Weekend Poetry: Juggernaut and other poems
In autumn, the politicians flock to this city.
They raid the café beside the conference centre:
espressos, collusion and friendless scoops of mint choc chip
spooned in precisely between fringe events and panels,
name badges dangling, twitchy faces hovering
above wild stacks of paper, every other word underlined.
Danny, masseur extraordinaire, bringer of happy endings
surveys the gaggle, cards in hand. Not a whiff
of Shadow Cabinet―two arthritic backbenchers
and the pro-fracking man off Newsnight, drumming
his freebie pen against a mug. What's a boy to do?
Outside, the weather bludgeons photo ops with cloud,
an Atlantic juggernaut of wind. A bored Met policewoman
enters, stab-vested, with a semi-automatic carbine.
He puts the cards away, blends with a tour group
from Cologne, reminded suddenly of this year's Pride,
the first float in the parade, how all he could think of
was a bloom of light opening behind the radiator grille,
an instant of heat and helplessness then nothing.
Oh I know it's absurd scoffs a journo on her mobile outside
before dodging a stream of departing Germans,
the café swiftly quiet. He orders a soya latte and waits
beside the policewoman who leans over to collect her tea,
so close for two seconds he can hear her gently breathing.
I am lounging outside Costa in my black shirt
as if dressed for the funeral of winter
though, really, I'm glad it's dead.
Really, I'm stuffing my face with quiche at its wake
and hoping for money, to forget it existed.
Spring is falling out of the sky and even a blown
crisp packet spreads the message. On the street,
there is a spilled sack of aquarium stones, green
and orange, like someone from My Little Pony
took a dump. I am sitting here beside my tea
and thinking how orange has its roots in naranja,
a citrus tree that sprang from an elephant's corpse.
I, too, would like to be useful after death, to hand on
kidneys and fun but that's for later. I am thirty-eight.
My newborn grey hairs have prospects.
Come in and talk to Vicki about your barnet!
says the advert next door. Maybe I will.
Maybe I will ask her about fringes and Brexit
and other concepts I would not kiss
and the man asleep a few tables over who may not
be breathing though he doesn't smell yet
and in my tolerant society dead people
are welcome too. It's so much better than it ought to be,
the clear, cold sun and this teenager with pink hair
who dips a coat hanger into her bucket of marbled water
and spawns a lengthy bubble. It glides along the street
like a fish that's come down from the clouds to feed,
gathering acolytes as it wobbles then twists
stubbornly into the future, heading north.
It's hard to ignore a musical penis,
this water boatman that drags
his insect prick against the sacred corrugations
of his belly. The lads are out in force tonight
with all the niceties of dreadnoughts,
a metal concert no one booked.
For these are not the tunes of mouths,
not shaped to curl through the cave
of an ear. Each pneumatic chirp's off-key,
strives to shipwreck the listener
with certainties―a spam attack
of megapixelled cock pics,
the gaps between the molecules
of pond their glory holes.
They scrape beside each other
in seismic orchestras, masters of disharmony,
each one clutching his instrument,
hell-bent to club down the rest
or scratch his dick out, yank himself to the grave.
In summer, the tattooed sons burst
from eggs and grip their packages
as soon as they can, all-set to thump
the masses and the soloist that always wins,
to interrupt the melody of Nobody's racket,
the patient silence that thickens and rises.
Yes, this really is me, plodding
round a private swimming pool
in Speedos, in my twenty year old
body―a leaky skin suit I'd return
to the shop if I could, swap
for something geometric.
It gathers sweat in September heat,
the back of my neck deepening
to red, as pointed out by the man
on the lounger who lives
on another continent. Two decades
older, the light glints from a Rolex
he only takes off to sleep.
We're not going to make it.
For six months, I have played out
in my mind different ways
to escape. For six months
I have paused on the threshold.
Then, in the corner of his garden,
a nuthatch plunges down
the grooved bark of a poplar,
head-first: a blue slate
dropped straight from a roof,
a trick that's all in the stone
of toes and legs, sharp claws.
And I see it must be this way.
I must learn to fall with my eyes
fixed on the ground, must trust
the bones I've never seen,
my feet in touch with textures
and contours I'll grow into,
that will grow into me
as I descend, leaving the silvered,
empty heights behind.
So we stroll down Kings Road, past the stamping beat
of Tequila Heels at her sewing machine. Lines of stitches
on silk order her illusion, the charm before each putdown’s needle.
The root of glamour is grammar, you say—a thought
which carries us beyond the cafés’ whoobub to where
the nineteenth century flaunts mock ironwork and stucco,
Attic flourishes that conceal the queens on Grindr. (Good luck boys!)
I like these mazy streets, how their cadences of chance make us
near-collide with a jogger who’s Kat from your office,
directing little mice inside her muscles. Here we never go straight
to the point―the lane’s always strewn with rubble, blossom,
the latest soaring personae under construction. There’s no moment
of departure anyway and shoot me if I ever claim I’ve arrived.
It’s getting late as we pass the West Pier, its grand collapse
that whispers founder is the root of fonder, that the ocean
will swallow this city at length. We, too, have devastating impact,
not just travelling down the path to mine but altering it,
disturbing the air with our lallies and devious brains.
Montaigne called the mind a silkworm, entangling itself in its thread.
He came to the disco five centuries too soon. Clubs make me feel
ancient, you reply. Well, my house is small but there’s glitter
and voltage, and you’re always awaited in its white rooms.
Tonight, the hours arrive like animals, loping in with caution,
trotting up to give my ear a sniff. They curl around the roofs
with clumsy feet, thrilling poplars, disturbing those asleep―
hairdressers, air stewards and pale centuries that rest
beneath the ground. I love them all like I love the woman
with slicked-back hair who in the match-light drives
the no. 7 bus, who stamps out her Mayfair cigarette
at a shelter where no one waited, types on Snapchat
Sorry about yday angel before she returns to the slow rise
of the coast road. It wanders in absurd isolation,
a lost dressing gown cord beside the wind-bitten edge.
Here, in landslides after rain, a room can plunge irretrievably―
floorboards, quilts and coat hangers scattered over rocks.
The chalk face reveals ancient accidents: bison and mammoth.
Each one stirs my overdue love. Rock bolts and soil nails
can't stop the cascade of flint, attention-grabbing tears
beside the waves' discreet rollings, the shivering skyline
an enormous mammal's pelt you might run a hand along.
Though it doesn't care, I love this fractal shore,
and in particular the old men who right now swing
metal detectors above pebbles, headphoned and zealous.
I love their stubbornness, discovered pennies and collisions,
the oscillating fields and currents of their chatter:
Sharp out today Necklaces Shame what happened to Lionel
I love euphoric dogs, spaniels that hoover scents,
black noses aroused by the eyeless corpses of wagtails,
paperbacks crusted in salt and young barmen off their heads on K,
clinging to each other's bodies as if they were the last humans left.
My love won't help them but it is there.
Just above, the hotels have gathered to watch the smash of waves
and the wind is another clubber stumbling down St James Street
past the first commuters. I love them all, the kind and reckless,
the deluded and histrionic, and the waitress with the shaved head
who steps over gull-ripped binbags and pushes up the coffee bar's
rattling shutter, not catching a freight train's retreating voice,
too focussed to spot that the sea through the branches
of beech trees is a hundred little seas. They hover together
like stained glass, in their own lead-lined way as beautiful
as the ocean without the frame, incomplete without the distant piece
of the observer, and the falling hours that slide away like animals.
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