IN THE HOUSE OF THE LAST LONDON

I entered the house of the last London. So is this it? 

Is it the end, or is it already beginning again? 

The rooms are silent, occupied by myriad gazes and gestures, bodies visible and invisible. And in the backyard the garden is still in bloom. 

 

Are the clouds gathering or dispersing? Or are they just passing by, as usual? 

In the dusk the murky light will not reveal whether it is night or a new day dawning.

 

The staircases are empty, but I can hear the sound of a gathering crowd drifting in from the open windows like a warm summer’s breeze- and the damp smell of rain. 

The marks are on the walls, arranged in various formations, some of them deliberate, and some of them the offspring of chance collisions, like cosmic debris drifting through space. 

The floorboards speak under my weight but everything else is still, awaiting a next move. 

 

A heavy hand hovers over the house of the last London- one deft swipe will bring all of its walls tumbling down and yield space for the next impenetrable, unmarked fort, rising over fresh, unmarked graves.

But for now the tender walls hold the names and the dates that were laid down along with its bricks, one at a time, one above the other, bound with mortar and spit and blood, until they too became a house.

Perhaps the last.

Perhaps the first.

RAFT on RESONANCE 104.4 FM- Episode 6

Tune in to Resonance 104.4 fm on Tuesday 19th February at 5pm for the sixth appointment with Raft, my radio programme in which we explore real and imaginary landscapes of the city.

Credits for this month’s episode:

The House Of The Last London- Written and narrated by Chiara Ambrosio- Soundscapes by Bird Radio

“You Are The Moonlight”- Written and performed by Bird Radio

OIL SPILL, a poem written and recited by John Bently

A conversation in the studio with John Bently

“Camberwell Road” part of the forthcoming album “One Shoe Michael- A London Song-Cycle” written and performed by Bones and the Aft

ONCE UPON A TIME

Once upon a time

 

There was a street

There were alleys and dark corners

There were scratched surfaces and acrid walls

There were doorways that opened or remained shut

 

I saw a man on the street, and he knew the way it flowed.

He burrowed through the alleyways and whispered into the dark corners, until they whispered back to him their dirty story.

He touched the walls with his purple hands, and the walls gave way a little under his touch, revealing another layer below the surface, an intricate tangle of signs scratched into the damp stone, which he read through his fingertips like the blind.

When he knocked, all the doors would open to let him through, but sometimes, when I looked again, both him and the doorways were gone.

 

Once upon a time

 

people moved through, or stayed still

people walked and ran

people rode underground trains

people gazed into the past, scared about their future

people cried and people dreamed

 

I knew a story that moved through the city like a song.

Sometimes it would linger, gather in a pool like rainwater on the pavement, and on its surface the city would see its own face reflected, whole and brilliant against the sky.

The story could always find a way through the changing topography, it would never get lost or stuck where a wall suddenly rose to replace an alley.

It would dig and it would sow, and then- as it always happens- it would wait patiently for new shoots to sprout, while it remembered all the words it already knew one by one, so an not to lose any of them as the roaring days turned into nights.

The story spoke even when all other voices fell silent- too tired, too lonely or too scared. It would not stay quiet.

 

Once upon a time

 

a city heaved 

a city breathed its ages into the gasping mouths of the needy

a city nursed and a city cursed

a city carried 

a city abandoned 

a city killed and then brought back to life

 

The man sat on the same corner where he always sat, and his body was an armour with which he fought back erasure- a ring on every finger and a pen in each hand dripping purple words like blooming flowers onto the parched skin of the city. 

When you travel alone, you can see things come into sharp focus and new words form on your tongue, waiting to be released like birds form a cage.

The city will nurture its lost and lonely, sat on marble steps, falling asleep to the ringing of church bells, awakening to the hunger and the vision.

When all other eyes fall blind, it is the city’s orbits that will bind you to your spot on that same street corner, commit you to existence, day after day.

 

And then   you will open your mouth, and you too shall whisper:

“Once upon a time…”