if there's a gate I want to climb a rose through it/ if there's a window I want to bring the sea to it/ if there's a word you want to drop a rhyme with it/ if there's a joke you want to make a crime of it/ if there's an alley I want to skip away down it/ if there's a sail I want to build a raft for it/ if there's a thought you want to put a sock in it/ if there's a pot you want to put a lid on it
I bought Fernet-Branca to remember my mother/ lover of Campari, Jägermeister, Angostura/ F-B best and bitterest of all – one sniff/ brings astringent gentian and licorice/ coffee-tables ashtrays stilettos/ I swig the bottle shudder and swear/ but another swig and I'm prepared/ for this unholy hair of an ugly dog./ An eagle on the label/ offers the bottle above a sea of clouds/ pouring bitter balm over the planet/ while the sky turns orange – / a bitter wake-up call or the day's/ bitter end? I'm getting used to it.
to reduce property: remove instructions – all MUST comply/ do not install systems, do not install supply lines, do not install water/ reduce the risk associated with grasp damage/ protect from foil label, mark your contaminants calendar – reset ingestion of 2-3 glasses/ write the date on your device, insert an unpleasant taste and odour – actual backflow may vary/ if you are uncertain how to check this condition, turn to the left – pressure a disposable local
We're modernist people we don't like things brown we like things vermilion and ultramarine. And white./ So how come that's brown and that and also that? Your living room seems to be a shrine to brown./ For starters that's not brown: it's aged leather from Spain and that's blond wood and that's clay. Those are natural rust and that's tropical wood and this is woven fibres./ Oh. OK.
Her tone is breezy. This time she left it on the bus she thinks or perhaps they've found it at work, lost track of it last Sunday./ It lasted so well, months since that mis-juggled tumble into the bowl while she screeched at the toilet jeans round her knees./ The rice treatment succeeded for the previous model dropped into the sea, at least until it was run over by a bus for which her phones seem to have a certain affinity.
I'd happily write only a mystical paean to Hone Tuwhare, master poet of rain/ but then again my rain today is not the same as his, leached through a thousand mountains/ milled down a million rivers, raised up in vapour from two billion hectares of ocean/ carried in cumulus, swirled and ice-crystalled, flashed and thundered/ cloud-descended over these green hills and emptied over me/ the drop at the end of my nose perhaps once drunk by the maestro himself in 1963.
Then, we lived at 27 metres below, the canal at the back level with our bedrooms,/ the house built on stilts on bedrock, a thousand years of engineering skill expressed in the locals' confident sangfroid/ although Dutch friends from further inland always asked if we owned a boat./ Now, we're at 16 metres above, still not enough when the big one hits/ at least here, there's a hill at the back and when all else fails, a pair of kayaks.
A roar in the background (the raku kiln heating up), a tui singing. I'm holding my phone tightly and swiping.. As soon as he walks in I fold: Have you heard? At London Bridge? He knows by my voice what I mean. We scan our screens. One's home safe, the other's out, could be anywhere. She left her phone on the bus last week, can't call. I phone the club where she works, don't care if it's uncool. Not working tonight. I've already messaged some of her friends, they're not sure. Minutes later there's a ping and I'm running to the shed. Her mate writes: she's working in Hackney tonight, safe, nowhere near. In my mind's eye her happy selfie at London Bridge, another day, another year.
The scratch band's practising 'Rio', dry Mike Nesmith's swingingest song. Maka wants it calypso, Dave can you syncopate the cajon? That bass is relentless, she grumbles but Alan scowls, refuses to change the groove: the original's perfection – dancing funky lines through a nonstop party, luscious backing vocals and a plaintive slide, through silly flight announcement snippets, clinking glasses, laughing, yells, a jokey video, sublime sweet 70s delight. A winter chill's on the Saturday morning market, coffee, muffin, mandarin scents mingle with our ragged version's sunny chords and a few smiling people sing along: tonight I probably won't fly down to Rio but then again, I just might.
Over woods sinking into black, a celestial salmon stretches and flattens, sheds its tail, wraps itself in feathery folds, ignites in apricot shards against the babyblue./ A row of hilltop cut-outs sucks all colours, exposing the hover of a pale lopsided moon through a bruised sky, a plate of grey fillets.
Two lemons from the local market sit in a handmade terracotta bowl – or perhaps it's a saucer – on the engineered stone work surface of this kitchen./ The lemons' yellow against brown earthenware bring back 1986: our last Greek island, the rocks we lay on all day, between swims, sex in our dim room, and later/ on a terrace, scoffing dolmades drenched in lemony olive oil. Wild thyme in the air, hair stiff with salt. I scratch a lemon and sniff.
O gilded youth you laid down your laptops/ O gallant youth you got out of bed/ O gleeful youth you unlocked your bathrooms/ O glorious youth you strode out the front door./ O lovely young things you put x on the ballot/ O limber young things you stepped into the light/ Later, young darlings, you'll have further chances/ I hope, my young friends, you'll continue the fight.
I'm a hunchback, he says, I've a weird centre of gravity
as he heaves himself onto the barstool, wincing
some days everything's painful, like today
he pulls out a handful of blisterpacks
to swig with his beer, laughs and shrugs
Crusaders v Lions in the background
the knock and clunk at pool tables
dim lighting and misplaced spots
throwing the band into silhouette
– when he was up earlier, growling his verses
backed by massive Beefheart-crunking rhythms
this silver-haired flailing bear owned the stage
at McMorrissey's Irish Bar, drunks yelling outside
beat poetry was alive and kicking and Ian Dury never died.
On days when I'm feeling murderous
it helps to find a place moist and murmurous
to crouch beneath a shrubbery in dank dark gloom
to wrestle with the mothweed and uproot a tree in bloom
to wrangle juicy branches, rip 'em off their cosy trunk
tobacco weed's my favourite, just hear my hatchet thunk
into its green and feeble bark and twist its pure white wood
– take that you scum! (I'd rather twist some balls if I could.)
I want to see orcas blowing rainbows, not buy age-reversing cream
I want to laugh at the dog shaved for summer, not buy a new car
I want to watch kittens in boxes, not buy paste for sensitive teeth
I want to listen to a new track, not buy funeral insurance
I want to see people being pranked on someone else's phone
I want to see an operation with nothing pixellated
I want to see spots being squeezed and not be judged as creepy
I want to see nonstop pratfalls, in handy compilation form
Right now, I want to watch a fire burn across a city
Right now, I want to watch a perfect storm destroy an island
I want to watch the carnage moments after the attack took place
I want to watch the dusty faces look inside the bomb blast crater
Each voyeuristic moment takes its toll – one soul's the fee
Each small endorphin frisson says: despicable, privileged me.
One exception perhaps: larvae
live in fast-moving streams
adults fly weakly
their emergence from
is most unusual, the pupa
comes to the surface and explodes
catapulting her into the air
the wings are pre-expanded
though finely folded – she simply
flies away – they never lose their creases
see the adults' long slender legs
dangling into the water
along stream borders.
When she woke that night, she thought
now that I'm published, I must send
a couple of pieces to Dad in Thailand
of course he's not on Facebook
so he wouldn't have seen any
and they don't have internet out there
him and his new wife, beach bums
I can picture the thatched bamboo house
him lounging in the hammock
chickens pecking, a pig or two.
As she stood, she had another thought:
he would have been been 100 this year
and felt a drop of urine trickle down her leg
realising his birthday had passed, unnoticed, months ago.
Producer (drawing of a spade): San Sebastian
Varietal (drawing of a leaf): Bourbon & Caturra
Processing (drawing of a sun): Natural
Altitude (drawing of a mountain): 1700 masl
Suitable for: (drawings of 6 pieces of apparatus)
Flavour (drawing of one big+two small intersecting circles): melon, orange, milk chocolate
Story: 15 lines of eloquent italics about the 4th generation heritage farm
on the slopes of an active volcano, shaded by macadamia trees.
I squeeze the package and my mouth waters
like Pavlov's dog to the bell
– a hint of melon? a chocolate whiff? –
my nose pretends to be able to tell
but my close focus is distracted
by the piece of cheese I'm eating
and a sudden waft indoors of wet clay
my mind's eye is patterned with woven fajas
swaddled babies, marimba and zampona groups
in summer markets around the world
and I don't know where I put the grinder.
Rain marching up the valley
rapid striding pillars
and this a mild precursor
to a bigger downpour on its way
the news barely dampens me at first
that she's gone, my old friend
suddenly blown off her feet
we knew she'd be in for a rough ride
worse weather on the way
a couple of years ago
exchanged some hearts
and likes and on 22 May
Day 1 of this project
I messaged her: Dear Go,
will you be home 5/6 August?
I really want to see you. Love Vxxx
She wrote back right away: I'll
make sure I am, it's in
the planner now so I'll be here Xx
– in Dutch, her language
through and through. I looked forward
to her chuckle, her menagerie,
the drenched tropical swirls
and sexy curves of her paintings.
Too late I realise I'm soaked
without thinking I've stood still
all these 30 days
while someone precious washed away
but at least I'll be there that weekend
and so will she: grounded, as ever.
They're playing football the teacher said
hardly looking up from marking
as we push our bikes round the back
to the school's paved playground
the standard scuffing and shouts
Over here! Pass it! and Shoot!
the clichéd scene beyond the net
mixes up with skittering and screams
bouncing manes and bare legs
three tall girls intent on possession
hustling the ball, barging it off
some little lad, a short keepy-uppy
two snappy passes and a goal
victory lap and high-fives
fake pearls and bracelets leaping
glitter makeup still intact
– I salute girls doing what they like
exactly how they like it
and mourn a short while too:
three 'borrowed' pairs
of my best fuck-me shoes,
a little worse for wear.
When I tip the hot loaf from its tin
crisp edges skitter over the stone
lick a fingertip to get up every shard
crunching morsels between front teeth
inhaling ancient hot fresh scents
rye and walnuts, seeds and olive oil
long-stored morning memories: folded giant
loaves in Teheran, slung across poles
Baghdad's women bearing flat heaps like hats
Beirut's hurrying bike-boys' teetering stacks
a lifetime's bread, the joy yeast has given:
this fragrant loaf is both mine and risen.
I ran with the pack
the pack's strength carried me
with the pack at my heels
I tore up the decree
we fled across dark sands
dodged the first deceiving arrows
launched by treacherous hands
like flocks of deadly sparrows
the stricken clawed and bayed
no more compromising
our blood our bones betrayed
the house of moonwolf rising.
Piet pipes up from the back seat:
They seem to have
for my shed.
Sometimes when I
surprise them by
coming in and closing
the door behind me
they hop up
to the highest shelf
and wait calmly
hunkered down like
fluffy tails hanging down.
I use a garden fork.
He continues: sometimes
for a big one
I need to give it two forks
one to pin it down
one to – you know
they're really tough and
fight like hell
I wish I didn't have to
yeah, it's pretty rough.
The car's silent as we
all keep our eyes peeled
for one feasting on
its flattened friend
and swerve towards
those light-reflecting eyes.
you might've been
a grumpy git
a moaning minnie
a thoughtless teen
a littering lout
a righteous recusant
a fat fraudster
a cheating cockney
a yardie youth
a sad supremacist
an old ignoramus
a selfish sod
a bit of a bastard
whatever you were
what's done is done
now seize the day
carpe diem! they say
and I say
the dogs of warp
and stitched-up reality
nipping at your heels
if you can slough off
that great beast
if you can halt
of all our yesterdays
then I bow to
your empty skull
and doff my hat
though I rarely
A doctor asked for a copy
of a story I wrote
about my father
when he read to me
through my many
days in bed
in the days when
no one realised
and fathers were always right.
She said she'd laminate it
and hang it up
in the waiting room
you never know
what makes someone
turn that corner
and stop she said
maybe something funny
maybe some guy there
with his daughter.
Don't you hate smooth jazz?
she said to her table-
companion leaning in
on their elbows both
holding their almost-empty
glasses of Pinot Grigio
alongside their cheeks
as if the soft sweetness
of the wine could smooth
away their wrinkles
through mere proximity
the other woman sat back
shook her head, eyebrows up
no I love it you prize nutter
this is Tom Jobim's Wave
delicious Brazilian flow
shame we're round the side
past the grand piano's swell
they could glimpse the conga
player's pink-lit arms
gleam as they moved
smoothly over the skins
and before she knew it
her legs stood her up
her hips tipping her one
way then the other in
bossa nova time and
she was the one dancing.
he reached in his pocket
crouched on the floor
shaking the packet
peanuts, here, have some
a heavy shape moved
It's dark, groaned the shape. No light
he had always found it hardest
to understand human beings
continually stating the obvious
after a while being
worried about the number
of things they didn't know
he decided he quite liked
this new strange one
after all. Yes, he agreed, no light.
Our most classic 4th was spent lying
in downtown Washington on the dry brown
Mall grass with a picnic of gourmet
carryout deli snacks laid in a half-moon
at the foot of the Monument.
Up ahead sat Lincoln on his giant chair
lit pure white within the Memorial's
stalwart pillars and we chatted
with all sorts of people from all over
the world till scientist friends from NIH
and all their hangers-on
found us, and we broke open
the brown-bagged champagne
cheered and hurrahed
copied nearby locals
who demonstrated the correct
way to whoop and high-five
even yee-hah and we took note
of our future baseball caps
and trackpants, trainers
and fanny-packs and laughed
in delight at how ridiculous
it all was, and how the Reflecting
Pool showed us the prancing
fireworks double, and we felt
intoxicated by the soft warm air and
tipsy and lay back and watched
not thinking about anything
not imagining we'd ever
need to consider the deli containers
clogging the sea, or that ignorance
would not be beaten down
by reason or goodwill or our discoveries
or that we'd ever have children for whom
we'd wish such carefree pleasures as these.
they're having a ticker-tape parade
to celebrate Team New Zealand winning
the America's Cup, Burling &Co
chugging down Queen Street
in a fleet of Hilux trucks
from Aotea Square and along
Quay Street to the waterfront
where crowds will cheer
the sail-past of what's
essentially a catamaran
with a 24m aircraft wing for
a sail on top of two
big canoes on top of
several surfboards that
hydrofoil across the water
with the odd pitch-pole capsize
interrupting the pedalling crew
adjusting hydraulics that keep
daggerboards angled for flight.
Not that there'll be any capsizing
on the gentle harbour waters
but you could never cross an ocean
with this high-strung nautical racehorse.
I've been looking for the name
of the winning boat but failed
– is it just Team New Zealand?
On the sail: Fly Emirates, Omega
and YSL. Other logos include
Steinlager (visible from above,
drone footage), Toyota, Nespresso,
Pirelli. The boats used to be called
Black Magic I, II, III, IV but those times
are gone, it's pure branding now and
I wonder what the homeless people
along the dirty Queen Street pavements
will make of the triumphant tanned
young men brandishing their trophy.
It was my favourite book. When my children
were young I had a burst of desperation or
perhaps self-pity: in all my childhood dreams
I told him sitting on the bed, I never imagined
spending most of my life being a servant
cleaning up after people, even ones I love.
I have an MA in Psychology, I make people
laugh and dance and friends light up
when I stride into the room – and let's not
forget the cleaning lady a few hours a week
what was I complaining about? As I sat and cried
he tried to hold my hands to stop me biting my
already bitten-down nails. Today, so many
years later, we're watching The Handmaid's Tale.
It's almost captured
in the tomb of the Red Queen at Palenque
Pompeii's Villa of the Mysteries
illuminated pages in the Roman de Girart de Roussillon
St Jerome's robe in Masaccio's painting
in a Qing dynasty lacquerware box
in luscious towers of sindoor in an Indian market.
First discovered 5000 BCE in today's Turkey
costly poisonous cinnabar's status
rose around the world – its crowning glory
the unique red calligraphy ink reserved for Emperors.
In its honour, an Empress of the Song dynasty ordered
the breeding of carp "redder than flames"
solely for the imperial family. You and I were forbidden
from keeping them: paired with a precious pigment
they were not for common eyes.
The 1600s saw a brief European heyday
their metallic scales embodying good fortune:
married men gave their wives a first-anniversary
goldfish, a symbol of prosperous years to come.
The tradition vanished as they became common –
status and rarity, both lost.
Nowadays the butt of IQ jokes, the worst
prize at the fair, swallowed live for dares
– anyone can keep them. At the shop
the toddler's first pet wafts, one of many.
Watch, and you'll see fresh eyes seeing
what we all must have seen the first time:
the indescribable, ineffable essence
of pure vermilion.
Halfway through the challenge, halfway through the days
walking partway down a road that we started at a run
already getting weary as that initial adrenalin fades
does it feel like halfway through a sandwich with the lesser half to come?
Halfway satiated, halfway challenge met
convinced the daily effort's been absorbed into one's brain
as a wonderfully worthy bit of self-control, a bet
with no one but ourselves – and it's not yet gone down the drain.
So hurrah all you 100 Dayers, give yourselves a massive cheer
to get so far, conceive, dream up, explore, leap and explain
then to persist, push through, grit teeth, and even to drink the 50th beer
now our journey's goal boils down to this: do the whole thing over again.
As you saunter harmlessly
whistling down the driveway with the mail
the first of these guys will make a break
from the bushes and dash ahead
as if to say I'll be decoy! I'll lead
the predator away from y'all and put
my handsome neck on the line
veering left then right and back again
that small black feather-plume
dangling forward like a tiny idiot parasol
but the rest of them sending out warnings toots
and unseen clicks can't take the tension
and burst out of the next thicket:
extended family members, spouses, a dozen chicks
like stripy balls bouncing over potholes
through weedy verges and back into the middle
there's 30-plus now racing down the steepest slope
a birdbrained helter-skelter and you can't resist
breaking into a run in their wake and yelling
'McWhirter!' which is exactly their alarm call
to your ears at least and two more groups
burst onto the drive and form one giant party
at least 60 racing breakneck downhill so fast they've
elongated into the greyhounds of birdworld
their bodies inclined at impossible jaunty angles
and take off all at once in a single burst straight up
short serviceable wings giving a brief rocket roar
and like a single rippling organism giving one big flap the flock lifts off
and lands 50 metres further on – without further ado
the varied pootles, tweeps and burbles begin again
foraging recommences and the original runner
hops atop his favourite rock, opens his beak and your day is made.
Along with the regulars several
new poets, one an older woman
with a folder and a piece about
the homeless on Auckland streets.
Then a pair of slight young men
dashing through their lyrical rhymes
about women and children and
the burdens of adult life, no scripts.
Another new guy's rhyming plea
for the Treaty and unity plus
a regular's serious entreaty for
us not to discuss important things
alongside another's hilarious
listing of things that made him
an unbearable bastard but
only convinced us to love him
even more, and his brother
who this time wrote down some
innermost musings of a pretty
existential nature – and of course
Mike sold a bunch of Low Life books
which was the idea of the evening
as well as poetry, and signed
copies wearing his gang
patch hoodie as featured on
the front cover – two people read
an extract from the story about
the tranny and the cathedral
and it all ended with Ant doing
a bit of stand-up that made us
think he might succeed after all
when he moves down to the city.
On the way home low fog patches
fuzzed the cold road ahead and I
had the sensation of the car's
headlights hoovering them up
eating all the way so I felt
sated and when I got out the sky
was bristling with stars and
the moon just off-centre starting
to wane and I heard Europe calling
from the middle of next week.
Here's me wondering about
the worldful of ten botanicals
that make this a uniquely
tantalising smooth complex
elegant light spicy finish
Vapour Infusion and all
while reading IT IS SAFEST
NOT TO DRINK WHILE PREGNANT.
It's just as well to be sure
even if it's a secret 1761 recipe
Made In England
and all danger's past
for me apart from the obvious
40% alcohol and my penchant for
written seductions: ginepro
and giaggiolo from Italy
almendras and cáscara de limón
from Spain then from Morocco
across the water: scented budhur alkazbirv
Angelikawurzel from Saxony sounding
almost sexy like liquorice from China
rolled-up cassia scrolls from Indochina
and two kinds of pepper that bring
me up short: the Melegueta pepper
from West Africa (ginger family) seems to have
medicinal properties for wild lowland gorillas
which they miss in captivity and most surprisingly
the Cubeb peppercorn from Java which
lost out to black pepper in the 1600s but which is now
'the peppercorn of the hipster chef and home cook as
this particular berry is still totally underground.'
The mysteries of the spice wars and rumbles of
distant colonialisms and fleets embodied
in the fanciful bejewelled name
in the blue-and-gold insignia
of a sour-faced old queen
fronting the pale blue squared-off bottle.
Which is empty.
OF A DAMOSEL WHICH CAME GIRT WITH A SWORD FOR TO FIND A MAN OF SUCH VIRTUE TO DRAW IT OUT OF THE SCABBARD.
Make a cry, that all the lords, knights and gentlemen of arms, should draw unto Camelot, and there would make great jousts. When the king was come thither, and lodged, there was come a damosel sent from the great lady Lile of Avelion. And when she came before King Arthur, she let her mantle fall that was richly furred; and then was she girt with a noble sword whereof the king had marvel. and said, Damosel, for what cause are ye girt with that sword? it beseemeth you not. The damosel; this sword that I am girt withal doth me great sorrow and cumberance, for I may not be delivered of this sword but by a knight without villainy or treachery, and without treason. And if I may find such a knight that hath all these virtues, he may draw this sword out of the sheath. This is a great marvel, said Arthur, if this be sooth; I will myself assay to draw out the sword, not presuming upon myself that I am the best knight, but that I will begin to draw at your sword in giving example to all the barons. Then Arthur took the sword by the sheath and by the girdle and pulled at it eagerly, but the sword would not out. Sir, said the damosel, you need not to pull half so hard, for he that shall pull it out shall do it with little might. Ye say well, said Arthur; I am displeased. Well duh, said the damosel, next time pay attention you jumped-up little tyrant, can't hang about, gotta find that good knight of my dreams, got a long list here. Laters dude.
Grab it by the handle and wrestle
it out of the attic. When did mine ever
contain suits? Never, with a single
exception: I had one trouser
suit, a present for my 14th birthday
tissue-paper packed in its own suitcase:
when I popped the catches, out jumped
a crocheted Biba confection in psychedelic
purple swirls, the hipster pants
flaring into bellbottoms, the tied top
ending just under my ribs with
flared arms belling out way beyond
my fingertips. I was uncertain about
what underwear to put on, having
only white but was entirely thrilled
with my mother, who'd thought of it
and my grandmother, who tolerated it
and my sister, who'd be too shy for it.
For several hours I wore the trouser
suit swankily around the house
and posed in front of my mother's
long wardrobe mirror with a floppy
hat and dark glasses, singing Hey Jude
and making peace signs. It so happened that
adolescence swarmed upon me that
very day as if it had been Pandora's
suitcase that turned out to be full of
purple stretch marks appearing on
suddenly tender breasts, white
underwear soaking in cold water
in every washbasin, aching guts
and stubbly dark regrowth on legs
so recently downy and now filled
with significance because of where
they led; the trouser suit was never worn
in the real world out there, too daunting
for the freshly careworn me; suit and case
were banished to the wardrobe shelf.
Now a suitable amount of time has passed
I'm all set to get out the terrifying
outfit and what the hell, wear it
with any underwear I damn well like
unless it's too small, in which case, into the fire.
The schematic map shows where
Mecca is at all times in case of praying
the cartoon plane's cut a green swathe
across continents: surely green was chosen
with care to indicate a loving swathe
a clean swathe a perfectly fine
and harmless trajectory as if mowing
our way through the upper atmosphere
no worries the grass will grow back
stronger and greener than ever
as if we weren't on the brink as if
we hadn't built the brink as if
the roar and shudder and white noise
of this technological marvel
carrying us to the other side
can drown out knowing that rafts
of plastic bottles and beads
slowly gyre in the ocean we're
crossing and TS Eliot's phrase
keeps spinning past me through
the long long night: living and
partly living, living and partly living
as fitfully dozing faces are animated
by the violent action movies
flickering on every screen.
Slow growling thunder brings down
a few heavy warm drops
the soft thick lawns soak up
most of the moisture
while a tumble of flowerheads
in a range of hues from
pink through salmon to purple
– fuschias, dahlias, petunias, hydrangeas –
rustle and nod in the rain
flanked by pea-gravel paths.
Over there a wooden bench
floating on a sea of lawn
with no one on it
a flagpole with no flag
a single branch of the majestic
copper beech moving in the first hint of a
breeze, scents of lily and the second
wisteria flush drifting into conservatory
windows. Over the other side of
the estuary – reflecting the clouds'
heavy greys and silts – hedged wheatfields
glow ripe yellow on bulging hillsides
skirted by dark oak and
hawthorn coppices. Pigeons doo-doo
nearby in two spreading cedars
and a squirrel shoots up the gingko
four herring gulls circle the flagpole
yelping hysterically enough
to keep jetlag at bay, and a bumble
bee battles the fat raindrops for
its place in the striped heart of
a flower, a few cars swish by
and we hold our breath
anticipating the next flash and
thunderclap to shake up this placid
corner of bucolic old Teignmouth.
Her hands were marred
by nails bitten down
to the quick
an unusual feature
in a part of the world
where nail salons
can build you a set
of fakes for a few dollars
her rounded fingers
and practical, drumming
on the countertop
her silver rings
in the bar lights
she wore three
one on each middle
finger and another
on her left thumb
they looked handmade
textured and pierced.
When she took the mic
in both hands
I heard three clicks
accompanying the title
of her first poem
'Hand me that'.
SHall I compare Summers ?
art more and more :
windes fhake the buds,
Sommers too fhort :
Sometimes too hot ,
often gold ,
And fome-time declines,
By chance changing courfe :
But Sommer fhall not fade,
Nor loofe poffeffion,
death brag in fhade,
eternall lines to time ,
So long as eyes can fee,
So long liues this, and this ,
We'd driven off the Chunnel train
negotiated our way past checkpoints
the signs reminding us to conduire à droite
decided we didn't need to fill up
followed the cloverleaf to get onto the A16
to Dunkerque et Le Nord, a little frisson
as we hit the motorway and knew
home was only three hours away
across two unguarded borders
slowing briefly past Gravelines
and the Grande-Synthe flyover
with perfect timing that bell-like
synth started up and after a few
seconds it crashed into heavy drums
and guitar and Max and Clio (back seat)
sang along in their trebly 13-year-old voices
with Chester 'Tired of being what you
want me to be' and within seconds all four
of us were yelling filling the car with 'I've
become so numb I can't feel you there'
until we were screaming and fist-punching
the air with the kids headbanging
in their seatbelts 'all I want to do is be
more like me and be less like you'
and the moment was so complete
and perfectly heartfelt and innocent
the words conveying future or past
pain that somehow made us feel
joy and connectedness right then
my voice hitched and tears
blurred everything and the album
ended and Alan said 'Tune.'
'This meal was amazing I had 4 of the biggest
tiger prawns for dessert after 4 mains.
Meals in the evening usually cost about 50
to 80 baht but they put sugar on everything
I'll send you a photo of this massive reclining Buddha
I mean places like that don't really do much for me
but it was pleasant, unfortunately even though
the temperature was only about 28 the humidity
was so high it made it feel at least 38 or 40.
Charles and me took a boat to further upstream
to the wrong pier and paid 100 baht each
whereas we could have got to the right pier
for 50 baht and I bought these elephant pants
king size, the comfiest trousers you'll ever wear
for 150 baht and then further along I walked
along this pier and was just surrounded
by elephant pants for 100 baht so I felt like
an idiot for not realising but that wasn't
as bad as when we paid 100 baht for a bike ride
I mean the back of a motorbike to go less than 1km
even though it looked pretty far on the map
I was feeling a bit dodge this morning so I made
a salami sandwich for breakfast from stuff
I bought at the supermarket which settled
my stomach today I sweated through my clothes
more than I even did in Egypt the most
I've ever sweated in my life it's difficult here
coz you can't drink tap water and it's a lot
more important compared to Italy or somewhere
and because it's not a tourist area it's hard to
learn the language because they all want
to practise their English' and his parents
bent forward over the laptop screen
their heads close together, smiling and saying
encouraging things like 'You'll have to brush up
on your Thai then', 'Keep up your fluids' and
'You'll get used to the humidity' until the young
man's eyes drooped and they excused him
almost packing him off to bed, taking deep
breaths to keep their bursting hearts
inside their chests and leaping up when
the Facetime connection closed to make cups
of tea loudly clearing their throats and blinking.
A stun-gun thriller questions the blurb of pets.
Its third and final waistcoat grips answers:
slaughter a chair or endow learned qualities to red?
Baffled pears laugh their dry glee, as she puts it.
Connect fluffy comfort with skittish soil
and a deluxe married life will breed. Sensible
isolation will connect sticky traditions
interspersed with Big, Little, Big, Little
bristly black beast knees. Befriend bulk
and devastating hardship will feed
fringes and raise them, kill them at will.
Simple memoirs stroll down celebrity lane
after all, she reads, endow low love on the smelly relations
for a roller-coaster of truffles to spell out the age of sensation.
The laminated cafe table: tacky
a kid nearby screeching in glee
getting wound up by his dad pre-holiday
playing peek-a-boo and circling his family
in ever-faster racing rings bound to end badly
with the kid tripping flat onto his face on the slippery
engineered Costa flooring and his dad finding it funny
scratching the 3-lions tattoo on his leg and nudging his honey
Kelly Clarkson yelling her saddest song with the poor kid in perfect harmony.
On their first attempt
they walked straight past
the anonymous grey double doors
doubling back, on closer inspection
up three modest stone steps
the building number was just visible
as were metal reinforcements
on the doorframe. Before they could
press the discreet bell one door
swung open and as soon
as they had all stepped in
closed silently behind them.
A suited man sat behind a tall desk and
nodded – as if he knew before they mentioned it
the name of the person they needed to meet –
gesturing elegantly towards another suited
man who beckoned them into the brightly lit
entrance of a lift that seemed to have
opened that instant. As they clustered
into the narrow mirrored cubicle
they caught a glimpse of a sculpture
gleaming on the opposite wall:
the word INTEGRITY
in exquisitely cast bronze and white marble.
On one flank, dazzling green meadows billow
upwards to fringes of soft hazel and birchwoods
that politely give way at the foot of rocky cliffs
to the larches and firs whose dense spikes
thin out to ethereal vagueness
at the upper reaches where clouds take over
the serious business of hiding the true loft
and mass of the frowning mountain
from the upper deck she tries to glimpse the top
sees only mist and twists her neck staring up.
On the other flank, the meadows part
and flow around balconied wooden
farmhouses, pink and red flower troughs
slung around their sides, a scatter of grazing
brown cows over there a small family group of bison
a sight incongruous enough in this implausible
Elysian idyll to remind her to turn the Memrise app
back on and keep practising the lilting language
soon to be even further outside her comfort zone
making art with strangers in a castle south of Rome.
Walking back from the village
she found a four-leaved clover
and I didn't though usually
I'm the queen of clovers 4
and the others are minor players.
Getting back to the chalet
she perked it up in
a shot glass of water
and her twin bro showed
me his phone photo with the four-
leaved clover he found
at Glasto in June while face-
painted with a silver arrow down
his nose and I got a bittersweet
feeling that I've passed on
my talent now and will
probably never find another.
Wind blows up the chimney
like a natural half-pipe
scooping its almost vertical way
zigzagging among stunted beeches
and larches and behind wind
come clouds roiling in the cleft
between bristled mountain
and grey glacier pushing
a curtain of brisk rain into
our faces fumbling hands
feeling about ungrippable
rock becoming slick
lurch of uncertainty
you begin backing down
boot slipping before
releasing the last branch
to commit and grab
the tethered chain
below the edge
trusting it with
all the weight.
Hey man. Yay it's me. Christian.
Yeah we're on the train
getting off at Niouc.
We're arriving at 17.40.
Have you guys brought
ridiculously too much stuff too?
We're totally loaded
litres of water and everything.
Flat peaches. Exactly.
In case it's cold up there.
D'you think it might get cold?
I mean it's so hot on the train
we're dying here the airco's
not working. Yeah I guess we
could open the water.
What a pain thought right?
So when are you guys?
Coz if you could wait ten minutes
and give us a lift? Kind of
a dumb question: are you
bringing your parrot? Aww that's
too bad. Only I had to ask
for Stella. I guess you're right.
I said you're probably right.
In case it's cold up there
and everything. Laters—
Hugs— Stella says—
a soft ginger cat sleeps on an old leather jacket
you sidestep down precipitous painted stairs
it's a francophiliac's depository
crammed with battered tins and suitcases
vintage attic-fillers and placemats
a shrine to her children now grown
the leaky milkmaid's jug stuffed with gladioli
thrust into your arms at the airport last night
walking wet streets through the market
unknown unseen or briefly scanned
you pass the landmarks – strutted bridge,
fragrant baker's, packed ice-cream parlour –
find yourself going around the houses
muddled by a school gone here a shop
closed there a toothy new apartment block
overshadows a cowering thatched cottage
feet burning hours of walking from slab to tidy slab
a melting sensation tugs at reality: you never had a cat
I've missed these gargling Dutch glottals
and shushy consonants. My neighbour
at the picnic table comes out with
an expression ripe for bad translation
'You want to hang out the fun mother'
I definitely do.
And singing a spontaneous
three-part mediaeval canon with two
laughing costumed women one with
added bagpipes loude sing
cuckou as I've just done
is surely proof.
my stuffed dragger
up antique tiled steps
browned buddleia branches
dangle over the signboard
showing 6 minutes until
the next Victoria train
only us. Before
my breath is back you
say you'd better go before your
car gets ticketed. We hug and you
skip back down the steps your hair a
pale crown on this grey day we blow kisses
just like a mother and daughter who'll see each
other this evening or this week or soon
to discuss when you should plant the tulip bulbs and when they'll bloom.
horrible hairy stuff in hideous hues without
any redeeming features to be used in amateur
art projects of supremely twee repulsiveness
a fluffy carded wool twist fresh from the shearing shed
natural cream or buff or hand-dyed indigo and madder
wound around itself to form a loose circle then dipped
in pisswater and rubbed and wrung between the hands
rolled damp onto the wrist and left drying slowly to form
a bracelet precisely moulded to the wearer that will fit
closely never come off never fade never come undone
last well beyond the day that your human race is run
still looking as good as on the day it was put on
which isn't saying much, admittedly.
A useful tip for those of you
who never have much dosh
but spend a daft amount of time
persuading friends you're posh
You worry that your obvious lack
of any tennis courts
or swimming pool or croquet lawn
might give them second thoughts
Just use your head and find that case
of Grandad's in the shed
the one with 8 round rusty balls
steel filled, it seems, with lead
Pile a table with cheese, wear a beret
– you might feel a bit of a twonk –
find a gravel patch, grab your wineglass and say
"Who fancies a game of pétanque?"
Woman ran off with another guy?
– Advice and help with every experience
Hit in the eye by a rival?
– Instruction and warning
Didn't like that?
– Comfort and hope
Gonna get that boy?
– Correction in vivid terms
Legs shot off in the local saloon?
– Deal with life's problems
Doctor out now?
– Help through predictions and promises
Fancy a gun?
– More than a book
One's swallowed in a zipped-up anorak
One's shrunk inside a too-big fleece
'I thought it would be bad
I thought it would take two hours'
'No it takes half an hour
We'll be there in half an hour'
'Well that's not too bad is it
Not all that bad at all'
'No idea where to get a cup of tea
Can't think where to go'
'All these signs and places
It's impossible to know'
One hoiks her handbag to her shoulder
One tugs her suitcase a little closer
gathered at the back
long wide sleeves
at that wedding
20 years ago
It was heavy when
she put it on and twirled
her friends whistled
mid-calf-length on her
than her godmother
who'd kept it for her
all these years
although her twin
brother looked pretty
good in it too.
We feel four bone spurs rearing up
along his spine beside the vertical scar
like button mushrooms or air roots
about to pierce the skin and take a breath
due to be carved off next week, a simple
procedure nothing dramatic compared
with the original disaster, a fall at home
then unconsciousness thinking
to sleep it off and next morning
couldn't move let alone stand
began to realise this might be
serious or even the end: three years later
he stands steady for us to inspect
what it meant when he said, 'I broke my neck.'
A. walked into neo-Byzantine Savini
at the Criterion Piccadilly Circus
just for cocktails under the gold ceiling
glittering chandeliers marble columns
C. in her element and 4 table napkins
were delivered with spoon and fork
alongside 2 sours 1 gin martini 1 Rusty Nail
S. (not present) had suggested Kiln
the 4 of us squeezed in downstairs
a tin spoon a fork a small plate each
a glass of cloudy Tangerine Dream
12 little dishes later almost drunk
on aromatic Thai chili fresh mint and oh
those richly curried cockles in the shell.
M. looked up tea/dessert and a few
Soho streets on we spotted Yumchaa
on the corner sniffed our way through
almost every tea option and chose
1 Lapsang 1 Oolong 1 Egyptian 1 Genmai
1 oversweet green Matcha cake to share
1 photo of 2 heads together
Tomorrow as we fly we'll check
our phones for last night's photos
already unreal the 2 ahead laughing
arms around each others' waists
striding through archways
of scaffolding sailing through
alleys piled high with garbage bags
one calming turquoise striplight
one enraged child crying
one pinpoint light illuminating
one reader reading
one face lit by a still screen
one poet tapping out
one promise made
one day in May
one watchface reflecting on the bulkhead
one arm raised
one toilet not working
one person stretching 200 asleep
enjoy a silver-service endangered pangolin bbq for two
on an oversized raft floating above the coral
enjoy tailored dine-on-demand and elite basking nets
at Antarctica's first and only opulent luxury camp
enjoy beaches beaches white beaches beaches
pearls waterproof to a depth of 1,220m ($11,350)
enjoy unparalleled ferocious white baguette diamonds
everything you need for a great falconry expedition
fancy exclusive-use enclave wristware pieces?
choose our hottest ticket bulgalouboutier privacy panels
offering senseless scuba gucci surf boss dive boodles how best to hunt the rolex honeymoon
Snipping carefully to remove
flyaway sprigs and tufts
he trims it short at the front
giving the sides a finely
bevelled edge and thinning
the lower levels loosely
allowing varied lengths
to co-exist in dappled layers
providing shelter for ants and hares.
I feel like a hairdresser, he said
put down the shears and ambled off to bed.
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