Moge and Bols
Dan the Dog
Saint-Hilaire and Cuvier
The White Twins
SILVER LINING: EXTRACTS FROM A VERSE JOURNAL, SUMMER 2008
'… the local cemetery
isn't difficult to find: just die.'
We live in a paradise,
I suppose. One where one dies.
Just like the beautiful flowers.
Oleander, bougainvilla bowers.
Even the scent is short-lived.
Hay fever's its parting gift.
The heart is not in travel anymore.
Queuing in airport terminals I'm prone
to panic attacks. I've been known to roar
at baggage handlers.
'Cretans! No more
being shoved around the world on a treadmill
of uncertainty, where my next bed will
be a mirage. In this damn labyrinth
there is no way out.'
The minotaur rules
from his glassy office with no one in it.
Daedalus's design is only for fools,
who don't know how to stay in their room,
and pay dear to fly tourist to the moon,
or Apollo's sun, to meltdown like Icarus.
At home, says Ulysses, you can die in one piece.
There is always a way out of any hole
as long as you don't dig deeper like a mole.
The path of least resistance is up for air,
where waiting for you is, perhaps, a snare.
It's easier to avoid from underneath.
So stand on your head and kick out with your feet.
The flowers don't smell in the garden
of paradise, and the fruit has no taste.
You have to go to hell for that.
When you're returning from a journey
it's always evening, and the sunset
welcomes you back to rest your head
in the healthy glow of familiarity.
On the horizon of home trembles
a fragile flicker of light that flares
and extinguishes till it resembles
smoke signals. Is there a fire upstairs?
The darkness on the threshold to me
spells ruin, as I fumble for the key.
But greeted by the burglar alarm,
its surprise party means me no harm.
In the snakes and ladders of real life
junkies end up on the bottom rung.
In sport it's the other way around.
Athletes, who are medically prepared,
climb to the top, and then walk on air.
Those who haven't the heart to climb above the tree line
can look up to see the view without losing breath. The clime
is kinder in the valley. The mountain seems more patient,
happy to wait for you, a finger in the sky making
a sketch of what is to come. It's my heavenly design.
I eye it by rule of thumb. That vault one day will be mine.
He runs long distances against the clock.
But now his stop-watch's broken, he does not.
When I return home from a holiday
I recover more slowly. It's age I know.
Sometimes I think it would be better to stay put.
But it's good to see the world before it's too late.
One day I will go away and not come back.
My fat neighbours are on a diet.
Every night at three o'clock the gipsy
comes home from his bistro kitchen job
and cooks a monster fry-up with scraps.
The stench wafts from the basement, and stirs
wild dreams in them. Their bodies sweat fat.
Thus weight is lost without losing sleep.
The food mountains are in all the wrong places.
And the hungry riot. A waste of energy.
Already depleted by rote procreation.
HIV will catch up with them anyway,
Or some Malthusian corrective. The Guardian
has a spread in its entertainment section
on the same weekend as the Hunger Protests:
'Could Food Be Better than Sex?' Of course it is,
says my friend Welsh, if you're starving.
Since Madame Estival, the vivacious, cleaned the windows,
I should be able to see the neighbours strangling one another.
Before there were only insects splattered on the glass.
Tonight I watch the little old lady in the top apartment
play Schumann on the piano with unrequited love.
She has a cat sitting on the lid and a glass of red wine.
The wisdom of old age is not to try
to fool yourself you're not going to die.
Ely Buxeda, the oldest sax player in the world, is giving his last last last farewell concert in Place Castellane on a humid, crackling night. Will the Pyrenees throw a storm? Ely mimes off-beat to his greatest hits, and wanders in his baggy white suit and soft hat amongst the slow dancers, soothing the air. 'It's a Wonderful World.'
On the floor there are only older dancers (a middle-aged pair practise rock and roll in the shadows). The black soul singer sings to him from the platform. She is youth in the Ely Express, pretty with frizzy black hair and a swinging delivery. He raises his hat to her. One day she will miss him. As we all will. It's not often you see the ghost of a legend, live, though completely bald now.
An ancient twosome, fox-trotting very correctly, stop by Ely and the three briefly sway together. But he has music to make, or make believe, and returns to the centre of the floor to blow one last last last note. When the music stops the distant sound of thunder in the mountains pre-empts the applause. Then it starts to rain and everybody runs for cover. Ely walks.
The bolt on the door is a final goodbye.
The living space inside echoes with a clock
that has no reason to stop. People will die
and others take their place. The skip is chock-
full of what you can't bring with you to the next
world, where I gather the soul doesn't need effects.
Exchanging the living for the dead
is an ethical bargain. Exchanging the dead for the
living is a good way of disposing of redundant stock.
In the long run the swaps come to the same thing.
Life and death is a matter of time, and storage space.
Look at the bright side of mortality.
'I have all my afterlife before me.'
Every day, without fail,
or success, Madame
Sissie pushes herself
up and down the town,
bearing a basket
in each hand,
full of stones
on the way up,
and of earth
on the way down.
She is building
and an earthly