The poems

The poem exploded in a shopping centre. No one was hurt, except for an adolescent boy who looked into the white blast and went blind.

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He kissed her mouth, her neck, her breasts. She dug her nails into his back. A poem slid over them, pooled in their eyes.

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During their game, they broke the mirror hanging darkly in their parents’ bedroom. A poem hissed through the cracks, into their mouths.

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She wrote the last sentence of her novel, unaware that a poem was hidden in its tangled heart. The poem throbbed, awaiting the reader.

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The banners were red and black. The Bird King’s victory speech shattered all the poems. We collected shards and hid them in our dreams.

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You woke to see a poem hanging from the ceiling like a light fitting like a stalactite like a vampire like a noose like a carcass.

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We tried everything: disinfectant, weed killer, rat poison, bullets, napalm, nukes. But the poems, breeding like cockroaches, wouldn’t die.

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Drowning in neat rows

Wheels grind. The drunken crowd screams. A lever is pulled and the curtains are yanked apart. The Bird King stamps onto the stage.

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The Bird King’s oration is made of knives and envies and stones and pauses. The banners and the sky are red and black.

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Catch a falling star, put it in your pocket. There’s a miniature supernova in a locked room. The Bird King’s claws scratch poems.

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Men behind glass make notes on our appearance, our social networks, our sex lives. One points at you with a finger that looks like a gun.

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The roads are closed. My neighbours starve politely. The Bird King gags on bodies. The police tell jokes about immigrants. Lock your door.

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It’s best not to try to record events that may be unreal. Cameras pirouette on their stands, wink at us like whores. I can feel the blood.

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This is what you want, this is what you get. Line up and wait for it. A father of four sobs into the pavement.

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There is an encore. Booted feet stamp. The android pianist shatters Chopin. Half of the crowd take mournful selfies.

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Sunlight on broken glass in the Street of Emojis. A metallic voice invites us to prayer. We shuffle loosely in our skins, ashamed.

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Last time we dug up the road, dinosaur fossils leapt into song. Pull the shutters down: the red eyes are watching.

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Have you downloaded the update? Try inserting yourself here. We may have to remove your spine. Please hold the iron bar and close your eyes.

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The Bird King’s body double calls himself James Knight but that’s just an alias. Most of the stunts are CGI. The manifesto is a bad poem.

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They smashed the clocks to free the birds. Journalists were rounded up and drugged. The curtains closed on a factitious scene.

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The Bird King bans the past tense. What’s done is done. We write feverishly, trying to keep pace with the galloping now.

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We furnish our living spaces with flatpack instructions. No more bulky furniture! We gaze at the idealised, orderly diagrams.

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Sometimes our bedrooms collapse and sticky dreams escape from our ears. The Bird King’s agents collect them in huge metal drums.

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Empty your pockets. Empty your mouth. Empty your bowels. Empty your head. Empty your books. Empty your houses. Empty your monsters. Empty your bladder. Empty your cupboards. Empty your dishwasher. Empty your bed. Empty your balls. Empty your smartphone. Empty your grave.

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The cathedral bells chime five. We think there’s a ruined castle on the hill, but there isn’t. Not even a trick of the light.

——

There are lots of small pieces. They don’t go together. The Bird King assembles them into things that confound the eye, offend the ear.

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Soldiers running or explosions or the sun plunging into the horizon. The protestors’ bodies have been hidden in wardrobes and under beds.

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The news plays in a loop while we fall down the stairs. A man of 75 ate his neighbour. They’re still watching us from behind glass.

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Learning to express ourselves only in GIFs. The androids smack our hands when we slip up. We search mirrors for an escape route.

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I read a new translation but the memory of the old translation superimposes itself and the page tears itself up.

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Not even writing about the world not even writing about another world not even writing about big themes not even writing about myself.

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When feeding the police, throw meat over the fence. Never put your hands through the viewing holes.

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The Bird King paints disaster on his viewers’ faces. Cluster bombs make percussive music. This is not the end.

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What are you looking at? What are you wearing? What are you doing? What are you saying? Who do you think you are?

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The signs say CLOSED. We wait in rows of twelve. The taste of iron is hard to forget. Our nosebleeds are a constant source of embarrassment.

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Sit. Pray. Eat. Talk. Forget. Rise. Leave.

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And repeat. Drink coffee from the troughs provided. Do not attempt to communicate with each other. Do not sneeze. Do not cough.

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We drowned in neat rows. They kept our eyes open. Light diffused in our slow watery dreams. The Bird King sang about lost love.

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It was nothing to complain about. The wounds would soon heal. Suburbs burned gold in the autumn afternoon.

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We set the fire alarms off so we could have rain indoors. Our enemies hid under their desks, fearful of dissolution.

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Time means nothing. Set your watch to whenever you like. Rewind if you missed what I said. Young men wear beards as an ironic comment.

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The Bird King builds mazes around our cities. We are free to leave at any time, but will probably get lost and starve to death.

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What else do you remember? Tell us in the present tense: it’ll sound more truthful. Don’t leave any sordid detail out.

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Most of them will be set on fire in the streets, so remember to stay indoors until morning. There is blood on your collar.

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Going back to the start. But it’s not the same when you get there. The light is different. Your mood is different. The crowds have gone.

What the mirror showed

The mirror showed what it chose to show, never what the viewer demanded to see.

The mirror didn’t show the back of his head, because the back of his head didn’t exist. You peered into his mask from the inside.

The mirror showed a mannequin but not the blood, brain, heart, lungs, intestines and other organs inside you.

The mirror showed a pile of masks, some cracked, all dirty. You stood next to them, but the mirror didn’t show you.

The mirror didn’t show the nightly massacres taking place behind your eyelids.

The mirror showed pages torn from a notebook, covered in poems, diary entries and obscene doodles, all artfully arranged in the form of a man.

The mirror showed a spurt of blood, a smashed camera, strewn flowers, a copy of Hamlet.

The mirror showed a hand in a glove, a bird in a cage, a thought in a head. You turned off the light to extinguish all three.

The mirror showed a forest, a little girl, a dead wolf. Outside, sirens howled.

The mirror showed your future. Your reflection’s cold, grey skin and sagging mouth smelt of death.

The mirror showed her washing her hands. Blood spattered the white sink. Behind her, in the doorway: a man made of rusty knives.

The mirror showed him the mask he thought he was wearing, not the mask he was wearing, which resembled his face.

The mirror didn’t show the masks you’d buried like corpses. You smoothed your black skirt, admired your stilettos. You were dressed to kill.

The mirror showed itself. Nothing on its silvered surface was real. You stood in front of it, staring at a face.

The mirror showed the house’s empty shell. Vapour trails scarred the sky. Elsewhere, in a dark room, you put on your tie and your fright mask.

The mirror showed a cat, a broken bottle, a trunk exploding with fake furs. She kept to the shadows, out of the light of the setting sun.

The mirror showed your most acceptable mask. While you shaved, the man on the other side of the glass dragged a blade over his throat.

The mirror showed a dream superficially indistinguishable from your day-to-day life. You had no idea.

The mirror showed an empty stage. The audience could be heard muttering and coughing. Put your mask on. Perform.

The Glitch Witch


The Glitch Witch is an audio experience, best enjoyed on headphones in a dark room. 

I wrote the text (which is available in my collection the mannequins are more real than you) and sent it to Abbie Foxton, who recorded herself reading it. Then I sent the audio file to Adam Wimbush, who worked his mad magic with Abbie’s voice and created the astonishing soundscape that is The Glitch Witch. 

Listen to it here.

Macbeth: Four Studies

1

It’s raining. It’s always raining. They look through the window but don’t see the rain any more.

Their hands are knotted, like the roots of trees. Clutching a book, a tea cup, armrests. Or, in dreams, clutching lovers’ throats.

The room is airy and full of silent electricity. People come and go. But they don’t; they’re always here, in this place, in this moment. They breathe slowly, patiently.

Occasionally, their eyes flicker, reptilian, over the objects arranged around them.

Outside, unseen, a little boy is laughing at something.

2

She can sit for hours, staring at a landscape, a beach, a ruin. You’d think she was a realistic fibreglass sculpture, dressed in real clothes that ruffle in the wind, until she suddenly turns her head or shifts her weight.

She can sit for hours, painting the things she sees and the things she dreams, up to her elbows in the artist’s gore. The canvas is skin, stretched flesh, a bandage. Flowers and blood, knives and nectar. Images bloom in the darkening studio.

She can sit for hours, impassive, a picture, a point of stillness, a mannequin.

When he turns up at her studio, she sees the haunted look in his face and tells him to man up.

3

When they sleep, their heads melt. Creatures made of stone and darkness gather round and sip the slurry of their brains. A grandfather clock keeps watch and raises the alarm when dawn peeps over the horizon.

All the names are tattooed over their bodies. Their lovers try to read them, but the light is bad. The names are all equal, all one. The names are weighed down with themselves. There is more value in having no name, smiling in the cradle of the wind. To have a name is to be marked for death.

They wait in a back street. They have a name in their mouths. They suck it gently, roll it around.

4

It sleeps, curled tight as a fist, in his brain.

He gets up, goes to work, goes home, has dinner with her, goes to bed. And a million tiny variations along the way.

It sleeps.

Tonight he’s fucking her. They’re fucking each other. The bed is their battlefield. As she’s coming, she screams and pushes his face away with the palm of her hand.

Everything becomes still. He rolls off her. She’s dead to the world.

It stirs in his brain, unfurls a little, stretches. It wakes up.

He doesn’t sleep. He can’t sleep, not now it’s awake.

When it’s awake he can see it, behind his eyes. It’s red, wet, larval. It pulsates slowly.

He can’t stop looking at it, wondering at it.

He stays awake until morning.

The mannequins are more real than you

  
The mannequins favour zero gravity, breathlessness, the labyrinth of stars. 

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The mannequins inhabit a forgotten planet, orbiting your daydreams. 

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The mannequins will accuse you of anything. Their courtroom is lodged behind your eyes. 

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Time is kept on a leash. When the mannequins laugh, it digs up your bones. 

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Look in the mirror. While you slept, the mannequins left scarlet lipstick stains on your throat. 

—–

Originally published as a series of tweets. 

13 enigmatic scenes from a TV murder mystery that everyone has seen but no one has made

1. The house, stamped white on slate sky. Behind the windows, all the rooms are filled with water. A drowned man in a dinner suit floats by.

2. The revolver lies on the pillow of an unmade bed. The revolver is not just an object. It is the man with the scar, his fear and impotence.

3. A hand on a door handle, hesitating, unmoving. The shot is a close-up; we can’t see if the door is open or closed.

4. An oblong mirror returns the gaze of an anxious woman. She hates the world. Her eyes are crystals.

5. A room on fire. A laughing man sits on a smouldering sofa.

6. A succession of corridors. We glide along them like ghosts.

7. Outside, there is a dark forest. The story will begin and end there. The beginning will mimic the end. The end has already happened.

8. “I’m sorry. Please leave me alone,” whispers a mouth tight with pain. Blue light reveals a knife in a drawer, a torn photograph.

9. The walls are bleeding. Blood collects at the feet of a naked woman. She’s standing up, eyes open, but she looks dead.

10. The curtains are closed, but this looks like a study. A shaft of light shows us a letter-opener. This is an invitation and a threat.

11. The corridors again. They link up, double back, double cross us, never end. Doors are closed or ajar. Music is playing. No one is there.

12. A bath fills with hot water. We expect to see blood. Someone has written the word MANNEQUIN on the steamed-up mirror.

13. A stone through a window. Flying glass, a cry of surprise or horror or delight. The moon is full. A blade of cloud slices it in two.