On September 16th 2012 I wrote a prose poem entitled “13 Pieces of a Broken Mirror.” It was a follow-up to a tweet I wrote that day for 3hundredand65, a project in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust.
The tweet read: In each dagger-like mirror shard lurked an eye, glaucous and unblinking. Mesmerised, Tink felt herself falling under a horrible spell.
It seemed logical to continue the broken mirror theme (one that has long fascinated me and many others), so I wrote a piece that played further on the notion of bad luck by being constructed in 13 tweets.
Since then I have written several more 13-part prose poems. I like the 13-part structure for three reasons. First, the supernatural connotations of the number mean that the reader is made slightly uneasy or apprehensive. Second, since each part is initially written as a tweet, I can make a fairly developed piece which still benefits from the concision and intensity of that form. Third, because 13 is an odd number, there are opportunities for balance and symmetry, hinging on the mid point, part seven.
Or maybe I like the 13-line form because it brings to mind a maimed sonnet.
What follows are some of the 13-part pieces I have written. I hope you enjoy them. If you’d like to read more 13s, my book Head Traumas contains all of the best ones.
13 Pieces of a Broken Mirror
A tight, tired smile. Downturned eyes. A hand brushing a cheek.
A woman who looks like you, who might once have been you, holding a blue rose.
The ghost of a candle flame, guttering in the gloom.
A table, smooth, possibly metallic. On the edge: something pink or yellow, alive. Looking more closely: a maggot.
The eyes of someone who has seen little, imagined too much.
Screens shedding light on spectral faces, machines ministering in corridors, a grey lump ticking and snapping in a sneering skull.
Nothing, just a silvered surface, indifferent as ice. Nothing, still nothing.
Her laughing mouth, lips curling with mirth and mild cruelty. In the background: a door opening onto darkness.
A roomful of collapsed cocoons. Something smudges the light, panics in little flutters.
A tensed hand with nails like claws.
A cheek, a shoulder, impossibly smooth. Barely moving, or perhaps not at all. A curtain moving in the breeze from the open window.
A shoal of fish with serrated mouths and luciferous eyes, gulping thick black water, spiralling, turning, dissolving.
An open book, a blank page. A face, probably your face, stooping to see.
13 Clouds Reflected in a Lake, at Sunset
A nacreous mannequin, obscenely supine, in disjointed abandon.
A blown kiss, powdery, fatal.
A cocoon, hanging from the sky’s striations.
A memory of an account of a troubling dream.
Faces made of crumpled tissues, soggy loo roll, bandages, chalk.
A foetus, revolving in the womb’s red night.
Fossils of impossible creatures: chimeras, basilisks, a hunchback with tortured wings.
An eye, blind with cataracts.
Something someone once said to you, jokingly, casually, that you’ve never forgotten.
An octopus wearing a coral crown.
A smashed swan.
Fleets of phantom ships, evaporating into history.
Your mind, your sleeping mind, wondering, wandering, unravelling, surrendering.
13 Deleted Scenes, from a Film Existing Only in the Mind of the Director
1. A panning shot of the room glimpsed briefly in the final scene. Stuttering fluorescent tubes, cracked walls, smashed bottles, a camcorder still recording.
2. Man A greets Man B with a slow wave. Hot LA traffic thunders between them, breaks the gesture into morse code.
3. Alessandra Lucenti’s character sitting alone on the terrace of the ruined hotel, laughing.
4. The young couple strew their clothes over sand and run into the inky sea.
5. In the aftermath of the explosion, smoke cocoons a man wearing an eye patch and leaning on a walking stick.
6. The Director locks his hotel room door and turns back to the woman lying naked on his bed. A fly walks around the rim of a tumbler of whiskey.
7. A montage, in which we see all six main characters asleep.
8. A moonlit night. Man B walks by the towpath, hands in his pockets, head lowered, whistling the tune heard by Man A on the staircase.
9. The man with the eye patch is disturbed by an unusual cloud formation.
10. Leaving the theatre, James Knight and the Director argue over the casting of Alessandra Lucenti as the blind poet.
11. The girl on the reception desk picks up her scissors, cuts the silk ribbon and opens the white box. Inside is a maggot.
12. A repeat of scene one, with Man B taking the place of Man A.
13. A close-up of a wet black disc, radiating blue. The camera pulls back, to reveal the Director’s eye.
13 Disturbing Objects, Recovered from a Hypnosis-Induced Nightmare
1. The head of a porcelain doll, face shiny with white paint. A red slash denotes the mouth. The eyes resemble those of an insect.
2. A fifty pound note, on the back of which is a handwritten message, in thick black ink: NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING.
3. A greyish-yellow cocoon, the size of an adult’s head. A faint whirring noise can be detected coming from inside it.
4. A well-used copy of the complete works of Shakespeare. All of the words appear to have been burned onto the pages.
5. Something that could be a hand, or perhaps a cephalopod of some sort. When we attempt to examine it more closely, it loses definition.
6. A grandfather clock, whose hands have been replaced with knives. It strikes the quarter hour with a rasping clatter.
7. A blue rose.
8. A cardboard box full of smashed lightbulbs.
9. Some sort of primitive adding machine, with levers, buttons & dials. Although it does not seem to run on electricity, it glows faintly.
10. A twisted, resinous form; perhaps a dismembered tree.
11. A saucepan containing a reddish liquid, in which a small green fish swims tirelessly, in clockwise circles.
12. A shop window mannequin, onto the back of which a pair of skeletal ostrich wings has been inexpertly grafted.
13. A brown leather handbag, zipped shut. Occasionally, something flutters spasmodically inside it. We have not opened it yet.
13 Rooms, Rumoured to be Located in the Basement
1. Impossible to see anything in here, thanks to the total absence of light. Torches don’t work in this room. No one knows how big it is.
2. It looks as if it used to be a bathroom. Tiled floor and walls, copper pipes, damp-stained ceiling. But there’s no bath, sink or toilet.
3. Little voices, quiet, soft as the down on your arm. Little whispers, words too faint to discern. You sink into a mildewed sofa.
4. Not so much a room as a closet. Not so much a closet as a box. Not so much a box…
5. Cabinets, vitrines. The fluorescent tubes don’t work any more. Case 12 contains the remains of a creature that looks part man, part bird.
6. What the fuck you doing in here? Who said you could come in? Can’t you see what we’re doing? Get the fuck out!
7. The basement is a symbol of the underworld, or Hades, itself a symbol of the unconscious, or Id. To descend into it is to enter oneself.
8. What they took at first to be a torture chamber transpired to be a gym. Bodies in motion, strung out on equipment, broken in rows.
9. A bedroom, in which all of the furniture is formed from naked people, contorted in attitudes of obscene joy.
10. A padded cell or perhaps a playroom of some sort. The people here seem very happy.
11. A feast is laid out before you. Plates are hands, offering lurid mouthfuls of food. The table’s ears are spoons, its eyes grapes.
12. There is nothing in this room, just you. When you leave and close the door behind you, the room ceases to exist.
13. Hotels don’t contain a Room 13. The basement does. When you enter it you fall into a dream that is a little death, a little surrender.
Grandma’s Eyes, or 13 Unpleasant Stories, Invented for the Purpose of Terrifying and Mystifying
1. She found the book at twilight in the silence of the forest. It was bound in red leather. When she opened it, the pages turned into moths and fluttered in drunken spirals, aspiring to the moon.
2. Grandma’s garden has gnomes, roses, a lovingly mown lawn. But her greenhouse is home to a thousand desperate twisted things, gasping, blind.
3. She pauses before the door to the forbidden room. The apple-shaped doorknob is warm, smooth. In her other hand: a key like a snake’s tongue.
4. Grandma sips a cup of tea. A broken wolf stares at her from the prison of a picture frame.
5. The curtains of her eyelids are the forest. Denser and denser into the heart, into the wet darkness, into the house of phantoms.
6. Grandma’s teeth are knives, hatchets, crenellations, the serrated canopy of the endless forest.
7. When she breaks the mirror she swoons into a long, restless sleep. Her lips turn to rose petals, her hair to snakes. Her sex becomes a seashell. Put it to your ear: listen to the mermaids murmuring in an ocean of blood.
8. Red roses proliferate in the Kingdom of the Wolf. Grandma’s skull is a cave. Inside, you’ll hear the voices of the dead.
9. In her heart is a mirror in whose surface you may catch a glimpse of the witch, an apple, a rose bush, a broken sword.
10. In Grandma’s eyes you’ll see a red moon, red shoes, secret flames, the howling storm. She shows her bleeding palms to the heavens.
11. Opening the door to room 13, she finds herself entering a candlelit bedroom. Her double is sitting at the dressing table, smiling at her own reflection.
12. In the Medusa coils of Grandma’s floral wallpaper: the statue of a wolf.
13. An axe, a grin, a labyrinth of trees. The girl, now a woman, writes her name in blood on the mirror of the moon.
13 Imaginary Tarot Cards, Unsuitable for Cartomancy
1. The Black Hole. A starry-eyed god shifts in swirls, his roaring maw swallowing worlds.
2. Medusa. With one hand she strokes a snake. In the other, a heart of stone.
3. The Fly. Iridescent wings, meticulous mandibles.
4. Vivisection. Life distilled to geometry.
5. The Impossible Tower. A factory chimney, reflected in a lake.
6. The Blue Rose. A clawed hand places it on the pillow of a woman wracked by bad dreams.
7. Blank. Turn it over, then back. Look again. Still blank.
8. The Bird King. His wings are a fog of nausea.
9. Ambition. A pyramid of corpses, surmounted by an office chair.
10. The Wolf. In the shadow of a fedora’s brim: sorrowful eyes, a snarling smile.
11. The Orgasm. An explosion in a skull.
12. Eve. Almost identical to Medusa, standing in a pool of blood.
13. The Broken Mirror. A man crouches, weeping, over its thirteen dagger-like pieces.
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