Jasmine Simms and Lily Arnold: Kingdoms

Kingdoms is a triptych of poems by Jasmine Simms, former Vice-Chancellor’s Scholar for the Arts at Durham University. The poems, written specifically for three locations in Durham – Clayport Library, Durham Station and TESTT Space – have been painted as murals by Durham University alumnus Lily Arnold and formed a literary trail as part of the 2019 festival. Inspired by A Room of One’s Own, the poems explore the idea of buildings and spaces as ‘autonomous’, imbued with their own memory and consciousness. What does it mean to have lived in a place? In the end, do the places we occupy begin to occupy us?

Kingdom I

In the Kingdom of Trains
all trains are equal,
some more equal than others.

You learn this only late in life
when you start a new commute
on a train that screams like a fox

at every stop, and you wonder
for the first time what it is
to be a train. You imagine

that they are all good friends,
happy to pass each other
between towns, sharing in secret signs.

You feel guilty for all the times
as a child you spat on train roofs
from an old metal bridge that shook

and hummed with their presence.
You start to spend time in the station,
not for any reason except

for the same inexplicable feeling
that makes you sit in churches,
only pretending to be religious.

That is, just to be near trains.
Over time, you start to call them
by their names: Voyager, Meridian,

and even grow to love the Pacer,
most humble of the trains,
reminding you of your father

who always refused to break a sweat.
You imagine him in the Kingdom
of Trains, the seat upholstery

patterned like his 70’s woollen jumpers,
an antisocial combination of colours
which in the end makes you feel safe.

Kingdom II

In the Kingdom of Librarians,
all of them aged 9 or 10,
fluent in Mystery, Word History
and the Dewey Decimal System,
there is an understanding

not so explicit as to be official
or even written down.
If you ask them, they might tell you
it was born in them like a calling,
this will to read, to share.

Though the truth is, most of them
have no idea how they got there.
Perhaps they hatched one day
in a nest of books, orphaned,
so the first thing they saw was language

and books were the thing that raised them.
But they have no words for this:
what they are, or what it means
when they scan your card
and your soul appears, visible

like an ultrasound on the screen,
and the green light of the machine
says yes. Or for how they know
what to say next, as children always do,
and how can I help you?

Kingdom III

In the Kingdom of Jobs
there are jobs for everyone,
because everything is a job.

For example, meet Bob
who helps starfish back into the sea
– tosses them like frisbees.

Or Faizan, who plays tug-of-war
with dogs. He doesn’t even like dogs.
It’s just a job, he says.

Then of course there’s you.
Don’t think we haven’t noticed
your hard work in the Kingdom:

all the babies you made smile
with your blue hair, your indifference,
your punk-rock energy.

Please just be assured
that the Kingdom is paying you
in money that falls like rain from the sky

every day that you’re still alive.
Truly, and for what it’s worth,
we couldn’t do it without you.