Health And Safety
We all begin
full of ghosts of our futures
lives dividing like cells
into things that might happen
or just pass us by.
Don't look cautiously for
the one who could love you
exactly as you need to be loved
the safer option is finding
the one you can love properly.
That night when you sat in the dark
on a bench in the park
kissing a stranger
you let become the man
you leant and leant and leant on
until he cracked.
You won't see cars like sharks
coming through the traffic,
child-catchers haunting your days
but those slumbering nightmares wait
to rise to the occasion
in your memory’s sieve.
Petrol flares the fire, the child’s lost
as grief and guilt pull you under
grabbing your ankles as you're
flung back into that night
on a park bench, kissing.
(Asclepias syriaca) Folk medicine for kidney problems
All rain-drenched spring through lonely summer, I waited.
I waited like a Buddhist. Like a sparrow waiting for worms
to float to the surface after a torrential rain.
Patience, my heart and mind, do not be jumpy Monarchs
in an endless open field of white milkweed, wait.
All through high temperatures, I waited
like a drill sergeant scanning new-meat recruits
to determine if he could whip them into shape,
only to be fodder for gunfire.
I counted the few individual raindrops during this transition,
waiting, while black crickets rubbed their legs into music,
seasons grinded knives. Not once did that bulb open.
In one of my moments of weakness —
a bathroom break from blotted kidney,
or chasing the black feral cat away from the birdfeeder
where it was practicing silence and meditation
to encourage a sparrow to fall into its path —
the milkweed opened its surprised mouth and released,
tiny spores went crazy indirect directions. Released
as men dying in far-off lands
waiting for their end to come and taking too long to die.
The milkweed drifted into that merging.
The milkweed spores did not question, nor asked
the purpose of life — it simply surrendered. No waiting.
We ask why, the seed, the feral cat, the butterfly,
the soldiers — all die —
during that questioning, I missed the milkweed opening.
The butterflies never did arrive.
Rain clouds brought false hope of rain.
Bitter months unfolded their tents
occupying the land, snow fell as seeds.
Before I knew it, winter had planted itself
as a guard at a crossing with orders
to shoot first, ask questions after.
“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
The voice penetrated the fog in his head, bringing his attention back to his immediate surroundings. He was in an airport bar, waiting for his flight to be called. He glanced at his watch – the flight had been delayed and he had been here too many hours.
“Mr Fennersby Brown?”
The voice was more insistent this time, and he turned to locate its owner. A petite woman in an airport security uniform was standing at his elbow.
“Er, yes, sorry – that’s me.”
He offered up an apologetic smile, but she didn’t react. Her features were set in a completely neutral expression. There must be training for that, he thought.
“If you’d follow me, Mr Brown,” she said, gesturing towards the bar’s exit. “My supervisor would like to speak to you.”
She turned and started to walk away, apparently assuming he would just blithely follow her. Which, of course, he did.
“Uh, what’s this about?” he asked as they made their way out onto the main concourse.
She remained impassive. “My supervisor will explain in just a minute,” she said.
“Wait a minute!” he said. “My bag…”
He glanced back towards the bar, but suddenly realised he wasn’t sure where he’d left it.
The woman paused and turned to look at him. “Your bag is precisely the problem Mr Brown,” she said. “As I said, if you’ll follow me, my supervisor will explain.”
She led him through the crowds of people; some aimless, others frustrated. It was the usual mix of humanity one found in an airport. He didn’t really register anyone as they went past. He had spent too much time in airports for them to be anything other than tedious necessities.
Shortly, they arrived at a security door in the back wall and his escort produced an ID card, which she swiped across the sensor. The door clicked and swung outward. She led him inside. A featureless corridor stretched out before them, doors along both sides. She marched to the second door on the right, opened it and ushered him inside.
“If you’ll wait here, my supervisor will be with you in a moment,” she said, and closed the door behind him.
The room was small, just a bland cube. There was a metal table with a chair on either side. The only thing that stood out was the camera, perched high up in a corner of the ceiling. Its red light blinked at him menacingly.
It was important to stay calm, he thought. Only guilty people showed nerves, and he had nothing to feel guilty about, did he? He threw on an air of studied nonchalance, sauntered across to one of the chairs and sat down.
Frequent glances at his watch let him mark the passage of time. He wondered after twenty minutes if he’d finally missed his flight. He wasn’t sure he cared. Whatever was going on with airport security had curiosity and anxiety burning through his mind, searing away concerns about anything so mundane as a missed flight.
Eventually, after half an hour, the door opened and a woman entered. He was tall and thin, giving her a stretched look that was somewhat unsettling. She had a small briefcase in one hand – his missing luggage.
“Mr Brown,” the woman said in a light voice. “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting.”
She crossed to sit opposite him, lifting the case to put it on the table between them.
He shrugged. “This airport’s kept me waiting all day,” he said. “What’s another half an hour?”
“Ah yes, the delayed flight to Budapest.” The woman’s expression was sympathetic. “I fear there’s no hope for that one. You’ll probably have to book another ticket for tomorrow at this point.”
“Because the flight’s going to be cancelled? Or because you’re going to keep me here until after it’s left?”
The woman grimaced, as if she hadn’t been expecting such a blunt response. Then, she moved on, smoothly. “I’m afraid there’s been a problem with your luggage.”
“So I gather. Where was it?”
She looked at him, with an expression a teacher might give a naughty schoolboy.
“You left it on the concourse when you entered the bar. It caused quite a stir. Unattended luggage is serious business around here.”
He swallowed. So it was his fault he’d come under the scrutiny of airport security. That was really stupid.
“I’m so sorry,” he said, careful to keep his tone contrite. “How careless of me. I apologise if I’ve put you to any trouble.”
He reached towards the case, but she pulled it away, snapping open the clasps and lifting the lid.
“We searched it, obviously,” she said. “And I did have one question before you go.”
She brought an object out of the case and laid it on the table. It was a metal sphere, about the size of a closed fist. It had ridges and depressions that he hoped looked decorative.
“What is this?” she asked.
“It’s a time machine,” he deadpanned.
The teacher look was back. “Mr Brown, this is not a situation where it’s wise to make jokes.”
“I’m sorry,” he said again, mentally kicking himself. This wasn’t the first time his flippant tongue had landed him in trouble. “It’s been a long day. I can promise you this is completely harmless.” He reached out, but stopped short of actually touching the device. “May I?”
She regarded him warily, then spoke almost as if to herself. “It has some kind of energy signature, but we’re pretty sure we’ve determined it’s not an explosive. So, go ahead.”
He touched a button on the side of the sphere and a small light display erupted from the top. The time hovered in blue digits a couple of inches above the device.
The woman let out a breath. “It’s a clock?” She sounded annoyed.
“Yep,” he said, with a smile. “My brother-in-law gave it to me for Christmas. Cool, right?”
She pushed her chair back with an angry scrape and rose to her feet. “Okay, you can go. Have a good flight.”
He looked pointedly at the time displayed between them. “Seems unlikely at this point.”
She didn’t respond, just turning on her heel and walking to the door. She opened it and turned back to him. “Just go back out the way you came in.”
He pressed the button on the device and swept it off the table, putting it in his jacket pocket. Then he closed the secured the briefcase, picked it up and went to the door.
“And don’t leave your luggage unattended at the airport again,” was her parting shot.
He followed the corridor back down to the end and pushed open the door, letting himself back out onto the main concourse. A quick look at the departures board told him the delayed flight to Budapest had now departed. He had missed his rendezvous.
Sighing, he headed to the nearest bathroom and lock himself inside a stall. He retrieved the metal sphere from his pocket and turned it in his hands until a different side was uppermost.
These stupid twenty-first century people and their idiotic security theatre. He would have to try and catch his target in another place and time.
He pressed a button on the device – and disappeared.