As part of a collaboration with the artist Rob Crosse at Kingsgate Workshops I wrote this series of (prose?) poems. The work is called “In Case of Death”, and it is, among other things, an instruction manual on how to reverse the 7 symptoms of death.
Having not updated this for a year and a half, it might be time to do something. First off, here is a link to a poem I wrote as part of Nevada Street Poets for the Mary Evans Picture Library in Blackheath. An odd project, as we selected the pictures/subjects for each other, but I’m pretty happy with the outcome.
Also, here’s a video of me sweatily reading some sad poems at an event in Peckham. They all involve trees to greater or lesser extents, by way of fatalism, cats, prostitutes, German bombings, and people who love other people more than they love me. Par for the course.
Here is a poem I was asked to write for the birth of my nephew. It wouldn’t have got written if I hadn’t been asked, which makes it feel something of a surrogate (ironically). But that is not the point. The point is to make something selfless, objective to the author but subjective to the ‘patron’, as it were. I’m not sure I was able to remove myself enough. But fuck it. It’s not for me. It’s for Colm.
The Sea Gives
All winter I walked right to the edge of the bluff.
For all the wind, I was surefooted. I knew how to be there.
I took stock of the waves, how they tore themselves up
And then sewed themselves up, how they crouched and pounced like snow-cats.
I watched them pass, threshold after threshold after threshold.
I waited, but never once a door. One day I swam out. I wanted
Desperately to see in, but the surf was like a long, white blindfold
And I was left to imagine: were there auroras of kelp? Constellations of sea soot?
At last, I took a tugboat, an old thing, like an oil lamp tipped on its side.
I let the water rise and set bread-like beneath me. I drifted off
Until I was lost. And then from the bluff the lighthouse, clear-eyed,
Took me in. I understood its language. Enough, it said. Come home.
I killed it, in his words, and really I had left him awe-struck.
I killed it: mastery to the point of murder. I left to buy fruit
And returned to find he hadn’t budged, to find his hand stuck
To his mouth, oh my God, as if I’d plucked a harp string or spun a penny
And the motion had minutely gone on, riveting him.
I left to buy fruit, thinking that would pass for cookery
(it did), and he didn’t budge, the shape of me still mapped out
in the quilt’s terrain, in his free hand, my name the name
of all his thoughts. Such joy should really not be allowed.
All of this my doing, and not a hint of fear. I didn’t once,
For example, tug my cuffs below the wrist. I was saying: look, look
How exposed is the radius, look how easily you’d snap it, as if for fun.
I took my fist to him, all of it my doing, and I buried
My face in his gut, modeled it around me like clay. I filled
His navel with confessions, without a hint of fear. I married
Us in word: I took all of him to heart and told him how it hurt
To keep him there. And I married us in blood: we
Bit each other’s fingernails to keep from scratching. And I married
Us in deed: I hadn’t expected to strip my skin off and spread it across
The window so he’d see all of me at once. He stayed and watched me
And we cut up a mango. I hadn’t expected it to be like this.
Time and time again she has
Said that she will only ever
Swim in corries, as though
There were a hierarchy of waters,
As though the cirque were high art
And all the world’s pools and rivers
only drivel. She’ll only stroke
What the ice has scoured, only
What’s vertiginous and exact,
Only cold, old water. There, she says,
She can open herself up,
Like the land had once shuddered
To the broad, course tonguing
Of the glacier. She says up there the water’s
Tighter, and tenses round the neck
Like a torc, then ripples out,
So that my head, she says, is like
the one pinned foot
Of a widening compass. I make
Concentrics, she says, I’m
A proof of nature’s tiniest geometry.
Even the scree clings parlously on,
Lest it disturb the science behind it all.
She says it’s like slipping into love.
I’ve spent months editing and re-editing this but it won’t behave, so I’ve decided to expose it to the world and see how it likes it. Maybe someone can help.
By way of a preface: during WW2, a Nazi fighter jet crashed on Briksdalsbreen, a glacier in southern Norway. It was never found, so it is presumed to have been swallowed up in the ice, and, with the glacier’s movement, it’s expected to emerge once more sometime in the future.
When it came down to us amongst the slumping conifers,
More than snow was displaced, more than branches knocked:
We each felt it burrowing, a bacterium flanked with Balkenkreuz.
Nobody died; it wasn’t born of rancour or ill-meaning,
But still, it bent things a touch – still it ghostwrites
Itself onto us, insinutates small kinks into our dialect;
It darkens our honey; it turns our rain a hair westward.
Some swear to have witnessed its descent. For the sake
Of folklore, they say it excreted a caravan of smoke-eggs, or
That it shook its flames like water from a bear’s coat.
The sound was a thousand reams of paper ripping
Or the terse, nocturnal releases of a snoring incontinent.
It exploded, it didn’t explode. Tor-Erik Holger
Says he was close enough to tell the make.
The snow that night was unanimous and deleted it.
In the morning a high-pitched silence, as if a communion
Bell had been struck, and our fjord was an open-air cathedral.
It was in the glacier: stomached, worked in, and moving.
We kept as quiet as ice. Ice was our accessory, ice our vigil.
Without ice, our houses would perch like eagles by a canyon,
Bold and lonesome, with nothing to be stowed or secreted.
Some day, it will have to calve the aircraft, its pilot numb
And tumescent with rot. The scientists and historians
Will then invade our dear Briksdalsbreen; they’ll make us too regurgitate.
For now there is only this latent extent of black, sleeping,
Down there somewhere a slowness, a thing that waits.
They will ask us to explain, they’ll want to draw conclusions.
We will only tell them this: it is always after that the flood comes.
Here is something old and edited. It’s taken from a series of poems based on an old tradition called the ‘song of lies’, a kind of machismo displayed through oral poetry – whoever is the most fantastical wins, whichever the wildest lie. That’s basically poetry to a certain extent. Pearse Hutchinson wrote a wonderful version of the song of lies, in which “[I] saw a young woman of Greece / boiling the city of Cork over a bonfire”. Yes.
Song of Lies II
It is wordlessly documented –
as if the fact had fingers and
kept them crossed in the attic, in
the hope of being summoned –
that he abhorred tobacco,
and yet, if I were to affect
a quirk by trading in my rollies
for a pipe, it would be as an ode to
him, an act of reverence and
mimesis, for all those times I watched
his cheeks shrivel as he drew
the smoke in, mottled and furrowed and
brown as a salted trout.
I presume he was buried in a
suit, the same navy pin-stripe
he wore to a lifetime of christenings
but I know his casual jacket
was made of heather:
it soothed and it burnt,
it was snug but rough-hewn,
it smelt less of sweat
than of pollen, it only
had colour up close
and it lasted forever and
no cow’s hoof or cowshit
could stain it for long.
He spent his last years,
by all accounts, snared
inside a shroud of cataleptic
muscle and baby-blue pyjamas.
At this time he saw me as
a robot or some other machine
he hadn’t grown up with,
because I could feed and
fed him, because I barely spoke
his language, because I never
kicked a ball or brought the coal in.
So all the time he’d study me
with his one good eye,
not sure if I had killed
or resurrected him.