Ledger

ledger

Is blindness valid
Or the loss of a limb
In tallying the counts
Of a war lost or won?

Ink spilt, books closed
Paper poppy’s repose
“Compare and contrast…”
Porto, portas.

Toy men, pink map
Beat the enemy back
Duly step in your place
Donkeys, lions, lambs.

Bent double, strange hells
Never, never again
Sweet and proper it is –
Cliché that ends all wars.

Will mother remember him?
Private Smith (oder Schmidt)
Charging over the ridge,
The one they retook the next day.

Enlisted by abstractions
Schmidt J, never looked at twice,
Glories in his hero garb,
Salutes the name of the Kaiser.

Lottery of gunfire,
Smith gobbled up by the mud.
“One side loses more slowly”:
Breath expires with the wind.

Traffic loops the obelisk,
Bears “Schmidt” and dozens others.
Namesake stands beside me.
“An honourable sacrifice”.

Odd honour, being sacrificed,
Potlatch of the civilised world.
But words are only as good as
Who or what they’re aimed at.

No columns in this ledger for
Recommending righting wrongs.
Oblivion’s concise, cuts to the chase.
When clichés repeat, abstractions fixate.

Advertisements

1914 and all that

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I travelled with a friend around northern France a couple of weeks back, cycling around Boulogne, Amiens and Lille. The Ch’tis were very friendly and accommodating with my Franglais. We met a lot of very good people and had a few adventures.

We also visited Albert, headquarters of the British during the Somme offensive. ‘Somme’ is actually the name of the whole region, with the battle itself being ‘fought’ in the fields and villages between Albert and Péronne. A little before the trip I started writing something on the looming legacy disputes. I share the finished doggerel here, ‘1914 and all that’.

It’s no succour to blind or limbless men
When historians crown the victor of a luckless war.
Trade machine gun rattle for imperial prattle.

Cabinet rooms become playing fields,
Bomb factory man smarts ‘never again’,
Great men too proud to call off the hounds.

War misery now makes the mock GCSE
Centenaries continue on over-the-hill TV
Patriotic pastorals without syphilis or gin.

This accursed heritage gloom and doom
Leaves no room for the wounds of living men,
Basra or Belfast, that lost DLA appeal.

Commemorations led by horsey royals
Whose subjects still die in today’s poppy-fields.
Victory’s paper flowers and penny change.

*

What’s left of Wipers or the Somme?
Lads swallowed whole by Flanders mud,
Devoured by the moods of distant guns.

Never forget the rats or the lice,
Nine in ten soldiers actually survived,
Unclassifiable degrees of disintegration.

Strictly adhering to deference and duty
Today still blinds any attempt at explaining
The necessity of perpetual and unwinnable war.

One side loses more slowly.
A game of blood-potlatch
Played out by history’s great men.

Sweet and proper it must be then
To die for abstractions, like fatherland
Or liberty, or the fallacy of democracy.

The long queues outside the labour exchange,
Memories that no will can possibly erase,
Medals of a man who once shared your name.

*

Strange hells left in Gurney’s head,
Demented choirs of wailing shells
Like Owen saw, a banal picaresque of death.

A century now since that “never again”,
One hundred busy years of the destruction of men.
Nothing we learn, nothing we forget.

Never before, so never again?
Larkin laments lost innocence then,
Innocence and obedience, time tends to bend.

24 hour off licence

Supply lines entirely overstretched, but temporarily I have some stolen time and February’s work payment in, giving time for a little furtive rest, from which might come some inspiration. Possibly. I’m working on a book-length collection of poems at the moment, and here’s an older piece called ’24 hour off licence’, which despite its faults opens up some of the spaces I want to map and draw, using words.

 

Taking a left instead of a right,
Follow feet down paths under arches of ash,
Sniff a scent of unpredictable fortunes as pass between the Victorian houses [converted into 3 flats, sometimes 6 bedsits],
The traveller will follow bus stops not stars towards Lewisham,
Glimpsing rough red-wine waves of police-birds wailing from high above clifftop of Peckham NCP,
Candescent moon symbolises childhood preoccupations,
Purple paintbrush left to soak in a water-jar,
The gold, black and blue feuding and fusing,
Anomaly of atmosphere – a canvas for projecting immortality
Keep these thoughts in a pocket as enter 24 hour off licence,
Middle-aged Arab men glance hawkishly for a moment
Sausage rolls and cheddar fit snugly in this jacket
Careful keep hands out of pocket so it doesn’t seem as if unseemly,
But they’ve got the last laugh with these prices on whiskey.

Out, and an endless suburb before us,
Stretched skin on old bones, pocked with betting shops and costcutters,
Abortive attempt to psychologically escape south London
Ends in drunkenness and a pocket of foreign extra bottle-caps
Back on the 197, sat back like a pram
Too tired to read this misery-guts rag paper
Text message from no-one might’ve once generated guilt
Crooks raiding rubbish out of a bust-up building site.

Flight-talker fantasies [night-walker fancies],
Wrapped around the Styx 9 times is the printed world of the A-Z,
Grey-brick and gold-lamplight under blanket of a purple-paint panorama
Penitentiary of guilt made a world for minds to wander,
Endless suburbs and eternal mistakes to map and contextualise,
The Underground only runs so far as Brixton and Morden,
We’ll live as long as our children still love us.
Refusal to remember those things we did,

That we not so secretly willed –
Labyrinth without its minotaur
Suburbs stretch to the nth degree,
Little minds with little imaginations
Doomed to habit the same bus-seat,
The things we do, see the abused dish out the abuse,
Turn once more to check where we’re heading,
Paralleled by spectres of grey fathers
Who worried similar shit before us.

Rough-hands handle rusted-steel of handlebars,
Pad across suspended walkways over dense foliage of council housing,
Seek definition to problems and solution to personality
Return home with broken nails and bruised eyes.

The things we wished we’d done,
Card-carrying zealots eager to contort criminal records into virtues,
Doomed to habit the same bus-seat,
The only recollection of ‘the past’ is its difference in company,
Faces contorted into harmless solutions like number
In the dead of a sleepless night, brain and guts rotting

Clawing at eyes to see a genuinely real image,
Doctrine of Progress keeps us from seeing their faces
War with one’s neighbours always passively acknowledged,
Every time their slogan is repeated I speak it in my own tongue,
The things we wish we’d said no longer distinct from what was said,
Intentions borne of likely outcomes betray the context,
In vain I cannot recall that once beautiful boring face
As definitively impossible as everyone else,
The mind as forgetful as the body.

Taking a journey that differs from the destination of the bus,
That is courage,
Wandering these scapes, wanderlust in the movement of my legs,
Head and its troubles left hanging on the rack,
Non-libidinal in principle,
Pissed and hungry, there’s always one place welcome tome
Penitentiary of guilt given its ultimate expression,
Mind left to contemplate its idiotic self-torment
As purplepaint sky fuses with the red wine,
The red of fresh streetlight as we strangers map these suburbs.

Cordyceps militaris

This was originally proposed for Nyx’s issue on monsters. It took on new life via the rigorous editorial process of that publication and became a new piece about cordyceps. But cordyceps militaris was written in a specific and focused state of mind and is reproduced here in its original form, with a couple of tweaks since. To read the final version, do invest in a copy of Nyx, a Noctournal, available online via its website.

+

Cordyceps militaris is a fungi which primarily infects moths and butterflies (lepidoptera, with limited infections of beetles/coleoptera), confirming these creatures as the Icarus-lovers of the natural world. Cordyceps pervades and transforms the internal structures of their anatomies in order to eventually flower out of their bodies. It has not been fully studied as to whether such cordyceps have infected mammals or even humans, but with the growing usage of cordyceps as a boon in medicine, athletics and pest-control, the possibilities of contamination have profoundly increased. There is no known treatment for infection, and hosts have been witnessed to reach states of profound orgiastic joy in their possession.

 


Stage 1.
Infection is initiated when cordyceps spores permeate the exoskeleton of the host.

Heart seeks a cheaper rent. Vibration between two beings. Diseased infatuation, unrecognised, unrecognisable. A name pursued like a bad omen. Poring over supermarket fruit: antibacterial peaches, vinegar sweat, currency frozen. Over-applied blusher, she sighs that she always looks so tired these days. Dinner in a plastic tray. Hollowed out, a spidery creep in well-trodden circles. Wanting all the men she meets to become the bad frustrating husband that she had always secretly longed for.

A misplaced smile, a surprised expression placed on paper, windows, passing faces – all available surfaces. Tripe about love and death in West End boozer and jokes about politicians. Drunk again, she texts me the notations to her moods. Doubtful, I pass out in a bar and awake later in the future, in this unknowable town, with expertise in delay.


Stage 2.
From the successful growth of a germ tube within the host’s body cavity, a disc-like appresiorum develops. The fungus grows and divides throughout the body into a hyphal blastospore. This stage of infection is marked by aberrant behaviour in the host.

The infection erupted out of a random encounter. She stole into my life with the confused opportunism of a burglar climbed in through the wrong window, still eager to make something of a disappointing situation. It began with a silly conversation about orange juice and ended with a half-apologetic see you later. Contaminating the nerves, after a few further encounters this itchy frisson became frenzied, addictive. A togetherness of mutual ignorance, a moth in pursuit of a moon. Tourists wearing charmless hats remark on the sanitation of the city river. In a dizzy haze, no words of reply come now except how are you? x.

Porous passive skin opens up to the promise of a new beginning. Not much, a misplaced look, a smile, a joke about politicians, but possessed – hooked. I could never claim much of what I was, but I had a sense of purpose at least. I did this or that, they could say that of me. But her electrified glances, weird behaviour, gentle and illuminated features, disarming laughter, that sense of urgency in her manner which was always misunderstood as rudeness – possessed quickly, hollowed out. Emptying our lives of those hopes and dreams we’d misplaced in mediocre jobs and excessive distractions. Quietly broken on one another. I abandoned my position at the company and began to accumulate great debts carelessly, the possibility of the future either forgotten or abandoned.

Young man calls his lust love and is poetry. Anthologies of over-wrought adjectives. Lovers as ‘mystique bookes’. Ach. Young woman describes sex as conquest and is welcomed into the male canon. Others write of bereavement or threaten violence, reaching climax on cream paper. She groans and attempts to change the subject, but abandons the attempt and just stares at me in silence in that way of hers. To hell with these Raskolnikovs and their songs of Kalashnikovs. Venom-sopped fools these, they talk of love as if were a gift or religion, as if it came from the heart and not from the guts and the more corrupted sections of the nervous system.

The city raises concerns only for nouns and never verbs. The light outside her flat always seems to dance at all hours, in on the joke with the moths and the spindly Valerian. We go back in the night, where maps are traced on bone, where skins dance together as nervous systems momentarily fuse one, identities blurred in the musical intensity of touch. Life-stories later rewritten with a dawn laughter, sharing tea and toast on a crunchy mattress. She was bored and sad. I distorted my life story. Didn’t think to ask hers either. Her friends were cannily suspicious of me.
Stage 3. The cordyceps has now entirely permeated the system of the host. In its final days, the infected creature has been observed to climb to higher ground, with much of the volition and internal organs of the host now irreversibly contaminated.

Unnaming names, unknowing things. Music inside the nerves, every cell singing, vibrating with her, so excited to see her again that I forget my words and make no sense. No matter. Ill once more, drowning it out was no good, weeping neither. Took up light exercise as advised. Nearly coughed it up. Abandoned work and friends. Slept irregularly, took to new heights, the vanity of youth flowering, craving what was mistaken to be beloved. Diseased, this infatuation was a word-by-word quotation of a hara-kiri handbook. Much later, she told me that nothing is more rare in a man than an act of his own – Emerson’s words, the irony completely lost on me. And if you got whatever dark truth you really actually desire, what then?, a reply issuing itself from out of my mouth. We have enough bitter disappointment in our chests to wreak civil war on the country, she boasted, playing games of lovers hide-and-seek with her words again, in that week of cruel paradise together.

Feeling known only when when it is given. Learn from the plants who offer indiscriminately, without hope or despair, a gift without expectation of return. Strange how her and I could only talk first about our sufferings, sketching the directions in which we might complete each others’ lives, if we would only allow ourselves to let go of our egos and be happy with small things.

Friends keep worrying unnecessarily. A thousand and one things to do another day. Again the world is blinded by its own inability to prioritise, and she refuses to speak anything except riddles. After a feverish night I have to rip up roots and disperse. A week by the coast, mobile phone offered to the indifference of an ocean. There’s nothing to do anywhere. Sheepish walking, a well-heeled couple negotiate directions whilst boiled-beetroot men boast their IRA connections to Italian student punks who keep them refreshed. I come back to the city but she won’t be found.


Stage 4.
The host dies. At the time of death or shortly thereafter, the fungus develops into a filamentous stage, transforming the internal organs of the host into a tightly-packed mass of mycelium termed the endosclerotium. A fruiting body, the stroma, erupts out of the host, usually through the forehead.

Infection is without hope, extraction painful – a month in friends’ hair, hiding her evidence. Haunted by death, poverty, madness, loneliness and the rest, we take up a perverse embrace – bring it close, get it done and out of the way, come together and know these most negative spaces, where monsters creep through children’s sleep. Such gentle poisons that won’t be spoken of with words, but of which too many words are spoken. Fuck your eyes and skin. Let me die as I have lived – but I won’t let her. She’s sick now too, her wounded words echoing around the redundant structures of my nerves. Wander in thought, street scenes peopled by screens and the hot wind of conversations with strangers.

In her hands and scent fleetingly peace is felt all around. The modern world momentarily forgotten inside her bed. We get up the next afternoon and it’s snowing, everything messed-up again, stressed-out again. She loses her resolve. These words make her weary. No more knitting heart-strings, she jokes to her mirror-reflection. Boys who only come when they’re feeling bored or lonely. A life without content. I began deleting my names, unknowing again the chimera world had known and employed me as. True devotion to the object nullifies the possibilities of the subject. Skin as religion. Even a teenage narcissus wasn’t capable of bearing that load.

It was the mistaken separation of sex and love that killed Kafka, not these scurrilous tales of tuberculosis. Skies peopled in her expressions. Later again, when the true hopelessness of our situation was made clear, she held me like a cadaver, caressing with the desperate anger of a financial speculator whose gambled his last dollar on some ill-starred number. Streetlights fizz, cars and cyclists collide. It was impossible to separate the workings of the parasite from the familiar consolation of cold alcohol. A retreat from romance to realism in every conversation, every gesture. Life became all of her, and the desire that she had borne in my skin became me. In the violent arguments and scenes she staged, in the sacrifices I took cruel pleasure in self-inflicting, lovers are the ultimate monstrosities, the most aberrant actors.


Stage 5.
From the club-shaped stromata of the desiccated yet intact host, new cordyceps spores are issued airborne. Nearby creatures will be contaminated, the life-cycle of the cordyceps continuing interminably.

I’m on higher ground, firmer terror, ascending to the summit, the time comes to bloom, ready. Petals plumped in wild jasmine colours. Curtains shiver in autumn breeze of early blue. Her name sung for the last time. Covered in bruises now, another legacy of this union, I plunge into water and with a horrible crashing thunder, she’s back again and everywhere, and as we come together neurones curl into filigree geometries and from the mind’s eye issues a vivid stromata, nerves flowering for real this time. Night subsides, moths put to sleep their schemes for meeting moons, finally we sleep easily for a change.

the assumers

 

THE ASSUMERS

 

Hello to all that
The right to state
With the politest knowingness
The absolutely bleeding unobvious.

 

Undereaters and overachievers
At war against the heavens
The assumers attempted to write the world
Using only a keyboard.

 

Ha! Out of optimism they shaped
A political sexuality of new naivety.
No thought might be used
Lest it refer to Foucault or Deleuze.

 

My friends, all of them
So young they claimed to know the world
Used books for all our darkest problems
Only on their strictest terms.

 

Spilt ink on maps
Recycled dead philosopher into some new cool
Blinking earnestly like christmas photos
Dancing on cattle-fences while the city smoulders.

 

The assumers’ lives are like monuments
Build under the tyranny of ideas
But it’s not who you are, but what you do.
We were always thinking, weren’t we.

 

A million different ways to ponder now
Nights quicken and we soon tire.
Bitter drinks make you cry out into the night
Your secrets, your strategies, your dizzy ideas.

 

Swimming out into a midnight ocean
Happily lost. Everyone misunderstands.
Missing, or disappeared?
It was for love, and thank you.

 

 

 

– – – – –

 

The above words were written en route to hand in my MA dissertation under the heady title “Negative Capitalism: Kafka’s Castle and the Control Societies Reconsidered”. Will be discussing this on here in a few weeks. A love song for the assumers. Above that, a film made by assumers including myself, a daft and fearless work, its flaws part of its charms I think. Who knows what happens next…


Southern IV


It was foolish to entrust
These histories and archives to
Some librarian’s pedantry.
It takes eyes and not hands to preserve
Such youthful crimes.
It takes aching ribs
To extricate something
Of all this hymns and cries.
I sold my looks to gain entry to this –
I lied about my old age
But you wouldn’t be awoken out of
This disappointment feed –
Said it kept tabs on you,
Never deleted your number.

For fuck’s sake!
The teeth are falling from our gums.
Our negotiations all carried out
Amidst sticky sheets and corrugated feet.
The faint whimpers that
Disrupt your sleep.
The futility of all future life after this day.
Lies gridded on angst
Consuming all your brain-time
Like a threadbare vigil to some
Fallacious black saint.
Fattened on stats and potatoes,
Gambled all your hopes in earnest glances,
Wasted your anger under the misimpression
That it was an inferior currency.

And for what, now?
These days I lose it easy.
Like my father, not angry,
Just forever bothered by little things.
We citizens are only faithful to bad jokes.
The women get all the blame,
Fetid mattresses pile –
Dinners deliberately spilt.
Perhaps the end of the Nile.
You lament everything changes
But yet it still looks so similar.

Cookies and crisps for breakfast.
The station-orange juice makes your fingers tacky,
The sun whispers a witty riposte,
World looks like it hasn’t slept for days.
Lurid neon posters leer high, above
Shameful betting shops and a nursing home for
Dough-eared recalcitrants like your nanna.
Says one: “God is dead: long live the queen, or
Failing that –
Some old dream of a
Pope-reincarnation machine.”
Ivan’s pissed and bitching –
“Ain’t right,
How bad things happen to even kids,
If there was a man in the sky
He’d do something about this”
Kids like us can’t fathom these things, besides –
“You gotta wait”, comes the reply
And to everyone else that’s fine.
Inoculated not to expect or even raise lips
To happy situations.
Our silver compromise:
Crisp lager, getting to the next level,
Updating Facebook friends about
Making porridge, or even
Doing the laundry.

Dutty prinz.
This ain’t right, and tha ain’t right –
The citizens feels self-assured
Via the noisiest headlines.
Even if no-one reads or makes love anymore.
The impossibility of repaying debts.
Returning south,
Confronting a psychotic newsagent
With my little song of life.
Learning how to dance with angels,
No, we should try.

Southern III

So much seems to be breaking or coming undone at the moment right now, including my attention span. So how do I keep smiling? Is it this bad naive poetry I write on night-time journeys? It’s something. How else does a person occupy themselves in public places when their mp3 player no longer works? Everyone seems to be full of advice about what I shouldn’t be doing with my time, but few people have any idea about what they should be doing. But this cynicism is a mask that conceals a banal level of sadness I read in passing eyes like the billboards of a bad film everyone’s going to see at the cinema. I awoke too late for the cinema. And you see something less narcissistic in gym-going, networking for a job you don’t even enjoy, or writing articles, hearing reports, funding applications, self-auditing almanacs, business proposals and brief histories of subjects only you and five other people ever cared about? Every city has its restless ghosts and catacombs. You talk about duty but whoever asked you to occupy this post? World spins and streams glisten. This is Southern III.

I refuse cynicism
All these miserly fusions
Your free drinks – flirtations
Elegant diversions
The way you make her hands flutter
Like a moth unable to exit a window
I recognise your abilities
The way you make his legs cricket-twitch
Those fine ideas of yours
Make me lose my face.
Long nails and itchy chins.

Pencilled on asphalt
The history of three cities:
You, me, and him:
Our territorial limits
Economic blockades
The mischooling of our children!
My denied visa
Your state-subsidised breakfasts,
Our passive strategies
Against one another.

I knew a way to make you smile once.
That babaluga bangle of old McWhippy Rossi
Cacophony arraigning
Suburban attention spans,
Rectangular streets neither squalid nor neat
Foxes screech, faces crease
Intermittent repeats of TV bleats,
The way you parted your hair back
Distracted, but as if
Your fingers possessed secrets
Were in league with that intoxicating
Cherry-pear scent,
And later,
Cider sweetened with a blackcurrant soup.

A wry smile from leading know-all pundit.
The tempo of this table finger-waltz
Disabuses –
So stop it.
Psy-ops, cold curry, a love
Like a pop ditty.
Day like all others.
Armpits sing with hot mediocre
Swamp-rock architectonics.
Not wearing any lights now,
Only an adult excuses blood in accidents.
Takes an afterlife as afterthought.

“These kids possess neither
Attentions nor manners”.
So declares drunken white man
I am expected to respect.
Blames the lesbians and those
Colleagues still in league against him.
A reflection of their inputs.
So outside –
Promises snake round ears
Like gin kisses.
I’ve told you far more things
Than might ever be true.
You went to see him, when gestures
(Or jesters) No longer had their due.
Spidery, doubt webbed round your eyelids:
Queen hair, tough skin, angry books.

Our three histories
Reduced to allegory.
Muttered in the back of
Some ancient garden
Where orchids are unheard of,
The buddleia fed on tramp’s tears,
Adolescent love-letters,
High Court summons.
Of our histories:
The old tale of a friend, she,
Picaresque scene with polka-dot stars
Cola and watch-straps, yes,
She hated those lies
Her face told about her eyes.
Razors and nails
Met another friend in a similar fate,
Likewise, but beyond advice,
They became grotesque parodies
Of redemptive fantasies.
Shopping for broken furniture
Victims of their self-prophecies
Narratives about parental failures.
Bullshit.
“I’m not too young to love, but”,
And she clears her throat, and you turn away,
“I’m too old to forget”.
The history of our tribes involved war
And not wine –
Less a pickle of wisdom than the
Breeding of swine
– Fine, fine industrious swine. –

Finger print smudges on the edge of the bay
Bobbing seals fix upon us like
Wrecked mementos of lost children.
Cool, free of forgiveness,
Pint of salt water in old Norway Square
Now he asks me how I’m doing today
Come rain or worse weather
I’d be right either way.

*