I have only ever lived among pollution. Tell me it is not the sky I look at but an irradiated blanket, pitched between my street lamps and the real sky. To that I say the real sky is immaterial, an idea cast too far back into the dark to matter. My pollutions define me.
As a child I favoured invented worlds, populated by tribes with kaleidoscopic cultures, another one always over the mountain ridge. Today, in the city, the promise of a never spent or perfected flux is all that keeps me here. The new thing ever opening. Frontiers of the affordable and good.
I am stranded in the middle of Moby Dick: p. 274 out of 509. The Pequod, after listing in the South Pacific, has embarked upon its first ‘cutting in’, the process of safely flaying a whale of its blubber, which requires the whole crew to heave a hook-fed rope through the blowhole until everything gives at once, for the blubber envelopes the whale precisely as the rind does an orange.
Part of me would sooner stay here. There is too much to read. Far from a complaint, this is only to state the necessary obverse of infinity’s appeal. Were we to know that our present book was the last we were yet to read, its conclusion would be intolerable. Heaven, then, must be to choose a fixed point, knowing the brawl of infinite, receding options, as if slipping into a particular chair while rain hammers on the skylight. Here I can dip my fingers in the dripping hide.
Through my browser I watch a documentary, free of charge, about a church repurposed as a data centre where a record of every web page is collected through time. Truly, there is a holiness in this: shades of God’s forensic love for hair and sand. As well as sites they preserve books scanned by human hand, so that Melville’s relishing and fretful bulk can expand along its ultimate democratic tangent to take its place beside the novel’s Wiki page, as captured on almost every day of its existence.
A great wall: a cliff face of servers cooled by fans. Several-coloured diodes blink in response to uploads, downloads, the servers that need replacing. In this hygienic temple, across a medium of distance and physical substance I will never understand, they are polluting me. It is dizzying, exquisite. My white whale plunges forever out of view. This is the structure of the new sky.
Plenitude and frigid air: death
could never come where fruit
will never rot before it’s sold
or thrown away. I could never be
mistreated, never fall to mischief
in this humming galleon of service
down whose many-jarred and many-
branded gangways I could trip
forever, never sickening or asking
where it comes from, how. Bacon
sweats and preens beneath its plastic
corset. On empty schoolnights we
would drive here, newly licensed,
and plunder the golden sundries
of the deli counter, less in hunger
than exquisite tedium: bhajee, satay
skewer, olive bar, layered salad
reduced to clear, the decadent
barbarian empire of freezers and
lurid condiments, beyond which lay
the household aisles, our lives
mapped out by ergonomic grid.
I lied when I said I never
wonder how it happens; how
like a quietly ovulating mammal
these shelves replenish. It speaks
of a greater kindness working
in our world than I’d assumed.
A providence less radical and more
assured. It stuns me into apathy
the colour and thin consistency
of milk expressed and pasteurised
by exploited farmers. Returning
here alone this frightened evening,
I made nest among the chicken
strips and mince, dreaming myself
a worm in the field that reared
such miracle and blight. I’ve never
known a hunger worse than two
pounds in my pocket here could quell.
My anger may never meet the air
but lies in wait, flesh under wax
in fruit that’s yet to perish, or to sell.
Far Enough Away
You mistake me for flesh: for the honest captain
who can follow where the cruising stars have signalled,
glittering and keen. My body isn’t like that.
It remembers water, remembers it too well
when you come near, but returns each night
to settled pastures, indentured groves, the landlocked
love that doesn’t think to guard or name its territories.
The mistake, I know, was mine, that I exhumed
this flesh suit in a mingling room and stood
surprised to find a real blood repopulate its limbs.
Will you sail with me? No, I wouldn’t want that,
wouldn’t want the queasy belly-sweetness as we left
that dock behind. You find me a bad and dusty ragdoll
dissembling on the quarterdeck, when my better flesh
is safe at home. The stars there are fixed and white as pills,
and I find them to my liking. I went back on myself today
to trace them, over fields of celibate frost and winter mud,
but even then, in the heart of my drowsy parklands,
far enough away from any salt or murky scent,
I happened on a weir carrying the din of water
from its mountain source towards a howling sea.