The Lucubratory Collaboratory » Raphael Kabo Sat, 01 Mar 2014 11:57:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Untitled Tue, 06 Aug 2013 09:20:43 +0000 I am a mobile hotspot
Of happiness. I want to share
My wireless joy
With everyone in this
Big cruel city.

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I Have Been Learning About People Mon, 03 Jun 2013 09:16:33 +0000 I have been learning
About people. She
Flicks a flicker of cigarette
Into the golden air like
She doesn’t mind that she might
Set the sky alight.


I have been learning
That people are like rowboats
Pressed together at low tide
Rubbing salty flanks with each
Rolling wave, finding where
The joints are weakest,
Where they can let
The sea into the soul.


I have been learning
That people are not fragile
Like glass; they are fragile
Like language
And mean as many things
As there are synonyms
In the stars
And are as distant
And close
And require as much patience
And time
As the stars.


I have been learning
That I will never stop learning
About people
But perhaps I will understand people
Like the sea understands
The belly of the rowboat
And the night understands
The shouting stars
And the glass understands
The endless desire of gravity.


Here are my joints. Here:
I am salt and readiness,
Let the sea into my soul.

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boston marathon bombing Wed, 17 Apr 2013 09:12:05 +0000 Sometime
In the year
(Every year)


In the spring
When the trees
Mist green


Or late summer
When the trucks
Leave red dust
On the rails
Of footpaths


We learn words
That go together
Holding hands
Like children do:


nine eleven
fukushima explosion
tube bombing
boxing day tsunami
bali bombing
canberra bushfires


My childhood is
Carved with them
The memory
Of first hearing


Those words
Together like
A child being born


boston marathon bombing


Is another to add
To my memory


The dates fade
And faces and the
Places you sat
When you found out
How your legs
Were folded and
Who you were
In love with but


The words
In the manner
Of words
Carved into us


Like nursery rhymes
And fairy tales
Like an eight year old’s
Life spread across a street;


When we are altzheimers
And bones
We will remember
And sing
Under our breaths


boston marathon bombing
canberra bushfires
bali bombing
boxing day tsunami
tube bombing
fukushima explosion
nine eleven.

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Neil Gaiman’s Skin Mon, 25 Feb 2013 09:07:02 +0000 This is a story I wrote this morning, inspired by a conversation with CJ Bowerbird. It is about Neil Gaiman’s skin and Neil Gaiman retweeted it so I am pretty happy with how this all turned out.



“I’ve had enough of this,” growled Ed. “I’m going to steal Neil Gaiman’s skin and take over his life.”
I blinked. Sarah hid her face in her teacup.
“Come again?” I asked. Ed turned his narrow eyes at me from where he was lying on the couch. He seemed to possess too many knees.
“I’m going to steal Neil Gaiman’s skin,” Ed repeated, “and take over his life.”
“Okay,” I said, slowly. The thing about Ed that you should know is that he doesn’t make jokes. He’s the most humourless person I know. Nevertheless, I found this hard to deal with seriously.
“Ha ha?” I said, probing the waters. Ed’s eyes narrowed.
“Did I say something funny?” he asked.
“Ed, man, what are you on?” asked Sarah.
“Nothing!” He threw his hands up into the air. He seemed to possess too many elbows, too. “I’ve had enough of this life. Neil Gaiman is a superb writer. He has a perfect life. He’s married to a rockstar. I want to be him.”
I thought about this for a moment. “See, Ed, when most people discover someone they admire, they don’t try to steal their skin.”
Ed looked puzzled about this. “Why?”
“Because,” I began, then stopped.
“Because,” said Sarah, “it’s creepy. You’re supposed to get better through effort, not skin-stealing.”
“But why?”
Now it was Sarah’s turn to throw her hands in the air. “Shut up, Ed.”
“Alright. But I’m going to steal Neil Gaiman’s skin. I’m going to do it tomorrow.”


A few days later, Sarah came over again, looking perplexed and worried.
“Ed bought tickets to England and now he’s gone,” she said, holding onto a coffee cup like it was a buoy.
“Yes. He was obsessed with this Neil Gaiman thing. I’m worried he’s going to do something stupid.”
“He already has done something stupid.”
“I’m worried he’s going to steal Neil Gaiman’s skin.”
I laughed, or tried to. The sound got stuck somewhere in my throat. It was absurd to think, but I was worried too.
I didn’t see Ed until two weeks later. We weren’t close friends – I only really hung out with him when he tailed Sarah to my place – so he, and his strange ideas, soon passed out of my mind. But then, I came home one evening to find him sitting on my porch, smoking a cigarette.
“Hey, Ed. Long time no see. I didn’t know you smoked.”
Ed nodded curtly and crushed his cigarette into a corner. “We need to talk,” he said. “Call Sarah.”
“You okay, man?” He looked different, strange somehow. His face seemed sallower. There was a dancing darkness behind his eyes.
“Just call Sarah,” he said.


Ed had taken up his usual position, sprawled across the couch. This evening, though, he seemed to take up less of it, as if he had been gently crushed over the last two weeks. He forked hungrily at a plate of leftover stir fry like a giant bird. Sarah and I sat in chairs opposite him, waiting.
When he had deposited the last of the plate into his sharp mouth, he let out a belch and sprawled more comfortably across the couch. After half a minute, he closed his eyes.
“So,” I said, when the silence had become too long to be comfortable, “Looks like you didn’t end up stealing Neil Gaiman’s skin.”
Ed’s eyes shot open.
“What?” he said loudly. Sarah jumped.
“I said you’re still in your own skin.”
Ed looked at his hands as if he was seeing them for the first time. A narrow smile cracked his lips.
“I suppose I am,” he said. Then he sat bolt upright on the couch. “I need to tell you something,” he said, his eyes roving. “Something.”
“Yeah, go on,” I said. I was getting annoyed and a little scared. Ed was eccentric, sure, but never crazy.
“You have to believe everything I say,” he proclaimed, nibbling at a stray grain of rice, “and not interrupt.”
Sarah and I nodded.
“Okay. So I went to England. It wasn’t hard to work out where Neil Gaiman lived. He’s blogged enough that anyone with access to the CIA databases can find his house easily.”
“You have access to the CIA databases?” I scoffed.
“I said don’t interrupt!” yelled Ed. “Sorry. I’m sorry for shouting. Don’t interrupt. Okay, so there I was at Neil Gaiman’s house. It was snowing. It’s a nice house, dark stone, very nice. Big grounds, full of snow. I broke in. I may have killed someone, that’s not important. I may have killed a dog.”
Sarah and I looked at each other. Ed didn’t seem to notice. He was staring at his empty plate.
“I had broken in, Neil Gaiman wasn’t there. I hid in his wardrobe. I waited three days. He was away somewhere. I ate things. I ate clothes. Did I eat the dog?” He looked at us. His eyes were sparkling and dark. He was twisting the hem of his shirt with his fingers.
“Ed, man,” said Sarah, gently, assuming she was permitted to speak. “I think you have really bad jet lag and maybe you should lie down.”
“No!” exclaimed Ed. “I need to tell you. Or I’ll forget. I needed to tell someone for a week. Nobody listened. I’m not crazy! I ate the dog! Okay, so I was in the wardrobe. In comes Neil Gaiman. He’s going, here, boy, come on, where are you? He says, what is that awful stench? I jumped out of the wardrobe. He screamed and fell down on the floor. I grabbed a kitchen knife I had prepared earlier. I said, Neil Gaiman, I’m going to steal your skin. He screamed some more and then he stopped when I cut him open. I cut him-” he stopped and drew one finger from the top of his head to his stomach “-like that. I thought it’d scar less. I don’t know why I thought that.”
He stopped. He let go of his shirt. He sunk deeper into the couch. A minute passed.
“And then?” I asked, very quietly.
“Then? Oh. Yes. His skin fell open. Like raw puff pastry. There was very little blood. There was a man inside Neil Gaiman’s skin. He was short and had glasses. I said, who the hell are you? He said, my name’s Robbie, look what you’ve done, you’ve ruined it for good. He said, when I stole Neil Gaiman’s skin, I did it real carefully while he slept. He was very unhappy. Then he left. He had a little suitcase all ready to go. I buried Neil Gaiman’s skin in the garden under a tree, but I don’t know what the tree was called. I would’ve buried the dog too, but there wasn’t very much of it left.”
He stopped again. The silence this time was much longer and much fuller.
“Ah,” I said.
“I don’t think he’s going to come back,” said Ed.

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There Is A Girl In The Office Mon, 07 Jan 2013 08:57:27 +0000 Feeling cynical today.


There is a girl in the office
Who wants to be famous.


She has a yellow poster on her wall
Telling her to do better.


She has discussions with important
Men. And wears a tight beige skirt.


She doesn’t smile at me. But
There are possum droppings


Littering the hallway by her door
Like black beetles.


And the sun cracks its knuckles
Against the roof hour by hour.


And the ceiling fans do nothing
And dead ants lie in lines


In the staff kitchen.

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Saturday Morning (She Flew) Sat, 27 Oct 2012 08:55:03 +0000 This is a true story. Cross-posted on my Tumblr.

The clouds were burning,
That was likely the reason
She flew
like that
like a bird
into the cars.
The clouds were burning
And the road was droning with
The six o’clock shuffle,
A jig of metal bodies across the
Dusk-coloured tarmac.


The clouds were burning
And her boyfriend was riding after her
Like a train along the bike path
Jesus stop Rhiannon
But she did not hear or
Did not want to hear
And flew
like that
like a bird
hair bouncing in her own wind
grin a full moon
into the cars.


She was peddaling faster and faster
Her bike was chewing up its chain
Like it was the last thing it would do
Like it could prove it was more than a bike
Like she could prove she was more
She lifted her hands off the handlebars
And flew
like that
like a bird
(like she could lift herself off the hard earth)
into the cars.


Brake lights flashed red behind her
As the traffic waltz
Came to a clumsy halt
In the middle of the road
Where it had never come to a halt before
Where the tarmac had only felt the
Hard bite of tyres and now
Buckled a little
Not so anybody would notice
Or care
But later, they said,
When it was all said and done
And she had pedalled onto the median strip
And her boyfriend had slammed into her
Jesus Rhiannon
What the fuck
They said,
The cars in their sudden pause
Had made new potholes
Where no potholes had been before
And the rain pooled in them sometimes
And reflected the sun
And the clouds
When they were burning.

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When my body speaks to your body Fri, 26 Oct 2012 08:54:25 +0000 This poem is written with apologies and thanks to e.e. cummings and Claire Askew. e.e. cummings wrote a poem called i like my body, which is one of the best poems I know. Claire Askew wrote a poem called When the Heart Speaks to the Body It Says, which is a beautiful poem and available in her highly recommended collection The Mermaid and the Sailors (also her Twitter handle is @OneNightStanzas, so, y’know, all the reasons). That poem wasn’t a specific influence on this one, but I’ve had that title rattling around my head for months, so it came out in poetry. Thanks, Claire Askew.


It is cross-posted on Tumblr if Tumblr is your thing.


Also, thank you to the subject of this poem. The naughty bits have been removed.



my body speaks to
your body -
not through my mouth
though my mouth speaks to
your mouth, and is coy
or bold and
always irreverent -
my body speaks to
your body
with legs and arms
rhyming muscles with bones
eyes with ears
breasts with backs
because my body speaks
to your body, and shares
its every pink inch of skin,
my fingers make couplets and my
fingernails blank verse
with your body,
my body speaks and argues,
whispers and pleads and plans
with your body,
and sometimes
it speaks in Russian and then
моё тело говорит с твоим телом;


your neighbours
though they peek over garden walls
and thread microphones under potplants
cannot hear us when
the talk of our bodies
drifts through the night
comes to rest in bed
and then while
our droswy pillows talk pillowtalk
we sleep entwined
safe in the atlonglast silence
of our bodies.

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Touch Thu, 18 Oct 2012 08:53:35 +0000 Just like Zoe’s story, this one was written with the encouragement of Scissors Paper Pen and presented at their night of storytelling, Something Else (monthly at Smith’s Alternative Bookshop in Canberra – go!). Every Something Else has a theme and this time it was ‘A touch of…’, so this is a story about a certain sort of touch. It is loosely structured and rambly because it was written to be read aloud, and for this I hope you will forgive me.


For Emma


You know the story, of course. There was once a king in a far-away land who loved gold above all things. And the gods, being the gods, being capricious and prone to cheap tricks, gave him all the riches he could ever want – whatever he touched became gold. And so, goes the story, he touched his beautiful daughter and turned her heavy and golden and silent, and refusing in his grief and his pride to be fed, died of thirst and starvation in his bedroom, which was all gold.

Of course, the gods love hope above anything else, even above teaching men lessons, and in another world, Midas plunged his hands into the icy waters of the river Pactolus, and his golden touch was cured.

Or perhaps ‘hope’ is inaccurate. What the gods love most of all, their very favourite thing, is a good story. Hope and loss will always come from a good story. And this is a story about a very different touch.



Outside it is spring and dark and golden, and I have not touched a person for six months.

The last person I ever touched is now a bestseller. I don’t hold it against him – or I shouldn’t hold it against him; after all it is my fault, or my blessing, or whatever, but–

Let me begin from the beginning.

A year ago I got my hand trapped in a book. This happens often, books are things with minds of their own, and hungry. I forget the book now, but it was a dull read and I was not giving it my full attention, which is something books desire almost obsessively. In this way they are like very literary cats. When you’re reading every word, the plot gets bored and slinks away to lie in the sun, when you’re drinking coffee and glancing at the TV at the same time, they come and sit on your face. Or eat your hand, as mine did. As I absent-mindedly turned a page, my hand fell through, into the spine, then the book closed with a self-satisfied thump, and there I was, with a smarmy-looking paperback attached at my wrist. Emergency wouldn’t see me – apparently this was a problem not worthy of the triage system – as the woman explained, I could still do things with my book hand, couldn’t I? So I had to go to Officeworks, and the clerk, after much grumbling about people who waste his time (as if he was doing anything more important than filing empty filing boxes), fetched a pair of industrial scissors and cut my hand out.

And that was the end of that, I supposed.


Then, a week later, I met a girl. I’d been riding the bachelor train for a while, and it had just recently derailed and spun into a gorge with all onboard, so I was very glad for this girl. We courted the traditional way, over Facebook, then agreed to meet. And that’s when this whole thing began.

It was a cold winter evening and the sky was made of cityfumes and starlight. I was standing outside a pub, waiting for her. Before too long, she appeared from around the corner, looking lovely. At moments like these I always falter. Is a hug too much? Does a handshake say ‘I am looking forward to signing a business deal with you?’ Should I let her do it first? What if we both get confused and end up staring blankly into space? This went through my head in a second, and I ended up giving her a quick, almost flawless hug.

“Hi,” I said. “Nice to meet you at last!”

“Hi,” she said. So far, so good. She opened the door and we went into the sudden warmth and noise of indoors.

“Want a drink?” I asked.


I motioned to the barman in the most Humphrey Bogart-esque manner of which I was capable, with the effect that he didn’t notice me at all.

“I’ll get them,” she said.

“No, I will!” I pulled out a note and for a second, across the tight space between us and the bartop and the people around, our hands brushed.

And it happened.

Where there was a girl, a lovely girl, a real live breathing talking person golden under golden light, there was nobody. I started backwards. A drunk looked at me in amusement. I ran outside, and I didn’t stop running until I got home and locked my door and sat under it, confused and asthmatic. I assumed something had happened of such astonishingly cosmic proportions that there was no point trying to understand it. A quantum glitch. A relativity bug. Something that would puzzle Austrian scientists in need of haircuts for decades to come. I assumed I would never see her again. I felt dumped in the worst possible way – pre-emptively, and by physics.

But I did see her again, and I didn’t even have to wait long. She was in the bookshop as I went by the next morning. Not as a person, you understand. No, she was a book. She was being sold, in the new releases section. I don’t know how I could tell it was her from that distance, but I just knew. I walked inside and picked her up, and felt uncomfortable upon discovering that there was another copy of her underneath, and some more in a box by the counter. There was no author on the cover or the copyright pages.

“That’s a good one,” said the clerk.

“Is it,” I replied, acidly.

“It’s about this girl who has this pretty average, quiet life, and stuff happens, you know – she writes a book, there’s all this drama, she goes to Melbourne, gets famous, builds an aviary, anyway, but yeah, the way it’s written – I couldn’t get enough of it. Words just– bam!” He made exploding signs in the air with his hand to illustrate.

“You’ve read this book?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” he said.


?” I said, rather more loudly than I needed to. The clerk looked slightly puzzled.

“Uh… recently, I suppose,” he said, and trailed off self-consciously. I turned away and read the blurb. It sounded exactly like he’d described it. It also sounded exactly like how this girl had described her life to me, albeit more detailed and not on Facebook. The girl I had touched was a book. She cost $25, so I bought her and read her on the bus home. I felt like it was the least I could do.


After this, I’m afraid to admit that it took me a number of incidents before I fully realised what one touch from me would do. This wasn’t some power that I could switch on or off at will. It wasn’t something that happened only at night, or only with people I liked, or only with the opposite sex – no. It happened with anybody I touched with my right hand, my book hand.

It happened to the middle-aged woman who sold me a bus ticket. She turned into a Mills and Boon, one of those ghastly pulpy ones with bodices just bursting from the pages. According to one of my friends who read it, it was surprisingly engaging.

It happened to my friend Jason, who turned into an exhaustively comprehensive guide to playing Magic: The Gathering, with tips and tricks. This made me feel very sorry for Jason, for a variety of reasons, and I spent most of my food money for that week buying the bloody book, even though I didn’t play Magic: The Gathering and probably never will.

It happened to a stranger who I bumped into on the street – a businessman. He appeared the next day in all major booksellers, a thriller worthy of Dan Brown, which made me somehow very offended at my own subconscious talents.

After this, I realised what was happening. I started wearing gloves. And still, as if fate and luck were conspiring against me, I managed to turn people into literature. I absent-mindedly took them off when I went into a café, and the girl at the cash register became a dense philosophical treatise on how Hegel’s personal misery compounded his ruminations about the topic into something greater than the sum of its tears. After this, I stayed at home for a week, feeling ill and lost.


I began to feel like a serial killer. I was assembling an esoteric, but fascinating collection of victims, who I stored on a special bookshelf. Occasionally, late at night, when I couldn’t sleep, I would read them. Ghoulish, you would be quick to say, but somehow it calmed me and coaxed me into dreams and darkness. I quickly realised that the writing was mine – the style, the words, the dialogue – everything was me. Sometimes a turn of phrase, a way of looking at the world, something only I could have ever picked up, made me feel like I was reading myself. It was a strange feeling, like looking into warped mirrors. If even this did not help me get to sleep, my thoughts wandered to places where I was not exactly comfortable allowing them to wander. Was this not the dream of every author, said my thoughts? To write so effortlessly that books literally spilt from my fingers? To write, and be published immediately, with great reviews, with hordes of admiring readers? To write anonymously, in complete safety, with nobody ever finding out who I was? And never to worry about the hell of agents, editors, emails and calls bearing disappointing news, never again to pour my heart and soul into something to watch it get tossed aside, unread? I pulled my mind away from this brink many times, and eventually came to the conclusion that I was, in the end, cheating.


And then, this happened – the final straw. It was on the bus. It was a month or so since my first book. I had stopped wearing gloves because I couldn’t bear the feeling of being trapped like that, and had learnt simply to not touch anybody – not anyone. I was forgetting how warm skin felt. And there I was, on the bus, jolting my way through the grey suburban morning which was all clouds and stale coffee, and one of those crazies came on. The sort you don’t feel sorry for. On drugs, or drunk out of his skull, he smelt rank, he waved away the driver’s plea for a ticket and stumbled onboard, grasping at the yellow rails, muttering loudly and incoherently to himself. The other passengers shrunk away from him like flowers wilting.

Oh god, I thought, he’s coming straight for me. And he was. Or I think so, anyway. He trained his pale hollow eyes onto me and moved up the aisle, bringing with him the smell of vomit and rotten vegetables. The bus pulled out, and his hands spun in the air as he grasped at the poles. And that’s when I thought, I could just do it. I have this power. What’s stopping me from just reaching my hand out and–

No, said what I assume was my conscience. He’s a person. This wouldn’t be an accident.

I know, I replied. But it’s not murder. It’s not a death. He gets turned into a book. Nobody would know. Nobody would even realise. I’d get off scott-free. It’s a public service.

That’s how the Nazis saw it, said my conscience.

You always have to bring Nazis into these serious ethical discussions, don’t you? I asked. My conscience shrugged and vanished. And all this while, the man was approaching – slowly, in a haze of repulsive smell and pointlessness. It really would be a mercy kil– booking, I thought. I wouldn’t feel guilty. Isn’t that what matters, in the end? I reached out my hand. He was almost upon me. His muttering was a drone, a terrible ceaseless noise. I touched his veined, shaking hand. He vanished.

I fell back into my seat and looked around quickly. Nobody had noticed – somehow, nobody ever did when this happened. I wrenched open a window, and soon the air cleared. I had done good. I didn’t feel guilty or terrible – I felt fine. This man, I further reasoned, was addicted to something awful, something that was destroying his life. As a book, he didn’t have to suffer any more. Was that not better?


And until the next day, I was entirely sure it was. The next day, walking past my local bookstore, I glanced inside, but didn’t see anything new.

Hah, I thought, his life must’ve been so pointless that he didn’t even get made into a real book. Maybe he was a pamphlet, or an ebook. That’s what I thought until I got to the city, and saw the front of the chain bookstore there. There was a line. I wondered if there was a new J.K. Rowling out. And then I saw the posters. “The Fallen”, they said. “The Revelatory Bestseller.” My name – my actual name – was underneath, taking up most of the posters. I came closer, feeling terrified. There were quotes from reviews. “There is the urgent sense of a life lived in this novel … the experiences of the author amount to nothing more than a sensation”, said one. “An inescapably powerful work from the most grimly realistic writer today”, said another. It was a shoe-in for the Booker. Oprah loved it. The line stretched out the doors and along the wall and into the grey expanse of the winter morning.

Suddenly, somebody pointed at me and raised a shout.

“The author!” he yelled. The line turned as one and began to break up, to move towards me. A sudden, terrifying clamour of voices swelled up.

“Did all this really happen to you?” someone shouted.

“Can I get your autograph?”

“Didn’t you die at the end? He’s a fraud!”

I stumbled, fell to the ground, jumped up as the crowd surged towards me, and ran. I pelted down the cold streets, past the buses and cars, past the bookshops and cafes. I kept running until the shouts behind me grew distant and finally faded altogether. I had reached the lake shore. Without thinking, I stepped in, and slipped, almost thankfully, on loose shale, and fell bodily into the icy water.

I slammed my hand against the surface, but nothing happened, no revelation. This was no River Pactolus. I felt terrified and naked. I sat and thought, and only one thought revolved in my head like a black marble, No matter what, no matter who, I would never touch anybody ever again.

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The Oracle of Cities Mon, 25 Jun 2012 12:00:43 +0000 I’m in Sydney to see Under Milk Wood tomorrow. I’m very excited! As Zoe said, there’s never going to be a time when we cease to be amazed by Dylan Thomas. Here’s a little thing inspired by snatches of many things (all of which are dutifully referenced in the thing). I wrote it in a pub in The Rocks. Sydneysiders, forgive me my hapless romanticising of your city, it’s so awfully pretty.



The Oracle of Cities


When I come to Sydney, I go to the Oracle of Cities, who has a residence in all places where boats once came and streets were built and people drank and lived and died – she is old, the Oracle of Cities, old as churches, old as sewers, and speaks only the truth, which churches and sewers do not.

The Oracle of Cities leads me into a room made of architecture and velvet. The seat where I sit down is worn – all who have come to a city have sat in this seat, and all have been told their fortune, though of course, not all followed it.

She asks for my hand, but looks at it only fleetingly. The streets in her eyes unfold and fill with light.

“For you,” she says, her voice a whisper and a din, “I have four fortunes.”

“Is three not a more regular number of fortunes?” I ask, petulantly. I will not lie – I have been to fortune-tellers before, and I am well versed in their methods.

“Yes,” she snaps. “So it’s your fault you get four. Look.”

She pulls a deck of cards from inside her shawls. There are many decks inside those shawls, just as there are many other shawls, which contain other decks, and so on, forever. Some say that the other shawls contain other Oracles – of other Cities, perhaps, or of other things entirely. I have never tried to ask.

With a ringed and wrinkled hand, the Oracle of Cities proffers me my first card.

“The Descent into the Underground,” she says. A man swallowed by a creature which is half train, half sewer, some strange pipework-and-wheels thing. Or is the man part of the whole, already long subsumed? Third man, third train, third sewer, perhaps; the picture is unclear, as are all such pictures.

“The smell of darkness and tunnels and false air,” the Oracle of Cities continues. “The naming of places, fast travel, brief glimpses – if you are lucky, and none who go to fortune tellers are lucky – of other worlds. Machinery and the nightmares of engineers, those things which have no names and are expressed only in angles. Strangers, travellers, warriors. The Descent into the Underground promises an ascent, however, especially in cities.”

“Is this a good fortune?” I ask, fingering the card.

“No,” she says, startling me, “it is a fortune of travellers, which only provides further passage, and in your case, it provides the tracks and wheels to…” she pauses for effect, as all fortune tellers do, even when they themselves know it is gimmickry, “the Reading of Sacred Texts.”

“This one I know myself,” I reply, quick to impress her. “Those who write not of cities, not for cities, but those who simply write cities – the creators, the shadows in a greater darkness, the promises of something larger than the mere world provides.”

“Yes,” says the Oracle of Cities, nonplussed.

“China Mieville,” I continue, “Neil Gaiman, Catherynne M. Valente. These are my saints.”

“You pick wisely,” says the Oracle, “but your fortune leads you onwards, to the Discovery of Relics in Places You Have Been Before.”

“Which places?” I ask.

“In your case, certain suburbs,” she says, pointing a finger like a streetlamp at the map on the card, ever-shifting, ever-changing, “Newtown, perhaps, where you will search for The Perfect Notepad In Which Ideas Exist Already Formed, or the Comfortable Shoulder Bag For Carrying A Universe And Pens; or perhaps The Rocks, where in time you will certainly discover The Perfect Gift For Those Left At Home, or a Map Of a City Existing Only in the Imagination of a Drunkard Across the Street; or perhaps, and not perhaps, but certainly and lastly, the Botanic Gardens, home to A Pefect Spot of Sunshine Which Persists Even When All Other Spots of Sunshine Vanish, and rarely, A Jabiru Who Knows Your First Name and Can Help With Challenging Metaphors.”

I nod. “This is a good fortune, then.”

“Don’t be so hasty to judge. Consider the other relics, not false but certainly not meant for you, which you may find on your journey: the Overpriced Train Fare Which it is Unavoidable to Pay, the Shop Which Is Closed Due to Lack of Business, the Long Walk Over Rough Cobbles with No Surcease of Suffering, the Mad Man Who Follows You Down the Block Shouting Obscenities. These you must meet and defeat before you find the relics meant for you, and you alone.”

“I understand,” I say, “and I will, I promise.”

“Don’t bother promising me anything,” she replies primly. “But see – there is only one fortune left.”

She draws the last card from her shawls – from a different shawl, I notice, and a different deck, and just maybe, a different Oracle.

“The Departure from the City at Sunset awaits you,” she says, and the architecture of her room sighs and droops, whether for the words of the fortune, or simply because it knows the fortune is complete.

“I am not to stay in the City?” I ask.

“No,” she replies, “the last fortune, like the first, is irreversible. You will travel back to whence you came, existing in the City only as a visitor, a transient thing, much like a fortune teller’s word.”

“So I cannot keep questing for Relics?” I ask. “There are so many suburbs I am yet to see!”

“Every quest must come to an end,” the Oracle explains, not unkindly, but matter-of-factly, “and you cannot expect to continue in your search until the City itself loses its gables and gutters to the North Wind, can you?”

“I suppose not,” I say, looking at the baroque movements of the final card on the table, the golden dust of the sunset, the dim and tall and distant buildings bidding the traveller farewell. “But shall I ever see the City again?”

The Oracle of Cities shifts in her seat, and the room tenses once more.

“Well,” she says at last, “you’ve received four fortunes already, so I suppose another won’t hurt, but know-” and she grabs my wrist with a gridlock grip – “that fifth fortunes, like seventh sons, are strange things and immutable, and may not be meant for their asker at all.”

She reaches into her shawls a fifth time, and this time I am sure it is not her hand which pulls out the final card – not a card, even, but a small brass token, engraved with the chimeral head of a traffic light crossed with a gargoyle, a chimera in its own right, and such is the nature of cities – faces inside faces, a palimpsest, an endless overwriting.

I turn over the token.

‘A Return to the City,’ it says on the other side, in letters like streets, swallowed over with the same green patina five million lives leave on the world when they are compressed into tenements and towers, tunnels and bridges and parks.

“Ah,” smiles the Oracle. “My fee.” She sweeps the token into the maze of herself, and stands up, the room folding up into the palm of her hand, where the life-line throbs with the evening commute and the death-line flashes blue and red. She vanishes, slowly, as if receding, and lifts a bony hand.

“Until we meet again, perhaps, Traveller of Cities.”

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Sunday Morning Comes Sun, 10 Jun 2012 12:00:09 +0000 The last wee while, I’ve been using poetry to record the moment of a feeling, rather than for stories or such. Probably quite boring for most of you! This is one of them.

Sunday morning comes
Manyfaced, Janus,
Watching both ways
From the round door of day,
A court jester
In motley and bells
With tricks up the long sleeves
Of his sunbeams.


Sunday morning brews the day for us
Like a barrista, pours the
Sky in our eyes from a blue jug,
Clouds of cappucinno foam
And birds like sugar lumps
Two– no! – four! –no, eighteen in
The sweet sky.


Sunday morning comes as a street cleaner,
Shuffling quiet on autumn feet,
Emptying into the grey bins of dawn
The whole of the vast last night city,
Bad choices, memories, hangovers
Crumpled into gutters and chip packets
He washes the sidewalks with even sunlight strokes
And vanishes.


Sunday morning comes in your face,
Full of watching and loveliness,
Like the world’s wound your heart up
And your dark eyes are love,


Sunday morning comes in many faces,
Dancing drunk and bleary and new,
Lastly as itself,
But this Sunday I choose yours,
And every day,
I choose yours.

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