Last arm pointing - New Tales from Ovid - and - Parallel Lines were intended as
part of a large collection but were in the end published separately in pamphlet
Last arm pointing - New Tales from Ovid - and - Parallel Lines were intended as part of a large collection but were in the end published separately in pamphlet form. (JB)
Gossip this month, and girls’ gossip at that,
so I ask myself
why bore Big Brother
with such junk?
Because big brother forgets
what small town life is like.
Isn’t that right BB?
Up in your garret (or is it penthouse now?)
with whatever’s your version of wine, women and song,
what do you care that here there is no wine,
not much to sing about,
and too many women?
So what’s the gossip? I hear you say (or do I?).
Only that there’s a new hunk about town
driving all us girls bonkers with the hots
Daft bitches do I hear you say?
Correct as ever, Big Brother.
But then, when you think of us,
if ever you do,
it must be like looking through the wrong
end of a telescope and seeing pygmies.
Well, brother dear, this month’s epistle
comes to you in verse, which I’m sure you’ll agree
could not be worse.
roak hid the sea, and from that grey wall
came the doleful toll of the warning horn.
Do you remember that sound?
Does it feature in your dreams?
Do I appear as well,
now that you dance to a brighter tune –
a fandango or the throb of tango
in a land of constant sunshine?
our own pale sun gave up the fight,
left us early to face the dark.
On a day like this you left.
For what? Who knows?
Anything but this, you said.
Soon your letters became postcards,
then ‘Seasonal Greetings’. Now
you’re a blank in my filo,
a vacuum waiting to be filled.
just as I thought the day would leave us quietly
a storm rolled out to sea and back.
Where are you when night calls?
Do you frequent some friendly bar
brilliant with familiar faces?
Are you the type who sleeps all day
then puts on coloured wings
and flies to the brightest light?
Through the night
frost will settle on the house,
paint its own stark landscape.
What strangeness do you wake to? Do thoughts
of home intrude to help you through bleak times?
Or are you still the same enigma,
stepping from one moment to the next
through cooling showers and absences
that have no truck with fond hearts?
So there it is dear Bro. How did I do?
C&C most welcome if it means you write.
Last night the sea ripped the beach from its bed.
We heard the screams
but know too well not to interfere
in these family disputes.
In the morning we gathered to look,
ghouls at a death,
the sea at our feet, calm,
sated, gulls riding anchor on its shoulders.
The meadow’s gone the same way,
yard by yard, year by year.
Now the house sways on the brink.
When he saw his rose bushes
scattered down the cliff, Jack cried.
Finally, we moved out when
the garden shed was launched.
Very Important Persons
bring their sympathies,
go away nodding.
Perhaps we’ll become little islanders.
Though surely not
Eddy runs the car park now.
Remember Eddy – the number-plate freak
who kept on filling his little book
long after you all moved on
to cricket scores?
He grew out of it of course,
became a trainspotter.
Until they closed the branch line.
He wouldn’t use the bus
to go in search of trains –
against the spotters’ code.
Took to marriage as the next good thing.
The Edwards girl, skinny with glasses,
the one you all avoided.
They say he likes her soisant-neuf,
which might explain a lot.
Some would pull the lighthouse down.
Who needs it now we’ve got
satellite navigation gizmoes.
No more stir crazy keepers.
No more keepers’ daughters
to rescue the crews of sinking freighters.
Just more space for trippers’ cars
Then what would draw the punters in
to be stripped in our tea-shops
and games arcades,
boutiques and chippies?
We have no ancient stones or open houses ,
no pretty harbour full of fishing smacks.
Lighthouse, beach, a chopped off pier.
That’s it. That’s us.
That’s what you left.
Whatever happened to the tunny fish?
(Do they mean tuna or dolphin – or porpoise?
I never did know).
We used to see them out there
whole packs battling North
through the white horses,
now and then the man-size ones
hanging from scales
down by the pier.
Tunny fishing was a great sport
round these parts before The War,
So why do they ask
Whatever happened to the tunny fish?
Are you still well-read?
Or just well, er, red?
I ask because your name
came up last night
in one of our drunken rambles.
So it was:
“What became of Jack’s eldest
– the bolshie one who got himself on tee-vee that time?”
You know, ’68 and you
gurning at the camera
outside Hornsey School of Art.
Jack said there was more fart
than art in that.
Jack was on the march today,
a lone Burma Star
between the ranks of the British Legion
and the Desert Rats.
That’s after he’d marched
on the Organisers
to demand his place.
Then he led us out of church
when the vicar forgot again.
Was he ever in your ‘forgotten army’?
Surely not then.
Last night at the school do
Miss Barwell asked after you.
How many years ago is it?
Forty? At least that.
Her mind is still sharp
and she’s as beautiful as ever,
her skin like Basildon Bond.
She still drinks only warm water.
She told me once she hadn’t
planned to be a spinster
all her life.
I know how she feels.
But no man dare touch
such a delicate flower in case she
crumbled in his hands.
The other one was there too –
Miss Grim Arse you used to call her
or the Wicked Witch from Oz.
She said she couldn’t see
why anyone would employ you.
Not much changed there either.
Last week the old Jew-lady died,
the one with the house by the tenfoot,
whose fence you vandalized for swords
and cricket bats,
whose trees became your arsenal.
Mind you, she’s not the only one to go.
All our old dears are popping off this year.
Not just popping out,
or in for tea and gossip,
but popping into the grave -
women who’ve seen out the century,
seen the wars and the famines,
seen off their men
at the gates of barbarism.
So you’ve written another poem?
Then what? Do you go down the pub
and bore the locals with your recitations?
Do you eat a lump
Take your latest out to dinner and bore
her rigid with your preening?
Isn’t’ it all just wanking,
rewarding yourself for a job completed?
I wonder what you’ll do when
the book’s finished.
Your poems and stories, they’re only masks,
and when the masks slip?.
Immortality isn’t there.
It’s in the memories
of all who ever met you –
even the stranger passed once,
unnoticed, who will love you till
the day she dies.
Uncle George hasn’t shaved
since cousin Agnes died.
He hasn’t left the house in days,
just sits by the window
as if he expects her
to come up the garden path
with his bit of shopping.
He can’t understand.
He says she weren’t even badly.
A bit poorly now and then,
but not right badly.
How can I explain it’s not always physical
pain that drives us to the pill box?
Sometimes a dead friendship is all it takes.
But such as Uncle George
don’t want to understand
about women loving women.
Did you know Cousin Agnes
(I won’t use the p word
to my illustrious Bro).
We found a pile of them
in her bedside cupboard.
Here’s a sample.
Only when I’m rid
of your lingering smile,
and the smell of your skin
has blown from the streets
will I be ready to stroll
again through the parks
and avenues that taught us
I watched you die
yet you fill my air
with living menace. The shriek
of parakeet, howl of dog
signal your approach.
Even the breeze is you,
the scattered trash,
the concrete slab.
You are everywhere not here
where I stay secure; where
I know you cannot come;
where I dream of open fields
before this city grew
around me, stifling my voice.
Tomorrow I’ll walk out again,
defy you. But not today.
Down on the street
there’s an echo of you,
a distant voice
on a mobile phone,
words carried off
by the breeze,
drowned in the crowd.
If I turn around
I may hear what you say.
A gilded angel stands at the gate
of the park, warns us to leave
our evil schemes in the street,
we could think of bringing
to this green and watered place
our chain saws and dynamite,
bulldozers and pesticides,
barbed wire and purse-seine nets,
Bowie knives and snickersnees,
gin-traps and meat hooks,
gas chambers and…
Dante Gabriel Rossetti at the Grave of Lizzie Siddal
Such sudden loss of love compounds insanity,
an absence of mind persuading me to error,
encouraging that random act of vanity,
to bury my poems with you in lieu of sorrow.
What use have you for all those mournful sonnets?
You who were once a woman fair and gay.
How will the worms appreciate my couplets?
What guard are they against your sure decay?
And so I stand here darkly as a phantom,
thinking of how your love was won and lost -
lighting your open grave with this pale lantern,
seeking to recover some of the cost.
To rob you yet again gives me no pleasure,
but surely brings a little earthly treasure.
I think the last one was for you.
Perhaps you could publish them,
a kind of memorial.
It would please Uncle George,
then we wouldn’t have to put up
with his beard.
Sometimes when the light
from the sea is especially bright
after a clear frosty night,
and when the tide is right
you can see cormorants on the sandbanks,
halfway to the horizon,
like a row of harpoon heads.
What did your larky pal
write about here?
untalkative, out of reach?
That may be so
where the birds take breakfast,
certainly in the village under their feet
where the edge of the land
used to be.
But here? Unfenced? Tell that to
the free-to-roam brigade.
Existence? It might be.
Untalkative? Obviously he never met Jack.
Out of reach? Well, that might be right –
at least I’m still waiting to be reached.
To see you again, even at a funeral
would be grand. So why won’t you come?
Jack would have said
it’s because you’re a tight-arsed
snob too big for your boots.
Not true, of course.
But do you have to join
the world’s exiled millions
just because you want to be
Surely you could bend
just a bit for Jack.
You could stand at the back
in your shades –
incognito flagrante you might say.
Then we’d have a beer
and a stroll on the prom,
and Jack could rest easy.
I found his cigarette case –
the silver one you bought him
with your first Christmas bonus.
There’s a photo of our pierhead
set in the top.
It was in the back pocket
of the trousers from his Sunday Best suit,
among the stuff we’d bagged up
Whenever he went to a do
he’d put in ten Woodies
like they were Craven A,
- kind to your throat.
From my lad in London, he’d say.
But the cough was a Woodies cough
just the same.
What was the hardest part?
Cleaning up his incontinence maybe,
putting ointment on his piles.
Putting up with his constant abuse?
No. Just watching him die
day by day, doling out the morphine
knowing that just one extra capsule…
But I didn’t.
Mam was easier.
Didn’t want to be a burden.
Went quietly in her sleep
on Guy Fawkes night.
All Jack could do was grumble
about his breakfast being late.
You could have been here
for them both. It would have made
Isn’t that what you say
you want to do?
Make a difference?
Each morning in the mirror
I see this monkey
and wonder how much uglier it can get.
I’m no Doris Gray
keeping a portrait in the basement –
don’t even have a cellar to
hide my embarrassment.
It would be nice to lose the lines
but keep their experience.
We should live in reverse –
start ugly, rich and wise.
By now I’d be not too badly off,
not entirely stupid,
and ‘wouldn’t kick her out of bed’.
You finally made it into print.
Though I must admit
I did crack a smile at the title:
'New Realism in the Metaphysical Poets'.
Is that like New Labour?
One thing's for sure,
it's not the first keepsake of you
I'd grab in an emergency.
That would have to be your photo,
white head and all
at the end of season
fancy dress ball.
Poetry used to be such grand inspiring stuff.
Time was when verse
taught us the virtues: truth,
honour, courage, loyalty, fidelity,
faith, hope and charity
(not forgetting chastity).
But now all you poets can do
is spread confusion
with your chopped up prose,
your macho posturing,
verses so opaque
they leave us numb,
or trivia so banal
it’s a disgrace to waste the trees.
So when, dear Bro, will you change
the State of your Art?
How can we negotiate life
without a reliable guide?
The blind leading the blind
will never do. Nor will your Caliope
if she doesn’t wake up soon.
I’m coming apart.
The man I got, a hunk
from out of town,
(did I mention him before?)
turned out to be fucking useless –
literally I mean,
he just couldn’t get it up.
At first I thought
it was because he was gay.
Men as beautiful as that often are.
What a waste, we say.
But he isn’t. Just no good at sex.
All promise and no delivery.
Of all the women in town
panting after him
he has to land on me.
Brilliant in the other essentials –
charm, wit, intelligence,
(a Professor of History
researching something or other
of great historical interest.
But without good sex the rest
So he’s moved out
and my gin bill has moved
Aren’t you elder brothers supposed
to warn us about such men?
How else can we know?
Nobody warned us this is how you’d be,
crippled at fifty with no redemption.
Did your doctors not know,
or just not say?
Perhaps they thought you’d sue them.
But for what?
Dangerous doctoring without due care?
Being under the affluence
while in charge of a scalpel?
No. I think that footie bloke was right –
once upon a time, in a previous life
you were a very naughty boy –
Genghis Khan was it?
Or Tamberlaine? Crookback Dick?
Alexander Pope would fit the bill –
a poet he may have been,
but no mister nice guy.
Comes the final trombone,
all will be known.
So now you tell me
you’re coming home.
I suppose I should
be grateful for small
Let’s forget it’s me again
ministering to the dying.
Let’s just pretend
you’re coming because
this is where
and ignore the fact
that no matter how many places
you have to live
this is the only one
when you ask me what I want
you’ll stay to hear the answer.
And we’ll stroll
by the ocean
at least for an afternoon
that there is some reason
for all of this.
to feel your head go cold.
No doubt there
about the heart of your emotions.
the winged chariot hurrying near,
you didn’t care much
about that either,
judging by your luggage –
a life in one battered cabin trunk.
You were our famous poet,
the first in this town of nobodies
to become a somebody.
But I guess even famous poets
don’t make much.
You should have kept up
learned a trade,
got your hands dirty
(instead of your mind
Jack would have said)
Well, now you have plenty of time
to make your case
in that fine and private place.
On these black-dog days
I keep the house wrapped in music –
radio in every room
tuned to the classics,
and in the lounge your hi-fi
pounding out the megawatts.
I know you didn’t approve of Mozart
but I read somewhere
that he increases the yields
of cows and chickens
(not that I hear much said
about that around these parts),
helps kids to learn,
and soothes the raging breasts
of the yobs kicking cans
outside Big Macs.
Of course it drives her next door
barmy. “Why don’t you get a pussy cat”
she says. “It would comfort you
in your loneliness.”
Oh yes? And when I’ve lain dead
on the kitchen floor for a week
and kitty and her pals
start chewing at my tits…..?
Letters are easy.
I just write “gone away”
and pop them in the pillar-box
outside the Brady girls’ place.
The phone calls are a different proposition.
Sometimes the caller thinks I’m you –
that you’ve been playing male
all these years. That you’re Phillipa,
The men get excited by the idea
and want to come over to see the place,
like it were some kind of shrine.
The women are mostly
less than pleased.
Did you have to publish all these details
on your web-site? And what do I do
about the emails?
There must be hundreds of them by now.
No good asking you. But who?
I suppose it’s a kind of immortality,
ticking away in cyberspace,
like you were in limbo.
It’s 3am and I hear gunshots.
Not fireworks. Not poachers.
Serious handgun stuff
with Ouzis and Kalashnikovs.
(Who said you learn
nothing useful from TV?).
Is this what I’ve been missing
before I turned insomniac
to save me from the nightmares?
At least now we know
the map has no edge,
just a pause between pages
or a short hop
to the next volume.
But we haven’t lost the dragons,
the headless men
with eyes in the chest,
the sea serpents
or the great maelstrom
waiting to swallow us up.
Wherever your centre
these monsters lurk
at the dark margins,
and in your heart.
Such flights on the wild side
would’ve delighted old Sigmund –
tales of abduction,
of unwanted probes
in unmentionable orifices
by fragile grey creatures
with almond-shaped eyes
and squid-shaped limbs.
Sexier by far
than those boring old dreams
of running through glue,
of snakes up the arse,
rats gnawing at your balls.
Or memories of daddy
with the teddy bear.
At least now we know
our place in the Universe –
fag-end of a fag-end of a galaxy,
suitable case for study,
endangered species perhaps,
or a new source of protein
for the lap-dogs
of lesser gods.
We came upon them at dusk,
soporific about their hearth,
gorged on flesh from heaped-up bones.
No rebellious mob to put down.
No barbarian menace at the empire’s edge.
Instead a red-headed rabble, half-naked,
clad in animal pelts and stench.
And for this we had marched a night and a day
through mud and flint-sharp rain
that slashed our tunics and rotted our feet.
Were they men or beasts, these dull-eyed creatures
snarling through bloody teeth as they backed
away into the forest?
At dawn we found what was left
of their larder – one blind woman,
a fat old man with one arm missing,
a hump-backed boy-child –
which on the orders of Marcus Aurelius
The tail lights of the car in front
flickered, a message I couldn’t decipher.
At my right a blue neon sign flashed.
To me it said:
To the car in front it said: “With you, brother!”
Next the traffic-lights joined in.
A passing helicopter,
the parliament building.
Soon the whole lit-up city
was babbling conspiracy.
The traffic-cop was a fan of Hephaestus.
He said my limp reminded him
of the old master jeweller,
suggested I change my profession.
He assured me the authorities
had everything under control.
“And by the way, sir,
your direction indicator is faulty”.
The hills outside town are bleak,
scattered wrecks of abandoned machines.
Below me, down in the streets,
I can see the slow dying.
Sitting alone in a pastiche
Singapore bar, circa 1940,
drinking facsimile wine, circa 1997,
he observed the lack of chic
among the clientele, elderly
shoppers in anoraks and jeans,
tidy office workers, dark suits
and trainers, well-behaved lovers
on a tired lunch date,
and wondered what kind
of operating system
could produce such
a distemporal scene.
Where, for instance, was the band?
That brilliantined quintet fox-trotting
the afternoon away. Music
he could hear, creeping out
from some hole in the ceiling,
up there behind the slow-spinning
fans, but why were they always
playing the wrong tune? As if
they’d been offered the gig
as an afterthought.
He looked around
for plantation managers,
leaning at the bar, or slumped
over gin-slings at the rattan
card-tables; wondered what
kept them away. Probably
the chill drizzle that some
absent-minded prop man
had left running onto
a 1990's South London
backdrop, complete with style
boutiques, Italianate coffee
houses, pizza huts and bright-lit
rumbling buses loaded
with dismal refugees from
a failed show.
Where too were the coolie waiters?
Those Aussie hip-hops were
just all wrong, actors out
of a job taking anything
they could get. But what
he hated most
about the whole dreary scene
was the absence of ladies
of a certain kind,
narrow eyes and slit skirts,
promises of joy
in their slim fingers,
their compact Oriental
There may be winter yet to come
but now there’s sun, and wind
enough to fly my kite
above the spire. Tomorrow
if I remember I’ll decide,
if I remember what it is
I should decide. If not
I’ll wander up this hill again
to climb the sky. Or work
with paper and sticks
and glue and size to build
a bigger, better, higher flying kite.
There may be winter yet to come
but chances are that when it comes
this bird will have flown.
Strung taut between us is our love,
a brittle thing, a cobweb spun from glass.
Could I begin like that? Would you
believe me? Or say I’m talking through my arse,
that what we have is solid as that rock
in Galway where I broke my teeth
trying to relieve you of your frock?
(Were you really wearing nothing underneath?)
Maybe I should try another line,
compare you to the darling buds of May,
tell you that your cooking tastes divine,
or how I love to watch your pelvis sway.
Or then again I might just tell you straight,
you’ll do until I find another, mate.
Rain on the windscreen
blurs my view of rangy legs.
Five cars in a shunt.
Casting off our clouts
we check that the sea’s still wet.
Fish dry in the sun.
Secretly we piss
alone in our back gardens.
Only the stars know.
My neighbour’s garden
pond lies under thick black ice.
Where are the children?