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The International Magazine of Poetry & Graphics ▪ Bi-monthly ▪ March/April 2008
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Out of the Stranger’s Path
Overcoat flapping against bow-legged knees, I got up
on Sunday afternoon and made my way to the supermarket –
a five minute jog down the rain-flecked street.
I went to buy the Sunday papers, in my haste
eschewing all thought of getting dressed:
I wrapped the coat round my shoulders and put
on my battered shoes without socks.
I left my legs clean as an invitation soon
to clamber back to bed.
Once in I went for some cut-priced bread,
and noticed a dad with two blonde-haired kids
with red cheeks and smiling eyes. A boy and a girl,
can’t have been more than four or five, and he was
playing with them – wrapping them up in his padded arms,
whispering jokes into their ears,
provoking little uproarious laughs,
Soothing their fears. Then I noticed him
notice me coming near,
just angling through to get to the till,
eyeing the scene with a proto-paternal glow,
and I noticed him give an intake of breath
and hurry his children out of my path.
Out of the stranger’s path.
On the way back I felt like one of those men
that parents tell their children not to take sweets from,
not to accept rides from,
to stay away from.
I ended up not reading the paper.
I ended up wishing I had someone to protect from me.
I’m dark of skin and dark of hair.
It clings in obstinacy to my head.
Some say my personality is also dark.
This is because I don’t know where I’m from.
My father says his family came over a while ago from Russia
so when people ask me where I’m from sometimes I say Russia,
and they tell me that I don’t look Russian,
and they’re right: I don’t.
My mother says her family came over a while ago from Germany
so when people ask me where I’m from sometimes I say Germany,
and they tell me that I don’t look German,
and they’re right: I don’t.
Sometimes I simply tell them I’m Jewish.
And they reply that isn’t a place,
and they’re right: it’s not.
I’m in the hinterland, one of them, the other
with my big nose like on a Nazi propaganda poster
and my swarthy skin and thick black eyebrows
like I’m planning something. But I’m not.
Some say I’m prone to moods as sickly as my hue.
This is because I have the ability to look at myself
and say, I don’t know you.
We’d walk along the riverbanks, searching
for somewhere to eat and having just spent
twenty pounds on an eighth of oregano from some rasta
who saw two public schoolboys
coming. The sun would descend over London
as we waited for the hours to trickle by so
we could go to some party, and we
would idle in the market, me picking out a suede-jacket
going cheap, and you bohemian with your waistcoat
and knitted cardie, and we would scab a skin
from a twentysomething on the bench and crumble
the remains of our green inside. We’d sit
silently at the river, glazed-eyed, and watch
the roach drift away down the lock, or a casual couple
giving us a knowing grin, and we’d expound
the virtues of Ezra Pound, or libertarianism,
or whatever else was going round, and you’d tell me
about On the Road and I’d tell you about some band
I’d found in a second-hand record store.
We’d tell ourselves that these are the days, and that
we’d never have a problem if our children smoked
weed or expressed individuality in various ways
with lip-piercings or tattoos – we convinced ourselves
that we were The Revolution, and we’d discuss the latest news
on the effects of hemp, and how best to grow it
in your mother’s wardrobe.
Still some hours to shoot from the sky like ducks: we’d try
that legal shit from the Mexican at that stall,
and we’d go back to the river and it would maul our throats
‘like being raped in the mouth with a knife’ (you said).
This was life. This was the antithesis of respectable society; this
was the sledgehammer with which to smash its edifice.
This was the future. Now I go there as a tourist – with
a faint smirk at all the miniature figurines
of rebellion. I don’t know where you are now, whether
you’re reading Burroughs in an opium-haze, or in prison,
or if you just spend your days behind a computer
in a suit, now that the London smog has risen.
Joshua Seigal studies philosophy at University College London. He has won the Dawes Hicks award for undergraduate philosophy and has been published in the UCLU Young Writers anthology. He writes largely around the themes of memory and childhood, and tries to discover new angles in the mundanity of the everyday.
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