Pavel in profile
his eye at the spy-hole
watches Mrs Beltinska in the bath.
Steam from the spy-hole
rises and unravels in the dark
cold apartment at his back,
where a TV with the sound down
shows the River Vltava
bursting its banks.
And as Prague’s metro floods
and the Mala Strana floods
and the Waldstein Palace floods
and the National Theatre floods
and the Kampa Modern Art Museum floods,
Mrs Beltinska sinks her treasures in the suds.
The first Czech bible (1488) is drowned
in sewage water, but the warm orange glow
from Mrs Beltinska’s bathroom
coming through the spy-hole
gives an odd kind of halo
to Pavel’s head seen from behind.
You would recognise that hook nose anywhere,
his hump and paunch, the shiny pink erection of his chin.
Withered, crossed legs on the barstool
dangle like transplants from a much smaller body.
He could have found his ideal slot in the Gestapo,
been a dab hand with a blinding iron.
And the scold’s bridal would have been right up his Strasse.
He has, they say, killed seven police:
old-time rozzers on the beat
more deserving of a saucy come-on from the street girls
than the last rites down a back alley.
And two wives. Poor old Mrs Punch finally copped it
one night after he’d done a few dozen barley wines
and as many double gins. She fought fiercely
against an assailant or assailants unknown
the Pall Mall Gazette reported. Never caught.
Never charged. And pretty little Mrs Punch
number two won’t be taking a bath
in those bubbles again. That’s the way to do it!
Just picture him afterwards, cock in hand
like an old chimp with a hard, green-tipped banana.
And the baby, where’s the baby?
It’s something to make the Devil into the good guy:
how children cry out for him
to drag Punch down to hell for eternal punishment.
But he’d throttle Lucifer when his back was turned
and be back on that stool for closing time.
Or maybe that’s where he’s been all these years
of grown-up sleep, peaceful and free of nightmare.
It’s what you can’t see in the stare of his wooden yellow eye.
Don’t look, there’s his stick, the awful stick!
In Japan, in a laboratory in the hills, a man is whispering to water.
A man, whose wife has left him, is focusing on structure through
a powerful microscope. He’s astounded when each isolated drop
seems to listen, absorb the words, change like a face transformed
by smiling or a splash of shock. He studies how words like ‘family’
or ‘betrayal’ alter the crystalline mandala, as if the vibration
of his heart shakes and resets each miniscule aquatic form.
He mouths ‘eternity’ in Arabic and ‘goodbye’ in French and manages
to photograph the crystal as it clouds inside like a blown fuse. Now
others will believe him, will apply the knowledge he’s not built for,
why these lexigrams appear, as if water held the capacity of mind
and how minds change when love’s ear hears nothing anymore:
how different from the first unspoken, this last not speaking.
He’s tired. He doesn’t mean to murmur ‘mercy’. It’s almost a
forgotten word. The droplet he is viewing becomes a spiky lattice,
with a strange core, like the trapped blue-white sea of a cataract.
His vision softens. He asks mercy for himself, from himself, until
the mantra rises to a song from the southern shore his wife would sing,
a song of waves and Bo trees, whose words he’s no idea he knew,
and he sees the water tremble as if for the body that once carried it.
‘Forgive me’, he says. He photographs the feeling.
The women in the Umbrian mountain village
gather around the hood
of the parked blue Alfa-Romeo
touching it reverently
with the palms of their hands
whispering “Roma”, “Roma”
at the heat of the engine.
They stand on medieval cobblestones
marvelling at such things as head, distance and speed.
The older women, the ones in black,
think only of time.
It always starts with a dead girl
somewhere in the picture:
Lukewarm and pretty, in an organdy crinoline,
One arm sticking out from under a credenza.
There is a foreigner with dark hair and a secret
Who says Eet ees not me! when he is questioned;
A shady dressmaker who’s missing a finger;
A doctor struck off for fiddling with his patients;
Another girl, in a bedroom (the second victim),
Dolling herself up in French scent and mascara.
Pretty lips and curls smile back at her from the mirror.
She has a date with the killer. She just doesn’t know it.
The detective follows the clues. He is a metaphor
Like the girl in the library, like the guilty pistol,
Like the dressmaker’s friend with a fatal knack
For murdering women, like the end of a story
Or its aftermath: the part that doesn’t get written,
Four years later, when the case has been closed
And the bodies have been forgotten— how the dead
We have failed to keep remembering are alone.
Sure as I’m dying, I need it. Bring
them nuggets of zingiber, fire-packed rhizomes
to mash into candy or jam between pillows,
ward off hag-rodeo. Bring that curio
brings me luck, most outrageous medicine,
puts charge in me, want for that juiciest medicine.
Let me gnaw it and gob in the westerly
(right up my back as I’m making the dead run).
Mix it with nutmeg and ground John the Conqueror
so that I might have the upper hand. Bake its
pulp in a bread to gag dapper gamblers
like Death. It’s the best bet – ask Dr. Bronner
or Dioscorides. Get me that jake root,
that stick of mouth-gelignite, brute tongue-number,
that flashover powder, that head unblocker,
that knothole of daggers, that good thrumming petrol,
that woodknuckle jumplead, that sting-in-a-knock,
fresh from the citadels, fresh from the spade,
or not fresh – vintaged in mother’s cupboards,
stowed in a clay jar, fossilised, strung on
a necklace worn by a princess or priestess
fresh from a grave at the foot of the Andes
or fresh from a boat from the faraway islands
or dangle it still strung from her gleaming neck,
or have her chew it to glistening, hating me.
Whole or in pieces, tenderised, tampered with,
stuck on a blade, in a bowl – but I need it
now and I need it now and I need the
tubers, the fist of them, blunt fat fingers
damned with the furious ting, with the ointment,
the crystals, the dust and the bundle of nodules
fermented or dashed in a cake or concoction.
Bring me it, that I might go tooled up,
my last breath searing the eyes of the footman,
splinter and spice in my trinket teeth.
The toss, the tumble, the nearly making it last minute
plummet. The damp, the shade lightening, the lifting of fibres
away: the visible softening tumbling toss of the towels.
Dave nearly making it, jogging to Strauss. The onetwothree,
onetwothree, onetwo– –Hal peering through his portal,
its red gleam of eye. ‘What are you doing, Dave. Dave
what are you doing.’ I’m drying, Hal, you hung Frank
out to dry, but me–you put me in the tumbler. The eye
goes blank, Dave slows to a walk, falls. Penny theatre plus
inflation means 20p per centripetal pull: the real force, the fine aslant,
askew, the not so bloody obvious pulling you where you don’t think
you’re going, the falling always. The 20p
drops. Ten more minutes playing Hal, making Dave dance.
When the men came to speak to my father
I was sent out into the garden.
I could hear the cold hissing in the cracks
of the concrete,
could feel its boldness,
how it longed to slip between my edges.
Hands buzzing like wasps,
I practised my skipping, counted steps,
the lash of the rope
on my calves only right,
I looked out of my eyes
at the crumble-bricked wall,
the white rose
blooming still. Then
I rose up in the air and looked down
As if I were the Angel in the painting, hovering.
As if I were the Virgin crouched in a heap in the corner.
the straight white scar of my parting,
saw my bunches bounce,
above white socks. The fear
a series of yellow wavy lines
zigging from the dog-tooth
check of my duffle coat.
The smell of it nettles, the smell of it cat’s piss.
My father was in that room
alone with those men
with only my mother to protect him.
I did the only thing I could do –
my back to the French windows,
my arms raised out like wings.
“…how do you uproot something that’s already taken hold?” Historian, Arnold Hirsch, on failed attempts to remedy segregation in Chicago.
One simmering afternoon, he blocks your path
with an open paw. Tells you he’s a panther escaped
from Lincoln Park Zoo. He bleeds papaya juice,
pees coconut water, shits burnt sugar cane.
Tells you his claws are tree branches that won’t stop
growing. His tail was eaten by a boa constrictor
and he’s afraid of fire and water and trees
and the #36 bus. Tells you he’ll marry you
for $3 in quarters and a pack of Marlboro Lights.
Nappy tufts blast atop his head, shroud his cheeks.
Think Sula’s Shadrack. Make him barefoot,
six foot four, wearing nothing but a sweat-stained
burlap sack and you have Burlap Man.
One bright night, as your darks tumble and you fold
your whites, you see him stopping traffic, like a moon
walking tree, on Halstead, waving his sack high in the air.
You join a crowd to hear him belting out Black or White
to heavy honks, beep-beeps and cat calls,
his privates jangling like tropical fruit.
As sirens shimmy and shout towards the street
party, he gets down on all fours and crawls away,
never to be seen again.
"We've discovered Superman's address, and got to the bottom
of the wing-beat rate a beetle needs to stay dry in the rain,
all of which brings to mind the last stand of a certain man
on this very field, what, sixteen years since, is it Greg?
You’ll remember Amit’s aztec gaze, how he’d play
from a firm back foot, pick his point above your arm,
directing when to kick your wrist and place the pitch, swatting
shots off like dizzy moths – something of the battling mantis
in his awkward height, a bored elegance addressed
by the long circles of his arms. Back home, of course,
he’s thought a god, and there always was an uncanniness,
a gift for timing, drawing luck – the rain, like now,
sometimes came with his beckoning, and that feast of charms
rattling about his neck, his slightly eerie victory dance
scuffing dust in geometric shapes, setting a hex
along his crease… The fast bowler from the islands
faced him here in ‘86, a brutal little ball of a man
with a witchunter’s ardent, direct line. A sad day for sport
when the delivery caught Amit short, bouncing up to touch
his chin, the sweet spot of a perfect uppercut. Down he went,
and never really came around, but you’ll remember, Greg,
the swarm of unlikely blood-coloured butterflies
that descended on the pitch, a couple of which can often
be seen this time of year, out there now, batting between the drops.’
recaf 'Leading the way in pay to play'(2)
‘Move...’(3) Addendum (by finger in the dirt) ‘Bristol’(4)
Nice thought whether heartfelt or wistful.
‘Police follow this van. Hatch is time delayed.’(5)
‘No tools left overnight’(6) de rigueur white vans display.
‘Dairy Farmers of Britain’(7) ...unite - playful.(8)
‘There for you - Spar.’(9) ‘People who care – Tufnell’(10)
Messages found on the motorway
All human life is there, ‘Exhibiting Success’(11)
‘Animals’(12) too. Horse power, on the hoof!
‘Body Kraft’(13) with a K. ‘Unltd fr3 txts’
‘Xpress Scaffold’ .(15) Signs of a misspelt youth?
‘Forward. Back. Back a bit more. Stop.’(16) Express!(17)
This is modern life. ‘Metal on the move’(18)
(1) M Trouvé (in the tradition of ‘art trouvé’) composed from 55% reclaimed materials found on Motorways.
(2) recaf (sic) are a Worcester-based supplier of “Juke boxes; touch screen games; jackpot gaming machines”
(3) Immediate Transportation Company
(4) As seen, written after the company strap line - ‘Move...’ Bristol
(5) Group 4 (with minor amendments)
(7) Dairy Farmers of Britain
(8) Not as seen (but adding ‘unite’ seems to complete the thought)
(10) verbatim (but omitting the possessive ‘s’)
(11) Highfield Exhibition Services
(12) Also ubiquitous
(13) Body Kraft (Dudley) Ltd – “a kwality* service throughout the entire accident repair process” – *only kidding
(14) Very fast (possibly T mobile) van
(15) Xpress Scaffold Systems Ltd.
(16) Virgin Media
(17) Lots of these but this is actually just the word!
(18) Multi Metals Limited