1. A small dog, its pink member erect and vivid in the gloom, threw itself into the struggle. from Two Fragments, March 199-, Ian McEwan

The Ghost of Who I Was sat with The Echo of Who I am
and I watched them both.

One, I call him Ghost, ate nothing.
There was a table to their left – a family eating
bread, sharing carrot cake. The mother
was Japanese and spoke to her children
in that language while the father played
Peek-a-boo with the baby. It was the hottest
Good Friday I had ever known. Sad day, drained.
They say mornings like this when you wake
with only dreams of regret fresh in your mind,
are Black Mornings. They stalk the day like
a hungry dog. I see him, his paws are silent
and the day is darkened even when there is nothing
but light.

The Echo of Who I am, I call him Echo,
drank a little beer and did most of the talking.
“We should take the train home soon,” he said,
and before he’d finished speaking I saw Ghost
mouth the word ‘home’ like it was the last
word ever spoken.

This morning I woke with a pain deep
in my chest. It radiated down the fingers
of my left hand. I moved from the bed.
I opened the window. I let out all the air
the night had trapped.
Outside, I saw the neighbour’s
dog, a Labrador, coal black and old now,
in the gap between the garages. She was sniffing
at weeds. I called to her. She went deeper into
the weeds.

Later, the three of us got drunk.
“Is there any part of you that regrets?” Ghost asked
and Echo nodded.
“Every week, every hour, all the time,” I said
because that was the only answer there would ever be.

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Spheres

I stopped opening doors. Outside
a slow blue car passes 6 evenly spaced
concrete spheres.
There are 4 plastic spheres beneath
the bookshelf.
Her ball is a sphere.
I draw a sphere.
When I finally open the door
there is a mirror.
I see how dark
my eyes are. My hair was dark
once. I touch my cheek and
think of shaving.

That night I close a door.
It half locks, I think of leaving
it like that.
Who could enter?
And if they did I’d make
conversation and speak to them
of spheres – concrete and fluid,
broken and not yet formed.

red star

One afternoon, last October,
I saw a red star falling.
Transfixed, I thought of socialism
and the death of it in the minds
of those who believe in it.
None of my friends are socialists.
All of my friends believe they are socialists.
I thought of fascism,
how that too is a red star.
Not falling, rising.
I heard black words, the fear of becoming static.
And in the night, the sky devoid of light,
there was that red star. I watched it wander,
descend or rise. Neither matters.
Lost, I imagined it to be the last star
ever to shine. Call it a plane, my friend said later.
No, I told him. It has to be a star.
Red as the heart of war.
Red as blood on a tunnel’s long wall.
Red as a deep cut that will always bleed.
Eventually, it stopped falling.
We drank the gin and I told my friend
that I believed, utterly, that if we went
outside right there and then we would
see many more red stars. Rising and falling.
We would hear their formation in the hushed,
stunned conversation of those around us.
The fear of truth. The need to find a lie.
We stayed, we drank, and in the morning
it was bright and there were no stars.

Or silence

5 am. Between dreams, or attempts to dream,
and clarity, memory – outside
crows peer into an empty road. There is dark
or silence. I heft my foot, stiff and the skin purpled.
I touch my foot and feel nothing. Broken.
I have been waking this way for months. Later,
I wonder if the crows woke me then remember
the creak of pipes in the dark. The woman
beyond my walls died a week ago. We never spoke.
Though perhaps, once, maybe crossing one afternoon
between the church and cafe. She pulled on her small
dog’s lead and smiled. I thought nothing of it
when the barks stopped. Why would I?
When something so new vanishes we feel nothing.
It is the things that have been within our consciousness
longest which leave the greater chasms. The widest hollows.
The emptiest dark. Or silence.

the moon goose

When they told me the moon was, in part, a goose I put my trust in the probability of misheard cobra taunters.

This one is Sylvester Stallone with a flick knife. That one De Niro on his belly, gut, protruding butt, no instinct.

But it was Sunday and the moon was falling like a reverse of its beginning, slower, sucked in instead of the brutality of being cast aside when planets collide

And on my lawn I saw it. The moon goose.Wrapped tightly like Lance Armstrong outrunning a lie as a tailwind whipped his ass out of shape. Into fate.

Headless it saw nothing. Plucked, long shorn of plumage, flightless and still. Leftover supermarket surplus, Christmas-chucked and forgotten. The moon goose rested beneath the lightless night as what was left of the moon rolled itself into the river and the distortion of its own reflection. Sky hanging. Night dancing. Star crowded.

I copied the moon goose’s stillness. Tried to feel the same vein blocking ice. Made to say a word but thought better of it.

The last goose I knew had been its twin in silence but its opposite in having a head, beak, neck, feathers and life.

I remember that goose, the park goose, dropping its neck low to watch me. Suspicious eyes unblinking as I backed away into the treeline. My hands held up for forgivenes. ‘See, I have nothing.’

The moon goose didn’t thaw. never will. When the days had fallen away as the moon had fallen to drown, I let it stay upon the lawn and didn’t approach it or speak. Let it be, wrapped in its golden blanket like Lance Armstrong contemplating the truth of pure victory and failing to grasp a thing. 

When it was gone, when the nights grew brighter, I would still find myself alone in the garden, letting go a pale balloon as if that was any replacement for the ripples of water we lost, the howls, the sweet madness. My hands up. Palms forward. Empty. As if to say ‘See I have nothing.’

Circles a Clover

 

Again on Monday I asked you about the past,
earlier I had risked drawing a ziggurat as a sign of forgiveness.
Arrest me. Beat these eggs until they have weight.
Arrest my flowers or fervor.
I respect you for your garble and attention to absence.
Zorro is powering through on his horse. The dolphins are singing.
Rainspout. Pour Tutankhamun into the gas tank, joke about time.
And the surge is sudden. You’re skimming the bottom of the barrel
for a sense of what it is to speak. To copy. To circle and claim.

There are horses on the moor. None of them hold light.

Leopold and the Gods

Leopold. At the kitchen sink
with empty bottles and
unwashed memories.

Tuesday. There’s rage in the sky,
veiled as a grey-black cloud, pent-up
primed to pop, to plummet
and consume. Later,
it rains and Leopold
tells his true name to the ash bush
that will not budge.

Months later. Without.
Words are like rain in autumn,
too frequent, too desperate
to fall and be read.
Some are true, some are knives
meant only to cut.

Leopold. Now overtly elated,
listen lover. Everything.

In the morning the river
is near and the estuary flat.
He watches a small plane fall to land then vanish.
In the distance are high and full trees
encircling a manor house,
falling onto the house
as if hugging the place tight,
encasing and saving, protecting.

Lazarus. Nothing dead can wake.
No roses with crippled petals
can be given as gifts.
Just barb-sticks,
just finger-bleeders.

Icarus. It was heat.
The fire of that sickness,
with sweats and burning words.
‘They consume, don’t they?’
‘We consumed,’ Leopold says
as he scrubs the plate
and hums Inchworm
imperfectly, closing his eyes
at the image, ever-image,
of ill fate.

tombs for thousands of years

Palmyra
or the dust disturbed by waves of doctrine
and lost worlds, like memory or shattered cities
I talk about tombs and think of Edinburgh
of a cold hand in a warm hand
or a cold body against a warm body
time slows, waves become a sea
become an ocean submerged
I am ice and my blood is ice
and my heart is ice
or for thousands of years I drift
or stand in a cornfield and will someone to pass
lifted from elsewhere and taken
for thousands of years the dust settles
and cold hands are forgotten
or evangelised and cast aside
there are gentle words on rolls of papyrus
no one can ever read
tongue stilled, memory entombed
repeated palimpsest

Pelham’s Eye

He reclaimed the face by adding an eye to the cog.
Now encased in a black jacket; bread to beef
to flickering horseradish to a loaf filled with slopped stew,
aching eyes.

When the hand coaxes words forward
it’s travel sickness again, it’s being beneath
Christ the King’s light-sucking chandelier.
To one end of that cathedral is fractured light,
pipework of colours.

When they finished reading a page they would discard
the paper, tear it out and wipe their arses, flush folios.
I have a half memory of Henry Miller there,
his dark season, the other half moves to Paris
to delicate lemon tea cakes glazed the same as sweet doughnuts,
fractured icing.

Listen, it’s difficult to make this place warm,
to force it to keep its heat but when pipe-creaking water
boils, clunking and dripping, the hidden heater groans
above plaster cracks and cogs turn dis-harmonic
and oscillating.

“Tell Hayter to get in some lobster.” Skim the herring pond
and listen, when the milk is sipped the colour fades.
White remains, full fat not skimmed,
against the perfectly spaced black of the cog, the pupil dilated
banging a ruler against his desk then silent,
then clunking and drip.

The room warms, we watch the image fade,
offer reflections, offer ash as a mark –
me cross-legged, me watching the clock, me unbuttoning,
me wide eyed.

Then going back find dizziness again.
There is the flickering focus of full sentences,
of your not yr, of chimney stacks absent
beside absent clouds in the absent blue of a clear day,
what a cliché, and slicing through this is the orange tail of an Easyjet
flying Liverpool to Palma.

Listen, they’re lifting a whole city by its gone-jarg roots,
your last flim wouldn’t be enough
to buy back its place in the hollow.
Look, this day-long bubbling pot of scouse
is as blind as a skald, pecked at by a raven so its only song
is a scar made of steam.
Lifting, removing, so Widnes stares into the abyss.
One day they will lift off this roof,
lift out the immersion heater, clunking and dripping,
mimicking cogs, turning though time is stuck and vacant eye
sees vacant hand sees chatter of beak.

Stuck like all America’s obese dead, held in defiance
of life’s unwinding, cradled by reclining La-Z-Boys
like lovers, their form imprinted there,
their bum-luck captured in cheek-dented death masks,
lifted out by cranes into a strange world they left long ago
for fried chicken.

Listen, we can sleep at night now
without fearing cracks, their widening,
their sudden moans of giving into pressure
or pleasure.

Take down the mirror give the wall a clock,
from the gutter hangs an ice-spear
waiting to drop.

Puffins of Lent

I meant to write a story, something about a child and a cliff,
how God made a fish masquerade as a bird. Need and want.
I want to taste salt in oil, have blubber slide down my gullet.
I need to walk and keep their chattering beaks to my right
and the water to my left, not want their silence or need their meat.

That was never the tale. It was about the haze of childhood,
fragments of consciousness, like a boat cutting through sea-mist.
“Now listen, son,” said James Stewart, “hold on”, as the wash
came at them and a foghorn told them they were alive.
That was it, the feeling of life, of nourishment after a fast.

I fasted of words, didn’t speak or put pen to page.
Broken. Words came scattered, shattered and stuttered,
they repeated recorded conversation, half-caught
gasps of shock, of her son being framed by the pigs,
squealing like a boar dragged from the river, hook in its throat.

If it came from amongst fish then it must be a fish, so says the priest.
Serve it with dill, peppery piss-flower, liver of herbage.
He climbed down the cliff, every step was his future fall foretold,
found good grips between wet rocks, brushed a hand against just opened
eggs, found that last puffin. Stayed there, hungry, watchful and weak.