Where new writing finds its voice

The Skulls of Dalston

Clare Pollard

Of late, overnight, leering graffiti skulls appear
on London’s walls – sherbet death’s heads, 
jack-o-lanterns, acme eyeballs pinging 
in eye-caves, tombstone teeth in bubblegums.
Mornings also bring mist. A young bloke pisses
on a car, pissed. Nappies bloat in a yard. 
Corn-rowed, in tip-to-toe pink, a girl shins 
up the building’s wall as though it is a tree, 
and I’m trying to think this ‘edgy’ –
white, pushed here by price –
when I pass a boy. Just us on the street. 
He drifts through pale air, white air, focused, 
jeans low, whole crotch on show, face blacked 
by his hood’s shadow. Our eyes don’t meet.
Why would they? We are not on the same street.

       If I’m a blank, then he’s a void,
       if I’m the scum, then he’s the dregs,
       if I’m a ghost then he’s a shadow,
       if I’m pigeon shit then he’s a crow.

And he’s watching for the Love of Money crew
the DNA Boys, the Murder Dem Pussies,
and I’m looking at the Arcola theatre, up-
and-coming shows, acting out a play in my head: 
rape – the spurt of blood – stairwells –
I am rehearsing a play called Hell.
And I know I don’t belong on this street,
and the street belongs to this boy, but on the next
they might kill him, because it is the blue borough,
he cannot tread where the signs and bins are blue,
he cannot cross the turf of the Tap Dem Crew 
he cannot cross the turf of the E9 Bang Bang,
he is wearing his slash-proof vest,
he is wearing his shank, just in case,
he is looking out for disrespect in a city 
mapped over mine, my phantom city, my city 
of the blind: misted cataract, net curtain.  
If I caught his eye in dark, would he slash my neck? 
Did the last flowers he bought stay wrapped by the road?
Were they on that front page: FALLEN SOULJA?
Did his friend spurt blood into gutters 
as the girls cried: ‘Kill him, kill him’
in this forest of walls and skulls?

       If I’m the skull then he’s the eye-caves,
       if I’m teeth then he’s the bowels,
       if I’m the paper, he’s the tabloid ink,
       if I’m what he thinks then he’s what I think.

So it’s best not to look, and he does not see me. 
We do not look at each other. It is as though 
we are nothing to do with each other. 
We are sure we are nothing to do with each other.