Jeremiah ‘Sugar J’ Brown is a Croydon-based poet. He is a Barbican Young Poet, a member of Spit The Atom poetry collective and one of the faces of Nationwide’s Voices ad campaign. He has been commissioned by St Paul’s Cathedral and Totally Thames.
She cut herself out of this darkness, a square of jaundice brightness washing over bedsheets and cupboard doors and brunette bundles stretched out over white cliffed shoulders.
In her mirror, chest beats out into the night sea, a sonar call, a declaration that windows aren’t boxes, that round things don’t live in squares.
Light is like a calling, but just because you followed it, doesn’t mean you belong there.
I am often told to listen
for God in nature,
that the heavens
declare his glory,
that the skies
the work of his hands.
A fat, furry loaf of a dog
barks at a seagull.
As the gull flies
so the dog follows,
an unleavened hound
trying so hard
to offer itself up.
Begging to live
in the belly of the sky.
as if we don’t break bread
trying to get closer
to God’s sun.
I chased a man once,
spent most of the day
trying to catch the hem of his hoodie.
He ran from everything,
as though his reflection might reach out
to trap him in the glass.
How does a running man forget about tiredness?
It’s in both the mind and the body.
I only caught him
when he stopped by a stream for water.
He wanted to scoop his face up out and drink.
He couldn’t, he saw me and was scared.
I told him drink anyway.
‘courage or not, yu haffi meet yuself at last.’ - Shara McCallum
The train from Waterloo to Clapham Junction is leaving in 3 minutes, I decide not to run. I’ll walk and if I make it I make it. If I miss that train then I’ll get the next one, even though I’m already running late. I refuse to rush and bring undue stress on my spirit. Why should I rush to be on time for an event that had an unreasonable start time to begin with? I don’t know who told dem man to organise a get together that began as most people would be finishing work. No time given to account for travelling.
I languidly walk but still actually make it onto the train, it’s the longest 3 minutes ever. I am almost annoyed, part of me wanted to miss this train so I would be even later thus making a point on principle. Alas, here I am on the train scouting for a seat. It’s not packed, but it’s not empty either and there’s no seat that isn’t beside somebody. There’s a fat man who looks like he smells of old wet football boots that were never cleaned. He’s also spilling onto two seats meaning there isn’t really space next to him anyways. I leave the fat man in peace.
As I walk down the train I can feel the stress of several work days weighing on the carriage. I can also feel the relief that this is the journey home. There’s a mixture of resentment and contentment filling the air.
To my right there are two women sitting opposite each other, they’re friends or at the least they know each other because they’re talking. They’re both blonde and one is eating a burger from Burger King, a Chicken Royale, I sit next to the other one. I don’t know what possessed me to occupy this seat but as soon as I do I regret it.
The height of folly is sitting next to chatty drunk white people on public transport without headphones. The headphones don’t even need to work, so long as you have something over your ears so you can pretend not to hear them. I don’t have my headphones, I didn’t want to carry them. I don’t have my earphones either because one of the ears had stopped working so I threw them away. I’d forgotten that I’d thrown them away, and now I’m regretting not travelling with my headphones. These two women are going at it.
Part of me enjoys the drama, but when you sit too close you’re liable to be drawn into it. The better position would’ve been a few rows back where I could’ve listened from a safe distance. Anyways here I was.
I took out my phone because that might serve as a defence mechanism. If I look like I’m looking at my phone and not listening at all to what they’re saying, then maybe they’ll leave me alone. I know this hope is futile, the Burger King girl has a sequined dress on. Any intoxicated white woman wearing a sequined dress is definitely bringing a randomer on the train into their argument.
I’ve sat there for long enough now to know that it is defo an argument. Burger King girl, or Brooke, lets call her Brooke, is an emotional mess and is being scolded by the blonde to my right. She’s to my right so let’s call her Rebecca.
From what I’ve gathered in the space of time it’s taken Brooke to finish her burger and look hungry again (which is her own fault because I don’t know who told her not to get an Angus Burger) is that Rebecca is a good friend and Brooke is stubborn. Or perhaps love is a moment that stretches on forever, and as much as you can move on you can never really move out of it.
Their conversation is centred around a man because of course my train journey isn’t concerned about passing the Bechdel test. Brooke has gotten back together with her ex who broke her heart and Rebecca is not going to sit idly by. It’s an admirable love that Brooke is not sober enough to appreciate.
As the train rocks along on it’s journey I think about the ocean and how tides come in and go out. I think about how Brooke’s ex is like a tide and Rebecca is trying to move the moon. She has an impossible task and I can see in Brooke’s eyes that she wants ocean water to wash over her ankles. What I hear in Rebecca’s voice is the warning about how skin gets dry and itchy once the water goes away. It’s sad.
I’m invested in Brooke, and her ex and Rebecca, I care. When Rebecca’s voice breaks as she says “I don’t want to have to hold you together on my mums couch again” I can picture the scene. I can see the worry on Rebecca’s face, Brooke in her arms crying hard into a pillow. I can see how Brooke’s eyes would’ve looked red with tears and I imagine what her body looked like hollowed out from crying. I imagine her broken. I imagine the cuts on Rebecca’s palms as she held all those broken pieces together. It’s called friendship. And this refusal to let this man, let’s call him Richard, or Dick for short, back in is friendship too.
“You can’t let Dick back in your life Brooke! Dick is bad for you. Dick doesn’t appreciate you. Dick cheated on you so Dick shouldn’t get to come back. You need to let go of Dick Brooke, and listen to Rebecca.”
Brooke and Rebecca look at me, and in this moment I want to be invisible. I have no idea why I’ve opened my mouth. I was trying to be unassuming and not get drawn into their conversation but it happened anyway. Sometimes when you don’t talk you still become complicit, you can become invested by observation. I should not have named him Richard, Dick is an antiquated nickname for Richard anyways, I could have called him Rich or Ard, not Dick.
Brooke is looking at me, and I’m now hyper aware of how strange and threatening I could be perceived as in this moment. We’re a few minutes away from my stop so I don’t know whether to just wait it out or walk to another carriage. Brooke is still looking at me, and now I’m hoping she doesn’t know anyone that I do because that would be super awkward. This whole situation is super awkward and the silence is making it worse, but I refuse to say anything I refuse. And Brooke is still looking at me.
“I love Dick. I really love Dick. And I know he wasn’t the best last time out but-”
“Dick doesn’t deserve you babe.”
“He really doesn’t.” I say.
“But I love him, I love Dick.”