Burn One Down

Leaves fall, drop from naked arms,

sprout tiny lime and avocado buds full bloom

and crinkle into fire again and shit, it’s been a year.


I should have come sooner.


Remember Uncle Dave’s funeral, you attempting to get your eyes dry in the cold,

I tried to hold it out of sight when you caught me,

said the icy air was making my breath white,

and you said, give us a quick drag then.

You closed your eyes on the intake, sucking it subterranean in the lung,

it hung and you kept it there, small in that navy coat,

like the memory of something lost.

You said nothing, like in that moment you knew,

life was way too short and it lay unsaid between us.


Of course, next time you didn’t come out.

I stood there small, a ball in my gut,

trying to make my eyes dry as you lay flat in the box,

horizontal, shoulders touching wood

like the soldiers standing to attention in my carved-out timber case.

The face engraved and not what Dad had intended it for, I’m sure,

but I chained them, enough pre-rolled to last the entire day, no one to say

or to hand out the reprimand, if the fragrance lingered under my collar,

the distinctive perfume inside my hair. I sat away,

tear after tear, shards of polystyrene in my fuzzy whites,

not brushed for days, crazed and chaining tuna sandwiches.

He’s a growing lad, Aunty Carol noted,

as I was demoted to the kids table, floated there,

coated in mayonnaise lipstick,

eyes bloodshot to fuck, construed as tears.


“Sweet Kevin”, as you called him once, it was his idea to take the pills,

not virgins but no experts either,

a rave in Epping Forest, we couldn’t go without.

Seems dumb now, irrelevant, all that hype,

tunes, chatter about girls and body type

and who we wanted to fuck … Sorry.

It’s not like I talked like this at home

but I’m grown

and I’m telling you like it was, like it is,

because I know you never really knew me.


As an infant I shook about like all the rest,

you did your best, said I was a needy kid.

I stayed close, while you nattered inside the ears of other mums,

a boy who wouldn’t shut up about the latest air force 1s.

Then what? Silence. Not bad, nothing mean, just the unspoken quiet. Defiant.

When I finally carved out my place, stamped out my little trace of earth,

there wasn’t much room for you inside.

I no longer relied

on what you had to offer me.


We slipped into our own worlds.


I taste the Hennessy sometimes even now, thick in my saliva,

haven’t touched it since that night, the scent an instant memory driver.

It prods every synapse like a gun finger jab up inside the brain,

trigger happy, pushing it all back up again.


It’s unfair to have such perfect recall, that room in high definition with nothing dull,

when other memories are held at ransom by a trickster playing sports in my skull.

Like, what were you wearing when I left, was it the navy coat, did I even say goodbye?

Were you popping across the pavement for a trashy mag and a cheeky ten-pack on the sly?


It’s now I realise that I didn’t really know you.


The text charred in, burnt words etched on the inside of my cranium,

I couldn’t shake them,

every day I saw it, bore it,

the subtitles of my life now.

But they didn’t catch their meaning until after.


At that moment the edges of the pill were tickling, amusing my ribs,

the uncontrolled anticipation I used to get.

No signal so everything bundled through at once.

I didn’t know when it had been sent.

The missed calls and that message.

Those words.

I remember thinking, recovery from what? And, do I really have to go?

I’ll miss the party.

We’ve only just got started.

Almost convinced myself you wouldn’t have wanted me there,

You wouldn’t care,

minimal on fuss, you just wanted everyone to be happy,



Pete, you met him once, he came over to pick up some music…

drop off some weed, what’s the point of lying now?

He’d driven, was riding the pill out until six or seven

then him or Kevin would drive us home.

But in that moment, he was fucked.

We all were.


Dad thought I was with Kevin,

Gone at seven, home by eleven.

Most of the time I knew you’d be saying that for him,

with the tiniest grin, have a good time at Kevin’s,

say “hi” to Kevin’s mum,

so he could settle in front of Netflix,

convincing himself I was doing nothing more

than playing PlayStation and devouring Kevin’s Cheetos.

A silent promise.

I can hear those words but your face is in shadow.


No cash, no one willing to call home to get it,

trapped in a fucking forest, public transport, forget it.

Time wasn’t time, my sensors all wrong,

Playing tricks with the speed, way too short, far too long.

Did it slow down for you?

Did you go to raves in woodlands too?

With whacked-out light eliminating shivering bark

from sound system base, mushroom trips in the dark

and happier ones against sunrise haze.

Did pictures replay of your partying days?

What was time like for you in the end?

Was it the same, did it warp, did it bend?


Did you spend an entity, waiting for me?


In the end Kevin called his Dad who booked an Addison Lee,

paid, never asked for it back, must have cost him a bomb.

You were probably right about Kevin.

The guy circled the edges for the fifth time,

a scavenger, irritated but on strict command not to leave without us.

Kevin’s Dad, ex-marines, had been very firm on that.


I came up in the cab. Maybe it was the sudden warmth,

I kept forgetting where we were going,

the back of the driver’s head blurred, looked like a shiny egg

Kevin did beg me to stop tapping, crack, tapping it.

Taylor Swift on the radio,

you always turned it up whenever we were driving,

I thought your music taste was shit. I’ll admit.

But I didn’t know what your music taste was,

because I never asked you what was on your Spotify, did you own any vinyl.

Just that one Taylor Swift song, you always got the lyrics wrong,

{sings}we are never, ever, ever getting back to together…” or something,

she’s catchy as fuck, who cares?


I started to hallucinate, that you were sitting there in front,

providing the vocal, tapping, crack, tapping it

and I started to tell you that I didn’t want you to die.

I must have sounded nuts, a fractured coconut,

Totally out of my tree, muttering to full blown plea

until Kevin slapped me, hard.

Recovery is good, a good word, a positive word,

It was absurd, rationale blurred but I knew it.

Maybe it was the heightened awareness, an intuition,

I knew the condition,

I knew and I was numb.

I was watching it play out with pre-written lines,

an ending already cast.


When I arrived fully inside my nightmare’s destination

I wanted to climb right down,

down and curl up under the plastic seats

except I couldn’t sit still.

I heard words from the script played out in over exaggerated muppet voices,

internal bleeding, relapse, ICU, critical care,

I sat on the chair, I stood, I paced,

I braced every time they arrived in the doorway.


The next few hours are crucial.


Time was a motherfucker then.

I wanted it to move forwards so I’d stop being high,

I wanted it to stand still because I was too fucking scared to say goodbye

to this unreality. A buffer.

At some point Kevin left, I’m not sure when but I think we had a fight.

My lip was crusted, iron against my tongue,

I think it was me who swung, I never asked and he never bought it up.

Dad and Sophie were distorted silhouettes,

drifting around in parallel universities that weren’t as fucked up as mine,

a different timeline, but I didn’t know how to jump across.


Dark shadows clung, thick cobweb, around every door,

too much struggle, too much death.

I focused on my breath.

A middle-aged woman fetched me water, she was waiting for someone too,

Her husband.

White plastic, squeaking under my finger pads,

rubbing it up and down, up and down,

Shoes pacing in the side lines, hair stuck to clammy hands,

Everything on repeat, fidgeting with sweaty glands.

A nurse took my temperature, gave me a magazine.

I see the blue paint now, that cracked NHS shade,

the chipped pastel green mug,

cold tea.


None of this matters.


Maggots hatched, fidgeting then writhing in the quarry of my guts,

my bowels dropped out,

my intestines fell through like toxic snakes,

razor winged butterflies carved and stencilled out

intricate patterns across the insides of my flesh.


For a moment, just a second, when the Doctor told us I felt relief,

It was brief, it washed across me,

like the first shower after a festival.

It was over.

And then…




I remember you, pulling your red cardigan with the frayed wrists

Those twists out of your navy sleeves,

amused by something I wasn’t getting, a private joke,

something between you and the smoke,

and frozen air, the stars.

You had a glimmer that I’d never seen before

but maybe I’d never looked.

Your eyes said you were remembering, maybe a time with Uncle Dave,

big brother and little sis, smoking,

a memory you kept somewhere deep and low

and not on show because you weren’t as straight as you wanted us kids to think,

a wink, just a kid having a kid.

You hid your insecurities behind closed doors,

They were yours and you shielded me from shit I didn’t need to see.

We didn’t let each other and fuck

I just wish I hadn’t swallowed,

the amount of times it rewinds, replays like a pull-up and I’m screaming

mad, high pitched, just spit, motherfucker, spit.


I’m sorry.


Is that what you and Uncle Dave are up to now?

Burning one down together.

Do you watch me sometimes? Do you see me?

I wish I’d let you.

I saw you that day,

letting something in.


Then letting it all out, an overflow from your mouth,


my mouth,


my smile.