This poem is a derequisition:
its epithelium thicker than before,
feathers clipped to the calamus
and filoplumes shorn for a discreet flight.
This handle is a manubrium-
though you wouldn’t have thought it:
few such goods now derive from nature,
even the jacket that you thought was leather just
melted when you leant over the candle to kiss:
emitted a nebula of plastic bubbles on your sleeve
far removed from the sweet reek of death;
the acrid reminder that something has given
its life for your convenience.
“Why are you always talking about war?” She asks,
and he has to fumble over fireworks,
or the sense of detachment that grows
even when you’re there with your weapon
if you can’t imagine other worlds;
the ease with which the bricklayer’s work,
each red-baked clay block finely glued
with clay and calcined limestone
crumbles from a house to a cenote.
“Some cultures used to mix blood with cement” he says,
Stalking through his own strange memory palace
As she taps her cigarette and toys with her food.
“The Euphrates carries the bodies like fish.”
“They called the coffee ‘the Devil’s toe-jam’ he says.
“The tents are full of dust.” His sleeve is still smoking
and in the roar of traffic outside the Kentish café he can
hear the rumble of tank tracks and smell the dead burning.
Doubt thou the stars are fire?
Last night on the M5 the rockets burst in the rain like jokes that nobody laughed at and the spray kicked up by the trucks was a riddle that had no answer. Last night on the road home the fireworks left thick coils of green smoke in the air, like the skin of a water snake drifting and shed. Last night my volte face at your door surprised my own feet and I lay in bed alone until the fat crackle of the night sky was snuffed out by the dark and the raindrops sank because they had to into the ground. Maybe love is the footprints of a creature we can track but never trap.
The Robb’d That Smiles
Last night on the M5 the cars were quicksilver; the buildings steeped in clean purple, with their usually cold windows throwing thick flecks of gold back at the sun. It was beautiful. Later I ran until my chest could contain no more night air and my blood boiled with the pacing. I ran circuits in the dark with my hood up; lay back on the cold ground with my feet on a bench and my eyes tracing the stars’ circuits, the earth breathing autumn chill against my spine. Later I paced back through the night streets before driving to your door. Turned over and over under a thick duvet, traced your neck’s estuary with these fingers; slipped through a tesseract to another time, woke clenched tight against your skin; body warm, head still, heart chanting.The Fierce Track
It’s all about the late night runs under cold city streetlights, kicking back hard
against the asphalt’s cupped hands while the lungs, roaring, share willing air
with the aromas that covet my path; the acrid smoke that segues into the kick
of grilled mackerel or the carcinogenic caugh of a night bus, the asthmatic
wheeze of the homeless bums tipping back booze in the night air; my feet
a’ skitter between bottles dotted as upright as slalom markers on
this sharp descent; the heavy sky, not falling, but ceding
to a silver moon over this cradle of countless tired souls
while just one pair of legs, scissoring, cuts urgent
patterns from these flowing streets, lest this
fierce track fade into drab grey
with the coming morning’s
the thick turn of the buzzards
high over the suburban roofs.
My prognostications have
on occasion been amiss;
reading propitious circumstances
in the swarm of starlings over
the bread crusts, stale on
the park bench,
the blackbird’s sideways feint
in front of the cat or
the dipping flight of the magpie:
“two for luck”.
Perhaps the answer’s in the guts,
not the dance of feathers in the sun.
Watch Icarus fall, see the thick
flex of pylorus and colon,
smashed on the estate road;
while the Haruspex, coiled,
reads clarity in the red reflecting –
and Daedalus, weeping,
flies flatly on.
Unyielding to the great
of the sun.
The Castle: a two-up two-down semi somewhere in the Midlands. The Grounds: a garden fit for growing 100 potatoes, 10 pumpkins or just 1 small trampoline. Clouds: that fritter the days away, spitting down aimlessly in the dusk, largely without anger.
The Moat: three granite steps to the front door. Sharks: bills like paper fins circling the front door, sharp against the fingers. Shouting: water, car insurance, council tax, electricity, extortion, broadband, telephone, TV license, mobile bills, student loan repayments, red ink bluffs, blackmail, bills.
The Battlements: peppered with spears – the angular spines of books, poetry, the occasional song on the guitar; a child’s laughter in the morning, astringent kisses after £5 wine, coffee and the radio hissing. The Pennants: cerulean, burnt ochre, chrome oxide green, hissing in the wind like a horsehair brush.
The Keep: secret memories, two hours solitude in the gym – the heavy bags swaying to a staccato attack. Songs that set you dancing when no one’s about. The strength of two hands: split knuckles, steel string index figure calluses; palms pale as the shoots that crack the tarmac in the drive.
(Strangers that tousle your toddler’s hair; the secret scent of a lover’s skin that follows you home; the quick chaos of a brawl, fists flailing; fingers that pluck an E minor in the dark evening; the exhilaration of saying what you think. The shock of having it said to you).
Outside as ever, the world, the ages. Dark or light or an ever-shifting tatter of shadows. Sun freckles. The dawn chorus. The cough of the car starting. The familiar roar of traffic. The road ahead dew-dark; sinuous in the morning slick.
Where is the poetry in such an environment? Bleak buildings
scattering timber or clods of plaster; suggesting renewal like
an ancient mystery, initiates with cement mixers and copper
pipes a trellis of rejuvenating life? Somewhere on the road home
a dog stops to sniff a lampost as his elderly owner holds on
to the lead, taut as the nose strains and the wind cuts wires
with a whine above his head. Do dogs see in colours? For mortals
the scene is grey; sky, drab concrete, the muted brindle of the
piss-smelling pooch: nothing exuberant or ecstatic to paint
a picture of with words. But for the dog perhaps, the leg by now
cocked and 300 million olfactory receptors scouring the air,
colours are pouring in from every direction, too vivid to imagine,
creatinine, urea, potassium; a highway of streaking lights.
Imagine this, not gunshots, not the ending,
but the giraffe’s blue-gray blade of tongue
nipping Ohio air, its neck a strung bow bending
out the rusted gate, that damp lung
of hillside exhaling fur and scat and rain
while the sulky tigers paw a muscular ballet
along the glistening stripe of motorway,
the jabbering monkey thumbs a soda can,
and the black bear trundles nowhere in particular,
eyes catching in the headlights of a car.
Imagine the first stunned moment of opened cage,
that ripple of sudden animal-joy, like rage,
not the moment quiet death appeared,
not the lion, asleep on his wet beard.
Words spoken inside a motorcycle helmet
It is a fine line between death and the family of five
in the comfortable commuter car; the truck to my left is
tightening the gap but I slip through, snickety-snick,
elbows tucked in and wing tips grazing the grey paint.
Darkness now and the catseyes flash white –
an undulating line on the A2 that ticks my tyres,
twists my chassis as the mist sits like a shroud
in front of my headlamp, swallowing the light.
Soon I’ll be home, I say to myself inside my helmet,
the trees black beside the hard shoulder,
the red tail lights grazing a salt-specked visor,
blurring my vision as knees grip the tank.
Soon I’ll be home and the sidestand will slip,
clicking, onto pockmarked pebbles,
the door will open and with furrowed brow –
or small smile she’ll be there,
waiting in a rectangle of still light like
a stop sign you want to obey, despite the rush and the roar
of the road still around you and the steam and the
ticking sounds of the tank contracting as it cools.
You expected what? A cornucopia of Bacchanalian delight?
Picture this: a pub somewhere in the City. Men drunk and
women? Sitting on your lap in dresses made of sparkles:
“See how I shine!” And telling you – because you listen, of
sexual preferences; one finger in each orifice and a tongue
glistening the adventures of the pleasure dome. You are:
Inclined to think of what? Saint Æthelthryth, the patron saint
of something or another because you are drinking champagne in
her church: The seventh century bolthole now an abyss in the city
or at least, you could say, a crypt; the twelve stages of the cross
in clumsy relief on the wall. What are they? Stumbling stone work
saying something about crucifixion. It doesn’t mean much anymore –
You’re not a Christian and probably even to the priest, the story of
an “East Anglian princess, Fenland and Northumbrian queen and
abbess of Ely” (as Wikipedia tells it) mean little now. Something
about vows of virginity and sheltering under an Ash tree, a marriage
to a teenager in some contorted political contrivance, pledges of purity
retracted when her husband tried to renege and failed as she fled.
Outside the pub, meanwhile, a man with no smile takes umbrage at
a joke and whilst not inclined to engage in a fist fight, wants to stab
jabs at wherever he thinks might hurt; my beard or my beliefs or maybe
my job or my family. His verbal knife is flailing like a cheap toothpick
somewhere around me and I defuse him with ire-thick skin before
he deigns to tell me about his life, his 39 years of age and his children.
Life is peachy, according to the man, his face like a grapefruit although
his words gelatinous. Everything is just the way it should be; self-employed,
time with the family, school runs persuasively easy, there is nothing he
wants to reveal, although he will reveal his routine; there are no aspirations
nor niggling spits of grit to become pearls or poetry in his words in front of the
pub – and I will take poetry from a dirge of a dump in a dank toilet.
But he has no words to words to say and I am not, finally, pressing for them.
Stub your cheap cigarette filter, your tartly tasteless red wine and stab your fag
in the tray before me. There’s a river route of words to canoe down,
maybe this stranger will listen to your travails, travel naked in a river laden
with silt and rat piss that might poison you. Maybe the canoes will cackle
at your skin passing. Maybe the current will carry you, laughing, to the end.
A gossamer garrotte
For fumbling thumbs
On a plastic bridge –
New steel slipping with
A tortured “twang” then
Tightening again as it twists
The pitch climbing –
Too tight and it snaps.
“Give us a tune then!”
And the echo in the belly
Of the guitar growing like
A wailing child.
This is what death feels like –
The sudden imposition
Of sharp metal into the warm cocoon,
The music still playing as the tyres howl.
It’s a what-a-pity or a such-a-shame,
Sighed above the roof of the crumpled car;
An exhalation of trivial carnage –
Not a keening lament at a bright battle ending.
Days later most likely the billboards will screech
Louder than the subframe on the oft-repaired tarmac
Of a larger-than-life life lost or a loveable rogue.
Up with the “angles” as the fence-flowers have it
Watching lovingly from the honey pot sky –
Not keening and hair-tearing as he spins in stasis,
Loves lost, words unsaid, never speaking his mind
Nor fearless in the face of the knife-wound words,
Chances untaken as the police swarm like ants
Over and over and over the crash scene;
Chalk lines, photo flashes, witness statements,
Heads down and no word for the passing.
I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time at the moment either on the road myself, or covering the aftermaths of deaths on those same roads. “RTC on the A299” comes a police report and we immediately see “death crash horror” on the billboards and know this week’s front page has been written in shattered glass somewhere on a dual carriageway. Sometimes, slipping through traffic on the motorbike or typing up a tribute to another soul lost in a car crash I wonder at the patterns that repeat themselves in our copy as lifelong friends or grieving widows pay tribute to their “always laughing and joking” husbands and mates who have left Terra Firma for the worms of the even firmer firma or the firmament – depending on your metaphysics. Long story, within the confines of my flip front helmet a poem – if you can call it such – started writing itself today as the wind soared round my chilly legs. Memento mori and “do not go gently” and all that. Death shouldn’t be trite. RIP all the death crash horrors.
A Microorganism Walks Into A Bar
Say, for the sake of the joke, it’s Archaea,
elusive prokaryote, now spiraling
(the way a pillar of smoke might) into the bar,
skating across the wide maple flooring,
dodging the flannelled elbows of these two grizzled regulars
who thumb gruntingly through the small dish of nuts.
We never see the bartender’s face in these jokes.
We assume he’s blandly handsome, no scars, never
with tales of his own to tell and nothing better to do
than tend the bar, setting up steins and punch lines
for every rabbi, lawyer, blind man, and pirate
that stumbles into the place.
Perhaps when he’s not bartending
he chatters in Greek to starlings
that roost on his windowsill,
throws Raku pots, journals his dreams,
computes complex motion equations.
We wouldn’t know. We’re not invited there.
We are only invited into this bar, where just now
Archaea is hovering mid-air beside him,
according to the mysterious phenomenology
of this sort of joke, which renders it visible
to the naked eye and capable of flight.
It’s not every day a microorganism walks into your bar,
but this bartender, he’s seen it all. Talking horses.
Lewd displays of irregular anatomy. Royalty.
Archaea gleams in the dim light and he just stands there,
wiping the mouth of a shining glass with a rag. Maybe
he’s dreaming ahead to the end of his shift. He sees himself
hand-feeding figs to the starlings, feeding the crazed pot
into smoking sawdust, not feeding lines to this joker.
He should put down the glass, the rag, let someone else
tend the bar and play the straight man.
He could travel to Belize. Swim with dolphins. Paint.
But instead, he finishes polishing the glass
and slides it across the bar toward shimmering Archaea.
“What’ll it be?” he asks,
and everyone in the joint stops
and leans forward, breathless for the reply.
By Ingrid Steblea
“A Driving Student Takes A Blind Corner” by Arlene Ang
She smells it
even before she downshifts
into second gear: engine oil and vinegar.
She knows rain always
tattoos in riddles. The wipers
squeak like broken antennae. She rolls
down the window, fishing
for other vehicles. A strand of hair pricks
her eye. She catches herself
in the rearview mirror.
how she wrote her name
on the bathroom mirror of the first
she coveted heedlessly.
She turns her head. Left, then right.
As the car turns, she imagines it
embroidering a body count
on the asphalt.
She listens. She is burning
two thousand calories
to feed motion sickness.
On her forehead, a bead of sweat
becomes a fossil.
Courtesy of Eclectica.
“Of Dark, Of Light” by Donna Vorreyer.
Dark: a kind you cannot find in cities,
mangroves bowed across the channel,
a cathedral of branches leaping from
the black to tangle your paddle, your hair.
In the lagoon, surface still but for rowing,
each dip flips nature in reverse: sky starless,
smoky with clouds, water flashing bands
of blue as the paddle glides through.
Bioluminescence, they call it, microscopic
colonies exuding light from within. This
is the science, the speech the guide has
memorized to teach and tempt the tourists.
You watch the lightning streaks of ray
and fish glow like comet tails in space
and you must believe in magic or in God
as pinwheels of blue fire explode from
your fist opening and closing beneath the
water. You dip in your arm to the shoulder,
pull it slowly out, watch it gleam, mercury
slick with its own universe, particles
twinkling then dying, and you must resist
the urge to throw yourself from the kayak,
become a moving constellation, washed
clean, a whole being made of light.
Courtesy of Boxcar Poetry Review
“The Tao of Dow” by Ingrid Steblea
You want to know where to find it,
want to hold it in your hands, this thing.
Want to name it, tack it to a board,
scrutinize it under bright lights. Don’t turn here
for answers; ask the mad friar on the corner
waving his cup of pins. All you’ll get is riddles
and mist, myth and wriggling. Ask the dog
streaming fleas about actual value versus
notional value. Indeed, why not ask the asphalt,
salt cellar, slate pavers, the papers rolled
in a whorl in the bin by the door, growing brittle,
showing yellow, hour by hour. I promise you,
you’ll get no better answer than colorless,
odorless, invisible, intangible, yet strong enough
to hobble nations, topple notions. Break you, even,
if you let it. Watch it soar and crash, Icarus in indices
plummeting from an indigo sky. Think about
that butterfly in Beijing, that hurricane in the Atlantic.
Believe that the pattern is nothing
but noise, the beautiful ordered disarray
of fractals, fern frond, snowflake, river. Hold this.
This round stone, its halves coarse in each palm.
Run your thumb across the brilliant colored bands.
Feel the crystals, rough as a row of teeth.
Imagine that the world is a geode. Imagine
that in cracking open, it reveals its beauty.
Courtesy of Box Car Poetry Review
“Scolopamine” by Mark Pallas*
Not yet burnt out? Or
is the spirit locked in the spirit?
Is it watery and made of shadow,
brunt of more cruel demands?
Nix that, I was just
remembering the drive-in
round up of pleasant
sounds, the clank of a strongbox.
I respect verifiably
the desert night. Stars
belong to no one here, at least
they speak a dialect
that turns a cold shoulder;
they are not a canopy over
not guiding the Corsican
to his murders.
Overhead a bumpy aircraft —
talking of commerce —
in trouble, he
and a modest background
grants us a chill breeze,
ma petite chou, that brushes
the sand, and Madame
the Magnificent Pléiade of
cowboys, the old blackjack
poker pullout hereby
Load the load of ore,
which rift riff they sing in the
car, going home. Jerks
chatter in tree houses
but the literati stay
deep in coma with their
dial-a-poems, Latin jive: voodoo.
So says the pellet you
wash down with a stiff drink,
taking the night air
in your canvas jacket.
A color assigned to compress
the sky or crush
To really travel without
The way the pressure
quotes the delicate
of the patented exposure
device, now Continental folk
arrive, their circulation,
the appropriate color luggage,
a pocket-knife in
worship pierced on scars
or the eyes at dinner-time, gloves
mask the color, always
about the suburbs
of Milwaukee — but if
you weren’t supposed to
compress the skull, you weren’t supposed to
be bold or past tense,
this hard life a test
of your reading
the voice says tenderly,
now everywhere in Old Europe
leaves whisper their
Courtesy of Jacket Magazine.
*The pseudonym of Marc Perdeau, b.1923 in Montevideo, Uruguay. From his only published volume of poetry, Déshabillé (Dakar, 1968).
With sincere apologies to Ted Hughes.
I drown on the drumming M2, I drag up,
Twist upon turn from the swallowing of the road’s mouth
From cars that clutch my each lane without blinkers
With the habit of the dogged grave, but the bike
Effortless at a ton hangs its 9000rpm
Its inline four holds all the traffic in a weightless howl
Steady as a hallucination in the pissing rain.
Whilst banging wind kills these stubborn hedges
Throws me sideways, smears the gale, spikes my adrenalin
And rain hacks my helmet soaks my boots, the bike hangs,
The diamond point of will that polestars
The sea drowner’s endurance: And I,
Handlebar grabbed dazed tail light smeared
Morsel in the motorway’s mouth, strain to the master-
Fulcrum of speed where the bike hangs still.
That maybe in its own time meets the weather
Coming the wrong way, suffers the air, hurled upside-down,
Fall from its two wheels, the ponderous tarmac crash on it,
The horizon trap it; the black engine casing
Smashed, mix its petrol with the mire of the land.
Perhaps you could call it an inflection point,
curvature or concavity plateaued in a pleasant calm
before you change directions.
“Crouching to leap” they say (glass half-full),
sometimes at inopportune moments –
your teeth scattered on the canvas.
I might be in the gutter but I’m looking at the stars
The stench surrounding, the dead light shining
The brightest casting the darkest shadow.
It’s behind you. And yes, it moves.