Song of the Sea [draft]

I could speak,
should I ever tire of singing -

should I exhaust my bellowing-blue mewings,
my mizen-squall song, the roaring buffet
of my polyphonic tumble.

I could reduce myself,
plod words into tales of salt and sand and stone,
anatomise the spectrum-smear I am,
run eyeless lead to ingot, haze, and bubble evening
out of midnight as words break the listless surface.

I could chart my August skyswain,
count iris-chips and ice flecks,
with still lagoons as green as harts tongue,
range horse-grey flot to Lear’s hair foam.

I could vomit up the suns I’ve swallowed daily
spit out stars stuck in my teeth:
all heavens turn to my horizon – forever empties
into me at each day’s end; for I command
the turn of earth and tug the moon into a dance.

I could unprise the swollen ribs of boats
and men, both drowned – give up the secrets
of their last banalities,
return their sodden voices to the air.

I could unclaw the names of children
from the fists of women who did not go first
and blunt their fresh adventuring.

I gasp the lungfuls of the nations,
folded in each ogeeing turn; fizz wasted breath
beneath each wave; discard the stuff of speech as froth
and jetsom words for singing.

I offer my reproach in script that’s swirled as spray,
as sea-teeth sunk into your cliffs.
My swelling ranks advance, undead.

I will chalk your bones and wail,
draw all dryness to my depths
and still the turn of days
before I stoop to speak.

Head [draft]

The Lords have given me his dead body, though they have denied me his life. God hold me in my wits.

Elizabeth Throckmorton, Lady Raleigh, who kept her husband
Sir Walter’s head, which was enbalmed after his execution,
in a velvet bag, until her own death 27 years later.

-

It remained your face, even after it cracked,
and bristles shrunk gingerly from your leather cheeks.

The bag became your shape, sunk into your watchful skull,
eyes closed against their velvet night, and the quiet displacements

of air. I have become a vacant space that dry earth
does not wait for, but will accept,

indifferently, when time no longer comes.
But I could not give you up, even after your shoulders

slipped from your tensed jaw,
sharply and shuddered with the dignity of hot breath.

You were made hand-sized and the curve of this skull
now rounds my palm as it never did in life.

But your nose did not uncrook itself nor do your lips
fall differently over your teeth.  So little was undone

when they slipped you from yourself.  Except in me.
For there, my ship of wits watched stars sleet themselves

askew, and the wheeling sextant span its numbers
into fractions of themselves. Oarless in the wreckage

of my Jonahed ship, I am fogged with blue air.
And even here, my smallest finger knows the angles

of each crease of seven seas of skin. Your lips can find out
mine and every inch of me. I keep this globe of you:

an open secret; an affront; a weeping sore.
And, in this explorer’s life, the valleys I can neither conquer,

crest or claim, or underwrite in charts, are those I kiss
and keep, which run the latitudes of your tempest brow.

September [draft]

Repeat.  Copper-crimson; wade of leavings;
leafy spray; pepper-piss display;
all just the sleight of hand of loss.

Repeat to fade.  Tawdry month!
Sickly promise of gold.  Again, the days
crumpled to a catch in the throat.

Sigh, late whimpering summer, rehash yourself.

The early, encoreless departure of the band;
bad sex month – coming like a clearing of a throat.

O petty petite-morte!  Plumed with guilt,
the broken backs of bovine hoards gone back to school;
the dawning chill of cheery men who, now we know,
will not be home by Christmas.

It makes the hot preceding happiness
no more than necessary for descent.
Make kissing simply separation’s prologue
and light the brief exception to the dark.

And that they are.  And they are not.

Month to believe that a jealous god is watching:
He knows your worth and strips you of blessing.

Month of cauliflower breath; of light grown lean.
Demented month of moths; of dwindling birds;
the gale-licked strip-tease month of haggard trees;
of that was as good as it gets;
and bring out your dead; the stamping of feet.

The plaster sky is chipped.  More than the leaves will fall.

The Phantasy of Flesh

This, your body – I will break it. Blister your skin under my tongue;
your crackling flesh, the easy give and chew of you. I must lip more
than your peripheries: stiffen each finger and nipple; your tongue

in my cheek. Your forbidden toes I will cleave to my innards. Please
don’t go. We have breathed this same air so long, strung our meanings
between ourselves. Your sweat knows the rivets of my spine. Inked

in each other, we lay down, my body the grave you dug and entered.
So butterfly your skin, twitch your tibialis at my incisive unpeeling.
Your bullfrog heart will croak in my throat. I will groan then quiet

your larynx with the gulp of my craw. Thanatos! Pray for us,
in extremis! Feed me the mariner’s last resort, shipwrecked on this
outcrop of the lonely, the stench of the singular buzzing in our ears.

I would be marooned in you, justified and indivisible. Take it, eat it.
Our softened edges are no more, my lovely, for you have always been
my breached border. And, in a blur of blood, I gullet the world.

Against gratitude

When resentment curdles, call it gratitude.
Coercion’s marbled belly-fat.  Your thin-lipped
grin begs it, your eyeless smile, a paper cut.

Write it in the firm tread of a soft-toed shoe.
Envy’s past tense in the passive form.  Hope
upended.  I preserve your disappointments

under wax paper, and wheeze prickled breath
into a kilner jar.  The sweetness will fur.  One day
I will feed it to you, with the promise of wine.

We’ll lie between the thin sheets of a fever bed,
sweated from submission.  This gratitude.
I bow.  But I’ll not rest my head, not here -

at a block where, one day, I will make you kneel.

Highstreet 2012

Do not veil us because you find
what you have made us immodest.

Do not make me choose between
a fetish of decay and your diabetic,

cut-out and keep cockney.
We are not the squat canary,

beaked and blinking,
that you set to watch over us.

While we have no bread,
your five-ring circus will stink

of salted fish and the sickly green vapour
of your money and our weedy dreams.


Highstreet 2012 is the cosmetic improvement of the route through Whitechapel from the City of London to the Olympic park in Stratford.

Going Missing

Half-cold potato, carelessly half-mashed
listless eyes half-crushed, half-eaten, slicked
in an oily spill of Bisto. This ‘home’, half-home,

half-hospital: our half-lives shortening. The dull buzz
of fluorescent half-light. The days decay. Air strung
with quiet sweetness: disinfectant; deep brown piss;

fading now familiar; nostrils stung with sterilizer;
medicated shampoo; shit. Smells don’t stay sharp
as the gashed smiles, carved on the faces of staff

for all unpleasantries – enemas and mop-ups,
explaining empty chairs at breakfast, passing time
with visitors. Our grey-haired children come

and clutch at their concern and their relief. And never
look back as the locks click shut. This place
of absent doors that disappear and then arrive

in empty walls. Corridors evolve into dead ends
one hour, resolve themselves when passing next.
Locked doors. No keys. I’ve not held a key

these seven years. Who’d have thought you could miss
the click of a latch, the pleasing weight of a fist of keys,
the smell of old metal, the swing of a hinge? I dream

beyond indignities of cliché that glut my empty hours
with plastic plant-pots, toffee papers, tena pads,
small piles of coins that disappear into the foggy days.

I know she takes them. Some day I’ll gather up the lost
and passing things. Cologne and Brylcreem, tie pin,
neatly polished shoes. I’d not go hatless. Wind my watch

and turn the key. I’d hail a cab and give directions
in a bright clear voice. I’ll step from somewhere high
into the unlocked air and unrestrained, ungoverned by my age,

your inconvenience, your locks, I’ll take my last breath flying.