Then in the twentieth century they invented transparent adhesive tape,
the first record played on Radio 1 was Flowers In The Rain by the Move,
and whereas ink had previously been in pots, now it was in cartridges.
They killed each other a lot and found ingenious and crafty ways to do it,
sometimes one person got killed, sometimes eleven, sometimes ninety-eight,
and some of the new equipment managed a million or more, it was, friends,
spectacular. Seymour, Foggy and Blamire gave audiences week by week
a chuckle, between 1941 and 1958 the New York Yankees won the world series
ten times, I did my A Levels, failed Physics twice, got Chemistry and Zoology,
and cycled a lot and drew maps. C. Day Lewis wrote a poem, The Tourists,
and George Steiner said, 'We must all learn to be guests of each other',
I decided, in making my own poems, against punch lines, and lost in stages all
of my upper teeth. Peter Sutcliffe in 1987 confessed to thirteen murders,
when I was young we had no television, but we did have ice cream in cones.
Redundant churches became clubs, community centres, galleries or homes,
the phrase 'The best thing since sliced bread' (or not) got into the language,
Sir Basil Spence won the competition to build the new Coventry Cathedral,
I was born by the sea then lived in cities, Matisse in his old age made cut-outs.
One afternoon at precisely four-twenty, on the corner of Corporation Street,
wearing old jeans and a new red jacket, sheltering in a shop front from the rain,
she saw a man stab another man to death, blood everywhere, people screaming.
Men quarrelled about scrolls found in pots near the Dead Sea, the library
at Norwich burned down, milk was pasteurised by law, I have four children,
all adult now, small islands became uninhabited, Harpo never spoke on film.
We take the air of our low-maintenance roof-garden
this austere quad our best line of defence
from the smoky street where we hear arteries harden.
Honesty seems a new form of pretence
for here is hardly either Avalon or Eden.
Yet this gravel reach can seem a wild expanse.
We splay on deckchairs wilting in the sun,
as window-boxes bear the flowering quince,
the flowering plum. We live above neon, shop-signs, gargoyles, gorgons.
If you leap for joy do not leap over the fence
of our low maintenance roof-garden
as one did once and some have done so since.
The street below. The sky above. The garden inbetween
with only barren stones as any sustenance,
mica-chips, wave-smoothed glass, obsidian –
we lie on these hard stones doing penance
for not having a warm shoulder to cry on.
A shingle beach half way up the sky has the appearance
of the temporary. Yet we mark our territory aeon after aeon
and reacquaint ourselves with innocence,
lying between the stars and Municipal bins.
If there's anything to take we take it on sufferance.
Taking the air of our roof-garden.
It's night. We hear a noise. Pardon? What? The noise is silence
or dawn bringing the black hat of the traffic warden
to pin the law on the windscreen's crazy fluorescence
below. We sit tight in our low-maintenance roof-garden.
To lick each cobble in the mews, to feel
the individual curve against his tongue:
at night, when slugs are making love in compost;
foxes sifting air that's flowing off
the Camden Road, before they veer and trot
underneath rows of postal vans corralled
between divergent streams of railway tracks,
whose points are wishbones bathed in moonbeams.
Peace. The pylons have it, gravel heaps and tunnels
have it, stagnant pools, mountains of tyres.
Spaced out cars, untroubled by the shove
of congestion, glide everywhere on routes
of air. As if for practice, signals flit
from green to red and back again, observed
by flaking bark from plane trees, blackbirds thinking
through the small hours, chicken-flavoured cardboard
jamming storm drains. A student - salivating
on a biro - lit by angle-poise,
awake on coffee laced with Pro Plus, stares
beyond Nirvana posters at the licker.
Turned-down rest home televisions fizzle
over OAPs who've finally
dropped off. A leopard, currently a star
in nude revue on Wardour Street, is flipping
dustbins. Baby's mobile, dangling cartoon
heads above her cot, is still - a Disney
hippo looks at Daddy out the window,
crouching in his partner's nightie, licking
like there's no tomorrow, past the skip,
approaching 'Pets for Life' and '3X Vid'.
Paleontologists treasure the rare geological circumstances that permit an occasional preservation of soft parts. - Stephen Jay Gould
Perhaps there is some transcendental place,
some cove or niche
somewhere in which
the pouches, lobes and gills,
suckers, lips and tentacles
of countless ancient animals
endure. For bones are not much more
than relics really.
They are not the whole story:
a carpal or talus –
what can it tell us
of the monk-seal's passion
for sunbathing on sandbars,
the muntjac deer's
fondness for tea-leaved willow?
So little of a fellow
can be surmised
when only the brittle parts
survive, when all that was supple
has gone from a creature.
You see this with people
of a certain nature: even in life
the softness of their mouths,
their eyes and hearts
stiffen and harden
till nothing remains
to show us what they were,
that they were human.
What is held here, weighing so little, keeps
close to the floor and where linoleum gives way
to wilderness, gathers in the shadows of stones.
The days pass like thieves, in the disinfection
of letters, the collective study of quarantine law
and the microscopic recitation of sand.
At the doors experts assemble for discussion
of germ theory and scum, and all the while night
like a ship at bay waits to present itself ashore
to pitch its tent of stars, the dome of its hammam
on which are printed all the ancient maps
of the lazaretto and the echo of your name in writing.
Beyond the window the world looks like a dream
where other men row their boats freely, turn
stones into bread, walk to the shops. Welcome.
I want to be picked up by Terence Rattigan
in a second hand bookshop near the British Museum.
I want to be trapped in some narrow landing
between the bookshelves and a bannister
peering at an early edition of Louis MacNeice
in a neat dustwrapper of understated brown
and olive-green, its infrequently looked at pages
gleaming and tasty like a fresh made bed,
when I feel him brush against me,
smell the Trumper's cologne and the patina
of thirty years' Abdullah cigarettes.
I keep my eyes on the pink spines in front of me
as a steel-linked cuff and chalkstriped sleeve
slip under my arm and nicotine-stained fingers
trace a line from my throat to my left nipple.
His evening chin is rough against my neck
and the shop bell jingles for us as we pass
together, wordless, into the lamplit street where
women in fur coats blow smoke rings, and frost
gilds the roof of his midnight blue Jaguar.
Virtual snow on the line, a starry
damask night, the train quits
the virtual station. Wellwishers
gather on the cinderpath. Knowing
how to say goodbye. Passengers
with tall hats in half windows alight
in the opening pages. A red signal
power-cut lasts an entire chapter.
But the couple are true; emerge from
lost strands. There is grey in her hair
now, cologne hangs in the lull
of stale compartments. Destination,
their long-shut summer-house. He carries
her portmanteau in one hand, an octave
mandola in the other. No need
of words. Luggage racks cleared,
supper-coach wicks snuffed. Unlit
factories, grain-stores, mosques dissolve
in the filter of darkness, past telegraph
poles, a lone traveller on a snow-stormed
bridge, isolated railroad hostels.
He notices she's lost an earring, one freshwater
pearl. A single motif. The rest is non-
linear and poorly focused. The engine
slows at the first tunnel, erases carriage
after relentless carriage from the frame.
I see the road-kill gourmets convene at dawn,
Magpies in white napkins, to taste pristine faces,
Rooks formally dressed, in long sideways skips
To test the insides of ears and lips, fawn fur
Still warm, gloss gone only from the eyes.
Each corpse shows where an occult route ran
Counter to the kerb. I count the milestones:
A white cat, rabbits, an owl gripping a vole,
A badger which bundled over the cat's-eyes
Not quickly enough. The day grows older.
The school-run strokes and combs them
Into ruts. They last longer on the B-roads.
On the main arteries shapes are wrecked,
Pelts whipped into nine-tails, empty gloves
Pulverised, all species devolved into mud.
Only a fox's ears survive the pantechnicons,
Still pert and vertical at noon they signal from its
Spreading map how flexible cartilage crows
Over failed bone. Each year it takes longer
To drive home, the place where I am still perfect.
Rain washes the gutters. Dusk wakens the fox.
The gourmets have gone to the keeper's gibbet,
Or tremble in flitters from roadside thorns.
This must be age, which I never saw coming:
Its face flies at me from the driving mirror.
A river mist noses across the night road.
I am on the last leg, the way familiar, the tar
Surface clear. The day's carnage is smoothed
Into molecules and metaphors, and memories
As warm as leverets, which refuse to move.
Less light was what they wanted.
Less light and a chance to look up
to see tonight's old stars shining
and dying. Dark skies and fewer
street lamps leaking Lucozade
into a space once reserved
for heaven, where they might glimpse
Venus opening her door a crack,
or, leaning out of an upstairs window,
overhear God making plans in verse,
honing the moon into half-rhyme.
They believed - and said they had proved it -
that light pollution could cause cancer,
near-sightedness, insomnia and for some
drug addiction. They understood the heart
needs a dark place to thump undetected,
to go underground like a badger, burrowing
its own blind streets, to back out unseen
into fields where the beet sweetens.
We were saving electricity. There was only
the lamp-glimmer of bluebells on the table,
though it was dark outside: torrential rain
battering the windows fit to burst;
sky-rumblings; lightning's ghost-flash
passing on the walls, leaving behind
a spider-crawl sensation on the skin,
a gloom that boded ill.
Then later on,
about five-o-clock, a sudden brightening
as the rain stopped, and the earth was one great ear
listening to itself, intent and tuned
to oozings, seepage, to the wash and rush
Beribbonings of cloud
trailed across the sky. A flock of birds
whizzed by like arrowheads, falling away
into the glare-liquescence over Glamis.
The Dundee bus passed with a hiss of wheel-spray,
while I stood at the door and watched my father,
wet through to his vest, a fag lit, striding
home from work along a path of opals.
You get addicted to the ink,
or the pain; one of the two.
When she came in here for that rose
on her shoulder, I might have known
it would come to this; years later,
her body painted from head
to foot in a thousand colours.
I read her now like a picture book,
a china vase, a dream of my own making.
I've pierced her ears, her nose,
put studs in her nipples,
a silver ring through the hood
of her clitoris. I've covered
her breasts with moths,
her thighs with dolphins.
Her back is a forest of shrubs
and birds, her arms are vines,
her belly a nest of vipers.
I've touched her where only
a lover should touch, have heard her sigh
in the cold November gloom
of my studio. I've felt her burn,
at the brush of a finger, and hardly
a word passed between us.
I think of her sometimes laid
in her bed, the buzz of my needle
still in her skin, a lover
tracing the braille of a new tattoo,
or holding her, gently,
amazed at the wildlife swarming
under his hands, how she moves
in the flicker of candles; or watching
her sleep, how he loses himself
in the richness and intrigue.
The journeys he takes.
The stories he finds in her skin.