the poetry that matters

Roberta Lawson

Roberta Lawson is an English writer. After years in London, she finally lives near the ocean. Her work has most recently appeared or is soon to surface in: Gloom Cupboard, Mung Being, Prick of the Spindle, The Clockwise Cat, and Gutter Eloquence, amongst a few other places. She tends to update http://mermaids-singing.blogspot.com

The Temple and the Fortress


Q. Do you see her there, walking down the street? Yep, just there. She’s going past the park. What bright blue eyes she has! I like the flow of her hair and skirt in the wind. Hey, she’s waving!


A. All manner of factors, including chance, determine whether something gets taken up as worthy of “study” and what form that takes, but cutting across them all is the conviction that the object of study is important, that it matters.


Q. She’s not waving to you, is she? Is that her boyfriend? The albino in the black cap? She wants to kiss him. Do you see that? Look at the way her face lights up, her mouth and eyes smiling. You want to kiss her, don’t you? Her skirt and hair are flowing and flowing.


A.  She matters. Have you read Murakami? It’s a landscape of the absurd. I lived there: it was black and white, no blues. I once knew a synaesthete. He tasted cinnamon red, and he spoke lavender. 


Q.  Does pink smell of candlewick? Is grey a feeling? Where are they going now? You want her, don’t you? Is that her boyfriend?


A. My bones ache. Perhaps I might snap, like a twig.




Q. Tea? Cup of tea, lady? Cool you down, yes, yes? No? Not a nice English cup of tea for you, guv’nor?

Donut? Sexy donut for a beautiful lady?
Perhaps you would like to see some jewellery? A nice ring to match your pretty eyes? From my friend’s store: I do you very good price!


A. They give me a knife, so I can carve her from me. I wittle a bloody doily, and lay her out for tea.

I put my parcels on my back, and start walking. My shoulders become a frown.


Q. A silk suit, for your nice figure, lady? For your job? Or a party, perhaps? Very good price, cheapest in land.

Lady. Lady! Cheapest, softest, silkiest, most beautiful.

Do you have a boyfriend?

Taxi, baby? Tuk tuk. You want a tuk tuk, lady?


A. I eat a mouldy mushroom and it blooms a stormcloud on my belly. My friends slink into shadows and I blow out mould rainbows. The doors are shut, and so I talk to no people. I insert the refill and we can begin again.


Q. The flag whistles in the wind, and I blow silently away. It is grey; a tweed librarian in Mongolia.


A. I am in her. She is in me. I try my best to see her.


I feel her with a hand, an arm, an eyebrow. I fuck her with a wink, a shiver, an elbow. I reel her towards me and I swallow without water. She bulges from my stomach, and still she cannot see me.




Q. What’s the sum of two and two?


A. It’s six.


Q. Is that an objective reality? Does context have a bearing? Is it realist or anti-realist? Is there an absolute value? Does reality exist outside of space and time? What are space and time? Is there a temporal realm? What’s six? Sorry, is this too much, so early?


A. I like you, but not your questions. I feel like I’ve heard them before, somewhere. Perhaps we’ve met.


Q. Perhaps. Do you know Malaysia at all?


A. I stayed there once, in the jungle: Penang. My toe turned brown.


Q. The monkeys there are violent, stole my camera…But my toes were fine. You want to kiss her, don’t you?




A. This door, the one on the left, no not that one, the one with the steel doorknob. Yes, that one. What’s it for? Why a door and no room behind it?


Q. It’s a trick. Open it and you’ll find a wall. Funny, don’t you think?


A. Not particularly. (Sniffs.) It reminds me of-


Q. Don’t you like tricks? Doors to nowhere, buzzer in your palm, itching powder down your trousers? Anything for a laugh, right?

A. I don’t like the infantile, the mundane or the unnecessary. I don’t like things which serve no purpose, things which don’t, or at least, shouldn’t, matter. Doors to nowhere, keys that lead to no door, words without a meaning. Have you ever met an earless man who collected studs, a mute with a microphone; a tea cosy for a house that couldn’t afford a kettle? I want to live where there’s black and white, no blues. 


Q. I had two older brothers. Is that an explanation?


A. Me too- two older brothers, a door to nowhere, and the blues.





Q. A limestone cliff in monsoon season. Is it a ladder or a stop sign? If I dangle from the edge, will you catch my breath in bottles?


A. I eat a storm cloud and it bursts inside me. All I hear is grit, and I trip a teetering scale.

The zephyr plunges from my throat, whistles out of me, and darts on by.

She is an arrow to the sea’s shrill. When she hits the salt tip, she grows a tongue that licks the water; becomes a siren, and her melodies hug the waves.


Q. For forty days, I do not eat; dance fire. By the end, I am just bleached bones on sand.


A. She darts, she flies, she runs on by. The sun’s an orange warrior; its arms shoots light beams. Time to plant tears. I carve wings from stone, and I run, attempt to fly. I am led, for 2000 years. Finally, I fall, I fall, I die. There is laughter in the bleachers. The cheap seats in the back grow eyes like cymbals. I plummet, I plunge, I die.


Q. I sing the burning sunlight. I dance the blood black moonlight. She waves; we sing a sigh. Bone shines like a beacon. We dance the night’s dawning, on longships and rowboats.





A. Sometimes I feel like I’m losing the battles for a war I don’t understand. Sometimes I feel like I don’t know what I’m talking about. Like I’m chasing causes that have no consequences I can feel, taste, smell. Do you ever stumble in the dark? Is your life dark? When you tread a tightrope who stops you falling? Sometimes I ride cars to nowhere. Talk to snowmen, chase my tail; eat butterflies when I’m not hungry. Do you see what I’m saying?


Q. Her hair is a banner; yours is a veil. Her face is an invitation; his is a fortress. They’re kissing now: the temple and the fortress, and in the night their kiss is a handcuff. You want to kiss her, don’t you?


A. I walked ten miles. My feet are numb.


Q. She waited twenty years for my ship to come in. She told me she would wait forever. I left her on the shore. I sailed away with a white flag up. I won a thousand battles, and lost five thousand men, I journeyed to the ends of the world, and it spat me out again. I nearly died, I nearly died. I drunk nectar, was transformed into a lion; made love to goddesses. Then the gods looked down, declared a checkmate and she jumped into the sea. You laughed, called it Mills and Boon, and turned over onto your side.




A. I send my heart in a chariot and she begins to see me. I am the sky; she spreads her wings and soars. The albino is an automaton; he is playing a tweed melody. When he stops, there is no sound.


Q. The zephyr rises, carves out a sky map. I mould stone wings, attempt to fly. I flicker, I falter, I die. The villagers sit, watching, and my shoulders become a frown.




A. The villagers never liked you anyhow.


Q. The villagers have no minds, only voices.


A. She saw a black flag and stopped waiting.


Q. I walked ten miles, and could not reach her.


A.  Coffee?


Q. She’s running. I’m tired today.




A. My bones ache. She jumped overboard. Fell into the sea, stretched out her arms, and morphed into an eagle. Spread her wings and soared; her flight the sky’s caress. Her tears are pearls; I wear them round my neck.


Q. I swim to somewhere far from here and her voice drowns me. A door that leads only to other doors, and a buzzer in my palm; foggy, I trip a tightrope. I put the white flag up and she stops waiting. I fight battles for no war and we die for causes that we don’t understand. The villagers throw stones, and I fade away.


A. Where is the absolute value? She waves and you drive cars to nowhere. I walked ten miles; I am an ache. Does it follow, do you think? I chant a syllogism. I sing a red song. We are automatons, playing our melodies. When we stop, there are new ones. On the horizon she is waving.


Q. They kiss, her hair flowing. We bleed and we bleed. I open doors to walls, and wait to be transformed. The shutters are down, no-one is home, but I’ll ring the bell anyway. She is a temple; I cannot reach her. I swallow pipettes of life until I am half the size of me. You are me. I am in her and still she does not see me. On the horizon, someone is waving.


A. She’s waving at me.


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