November 12th 2015 – Ulster Hall, Belfast
When the removal men eventually arrived it took them less than an hour to empty the apartment. They filled a van with our furniture, stacked upside down and sideways so it fit together like tower of interlocking Jenga bricks. We took a moment to walk through the empty rooms. This had been our home for almost ten years and, while we’d outgrown it, it was not as if we’d fallen out of love with the kitchen and the living room and the master bedroom, with its tiny en suite.
As we passed from room to empty room we began to notice that although our tables and chairs were already half way to Lisburn, the shadows of our furniture remained, lingering softly on the carpet. You thought it was dirt and scuffed it gently with the edge of your shoe, hoping to blend it into the rug. I thought the floor had faded round our furniture. It was a bright apartment, and over the years, the sun had turned the wallpaper pastel in certain places.
Neither of us was right.
These were not stains nor faded patches. These were the sad ghost of our sofa, our coffee table and our IKEA bookcase. They did not want to leave this apartment. They preferred to stay and haunt it. They, like us, had been terribly happy here.
November 13th 2015 – East Belfast
For her fortieth birthday Stephanie asked her parents to buy her a display case. “A glass one,” she explained, “like the kind you find in museums.”
Her parents looked at each other oddly. They passed this looks backwards and forwards across the coffee table like an unexploded bomb. They had been planning to buy their daughter a slow cooker for her birthday. This, they felt, would be both practical and personal, for Stephanie having become somewhat obsessed with the television show, Celebrity Masterchef, had recently grown interested in cooking. In the future she hoped to host dinner parties for colleagues from work and friends, and possibly lovers.
“What do you want with a display case?” asked her father.
“I wish to display my most precious things in it,” she replied.
“Like what?” asked her mother and Stephanie had to admit that she currently owned no precious possessions worth speaking of, but the display case would be an incentive to acquire some.
November 14th 2015 – Portrush
Erin Gleason Presby
I saved up for ages and bought you a day with a big band. I found them in the Yellow Pages. You’d never mentioned a particular interest in this kind of music but then who wouldn’t want their own twenty five piece big band following them around everywhere? They were there when you woke up, crammed into the bedroom and hanging in the window from outside. They followed you to work, to lunch and later, out for drinks with the rugby lads. They played constantly: songs from the shows, swing tunes and instrumentals you could dance to if you were that way inclined.
I watched from a distance and took videos on my phone. I thought that you’d get a kick out of seeing yourself with your own big band. At first you were hesitant. You didn’t know how to react to the noise of them, the way they made strangers stare at you in the street. By lunchtime you were high stepping round the office, spinning and napping like Sinatra. You were the kind of man women wanted. I wanted you again. It had been worth all the saving.
November 15th 2015 – East Belfast
Ellen had been ill for almost a month now. It was not an ordinary sort of illness. She had accidentally breathed in whilst walking, (without the protection of an umbrella or hat), through a particularly heavy downpour and, in doing so, had inhaled a small portion of raincloud. The cloud settled inside her head just behind her eyes. It felt like cotton wool at first and later, once sodden, like a damp picnic rug, balled up and stored towards the back of her skull. Elle could not think past the cloud. It dripped perpetually and the wetness of it could not be contained within her head. Rain came out of her eyes and nose, up her throat and round her mouth, swirling like a winter tide. She couldn’t swallow it down and took to standing beneath the blow heaters in the ladies’ bathroom, hoping to heat her portion of raincloud to a point where it would evaporate entirely. Steam rose off her forehead like cold night breath but the idea of the raincloud persisted. Ellen felt as if she was carrying the entire water cycle around inside her.
November 16th 2015 – Ulster Hall, Belfast
When we were sixteen years old they sent us to dance lessons down in the city centre. The girls went into one room. We boys went into another. We learnt how to lead. We learnt how to hold the rhythm like the rhythm was a fine line and on either side of it, a sheer drop. We were taught not to apologise to the girls. If we stood upon their toes it was because their toes had not stepped backwards or forwards at the correct time. We did not dance with each other. This would have been ludicrous; almost grown men sweeping each other round the dance floor by their wrists. We danced in lines instead, tiptoeing round our ghost partners as our arms reached out towards them and our feet played footsy with their absent feet.
When we were accomplished enough to deserve partners they took us into the room with the girls and put us together in pairs. We did not need to speak to these girls. Our feet already knew what to say. We were like a two part harmony singing together for the very first time.
November 17th 2015 – East Belfast
Last year our neighbours applied for planning permission to build a small, South facing extension. They had no intention of stopping at a third bedroom or conservatory. They leveled their house and in its place built a Medieval castle with turrets and a drawbridge. They quit driving cars and swapped their Ford Mondeo for a pair of riding horses which they kept tethered to the tree in the backyard, right beside their jousting poles.
Despite the other neighbours’ complaints, (the smell of raw, Medieval sewage, the visiting marauders and the unsightly way the castle looked, sitting next to all those bungalows and semi-detached houses), the people in the castle continued to fly their flags and roast their suckling pigs as if this was some kind of backward place to live similar to a common housing estate. When we tried to approach, asking to see the smallprint on our neighbours’ planning permission documents, the crocodiles in their moat snapped and snapped and would not let us in.
November 18th 2015 – East Belfast
How to read poems properly:
- Begin at the beginning.
- Read slowly. Read so slowly that your eyes begin to hurt from not skipping ahead of themselves. This will feel like holding your breath when you are not even underwater. Do it anyway.
- At the end of each poem pause. Hold the poem at arm’s length as if it is a piece of art on the wall of a modern art gallery. Adopt the posture of someone who is “getting” the poem. Hold this pose for two minutes. Hold this pose longer than is physically comfortable. Make a noise like a noise like a child eating a delicious mouthful of something delicious.
- Underline individual sentences. Not too many sentences. One in five is ample lest you begin to look like a person without discretion.
- Wonder what the point of the poem is. Wonder audibly. Pick a single line; something you actually understand. Decide that this will be the point of the poem.
- Turn to the next poem.
- Repeat until there are no poems left. Try to make this process last for at least one hour.
- Feel accomplished/possibly smug in the company of friends who do not read poems or only read poems which rhyme.
- Secretly think, “£9.99? Seriously? For this few words?”
- Go back to reading novels which are much better value for money.