Variations on the lines of Ozymandias

 

I stood upon a silvered strip of land

Which fringed the edge between the sea and stone

And saw embroidered golden threads of sand

Wrap softly where the barnacle had grown

I saw myself give out a firm command

I wondered if the seas themselves had read

The thousand tales of empires and those things

On which our ancient histories are fed

When from the mist a legend should appear

With power in the hands of noble Kings

And men stood by in awe and deep despair

As rocks and sand told stories of decay

When land lies levelled, stripped and bare

And kingly power is gently lapped away

 

A Beautiful Cage

copyright 2011: M.Butunoi/G.CalinescuEverything used to be new once.
My face, open like a fresh orange, with writing marks on it, with letters and signs, a new book coming out of the press.
My belly, new,
Ready for unborn life, squeezed between sheets with delirious happiness.
My left leg, the leg behind the eye,
(used to ground the world, to set fire to all the unnecessary sadness) new.

I sit still, looking down at you, struggling to cover the marks of the war with fabrics and ash.
My forehead pressed against the glass, cold.

I observe how you drink the tea on the other side, with precise, calculated sips.
And the day passes.
A beautiful, new cage for both of us.

 

copyright 2011: M.Butunoi&G.Calinescu

Leaving Home

Leaving Home

 The day I left home came as a surprise to me.  I had gone shopping as usual, parked the car by the railway station and had just put my coins in the parking ticket machine, when a train came in.  As I struggled with the machine I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, the people standing on the platform, chatting, staring into space, reading newspapers.  Now the train had gone and the platform was empty except for a sole figure standing, as if waiting for someone still to arrive.  The figure stood for a moment, looking up the line as the train moved away.  It seemed as if they were hoping that someone would appear, leave the train, walk back down the line perhaps and offer a greeting.  But of course no one came and the person who was waiting turned and left the platform.

I stood, still watching and waiting.  I had a vision of those people who had filled the platform so recently, having been eaten by the train, digested and disgorged at some destination further up the line, far away from here.  I saw them still reading their newspapers, or drinking coffee, or staring out of the window or chatting to friends, while silently moving away, up the line and out of reach of this place.  I saw myself sitting among them, smartly dressed, briefcase open on the table, reading my notes for a meeting; or looking forward to a shopping trip or a visit to the theatre, going anywhere but here.

I felt in my bag for my purse.  I looked out my credit card.  I wondered about the cost of a ticket.  I pictured myself alighting in the big city, stepping swiftly along the platform, my heels tapping smartly as I walked with assurance towards the exit, looking for the way out.  Would the children miss me, I wondered?  They hardly seem to notice me now they are growing up.  A hasty greeting in the morning as they rush to school; a grumpy nod when they come home, looking for food but too busy with their own lives to sit down and talk to me.  They wouldn’t miss me, not until they had to get their own meals.  And would he miss me?  Probably, but he’d soon get over it.  He knows how to use the washing machine.  He’ll manage, I thought.

I looked down at what I was wearing.  I’d stand out like a sore thumb in the city in my jeans and fleece, but who would notice?  I went over to the ticket machine; “out of order”.  I looked at the timetable; next train in an hour.  I wondered how much was in my bank account.  How long would it last in the city?  I went up to the ticket office and half-hoped that there would be no one on duty.  But there was.  She looked up at me, through the strengthened glass and waited expectantly.  “A single toLondon, please” I heard my self say.  My voice came out of a place I didn’t recognise.  Was that really me, asking for a ticket toLondon, I wondered?  Still feeling that I was in a dream, I stuffed the ticket into my purse, deep where I couldn’t see it.  My purse felt hot in my hand, so I pushed it into my bag.  The bag knocked against my thigh as I paced the platform. How long could I wait, I wondered?  Eventually people began to arrive on the platform.  A crowd milled around me.  The train arrived and everyone pushed past me.  I stood, sweating, my heart thumping in my chest, my hand gripping my bag.

And the train left.  I watched it as it moved smoothly up the line, waiting as if to see myself safely seated in the rear carriage.  A silence fell around me.  Then a footstep behind me and a voice spoke.  “Were you waiting for some one, love?”  The porter looked concerned.  “Are you are ok?”  “Yes, I’m fine, thank you”.  No, I’m not waiting for anyone, I thought.  I’m just watching myself, leaving home.  And it’s comes as quite a shock, really.

Advice to a grandaughter

 

 

Advice to a grand daughter

 

I am not cool, you tell me, though once I was

Eager to swan, to strut, to receive

The admiration of imaginary gods.

Aware that the future was mine

I stepped out on the journey

My destiny assured

The world my oyster

Confident, excited, seeking the pearl.

 

I am not cool, though once I was

Ready to take the waiting world by surprise

One of the crowd, following the leader

Setting the trend, knowing the answers,

Tossing the head and ignoring advice.

Driven by nature, believing that the world was mine

Like the hound in the trap, released to run

But destined never to catch the hare.

 

Now you are cool, you say.

As I watch you take the same uncertain steps

Emerging from the chrysalis

Drying your wings, splendid in you iridescence

As you fly over the walls we built to protect you.

 

We have the answers, but your ears are stopped.

We have the map, but your are blind.

We have been on the journey, climbed the hill

Now we turn and see you head down

Deaf to advice, blind to the warning signs.

Burdened by expectation

 

I am cool.  I am wise.  I am experienced.

I have instructions sealed in this envelope.

I pass them on but you look past me.

Dazzled, you take the shining path

Wanting the admiration of the gods

Delighted to carve the old, well worn path

The Apartment

I was lying on an eighteenth-century fainting couch. They had seven such pieces of furniture dotted strategically around the apartment. I was grateful for this, as I usually felt nauseous when I saw them. Toby and Samantha that is, the couple who owned the apartment I found myself in. Samantha was fussing over my contorted body. I had my head between my knees and was mewling like an injured Prussian whilst rocking back and forth from my waist axis. I wanted to tell her that her actions were actually making things worse, but I couldn’t for some reason.  I raised my head and looked at her face. She seemed a worthwhile person. I wondered if I was in love with her, and that’s why I couldn’t say that her mere presence made me sick. I put my head back between my knees and thought about this concept for about 14 minutes. I drew strength from its paradoxical nature and felt slightly better.

Toby then rolled into the room like an egg. Although a young person, his face consisted entirely of jowls. Jowls. It’s as if they’d had a fight with his cheek and jawbones and the cheek and jawbones had not only lost, but had been so traumatised by the experience that they could no longer function as anything useful anymore, whilst the victorious jowls descended lower and lower until they resembled two empty scrotums hanging from each side of his face, like a grotesque pair of drop earrings.

Toby was standing over my body. He looked moderately concerned as he asked Samantha what was wrong with me.  

‘His intestines have gone to sleep.’

‘Ah, of course’ said Toby.

I was surprised at this swift diagnosis from a person untrained in medicine, as well the casual ‘matter of fact’ acceptance from Toby. In actual fact, it felt the exact opposite: my intestines were wide awake and looking for ways to leave my body. I groaned like Geoffrey Chaucer, or how I imagined Geoffrey Chaucer would groan after a night drinking strong ale.

‘Listen to him’ said Samantha. ‘He’s groaning like the Venerable Bede after eating chips.’

She’d misdiagnosed me again, but I let it slide. Toby suddenly crouched down to my bent over frame. I noticed distractedly that his jowls took slightly longer to reach the same level as the rest of his face. Some kind a lag effect, presumably. For want of anything else to say, I repeated this observation out loud to him. His slapped-arse-of-a-face looked sad, like Droopy Dog’s after being told his family had just died in a house fire. Frustratingly, however, it soon cheered up.  He went on to say that my rudeness – or was it candour? – was down to the delusion he thought I was suffering. This was not the case; although I was in physical discomfort, I felt shockingly lucid in my thinking. 

Samantha and Toby clearly didn’t think so, as they were now talking about me as if I wasn’t in the same room as them. I heard them say I was socially and mentally retarded and incapable of sustaining a relationship with a real live woman, as well as being a compulsive masturbator and bed wetter. Most of these accusations were half truths at best. Granted, I often combined the masturbating and bed wetting, (two birds with one stone, etc.) but there was nothing compulsive about it. And all the other allegations are just hearsay.

I decided I had to do something to have them notice me. In keeping with the traditional etiquette of such a situation, I pretended to clear my throat loudly, hoping to alert them of my presence, and thus persuading them to discontinue their character assassination, which had now moved on to me deliberately pushing a shopping trolley into a toddler’s face in Waitrose. This, again, was another slander. What I’d actually done was push a shopping trolley over a toddler’s face in Waitrose. There’s a subtle difference, and they really should have acknowledged it. This is what happened: the child was lying in one of the aisles colouring in some pictures of tigers, and, feeling surprisingly confident, I tried to ‘bunny hop’ over him. I’d often practice this trick in my spare time, of which I had quite a lot. Unfortunately, I didn’t factor in the weight of my groceries in the trolley, and this meant I was unable to perform the manoeuvre. Consequently, the right front wheel and the right back wheel of the trolley ran over the child’s jaw, nose and forehead (in that order).

I looked back at what I’d done and felt a bit guilty. But I believed there was still time to retrieve the situation. Fortuitously, all this had happened in the stationery aisle, so I opened a packet of post-it notes, wrote down my details, and stuck it on top of the boy’s head. That way the owners could contact me to sort out any insurance issues or other problems. I then left the supermarket feeling quite altruistic.   

Later I realised that instead of writing my name and address on the post-it note, I’d actually drawn a picture of a duck. I don’t know why I did this.

I’d been narrating this episode out loud, in the hope that Toby and Samantha would acknowledge me. It didn’t seem to work, as they had now started to have sex. Toby mounted her like a sweaty warthog. Samantha looked like a praying mantis only bigger. I declared it weirdly anthropomorphic in my mind, and added an Attenborough narration for effect. I watched them for a while, and listened somewhat inattentively as Attenborough described cross-species coitus. There was then a disjuncture and things became quite turbid. When I looked again Toby was lying dead on the floor. Or perhaps he was sleeping. I couldn’t tell the difference. 

 I then turned my head and saw the words ‘change’ and ‘permanence’ lying on the floor next to a crowbar. Excellent, I thought. I’d been looking for those things. This story is now complete.

 

Looking Through Walls

Looking Through Walls

 

Dev’s having sex again.

His hands pin her to the headboard like

Christ; windows mist and the naked air

Turns radiators white with cold

 

Like the wind in Paolo’s eyes. Leaving for work at five

His bike wheels grimace at the road ahead

Lasers of sharp light antagonise his sight,

He looks tired. A fight to smile, wife

At home. He’s tired of this life.

 

where birds hang on telephone lines.

breathing heavy drags of chimney smoke.

They cough, then tweet,  

 

Through a window

where a child stares blindly into a busy road.

One ear nailed to a mobile phone.

Yeah yeah I can see you now

 says a voice before striding the stars; shooting

a smile through the front door

no thought for his mother

 

who’s having sex with Dev again.

Her arms shaking inside his

with legs wide open to the world.

The Parable of the Dinner Invitations

 Jesus had attracted a crowd in Jerusalem. And he said to them ‘let me tell you a parable, and you tell me what it’s all about.’ And he told the parable:

 

A man wished to have a dinner party. He tells his servant, ‘take these invitations to my three best friends and come back with their answers.’

 The servant did as he was told and later he came back with the responses. He said, ‘my lord, your first friend he could not come, for he said he would be busy digging a trench on his allotment that day. Your second friend could not make dinner, for it clashed with his daughter’s bowls competition. And your third friend said he was unable to attend because he had recently had his knees amputated and therefore found it difficult to walk long distances.’  

In response to the news that his friends could not make the dinner party, the man had his servant thrown off a high cliff. He then sent gifts to his three friends thanking them for politely declining the invitations.

 

‘Do you see what this particular story means?’ asked Jesus.

One woman in the crowd spoke up: ‘sir, this story’s morals are atrocious. The man kills his servant, who was entirely innocent of any sin. What possible lesson could one learn from it?’

‘You see, it’s metaphorical’ said Jesus, who had anticipated the criticism. ‘God represents the man, and the servant is representative of humans. God generally wants to kill humans, because he hates them, and in this parable he does just that. What’s the parable’s lesson? The human race needs to buck its ideas up or God will kill them, by jiminy!

‘So who do the three friends represent in the parable?’ asked the woman.

‘I’m sorry?’ said Jesus.

‘Who do the three friends represent in the parable, the ones that refuse the dinner party invites?’

Jesus looked uncertain, for he had often overlooked that part of the parable. He was silent for a long period before giving his answer. ‘They’re space robots’, he said eventually.