Cartography

21 September 2021, Category: poetry

I draw a square, to represent a former tobacco warehouse,
converted by the council into offices, where I worked
for a charity. On my desk, a spider plant strained
towards the distant, narrow window. In pencil I sketch
two parallel lines to scale to show the road I would walk
every day, listening to podcasts I now can’t remember,
past the tower blocks being torn down to make way for unaffordable flats,
past all the independent boutiques selling so many
house plants and minimalist vases that used to be trendy
to the flat I lived in for three years. I huddle together rectangles
to show a house in Bedminster, wedged in-between Poundland,
the cash for gold shops and refurbished pubs that served
craft beer for six pounds a pint. I cannot show how
we grew our lives around the skylights, listened to the same
three karaoke songs drifting in from The Tap and Barrel
four doors down and huddled around a scratched
second hand IKEA table when it came time to work from home.

Why do I tell you about these moments that have already
been extinguished? I am sketching as fast as I can,
attempting to capture all the buildings below me in simple lines,
diagrams unable to represent my shadow reaching up Cabot Tower,
the setting sun turning Brandon Hill into fossilised amber,
the Mendips mutating into old photographs.

All I can see from above the city are squares of chimneys
crosses of tv aerials, rooftiles and red bricks, bridges
but I cannot demonstrate in two dimensions the rise and fall of the Avon.
None of my memories are etched into the distant streets.
I am erasing and redrawing warehouses and stations, which are
always being pulled down, always rebuilt and reshaped
according to some new and different city plan,
overwriting roads that used to be thick forests, redrawing
a river that used to wander where it pleased, covering the entrances to
deep mines that still echo with so many footsteps
from the pavement above. The paper becomes a crumpled blur
of grey graphite, all the detail smudged together,
all the revisions and history of the city an unreadable palimpsest.

What does it matter?
Since I started this poem, the city has transformed once again
and I am no longer the same person.
This poem, these words are already a memory.


I wrote this poem a few weeks ago at a in person Bristol Tonic workshop. Usually I leave poems to the side for a little bit but this was one that gnawed at me. I was consciously trying to write something more personal and break my usual rhythms.

By coincidence, Charlie and Jake of the Open Collab sent out a call for poems that related to a sense of place. This one seemed to fit so I sent it over and was really pleased when they accepted it. Last Saturday they transformed it into something wonderful. It’s the sixth time they have featured my work and each time I am blown away by what they do with my words. Huge thanks to them.

The full stream is below. I recommend watching all of it as there are some amazing performances on there, including Cat Balaq, Barry Hollow and Beth Hartley. If you want to jump to my reading go here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJGHN44VD9g


In other news, I have three new poems on Flights magazine. Many thanks to the editors for accepting all three. Find that here.

I also took part in my first real life slam last night. I was nervous, but it was a lot of fun and something I want to explore more of in the future.

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