Lisbon Backseat

after Jeffrey Eugenides

Five girls sat on the backseat of the bus
could well be sisters, arranged cinematic,
four of them sharing earphones, stone
fox in the middle stoic, stained seat
communion with a cigarette lighter
(fancy her as a Lux), casting cool glances
at every adolescent boy who ascends
to the top floor and who would no doubt
like to take her on the football field
and then leave her to ruin – Miss America –

Medusa’d; they found her
frozen in the front seat, equally serene.

Matching socks, linen white, all hoisted
to different heights, sleeves rolled up
and elbows grazing naked elbows, lips
without lipstick, their clothes ironed neat;
far left appears a Mary (Magdalenic),
looking longingly out of the window, far
right a (Saint) Cecilia looking longingly
out of the window, her right eye closed –
second and fourth, Therese and Bonnie
with eyes pinned to the floor, posing holy,
still as fence posts before and after impact.

But this is all a chasing after the wind,
leaves kicked up on suburban pavements.

Split ponytails and hasty buns, all blondes,
with twenty-five identical boxes of tampons
stacked neatly in a bathroom cabinet
adjacent to a shared room small home
to a record collection sometimes shared,
votive candle burning on the windowsill
as they spoke in sibling whispers the words
they didn’t care to share on the top deck
of a city-bound bus, all now lost in their own
backseat daydreams, all soon to be lost,
contemplating just how they’re going to go,

each different letters of an unknown alphabet;
they didn’t leave any notes, only ghosts.

Put knee to knee and waited,
put hand in hand and waited,
put cheek to cheek and waited,
put needle against wax and waited,
put white lines on a prom dress and waited,
put dead telephone to amplifier and waited,
put a flashlight against the window and waited,
put the empty bottle back on the shelf and waited,
put bloody razor in the bleached toilet bowl and waited
put key in the ignition, turned the radio up loud and waited,
put a towel at the base of the door turned the oven on and waited.

Put their palms to glass
and the lights went out.


明月(Bright Moon)

Visible between the breaks in clouds,
casting light on smoke exhalation shivers,
snow on the rooftops across the road
all waiting on warmer weather, hum
of extractor fan keeping me secret,
faraway sound of the city drowned
as if frozen like the windscreen wipers
on my roommates car, we stayed in,
midnight slow motion with 明月
too distant and I tell him Laika made it
closest of the three of us all lost
but only I feel like a winner in small fire
of breathing in while wearing an old
jean jacket littered with fur from a dog
who as not her but reminded me plenty
of her.


But I Am Not (after ‘Drive’)

If I were Ryan Gosling,
or at the very least a
half-decent doppel-
ganger I’d be able
to get away with
these silences. If
my eyes were bluer
and my smile a little
less leering I could
play it mysterious and
keep a woman curious.

I watched Drive and took
a shot every time ten seconds
passed free of dialogue;
got drunk enough
to sleep well enough. If
I were Ryan I would always
sleep well and more than
likely alone less often.

Would be nice to be Ry,
even soaked in blood
and stabbed halfway
to death in an obviously
tacky Primark jacket,
I could go for a drive
and still find someone
who’d sit at my side, lay
hand on leg with foot
on pedal, if I were Ryan Gosling,

but I’m not.

Verb Games

Verb Games with Anastasia

1: What? / Run
2: Who? /  Eat
3: When? / Drive
4: Where? / Write
5: Why? / Fly
6: How? / Jump

A: Why did that man jump off the building?
C: I’m sure he had his reasons. The president shouldn’t have shared the video though.

A: Where should I write this down?
C: Wherever you want, our budget doesn’t stretch to lined paper.

A: When can we eat lunch?
C: As soon as you stop playing with the dice and finish the exercise

A: How far could you drive this pencil?
C: That doesn’t make sense. Drive it into what? My skin? We’ll find out after lunch.

A: What was the name of the first living thing to fly in space?
C: Laika, and you know I don’t want to talk about her right now.

A: Who are you running away from?
C: Myself.


Verb Games with Myself

1: Ex-girlfriend / Crash
2: Laptop / Leave
3: Pen / Shake
4: Poetry / Write
5: Furniture / Break
6: Hand / Move

Laptop keeps crashing just as she thinks she’s into it.

Hand shakes more often than it used to.
Bonus: Limp handshake broke his trust.

Ex-girlfriend left for a man who said nicer things in a cleaner language.

The furniture only moves when I tell it that my sales are down.

This pen is a stanza away from breaking and I feel it deep.

Poetry is a lot like teaching, except writing the words isn’t quite as hard.


Verb Games with Mohammed

1) Who? / Sleep
2) Where? / Trust
3) What? / Stay
4) Why? / Tell
5) How many? /  Find
6) When? / Drive

M: How many guys did she sleep with while she was seeing you?
C: We’re doing this? Four.

M: Where did she tell you she was staying?
C: At a friend’s house. M, I’m not sure we need to do this.

M: What did she tell them?
C: The same thing she told me.

M: When did you find out?
C: The week before I left for New York.

M: Who drove you north then?
C: I caught a Greyhound by myself and cried on the backseat.

M: Why did you trust her for as long as you did?
C: I was happy.

M: Does being happy always make you blind?
C: That’s not fair; stick to the dice.


Verb Games with Myself

1) Phone / Buy
2) Ticket / Scratch
3) Bed / Take
4) Music / Lift
5) Letter / Send
6) Key / Hold

Sent a letter from Seattle telling her I still didn’t understand.

Decided to buy a new phone and start afresh in Frisco.

In a strangers bed I lifted her old jumper from my bag and laid it on the other pillow.

Scratched my initials into a pier in Toronto with a key and imagined hers there also.

The ticket only took me as far as Vancouver and I’d had enough of North America.

When the music hit its peak I felt held again.

On Three Separate Occasions, I Was “Weak”

When I told my parents I wanted
to take a gap year I broke halfway
through the conversation, before
I had glasses I was raising them
to wipe at my eyes, voice cracking
and staring at my feet. They understood.

It was worse following the finale
of Six Feet Under, breaking down
to a song Sia released before
she became a recognisable haircut;
sat on the floor of my bedroom
halfway into my gap year just glad
to be alive at all.

Third time, first time at Niagara Falls,
watching droplets hit the sidewalk,
single tear considering how far I had
travelled, rainbow forming in the chasm
of open water below, above the Maid
of the Mist; took a picture and let
the song peak amidst the clouds.

Middle of July / Middle of Feb

Middle of Feb and between questions about room changes and set texts,
someone shared a picture of some words carved into a fence which read

its silver is with a saints patience, silence,
gap in traffic, inscribing white space when you
hear birds through the centuries between words

and in response, someone else called it very cool,
which was very true.

It made me think of patient summers and myself unstuck
in the white space between worlds, birds over Lake Ontario

inscribing my initials into the end of a pier in Toronto,
next to Grace’s neat silence, staring out over the water as the track

she’d chosen climbed its way to a crescendo crack.
All felt very cool at the time,

but becomes less so the more I reference it in rhyme,
and less so when I remind myself that I blunted the key

in doing so and so couldn’t let us back into our Airbnb.
The words on that fence photographed by a friend

appeared as the culmination of a poetic quest patient,
but the marks I made could’ve belonged to any C.B not me,

the same way that a question about a room change at short notice
could’ve belonged to anybody in our merry band of poets.

Let them figure out where to go, stay silver and saintly patient
dodge the gaps in traffic and ask only questions which are relevant.

Let those pier markings belong to anyone who takes ownership,
who sees some of themselves in my shakily blunt keymanship,

just so long as the sentiments last,
as will sentiments shared over WhatsApp,

sent skywards and saved;
all relevant questions relayed.

Did she find those initials when she returned to Canada?
Does it even matter? Did it ever?

She stopped replying to my messages in the fall;
should’ve kept my cries for attention intra-continental.

Still catch her accent flowing from foreign news anchors
and from the main characters of daytime TV dramas.

She couldn’t always make out my words,
warped in their journey from my heritage to her,

so should’ve spoken slower more often with softer cadence
like it’s silver is with a saint’s patience.

Mark my words on a fence and you’d be building a border
the centuries would have a hard time climbing over.

Would have to go off track like I did, taking it back
to East Coast Englishness in a Boston back-

street, fragmented in distant memory
with everything still to see of her and me.

Spent the first morning stoned in the aquarium,
shoals spiraled in an underwater coliseum,

not concerned yet with time difference,
not knowing the difference time makes to circumstance,

wooden limbs like fencepost rooted in a makeshift rainforest,
ankle deep and thinking I should leave Massachusetts,

heard birds in Baltimore and met her a month later in Long Island,
a year later carved names in wood and drew lines in Canadian sand,

recollections of summer now stirred by words etched
on a fence before green field backdrop just outside of Norwich,

sliver of water visible, and I was never more English than when
I unwrote us in autumn, pouring out a white space ocean
calling drunk from a payphone booth in Nova Scotia.



He calls me into his office after his lunch hour,
tells me to close the door and sit down, says

look, Craig, I have some bad news,

raises his hand to his forehead as if trying
to seem plagued by the prospect of delivery.

I know we booked you into twelve months
but she’s tired of being at home with the baby,

have been in retail for twelve years and only needed
one twelve hour shift to know that its profits over people.

There’s no room in the budget, he says,
it’s just business.

I don’t argue there, shake his hand firmly,
tell him I understand how it has to be. He says

it’s not you it’s us. I tried everything I could.

and I believe him fully, because he’s a good boss
and I have been at least reasonably good at my job.

He says
you’ll find something new, I’m sure of it.
He says
sometimes these things just happen.
He says
the universe works in mysterious ways.
He says
this is for giving up on the notion of karma.
He says
this is for every time you described a band as female-fronted.
He says
this is for telling her you didn’t have any condoms when you did.
He says
this is for leaving that family dinner early to cover a gig.
He says
good luck, now get back to work.

So I get back to work, but later that day I come downstairs
to find him with his hands in his pockets, watching The Chase

on the fifty-inch TV that had been donated while a customer
stands waiting at an empty counter, and I don’t say anything.