STEPHANIE CHAN #3: Diogenes was Right

Artwork by Priya Vunaki
Artwork by Priya Vunaki

As the hardest guy in the Freshers Week jam night sways
with his clarinet, I will pretend like I know what I am doing here.
Somehow I know if I close my eyes and smile casually enough
I can get away with having this djembe between my legs.
And it’s just another first week for a stranger moving to London,
another mug of vodka in an undergrad kitchen. The mandatory first
seven days spent scrambling for anyone who’ll listen.
And London, the first thing I noticed was how your billboard ads
were written in the same neat, Arial font. I took this as proof
that I was at the centre of civilization.
He asked me, are you political at all? And I said, I’m Singaporean.
At the Cleaners Union protest, she asked, what made you choose the left?
I said, ‘I like forests. I said I was curious. I still don’t know what I think
about the Iraq war, I don’t know if I’ll go to your march. She said,
you really should make up your mind.
I found you on the corner of Dalston and Kingsland.
All I wanted was to find that student activist meeting,
or just someone with something in common, told him
Belgrade Road, got taken to Belgravia.


And of course when I get there I’ll find
that I’ve lost my wallet, beg the Clarinet Player
for twenty pounds cash to pay the cab driver.


This is the last time I will take a cab in this city.

At least, the last time I will take a cab to a squat.

This is the first time I learn what a squat is,
when I ask about the plastic flowers on the gate,
the blue paint and charcoal life drawings on the walls.


This is the first time in London I feel like I know exactly where I am.


Because someone’s spray painted DIOGENES WAS RIGHT
across a door, and I know I’ve seen that quote somewhere before.


Because there’s a pot of veggie stew on a table,
and I know I can trust a place with communal food.


And from across the table I will ask you, so where do you live?
You will say, I don’t know, maybe here?


And we don’t this yet, but in three months’ time

you and I will be living in this house together.


And some tall Scottish guy will ask me,

your government isn’t really into places like these, is it?


And I’ll say, you know, I heard our Dear Leader

discussed liberation around here in his student days.


And the night before we get evicted, that Diogenes quote

will be covered by a banner that I will help to paint, saying:





But tonight we will hang around long after all the others have gone.


And no, I’ve never shared a bed before
but I’m finding I like talking in the darkness,
keeping conversations going until nearly sunrise.
Tonight London is a spacecraft of asphalt
and stolen secondhand bikes and you will ride it
with me as it shapeshifts into wintertime.
It’s just another Fall Term in 2009, slipping into hands
of strangers with stolen Tesco wine, and remind me
the next time I go home with an anarchist to ask
if he actually has a mattress to sleep on, remind me
to ask him if his roommate won’t mind.
And its another two weeks till the next jam night, so I grab a drum
you’ll grab the mic and you’ll pretend like you’ve been here
before and I’ve never heard your voice like that and in the gaps
between the beats we have unspoken plans to meet later to analyse
all this, so I can remind you the Clarinet Player doesn’t hate us
even if we’re new to all these inside jokes and party lines.
I know because he lent me twenty quid one time.
And it’s just another Wednesday night in Bloomsbury,
finding meaning in the chipped paint of these ceilings,
behind it, the inheritance of a century’s worth of mad stories.
I open the windows and light another rollie.
And from behind the table for the Socialist Workers Party,
she asked ‘So how are you finding this cold evil city?’
I said, I am starting to think that London might like me.