10/10

I was at university in London when the first attack took place, although I have not ever studied at university in London. It wasn’t a terrorist attack, but something even worse. It was October 10th. 10/10, when the war commenced.
I go between London and New York. I don’t mean travelling, as if I am between offices in those two cities, but rather I can walk around a corner in White City or Shepherd’s Bush and find myself in Manhattan or Lenox Hill.
The first attack hits New York but it blacks out London at the same time. We are in a university building, a small crowd of bewildered students, lights go out and the mobile network goes down. There is confusion but also some resolve which is both innocent and youthful but also borne from already being world-weary.
I find myself in a white van with black innards, sat with a few of my peers, a handful of us, being driven in the dark through London streets stripped of any sense of their usual hums and buzz. I recalled we went to see a lake, earlier in the day, before this all happened – a large escarpment on the west side – and on the lake itself there were pedalos and, bizarrely, three of four hovercraft. I remember thinking who would want to go on the pedalos when the surface is being so disturbed by the much larger, aggressively-driven vehicles. Perhaps this was a sign I did not see.
We turned a corner, and now I am in New York. I live with you on a residential street, a town house with three or four storeys, on a street where all the other houses have been converted in the past into apartments. White furniture, wooden floors. People in positions of some authority are knocking on doors, asking if there is room to take in people made homeless by the attacks. I look around and there are about twelve adults already in our house, but I say that I can take another ten, no more. So that’s what happens. People are sleeping on floors, and I am talking with several of the more resilient types. There is nobody who is really old, most people seem to be in their thirties, I’d say, and of various ethnicities. I seem to have a role, a pull, a centre of gravity, though I do not know why or what it is. I look out of the window again. There are people carrying guns for protection. One of the men who was in my house is now riding on the back of a blue bin lorry, with a radio and mic and words of protest as the lorry moves off down the street.
It felt important to ensure that the front door was locked. I wasn’t sure about the back entrance – I recollect there was a gate and a small garden or yard, and then the back door. Standing in the kitchen, I thought to myself that my children would have liked this house.
We have to go upstairs but the stairs are broken. An older man with tattoos on both hands points to a contraption from which two series of steps emerge. He holds these ladders in place, which is how I notice his tattoos. For some reason there is now a bare bald razor in my hand, the type found in manual shaving razors but without the plastic grip and case. It is in three parts. It is important, that I have to carry this in my hand without dropping it and without cutting myself while I climb up the stairs. The steps are quite flimsy and it feels perilous, but I make it to where the original house stairs return in a usable condition, and I am relieved. Other people on that staircase had encouraged me.
I cannot smell or taste in my dreams, I can only touch, see, and hear. I now know this is also reflected in how I write.
I am outside on a wide boulevard on the edge of the city, somewhere near the river. There are a number of men taking the opportunity to peddle drugs. I thought to myself that their ink will run out soon, because of shortages, but I did not know what this meant. The men engendered a feeling of some fear in me, and we stuck together in a group. Later, I called my mother, who was on her own back in the UK, though she is not on her own. I remembered pressing the point that the connection was poor and that the call might come to an abrupt end. My mother was worried and did not understand what was happening. I also called my wife, although I am not married. Unsurprisingly, she scolded me for various reasons. I reassured her about the key in the door, and that also we should both be OK for money because of the government’s furlough scheme for public service employees. I could tell that her parents were with her in New York, too, although I never set eyes on them again.
From my lounge, filled with people I did not know, some of whom slept, all of whom worried about food and meals and supplies, I tried to text a contact who did have some answers, we thought, but the last three numbers were wrong, and the message was not sent. A meal is made from a group of foods, sometimes using a list called a recipe, and sometimes not.
On a street between offices and shops, police cars are responding urgently to nothing in particular, at least nothing the police can solve.
An angry, haptic, naphtha sky is over the upper city, and there are buildings burning in the distance.

You had to go to Swansea by train. I often dream of stations and tickets. You had kissed me on a dark misty golf course. Your hair is longer. Your mother had set your name in your phone to Scooch.

I woke in a sweat. I wondered what the ancients, the Greeks and the Romans and the Europeans and Chinese and Indians along the Silk Road would have made of it all, knowing what we now know, and having contributed to the source, the beginnings of it all, without a care in the world for the ending.

Flavit Et Dissipati Sunt

Is this the device
To restore me to life?
Aside from Time.

Aboard a forecastle,
Transshipping north,
I had for a while complained

On a dead-dream’s galeón
About that empty butter-dish
As a reflection of maritime

Indiscretion and, yes, indiscipline,
When, mizzenmast by mist absorbed,
I observed the strangest

And yet also greatest tactic
For navigating by enemy ships
My mind might ever deploy –

Such naval mastery,
Having praised the artistry
And admired the torsional

Balance of Riggers
With hands as thick
As a goatskin canteen

I recalled as a boy,
Crafted by one zahatogile
Who lived in the hills

Between beautiful old Bilbao
And her sister-ville, Vitoria-Gasteiz,
With the vigour

Of rumours
In human form,
I watched those sailors

See their majestic
Eponymous flaxen cloths
Unfurl like those enormous flags

High above God’s citadel –
I could only marvel, open-mouthed;
My porcelain soup-ladle fell

To the floor with a clunk
Of patterned petuntse on oak,
Oak above ocean

And bitumen stores, and bunks.
I witnessed that pernicious
Enemy approaching,

Those hawkish sea-dogs set
To embed their yellow jaws
Into Iberian hulls,

When with miraculous invention
And a surreptitious detection
The whole, entire ship,

From fore and aft
Ballast and derrick and all
Submerged slowly, deliberately,

Its seaborne form
Into much murkier waters
Until even our crow’s nest

(Which I once sat within
With telescopic lens to check
And did detest that

Vertiginous platform)
Disappeared from sight,
And the royal mast’s tip

With every man and boy
From Powder Monkeys
To a Quartermaster himself,

Sunk and sunk and sunk
Somehow, yes, sunk,
Under the surface

Our seven hundred men
Descended, by what artifice,
By what new science

I had simply no idea.
Time slowed down,
Saturated pumps immersed,

Until the advancing party passed –
Kittiwake-facing adversary –
And our loneliness checked,

Our gallant vessel
Rose triumphantly,
Independently from nature,

No fish in a tricorne,
No whelks in our breath,
All the saltwater pouring

Away from our death,
We sailed on, yes,
Impervious

To our future defeat
And descent, until
The English said

Flavit et Dissipati Sunt,
Our angels translate as
Repent, Repent, Repent.

Exfoliant

Harm’s made in many molecular shapes,
When we were younger, we stood in its way;
Before cats could taunt, nine lives became drapes,
Rabbits’ fecundity taken away.
Orders received, burnt twice after reading,
Sweltering thoughts of factories in May;
Sweat like small bombs on bleached floors were bleeding,
Wishbones of Peace on a warm metal tray.
The harm in life is always organic,
Find antidotes in your heart’s poetry;
Hoods malfunctioned, contagions of panic,
Where organs once authored, there’s irony.
Untold men died, several years after;
Deprived of love, natural as laughter.

Otter’s Totem

They used to sow
Totemic emblems
Of victory and glories
In the snowy throats
Not long since owned
By the deceased,
The routed,
So they should speak
As fluently as sleek
Otters speak of fish
In their afterlife,
And account like beads
On abacuses,
Or a long lost rosary,
For whitewashes
And the blossom of losses.
Keepsakes and tattoos,
They knew the horseless
Fallen in battle
Would adjust
To their new solitudes.

They used to take an ear
From the thin bark of
Eavesdropping willows
In winter, a votive,
So the restless dead
Repeated messages by rote
On death’s bloated pillow.
For they recognised
Through songs survived,
And later then
Their own demise,
Each tea leaf,
Each grain of rice,
Is someone’s sweat
And someone’s life.