on sails of silver by

‘What would you say to your younger self?

I get hit with his one morning after group, sweat rolling down my sides in metallic rivers tinged with sour brown coffee. Our lead counsellor sits across from me with that impenetrable cliff face and I feel my handholds giving way. I want nothing more than to call up my folks and fly back to a nest I haven’t been welcome in for years now, liquor-soaked cuckoo. I wonder if anyone from out there in reality has left anything on my phone, a text, a voicemail. I am in the underworld and it smells of chemical floor cleaner and the limp butter-slick Nike soles of everyone on this purgatorial treadmill.

‘Uh, I dunno…Say no to drugs?’

Eyebrow raise, lips tight as a government purse.

‘Come on now.’

So I think back to the little sunshine kid I used to be, fragile, feet made out of blown glass but stumbling on towards adulthood anyhow. Tree climber and river rat, picking bits of Victorian clay pipe out of the water. I found a doll’s head in there once and they told me that liquid body at the end of the garden used to be the garbage heap for the fancy house built further up the road three hundred years ago, that it stretched all the way to the edge of the fields under the foundations of our poor house, so my whole childhood was spent on some graveyard of wealth.

And then I grew older and didn’t fit anywhere, jagged little jigsaw piece full of rebellious sky. I can hear laughter from the yard, smoke break and two sugar tea. There is a guy sitting on the red brick wall in a flat cotton cap with his head in a book. He’s called Onkle here and says he wants to carry on reading me this poetry, it’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde and he wraps his thin little coat around him a little tighter when he reads it despite the late summer heat making the apples on next door’s tree blush. Sometimes I hear him reciting to himself in his room as I walk past, we’re on the top floor of this place, rickety and peeling with one out of service lift shaft and one bathroom for six, and he reads poetry late when the pain and jerking of his legs crying out for heroin chases any sleep away.

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‘Hmm?’

‘Listen man, I had a bunch of strange ideas growing up, my younger self weren’t no innocent canvas that just needed a few more hugs to stay on the straight.’

He gives me a look like he can see right inside the leaking cavity of my heart where that wobble-lipped inner kid is wondering why everyone leaves and why the other kids wanna beat up the freak and why is that freak always me and while we’re at it how come daddy never came back and mom returned from the hospital so different and thinking holy shit you whiny little prick maybe you did just need a hug.

‘I wanted to be a priest growing up.’ It just leaps outta my mouth like a rogue fish.

He doesn’t laugh, just takes me in like an oil painting ‘Why?’

‘I guess…’ My fingers twitch and my cigarettes feel like they’re burning a hole in my pocket like my sheer desire to get out of this magnolia interrogation has ignited them all. ‘I always felt devoted to something, God I suppose, like I’ve always been totally drunk on creation long before I got drunk on the other. Someone once told me I had a holy soul.’

‘Do you know much about the Higher Self?’

‘Yeah…I’ve seen some weird shit.’

‘I don’t doubt it.’

And suddenly that kinda liquid fire you get inside your chest with whiskey and confession grabs ahold of me and I want to tell him everything, about that time I met myself as a golden spirit and got taken to see the great river of all souls, about how I saw them passing through a long and starry desert in a line of glowing white before being breathed into a new life through an angel’s mouth. About how I saw pictures of angels in books growing up and those limp-wristed pastel fairies had nothing on this Being towering above the black mountains wreathed in eight fiery wings, bigger than a planet even, eyes full of time.

It dawns on me that I can’t hear laughter anymore, just the slightest summer breeze teasing the beech leaves.

‘Go get some food.’ He nods at my stomach which is bubbling like a mad scientist lab. I need to go alchemize some jacket potato, and then I need to find Onkle and gorge myself on poetry.

the private life of plum trees

You lose track of time in the bubble.

Day four of these smudged pastel hours of white bread and gentle sunshine and the ovenbake group room where we all sweat out our demons. The clinic is a light box of fluorescent bouncing from magnolia wall to linoleum floor, dysfunctional prism. I feel like the dead cells are lifting off of my skin here,  like a tiny galaxy of flaky armour is peeling away like a snake shedding its old summers and floating around me in orbit.

Deftone lets me watch a band play from his phone, cupping it in his hand like a forbidden cigarette, he’s coming to the end of his stay and us rookies don’t get our phones back for at least a week and he gets me when I say I might have tossed the bottle and the pill packets but I gotta fix up on my music to make it through. Then the cook shouts us for dinner and we file in, chain gang shuffle, for another round of burnt sausages and rubber broccoli.

‘I been in prisons that were better than this.’ Deftone says, drowning everything in a red tide of sloppy tomato. I wolf it down cause my Valium detox is kicking my insides up a gear and I’m so happy to be getting fed hot food I don’t care what it is or how many jacket potatoes swamped in budget coleslaw I have to eat on the way. I wanna say ‘I’ve been in doorways a lot worse.’ I listen to the laughter tinkling like the cutlery being crashed together and feel bad for him, but there is a certain type of guy I’ve got to know in here who could be handed the Crown Jewels with a pat on the back and complain the diamonds were too big.

Washing up is one of my my favourite meditations so I stick some Steve Earle jam on his stolen phone and rinse the day away with the kitchen to myself, watching the sun bleeding out through cloudy violet skin outta the safety latch windows. We’re all free to leave whenever we want, free to rocket back into our coffins anytime, but every window is chained and bolted within a couple inches cause rehab can prod some people over a different edge.

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‘Need a hand?’ It’s Ant, spectacled and scrawny and lined with all the deep grooves of his thinking and he looks like one of those unhappy clowns with lead-white faces and painted tears, they called Pierrot or something. He’s always sipping weak tea and writing in his notebook and he let me read some of the thoughts in there and I can’t imagine living with that kind of antimatter in my brain. The kind of dark that gobbles up suns, black hole in the head.

‘I’m cool, coming out for a cigarette in a minute.’ I say, dunking my eyes back into the green depths of the sink water. I don’t like looking into Ant’s eyes too long.

When I go out for a smoke they’ve both disappeared and I take a long drag looking round the yard, it’s movie night so the stretch of grey concrete is empty apart from the blinking of motion sensor lights registering my presence. Then I hear a holler from the back of the garden so I check behind my shoulder for staff and hotfoot it up there. They’ve found a plum tree dripping with just-ripe fruit over the boundary fence and we pluck them like little kids thrilling to the tune of petty thievery.

‘I used to go scrumping at Natwest mate.’ Deftone snorts his piggy laughter, spitting a plum stone back into the neighbour’s garden. I breathe in bitter leaves, the taste of cigarettes and the sweet simplicity of Eden mingling on my tongue, rough and dry as a cat’s with my detox, worlds colliding. A quick sharp flutter of something black at the edge of my vision and Ant smiles, a facial expression on foreign soil.

‘Bats.’

‘Huh?’ Deftone is staring with blowtorch intensity at the plums in his hand. ‘You know this place is fucking ridiculous, we gotta forage for food now?’

Ant and I watch the bats weaving their inaudible sonar across the sky.

‘It’s a fucking disgrace, I shoulda left early like I said.’

I eat my last plum, rolling it around in the ash bucket of my mouth, trying to keep up with the blurred stop-motion of delicate leather. I think I am the happiest I have ever been.

do i still have time to choose

Lord if you hear me, I’m falling down

Day one. We’re tearing down the motorway in the spitting rain and everything is washed-out ancient laundry grey, even the grass banks seem to be flowing away up to the horizon in grim watercolour. I can feel the sympathetic green of my eyes leaking too, melting out into the white canvas of watery optic around them, getting right into the fine cracks. Emerald-shot.

‘You’re sure you want to do this?’ My stepfather is smoking a cigarette out of the window. ‘We’re all behind you…It’s just…’

It’s just that I’m thirty years old and these wheels are hissing through the puddles on the road and I’m jumping off into empty space like a guy about to beat the hangman to the drop. It’s just that the the first half of my life has dwindled like a dollar store candle, guttering into A&E visits and psych hospitals and what’s left of the flame stutters now with the slightest shift in the air. It’s just that my heart is floating somewhere above the earth, one trembling thread tied to a blade of grass, just a cobweb kissing the ground and only visible to those blessed people who take the time to stop and watch the wind change. I can feel myself straining at the confines of my own skeleton with every glass of hot amber like someone swimming in the wild at night, waiting to be sucked under by a stray current like the bad end of a Victorian romance; white leaden limbs catching in the feral green hair of the river.

In front of us, a lone black Lexus weaves across the lane. My stepfather snorts.

‘What in the hell they think they’re doing? Dozy motherfucker.’

I shrug, my shoulder blades feel dislocated, my brain is rattling on its stem like a dice box trying to throw a six. ‘They’re probably daydreaming about what it’s like to not be driving a Lexus.’

He wolf barks his laughter and we race in silence past storage units and roadside diners and trees still thick with summer green. I am leaving my past life behind me as easily as the glowing embers of that smouldering paper cigarette-end as it bounces on the road. I almost say: I had a dream last night that I was looking through one of those spyholes you get on apartment doors, and I knew there was someone on the other side waiting for me to answer but I couldn’t make nothing out but a pair of dark eyes. I think it might have been the Devil knocking. What do you think of that.

 My faith is weary, my soul is too
Lord if you hear me, I need some proof

He hauls my bag out of the trunk and I stand there as the rain stops falling, thousands of crystal clear bubbles hitting the road in slow motion and I think about rain and how many drops actually fall during a storm or even that glittery drizzle that puts water pearls in everyone’s hair because it must be an incalculable number. Everything about this place looks normal but it sits strangely on me like a dream place where you think you’ve woken up but you haven’t really, and I stand there by the cricket ground, hollow as a chapel inside as the car roars off, my fingers aching and the thick, swampy beat of this song I’ve had rolling around my skull for weeks – about the last-chance, bleeding-out ache of a soul on the rocks – coming back to me. Watching my breath hang spirit-like in the air like I could stop time or make a wish or God would answer my prayers if I can just faithfully count every droplet of water taking flight in liquid exorcism from my body. I think:

Fuck me, my life is a church that burned down.

I wonder how my legs are still moving cause my spine is an anchor ripping through deep water and the seconds are sixty air bubbles a minute in lungs crushing under all that oceanic pressure. I am in one of those freaky old diving suits like a lead-lined water burial, plodding with infinite slowness across the dead reef tarmac of my new sea floor. Then the door opens and fluorescent light pours out into the chill and misty air and suddenly my hands are empty, and I step through the door staring down at the dead white lines across my fingers, where the blood has stopped flowing. I remember signing the contract for treatment because I walked through the doors sober, I was two hours early, I was hovering above the sick meat of myself like a cloud in torn jeans, an egg being separated in its shell, yolk from white, before hitting the spitting bottom of the pot. I remember carrying my light bag – 28 days worth of hastily gathered t-shirts and jeans, a toothbrush, a dusky pink snake of adventurine prayer beads – up the echoing stairs to an attic room, opening the skylight and watching the beech leaves dance in the wind. Looking at my own face in the mirror, bleached and blank and bare, like the walls.

 

So this is kinda embarrassing

The thing is, I can be a real cheapskate (necessity) so when I posted a couple of weeks ago saying goodbye to my old blog (progressively) and my old writing (collectively), I figured I could transfer my old theme across to the new one (naively), to begin this words gig again in fresh start new leaf blank page bliss (simplicity).

Surprise. No you can’t. And I like this place, I like my readers, and shit damn I like this theme I shelled out for and ain’t gonna let it go to waste.

So I guess I’m going to just have to keep writing here. Even if it’s a little different.

Edit: yes it is a Donovan reference