It rained words that day.

He wasn't watching because
When the clouded sky tore in half and spilled down the words
When they fell to the ground and lay in puddled heaps with the sun reflecting off them
Thousands of them
In every language that has ever existed
and many that haven't
And the people of Earth opened their mouths and let the words fill them
And spat them out again in poems and patterns and other people's conversations
Thousands and millions and trillions of words
Descending from the sky like black snowflakes
and children caught them in cupped hands and drank them in
With eager ears and waiting tongues and wondering eyes.
There were words in alien tongues
in languages that the universe would not live long enough to hear
The meaning of life might have been there, written in small, secret letters
But nobody could find it
and it was lost amongst the gathering storm.
Thousands of them
Millions and trillions and billions of words
And the people of Earth opened up their umbrellas to stop the words
From catching in their hair
Their clothes were soaked with words
Thousands of words
Billions and squillions of words
Dickens trickling down walls
James Joyce beating lovelessly against grey windowpanes
Homer and Virgil spilling the banks of the river
Thousands of words
Millions of them
But he wasn't watching because

The time machines landed on Earth that day.

He wasn't watching because
They landed in their thousands, in the sea and in the sky and everything in between
There were silver ones, the colour of
Aluminium foil, like sardine tins
and kitchen knives
Ones like circuit boards with cherry-red flashes and copper-coloured wires
Refrigerators and microwaves
And the people that climbed out -
they were strange too,
Some in top hats and velvet and succulent leather
Some in sleek lycra with metallic skin
Some dressed in ripped dystopias, with paint on their cheeks and wildness in their eyes
Some barely human at all
Some even more human than the humans were themselves
A police box was there too
And a man stepped out of it in a striped scarf
and a perfect glassy smile
But he wasn't watching because

The cities turned to crystal that day.

He wasn't watching because
It started with the windows
When the people in their houses and offices and cars began to notice
That the sunlight coming through the glass
Was refracted into rainbows and danced on the walls.
Then it was the bricks
Chill and glittering, like diamonds, like spun sugar
They were cold to the touch, as if they might melt
Beneath our fingers and be lost to the world.
The grass became glass
Every blade a needle, fragile as a soul.
Only the spider-webs still looked the same.
And London became a snowglobe
And Hong Kong became a masterpiece in Swarovski
And New York became an ice sculpture
And every footstep chimed as it touched the pavement
And when we all walked together
It sounded like a symphony orchestra
Or a choir in a cathedral
Or the flick of a thousand fingernails on a thousand empty wine glasses
But he wasn't watching because

The angels descended that day.

He wasn't watching because
They came down, golden,
Silent as snowflakes
Like a hurricane of swans
And the people of Earth watched, dry-mouthed
Some could not believe it
Some were overjoyed
Some were terrified
Some were anguished
And some were sad - a strange, quiet, unplaceable sadness
That they themselves could not explain
or comprehend.
But the people of Earth all waited
And the people of Earth all watched
To find out what was inside themselves
Yes, we all watched
But he wasn't watching because

The dead rose that day.

He wasn't watching because
They pushed up from beneath the ground
Bones untouched for centuries suddenly lifted up, engulfed in sunlight
To gaze in wonder upon the brave new world
in which they found themselves
Waking, confused, from dreams of dying
beneath the warm, sun-kissed earth.
They rose in graveyards and in meadows
In crypts and in laboratories
In museums and in drowned cities
From the sky and from the earth and from the seabed, they came.
Couples embracing in light-starved corners of cemeteries
Beneath the shadows of spreading yew trees
Young and old and rich and poor, they came.
There were tears and smiles and screams and joy
But he wasn't watching because

The dreams came that day.

He wasn't watching because
A mother, small and white-haired, lost in a bed twice as wide as she is
and that seems ever larger since her husband has gone.
She dreams of love.
A wedding, white lace and cream cakes, ribbons;
arches of roses sodden in the rain,
and vows spoken beneath a black umbrella.
Good wine is drunk. The only tears shed are happy ones.

A man, middle-aged, lying stiff and curled in a bunk bed
somewhere in Switzerland
with snow falling outside the windows
where he took his children that summer for a skiing holiday.
He dreams of another holiday, once.
Some rented place, too hot inside to sleep in;
And one day it got cold enough to snow
and they stood in the doorway watching the flakes come down –
Bigger than fifty-pence pieces, ghostly in the outside darkness
and he stood in his Spiderman pyjamas, cloaked in warm golden light.
Stupid, he thinks to himself in the dream,
because that's not really how is was; that's not really how things are.

A teenage girl, her head on the chest of some anonymous lover.
She dreams she's in her mother's back garden.
Scorched brown by the hot London summer, lying on the dry dead lawn
watching her brother drowning ants with the garden hose.
Oh yeah, she thinks, it was just perfect.
It shouldn't have been, but it was.

A small boy, snoring lightly in a cot too small for him.
He dreams of singing the songs they learned at school.
The toe bone's connected to the...foot bone.
The foot bone's connected to the...ankle bone.
I hear the word of the Lord.

The crystal cities cover them, wrap them up.
The cities dream of shadows and lonely places, of glowing signs and buzzing streetlamps.
They dream of condensation on grubby windows, of blurred static-fuzz.
They dream of iron staircases and gum-stained pavements and hands held tight in the darkness.
They dream of all the people that inhabit them. They want to see us under neon -
to write on us in red and blue lights, to colour us in.

But he didn't dream of anything because

He wasn't watching.

He wasn't watching

on the rain-of-words day
The time machine day
The crystal day
The angels day
The dead day
The dreams day
The gods day

He wasn't watching

all the wishes and wonders and eternities
The fluttering capes and silent wings
When the last trumps sounded
And the killer bees decimated the world
And the cat-women came down from the moon
And the bombs exploded
And the buildings fell
And the beast rose from the Black Lagoon
And the Loch Ness monster twisted once, twice, and vanished into the dark depths
And the animals spoke to us in Latin and Greek
And the humans dreamed of long-gone summers,
of scorched skies and scorched lips,
of hand-sewn flags and sacrificial patriots.

He wasn't watching

he was working in a dank, dusty office
wondering why no one would reply to his e-mails
And the only glimpse he had of what was going on
was when he glanced, sidewise,
Out of his window –
at the stream of Steinbeck
trickling down the gutter
and the Bradbury beginning to speckle the glass
and wondered absentmindedly
to himself

when this blasted weather would clear up.