Care in the Community
Every morning I swallow the suspicious pill, vaguely aware of the effect but unsure of what’s inside. I trust the science I don’t understand, mistrust the conversations murmuring through the walls, and misquote song lyrics from my childhood. There’s a bathroom on the right, my ears are alight, and the elephants that gather here are taking up all the chairs and sofas, so I have to stand like a cartoon dunce in the corner to block out their trumpeting. I lower my invisible disability into an invisible wheelchair and push it away from the noise and into the sunlight, but soon we’re at a cliff edge. In the middle distance, an elephant in a pink-striped Edwardian bathing costume pilots a skiff towards the shore. Another, snug in Biggles rig, parachutes from a swallow-bustling sky. A third, in a white coat, a stethoscope dangling round her concrete slab of a neck, gently takes my elbow to coax me home. Recall Borrowed bodies never fit correctly but sometimes they’re all that’s available and I have to get out to the city. Library shelves are as empty as supermarkets, as empty as dropped plant pots, as empty as promises to “level up,” and as empty as a school hall after the news has broken. My legs are loose and my forehead pinches beneath unfamiliar ideologies that I don’t want to interrogate too closely: impermeable borders, double-glazed ceilings, promises that ring like threats or reception bells in flooded hotels. Borrowed hands make light work onerous and render heavy work impractical to the point of obsolescence. If this body was my own, I’d take it to the river and teach it to swim; I’d take it to the top of the clock tower and teach it to fly; I’d take it home and hold my mother’s hand again, but it’s already overdue and the fines are racking up like kerbside flowers. Touching Base In the neutral space of offices, facades drop, and here we’re back to our real selves, as we were before we filled in the forms and gave away our options. Online security is an oxymoron, so the walls are lined with grey cabinets stuffed with buff card files full of the usual records: handwritten notes, swimming certificates, birthday cards and receipts from chain restaurants. There’s always the risk of espionage or fire – accident or arson – but it’s a risk we choose to accept. We exchange medical reports, and although there’s nothing we didn’t know, the enumeration of facts and observations is reassuring. Likewise, we swap the letters and confessions that we’d kept to ourselves, setting them out like china dogs on a cottage windowsill. We are here to talk about sustainability, incentivisation, and taking things forward, and there’s a spectrum of coloured forms to be completed and signed off, but first we’d better file ourselves away: you under F for forgetting; me under water for an unstable future. The Price of Everything Inch by inch, the sky lifts into light, letting the beasts and birdsong back into the day’s equation. I’d love to be wild and devil-may-care, but I’m the kind of person who draws round the edge of my face in the shaving mirror so I’m sure I’m not an imposter the next time I wake up. It’s full light and the fauna of the flatlands are queueing for handouts at the kitchen window, tongues a-lolling and expecting scraps. I appreciate their commitment to routine and I tear up crusts and banknotes to feed their hunger and curiosity. Along with the light of the morning Sun, this predictable act should surely be sufficient for all of us; but there are accountants in the bedroom, in the bathroom, and in every email that chokes my inbox, insisting that everything is reduced to arbitrary numbers and invisible transactions. I tell them about a big, black wall with flashing figures, more than a million detuned radios, and the endless earthquake that derails the underground train of my logical thought. I gesture to the glutted world as it drifts away across a lawn which is growing mountains. They demand whole numbers, demand to see my workings-out, and demand an abstract of my conceptual underpinnings. I gesture to birdsong, the back window, and the broken bathroom mirror with its sharp and seductive edges. Homemaking for the Apocalypse Fires in the north, ice in the south, and we’re plum centre, squeezing our little bits of earth into comforting shapes. You make a house with a white – no, blue – door and frosted – no, clear – windows, and a dream kitchen in which you stew visions down to juice and steam. It has a dishwasher full of broken crockery and freezer stacked with animals hacked beyond easy recognition. Its buzz and chatter eases you into sleep at night, where you dream of plush hotel rooms in city after city, country after country, each one sealed from the outside world as you drink green tea and watch the BBC. There’s no place for me in house or hotel, so I roll a clay balloon which, though heavy and slightly misshapen, rises, graceful as a ghost, and drifts over fire and ice. My perfect kitchen is one I’ll never visit, and just look – look – at this beautiful, broken world. Bio: Oz Hardwick is a European poet and dabbler in diverse arts, who has been published, performed, and held residencies in the UK, Europe, the USA, and Australia. He has recently released the album Paradox Paradigm with international space rock collective Space Druids, is the main photographic contributor to Martin Popoff's Hawkwind: A Visual Biography (Wymer, 2022), and is co-editor with Anne Caldwell of Prose Poetry in Theory and Practice (Routledge, 2022). His eleventh collection, A Census of Preconceptions, will be published by SurVision Books in late 2022. Oz is Professor of Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University (UK).