North was Zero by Amber Kennedy

Time ploughs through,
straight as a waterfall
gravity condemned.

Space splays out,
tumbles toys in tsunamis,
chokes where sun meets sand.

When I set out on the concrete,
with a map and a pocket watch,
I craved the Atlas
reborn beneath my feet.

When I set out on the concrete,
I knew that north was zero
and all else was plus or minus.
I knew the birds would fly on time
and the solar winds
would dance in line
in the land of green and purple.

When I set out on the concrete,
I dreamed of all directions,
measured out in increments,
Reliable, unrippled.

I left the town when
candles failed to fit,
burnt a bridge right down
and found another town.
At first, the sounds and people
there were strange, like in a book,
but soon, I knew my way around
and all looked just the same
as all I’d ever seen before.
So, I stalked the stars
until they fell
and cast the night anew.
In the end, I found a start…
happy then, I wandered on,
through deserts, caves and jungles,
but after that, it was not long
before I saw it all again:
the place where I’d begun.

I knocked upon the schoolroom door.
Five years, they said,
five years,
rippling on a ruler.

A shop anew on Rainy Lane,
Mr Vain replaced,
the bunting up, on Down Hill,
ripped away again,
and lilies drooping still,
kneeling at the junction.
Awfully tragic, they surmised.

Five years.

But I could run upon that field
before, and the track would never tire,
I’d spend all day
before I’d yield to bedtime’s lonely hour!

It’s just the same,
they said.

What once were tower blocks
are little more than dour cottages;
what once was a roaring river
is now a trickling stream.

I knock upon the door,
five years,
rippling on a ruler.
It’s just the same.

Just a shop, one unfamiliar face,
and little Hopper in a grave;
nothing more has changed.

Time ploughs through,
space splays out,
not infinite in
concrete physicality,
no line of time.
Instead, a mirror hall
or perhaps,
a falling cyclone’s eye.

When I return to time-worn concrete,
with a creased map and shattered watch,
I yearn for clear Narcissus streams,
Unrippled, my reflection.

When I return to time-worn concrete,
the compass arrow spins,
undone.
The birds are very late
and the solar winds
are everywhere,
the dancing strikes of war,
land bruised green and purple.

When I return to time-worn concrete,
I surrender to its surface,
the mind’s grip upon the eyes:
dimensions in distortion.

Amber Natalie Kennedy is a poet and fiction writer from Oxfordshire, England. She has a master’s degree in Creative Writing and a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, both from Durham University. She also attended the Oxford Story Museum’s Writer’s Squad in 2012-13 and the Collage Writing Room’s Finding the Poem virtual course in 2021. Amber has been a member and leader of The Henry Box School and Durham University creative writing groups and is the Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Spellbinder quarterly literary and art magazine. Amber has been published in Better Than Starbucks, Write Now Lit, and the Ice Lolly Review. She has self-published a volume of poetry, Immersion, and a novella, The Remains of Beauty. She has also worked collaboratively on The End of a Conversation, Durham University Creative Writing Society’s anthology of 2019, as well as Peninsula, Durham University Postgraduate English Department’s anthology of 2021.