Ocean Words

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Beauty and Havoc – Chloe’s Sea (2015)

My big sister had a near-death experience two and a half years ago and she wondered why I didn’t meet her bedside more.
I did go; twice. Not nearly enough considering I was coming to Melbourne from Ballarat every fortnight to stay with my then-boyfriend without stopping by the hospital. The honest answer was that it was hard to see her; near amputated arm, swollen and sullen all at once and delirious with pain and drugs– when conscious, anyway. That was the first time, at least. The second time she was more herself, having recovered significantly in my absence. It was just much easier at eighteen to escape to St Kilda on a weekend rather than face such reality. It was selfish. I knew it then. Words from a fight years before, where she branded me as such, echoed in my mind.
So I drew this for her. For the girl caught too often between the playful splashes of a shore and the calm of a flat, deep ocean. That part in the middle. Where the tide lashes out at its visitors, and wave after dumping wave leaves you traumatised, exhausted, gashed, sandy and cold on escape.
But Chloe liked the sea. She taught me when to jump over those waves so I could reach the quietude that came past the breakpoint. Even in knowing full well of its temper, she wouldn’t shy from embracing this vast, volatile, all-encompassing beauty of a natural wonder.
My big sister had a full-death experience one and a half years ago and I still wish I’d visited more. Talked more. Shown her that I loved her more.
For the next year that followed I went through a repetitive cycle: numbness, crash, repeat. I’d hate to stretch this analogy so far that it turns cliché but those numb times truly felt something like being in a bubble, underwater. Distanced, the world muffled and moved around me but I wasn’t a part of it. I was in my detached coping world looking out passively with warped vision. The longer I stayed this way, the more aware I was of the impending, overwhelming, crushing moment where this comfortable bubble of relief would pop. Then, reality would flood through with fresh upheaval to drown me again. As soon as I’d grow aware of the time I’d spent numb, I would then feel guilt for my absence in living. For my muted emotions towards my grief:
I haven’t cried in three weeks. Who is this disassociated non-feeler? Do I not care?
Upon this thought is when that vacant-making anaesthesia would start wearing off. So, wading in the undertow, too late to avoid it, I’d anticipate the wave.
Change and I weren’t on the best of terms and I was intensely afraid of just how much life favoured it over what control I could muster. But somewhere, I remembered a certain Shakespeare quote with renewed clarity. The one that always stuck in my head. The one I decided was my favourite for reasons unknown to me back when I was seventeen:
“Doubtful it stood, as two spent swimmers that do cling together. And choke on their art.”
And it dawned. I’d forgotten that when the waves are too high to jump over, you must dive through. The only other option is to struggle. Fighting forces you have no hope of controlling will only postpone the inevitable, leaving you more exhausted when it comes.
Through hesitation for the new, I’d missed my opportunity to dive. The gasping, thrashing bob of the clinger proved to be an insufficient lifestyle choice.
Submission was the obvious and last viable plan. Letting go of fear. Succumbing to the flow.
I breathed in. It hurt. But the only oxygen there was compounded with that which suffocates.
I accepted the words fate spoke: “This you is over. But dare not worry, the next one’s coming soon. You’ll like this one. She’s better, promise. So off you go, into blue. Deep. Down. To where the first souls found their bodies. You won’t know how far there is to sink but it’s enough to start anew. Then up you float, you’re bursting through. A fresher you. Reborn but wiser from travelling that old current. An evolution, revolution, resolution of yourself. Embrace it, for no one can swim forever unless it’s a life of survival you choose, over one of living.”
And yes. I rather like this new me now.

Refracted Light

I prefer less saturation of societal impressions,
since through my sight, what parts of me seem white?
My eyes, perhaps, the ends of my nails. My teeth? Not quite.
The lighting’s highlights.

What is black amidst trillions of browns?
Perceived shadows encroached on pure towns.
Skin toned dark need not convey
foreboding,
——as night against the day.

Should I fear those tan-toned folk
when pain is what leaves them to leave all they know?
Safety, a change, is all they desire
but we must refuse them for their veiled attire.

The process of sight is an explosion of refracted light, so how
does a spectrum become a scale indicating a level of acceptance?
Colours are not classist, people are but no one here’s opaque.
Is this some hypocrite’s mistake?

I can’t, shan’t, never shall box diversity’s beauty away,
pluck one piece and say,
“Those others?  We hate.”
“We want an ethno-state.”
“We’re a white nation
—–founded by and for the white man—”
——————-No, fuck your racist shite, Sam.

Let all bloom and not wilt,
Let no conscience feel guilt
Over constructs so arbitrarily built
In fear. “In difference, we must fear—” We must not!

There are greater things to rock us than the tone of one’s skin.
Forget my count of melatonin, hear the tone in my voice. Take your medicine
from Dr King:
“Not by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
And so, if gracious and loving you be,
To me, your dearness gleams regardless of genes.

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Meeting Place (2017) Watercolour, pencil, acrylic and soft pastel on paper.

Search Elsewhere for Your Damsel

Oh, lively boy of inexperience,
who lives a simple joy without intent
to harm. Please calm your hype, your heart’s intense.
You know not much of me at present.

But hold one moment sir, you’re rather sweet,
It’s rare to find a gentleman today.
There’s more in you than firstly thought, so meet
our lips, for hours ‘midst the flowers lay…

Us? Low! No, something’s off. I wish not to
be coddled, bottle-fed, for I am able,
not merely cute. In case it hath escaped you,
I’m fine, yet soothe you try– am I your doll?

It’s fantasy that holds you here, not me.
I feel none for your touch. I set me free.

Let me put on my wanker hat and talk about art for a sec.

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Discovery Collage (2013-2017) ink, watercolour and acrylic on paper and canvas.

Many people search for the meaning in art: symbolism, representation, the way each brushstroke was brushed has some imperative significance vital to understanding the work fully. It’s true; often there’s plenty to unpack. What the artist intended, their concepts, the key events which shaped them and therefore shaped their practice…
Studying art in high school, they told me a lot about viewing artworks with more depth. It’s so you can identify it for more than face value, gain a better understanding of what the artist possibly meant. I got told less about where to stop doing that. Less about understanding that sometimes, it’s more about context than concept. See, it’s harder to write an essay about that. It’s much easier to discuss why Michelangelo’s speculated lifestyle choices made it difficult for him to paint a woman anatomically in proportion. How Bill Viola’s near-death experience in a lake influenced the involvement of water as a recurring motif, symbolising life and regeneration. Manet’s Olympia (1863) recognisably features a prostitute. The clues are in her state of very near total undress but with shoes and accessories still adorning her as remnants, reminding us that she was, before, dressed. A contrasting element against the traditional Virgin, depicted in nature and entirely untouched by societal constructs such as clothing. Pure.
See, I could’ve told you all of that when I was eighteen but I couldn’t have confidently explained Pollock to you. Expressionism just wasn’t concrete enough to me, despite having dabbled in creating work along those lines for years. I could tell you how I felt doing it, but not why someone else decided on it. I was looking too deeply into it because that’s what I’d been taught…
Gosh darn.
Wasn’t I missing the point? It’s more about feeling than thinking. It’s about the moment the artist does it; the moment the audience views it. Most importantly, it’s about appreciation and exploration.
The creation of the artwork above came about over the course of four years with a significant break in the middle. The bottle centred is reminiscent of July 1st, 2013: my first experience with ink other than ballpoint. One of many times I became a student of my sister’s. When I look at it, I think of the time I was doing it. On the pad I was working off, there was a bunch of watercolour testings to the side from a previous art session. I decided to combine them. This piece is an exploration of mixed media. It’s about where the paint fatefully fell, where the scissors severed the paper, how my hands tore the parchment. I wasn’t thinking of symbolic interpretations or subtle hints towards a greater message. I was just thinking of how it felt to follow my impulses and instincts over what felt right in the moment. If something didn’t sit with me well, I’d leave it until what I should change became clear. I tried to frame it initially, with some horrendous dark blue backing I was never contented by. I needed four years to realise that what it needed was not containing, but more freedom, passion and emotion in an explosive splatter of paint. Oh, how exciting to team ink, watercolour and acrylic! It’s an appreciation of colour, texture, form, balance, contrast, harmony, composition and positive space. And that’s absolutely all the dissection it needs. Art doesn’t always need that person questioning, “Yes, but what does it really mean?” It suffocates the simple beauty of this sort of art. If you try so hard to decode every element, then you end up with puzzle pieces instead of a piece of art. I suppose it might be a bit ironic to end with a kind of moral here but there is one thing I learnt from making this artwork. As is with life, if you accept you don’t know the answer now and don’t stress it out, the answer will come in its own time.

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Working on the artwork (1/7/2013) Photo: Chloe Day

 

 

 

The Keith Kronicles: Nancy’s Neglect

As an exercise in collaboration, groups of us were given five different pieces of prominent Australian photographic art to reimagine into linking short stories. My group agreed on an early 70’s stereotypical Australiana vibe and created a character named Keith to feature in all our stories, sort of fulfiling the archetypical bushranger legend story. Keith is the type of man whose life is so steeped in rumours that these wild imaginings stirred by question and suspicion have become attached to the truer events. But what is true of this fictitious character’s life and what is the sensationalised fantasy of the other character’s in it? I’m thinking of writing more stories of Keith but here’s the first. I was given Petrina Hicks’ work, Shenae and Jade (2005) as stimulus. We got inventive with names before viewing the title, so that became unapparent to the story. I wasn’t really prepared for how dark and druggy this story got but there you go.

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Petrina Hicks, Shenae and Jade, 2005

Nancy’s Neglect

This poor love, Nancy; she won’t age well. Sure, she looks a picture of youth now, with her long lashes, speckle of freckles, wrinkleless skin… but by the time she’s fifty, she’ll be sure to look sixty, if she’s lucky, that is. If she’s lucky to get that far at all.
See, things haven’t worked out so well for Nance. She’s a bit bipolar? Like, actually though, it’s a real situation, not just meaning, a bit insensitively, to call her bat-shit… but it has kind of led her to be fairly bat-shit, I s’pose.
It’s mostly the drugs. She was just into the dope for a bit – a good bit, I will say. It was just a nice way of letting go, you know? But then it started making her a bit agro after a while, after the come-down. She just wasn’t fun old Nance anymore. Then she got onto the acid and God, then it was all downhill. Off her bloody nut all the time, trying to escape.
See, she married pretty young? And they really didn’t think it through. Keith made things worse –that’s the hubby. It was a bit of a Bonnie and Clyde story, except another version where Bonnie’s this timid, submissive little mouse with the tendency to get real worked up in high-stress situations. Safe to say, Old Mate Keith started keeping the less-than-by-the-books side of his work to himself. And well, that happened to be all his work. So, Nance would just stay home, isolated in their modest little miner’s cottage just out of Strathbogie and, well, what else was there to do?
The other messy part is there’s a kid too. A few years back, and thanks to all Keith’s crap, Nance got a bit caught up in some slight gang mess. Well, it’s a dull existence being a housewife stuck in the bush while your husband’s nicked off with the car to do God knows and well, one of the bikies, Trev, started showing her a bit of sympathy. They hadn’t been at it for long before she was preggers. Of course, Trev had to assume it was his and dropped her on the spot. A remarkably and thankfully discrete conclusion considering the usual behaviours of a one-percenter but then, they’re still on her for the money she owes.
Keith doesn’t know. It’s his daughter for all he could guess. But she’s out of the picture now anyway. No big surprises there, we’re not looking at mother and father –ahem, ‘father’– of the year. Still not too sure what happened to that darlin’. Makes you wonder…
But, since she hasn’t had the responsibility, Nance has let go of the world completely.
Of course, there are days where she still has to pretend to function, like today. Had to get all dressed up and go to her nephew’s baptism. No idea why they’d want her there but you know, “family’s family”. She’s tried her best to stay off everything for a while but acting like she’s not having major withdrawals all day is exhausting. She ruined it anyway. Made a scene. So now she figures what’s the point? It was just hard looking at a baby because she’s been waiting to go on her rags for two months now. She knows what’s up but she’s quietly hoping with all the abuse to her body that it’ll… sort itself out.
She’s sitting alone now on the living room floor with four used tabs scattered on the coffee table. She’s been thinking of that new money stash of Keith’s she just uncovered. There had to be five grand there. Bastard’s always hiding his loot. She thinks of taking some and buying some good shit. Fuck it, make it heroin, take enough at once and go out with a bang.
For now, though, the effect has kicked in. She lets go and watches the room swirl ‘round her. She begins to melt. The big release is coming –if not for that fucking bird!
Nancy’s other problem is that with all this twisting of her worldview, she’s gotten a bit paranoid schizophrenic. Her bigger problem now though, is this bastard budgie, hanging off its cage, shrieking and mocking her from the corner of the room. Who knows how the thing’s still alive but it seems to dedicate all its energy into taunting her and getting in her head. A bit like that Poe, “quoth the raven” shit or something?
She’s getting worked up now. Gee whiz. Sometimes it takes her to a hellish place. But “nevermore”, you could say because Nance has had enough. With a sudden burst of energy and manic thought, she advances towards the cage, reaches in, grabs the bird, shakes it. With the stress, the bird goes stiff  –stunned– and she stuffs its head in her mouth and bites down until the neck snaps.

A wave of confusion comes next. She flails down onto the floor beside the golden brown, velveteen couch. It feels like softest animal fur to her heightened senses. The corpse of the half-decapitated parrot lies forgotten, centimetres from her limp hand on the balding carpet. Tears stream down her cheeks but she’s relieved now. The squawking’s finally stopped.
Just at this moment, here’s old Keithy-boy walking through the door. He assesses the scene, speechless. Stunned as the parrot. As you would be, I mean, what would you do? This is a new low for Nance and it’s pretty apparent that his girl isn’t in the same world as the rest of us anymore. He walks around the house, with her oblivious to his presence, and collects his most important belongings for the road. He leaves one grand out of the five for his wife, takes his Akubra off the hook and closes the door behind him. He’s never coming back. Nancy stares vacantly at the images that only she can see before her. It’s the vision of a doting husband and two young kiddies competing for her affection. A dazed grin appears on her blood-drenched lips. She’s good here; it’s safe. And it’s the closest thing to home she’ll ever know.

 

27 Today

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Dear Chloe,
Hey you, what’s going on? You’re not meant to be ageing still. Time is only a mortal thing. I guess that’s alright for you but for me, it’s just weird. Because if you’re left to remain twenty-five years, seven months and seven days old forever, well that’d mean one day, that I’ll be older than you. That’s not right, no. Why?! I’ll give you why: because you’re my big sister and I’m your Little Babe and it doesn’t work the other way around, you duffer.
Well, I suppose it could be that you’re not any age at all anymore. I’d feel better with that. Because if you’re ageless, then we won’t have a problem once I’m twenty-five years, seven months and eight days old, will we? No, because that’ll just mean I will have lived longer than you… but that’s still sad… I don’t know how to make it not sad, it just is.
But I don’t cry so much anymore. I can think of you and be happy, nice memories and such. But there are still days where I sit, staring at the woodgrain of the floorboards letting the concept that we’ll never be physically together again baffle me. See, it’s just too beyond comprehension, this foreverness.
Well anyway, I bought you a cake. I remember that one time, six years ago to the night, when we were camping in Noosa and you, Mum and I all realised we should get a cake for your 21st, last minute. I believe it must’ve been in the back of my mind. I surely could never forget about timely dessert. But with those trusty supermarket mud cakes, you can never go wrong! Except, of course, when you don’t have any plates or cutlery about… but didn’t that make it so fucking funny? Man, I swear the fact that we were cacking ourselves over having to gouge handfuls out of this cake, sitting on a picnic blanket outside the tent in darkness, but for the salvation of a dim battery lantern, made it taste even sweeter. And then I think about how I don’t really remember a time in your adult life where you got much healthier than you were then and yet, you were still in pain. It also makes me think about how now, I’m that age, and yet you seemed so much older than I feel now, back when I was fifteen…
People think there’s a limit to grief. Like it’s on some timer and once it runs out, that’s it, it doesn’t affect you anymore. All the people who seem to think that have a different assumption of how long that timer’s set for too. Prime example on The Bachelorette the other night –it just came on, I swear, I’m not avidly watching it, okay?— well, they decided they’d add a bit in, to trivialise death because trivialising love isn’t enough already. So this guy was opening up about his mum dying and how it made him fear pursuing other relationships that could end, and stupid bogan mouth, Sophie Monk goes and says, “Why do ya think that is, d’ya think you still haven’t gotten over it?”
Ha! Safe to say I had a good hard scoff at her and changed the channel. Can you believe people would think you just build a bridge and then it’s all fine again? You would die if you heard— oh, well, turn in your grave— or tousle about in a frenzy of ash in the sea, if you heard the crap people come out with.
The grief of a death doesn’t just end. It just gets more manageable. And I wish I could tell more people stories about you and them not get uncomfortable over even the happiest memory, just because they know you’re dead now. I love you Chlo, and I wish I’d told you that more. No matter how much you age, or don’t age, or whatever, you’ll always be the older one. Though you left early, you got here before me. So happy birthday, you old fart and it’s okay; I can eat your share of cake too, so don’t worry.

Lots of love,
Kaela xx

Bay of Byron, Beckoning

Wrote this one last week while the weather was typically awful and I was feeling nostalgic. Then I did a drawing because pictures just make everything way better.21979429_1786273251401213_464085556_n Byron Lighthouse (2017) pencil, ink and acrylic on paper.

Five months of inclemency in this southern place
where choosing a hoodless overcoat is risky business.
A bold move, brave move. To think you can assume the weather.
Umbrellas with patterns, colours and trims. Charming accessories,
they are not. Burden under bigger burden.
Cumbersome, wet and space claiming instead.
Winter is dead but its spirit weighs heavily on Spring.

I love you, Melbourne, but your greyness clouds my heart too long.

Bring me back to my birth place:
Bohemian sun land at the far-most edge of East.
Air that asks for hearty breathing,
filling lungs, filling mind, fill whole body full of life.
And gold is how it feels; magic, star-born gold.
Waves swell. Heart swells.
Clarity in purest form, let me soak you in.

Where’d he go? To Wategos. To be with the bottle-nosed.
The lighthouse shows the sailors home until the sunrise greets it.
The rocks the seals claimed long ago, unbothered by the lashing sea.
Faraway icon of faraway world. Different realm. Unbiased peace.
I embrace all and it accepts me, lest inky-glopped jellies say differently.

Nearby Cabarita, may your sea cradle my sister.
Ash in rock pool, swept away.
In the water, twirl and sway, to the flow.
Here, found beauty in debris and
air gives balance to ocean and land.

The crab knows her path, only walks it differently so,
I’ll take my beginner steps, once more, at The Pass,
by the small lagoon shore, toes curled in sand, I stand, I say,
I am, for you are, Universe. Maker and upholder. Upholder of me.
We are each other’s. I am of you.  A force to counter gravity.

Oh, Byron, you’ve left your mark.

Mockingbird

Thanks to Jim Burton at Base 9 Tattoos, Moonee Ponds.

Tattooed on my skin for threatening its permanence would be to sin.

*****

I want to be the mockingbird and sing the melody. The music not to raise alarm, forever never meaning harm, the sweetest sounds in one.

She sung the song of sixty. Pray, I hope it fixed thee the same as I, at sixteen where empathy was taboo. Dear Boo, I understand you better. No one ever need be fettered for their peaceful, unique soul. I confess I chain myself at times for love that seems too whole.

But with love I won’t grow tight. Send my heart into flight. I want the mockingbird’s height, however small her body be. Be she free so humbly.

I will be the mockingbird of grace and good example. For hate’s the world’s worst fever and intolerance, too ample.

I want the will of Atticus; to see with Scout’s compassion;
to learn Jem’s gentle patience; feel with Dill’s whole heart for life.

Send your song out, little bird, so love like this may fill me. I never once fell for a story more. Fell for words with magic in them, wished to forge my passage with them. I too, could inspire.

So oh, dear mockingbird, give me power on the page. Let my sentences be sage and full of heart for that’s what made me start hoping that one day, possibly, I might write as strongly as Ms Lee.

For Trying

I wanted to upload a video but my plan doesn’t do videos and I don’t want to upgrade yet so I went and made a sneaky YouTube channel specifically for it, which I kind of didn’t want to do until I got better at music but there you go. Watch it here so my writing makes more sense.
TRIGGER WARNING: This post does briefly make broad and gentle mention to suicide, grief, and mental illness. But this is, believe it or not, a positive piece about growth, strength and the pursuit of happiness.

I can’t do all the fancy finger work like Dallas Green yet. I couldn’t work out the end so I just varied it slightly from the rest of the song. I don’t have the best singing voice and this is the only song I’ve managed to sing to while playing, without it being awful but it doesn’t matter. This isn’t really about my musicality. It’s about trying and being brave.

This guitar is, to me, the most stunning instrument there could ever be. It was one of Chloe’s – my late sister, who left us on her own terms. It seems odd to call her late for she was always at least 30 minutes early to everything. Death seems rather uncharacteristic of a person you once only ever knew to have a pulse though too, so I suppose she does a few things differently now.
She was the strongest person I knew but even the fiercest of us have limits; an end of a tether.
Since her death, I’ve struggled. Naturally. In trying to carry on, I watched my relationship of two years, eight months break down. I got caught in a brief but scarring psychologically and sexually abusive dating relationship. I gave too much of my heart to someone who decided too late that he couldn’t give me his. All the while, I grieved with an emptiness that was only temporarily filled by others. The truest fulfillment has come from making art and nurturing myself.
Mum thinks I have depression but I don’t. If I went to get a diagnosis, maybe they’d say I do but I believe doctors are too fast to make that call these days and people listen to doctors. If you say it enough, it also makes it easier to become it. Engrain it. Solidify the hurt. Make concrete of cement.
Personally, I don’t feel like giving pain a greater sense of glory or control with a heftier name is going to help me. This is no disease of the mind. I still think too optimistically for that. I have felt depressed. Little has seemed easy for a long time but depression is not a possession of mine.
I will confess instead, that I’ve been dealing with a lot of unresolved pain and lately, I’ve felt particularly awful. It’s been as if I built a dam of sticks and mud and resilience and someone came along with a hatchet and ripped holes in it. It’s caused all I’ve withheld over the last fifteen months to flood out, all for me to deal with at once. I haven’t known what to trust. I’d just started feeling good, at least despite exterior situations. I hadn’t felt more securely aware of myself since a brief while when I was seventeen. My self-care was paying off. But while you can control what you do for yourself, you can’t always control what happens around you or the effect it has.
I sing this song to no one but myself. Because though I’ve been trying hard to stay focused, there are always other things that are going to get in the way, get me down, make me crash. I’m sorry for every time I neglect myself. I’m sorry I did it for so long.

Upon my most recent resignation to defeat, I started to feel almost hopeless –almost because I’m unsure I could ever be totally bereft of hope. Life of late seemed largely full of disappointments. I’ve cried a lot. I figured I should stop expecting any good thing to remain good. That I shouldn’t get so excited about anything and then I won’t be so let down. That I shouldn’t invest so much in anyone because it hurts too much when one after the other, they leave or inspire such unhappiness that I leave. It seems that apathy can be contagious. If I’d let that rule me for longer, I could see that being depression.
But that’s just not me.
On Thursday, a bunch of guys at uni I’ve been wanting to befriend all year showed me a kindness in asking me to join them after class. It brightened my whole outlook. A tram assistance officer made friendly conversation with me on the way home just to reinforce that even strangers can care. On Friday, two people made effort to get to know me. One of them even introduced me as a friend when encountering others he knew.
It’s not in my nature to lack enthusiasm for life for very long, nor is it to miss the good to be valued in others. There is beauty to be found, right down to the way a person speaks. Just talking to someone, even briefly, can have such an effect. Kindness breeds joy. It certainly did for me. So, I’m not going to give into loneliness and ill-faith. I have too much love to give for that.
Some people don’t deserve that love but it isn’t about them. It’s about finding the ones who do and I need to be one of those people for myself. Always. Because when it comes down to it, the most solid thing you can know in this world is yourself and we’ve all got to be our own strongest person.

Evocations Down Tracks (Seventy Stops to Think Back)

My tram trip is haunted by memories now.
Northcote is spoiled for me.
But I won’t close my eyes,
I’ll watch each storefront go by,
Staring steadfast with strength,
At all the places which remind me of you.

I’ll stare ‘til it doesn’t hurt to see them anymore.
‘Til feeling fades from history
And the streets lose their connection.
‘Til your loveliness to me,
Shadowed by your volatility,
Feels like less of an infliction.

But, oh, let me glide through it simply,
More smoothly on tracks than road
Because I still get chills on the bus through Kew
From the more awful man who preceded you.

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The Eighty-six: Vacant Window Seat Opposite (2017)