Saturday, 11 May 2013

She said it first

I liked you first but
She said it first and
The rules of friendship demanded
I keep quiet.

I’m not even sure how much
I really did, or you really did like me.
You joked we should get married
And I jokingly agreed,

Over 3am tea, and your cigarette smoke – see?
You smoke, I don’t,
We live in different cities;
How would it even work?

A week later, I can’t even remember
Your face. Just the colour
Of your hoodie, a vague memory
Of your smile. Just

A flirtation. Just
A moment. No big deal. But still
I wanted to decide that for myself,
And she said it first.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013


He must have danced with a dozen different girls that night, at least; plucking them from the obscurity of the crowd (or group – the venue was really too small for a crowd) and spinning them out into the limelight of those few metres he’d claimed for his dance floor.

The band was playing jazz, and swing, in several languages and styles, and he leapt and twirled and spun and ducked in response. And the girls did too, all seemingly transformed in his hands – as if each had been his partner for years, not minutes.

Some he kept for a few songs, others just one. Some he spoke to, others twirled in enigmatic silence. Some got smiles, others just his full-on eyes.

All looked happy, relaxed, vital. Even watching, I felt myself wrapped in his spell, fascinated by each swirling sequence, unfolding too fast for my mind to match – so only my eyes could keep pace, no space for thoughts.

At first I wondered if they minded, the girls – being picked up and discarded like that. But they didn’t seem to (not that I could know), and he did it all so gracefully, with such apparent purity of intent.

By which I mean, he didn’t seem to be looking for anyone in particular (though there were those few he spoke to, danced with longer, even followed briefly back to their corners – and once I heard him respond, “Oui, je suis français, bien sûr”). He seemed mainly to just love dancing – no, more than that, to have it in his bones.

To judge him, or demand he behave any differently, seemed beside the point. He was simply doing what he had to; how could he not dance, and how could he dance with just one, or two, when he had enough energy, more than enough, to transform the entire room?

Anna, my Anna, was one of those girls. She wasn’t mine, of course; I loved her, but she didn’t know. Or maybe she did, but it’d be another year before I told her, and then three weeks more before she decided, in her own sweet time, to end my suspense.

I feel like saying it broke my heart to watch her dance with him. And in a way that’s how it felt, but not how you think. Not because (or not just because) I was jealous. It’s more that she looked so perfect – I mean they did, together. So complete. And so utterly strange to me. As though I was fully seeing this person I thought I knew so well, and she was someone else entirely.

The singer’s voice was all husky and teasing; I forget the song. They smiled, a little, and danced very lightly, spinning round and through each other’s arms without pause. Then he pulled her in close, and they jived playfully back and forth. So easy! As if they’d known each other half their lives!

The song ended, they bowed, he slipped away and she turned with glazed eyes, towards me. She smiled vaguely, but I don’t think she could see anybody just then. I reached reflexively, for something – my drink, empty. And I blinked, dazed too.

I left early, so I don’t know if he did eventually settle on one perfect partner. I never really asked her, either, how it felt, to be danced with like that. I mean, it sort of came up – the night, the place – in conversation a few times. But I kept the reference cursory. Anxiety, I suppose, my own insecurity making me unwilling to hear her answer, to see her eyes light up, in memory.

But again, this isn’t quite (just) jealousy. I think I’m also scared of destroying my own memory, or blowing away the dreamdust I’ve gathered around it. It’d be too harsh, too cruel, to have it all levelled out to the mundane. I’d rather keep the poetry, the magic, even if I maybe know it’s of my own.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Already over

In isolation she seemed – not perfect, he wasn’t that naïve – but, well, a positive romantic prospect. A promising investment of his time. (Why was it that, despite having deliberately avoided any career choices that would put him at risk of becoming even remotely ‘corporate’, his thoughts had suddenly taken on the aspect of an investors’ board meeting?)

Viewed in the context of her life though – her friends, daily routine, ‘hobbies’ and so forth – he immediately saw how it would end: not well for him (or for her, perhaps, but his main concern here was for himself).

It was all too similar, too much like repetition – not of his last relationship, but the one before that. He’d heard somewhere, or read, that life is a series of challenges that repeat continuously until we learn to deal with each one. If so, he didn’t feel at all confident about handling this particular challenge any better than he had five or so years ago.

Largely, no doubt, because he wasn’t at all sure where the problem lay. Or, that is to say, he knew most, if not all, of it lay somewhere inside him – and you can hardly be expected to be objective and analytical about something which is part of your own self, can you?

Even if he couldn’t pin down the problem, however, he could see, all too clearly, how it would play out. Not in any dramatic, or even really externally observable way, but almost entirely below the surface, beneath the hidden anxieties of face, chest, breath.

Terminating at the end of a reasonably long, apparently happy (most of all, somewhere in the middle – they’d have one great summer together, which they’d never be able to recapture, leaving both ultimately doubting their recollection of those months) relationship, with a prolonged, painful, confusing break-up.

He knew that if he tried to retrace this to its roots, he’d arrive right back here, at this moment, where he’d first felt himself withdrawing – self-preservation, that’s what it was – while at the same time powerless to sever the reflex that left him reaching out, grasping, towards her.

This despite knowing (and here he indulged himself in a little self-aggrandisement, rather tragic, he thought; there’s pathos, at least) that they’d never fully combine. Even in those blissful few moments when they’d succeed in convincing one another, and themselves, of their utter devotion, even then, he knew – and would know, deep down – it was already over.

(It should be noted, they’d only at this stage been on three or four dates. And he hadn’t exactly met her friends or observed her ‘in the context of her life’. But he had clicked through a lot of photos on Facebook.)