The Written World

Does it ever scare you, how much you will never read?
Because I am sure that the answers to every question I’ve ever had
Has been written somewhere, sometime.
Maybe it’s in another language, or halfway across the Earth;
Maybe this world is even romantic enough for me to find it washed up in a bottle,
But surely, I am not alone in my thoughts.

How wonderful it is, the way my mind doesn’t know what to do with written words
Except read them;
Read them, with the well-practiced voice in my head.
But there are people out there who can speak their name
And not recognise it on paper.
How strange it must be, to look at the English language and see nothing but whimsical doodles,
Mistake letters of the alphabet for odd lines and squiggles.
What a privilege it is, for me to read as easy as it is to speak,
Slide through sentences like skating across ice.

You have the power to understand scientific journals, great literature,
Yet you squander it by scrolling through social media.
Fashion trends and diet crazes,
Nourishing your body instead of your mind,
Replacing words you’ve learnt with rows of emojis.
How many times have you reflexively written ‘student’ under occupation
Without realising how fortunate you are to have an education?

These nights, I’ve been reading the dictionary,
Wrapping my tongue around new words
And gifting them to my vocabulary.
I nurture my lexicon like a cherished plant,
Crafting sentences to use words I’ve missed seeing;
Writing it down on paper
Just to feel my pen curl around these letters like a long-lost friend.
The ink gives itself in to the paper,
I give myself in to words-
They are an extension of my fingers.

So tell me that one day, I will find something-
A person who words cannot describe, maybe,
Or a question words cannot answer,
When I’ll finally be lost for words-
Naked, vulnerable.
Let me know that it will be frightening;
Of course it will be, when I’ve built a life around words.
And when I ask for the solution,
Tell me it lies not within the pages,
But written in the stars.

London

For Sarah (happy birthday!)

I wonder if you are looking out your window tonight
At a skyline of unfamiliar silhouettes,
Buildings so tall even the stars can’t help but bend down and kiss them.
How utterly strange it is, for you to be so far away,
For us to breathe the same air, yet see different skies.
The constellations must have changed there-
I wonder if you can still see the Southern Cross.

This is the city we grew up with in movies and magazines,
Splattered across social media and travel ads,
Landmarks so iconic we knew them almost better than the ones at home.
The name tapping against the backs of our teeth,
As our tongues fumbled around an accent too-posh-
I wonder if you are used to it yet.

I imagine you walking Piccadilly at night, among flashing billboards
That never quite dazzle the same way at noon-
This is a kind of life that awakens only once the sun has fallen asleep.
These streets are so alive-
I wonder if you’ve seen them empty,
I wonder if you’ve heard them silent.
Two days it took for me to fall in love with this city,
I wonder if you are in love.

There is another terrorist attack on the other side of the world this morning
(Eight dead, another forty eight injured),
And mixed in with the sadness and sympathy
Is an unfamiliar sense of anxiety.
I am so not used to having to pray for someone
That I almost forget to ask if you’re ok.
I wonder if, during times like these,
You wish it didn’t take you at least two plane rides to come home.

Now you fall asleep the same time my alarm rings.
I must admit, it is kind of wonderful, this cycle,
The way one of us is always awake, as if we’re keeping watch-
Not afraid of losing sleep, but scared of missing out.
Still now, I wonder if you’ve settled in,
Because I hope you like it there.
I hope you have found a home there.

Ode to Daughter

Dear daughter,
You were born a child of the universe.
You entered battling meteors on the backs of shooting stars,
Found your voice alongside thunderstorms and earthquakes,
Wrote your name into a constellation, and carved out your own orbits.
You can paint the entire galaxy from memory,
So don’t you dare tell me you are afraid of glass, because

Dear daughter,
Sometimes, the world will rob you of what is rightfully yours,
But that is why you were given legs, so you can chase after adversity the way lightening chases darkness.
I want you to be like the lakes that shine, so stubbornly blue, even when the sky is grey.
You are not to be silenced by full stops, expiry dates,
You are no contortionist, you were never able to fit into boxes.
Your voice is not laundry that can be folded and put away.
Never apologise for being right, for knowing,
But remember to always forgive those brave enough to admit their mistakes.

Dear daughter,
Your skin is soft, and it will dent easily from the imprints of those you encounter,
And you’ll wonder why feelings seem to enter easier and linger longer in your body than they do in that of others,
But never scold yourself for these emotions that flood, no;
Others will tell you your skin is too thin, they will call your heart fragile,
They will talk about stoicism like it is a victory,
But oh, do they know how wonderful it is to feel so much, to feel so alive?
To feel is not to suffer, to feel is not to surrender, so

Dear daughter,
You can cry yourself to sleep if you’re upset, but don’t you ever fall asleep to the hunger of wanting more;
The dreams you satiate yourself through will never follow into reality.
Sometimes, it is as simple as looking down at your arms and realising
The wings you were searching for have been there all along.
And when you finally set flight, you will learn that there is no such thing as falling,
Not when every cell in your body is praying for the contrary.

And dear daughter,
Please, do not ever
Mistake blue eyes for the sky, or golden hair for the sun,
Believe for a second that one person is enough to be your entire world.
Never be ashamed of standing closer to the stars than them;
Remember, “you aren’t like other girls” is not always a compliment,
The word ‘different’ is not synonymous with ‘better’.

So when you are soaring through the skies and a knight in shining armour holds out his hand,
Be sure to tell him thanks, but no thanks-
“I am not a damsel in distress.”

Catharsis

And even afterwards, you had a way of leaking back into my life,
Seeping into my words like a broken fountain pen.
No, perhaps ‘flooding’ is more appropriate, the way
You exuded my mind as a swarm of writing prompts,
Sweeping through, making a home in all my emptiness,
Romanticising the way loneliness wrapped its tendrils around my neck;
Mascara-smudged eyes, ice-cream binge clichés,
Offering a vaccine to writer’s block
(How could a writer, of all people, refuse that?)

But of all the words that have slipped from my mouth,
Of all the words that you so unknowingly stained,
These will be the last, I am sure of it,
For there must be lighter things to write about
Than bleeding hearts and charred souls.

I am finally sick of the forced giggles and loud voices that
Push through these lips – my lips, that walked into other lips the way you walked out of my life,
Desperate to show you I’d moved on already, as if it were a key competition;
Fighting through to the finals, only to find you never even bothered to register.

How pathetic it was, for me to enthuse about letting go,
Only to spend more nights writing about you
(If you can’t beat the pain, embellish it).
A hundred and twenty five hurricanes later, and I finally realise
You can never truly be free from something you’ve glued your palms onto-
Even if you loosen your fingers, pull away, you’re still holding on.
But the rain has finally ceased, so let the sun-rays melt this glue.
Don’t you worry about me losing my grip-
My hands have finally found other things they want to reach for.

There may be less to write about now,
But at least I have nothing left to prove;
Not to myself, and especially not to you.
At least I’ve finally reclaimed my life,
No longer living an existence designed to make you miss me.
At last I can laugh today, properly, without thinking to myself
“See, I can be happy without you.”

And so now I sleep with the windows open,
Wearing nothing but filtered moonlight-
Gentle curves and soft skin against ivory satin sheets;
This body is mine, mine alone.
It is a liberating moment to realise
I belong to no one.

Fault Lines

It is a fault of yours
To fumble with words.
Search for hours, and emerge purely with silence;
Pick heavenly roses, but present them only when they have wilted.
Somewhere beneath your tongue, there is a forgotten dictionary.

It is a fault of this language
To package acidic words so they taste like caramel;
Dipped in something sweet, but filled with liquid white lies.
There are too many synonyms for ‘beautiful’-
You are not as ideal as they write you.

It is a fault of a writer
To have surrendered to words,
To cradle them like the last flowers of spring,
Swallow them like ambrosia even if they taste untrue,
Reluctant to squander even those that pierce her throat.

You tell me there’s a word for the way my hand fits into yours,
For the way I look on lazy Sunday mornings.
‘Perfect’, you say,
You’re perfect.
But my fingers have almost forgotten the touch of your skin,
And you have not seen me for the last 47 Sundays.

Say sorry all you want, but make the same mistakes over and over and you’ll never stop apologising
(Just ask Sisyphus).
Darling, aren’t you sick of asking for forgiveness? Don’t the words grind into your palate by now?

I’m starting to wonder how you came to be the one to teach me heartbreak poetry.
Tell me, is there a word that can bridge this distance between us?

Time Machine

For Heidi

I watch you play adult in high-rise apartments-
Paying bills, folding laundry, loading the dishwasher,
In Louboutin heels and tailored blazers,
Drinking morning coffees in kitchens with marble backdrops.

But your heart still pauses at girlish intricacies-
Dream catchers from the market, wooden musical boxes, Parisian pink accents.
The entire Harry Potter series is alongside bank statements,
And there is a teddy bear in the corner.

We are a sea away from our parents, from home.
I flew to your place from mine, but there is something unfamiliar
About the way the air is void of our childhood;
There are no long-forgotten memories that jump from these surroundings,
Nothing that makes us say,
“Remember that time when…?”

But we do the same things anyway;
Drive to the cinemas for a Disney remake,
Succumb to nostalgia, and spend the night watching originals,
(Even though we both know better than happily ever afters now).

You have work early the next morning, and I have a flight to catch,
So we stay up later than we should,
Listening to each other’s stories like a good novel we just can’t put down,
Words tumbling from our mouths the way we used to roll down grassy hills;
This is a type of effervescence no technology can ever convey.

I tell you about a laughter I save for moments like these,
For when happiness is this pure, this distilled, this sacred.
I want to run to the scientists and announce that somehow we’ve done it – we’ve travelled back in time,
For how else do you explain the way we can sit here as adults
But, in every other way, be so completely and wonderfully,
Children?

Return to Sender

I still think about you.
I don’t want to, but the idle mind is not blessed with the luxury of choice.
I wonder if you’ll ever read this and see your name written all over it
(You would not be wrong).

Did you realise I bruised easily? You were so careful with your words;
“I knew you wouldn’t be happy about it,” you said in the end,
As if I would be angry, annoyed, or even disappointed.
No darling, the word should have been ‘upset’;
Shattered, maybe-
Devastated, heartbroken-
“I knew you would be crushed.”
You needn’t have worried about words hurting me, I’ve seen them all.
So I reassured you that it was fine, that I’d walk away;
After all, my legs are strong from our tip-toe kisses.

When I came to you after drunken mistakes, you asked me
Why I became so casual about the kinds of lips and bodies that pressed against me on Friday nights
When I once blushed from your caresses.
I tell you
It’s easier in this maze of bodies.
I knew about this, that’s why I left my soul at home for safekeeping.
It’s difficult to remember what it means to have a name, a personality,
To believe in this darkness that I am anything more than flesh and bones.
And in those moments, I can almost pretend that the strange body coiled around me
Belongs to you.

I finally understand now that this is our fate, the inevitable,
Even though the idealist within me, the one who still wants to believe in happily ever afters, wishes otherwise.
But there is no point in trying to prolong
A story that has come to an end, with sequels of foolish fantasies and delusional daydreams-
That was not the author’s intention.
No one keeps writing with a pen that has run out of ink-
I should know that best.

Maybe we both deserve better,
So I hope you find someone who makes you happier,
And I hope she makes you laugh, in a way
I don’t think I was ever able to.