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Dust Sucker

Dustsceawung (Old English): contemplation of the fact that dust used to be other things – the walls of a city, the chief of the guards, a book, a great tree: dust is always the ultimate destination. Such contemplation may loosen the grip of our worldly desires.
– ‘Untranslatable Words’, The School of Life, 2018

 

*

 

my living is thick and filthy

 

I start the day by reading obituaries
like I’m smoking a morning cigarette,
ash in my one eye, the other tucked under my pillow

 

this is the crap I breathe to dust absurdity
over everything

 

I saw this coming in my periphery
I’m short-sighted, so never wear
my glasses

 

I’m a painter brushing a wash for the background,
everything atomised
beyond a point

 

*

 

making coffee, drinking water at the sink,
an evening with dear friends:
the warm up frames in the comic strip,
the montage of my trivial activities before
the incident

 

the creak on the stairs in the new house
is a home invasion

 

the click of the boiler, like someone striking a match,
foreshadows a gas explosion

 

well someone is going to stop breathing

 

*

 

the german word for hoover is staubsauger, lit. dust sucker
and you may call a baby säugling – little suckler
we call them tot, resembling das deutsche wort for ‘dead’
staubschauen, like the old english word for the contemplation of dust,
might be translated as ‘dust-gazing’

 

sounds irritating on the eyes

 

*

 

brambles tumbled over the back wall overnight
I pick the berries
bunches of black balloons
leaving the infants and the mouldy ones
grey and puffy like a bulldog’s face

 

I make a crumble and give it to a neighbour
I think this is living
but my mind sees through it

 

there are hundreds of berries along the main road

 

I wouldn’t touch them

 

juicy with fumes and roar and residue
from discarded drinks bottles
each black bubble
filled with cola and stout

 

*

 

squatting on low stools in a pub full of lungs
we proclaimed we’d started trying
wet smiles, motes drifting in sunbeams

 

years later, no one asks anymore

 

that’s all a load of old dust

 

*

 

we moved away to the coast

 

I slide out a photobook of seaside towns in the sixties
the grandmothers getting ice-creams
the husband looking past his wife
the wife at her wedding ring
couples dancing outside the nearby pavilion

 

they’re just a sandy beach now

 

*

 

the roofs are heaving with seagulls
the fluffy grey babies mew, warming up their voices
for adulthood
the big ones pump out trumpet honks

 

gulls have piñata’d the bags of recycling
sending cans rolling down the hill like a flood

 

*

 

my dad still manoeuvres me to walk on the inside of the pavement
warns me of hitchhikers and roadside merchants
recalls a cluster of his school friends
who floated out to sea on a raft
forever

 

t/here I am in my baggy swimming costume
a fiver from a charity shop
(previous owner probably eighty)
demanding through my ice-cream cone
don’t swim out too far

t/here wearing inappropriate footwear
on a walk in the forest, thinking I can feel
ticks all over my body, pleading
careful not to touch it
as someone pulls aside a fern to flash
an enormous mushroom, gills inverted like a blown out umbrella

 

*

 

look, a pony ! a woodlouse !
a cow ! a wasp ! a frog ! a dragonfly !
a newt !

 

a neutral word in german is baby



our friend’s baby says steam when it sees steam, smoke, clouds

 

we play in the sandpit together until das baby suddenly remembers mama
feels baby shame

 

could I bear to give someone the forever-feeling of having
left the heating on?

 

I slide out a baby-weaning book and get fixated on the risks of eating:

 

Introduce common allergens, never two on the same day.

 

a pic of a baby’s blotchy face after cashew butter,
tests reveal: also pistachios

 

the normality of gagging

 

my mum’s greatest fear for us: choking

 

no lollipops

 

she has no appetite these days
she sucks ice-lollies

 

the baby kneels on a strawberry
pink juice on white linen

 

when we get home there’s a sunset
on the toilet paper, and me
falling for the fib for the fortieth month
that debris a baby makes

 

my body feels crisp and brittle, a fire hazard
a flight risk

 

I am a sand castle of a woman

 

*

 

if I breathe too much exhaust it will lodge in my lungs,
bear a grudge

 

I feel like I’m walking along the curb of a busy road
coughing, eyes running

 

I need a good thump,
like thrashing a rug after winter

 

*

 

for too long
woodland and forest alike have been seen
as the side salad to the steak
the crust on the jam/ham sandwich
somehow: the past

 

they were eternity all along

 

a zillion specks
no beginning no end
camouflage correlated
in dialogue
over millennia

 

*

 

the tread of my shoe is a display case
cradling a fragment from
my daily meandering

 

I have a display case of mud clots slowly crumbling

 

I wake in the night and calmly think: is that a blood clot
gently rumbling

 

*

 

dusting for fingerprints
chalky white over everything
like a tick
suckling the juice, rotten little sucker!
leaving our mark
like a snail trailing over books
it didn’t write

 

*

 

cocoa on a cappuccino in the shape of a toad

 

the cat comes in sparkling with pollen and seeds

 

*

 

my desk is piled high with
charcoal dust

 

it trickles from between book covers
into the covers of my bed

 

I spend my time sieving it, moving it from
one bucket to the next

 

*

 

I’d rather sleep on a beach
than in my bed

 

the dusty feeling on my hands afterwards
from gripping salty stones and shells
like after hoovering up a dish of pistachios

 

*

 

white plastic bags of
reasonably priced fruit             günstiges obst
wash off the rough film of pesticide

 

dusty scent of a peach tickling my throat

 

*

 

when my friends know I’m leaving
they start hoovering and won’t stop till I’m gone

 

my friends
mycelium

 

*

 

german feels chewy and sweet on my tongue,
not flaky, not like choking-hazard english

 

I roll maltese around in my mouth like an everlasting gobstopper
that gets no smaller, no matter how much
I suck

 

my dad won’t put his bil-malti teeth in anymore,
my mum mimics her irish ma only never

 

she keeps her name out her mouth

 

*

 

my parents’ air
fizzes and froths with laughter
in spite of everything

 

so why in spite of not much
are we submerged in CO2 sighs

 

*

 

I’ve got names gathering dust in a folder on my phone

 

you can always adopt

 

like adding hot water to granules
but it ain’t all gravy

 

the website depicts adoption as a winding asphalt road
all sleeping policemen and no rousing bumps

 

you can always adapt

 

*

 

I’ve come unshelled
envious of the slug, satisfied bohemian hermaphrodite
a.k.a nacktschnecke                  naked schnecke                naked snail
like in maltese, bugħarwien     naked bebbuxu                 beb-bu-shoo!
bébé    boo-boo   shoesneverworn
bambino            to            babushka
masc.                  to            fem.
bambina, surely?              “derog. equiv. bimbo”

 

*

 

I’m the diplomat between my lover and my body
but no interpreters are ever at hand

 

when it’s time for that famous intimacy
I’m always constricted in a musty latex catsuit from the eighties
and the zip is jammed

 

I think I can proceed but then
a flea bites me on the ankle
dust bunnies tumbleweed under the bed

 

the bunnies and the flea are of the opinion
that I should just close my eyes

 

you’ll see

 

*

 

shocked to see the head of a seal like a black balloon
we’d forgotten there were animals in the sea

 

look, a seal !
look, a dolphin !

 

yellow buoys like lint from a duster

 

wishy-washy sea kneading the shore, surfy hands
rolling pebbles like dice when it has
everything to lose

 

*

 

don’t say a poem can’t be a to-do list or a diary or showing
my workings & findings

 

this is, in fact, a graph

 

*

 

I brush down my shoulders and sleeves
shake my hair, sending out a fine cloud, like steam

 

I will wear my glasses every day

 

I will keep writing missives on smeared glass

 

these words have floated and alighted in this exact arrangement

 

this has been my vacuum cleaner

 

my gaze drips warmly over everything

 

*


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

is the author of I’m Afraid That’s All We’ve Got Time For (Prototype), Goblins (Rough Trade Books), Hamburger in the Archive (if a leaf falls) and Serious Justice (Test Centre). Her writing has appeared in Best British Short Stories 2021 (Salt), Spells: 21st Century Occult Poetry (Ignota), The London Magazine, 3:AM, Somesuch Stories, Another Gaze, Ambit, Inque, and regularly in the Brixton Review of Books. She was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2019 for her translation of Marion Poschmann’s The Pine Islands and was the inaugural Translator in Residence at the British Library. Alongside Kat Storace, Jen is co-publisher at Praspar Press, which publishes contemporary Maltese literature in English and English translation. She lives in Hastings, UK.

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