I’VE BEEN EVERYWHERE

 You want to know where I’m from.

Can I first tell you where I’ve been? Not everywhere. I’m yet to crunch on fries at the Ganymed in Berlin like Bowie or wash down a No 209 Gin at the Riot House in Sunset Boulevard like all the rest, but I’ve been somewhere. I’ve toted my pack, travelled many roads, man.

I’ve seen the sun rise like a Monet in Paris and set with the madness of Zeus in Athens. I’ve beheld the moon like a ghee-kissed roti in Jaisalmer and a disco ball in Koh Samui. Looked down on the world from where no one can ever look on again in New York, looked up with the awe of an ant beneath a human at the foot of Kanchenjunga. I’ve drunk in a bar carved into the side of a cliff in Croatia, slid down sugar walls in Switzerland. I’ve breathed the mountain air, man.

I followed Allah in Dhaka, got drunk with God in Florence, and then killed them both in a fit of ecstasy in a field in Bury St Edmonds. I’ve had my fill of stars in the sky and hotels to match in Marrakech, Sharm-el Sheikh and Langkawi. I’ve compared the cathedrals of Germany and Spain to the mosques in Turkey and Spain. I’ve been in more Jewish Quarters than there are Jewish countries and partied in them all.

I’ve seen attack ships on fire off the shoulders of Orion. I haven’t really, but you’re not listening. You don’t care where I’ve been, just where I come from. And not just now, but originally, you want to know where my mum and dad lived when they were little. And all this before you even know my name.

Let me assure you I don’t mean to be facetious in my response, I realise you only ask so that you can place me, relate to me better, maybe take this opportunity to share the tale about the time you rode an elephant in Hyderabad, man. But before I answer, let me, if I may be so bold, first ask you where your mum and dad are from.

Pontefract, you say? My, how fascinating. I must add that to my list.

By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff:
Geoff Mack/Johnny Cash

A NEW ENGLAND

A man who claimed to have seen twin shooting stars last night was forced to admit they were satellites.

The claim by William MacColl, 22, had initially excited asteroid specialists, who have been seeking an explanation for the puzzling twinned lines on shooting stars, a rare occurrence even during a meteor shower, with the traditional thinking being that the twin streaks are part of a single tube of hot, glowing gas made as a meteor barrels through the atmosphere.

Professor Andrew Kershaw, of New England Meteoritical Services, told Barking Gazette: “We’ve been looking for an opportunity to prove that the double trains are the result of a separation between glowing gas, created as a meteor speeds through the upper atmosphere, and a sprinkling of bright space dust settling through the air like mud grains. We were sure studying this phenomenon would change the world but then it turned out they were just satellites he saw.”

“He’s an idiot, to be honest,” added a flustered Professor Kershaw. “Meteors, or shooting stars, move in less than a fraction of a second across the sky, whereas satellites move in a straight line and take several minutes to cross the sky.”

In a press conference held earlier today, a deeply ashamed William MacColl admitted he was “wrong to wish on space hardware”, adding: “I’m just sorry for letting you know.”

A close pal of MacColl, who asked not to be named, said: “He’s been weird since his girlfriend left him. He was 21 when it happened. It won’t be long before he’s 23.”

He added: “Frankly, I think it’s time he moved on and found another girl.”

By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff:
Billy Bragg

DON’T LOOK BACK INTO THE SUN

The paper doesn’t mention any of their names. It never will. All they will ever amount to is a number, and not an exact one at that.

Almost 700 feared drowned…

The photo that goes with the story shows some of them, or others like them, (they’re all the same as far as the paper cares), and you’re drawn to the only girl peering out from the deck not wearing a headscarf, in defiance of wind and criticism. The strange life she leaves behind has left her looking rough, but you sense her dreams are polished, can almost taste the prayers on her lips. She’s cast her plans and she’s on the run. But there’s no denying it. Her time has come.

In the photograph, she will always stay that way. You don’t see the moment the vessel overturns in the unforgiving sea, or hear the shrieks weave into the wind, a sea of arms and legs flailing on a liquid dance floor, a death disco.

Inside, a woman who claims to be the voice of your people says it’s good she’s dead, they should all be dead, that the dreams of cockroaches are of no concern to real people like you.

‘Liar!’ You scream at her. But you know that’s what she wants. Making you angry is how she wins. You have to let go.

You take one last look at the girl in the photo, beg for her forgiveness, hoping her last moments went fast and didn’t end too slow. Then you tear the paper into shreds and make a vow to yourself.

Don’t look back into The Sun.

By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff:
Pete Doherty/ Carl Barat

THE GREAT GIG IN THE SKY

‘I miss my mum,’ says Syd, holding onto the steel rail.

Great, thinks Jimi, like being caught up in another one of Jim’s rambles on lizards wasn’t downer enough already.

‘Is there anybody out here…’ he demands to know, ‘whose feet are howling to dance?’

‘What’s going on?’ You want to know. You want to know a lot of things but this one will do for now.

‘Well, hello there, baby!’ Jimi cries, beaming like a cat that’s just seen the gates to the cream factory unlocked.

‘Early comer, I like that,’ he ruffles your hair. His hand feels tingly, electric. ‘For you, little man, the highest chair in the house, you dig?’

You don’t dig.

‘Well, son, have we got a great show lined up for you tonight! There’s Bill doing the warm-up, same old routine but it never gets old, we’ve got Janis and Amy together on stage for the first time, then Bob, you can always count on Bob to bring that sunshine right on in, and finally, Kurt, wouldn’t you know it, Kurt pulled out, let me get an echo on that surprise, so instead headlining tonight, it’s the ‘Dead, man. Don’t be surprised if Jerry doesn’t play a single damn tune you or anyone here can hum along to.’

‘That sounds great,’ you say, unsure.

‘It is great,’ assures Jimi. ‘Not the greatest, mind. That’ll be the day when Don and the last of the good ‘ole boys ride on up in that Chevy. The levee won’t run dry on that day, you can bet your life on that. Man! That’s gonna be one hell of a gig.’

‘You look like a terrapin,’ says Syd. Everyone always forgets he’s there.

Add that to the digging pile.

‘Where am I?’ You wonder. Jimi sees you tremble. Like a harp, he thinks.

‘Why, you’re home, little butterfly,’ Jimi smiles his biggest smile yet, winking at an angel who blushes a shade too fiery for a place like this.

For Pip (—13 Apr 2010). By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff:
Roger Waters/ Richard Wright

SHE WATCH CHANNEL ZERO

Keeping all metaphysical and internal transformation of the spirit at bay, her thirst for mythic aspirations drowned in waves that beam from chaotic to cathartic, Sylvia gazes once more into the abyss, satisfied it won’t look back at her. Nothing to see here, folks.

Flick. The visions are an invited distraction from tulips on fire and the godless empty sky above; the clamour deafening out the old brag of the heart.

‘Bitch,’ he called her. A five-letter word, so poetic. Her face has no need to move; the canned laughter says it all for her. ‘You’re blind, baby’ He said. More laughter. Forced.

Flick. Her fingers, so remote from her own sphere, she forgets what they did before she held him, what her eyes saw before the world dropped dead, even what occupied her brain before he washed it all away.

Where are all these other fishes in the sea they speak of? Outside, all she can see are ‘real men’ scuttling under the floorboards, like cockroaches. The men all pause. For Sylvia, there will be no fade out into the indifference of a new, final and certainly not middle age.

Flick. 2, 7, 5, 4, 8… she watches. She misses nothing. She turns. It all adds up to zero. The silence of silence ringing too loud in her head.

Advert break. The city hangs outside her window, flat as a poster, glittering and blinking. The locked red door of the kitchen. It’s getting hot in here. Easier and easier to breathe.

‘Whatever may lie on the other side,’ she wonders solemnly. ‘It has to be better than watching Will.i.Am mangle one more word.’

For Sylvia Plath. By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff:
Carlton Douglas Ridenhour/ William Jonathan Drayton/ Richard DuaneGriffin/James Henry Boxley III/ Eric T Sadler

OUT OF SPACE

‘So let me get this straight,’ I said, the irony of the word neither lost nor found on me. ‘You’re me and I’m you.’ I thought about this again. Then again. Roughly the same words but reaching a different confusion every time.

‘But then, how can we be in the same place?’

‘You’re not paying attention,’ I snapped. ‘At the expense of giving away the ending—you and I are one and the same.’

‘But you’re fat and bald,’ more observation than discourteous for the sake of being a prick, I hoped. ‘And old.’

‘Let me say it again,’ I said, determined this would be the last time I needed to. ‘I am from a different space and time, but I am you and you are me. Only I have never been you and you have never been me.’

I spun right off whatever axis I thought I was on.

‘Sorry,’ I said, because I was. ‘Who are you again?’

I kicked myself.

‘I am someone who knows who he is,’ I said slowly. Gloves off, time to give myself a good talking to. ‘I do not need to pretend because I do not stray from my purpose in life. My head is never musty for being in the clouds, not sandy through burial. I know that uncaged dreams lead to broken spirit, and to bring them to fruition requires dedication, self-discipline, restraint. That the road of excess leads to the palace of disgrace.’

Really? A lecture? In this state?

‘Look at you,’ I continued. ‘Why are you not content with your own people, where is your racial pride? Why do you feel this need to play this shameful charade for the sake of being tolerated in a world you do not belong in, unbound by morality, free of dogma like the uncouth white man, dancing like a black?’

Really.

‘I’d like you to leave please,’ I said in a small voice, wishing it didn’t ring with that quiver of uncertainty.

‘Do you not think I would if I could? Do you for one second imagine I would choose to be here in this degenerate little hole that passes for your mind?’ I was shouting now. ‘You brought me down here. You send me back up!’

I didn’t understand, and admitted so, too readily for my liking.

‘Of course you don’t you retard. But considering I have never ingested anything stronger than a Lemsip Plus and you are currently orbiting around Planet Mongoloid, I think it is safe to deduce that you are the one responsible for this aberration and I am an involuntary captive, a figment of your putrid imagination.’

I thought about this, clearly this time.

‘I don’t mean to be rude,’ my voice firm despite the lie. ‘But I’d sure hate to be a figment of yours.’

For Dave Brabin. By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff:
The Prodigy

BENGALI IN PLATFORMS

From Rampura bazaar to the concrete jungle of Motijheel, whether a man is shirt and tied or begging for paisa, everyone looks you in the eye. A stranger to being stared at I am not.

It is different here. Until today, nobody looked at me in any way that I might enjoy. Down upon me, through me, never up to me. Oh I do miss the looks of adoration that bloom so readily on Baba and Ma’s faces. I try not to miss Bhaiya. His letter still crisp in my pocket teases me saying Ma has been telling everyone that I am friends with Queen Elizabeth, that next time I come home I will be wearing a crown!

Had this been yesterday, stood here at Piccadilly Station trying to blend in with the back wall, I might have wondered: would they still be so proud if they knew I was not a playback singer on the rise, soon to perform at the Pyramid & Par Hall with perhaps KC & The Sunshine Band, that I had lied about such things, as one would surely expect of a lowly shelf stacker in Barton Moss, lurking in the shadows, catching nobody’s eye?

I told Bhaiya about Biddu. Brown as mud on leather yet writing songs for Tina Charles! One day, he will write me my very own Kung-Fu Fighting. Bhaiya believes this absolutely.

As do I. Look at me! Dazzling in white, silver-studded glasses like Elton John, stars on my feet and lemon soles so very high. The women at Tiffany’s will mistake me for John Travolta I should think! I can almost smell the love in the air, the winds of change.

I feel his eyes on me from across the platform. A strange looking fellow. His hair is neither skin nor suede, more like a dollop of brown ice cream on a deathly pale cone. Thick spectacles. Yellow flowers by his side. Gay I think. I cannot read what it says on his t-shirt but I see the word MURDER. He looks like he has problems.

I like to think he feels like he belongs to something too.

By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff:
Steven Morrissey/ Stephen Street

THAT WOMAN’S GOT ME DRINKING

You’ve got a name for people who talk about poetry like it’s something pretty. You call them: women. Am I right or am I right?

You know there’s nothing tender about pouring out your heart like pulp hacked out of a pumpkin, a Jack o’ Lantern puking up its inside for all to see. That really it’s a dirty thing to cling onto rhyme, unloading empty verses at ungodly hours into your dark, lonely corners.

Seven years and she gets the itch? Oh man! No self-respecting poet (okay, so there’s no such thing) would buy into a cliché like that, but the woman, she says that’s the vogue, baby.

Go ahead hate her for this. Spit in the air she breathes and on the ground beneath her feet, but enough with your talk of long goodbye. A poet without a woman is like Mithridate without the plague, you know? You don’t know. How about… a dock leaf in a world with no stinging nettles? Hell, even the Green Fairy, the Queen of your Everything, she’s nothing but an eel next to the hold a real woman has over you, I’m right as rain, aren’t I?

Your stars, what did they say? You will meet a beautiful stranger and wake up tomorrow never thinking about her again! Ha! And the shrink? Bet he doesn’t think you will. Wake up tomorrow, that is. I don’t mean no offence.

Wait. You believed her when she said you were The One? Christ, fool, that’s the first thing they teach you, even before A is for Apple and B is for Butterfly. After one comes two. Then three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten…

Now, if you was to ask me, I’d tell you straight: there’s nothing that’s poetic about letting someone use you, rinse you out and leave you high and, well, not so dry. That there’s a harp on the side of a glass for every poet that walks in here humming that same song, baby. But you didn’t ask me and I’ve got no business talking straight in a place like this.

So what’ll it be? Same again? Yeah, I remember. Go easy on the tonic.

For Rob Joiner. By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff:
Shane MacGowan

RUNNING UP THAT HILL

Breathe, Laura, breathe.

Picture a pretty place. Fluffy clouds, rolling hills, cooing sicklebills… angels writhing around the Mercy Seat chanting ‘holy, holy, holy’, six-winged beasts full of eyes…

I can do this.

If hell is other people, then heaven is what? No people at all. Well, there’s no one around and things don’t look much like Middlemist Reds in bloom at Eden round here, that’s for sure.

Just five… six, are you kidding me? Seven more steps, Laura.

Why do they call it a ‘flight’ of stairs? It doesn’t fly anyone anywhere. Other than down, and what good is that? Stairway to heaven? Ha! A gutful of rotting fly agaric pumping venom into the brain is a picnic compared to this.

‘And so mounting as it were by steps, let us get to heaven by a Jacob’s ladder’.

Easy for you to say, mate.

It’s no good. If I only could…

No. I can do this. It doesn’t hurt me. No, really. I’M FINE!

Where is he? Your golden boy? Yeah, yeah, he was not the one deceived. I was the beguiled one while he was… where? Why was he not by my side when I was being tricked? Where is he now that I need this abomination to be taken out of man?
Sorry baby. I’m sorry. It’s you and me, baby. It’s you and me. Nearly at the top now. Don’t be unhappy. Don’t be….

AAAAAAAAARRGHHHH!

I’ll tell you what. Let’s go back, yeah? This time, you carry on being the one that creates life, cut the eternal damnation routine, and I’ll stay the hell away from the apple.
Deal?

For Kirstie Maginn. By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff:
Kate Bush

CARIBOU

DUMB KID and her dumb-shit questions.

A pair of shiny round podiums like a rapist’s scrotum squeezing together a giant cocked tower, spitting out the fat foreign women who’d been in it since the crack of dawn to spray it with a stench like aciclovir to keep the whole thing stiff for the suits come marching in.

Like I’ve got time to think like that.

The doors jitter, (praying to go out of order or playful?), no one cares, they’re never going to close in on anyone going through, like any alternate reality these sliders could promise could ever be anything but the exact same journey, only to a higher floor in a silkier tie.

What’s she going to ask next? What’s my favourite colour?

Builders cling to the side, dangling like lice, dirty, different, full of face, nothing like the ones inside, made of stone, mirror to nothing but each other’s shadows. Maybe the Hindu boy, young but old, too old to remember his dreams of moksha, burning in the river, never to return anywhere in this godforsaken place ever again.

Fuck, I don’t know. Something beautiful, I guess.

There’s always a new kid, sees this place like it’s the Maha fucking bodhi, making out he’s a bhikkhu governed by patimokkha instead of a Shih Tzu following the orders of a fat nobody who wants to have his centre in the middle. Give him a few days and he’ll be like the rest of the kids, wishing away 432000 seconds until it’s time to dance on ground covered in a white as dirty as snow.

Not made up, like a unicorn or some shit. Something real.

It’s sharp and it bites. How do the condemned carry one around without hurting themselves? Perhaps it will open nothing deadlier than an envelope, but for a few seconds today, in the keratitis-infected eye of the mind, it will dance across his fat throat, releasing him, I, Vedavati immolating herself to be free of Ravana, he, like Buddha emerging from a slit in his mother’s side.

Anything but a rat, kid. Anything but a rat.

By Shihab S Joi
Hat-doff:
Charles Stepney/ Rick Giles/ Pixies