Looks Familiar

  It's noon, it's afternoon. You walk
  the neat precincts of the city in which
  you've lived longer (or almost)
  than conscious life. All those pedantic

  seconds you've lost, the weird selection
  the brain makes of time: snippets,
  the quicklime instants which were recorded,
  erased, remembered, apparently by chance.

  Turn streets like pages. You spot the plots
  where buildings have been unbricked,
  and spaces have been colonised by other
  planning opportunities. You're home

  and wringing wet with the sweat
  of changes, with the frafting of skin
  onto skin, with the operation of decades.
  All that you live's diffused, condensed.

  They hang around outside the shops,
  the ones you noticed but never visited:
  neighbours, friends, colleagues, the children
  of children you knew, new lovers

  where old ones did and dusted
  and then resolved their new identities
  with a lick of ink. They greet you
  as if you were coincidence itself.

  Hello, hello. You're fine, you're shaking
  hands with, sharing sympathies with times
  you've neglected, abused, embarrassed.
  Sometimes the only one you recognise

  is yourself. That's you in Dolcis,
  Monsoon, in Habitat. Or Next.
  You shrug each other's shoulders
  and swap banter or inanities.

  Sometimes there are banshees in your brain,
  voices and visions, matter to unscramble
  as you potter, imperfectly, through streets
  and stretches of pavement. You wreathe

  the welcomes with garlands, as you would
  children recovering from unmarked
  rites of passage. The cemeteries bloom
  with relatives you never read to, or roses

  climbing their calculated way over statues,
  memorials, arbours. Benches you sit on
  are gamely dedicated to the strangers
  blessed before you were recognised yourself.

  At times like these, changing refrains
  into fragments of celebration, you know
  how long you've been part of pageants
  for which you never enlisted. The steady

  krang of the xylophones which majorettes
  hammer to order each Sunday,
  the pedestrian who questions your right
  to cycle on his pavement, the worn

  and ageing shapes of shop assistants
  who told you once the right direction back -
  all these ridiculous, and insignificant
  figures fill the blanks in your landscape.

  Tramping the city, suddenly you discover
  that you're the vagrant, and that these
  fugitives from your past belong
  to a region with different rituals;

  and that each encouraging salutation
  is a form of farewell. You're alone,
  an impostor in the here and now,
  in the artifice of home.

  But that's okay. To find you no longer
  belong is a form of belonging -
  to be lonely is no breach of etiquette.
  Nothing to write away about. There are

  alternatives - to stroll into oblivion,
  or to open the corridor door, to call
  the conundrum's bluff. To know love, move on,
  for love is not anonymous at all.

From the book Looks Familiar