysing things I have seen on Netflix or at the cinema, with a vague air of self-importance which usually has no outlet, and no audience. UNTIL NOW.

Over three days, I watched two films and a TV series which had radically different approaches to portraying ghosts of colonial past in Guinea, Australia and Colombia. Included in the line-up are some of the best and worst representations of colonialism that I have seen.

I myself am the product of colonialism. My grandmother and maternal line before her were born and brought up in Hong Kong, where they almost certainly ‘intermixed’, shall we say. My grandmother was raised by a Chinese servant, though of course this woman was always made to stand in family portraits, erect and dutiful in a cheongsam, whilst the rest of the family reclined on sofas.

My father was born in historic Palestine shortly before the Nakba of 1948, when Zionist gangs would begin their programme of ethnically cleansing the land of its indigenous Palestinian population in order to make way for Jewish settlement in what – years later – would become a wonderfully hedonistic holiday destination for a younger me. What this has taught me, amongst other things, is how easy it is to sentimentalise, silence and censor the horrors of colonialism in one’s own past, so that all you are left with is the honeyed aftertaste of exotic little fantasies and self-serving histories; a beautiful record playing over and over, muffling the sound of screams coming from the bottom of the garden.

In one of the most appalling scenes from Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent, and there are many, I am reminded of a statement Steve McQueen made on the radio about how the most horrific things conceivable to man can take place in the most beautiful places. This is a fact the horror genre – reliant as it tends to be on ham-fisted atmospherics – studiously ignores. But Guerra’s film, set in two different time periods deep in the Colombian Amazonian jungle, is no horror. It’s a piece of cinema which thrashes at the edges of multiple genres, drawing on the best of all, refusing to be hemmed in by the conventions of any.

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It is a film that has been repeatedly described as hallucinogenic in tone, a description I generally dislike but (somewhat reluctantly) found myself agreeing with here. For there you are, bobbing down the river, half-transfixed, half-asleep when, chancing upon a spot to moor your canoe and stop for a bite to eat, you stumble into hell itself. This happens multiple times: through the chance encounter with an amputee who – scrabbling wildly at a milky liquid in the forest undergrowth – begs to be shot in the head rather than have his plantation overseer discover that he has dropped his bucket of rubber. Or the scene where you realise how the white missionary, who has crowned himself the messiah, punishes his indigenous disciples.

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The film is 125 minutes long, both inconceivably meditative and unbearable in its tension, punctuated towards the end by the long-awaited plant-induced trip, shot as a burst of colour in an otherwise entirely black and white movie.

Afterwards, during the Q & A with Guerra at the ICA in London, a woman demands to know why – if the filmmaker was so concerned with preserving and celebrating sacred indigenous knowledge – he chose to represent this scene at all. Guerra (round, with little, dark, twinkly eyes) has been wearing a sardonic, self-deprecating expression for the last ten minutes as he expands on the process of a making a collaborative film with an indigenous Amazonian crew and cast. He calmly explains to the woman that the images used in the ‘trip’ scene were actually created by the tribe, using religious iconography to do what cinema does best: show the unshowable, and see the unseeable.

The cinematography – shifting constantly between space and time – is truly spectacular. I felt I was watching the birth and cannibalisation of a nation which – like the Colombia Marquez describes in One Thousand Years of Solitude – can morph seamlessly between a fragrant paradise and killing field as you float downstream.

Guerra explained how worried he was about how his countrymen would respond to a film that dealt with Colombia’s treatment of its indigenous population so nakedly and unflatteringly. The Catholic church, in particular, gets an awful rap, which is pretty much unheard of in Colombia. Where, to his great surprise, the film was a huge success.

After being nominated for an Oscar, Guerra reportedly received a phone-call from Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, congratulating him on his success. In 2012, Santos publicly apologised to the families of more than 100,000 indigenous Indians who were killed during the rubber plantation boom, and the countless others who were tortured, raped and mutilated. The success of Guerra’s movie will surely bring more shackled ghouls rattling at the footsteps of Colombia’s ivory tower. Which can only be a good thing.

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Elsewhere, in Bioko, an upstairs-downstairs romp called Palmeras en la Nieve (Palm Trees in the Snow) from the Spanish team behind Nothing of Any Significance.

In this massa!massa! minstrel show, colonial legacies are put to rest by a woman named Clarence (hilariously, after the British colonial term for a Guinean dormant volcano). It turns out that Clarence’s mouthy chauffeur is – in a beautiful twist of fate – related to her via her uncle’s brutal gang rape of his mother, but don’t worry ‘cause she’s brimming with passion and fire like her namesake and she won’t be held back by those uppity inkspots who take umbrage with her teary-eyed tour around her family’s former plantation – oh! The good ole times…

The moral of the story is, don’t worry if you (Clarence’s father) wrongly accuse your houseboy of planting a snake in your bedroom and whip him in front of the whole plantation because you can always make things right by fucking a married, light-skinned nurse and learning a few words of pigeon-native for ‘sorry my brother and his mates sodomised you and left you for dead’.

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Unsurprisingly, the film doesn’t give one a sense of what life in Bioko, the northernmost tip of Equatorial Guinea used by Spanish colonialists to develop coffee and cocoa plantations, might actually have been like. Nor what the Spanish were doing there in the first place, apart from the usual slaughtering, pillaging and merry-making.

Turns out, Bioko was passed between Spanish, British and Portuguese hands throughout the 19th century. In 1844, finding the locals uncooperative, Spain imported thousands of slaves from Nigeria and Liberia to manage their plantations. It was then used as a penal colony for exiled Cuban prisoners. Finally, it 1963, it became ‘self-governing’, through a heart-warming constitution inspired by Spain’s Francisco Franco (anybody smell a coup d’etat?)…

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Later, it fell to Macías’ dictatorship. CV highlights include his ordering the execution of all of the former lovers of his third wife and 150 political opponents in Malabo Stadium while loudspeakers blared the Mary Hopkins song “Those were the Days, My Friend.” They sure were.

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Next up was Macías’ nephew Obiang who (after executing his uncle in 1979) has been presiding over a brutal, repressive dictatorship for almost forty years. In a LOLFACTOR ONE MILLION announcement from 2003, state radio announced that Obiang “is in permanent contact with The Almighty” and that he “can decide to kill without anyone calling him to account and without going to Hell.” The good news is, once we in the West discovered this, we naturally decided to cut all ties with Guinea. Oh wait, just kidding… WE FOUND OIL!!! and, as anyone who knows their weight in black gold will tell you, that meant we had to reverse our stance on Guinea and act quick, so America immediately poured $5 billion into the country, making it the third-largest oil producer in Africa. Which is a sort of happy ending, if your name is Exxon, Mobil, Chevron, Texaco or Marathon Oil.

But before I run the risk of sounding any more like Adam Curtis, over to Australia via Redfern Now, a six-part Netflix series created and developed by indigenous Aboriginal writers, alongside British screenwriter Jimmy McGovern. The last film I saw about Aboriginal communities was John Pilger’s Utopia – fair to say, a misleading title – at 9am in the morning at a press screening (I am not press and never have been but it felt like an amusing hustle at the time) where the only other audience member was Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian, who spent his whole time sexting, or what looked like it.

It’s pretty hardcore… men like this (see below) look at you accusingly from within tin-shack shanty towns, whilst red-faced drunkards deny the old genocide problemo at Australia Day celebrations and luxury hotels are built on top of former penal colonies. In sum, it makes for necessary but harrowing viewing.

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Redfern Now takes a different approach. It’s one of the best things I have seen on television; wonderfully funny, moving, self-aware, tense, affecting and – above all else – surprising. It takes every stereotype you have about Aboriginal communities (and indeed every stereotype Aboriginal communities have about their own antecedents) and turns them on their head.

An anthropologist by training, I am ashamed to say that I was still under the impression that all Aborigines living in Australia today were barefoot nomads, or hemmed into barren reservations with no running water or electricity like the Bedouins I had met in the Negev desert. It seems I have been woefully misguided. The fact is that we in Britain simply never see urban Aboriginals. And more’s the pity.

The series looks at six different families within an inner-city suburb of Sydney and the ways in which they negotiate their indigenous identity, amongst a swarm of other competing concerns, like getting used to life after jail, or having to take on your schizophrenic sister’s two children.

In one of the best episodes, an indigenous bursar who has been awarded a place at a private school is encouraged by his father – ‘a proud black man’ – to never stand for the Australian national anthem, despite facing expulsion for his heretical stance.

I had thought the father (who, if he’s not already, should audition as Colin Farrell’s body double) was white.

Of course, black power and identity always has, and always will, mean more than a designation of skin tone, and what struck me most was what a prescriptive understanding of ‘blackness’ I brought to bear on the whole scene. I was the cab driver, in another episode, who swivels round, astonished, and says to his blue-eyed passenger “but you don’t look aboriginal”. At the same time, I found myself weirdly shocked and disconcerted by the fact that almost every character in the series looked mixed race. How could white Australian society – so notoriously racist – have inter-bred in this way? Call me ignorant, but then again I have spent the past few years living in the West Bank, getting used to the Zionist anti-‍miscegenation stance, which holds that intermarriage with a Palestinian is not only treasonous, but also bureaucratically impossible.

Could it be that modern-day demographics in Australia reflect a much more open and tolerant society than might at first glance first appear? A 2006 census revealed that 52% of Aboriginal men and 55% of Aboriginal women are now intermarrying. The rates are 90% for indigenous university graduates in Sydney. Despite this, children of mixed parentage continue to be described as half or quarter-caste, an ethnic classification we Brits mercifully abandoned (Princess Michael of Kent aside) some time ago.

Ultimately, the rise of intermarriage should not be mistaken for the decline of bigotry. Invisible Discriminator was a 2014 indigenous campaign designed to raise awareness about the many different kinds of discrimination that the Aboriginal community continue to face on a daily basis. The report found that indigenous Australians were twice as likely to commit suicide as non-indigenous Australians, and three times as likely to suffer from psychological disorders. 1 in 5 whites revealed that they would be unwilling to share public transport with an indigenous Australian. You heard that right.

You’ll have to watch the series to find out what happens to the boy from Redfern who refuses to clap to the beat of the Australia’s jingoistic drum. But it’s ugly. And no doubt inspired  by true events with a team of scriptwriters who are Redfern born and bred.

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When it comes down to it, there’s a major difference between these three pieces which are all beautifully shot, directed and acted: Redfern Now and Embrace of the Serpent gave a shit about indigenous input and collaboration and Palm Trees in the Snow evidently did not. But don’t listen to me – go make your own mind up. And see if you can come away unscathed. I sure as hell couldn’t.

Compounding Errors by Ted Bonham

Compounding Errors
by Ted Bonham
After Errors by John Ashbery

The wind brings us echoes of the shipping forecast
from all of the other poets listening late at night,
staring at the glowing tip of a cigarette, burning
as only the best words do—
in the clouded corneas of spy dens,
in the beads of sweat frozen into winter,
inside the where without
where John is busy placing his just so
we’ll never quite comprehend them.
And love is adapted lust.
And love is a feeling of complete stillness.
And love flees to water,
your old school swim team dissolving in the mist.
Anything placed to burn in stars
refines the lines around the lines
around the lines of a Spirograph that resembles a human mouth
at ten-year intervals. It fumed
clear air of quitting each time we got pregnant. It desired
an excess of doubt in all things.
Ours was poorly sewn
and you were poorly stitched to ours
and hours spent patchwriting the moon
would never rise.

The moon is fine – We return to be entangled
in the Spirographist’s silence.
Your old school never had a swim team, though
love is all to do with drowning.
Whose truth is it                 in doubt this time?