a poem on commercial space

by Arran James

The Overgate Centre. Dundee. Named for history. Named for what is done with. Left behind. Two levels. Debenhams. Starbucks. Gap. Argos. And so on. Competing sects. Multiplying denominations. If shopping centres are secular Cathedrals, if they keep a lurking fascism, they are curiously without death.

Death is banished from airconditioned space. There is only the flow of bodies. There is only the rotation of stock. Seasons. Autumn/Winter. Summer/Spring. Simplified and cyclical time. Ancient time. No clocks.

Check the walls. Anonymous coridoors. Security office. Somewhere among these places is a defibrilator. Modest and mobile. Just enough of a shock. Or in the corner. Waiting silent on a wall. You cannot die here. Do your dying out of sight. Have some respect and do your dying at home. Its a private matter. Be sure to take something home with you.

September 11th 2001. Why those towers? Finance. Capital. Greed. Power and clout. The pretence of perfect innocence. Colonial headquarters. A symbol.

A fundamental misunderstanding. Students of the West, mistaken. An erroneous mathematics of late modernity’s heart. A cause and effect ever so slightly askew. Had the terrorist known his enemy how much worse that event might have been. Had he known us he would have struck our shopping centres. New York. Macy’s. Tiffany’s. Barney’s. Something. One of them. All of them.

Who is denying the horror? The senselessness of those deaths. An engineering of murder. The mechanics of National Mourning. Rage and trauma. But of course she fought. America and her allies stretched across the world.

But it wasn’t the truth. The psychic collapse comes from psychic targets. Paralysis comes from the severing of nerves. Cellular Spirit toxicology. Destroy our malls amd we would stand slack and unresponsive. Muscle atrophy. Reason set aside. Animal instinct ruins. We’d go to work, unsure of why. We’d go home, climb into bed and slowly and quietly die.

You can die of heartbreak. Imagine that. Imagine dying of loss. Grief poisoning the blood stream. Sadness crushing the trachea. Emptiness flooding the lungs like mustard gas. Separation shuddering the heart into arrest.

Imagine it. Picture it. Picture youself. Picture your child. Your lover. Your parents. Clutching at a total despair, gasping for breath. Reference and information. Doctors in the bedroom. Surgeon’s pulling out their hair. Rictus. The worst heart ache you ever knew. Enlarged. Consuming. Cancerous immateriality. Menace. Toxic particles in the air. Everyone inhaling. Mass hysteria gives way to mass neglect. Neglect of the soul. A giving up. Primordial soup of boredom and angst and despondency and resignation. Primodial soup in the survivors aching towards a new arrangement, a physiology of the soul. A new humanity. Who would we be?

Concession stands. Escalators. River Island. An affirmation: I’m loving it. Irony is all knowing looks. An illicit lover spurned before those assembled. Once everyone looks away a stolen kiss. An entanglement of bodies. A frenzied mess of swollen flesh. Costa. Next. Elevators. People watching from the mezzanine. Disabled access. A small concession. Can’t we imagine them bag in hand and fury? Swarm of Sunday best and plastic bag and price tag and label turning on the wheelchair bound? How dare you bring fragments of death into this place?! And a bloody mess. A pulped thing. Cleaned up swiftly. No blood trace. Carry on. All lingerie half price.

And yet its just disavowal. Exactly as the fascists of history. Railroads. Gas Chambers. Rendered fat. Didn’t one German say it thus: “we have industrialised death”. An industry protected from all recessions. Sweatshop labour. Slavery. Wages below the cost of living. Toxic telepathy. Muzak gnawing away at depth. Fabrics harvested from a plundered earth. Reality remodelled. Everything inorganic. Pulverised. White. Images of contorted bodies inspiring sickness and obsession.

Death is in the foundations. It is the electricity for the lighting. The hum you think is traffic beyond the walls. And they’re caked in it too. Its leaks on to the floor- Caution! Wet Floor. The black magic of every transaction. Death percolates in coffee glasses, fast food chains, exudes from faux-marble walls. What Socrates produced by this Agora?

Black magic. Terror. But we enjoin to prayer. Flock to be nourished and secure. An affirmation: Have it your way! Another: Enjoy the real thing! And so it goes.

Our heritage of genius: death erected to shroud us from death. We are safe here. We are full here. This is the sacrament. Body of Christ and the credit cards. Here is salvation. What shopping centre ever had a funeral directors?

Our minds form from the angles in the architecture. Our souls warp when meeting sham classical columns. Its a cult. Its a death cult. We give ourselves as offerings. Not so much a question of morality but survival. Could we go on now without these glass and chrome cathedrals? The heart of the city. The bridge shattering urban and rural divides. We will never be lost again. We are found. A crackling voice call to you- “would you please meet your party at the information point”.

Huge clear windows. Vast echoing spaces. Altars dotted here and there. This is the mode of our new living. Perceptual aparatus on a knife edge excitation. Psychic mesh in ecstatic convulsion. Voodoo. Animation. A vision of the earth like this. Whole cities. Boulevards. Streets. The forest is an experience shop. Buy an afternoon sitting in the sunshine. All vegetation plastic and in little boxes. And something else: no sex. As if life too was banished. Too messy. Too unpredictable. Too much deviation from the opening hours established. A sort of tranced existence. A kind of transcendence. Nothing left to confess.

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