self-portrait at 22

July 2007, after David Berman

I’m alone at the top of a very steep hill
looking out over a sea stewed with ferries
under a sky of cartoon lightning strikes
and I thought now was as good a time as any
to take this. I’m giving it to myself as a gift
on a day nearly cancelled by early afternoon rum
and day-old pyjamas. I’m on an island an hour
and three quarters from home, but it feels
exactly the same as it always does;
there are spiderwebs stringing everything
and a telescope thick as a thigh in the corner
that we’re all too scared to touch.

Every day in this house starts the same way;
I wake over-early to a room stained
bloody by the sun blaring through red rollerblinds
and huff before folding myself back into sleep.
It’s never exactly been a problem for me before
but I’ve been wearing a watch here
so that maybe changes everything.

 
II.
Besides getting quietly drunk in the daytime
I’ve been skimming through the live-in library;
reading around the school subjects I chose not
to study, through textbooks and almanacs and
journals, and thinking how it’s funny that
whenever they talked about life lessons
I always assumed they meant
reading road maps, and making sure the
supermarket doesn’t short-change you, and
knowing how to order a milky coffee

in abroad. It’s only now with nothing but
an armed bookcase and a tick against my wrist
for company that I see the concept of a sky that
cries when the pressure builds, or a body that
swoops so quickly from child to adult that it
aches at the joints and trips over itself
in underestimation of its size and stride
as something introduced altogether too bluntly;
a bad throw hoping for a good catch.

 
III.
Each morning we take the dogs to Ettrick Bay
and bring ourselves along. I leave my things
on the sand, wade through the inning tide til it
rounds my knees and retreats to my ankles
and I’m twenty yards out from the shore
but I’m back in the shallows
and I see that there are so many explanations
for the miracles that plague us.

I know I shouldn’t take it all so personally,
that these theories I pose as parables
aren’t beartraps laid out for me, ready to
snap around a life by a leg, it’s just that
I have to let it feel that way sometimes
in order to live purposefully; it’s just that
when I full-face the sky with its clouds
hanging stiff and airless, I flip vaguely
through the file marked Rain Cycle in my
mind and remember that I may be smart
but I don’t know a lot.

 
IV.
Don’t get me wrong, mostly I’m nowhere
near unhappy it’s just that,
at the risk of sounding melodramatic,
some days I feel like I’m dying very slowly
and specifically. Which I suppose I am.
I know I shouldn’t talk about the moon
but I mean it this time
it’s drifting by an inch by a year
because the earth is stalling a fifth of a second
a century because the switching of the tides is
snatching up the air and isn’t that always
the way. These things are always mutual.
My lips are dry and the crook of my arm is
lonely and I’m having those dreams again
where you won’t meet my eye and then
you walk away. I’ve had enough of endings.
I’ve had enough of leaving, of
coming back. I’m up to here with missing.
Let’s talk about the people who stay.

 
V.
When a room isn’t mine, and sometimes
when it is, I find myself doing the most
ridiculous things just to keep the curtains
unlocked; dressing in the cupboard or
crunched down and tangled up by the foot
of the bed, sleeves everywhere.
It’s one of those great mysteries of
yourself you will never understand, like

when I have to take my socks off to get to sleep,
or the fact I’ve worn my jeans tucked into my
boots for the last two years stubbornly, only
now to have a change of taste and decide they wear
much better untucked or, that I hear myself say
thanks for phoning to everyone who does,
as though I’m fourteen again and I’ve just been
invited to Cooly McCoolerson’s birthday party.

It’s strange the things you notice about yourself
in that bit-tongued, far off kind of a way.
Like a film crew on the plains who could tell you
exactly how everything will play out, who could
intervene, but who know that the animals must do
what they are going to do. By the way, what I
said back there about my jeans, that wasn’t some
crass metaphor for a letting go or a loosening off,
I promise. I wouldn’t do that to you and besides,
I don’t cry about that wolf anymore. It’s something
I’ve noticed, that’s all. Just so we’re clear.
I am trying very hard to be more literal.

 
VI.
Minutes to hours and day by day, this is how
years go by. I’m supposed to be visiting
Mount Stuart House but I want to split away
from myself for a while, so I point the other way and
jump a bus tour of the island. Breeze-bitten,
we draw back around the coast towards town
and I hear our guide say the hedges here have been
blown through over decades by prevailing easterly winds,
that they grow on now at an inland slant, their leaves
flipped and pale like eyes rolled back in the head.

I curl into myself and wonder what I want for next.
Somedays I can feel the coarsing of time in my bones
like the wind that has always been too much for me,
too prone to panic like jazz music or rollerskates,
moths or large crowds or Street Fighter II.
It’s a slow weathering but I am learning to
give in to the chaos. Sometimes it’s nice
to pretend we have a say in these things.

 
VII.
I’ll admit it’s tempting, now we’re entering
the final stretch, to stuff everything down and
slam the lid but I’ll try to contain myself;
I have a few final matters to take care of.

If it seems like I’ve talked about the elements a lot
it’s only because there’s little else you can do
when you’re out of your own. There I go
making it about me again but give me a break
I’m all I have. As we pull back into the station
I check in with my wrist and realise the island’s
day is about over, that the ready postcards
in my bag will have to wait yet another day
for posting. It’s okay. If there’s
one thing this holiday has given me,
it’s time:

Self-portrait at 22.