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Jim Bennett
 
Down in Liverpool
 
Written as a performance piece,
this poem won the short story prize in the Sefton Literary competition, June 1999.


(1)
Last night I managed to get rid of a lot of my problems,
Quite easy really, I got so drunk I couldn't remember
What the problems were or even if I had one in the first place.
This morning I clawed my way out of bed,
And stuck a bare foot down on a moist and chunky mat.

Then I smelt the smell of last nights vomit
Puked some more and felt better for it.
Fresh is always easier to clean.
I could hear Jane, "You'll die you arsehole."
That's what she always said.
She was right of course, but not today,
That will be some other day.

I can't face the cleaning, it is a waste of time anyway.
The carpet by the bed has begun to go into a hole,
Either through stomach acid in the sick that hit the same spot,
Or through Jane's and my attempts to clean it up.
Or maybe something else wore the holes there.

When Jane had first been here, we had often made love in the day
On the mat in front of the window.
Her on hands and knees her dress lifted at the back
Me erect behind her
My head and upper torso above the level of the window sill,
Grinning like a lunatic at people walking by.

She said I would loose all my teeth
Perhaps like Mrs Pickup from downstairs
I found Mrs Pickup one morning lying outside
Her face glaring at the sky, the first dead body I had seen.
At first I had not realised that it was Mrs Pickup from downstairs
Then I did and I was shocked by the absence of teeth
I mean I knew she was dead,
But her face was all sucked in like a sex doll
And there was no life
What was left was just vacant space
Filled with a body that looked a bit like she used to.
But without teeth.
She had this funny look on her face like surprise.
Not shock or pain just surprise.
So if her life was not quite fixed,
At least it was less broken than it used to be
And it couldn't get any worse.

So Jane had said I would loose all my teeth and that scared me
Because the acid would eat my teeth away like
Away
         like
      the
Carpet.
I don't brush my teeth if I do I bleed for ages if I brushed,
So I swill out with salt water and polish swill clean what I could
Polish with the end of a sheet which
Somehow had started getting used as a towel. A bed sheet towel.

So I start another day.
Climb into some clothes which were just wearable

Open the window, Leave it open to clear the stink
And wade out into the world to get some breakfast.
And some more booze before I begin to forget to forget
Whatever the problem was.

If there was one.

(2)

I walked down the street towards town
Past the student housing, with its windows wide
And blaring mix of radio and CD players
And scream-singing-talking students hanging out of windows
And a three chord guitar player singing  about some place
He'd heard about in other peoples songs but never seen
All above the  row of shops
All mixing into a frantic dub-raggae-jazz, pop-folk-rock song
Past the chippy with its polystyrene tray and chip paper garbage
Blowing in the doorways
And its yellow stained curried pavement
Curried chiped ground
           pavement
Past the newsagent with its boarded windows and piles of milk crates
Past the Philharmonic Hall with flapping flags
Beating  against paint pealing posts
Down and down and down to Liverpool




(3)
My geography of Liverpool is marked out by bookshops
Second hand shops, cheap breakfasts,
And places where things happened

Ye Crack where Jane and I drank on Sunday
The Odd Spot, the Legs of Man
The steps at St George's Hall where we cried for John
And sang a pop song that became a secular hymn
And where I sang for Jane before the police told me to move
And Lewis',  the phallic symbol of Liverpool
Now looking limp and dangling like a dead fish

There is so much of us in this place

(4)
The stupid brown tray started to shake as soon as I picked it up
And as I tried to walk to a table it got worse so everyone was looking at me
It got worse and the floor was sticky so I couldn't walk good
like some sort of sick joke
Someone took the tray,  put it on a table in the corner
Said something,  left me
The tray sat still on the table so I tried to eat
But ever time I picked up my food it started to shake
So I had to put it down

It must be nearly drinking time

That's what happens when its nearly drinking time
Everything starts to shake till drink makes the world stand still again
After I eat some I stood up and walked out
Managed to keep it down until I got out
Then threw up in a waste bin in Church Street
I could hear Jane, "You'll die you arsehole."
Maybe she was right
But not today.

(5)
The night before she left
Jane stood up and fumbled with the fastener on her jeans
She pulled them down to her knees underwear as well
Stood in front of me,
For the first time I noticed her pubic hair had turned grey
She rubbed her hand across it making sex noises
I thought that was funny I laughed and she laughed
Then arranged herself on the mat bottom waving in the air
She made more encouraging noises, tried to sex herself
Then  I started laughing again
She gave up
We tried later but it was no good
I just dangled like a dead Liverpool fish.

Sometimes when I think about it
I think that was our last failed attempt at communication
But I could never understand why she wanted sex
The night before she killed herself.

I could hear her, "You'll die you arsehole."
Maybe she was right
But not today.
Today I will get drunk before I start to remember
Whatever it is I'm trying to forget.




Coral Hull interviewed

How do Detectives Make Love?

How Do Detectives Make Love?, Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 1998.


how did my parents make love/ was it in the 1950s
way/ in their pyjamas under the blankets/ could my
father switch off from his job as he switched the
light off/ when he made love with my mother in the
dark/ did they laugh/ even though he told me he
couldn’t bare to fuck her unless he was drunk/ did
he still pick up the bits & pieces of people from
under trains/ or leftovers from motorbike accidents/
the bloodied thighs & thighless women & eyeless
torsos/ did he fondle the falling away breasts of
bloated corpses dragged from rivers with concrete
boots?/ 
           was my mother’s body the autopsy or the
imitation pornography from his blue movie/ & was
his penis the .38 automatic or the black baton that
he used to strike out with/ was their martial bed
like the cold river bottom churning with unfounded
death/ how do detectives make love/ did he talk code
into her soft earlobe or whisper sweet double talk
into her lips/ did he tape record her nocturnal
sighs & her vulnerable words/ taking them down into
his notepad heart to be withheld/ & used in a court
of law as evidence against her/ did he keep her
writhing loss of self under strict surveillance?/

could he love her/ opening his blue shirt or plain
clothes up to her/ dropping away his folded arms his
handcuffs & identification badge/ could he forget
the prostitutes, drug addicts, screaming domestics,
battered wives, shootouts & suicides/ the women in
prison & the raped & bloodied murdered women/ could
he switch off from them/ like he switched the
bedroom light off/ what did he feel in the dark/
with my mother’s warm body beside him/ could he let
himself be seen fully/ by her lovely half opened
sexy eyes/ or by hard courthouse hearings &
underworld gazes/ threatening to remember him
expose & destroy him/ did he go undercover for fear
of being found?/
                         did he take down her details or have
her followed/ could he give a full description of
the woman who loved him/ did my mother find a
trembling & vulnerable man/ did she fingerprint & 
file him/ could he be revealed in a second before
orgasm/ only to be charged with breaking & entering/
before his own little death, before the loud phone
rang/ before the infringing twenty-four-hour call/
the hurried reaching for his dressing gown/ in the
cold & stabbing air/ the impatient rap at the door?/

could he love her the way that she loved him/ or
would he charge her with trespass/ his cold heart
prohibited/ jammed up in car wreckages/ alone on
grey train platforms pursued by criminals/ bashed
up in nightclubs or in kings cross brothels/ sobbing
in empty patrol cars or in big dark paddy wagons/
darkly in love, completely alone/ with bitten down
thumbnails on the neighbourhood rounds/ in the early
hours of the morning/ the doubtful silences of her
waiting/ the two-way radio left on/ becoming fuzzy,
switched off/ the heart imprisoned/ her sigh, his
cough?


6. Road from Hillston to Cobar, via Mount Hope


a committee of apostle birds, tiny black eyes looking out at the world from their group,
during a morning feeding, the grey flock eating amongst leaf littered red soil,
by 1080 fox and rabbit poison, on the edge of a nature reserve, nature reserved for us,
a pine covered ridge on the road from hillston, is assembled through glimpses,
a little cemetery and a tennis court, in the middle of nowhere, like at twin rivers,
where the women all brought cake on a saturday afternoon, while the men got drunk,
too drunk to play tennis, one fell off the back of a ute and hit his head,
his dog looked concerned, it was very boring,
blue bonnets, parrots, flash red, blue, 160 km south of cobar,
it is the face of the blue bonnet that is blue, with the sky washed up its cheeks,
they have thrown a bucket of sky paint from timid cunning eye to beak, wise parrot,
the little blue bonnet in the tall open mallee, on the ground, beneath the trees,
or up in the trees at midday, or in the deep galaxy of night, extremely quiet, hard to find,
a patch of painted sky thrown up, awash and finally rested on a branch,
95 kms south of cobar, mallee ringnecks in the pine woodland
break the fatigue of the drive with colour, with a look like a started paper fire,
they pause to drink at sunrise, until the feather is lit,
there is nothing as precious as a wild bird at this moment, the flare of feathered colour,
the small squawks and workings of bird societies throughout the day of perfect weather,
the winter rainfall triggered hormones in them,
the cracking of branch and seed on the moist forage trail, deep along the shady ground,
coming into cobar, the last 30 km stretch, of white cotton, fleece of the plant,
and sheep fleece turned dust red, gone to seed, brutalised sheep, on the red clay,
hard rose quartz beneath the broken hoof, hurt cotton, soft sheep,
white-winged choughs gliding across the roads, eject their soft parachutes,
spreading their tails like fans, fanning the red earth hard,
they scoot across the road, the ground black bird of open woodland and scrub,
easy targets for shooters when they are not still and quiet, they fall with insects in their beaks,
they say, ‘we were only taking what we needed,’ precious sheep, precious choughs



2. She-oaks in the Grey Mist were Roaring Like Trains

The Secret Horses of Peterborough, Unpublished Work, 1996.


the she-oaks in the grey mist were roaring like trains,
on a still day, they will pick up the slightest breeze,
the land is talking, a train approaching from all directions,
she-oaks, a few left standing in a grey winter field,
if you stand long enough to listen to the roar,
a paddock of she-oaks on the way to deniliquin,
dirty grey bark and when there were trees on the land,
many she-oaks and grey box and dry sclerophyll forest,
there would have been many levels of roaring,
liberate yourself by walking in a paddock off the highway
past the crown land and stock route, keep going in order to die,
the she-oaks are out there, talking to each other,
beyond recognition, the mist rain gently hanging, filtering,
to the point of saturation, dropping down through them,
the large black ants are wriggling slowly, hiding in their holes,
are clicking their iron bodies, brassy antennas and legs,
deep in timelessness, red holes in the red dirt,
listen to wind roaring through the victorian she-oaks,
like a train approaching from all directions,
whilst you remain in awe of the cold and directionless,
the distance is helping you along, off the cobb hwy
away from your vehicle, into paddocks of roaring she-oaks,
sending you further in, upon your strange watery approach.


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