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(Before you read this, I wish to apologise, this is not so much poetry as it is a rant. But I’m sure there are people out there who can relate to what is commonly known as the post-Grad blues. For those of you who are also going through this, I shall quote Sir Winston Churchill – “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”)

 

“Hi there! We’ve had word of a job…”
“They want you for an interview!”
“So what do you think would make you an asset to this company?”
“Well…” you launch into a well-rehearsed explanation.
“They called us back. Sorry, no joy. Not your fault though,
Just that someone else
Had more
Experience.”
The rinse and repeat of this scenario is beginning to strip layers
From your mind,
From your spirit,
From your soul.
You begin to wonder
Is this it?
Is this all there is to life?
Chasing the carrot of employment
To avoid the stick of debt
And humiliation.
Your parents,
They will try.
They will try very hard to convince you
That ultimately, things will work out.
That you won’t be living with them forever.
But you cannot let go of what you had, less than 2 months ago.
The times you had with people your own age.
Working hard at something you loved.
Something that now seems so impossible.
Something that you’re unlikely to have the drive to even think about.
You start with good intentions.
“Well, as I’m unemployed, I may as well use the time to sort myself out.”
Workouts.
Diets.
Household purges.
I have been there.
And the temporary self-satisfaction that these things give
Is lost
All so fast
And replaced
With sleeping in,
With junk food,
With clutter, simply because you can no longer be bothered to fight the fight.
And the well-meaning friends and relatives who call you up
To ask you
“Got a job yet?”
Those people that you hold so dear
Become people you begin to avoid.
And it consumes you.
You avoid people.
You avoid the outside.
You avoid life.
And any time you catch yourself
Briefly,
Oh-so-briefly,
Having any kind of enjoyment out of anything
The guilt will get you.
You do not deserve this,
You who does not contribute to society in a meaningful way.
You who secretly envies and despises those around you
Who have a job.
You who cannot seem to achieve anything of note.
You do not deserve your fleeting happiness.
And this cycle goes around and around and around.
I cannot tell you how it ends
If it breaks
Or if you break first.
Because the truth is,
I don’t know the answer myself.

Tying up the loose ends
Like a video game
When you’ve completed the main quest
And there’s nothing more to do
But wait for the next adventure.
The fond farewells of characters
Who’ve made this tapestry sparkle.
The relief of cutting off from people
Who hold you down and push you back.
The creaking of zips, straining against luggage.
Everything you need to survive contained in two suitcases.
And a backpack.
But there are some things that just can’t be squeezed into hand luggage.
The people you love the most for example.
It’s a choice you have to make:
Adventure, or love.
Fortunately, you can settle for both;
They will still be there when you return.
Or so you keep telling yourself.
In the meantime, you make do with the pixels on screen,
And the mechanical voices that claim to be your family.
And try to find a surrogate family to see you through the absence.

You win.
Or so you think.
You sit there,
On the throne that you have built for yourself,
Gloating, and mocking, and belittling.
You write off people that cease to be “useful”,
Who won’t allow you to tread on them on the way up.
I write off people who are the treaders.
And if after all the years of life
That you waste
By panicking over falling off of that throne,
Perched oh-so-precariously upon that ridiculous pedestal,
You still cannot see that of the two of us,
It is I who is better off,
Yes me, the one you scorned,
Failed to take seriously,
Washed your hands of,
Well then I shall know
That the day I burnt that particular bridge,
And the day I severed that particular tie
Was not a day too soon.

I have just returned from a short break with my family. We decided to go shopping for the afternoon. A seemingly ordinary afternoon, we stopped for some lunch at a fast food restaurant that shall remain nameless. We sat at one of the benches with eight seats around it, the kind that almost guarantees that at busy times, you will be sharing your table with strangers.

While I waited for my food, a very small, very elderly lady came and sat at the other end of the table. And as I sat, waiting for my food, surrounded by a cacophony of noise from families shopping for presents and stuffing their faces, I was shocked to see that she was crying. Silently, the tears were flowing down her cheeks. She was staring ahead, with her head up, tears running, with as much dignity as she could muster.

I couldn’t help it, I was concerned. I asked if she was alright, if she wanted to talk. She smiled sadly, and very quietly answered.
“No, thank you, I’m just being silly.”
I did not persist; her food arrived and the tears stopped, though she still looked far away.

As I reflect now on this chance encounter with a very small, very elderly, very sad lady, I am beginning to understand why some people pray. They pray when they have done all they can in a situation, but they have nothing more to give. They pray because that is the only way they can remain hopeful. It doesn’t matter who they pray to, because the intention is universal; they want the right outcome, even when it is completely out of their hands.

C. Elegans. The nematode worm. It baffled science for many years, because in the hours leading up to its death, it emits an ethereal blue glow. Fortunately, worms are not self aware. Can you imagine what it would be like if humans did something similar? I can. I see it every single day.

I first saw it when I was a young child. I asked my mother why the old man on the bus was smokey around the edges. She didn’t answer, assuming that I’d asked about his tobacco habits. It was only following his collapse and the bus driver slamming the brakes on and an ambulance crew pronouncing him dead at the scene that I realised there was something strange going on. But I was young, I didn’t understand death, nor did I wish to.

As a teenager, I began to comprehend my bizarre gift. It seemed that the smoke would begin to appear about half an hour before death – regardless of the cause. Although I was saddened when I saw the grey, vaporous substance begin to seep from the outline of the elderly, I could justify it by reminding myself that they themselves had lived for a fair and lengthly time. But I could hardly contain my anguish at the sight of a young person departing. I became very angry, and bitter at the world, seeing injustices where others could not. I tried, once, to change the fate of someone, but to no avail. A young teenage girl, around my age at the time, so pretty, walking home from school. I saw the vapour begin to creep, and I panicked. This time, I decided to play the hero. I followed her, hoping to catch her when she fell.

I saw her walk to the corner shop, greet the window cleaner up his ladder and and then stand at the side of the road, waiting to cross. I saw it, long before she did: the taxi cab breaking the speed limit, screeching down the road at about fifty. She had just stepped out. I grabbed her coat, pulling her back. The cab missed her by inches. She screamed. In the space of three seconds, my relief turned to raw grief and hatred of myself, for her scream had startled the window cleaner, who in attempting to turn around to see what was going on had knocked a window box of flowers. She died instantly. No suffering. Not for her, at least. But I had to come to terms with the fact that my actions had cost this girl her life.

With time, I learnt to accept that I could not change the fate of people, I could only tell when something would happen. My final visit to my grandmother ended with her smoke beginning to seep out just as I was due to leave to catch a train. I checked my ticket and pretended to have misread the time. I knew I couldn’t save her, but I had scored one minor victory; when the heart attack took hold, she didn’t have to die alone.

Following this incident, and realising that people die whether you can accept it or not, I spent the rest of my days trying to comfort people in their final minutes. I drove my neighbour home from a shop one day so that she could hold her husband’s hand as she slipped away from an undetected blood clot. I sat by an old tramp as he slipped into unconsciousness, telling him not to fear the end, because it didn’t really hurt. You may judge me for not seeking medical help, but even the cleverest of doctors cannot alter a man’s fate. It would only lead to pain, and an undignified end.

For my whole life, I have kept my cursed gift a secret, fearing that others would brand me evil, that they wouldn’t understand. Why then, am I writing this down? Because I, at the age of thirty-seven, can spy my own vapours beginning to twist, and curl as they ooze out of my pores. I do not drink. I do not smoke. I have no prediagnosed medical conditions. I do not know the form my ending takes. I have just long enough to write this down before my inevitable demise. I shall leave you with this: I do not fear the reaper, but I hear him knocking on my front door. I bid you farewell, then I must answer it and face my destiny. Adieu.

The phone call at two in the morning.
Unknown numbers.
The stranger walking too close.
The eyes watching at the cash machine.
The dog let loose, growling.
Turbulence.
Unpredictability.
Change.
A lingering cough.
That mark that itches, getting larger.
The voices.
The creak in the darkness.
Curls of smoke.
The smell of burning.
The person who doesn’t respond when you call.

There is no logic in this reality.
Emotional responses take over from reason.
The innocent have their blood spilled
By the confused, the ignorant, the hateful.
And all the while,
The puppet masters hide in darkness,
Twitching the strings,
Laughing,
Claiming no responsibility.
It is the work of higher powers.
That is the claim they stake.
It is the claim we reject.
For while we reject it,
Evil may not win.

If you fail,
The earth will continue to rotate.
If you fall,
You can pick yourself straight back up.
Or, you can take a moment to look up at the stars.
If you slow yourself down,
The view is less blurred.
You can join the rat race.
Or you can burn your own trail.
Lifetime is confusing.
But it is not the time in your life that matters most;
It is the life in your time.

A million thoughts
Buzzing like wasps around a nest.
When is that report due?
What did she mean when she sent that email?
I wonder if dad has remembered that it’s the green bins that are taken today?
Hairline seems to be receding more…
I wonder if she’ll go out for a drink with me.
Should just ask her…
Did I remember to feed the cat?
Did I lock the door?
What if she says no?
What if she says yes and then doesn’t turn up?
BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!
The screeching of brakes,
The acrid smell of burning rubber.
The sickening crunch of metal and glass.
Behind you,
In your rearview mirror,
You see the wreck
That you missed
By seconds.
You stop.
Call an ambulance.
Call the police.
You watch as stretchers are carried off.
You listen as police make phonecalls.
You observe from the outside
As lives are changed forever.
And in that moment,
All the petty worries,
The trivial griping,
The destructive comments…
They all melt away.
Replaced by a sudden urge
To quit your job.
To go to your father’s house
And take him out for the day.
Remind him how much you love him.
To ask that woman out on a date.
And hey, let’s be crazy…
Losing your hair?
Shave it off, and shine with pride,
Knowing that yours can be,
No, must be,
A life well-lived.

He slumps in the plump, winged armchair
Of his expensively furnished study,
In his enormous, princely palace,
With a healthy measure of the finest Scotch
That money can buy,
And he weeps.
The man who everyone believes has it all
Weeps
For the one thing he cannot have.
The girl.
The sweet, innocent, pretty young thing,
With a smile like sunshine
And a heart of gold finer than any that a jeweler could supply.
This beautiful rose
Who married for love,
Not wealth, or convenience.
And who,
For the time being,
Is sheltered, protected,
In a warm cocoon
Of pure, perfect, unconditional, and reciprocated adoration.
What her husband lacks in money
He more than makes up for with time.
Endless thoughtful gestures.
A hand to hold when seas are rough.
Someone to laugh with in the summertime.
A man to grow old with.
And that is why the rich man weeps.
Because he is all too aware
That the flashiest car available cannot transport him
To where he yearns to be.
In her arms.
That all the powerful allies
Cannot change the feelings of a woman’s heart.
That the largest of mansions
Are cold and hollow
Without a lover to share them.
But worst of all, he knows
That all the money in the world
Cannot buy her love.
And while she will die,
Surrounded by those she holds dear,
With a smile on her face,
He will die cold and alone,
Wishing that he could make his choice again
Between wealth and success.
As he wipes the last traces of Scotch from his lips,
A painful epiphany reveals itself:
Happiness,  success, and wealth
Are not always synonymous.
And that is why the rich man weeps.