Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Listed Buildings

to those who understand...

She says they’ve opened up a new restaurant
up on one of the top floors
up one of those new supersized shiny skyscrapers that have recently risen up
in the square mile somewhere
with a perky waiter
with a smile as opaque and crooked as the Thames
each jagged-edged tooth a borough boundary
each curling lip an M25 pile-up

She says I’d like it.
If not the waiter
then, like, at least the plates
(which I imagine will be square
or, at least, oddly-shaped
and punctuated with a dot of food
or maybe a block
or a cube
and I remember the word soupcon makes me tingle)   

She says I’ll like the concoctions too
a cosmopolitan or Manhattan
shaken to match the skyline
while I’m elevated half a mile high up from the floor.

I say elevated because we don’t say lift these days
because we’ve shifted our language into globalisms
neologisms and semi-colloquialisms we used to get corrected for
like 24/7
and sometimes I need to sift through my lost vocabulary
and wonder where the words have gone
like a song eaten
up by the cassette player
chewed tape lost
to my parents’ attic
static from the TV screen I used to feel
until the crown of my head went numb.

Before they complained we’d all been dumbed-down
when we were really young
and not just pretending
there was a never-ending stream of words
we used to parade
on the upper deck of the 123 bus
banana-yellow and painted
blue with our pre-rehearsed curses
while Year 11s smoked out of scratched windows
and you and me chanted verses
from mixtapes you stole.

There are words that have long-graduated
from sink-Estate schools
queued in jobcentres
been left unemployed
and doled out
no doubt on some Essex barstool
where women dressed as schoolgirls order
vodka and lime.

I haven’t actually been to Romford
All those years I was just passing through
somewhere between Time and Envy
just me and my portion of chips
and a shoulder bag full of dirty clothes
waiting on the Friday-night busstop
with that top-of-your-voice karaoke belting
I believe that children are the future...

I felt that line
even with tinny headphones
a shivering puffa hood
and paranoia woven around my neck.

I felt that my future would come in time
and the space between us,
between our worlds,
would collapse.

And perhaps, while the helpline volunteer
with the chirpy voice of unreason
chipped in that everything would one day be ok
in that consoling way professionals always do
I saw myself
in the future
sporting a shiny new tower for a life
with a square mile for a job
and a wife with a smile that says home.

And perhaps, after I put down the phone
and held down a dot of a tear
and forced a laugh right back at you
for the prank that you never knew went wrong
it was then I learnt to embrace long silences
for absent words
and I learnt to curse
and I learnt to downgrade my dreams from a skyscraper
to a grave where I could bury them
along with all those redundant phrases
lost somewhere between the North Circular extension
and the tension we felt on the Central Line.

I want you to know
there is no darker destination
than Hainault via Newbury Park
on a low battery
and an angry stomach
no flattery more odious than an insincere smile
and no square mile that I haven’t trod down
in this opaque city
looking for you
and finding God.

I want you to know that things get better
and that Shards of glass posing as monuments
will never rise higher than your questioning soul
and that there is a skyscraper within you
as odd-shaped and crooked
as the city you roam
and that there is a banquet on the end of your tongue
a restaurant rising from deep within
which you can call home.

I want you to pull up a seat on a barstool
get comfortable in your skin
and invite your friends to feast.

I want you to elevate yourself from under the giant thumb
you’ve created out of East End churches
and Mockney and Jafaican
and I want you to find your own language.

Then, and only then,
will you manage to order something
out of that chirpy, gravelly voice
that you can drink

Then, and only then,
can you bring up a laugh
that bubbles through the buildings
listed in your lungs
and break down the walls of this city
destroy the young boundaries that divide us
the tall towers that hide our shadows 
and find me, whole.

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