At Coney Island Sideshow School, the teacher asks our group

to forget about nutrition. "You do not really eat the flame,"

she says. "You starve it of oxygen, then wait for the applause

to fizzle." Mary says, not good enough.


She starts with plastic lighters - snacks which leave her hungry

for more. She shakes down churches for candles. On Instagram,

campers share blurry images of the woman who scattered them,

wolfed down their campfire.


Not enough fires in town. A Brooklyn family almost dies:

luckily, the carbon monoxide alarm goes off in time.

Tooth marks are found on hobs. They match her dental records.

Crowds picket her front door, with cameras and signs.


I see her once more. At JFK, from the window of a 747.

Mary stands on the runway, arms spread, maw gaping,

rolled basalt eyes, skin the colour of a welder’s mask

as another plane’s failing jet engine screams flames into her.


There is nothing in this corner but

this here heavy longing, brother. One heavy

piece of longing. Heavy enough that one might, on a slow day

build a soapbox derby car our of it, with two sets of training wheels

for wheels and call it something silly. Paint red flames

on the sides with pinstripes in yellow sharpie,

make it go faster. Steer with your body.

Use an old shaving mirror for the rear­view.

Yup. One heavy longing.



The floorplan of Westminster Abbey

tattooed on the left shoulderblade.


A missing tooth, replaced with the head

of a lego pirate.


A small depression in the shinbone,

like a playdough thumbprint.


Ears filed to points and autographed

by Hugo Weaving.


Six claw marks down the left forearm,

six, count them, equidistant.


A second bellybutton, full of lint,

right below the first one.


Off-white yoghurt-textured pungent

sweat, from all your pores.


Professor Van Helsing

had his back turned

to the hall throughout

the lecture. Addressing

the blackboard, he argued

that not appearing in mirrors

is the source of vampires’

powers, not part of their curse.

What could be worse, he said,

than seeing your face age day by day

like an ugly candle. He stopped,

proud of the simile. Imagine the freedom,

he said. You could have heard

a pin drop.


My knees hurt. There is a grandfather clock

to the right of the pulpit, and its pendulum swings

in time with the rosary of the old lady kneeling

next to me. She shifts beads between her walnut knuckles

over a corduroy skirt, brown like a ploughed field.

"Virgin most prudent, pray for us. Virgin most venerable,

pray for us." she mutters, but I want to know

if my parents will let me watch soviet cartoons

on the kitchen TV, or if they will shoo me away

telling me they really need to watch the news

to see if there will be a war. It there's a war,

we'll find out anyway, I think as the smoke rises

from the priest's incense burner past the grandfather clock

up to a rough hewn St Anthony, cradling a lamb,

with a lost expression on his face.


We offer a different service: we may be a startup,

but you downloaded our app, didn’t you? Right.

So. We know the copy editor at this publishing house, and

we can get him, if need be, to change the spelling of a word

in the next book the recipient of your message will buy.

This affects the tone of the whole paragraph, of course.

Only a philistine who knows nothing of literature would deny it.

If that does not send a message, well, we cannot be responsible

for the company you keep, friend, now can we.


Eventually someone marketed slapping wheels

plastic trinkets with bean-filled gloves attached

in the season’s colours.  You could hear their

clatter as people walked, guilt free, to cheat

on partners or burgle corner shops. The head of BP

held a chrome-banded mahogany version to his face

as he spoke of another oil spill, slap-slap-slapping

his way through the dreary details. And all of us

slept well that night, cheeks pulsing with comforting heat.