Monthly Archives: January 2011

“Whole Californias” (Flaubert)

I hear him playing in the night

through the floorboards

as I try to–cannot—sleep.

 

My husband who complains all through his

daily lessons always sleeps soundly

amidst these nightly private shows.

 

Daytime is bedlam here and the plinking of

incompetent pupils jostles with the

incessant squall of infants

 

and the sulky bulk of my husband,

sorry for himself because he has no work

and I, in consequence, too much.

 

I mend my musician’s clothes, probably,

but which is his of all I do?

which his wife’s? and which is mine?

 

I know I should worry about the price of

bread or whether Berthe’s cough might

catch and kill her

 

but a tune he plays is tickling me,

makes me want to dance again

as I did once, red and laughing,

 

until I fell into bed alone

uncaring, adrift on

whole Californias of dreams.

 

A moment’s silence, then new music

and I shrink towards my husband’s

unwelcome warmth.

 

Sometimes I wish he wouldn’t make

such sad sounds as I lie and

hear him playing in the night.

Up the Downs

In England, what is up is Down

–land that is, hills of chalk that

snake across the South and West in

great green cumuli come to ground,

quintillions of cretaceous creatures

compressed and billowed

in a deep blanket over

dark dinosaur bones,

ripples of the great crash of

Africa into Europe,

aftershocks of Alps and Apennines but

big to us and sacred,

enfolding first temples,

holy hills and megaliths,

dead monuments to those

who live here still

like me, driving through winter gale

with leaves aping absent birds,

driven rain leeching through dead mouths

to the distant Channel.

Cancer

He tweaked a Herculean toe,

was booted into Space and

belittled by the Gods for

botching his chance:

catastered but cashiered,

stripped of glory.

 

Ashamed by defeat, dishonour,

he found, by some linguistic twist,

his name given over to

disease, distress and death:

no shell is thick enough to bear

such malignity.

 

The Dark Sign hunkers down,

too armoured to be hurt,

too hurt to care for armour,

hiding in the gaily crowded sky .

Wrestlessness

She protects her hard-won sleep

with sharp elbows and

well-aimed knees

emptying a ring of sheets and air

wrestling whatever it is

that threatens her rest.

Sea-otter (for Angeline)

His mind, sensing self-doubt,

seeks it out and pursues it down

the twists of a metal tube, bursting

like blood in a glass jar.

With the air full of smoke and sweat

the others toil to keep up with the

coal-train as it squeals and

growls and belches its way

above the tree-line, across

canyons on creaking trestles,

hoping for a watershed, a thought,

a favourite thing to bring this

gut-churning journey to an end by

calm waters where they can contemplate

the sea-otter embarked on his

lonely voyage of self-discovery,

cracking certainty with a stone

balanced on his breath.

Taurus

Seven dead sisters flee rape by the Hunter

–towards Aldebaran’s dead red eye.

Europa had just escaped him,

dripping, confused, pregnant with nations:

but below the horizon

the bull’s pizzle twitches afresh.

Scared girls seek sanctuary between those

huge horns but forget that

whatever we may think on Earth

in the Heavens bestiality is rampant.

Chav Town

In the hairstyle-disaster stakes,

the dressing-in-the-dark derbies,

the Arsehole of the Universe in Bloom Awards,

we win hands down here.

 

In the race to have their firstborn look

like a tart or a mugger, our parents

have shaved years off any other town:

our primary schools proclaim our precedence.

 

Pre-teen slags swap insults with their swains

each day in the High Street under the

indulgent gaze of their teenage mothers

(the teenage fathers being otherwise detained).

 

Mini-generations meet in supermarket aisles,

obstructing commerce with their numbers,

doting on half-siblings squabbling over

whose father is whose.

 

Four generations by fifty is the norm:

babies bouncing in the trollies playing

with the coke and chips and burgers

while they wean themselves on Weetos.

 

Unburdened by jobs or tax or

responsibilities, they are the

Happy Generations happily leading us

to our next level of civilization.

Trapeze Artist

When you sighed and yawned,

gave off “boring!” vibes and plonked

your arse on the sofa all day,

you were secretly taking notes.

I find I’ve given you a lot, but

watching you flying through air,

I remember I didn’t give you

a safety net.

“Naked on my Goat”

“Dear Miss Brooks,” I would begin

in answer to her Delphic letters

on ochre paper, in purple ink.

Well what do you say to a movie star?

 

She was not your regular movie beauty–

Kansas stock, hard-working dancer,

small tits, broad hips and shoulders that

could carry coal or speed the plough—

but those mischievous eyes and those

plump lips beckoned from beneath

that patent-black bob that bears her name,

bewitching men and confusing her.

“I couldn’t unbuckle the Bible Belt,” she said,

though she fucked like a stoat, trying.

Intelligent, well-read, sharp-tongued—

the Moguls, smelling trouble,

gladly shipped her to Europe,

so she cut her hair, became Lulu,

hurried into History.

 

Going home she found herself forgotten,

shrugged those shoulders, went to work:

days, she sold scent in Macy’s;

nights, she drank with Bogey and friends

and met men who worshipped beauty but knew

nothing of a woman.

Eastman (of Kodak) took her to Rochester,

immured her under the Falls and the crowds,

and she shrugged and wrote, magically,

short memoirs in short-lived magazines which I found

in dusty stacks in London.

I fell in love with mind and beauty,

talked so much of her I one day

got a call, a lunch, an invitation

to rewrite what she’d burnt

and a letter on my dull doormat

on ochre paper

in purple ink.

“Ridi, Pagliaccio….”

Some days, on a day like this,

I feel the coarse stuffing coming out

of my side and torn places like

tissues someone’s wept in.

Whenever I look there’s a

miserable offstage harlequin

sharpening his knife,

looking for his wife.

I know I could kill him

just by laughing at his jokes,

but I don’t want another body floating

in the false-blue pool in the backyard.

 

Days like these are like a long Unseen,

a test with no answers, taken endlessly.

I would go out but the streets are full of

pretty girls striding with a masculine gait,

aggression oozing from each drop-dead pore:

I’d kiss you but I’d cut myself!

So, it’s another shitty day in Paradise

where even the flowers smell of nothing

and great causeways of silence cross

the still lagoons of afternoons.

I will offer my ghost a drink but not a chair

for ghosts don’t need to sit.

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