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)

 

 

Parallel Lines by Ted Slade

 

July 10th

 

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

for him.

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.

Just pygmies.

 

           


 

 

September 15th

 

Well, brother dear, this month’s epistle

comes to you in verse, which I’m sure you’ll agree

could not be worse.

 

This morning

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?

 

By afternoon

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.

 

 This evening

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.

 


 

 

February 2nd

 

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

New Atlanteans.

 


 

 

May 17th

 

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.

 

           


 

 

July 5th

 

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

and charabancs.

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.

 

                                   


 

 

August 31st

 

Trippers ask:

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,

they say.

So why do they ask

Whatever happened to the tunny fish?

 


 

 

October 5th

 

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.

 


 

 

November 11th

 

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. 

But now?

 

           


 

 

December 18th

 

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.

 


 

 

 

 


 

 

January 17th

 

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.


 

 

March 10th

 

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

of swarzwalderchocolatentorte?

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.

If.

Immortality!?

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.

 

 

 


 

 

May 10th

 

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.

 

           


 

 

May 15th

 

Did you know Cousin Agnes

wrote verse?
(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.

 

Agoraphobia

 

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

youth’s arrogance.

 

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.

 

Doppelganger

 

Down on the street

there’s an echo of you,

a distant voice

stubbornly misheard,

messages garbled

on a mobile phone,

words carried off

by the breeze,

questions

drowned in the crowd.

 

If I turn around

I may hear what you say.

 

As if…

 

A gilded angel stands at the gate

of the park, warns us to leave

our evil schemes in the street,

 

as if

 

 

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.

 


 

 

September 22nd

 

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?

Unfenced existence, 

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.

 


 

 

 

November 2nd

 

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

a writer?

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.

 


 

 

 

November 14th

 

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

for Oxfam.

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.

 


 

 

 

November 25th

 

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

a difference.

Isn’t that what you say

you want to do?

Make a difference?

 


 

 

 

December 14th

 

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’.

 


 

 

February 11th

 

Magic, brother!

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.

 

           


 

 

March 10th

 

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.

 


 

 

May 15th

 

Finally

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,

education

(a Professor of History

on sabbatical,

researching something or other

of great historical interest.

Here? Impossible).

But without good sex the rest

is nothing.

So he’s moved out

and my gin bill has moved

back in.

Aren’t you elder brothers supposed

to warn us about such men?

How else can we know?


 

 

September 29th

 

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?

Foul professionalism?

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.

 

October 22nd

 

So now you tell me

you’re coming home.

Well,

I suppose I should

be grateful for small

mercies.

Let’s forget it’s me again

ministering to the dying.

Let’s just pretend

you’re coming because

this is where

you want

to

be,

and ignore the fact

that no matter how many places

you have to live

this is the only one

in which

to die.

Then perhaps

when you ask me what I want

you’ll stay to hear the answer.

And we’ll stroll

by the ocean

and believe,

at least for an afternoon

that there is some reason

for all of this.

 


 

 

December 26th

 

Strange

to feel your head go cold.

No doubt there

about the heart of your emotions.

As for

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

the footie,

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.

 


 

 

January 14th

 

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

as wallpaper,

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…..?

 

                       


 

 

April 21st

 

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,

not Phillip.

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.

 

           


 

 

 

September 11th

 

Gunshots.

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?


 

OTHER ODDS AND SODS, MAINLY WEB PUBLISHED

 

Cartography

 

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.


 

 

Close Encounters

 

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

in flagrante

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.


 

 

 

 

Collateral Damage

 

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

we killed.

 


 

 

Poem by Philip K Dick jnr

 

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:

                        “DRINK THIS!”

To the car in front it said: “With you, brother!”

Next the traffic-lights joined in.

A passing helicopter,

a train,

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.


 

 

 

Post-Colonial Blues

 

 

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

bodies.


 

 

Flight

 

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.


 

 

On Writing a Love Poem

 

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.

 


 

 

Four Haiku

 

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?