The pioneers of aviation were never lonely
Who: Adam Steiner
Where: Hackney, London, UK
The Odour of Sanity
That brown water stinks, there’s me all dog-breathed wandering. There’s a RUSH – finally – well done! Goodnight Mr Beam, we hardly knew ourselves. Gassoping swallowed air, please to eat down his mouthful of hair, it’s the first morning after the last and my hand runs cold stiffening in every lukewarm toilet. Steeped thick and rich, too many spare pages…vomitus erroneous, that odour of sanctity – how I have done myself wrong, and thee. No matter, eugckh – split in the glove. Gut’s rutting jumble, this bowl mimics ivory surfaces but we all know the moon as hollow, taunting silver. The claszickshitshinemethod, one sheet-per-pull distribution, the old two up, one down – thoroughness trumps stinginess.
Glove’s needs first, gloves must – other way out is to peel back that vinyl-layer and strip-out sensation with it. Every finger a struggle, needling into place, grip changes crawling through, bland textures numbed, blunts the scratch off my nails, pinches hairs out from skin pricks.
This drip smucxk hand-pull on every lip, lift lid, the naked lunch, never seen. They re-use, flush and leave – not keen to discover but have to look, to see it through. There’s that undeniable crust smiling the rim, same germs as biting back on fingernails. Carrot lump, bulks on knuckle, flick it off into world of worry, got to push up and away from porcelain rink – only I will catch myselves, if he should fall.
Now to the sink – some release. Turn it untight. Water shot sprack all over, spitting me, plumbing bummed-out, underneath we’re missing pieces of pipe, our circuits run incomplete – copper flipped for gold? Nevermind how, it’s monotony against the soul. Wipe around shellfish edges, smear me powder blush to see past that wallowing face, now backed-up in phosphor, worn tough by bleach, each sprout drips, chrome handles threaten to glimmer out like sun and it’s water, warmer; still life in a series of lonelydrips. There’s that chalk-dry aftertaste, now I’m upsidedownandheadshrunk, willing it to go away as waiting on a dream, but how would I know? No pattern to determine, just forget until tomorrow (now rinse).
Scrawled on the walls, their serial reminders: proper use of soap and other hygiene advice. Dash the halls in legitimate graffiti: do This, wash That, trust Us (and remain ever-patient). Scream through this promenade of command as they shout you down (one more time!).
They lay it on thick the deeper you go, with slogans squeezed to fit, assaulting the mind in rhyming puns. Dark-backed posters loom stained-glass-cells as familiar signs, bacteria as hamburgers, rugby balls and musical notes, real cute and all in perfectly bad taste. It strikes no chord (use mixed humours against them) and I’m not neurotic or paranoid but why watch over me all the time, especially as they already know what I’m going to do?
Glut for Yes/Dread for No.
Seems simple enough.
Used for Green, they say: ‘GO!’
‘Hurry on, get to it, still not finished yet?!’
Red light. Stop. Wait. Think (but only as some kind of afterthought). Consider why we rush you – must prevent infection to boost our ratings. At every step the watchers analyse and dissect, dressed-up as doctors, who dress as civilians, so everyone’s a potential enemy, all of them desperate to turn-coat-on-me and go ‘citizen-journo’, to rip us a new-media orifice.
Rapidly they follow, flickering in/out, more silent exposures rise as reflux, sign:
Taking Care, Nationwide
Our future is in our hands
…and slipping through our fingers, not many safe days left to us. Don’t worry or panic now; there’s no need to resist – it’s a positive virus. It’s already in me and the good news is, you’re next. Our whole performance glitters gold, but then you knew that already. As the sky is blue and swans are never black, we say: smile, die happy, you know everything now (or just enough to keep on deceiving yourself).
Every day, every week: a sudden new release. Heads-up, keep quiet on that virus strain, attend vaccine session, next week that’s gone viral, so easy for minor infections to slip into brute enmity. Must attend secondary injection to correct the first, all double-standards, but no one keeps tabs on what’s really going on. Dead-letter messages fall stillborn from internal-hack’s printer slit. Beyond the bleed, it drips down cupboard sides, between desk gaps, around drawbacks. There’s a stack of memos marked: ‘URGENT’, soon flipped over to make illegible notes. All a perfect waste of time, basically printing on money; you blind advertise, make hospital corridors into a whispering wall to the blind, dumb and deaf.
A passing glance at the spewings of your finest wordsmiths, speechwriters, PR lions, consult the clowns, demanding thousands just to catch the eye for a few seconds. Even this message is infected, along with all the rest, into a rapidly dividing sense. If they said down was the new up, then you had to believe ceilings hung underneath, polystyrene tiles burnt and blistered, all crooked floors with gravity denied, and still they say ‘jump!’
But no time to notice: man bleeding from head-wound shouts brash Fs and Cs next to junkie teen with vomit running alp-wise down the chin. Body splayed-out, becoming the floor, trying to flirt with forty-seven year-old crackhead slowly sinking into his knees. Muddy thinking on all fours he crawls into her, between the heaves a dirty smirk. Nurses and other others try to separate, it starts again. Pretty nurse smacked back, a crack in the face, other hands descend. She sits back, stunned from the help, with panda patches swearing blind. There’s jagged flash across the nose as she rubs feverishly, an itch that won’t leave, same hand rises to my face.
Now she’s out of it: another subject, wreathed in that tepid plastic smell that clings to everything. Once inside you’re slapped with déjà vu. Every dentist appointment, five-minute visit to a sidelined relation, sat in A&E to get fingers clicked back into place, a dull ache as you pick at spare lint, swalled up by the loud hum of great scanning circle, where everyone wears lead and never smiles. Tonsils out, smear to test, pull curtain over to let you sit and think, waiting for nothing in a paper gown, pulled down over the knees. A quick blood sample, some faint puncture, probably nothing to worry about, but we’ll let you know in three-to-four weeks – if we don’t call, you’ll need to get in touch. Now flooding back all these watershed hurts you tried to shut away. Longer you stay it’s easier to forget but the smell strikes as catalyst, pulls you back into that dead little world, another lonely cell in the system. Signal shot straight from nose-tongue-mouth, wound round into a heady U-bend.
When it hits the sensation streams as easy bile rising; it goes on, from you to me:
Every turn of the nostril brings another blast of that stale-minted fug, a strange scent that speaks only to the blood. Mucus-brains break-out in quick saliva drips, no truth in denial, you can almost taste the atmosphere.
There’s other swells in the hot air from infection bins, some reactions happening in orange-yellow glow. Rip-off plastic apron, polyethylene stretched to fantastical sheer skin as the colour pales out in streaks becoming holes. Let go all of those colours you used to know; yellow and green coughed-up in sheets, where you sleep leaves purple-blue bruises, whatever the reason it smacks of abuse. A gushing red split, white body cracked, twirl that ten-for-two shroud in anarchic wheel where it shimmers in flaming arcs, sparks cutting the air with electric whorl.
But still, I see through it all. Where for others the static captivates, its own dead-zone with hairs on end, that’s the vacuum where all the power goes. Like pale Virginia, now interred under me, lost to water, another time-sink ratio, we fade to grey, a singular ebb and flow soon descending to permanent sleep. From that slammed lid waft curling edges, spires of heat – you can see the bad smells escape. No end to this detritus spill, the illusion of miasma, ripped in drifts, it infects and spreads, a stale trap exhumed.
From faecal matter, burnt toast (again) and formulated evergreen of the n-teenth toilet rinse, our mood descends as an iron cloud steps upon us. Touch and taste evaporate like blunted fingertips to another failed memory, lost in the peeling grain. There’s no blocking out the steady crush of a thousand clinical actions mapped precise in the mind. To the outside it’s just more comings and goings, all blending to a single rush. Nose-cut-numb, frostbitten by spite, you can try to ignore but you never forget.
Off my tongue all the wild smells go. Like it was fresh-cut, cells fading in/out, dead and alive at the same time. Stalwart “brother” Orwell smelt his way through the narrow exploitation: from slave kitchens and coal-dust alleyways to the mud fall bombs on dry Catalan streets. Never quite escaping the old definitions of Burmese sands and Etonian battlefields, a billiard-green for wargames breeding the next elite; ready for Sandy and onto freshly blooded spaces, the crusting grind of teeth on cement. Forever at war his whole (short) life, now George slumbers under new smells seeping in to the home turf. He cannot be at peace with everyone saying ‘everything is so like 1984’ while ascending wars-by-numbers still err on the cruel side of your nature.
Patients share delusions, easier to hide under layers than be seen. Setting themselves heavy application of saintly-scented products, designed to smell distinct: to be individualised by the same brands that sell to everyone, and simply get passed around. But even for the regulars, every substance applied is quickly swallowed-up, absorbed in the harshness of skin-peeling bleaches. Still reaching for scents beyond ego, a self-love equally shared but so painfully divided.
We’re all mixed up. The waning hormones beat a steady impulse to entice the generally confused and trick, mantis-like, the needy rube. They breathe only fake oestrogen and nicotine, forsaking pale earthly airs – oxygen’s such a bore nowadays. She hooks audience in-transit with faintly clinging wires currently blonde under this version of the sun. Even in harsh glint of neon bulbs our eyes alight to where she treads, weaving tremulous, angelic in jagged azure, breaking out in full scarlet bloom, clawing new wound for itself at the dark side of a peach until its core. He-is, She-is, that forbidden thing: nameless, shapeless and so unloveable. Behind fallow eyes they sit and stare, hack-hacking until their noses and lungs are scarred with the mark of those decadent smells, lacking clean karma and grace.
Adam Steiner’s poetry and fiction appear in Rockland Lit, Proletarian Poetry, The Next Review, Fractured Nuance zine, BoscRev: 4, The Weary Blues, The Stare’s Nest, ShoutOut UK, 3:AM, The Cadaverine, Spontaneity, Abridged 0-13, The Literateur, Nostrovia! SquawkBack, NOUS. Anthologies: Interpal – Palestine Verses, Fugue 1 (Siren Press) and Poems Underwater. He is former Editor of Here Comes Everyone magazine. Adam is currently running the Disappear Here project to produce a series of 27 poetry films about Coventry.
Buy The Politics of the Asylum (Urbane Publications)
Check which is the shallow end and note the point where you will be out of your depth.
Check which is the shallow end and note the point where you will be out of your depth.