Cities are forgetful creatures:
They inhale lovers and exhale street corners
On which we exchange first kisses or phone numbers.
Seconds after leaving, the tarmac will lose the heat of our footfalls,
The camera pans left – the stonework sighs, witnesses, does not remember come morning.
I left for a year and returned only last week;
Under my belt I have tucked months of memory and new lessons.
The city knows my gait and I fall into step with her
She does not ask where I’ve been, and does not care to know.
We’re much the same, you see –
Outwardly unchanged, inwardly transformed, both ill-equipped to discover quite how.
There’s clues, though:
In the scaffolding that came down,
In the new birds’ nests on chimney stacks,
There are new cracks in the pavements.
Still the sun shines just the same way on the old walls,
And the people walk the streets just as they always have,
I have new freckles and a wider smile.
The city does not notice.
How much memory can old stone hold
Before it all blurs into one long pantomime?
That street corner, where we shared that first kiss
A set for an infinity of simultaneous performances:
The props are polystyrene boxes filled with chips and gravy,
Or creased work uniforms, or music leaking from a cracked phone.
To these actors, we are just another pair of extras,
A couple kissing while warm bodies sleep above,
While spiders rebuild their webs,
While the same cobbles turn an eye to the sky to watch the night fly past us all.
After enough nights, I, too, become the extra, spectator to my own life.
The street corner is indeed the same,
And indeed I can remember the finer details of those lips,
But I have returned to the daylit universe.
We borrowed from another world those words and intentions,
Pulled them into ours like an elastic band,
And when we part, it snaps back,
And we continue on.
I walk through the jubilation of a faceless crowd,
Watching fireworks bloom over the darkened silhouette of the watchful city,
Plugged into my own, separate reality.
Eyes light up, children cheer, and I hear nothing of it.
I am both with them and apart from them –
And I walk, smelling the sparks as they fall to earth and disappear
Like so many moments
Into the same old stone.
I exit left and into my apartment
And here I melt into air,
Become the smoke of every cigarette,
Every gull that tears into bin bags,
Every chip box and every street corner,
And every last cobble,
Omniscient and forgetful.
*Illustration by Abbie Featherstone*