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Joanne Key #quirkychristmas

The Dream Machine

You wouldn’t believe what it takes to conjure the dead –
the amount of ash and starlight we have to shovel to fuel
such a feat. This is exact science. We must be precise. Neat.

We burnt a thousand black chrysanthemums this week
for a man who wanted one last dance with the love of his life,
recently deceased. Butterfly people are a nightmare.

It can take a million wing shadows mixed with the blood
of a stone to turn them into Painted Ladies. A hundredweight
of dead birds, their songs, broken bodies and strung out

guts will just about make one love story. If you’re lucky.
People come here at odd hours with their signs all lit up:
Don’t Wait For Sleep To Dream. Dream Big Or Go Home.

We take orders we can barely keep. It can take days
of strain, staring, concentrating on a scene, refining it
to make it stable enough to feed into the machine.

As Christmas gathers speed and the world turns colder,
they come in droves to stand in line, shivering, expecting
miracles. Some want a forest floor dusted with crystals,

to swim with mermaids, ride on the back of a lion,
or to sit awhile in a past sprinkled with so much snow
they hardly know it. Others can’t say what they need –

they turn up with the language of their dreams stuffed
into old suitcases, wait outside for days. Some people sit
on the doorstep inside their heads for weeks, nowhere else

to go, trying to reclaim the lost art. Sometimes, as a last
resort, they come for leftovers, sift the waste. It’s so sad
when they find a clock with two little hands and a child’s face,

or a dilapidated time machine with the years and months
in the wrong place. No one knows our workload –
the recipes, technique, or the way we have to look closely

at the madness of world, the weight of secrets we keep.
Insomniacs. Mistakes and monsters pass by unchecked
whenever we close our eyes so we never go to sleep.

Some of us have been stuck here for years, cleaning
the machine. We mop up the blood after all the dirty jobs,
lick the spillages off our fingers when no one’s looking.

Joanne Key lives in Cheshire where she writes poetry and short fiction. Her poems have appeared online and in print. She won 2nd prize in the 2014 National Poetry Competition.

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