Notes On Light

‘Notes On Light’ is a sequence of visual poetry. It takes as its starting point an A4 revision sheet for GCSE physics, given to my son.

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The Omnesium

A leak from The Omnesium caused all birds passing overhead to completely forget how to fly, and to plummet vertically from mid-air.
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A murmuration of starlings pelted passersby for five minutes during which they forgot a) that it doesn’t rain birds, and b) what birds are.

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Employees of The Omnesium, who face the regular peril of forgetting what it is, or that they work there, are heavily tattooed with hints.

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Unfortunately, during very heavy leaks, employees of The Omnesium may forget a) what writing is, or b) what tattoos are.

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On one occasion, finding they were stained blue all over, employees concluded they were blueberry addicts, and The Omnesium was a fruity spa.

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On another, the copiously tattooed employees grew convinced they were members of a yakuza gang and hacked each other almost to death.

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In one extreme circumstance, The Omnesium itself forgot it was a building, and attempted to go home, but couldn’t remember where it lived.

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The percentage of people within a five mile radius of The Omnesium who cannot remember their names is no higher than elsewhere in Chimerica.

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The percentage of cats which cannot remember what their arseholes are and lick keyholes instead is no higher than elsewhere in Chimerica.

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The percentage of people who forget what driving is and crash their cars, trains, and airplanes while staring out the window is perfectly normal.

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The percentage of people who forget that they are people, or that there are concepts like ‘Chimerica’ or ‘Memory’, is within the national average.

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The Ministry of Perception would like to announce the national average of Forgotten Things has dropped since The Omnesium began operations.

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It would like to announce this but, unfortunately, the present whereabouts of those statistics appears to be unknown… What were we saying?

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Ah yes. Crucially, the number of people who remember what the substance omnesium is or why we started processing it remains stable at zero.

Big Bill Backward’s True-Faced Western Tales, 10: Byzantium for Mice

Last time I looked up a rat, Big Bill Backwards drawled, I saw me a lil Noah’s ark n the animals wavin n sayin kin we all come down yet?

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Did I say it was a ra-ra rat? Big Bill Backwards continued, tho he was lying on a mesa in a mess all alone. Rats don’t come rarer than that.

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Got it into my head rats were toobular or telescopic – couldn’t get it out n couldn’t work out which. Just then this ole rat shimmied past…

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Course the worst rats are Moon Rats. They call themselves mice but don’t let that fool yuh none. DNA’s mostly some kinda amphibian, anyways.

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Used ta be a proud civilisation, so they say, till them cicadas took over. I been down their burrows n there ain’t nuthin proud about em.

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Gnawed out half the Moon before we got there. Made themselves cathedrals outa dried macaroni, cheese n zircon. Real purty mo-say-hics.

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I was tradin in mica back then. Moon Rats valued it highly doo to an etymological misunderstandin that led em to suppose it wus made outa mice.

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They had them great mo-say-hics of their holiest rats, all made outa lunar minerals, n they wanted mica fur the halos. Who was I to argue?

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The other quantity in which I did trade wus earplugs, on account uh the incessant Moon Cicada music-makin that goes on. Earplugs fur rats.

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Never seen nuthin as dumb as them Moon Rats livin in old lunar modules they dragged under that dome showin their ‘Pon-tee-kos Panto-krater’.

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They all dress in old US flags n plastic crowns n earplugs, and this giant rat stares down with million year old meteorites fer eyes…

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…anyways, this rat shimmied past, n I thought I’d look me up some old buddies on the Moon. So I picked him up n twisted his neck n peered.

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N lo n behold he was neither a telescope nor particularly telescopic in his reaction. Got me an eyeful uh moon-rat that night n no mistake.

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Well I think about that ark I saw up that rat’s behind a whole lot – an asshole lot. Wus it the gee-nu-ine Ark? N wus it here, or on the Moon?

Drowning in neat rows

Wheels grind. The drunken crowd screams. A lever is pulled and the curtains are yanked apart. The Bird King stamps onto the stage.

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The Bird King’s oration is made of knives and envies and stones and pauses. The banners and the sky are red and black.

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Catch a falling star, put it in your pocket. There’s a miniature supernova in a locked room. The Bird King’s claws scratch poems.

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Men behind glass make notes on our appearance, our social networks, our sex lives. One points at you with a finger that looks like a gun.

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The roads are closed. My neighbours starve politely. The Bird King gags on bodies. The police tell jokes about immigrants. Lock your door.

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It’s best not to try to record events that may be unreal. Cameras pirouette on their stands, wink at us like whores. I can feel the blood.

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This is what you want, this is what you get. Line up and wait for it. A father of four sobs into the pavement.

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There is an encore. Booted feet stamp. The android pianist shatters Chopin. Half of the crowd take mournful selfies.

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Sunlight on broken glass in the Street of Emojis. A metallic voice invites us to prayer. We shuffle loosely in our skins, ashamed.

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Last time we dug up the road, dinosaur fossils leapt into song. Pull the shutters down: the red eyes are watching.

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Have you downloaded the update? Try inserting yourself here. We may have to remove your spine. Please hold the iron bar and close your eyes.

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The Bird King’s body double calls himself James Knight but that’s just an alias. Most of the stunts are CGI. The manifesto is a bad poem.

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They smashed the clocks to free the birds. Journalists were rounded up and drugged. The curtains closed on a factitious scene.

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The Bird King bans the past tense. What’s done is done. We write feverishly, trying to keep pace with the galloping now.

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We furnish our living spaces with flatpack instructions. No more bulky furniture! We gaze at the idealised, orderly diagrams.

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Sometimes our bedrooms collapse and sticky dreams escape from our ears. The Bird King’s agents collect them in huge metal drums.

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Empty your pockets. Empty your mouth. Empty your bowels. Empty your head. Empty your books. Empty your houses. Empty your monsters. Empty your bladder. Empty your cupboards. Empty your dishwasher. Empty your bed. Empty your balls. Empty your smartphone. Empty your grave.

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The cathedral bells chime five. We think there’s a ruined castle on the hill, but there isn’t. Not even a trick of the light.

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There are lots of small pieces. They don’t go together. The Bird King assembles them into things that confound the eye, offend the ear.

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Soldiers running or explosions or the sun plunging into the horizon. The protestors’ bodies have been hidden in wardrobes and under beds.

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The news plays in a loop while we fall down the stairs. A man of 75 ate his neighbour. They’re still watching us from behind glass.

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Learning to express ourselves only in GIFs. The androids smack our hands when we slip up. We search mirrors for an escape route.

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I read a new translation but the memory of the old translation superimposes itself and the page tears itself up.

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Not even writing about the world not even writing about another world not even writing about big themes not even writing about myself.

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When feeding the police, throw meat over the fence. Never put your hands through the viewing holes.

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The Bird King paints disaster on his viewers’ faces. Cluster bombs make percussive music. This is not the end.

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What are you looking at? What are you wearing? What are you doing? What are you saying? Who do you think you are?

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The signs say CLOSED. We wait in rows of twelve. The taste of iron is hard to forget. Our nosebleeds are a constant source of embarrassment.

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Sit. Pray. Eat. Talk. Forget. Rise. Leave.

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And repeat. Drink coffee from the troughs provided. Do not attempt to communicate with each other. Do not sneeze. Do not cough.

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We drowned in neat rows. They kept our eyes open. Light diffused in our slow watery dreams. The Bird King sang about lost love.

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It was nothing to complain about. The wounds would soon heal. Suburbs burned gold in the autumn afternoon.

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We set the fire alarms off so we could have rain indoors. Our enemies hid under their desks, fearful of dissolution.

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Time means nothing. Set your watch to whenever you like. Rewind if you missed what I said. Young men wear beards as an ironic comment.

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The Bird King builds mazes around our cities. We are free to leave at any time, but will probably get lost and starve to death.

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What else do you remember? Tell us in the present tense: it’ll sound more truthful. Don’t leave any sordid detail out.

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Most of them will be set on fire in the streets, so remember to stay indoors until morning. There is blood on your collar.

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Going back to the start. But it’s not the same when you get there. The light is different. Your mood is different. The crowds have gone.

Glow Cheese

The real reason refrigerators have lights that come on when you open them is so you don’t find out which cheeses glow in the dark.

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Certain cheeses by night have dull cubic exteriors, but shocking, pulsating shapes hidden within – heart-like ventricles, or glowing corals.

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Some appear to contain letters or hieroglyphs in some hitherto unknown three-dimensional language of cheese.

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Some cheese experts claim this is bioluminescence, or even a type of cheesy radioactivity. Others think it is triggered by phases of the Moon.

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Every now and then a prophetic ‘cheese-reader’ rides into town on the back of a cow or ewe, claiming to know the art of deciphering cheese.

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Great wheels of cheese are rolled to them like galaxies, each lighting up in the darkness with whole zodiacs of mysterious interior symbols.

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Their crusades would liberate Zions of illuminated halloumi; their pilgrims would locate the Solar Udder – all are blinded by their own incandescent cholesterol.

The Horizon Garden

(for Ian Thompson)

Incoherency Brown, Capability’s brother, was famed for inventing the Horizon Garden, which lopped everything off between you and the skyline.
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Trees, walls, flowers, buildings, livestock: everything between your property and the horizon was sliced off uniformly at eye level.

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Later, Incoherency Brown would think to plant ‘short things’ (shrubs) nearer the house, and ‘taller things’ (trees) farther away.

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Servants would be employed according to height; their movements and activities strictly confined to the appropriate distance from the house.

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At one point Brown had England’s most varied guillotine collection and its largest number of privately owned giraffe necks. Then he was arrested.

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While in prison, Incoherency Brown invented the ‘stooping roof’, a roof which could sit inside a house rendered roofless by a Horizon Garden.

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After his release, Brown would allow appropriately-heighted servants to bear a large shark’s fin purposively across a Horizon Garden.