Having washed up in London – the East End,
maybe, somewhere between the ancient City
and the Thames at any rate – I became fixated
on certain details that described the state
of the whole place, and my relationship to it.
Take maps of the underground; I’d lose
a day, tracing their imagined geographies
of parallel lines and equally-spaced stations,
collating ways to supress the shape of reality
and replace it with schematics, abstract information.
Then there’s the labelled homes of Bromley-
by-Bow; sleek metal letters floating as if
super-imposed on those primary-colour flats,
like life-size satellite photographs overlaid
with copyright disclaimers and live traffic stats.
From a balcony, I saw the Waterside Theatre,
a squat thing lit from beneath, glowing dimly
in the timid light of my evening. No riverbanks
or canals in sight; the hall was framed only
by twinned lanes of A12 in the foreground –
patched-up hatchbacks and fishtailing lorries
on their final hurtle through Greenwich,
bound for destinations beyond my sphere
of reference, seeing nothing but tarmac
as they tunnelled outwards into the black.
From here, I can see the local Church
of the Nazarene; nineteen twenty-eight,
states the bronze plaque over the front gate,
though with its mismatched brickwork
and faded red slate, I’d have guessed
it was older. There’s carnations perched
at the windowsill. A skip full of rubble
and dismantled furniture squats
by the roadside.
Funny thing, though:
last night, throat sore and dry, swollen-eyed,
I swore I saw that sacred place slide sidelong
out of sight – vase toppled, skip slipping
down a road that, until then, had held no slope –
and I found myself face-to-face instead
with the pine that used to block my view,
as I scaled the old radiator to peek out
of my childhood room.
Scenes cycled past
at speed, like subsequent frames of film
tipping in and out of focus through the glass.
I caught a glimpse of last year’s panorama,
Rear Window shot in suburban back gardens;
then the Escher-style rooftops I’d clock
from my high-rise apartment, gutters
and aerials cut across each other,
tessellating the horizon.
the pinwheel-firework lurch and spin
of backdrops I thought I’d forgot
churned to a stop, and returned
to its beginning. The church slotted back
in its spot as gravity reasserted itself.
Yes, I was sick; I woke at the foot of the bed,
full of nausea, my tongue thick. But listen:
all of that really happened. I didn’t dream this.
Alex Aldred (he/him) lives and writes in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he is currently studying towards his PhD in creative writing. You can find out more about his work by visiting his site, www.alexaldred.co.uk, finding him on twitter @itsmealexaldred, or by summoning him to speak with you in person, provided you have access to the necessary runes.