At the top of the tower is a room

At the top of the tower is a room

A tapestried womb

Each thread is a story

Each colour a mood

 

The dream-weaver steps out

From behind the mirror

A maiden in white

With the wisdom of a crone 

 

The boy who had a tiny orchestra growing in his head

Once there was a boy who had a tiny orchestra growing in his head. His name was Aaron, and he lived in a large, comfortable house in North London, with his kind and loving parents. He was an only child, and exceptionally gifted. His parents knew it because when he was in the cradle he would drum out The Ride of the Valkyries with a little rattle. By the age of eight he had mastered the piano, clarinet, and drums, and had composed two symphonies, one concerto, and an opera and a half. 

There are many names for what he had. Blues musicians call it having the juju or the voodoo; religious fanatics call it being possessed by the devil, but whatever it was, it was there, and Aaron throbbed with it. 

It was there when he woke up in the morning, and it drummed and thrummed with him on his way to school. He got bad marks because of it. Sometimes he got ill with it, and had to spend many days in his room with the light blotted out, and that was when strange shapes began to dance on the walls. (But he knew they were his friends because they danced to the beat of It).

Aaron had no friends at school because they danced to a different tune. They thought he was strange. Particularly when he’d clap his hands over his ears and run out of the room screaming. His parents doted on him. He was their special-boy, their little-saint. Their love manifested itself in endless medical bills that wreathed themselves around the house: neurophysicians, psychiatrists, nutritionists, hypnotherapists. Aaron left them all with the same uncertain diagnosis, the same bewildered response. Brain scans claimed he was normal, perhaps a little more sensitive and hyperactive than most boys his age, but normal nonetheless. ‘He’s just very creative’, his mother would say to prying neighbours. And he was. He was up all night composing on his computer, or scribbling in his manuscript, and in the day he slept through his lessons and complained of terrible headaches.

And this went on as Aaron grew up, and the beating in his head got stronger, like a merciless sun, and harder, like the thwack of a blacksmith’s steel, until he could bear it no longer, and began to tear his hair out, and beat his head against the wall. 

‘Out! Out! They need to come out!’ was his refrain, as his parents wrestled him to the bed, and knocked him out with two very large, cone-shaped, fluoro-pink pills. This always did the trick, until the next morning, when the screaming would begin again. 

Soon Aaron had to be taken out of school. His parents nursed him with unrelenting devotion and care. It was only when the neighbours began to complain that they realised they had to move. Aaron had to be taken away. Somewhere quiet, away from all the noise and aggravation. They were tired of receiving black looks from the neighbours – tired of malicious rumours. And so, it was decided. The Malinsky family were to up sticks and move to the coast. A picturesque town called Aldeburgh, where they would rent a refurbished lighthouse.

The move was beneficial for their little prince. The screaming ceased for a while. Aaron was given the highest room, sea-facing, and he began to compose again. The notes flowed from his fingertips like a plague of spiders scurrying across the page. And what he wrote was marvellous. His parents felt that they were in the presence of a tiny god. 

But then the beating began again. First it was dull, far-off, like a distant procession – a plume of dust on the horizon. But then it came closer and closer, threatening, burgeoning, until it was back in all its terrible glory, stronger than ever, sending its victim into writhing fits, devilish paroxysms. His screams were as torturous to his parents’ ears as his compositions were sweet. But they never let up taking care of him, though their backs were beginning to break under the strain. 

And then one night, after a particularly grim episode, Aaron’s parents awoke to no screaming. They went to their son’s room and saw that his bed was empty. They ran about the house looking for him, calling his name. They went outside and the sea and wind met them with a roar that chilled them. They picked their way over wet rocks, holding each other to steady themselves. They were an old couple now; their raggedy hair flailed in the wind like frightened smoke. The rocks led them round to the back of the lighthouse. Peering through the gloom, they saw their son, arms outstretched, laid out like a shored-up albatross, a roll of sheet music clutched in one hand, his head cracked open on one side. Mr and Mrs Malinsky stood where they were, and the waves and the wind beat harder, splashing their ankles.

Something was glimmering in the blood. Something silvery. Kneeling down, they saw a little box. They picked the box out of the blood. It was beating, softly, softly. There was a tiny orchestra inside, and they could just make out, over the din of the waves, the tune that it was playing, the tune they knew so well.

 

Arequipa

The empty balcony hums

With the memory of us

Standing in

A moment of reconciliation

 

Our shadows stir up the dust

So long kept silent

 

I call to you

Across the sands

The stars weep and bleed

 

As I call to you

And the balcony stands

Still and silent

 

Blood Moon

She came so softly

A blood moon sinking through the womb

Was led, protected by a ring of diamonds, through the starry night

Through the blood-paned, swooping galaxies, she was led

She knew she was loved

And so she came softly

Like a trickle, or a drop, on to the palm of her hand

Her threads, rivulets, yolk-like

The original substance of life

Released into the cosmos

 

She was meek, angelic

She was born of Love

On a night where the dark reeds waved and murmured

And the Great Mother heaved and sighed

 

She was born and the angels bore her away

Pretty blood diamond thing

Soft to the touch

Softly slipped out

On to a bed of flowers

 

She lay wrapt in her bower

Healing hands hovered over her

She knew she was blessed

And she allowed them to lead her

On roads of light, lifting up

Curving and entwining on rose-gold wings

 

She danced for them then

She was so thankful for them

Distant women sang and wept

All was a celebration, a thankfulness

All were blessed in the night

And though her womb ached, she knew of its power

Her creative force, her maternal gift

And this sparked in her, rebirthed in her

A new radiance.

 

Coal Country

I have no real borders

 

It is unclear

Where one town ends

And another begins

 

I am insatiable, carbonaceous

With an iron-smelt handshake

And a bitumen bite

 

Tar-lunged, coke-fired

Limbs twisting

Plastic under an iron sun

 

Coal rises to the surface in seams

Pus-ridden, patchworking the land

 

The dark belly of the beast

Churning, chomping

Soot-blackened

Broken rocks bleeding

 

At night

Fires on all sides

Hunker in

 

The men return from the mines

Wiping their coal-licked eyes

 

They wrap themselves

In sooty bed linen

Their children pass unseen in the dark

 

Their windows are lit from without

An infernal, unceasing sunset

 

The wraiths who roam outside

Might be themselves in a blackened reflection

 

Frost-bit in the morning

They clutch at their meagre bundles

Tracing patterns on the puckered earth

 

Everyone is a refugee here

Homes gasp in quicksand pits

A branch turns to ash as a sparrow lands

Vampiric Gnats

 

Feast on my flesh

Vampiric gnats

Have at me

Do with me what you will

 

Tired of fretting

Controlling, fearing the earth

 

Rip into me

Vampiric gnats

Disappear

When I search for you

 

Haunt me in my sleep

Vampiric gnats

Keep me awake

With fears of my own body

Discomfort separating me

From my own skin

 

Disown me

Vampiric gnats

Have at me what you will

Feast on my flesh

I am tired of crying over you

I am more than you

 

I am a bunch of crazy marigolds

 

El Duende

I feel I must go mad!

My veins course with desire

I want to set on fire

Climb higher and higher

Purge this demon from my breast

The one that never lets me rest

But keeps me battling on

 

This infernal energy

Coursing through my veins

Makes me do the tarantella

Never refrain, never restrain

 

Release my bowels into the nightmare

Let it crawl into my skin

And when the beating has stopped beating

Lean over, and grin

Say, I wish I never was this way

I wish I could be thin

I wish I wished the world away

And never ceased to spin

I wish so many crimson things

My world begins to break

I start to shake and shake and shake

Until I shake awake!

 

He wants to free me

But I am not awake

So we burn each other’s lights out

And break what we can find

For there’s nothing worse, there’s nothing worse

Than being in one’s mind!

I’m unkind! I’m unkind!

I like to spit and heal

I like to kiss and shred

My bones are made of steel

But I feel, I feel

I feel that I may break

If you don’t come find me

If I stay awake

 

Forsaken Maiden

The pale scratched face hovered in the mist

A face that was beautiful once long ago

The face of a maiden whose hair was a twist

Of long golden locks that flowed

 

Her lips were frozen

Eyes lifeless and grey

Tattered worn clothing clung to her bruised limbs

 

On the cracked icy surface of a lake she lay

The storm and herself died into the night

She the last of her kin

 

Girl / Wound / Woman

The bridge between girlhood and womanhood is a wound

Behind me are the shadows of childhood

Before me a light—grand, kaleidoscopic

I fear the light begins to fade

Or is that just my squint-eye?

 

I slip and slide on bloody ridges 

I trip on scar tissue

Paint my lips black

Strip off the silken cage

 

And always bleeding the path

As I step, falling towards the light

Which tells me to wait

And beckons at the same time 

 

Grief

She was married to grief, one night, when the moon was hanging low, like a basket of overripe mangos 

When her children are sad, the goddess of grief lulls them on her sandy beds, and then, when their sadness has settled into the earth, she opens up her doors and ushers them down to her watery kingdom, where grief is worshipped and no number of tears is enough

Here you'll find her, surrounded by priests & the children of grief 

Grief buried over a lifetime

Ancestral grief, roots splitting, gourds cracking

Weeping, more grief, sticks like resin 

Mottled trunks, twisted with age

Endless grief, churning 

Endless, foreboding 

Gnashed the chewed-up bones of faraway souls

Impaled by grief, shamed by grief, humiliating grief

Stirring poison-pots splitting ink black blots

Grief, ever-yawning, ever-unwinding

Spools of tight thread, unforgiving 

Brings us back to that same unspeakable place 

When we thought we had come so far 

Grief, torturer, teacher, axe-grinder 

Tough lover, murderer of innocence 

Grief—I could never love you 

But I love to crack my bones on your hard hard edges 

Grief, unanswerable, untameable

Wild, rabid

Twisted ferns in the forest 

Shadows, overlaying

Symbols, indecipherable 

Grief, pulsing, yearning

Scratching its eyes out over nothing 

Feeding on itself, breeding devils

Cutting off its own head for a glimpse of peace—but grief!

Searing, cooling, etching itself in fire and blood 

Ever-attaching and unpicking 

Meaning and imaginary weight 

Grief—

Doesn't stand on ceremony 

Cocks its jaunty hat

Mortal, morbid, tooth-splitting 

Grit and bit, grimacing

Gargantuan, shirking truth 

Dominant, inclement master 

Axe-grinder, turner of tides and ravager of peace—

Grief.

 

I dragged my white skirt through the mud

Today I bought a pomegranate 

You held it in your earthy hands

Tonight I shall slice it open

 

Its heart, many-chambered

Glistens with seed-pearls

 

I held it near my heart

I held it near my belly

When I wished I wasn’t there

 

Salt water

Squeezed its way out of a stone

Knifing its way

 

Old roads revisited

An angel on the tube

Gave me a Ferrero Rocher

 

Inertia

My tongue gets slacker every day

The thing slumps in a slow sleep

Fades as a sting ray becomes sea-floor

Becomes weak

Passing night-fish come to peck

They don't realise it’s there

 

Interview: Harriet Walter

It’s a cold, rainy afternoon in late March. I sit, hunched and nervous, while Dame Harriet Walter, who I once saw playing a very formidable Elizabeth I, makes us tea. ‘So,’ she says, entering the room with two steaming mugs, ‘What would you like me to do?’ Her tone is a cross between playful and imperious. She’s wearing a pair of jaunty-looking red and white brogues, and comfortable grey rehearsal clothes. I’m here to ask her about a collection of photographs she collated for an exhibition, which grew into a book. Harriet Walter is a woman of many talents: not only is she a lauded actor and prestigious figure in the theatre world, she has also been proclaimed as a ‘champion of older women’. 

Facing It is a treasure trove of a book, full of the pearls of accumulated wisdom, which take the form of quotes, anecdotes and photographs of older women, who joyfully and unashamedly face the camera. The photographs depict women of all backgrounds, some famous, others who Walter approached on the street.

I begin by asking her what it was that sparked the idea for her collection. Before answering, her eyes flick dreamily up to the ceiling. ‘I think it’s to do with the fact that when you get older, you look around and see a lot of people who still want to look young. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life feeling inadequate because I didn’t look young. I wanted to find some examples of how I could still feel proud to walk down the street.’ Her voice contains many shades: light, whimsical and girlish, as well as gravelly and serious, reminding me of an analogy that Walter makes in her book, of old age being like the rings of a tree trunk: ‘we see the child, the young and the old woman all at once’.

Walter recently played Brutus and Henry IV in Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. Commenting on the difference between playing male and female characters, she says, ‘They’re only as different as they are different characters. As an actor I have to make leaps of imagination, and whether they’re men or women is not the biggest leap.’ She is currently rehearsing for the role of Linda Loman, in the RSC’s forthcoming production of Death of a Salesman. She finds the character of Linda ‘totally alien, more alien than being King of England,’ she says, giggling. ‘She just completely lays herself out for her husband and her children, and that’s it, she doesn’t have a life of her own, or any sense of her own deserts.’

Walter praises the Danish series, The Killing, for depicting older women in a rich and subtle way: ‘They’re just people, they’re not defined by their relationship to the man. Most of our dramatic and comic literature canon is based around the fact that you are the wife, the mother, or the grandmother—that’s what your role is.’ 

I ask her if there are less parts for older women than there are for older men. ‘There are fewer,’ she says disapprovingly. ‘I’ve got plenty of friends who’ve had to more or less pull out of the whole profession, whereas a man can keep going.’ Why? ‘Because films deal in romance and dreams. You go there to be transported. Now, nobody is dreaming of being a 60-year-old woman, but they might dream of being a 60-year-old man if he runs the country, or if he’s a powerful gangster’.

Through the process of collecting the photographs for Facing It, Walter started to find ‘all sorts of other ways of looking at older women.’ She writes how photography can be superficial in its immediacy: a lifetime captured in a shutter click. But her photographs, undoctored and stripped of artifice, force the viewer to look again, reading the story in the lines of the subject’s face. 

According to Paul Klee, ‘A drawing is a line that went out for a walk’. By this principle, wrinkles are the marks of adventure and experience, transforming the aged face into a work of art. ‘When you’re younger,’ Walter explains, ‘you’re more blank, you could look like somebody else. But when you get older, you become more and more like yourself, and you can’t really…get away from that.’ She pauses, and you can feel the magnitude of her words. ‘But god,’ she says, flashing a grin, ‘I’m happier with my looks than I was. I mean they’ve gone downhill, but I’ve had 64 years to get used to them!’

 

Tell Me

Tell me I am too rude

I will tell you I have a trauma

 

Tell me I am too nude

I will collage it over

Pouring glitter and spray-paint

 

I will stitch a scape-coat from my flesh

Carved and tattooed with these words:

 

I am enough

 

The Seven Sisters

Everyone talked about the Seven Sisters. Their beauty, their charm, their grace, their magnetism. It didn’t matter that they weren’t alive anymore, everyone talked about them. Some said they were more alive as memories than they were as flesh-and-blood women... But people will say anything to get your attention. 

 

Sisters. Not by birth but by blood, if you get my drift. Little was known about their deaths, except that each one had happened precisely seven days after the other, and each one had been more violent than the next.

 

In physical looks they shared little. Their killer did not discriminate, but they had one thing in common: all were vibrant, pulsing, aching with colour—all had an unquenchable zest for life—all glowed with a glorious incandescence. 

 

The Seven Sisters were never found, but you can hear them singing in the woods, just outside town, particularly when there’s a full moon, swaying in voluptuous garments.

 

The town of Grimbol was an unremarkable one, except for its Seven Sisters, and the curious rose-shaped blood stains they brought.

 

A dead town, where kids listened to grunge and kicked up the dust with worn-out boots. Where dreamy-eyed vagrants wandered the streets, searching for paradise in shady places. Where paint peeled from walls where the Seven Sisters breathed, blurry, shimmering in lilac and silver, spray-can colours. Everyone wanted to know what happened to them. Everyone wanted them back. 

 

It was said that the forest held their souls, trapped in the deepest barks of the knottiest trees—the ones that weep resin.

 

Some said it was the forest killed them. 

 

If you stand in patch of starlight, on the seventh hour of the seventh moon, you can see them rise out of the lake, each one more beautiful than the next, but the sound of their song will kill you, for it is something beyond that which we know.

 

Purple and silver and gold and green

Their skirts rustle—the sprightliest sheen!

Leaving a trail of dove-grey moss

All that is spoken, all that is lost

 

The beetle crawls with a heavy heart, knowing the Seven Sisters have wept tears of blood into damp fertile soil.

 

They are weeping still.

Tiny rivulets strain their way through sticky black earth

 

They flow towards the centre of the forest, where, it is said, the Great Void stitches them together. All the loose searching threads, all the disembodied souls, voices ripped out at the root.

 

The Seven Sisters prevail

The Seven Sisters prevail

 

Queens of the Night, they dance in the earth, drumming out a beat, they call to the caterpillars, the humble mayflies, the dragon-snappers, the forest whispers, those naughty kingcups, the joolies, the ghoulies, all unite, in one great big slam dunk.

 

This forest has carpets—acres of kaleidoscopic, pyrotechnic tapestries that spread beneath the feet of the forest-keepers. And who would not keep there?

 

Who would stay in the dusty, drug-addled, dream-starved dearth that is Grimbol?

 

Moirai

A mother thread, a mother thread

From mortal birth to death

Daughters of Nyx, sisters of Keres

Thanatos and Nemesis

 

Come white-robed

Come fine-clothed

Carriers of destiny

Come lay down your threaded groves

For all the world to see

 

First the spinner

Maiden weaver

From the distaff to the spindle

Twining knots, invisible threads

Catches man in a golden net

 

Her sister weighs the thread of life

Her pregnant belly hanging low

She weighed the willow on the wind

And time was standing still

 

She watched out for the wandering

The worms that fed the earth

She waited for the womb-tide

The one whose presence birthed

 

The final sister cleaved the land

With tantalising shears

She made a furrow

A deepening hollow

For her convalescing years

 

She drew the rock and wind together

She led the seas unturning

She split the rivers from the land

She left no creature yearning

 

My sisters are the hours that count

The waves that circle on the shore

My sisters are the Moirai

They sleep in ancient lore

 

Their dreams enfold the source of life

Unchanging as the sea 

Of things that were

Of things that are

Of things that are to be

 

Three-faced goddess of sky and earth

Maiden, mother and crone

My sisters dance in muddy fields

And sit on glittering thrones

 

Birth encased, embalmed in death

The bitterness of the peach

Their burial caves are crystal-full

All along the beach

 

Sisters wyrd, sisters wild

Hear my call to you

Let my life be strong and fierce

Let my tune be true

 

Raspberry-picker

Rows upon rows of raspberries in October!

A shot, and a bloodied forehead

Bitten

A raspberry stain, a heart, and a broken bone

 

The shot

Ripped through the sky

Tore away

The cushiony inside

 

The third shot

Sent her running like a hare

 

YOU

You are the open veins of revolution

Street-walker

Street-talker

Dawn-breaker

Shadow-maker

The one who everyone knows

For your music lights their souls

Your rhythm, your curving river-path

Your way that is strewn with flowers and stones

She is your everything

You understand her, appreciate her

You laugh together

She is La Llorona

You resist her blood-rivers

You coax her—

It's ok, she understands

Your rough kisses

Your bitter words blossom

She appreciates your poison

She screens herself in jungle leaves

Her skin breaks, bleeds

She runs mad through mud and laughs at mushrooms

You are beautiful to her when you are out of yourself

She tucks you into her heart

She burns you there, paints you there

Weeps you there and there and there

She has imbibed you

She has sipped from your grail

Your open veins

Are hers

 

Tree-scars, bark, fissures of love

And fishes for breakfast, love

 

The River Ouse

Why did you choose

The River Ouse?

Why not a river

Of some other name,

Solemn sister?

 

Why choose one

That oozes along

Scratching its belly

On mussel shells

And lost coins

 

Why choose

To cover yourself

In water?

 

Did the Horae

Gather themselves

Around you

Did they

Festoon you

With their flowers?

 

Monkshood for your cape

Amaryllis for your head

Milkweed for your gown

 

The water enters your house

Throwing its green light

Upon the beams

 

The ink runs

The dust

Into corners

Cleared away

 

The threadbare chair

You scratched

With one persistent nail

Always the same spot

Picking and unpicking

 

Why did you choose 

The River Ouse?

Such a mist hangs over it

Such heavy garments

Clothe its bed

 

Was it you who spread

Those wide leaves 

On its bank?

 

Or do you lie low

Waiting to bite

A passing fisherman?

 

Womb Ship

Out of the sand came a red ship, moving softly

Softly her paddles were glowing, white

Made of pearl 

 

And she rowed, she rowed, she rowed, through the grains

Of silver sand

And deep beneath the sand

Were buried golden gourds 

 

The ship she spoke in whalespeak

She was pregnant with water

Her belly vibrated with sound

 

She had spines on the outside, cactus

Spines of pine, needles of 

Crystal, fingers of frost

 

Filigrees reached, anemone-like

Swaying between inner and

Outer

 

The Thread

The thread that gives me hope

Unreasonable hope

Caused by nothing

Just is, thrumming

At the centre of which

I can drink

 

Triptych on a Tree

triptych on a tree

featuring you and me

tripping up a dune

stubbed toe, howl at the moon

wolf-man, snake-man

grinning black

starfish made of sand

 

take me back into your lair

put sand in my teeth

and sand in my hair

and sand in yours

mingling into mine

air so thick

air so fine

 

entwine your hand

around my thigh

let nothing be yours

and nothing be mine

but the third eye between us

knowing, divine

 

Penelope's Weave

Each week

I painfully unpick

The attachment from

The last time we met

 

Watery Woman

the watery woman

plunges her weeds into her beds

draws out a shell, a conch

uncovers the mud from it,

draws it to her lips:

it says, it speaks of things

locked up in pearl-encrusted troves

laden and threaded with coral and bone

it says, it speaks of things

past repeated, past repeating

ever evanescing, in a flowery glow

 

a flower-strewn tomb

pulled by the waves

the knife that cut the ribbons

from her hands

the pearl that sucked the life

and threw up the dams

 

To veil or not to veil?

The veil in recent years has become one of the most talked about items of clothing. It is the baddest thing around. It would put Joan Jett to shame with its bad reputation. But what we often forget is how long it’s been around, existing in a plethora of religions, cultures and countries beyond Islam and the Middle East. It has dogged us throughout history; a shadow that is ours and yet unnerves us. One of the most famous wearers of the veil is the Virgin Mary, but it has also been worn by men, beekeepers, brides and courtesans, to name a few.

The veil is, and has always been, very effective as a symbol. One of its many meanings is ‘something that covers, separates, screens, or conceals.’ Because of its mysterious quality, it is often used as a tool of polarization in the media. The women who wear it are branded as ‘oppressed’, while the women who don’t are heralded as ‘liberated’. But the veil is not oppressive for everyone in the West.

 

Grayson Perry’s latest exhibition, Who Are You?, focuses on iconic British characters of the 21st century. The exhibition features a striking silk scarf, called The Ashford Hijab. Its subject is Kayleigh from Kent, who recently converted to Islam. Commenting on the piece, Perry said, ‘What does Islam offer to a young white woman in her twenties? The answer, I found, appears to be a refuge from the nagging consumer pressures and constant, often sexual, scrutiny of women all-pervasive in Western society.’

While Perry makes a valid point, I am by no means suggesting that we all run out and buy a veil right now, quickly, before our bodies dissolve in the acid gaze of consumerism. We should all have the right to cover or not to cover, and not be harassed for the choices we make, right? Us women are free here in the West to do what we like, it’s only over there in the Middle East that women are oppressed, right? Then why did Lena Dunham, creator of the hit show Girls, receive criticism about being naked on her show? Jill Filipovic has the answer: ‘we’re accustomed to seeing naked female bodies on television as primarily decorative’, adding, ‘no one complains about nudity on Game of Thrones.’

 

Since August 2012, Lucy Holmes has been at the helm of a campaign called ‘No More Page 3’, which asks for the boobs to be removed from The Sun, and has gathered 240,000 signatures to date. But is banning the boobs the solution? According to Martin Robbins, of The New Statesman, ‘The most disturbing thing about Page 3 is not that there are naked breasts on it; it’s that every pair of naked breasts looks the same’. He rightly calls for The Sun to ‘Show people of every size, shape, colour, gender and sexuality; let them speak in their own voice, and celebrate them all.’

This is the modus operandi we should be taking with the veil, as exhibited by the work of trail-blazers like Sara Shamsavari and Majida Khattari. Shamsavari is using sites like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to crack the stereotype about the veil. Originally from Iran, she is a London-based artist, photographer and activist. A survivor of the Iranian Revolution, she describes herself as ‘neither for nor against the veil—I just think nothing should be imposed through force.’ She instead prefers to focus on her subjects’ individuality. Her first project, ‘London Veil’, is an enlightening collection of photographs of ‘hijabistas’, captured out walking in London. The photographs are eclectic and sizzling with colour, but the most striking thing about them is the harmony between the women and their veils.

Leading the way in Paris is Moroccan-born designer and photographer, Majida Khattari, whose catwalk-performances feature both men and women wearing veils; a ‘Power-burka’, which integrates the American flag into its design; and black chadors that bear the inscription ‘Tchador j’adore’. Like Shamsavari, Khattari does not think that the veil should be banned: ‘It’s absurd to create laws to tell us that veils need to be banned in public places… It’s as if you’re saying that women are not capable of making their own decisions and you’ll decide for them.’ 

 

I sometimes wear a headscarf / bandana when I write. It gives me clarity of thought and keeps the hair out of my face. I like the idea that the sprouting flowers in the pattern keep the thoughts flowing. We all have our own rituals, rags and relics. They act as lucky charms, and are a means of protection and self-expression in our lives. Why should such treasures be banned?

 

Baffled!

Oh how I hate the octopus!

I found him in my purse

He was wearing my binoculars

Obviously he’s cursed

 

I bet he wished he never crept

Into my silky shell

I bet he’s crying out in shame

For never learning how to spell

 

He never was the brightest spark

He never went to school

And now he’s fucked up royally!

What a gimp! What a gad! What a goon!

 

‘Your tentacles aren’t welcome here,’

She says in a monotone

And if you spill a drop of ink

I’ll turn you into stone

 

You disgust me, you’re disgraceful

If I could I would tear you apart

But I hesitate when I contemplate

Your looks may conceal a heart.’

 

Dark Wings

Dark forces cover me like wings

Unbend their weight

A backwards umbrella

Backwards splinter straining

 

I slipped my needle through a dark knot

Peeked through a blackened window

Such beauty I saw

Such frailty, such defiance

Such spirit, such duty

 

Rincon de Hadas

Deep in the desert

There are two lovers sleeping

I left them

I bled

I was bleeding, strapped to the top of a rickety bus

How can I forget him

There is a corner of my heart reserved for him

Rincon de hadas

He saw me in my madness

Woven together

On a bed of ashes

Rincon de hadas

He saw me in my madness

 

Our love was full-bellied

Varicose-veined

Nothing like the first

Flicker-a-flame

Toxic perfume

Ancient brother of blood

Inexplicable, vanishing love

The point where comets cross

And drowning men wash up

 

Peaches

My grandmother wove a basket of peaches

She liked to walk with them in the mountains, where the trees grew thick and strong, and the shade was deeper than the eyes of night

As she walked, the peaches rolled over each other, like boulders, kissing and bruising each other, and juice dripped down her back and on to the earth

She walked, and her steps spanned valleys, and mountains rolled away beneath her feet, like boulders

On the crest of the highest peak, she planted her feet, and raised her peaches up to the stars and planets, and the net of her basket became the net of the stars

The basket she wove herself, and the mountains knitted themselves in her wake, and the trees hung close and shivered, and the last raindrop fell

When her basket was overturned, the peaches rolled away, like boulders, along the cliff

My grandmother wove a basket of peaches, and the birds came to roost in her hair

Her cloak was the undergrowth of the forest

Her womb the innermost recess of a cave

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