poetry

The Plumbing Cantos: Canto XV

scaffolding

The concrete river’s mist makes harder work
of walking through the burning sandy plain.
Carcinogens in concrete tend to lurk

for days and lodge in paranasal veins.
But nothing else protects us from the fire.
It barely keeps our narrow route maintained.

The dams of Holland’s Delta Works are higher
than flood protection anywhere UK.
You think the past few Cornish floods were dire,

you wait till London’s Chelsea floods one day.
From Ranelagh Gardens up to Holbein Place
and Eaton Terrace – flood plain all the way.

But still – there’s more protection there than here.
We’ve next to nothing keeping us from burns
(The forest now has all but disappeared),

when from the fire another group emerge,
and one guy in particular affects
a mocking campness as my stomach turns

in recognition. Just how I’d expect
he taunts: “Ooh ‘Allo, Curly!” (though my hair
is straight and Curly’s not my name), detects

my obvious discomfort, smirks and asks me where
I’m going. We don’t have a choice. He comes
along beside us. Hiding my despair

with lack of interest, he starts to run
ahead “You shouldn’t stop here. If the coals
land on your head it fucking ‘urts, old son.

You plumbing still these days?” I start to fold
my arms and tell him yes, and now am lost
somewhat before he cuts across me cold:

“It’s Dog Eat Dog, mate.” Does he give a toss?
I think. He strides ahead, his shoulders straight,
exactly as he was until he crossed

from life to death, as if we’ve made him late,
like we’re the ones who can’t keep up with him.
“I’ll sort out anyone who tries it, mate.”

His cold eyes blink as coals land on his skin.
“I said to one guy “I will fuck you up
the arse” and then…” (the coals sink further in)

“…I knocked him out.” I hope that we’re not stuck
with this bloke that I knew too well, but stop
and looked around as Patrick has slowed up

without a warning making my jaw drop,
unzips and takes a leak right there and then.
The other guy has cocked his head and knocked

me on the arm. “This fella – He’s your friend?
So is he gay? No, is he? Is he gay?” I can’t
help thinking that his punishment won’t end

because he has an unexamined slant.
He keeps on saying “That’s so gay.” As though
to insult people by it. Then this plants

a thought he wouldn’t want his wife to know
and I’m too scared to say in case he flips.
“Well when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go!”

says Patrick, running, trying not to trip
to catch us up. My mouth is dry, but wide
and open, leaving concrete dust to strip

the moisture from my throat. I have to try
and ask a question. “Don’t you wonder where
you are?” But though he doesn’t break his stride

I know this bloke reflects on being there.
“No. When you’re dead, you’re dead. I don’t know what
all this shit is.” He scratches at his hair

and flicks a cinder out. “No, that’s yer lot.
You’ll learn.” He doesn’t look at me, but stares
at something far too far away to spot.

“But what d’you think it is?” I think I’m spared
an angry snap. He sees three people come
towards us. “Oops, I’ve got to go.” He tears

himself away. “Learn lots. Ta ta.” He runs
the other way from them. Amazing how
a man can move like gilded lead from guns

as soon as someone bigger can be found.

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The Plumbing Cantos: Canto XIV

It’s a gas

A photo posted by Michael L Radcliffe (@artbizness) on

A plumber’s blowtorch, soldering a tube,
will reach about 2000 centigrade.
Cleaned copper, fluxed, when heat pulls solder through

should make a joint that’s good enough for trade.
You’ve got to flush the flux out quickly though
to make sure all the chemicals will fade.

When spending all your days on quite a few
you fold yourself in spaces tight and cramped.
The flux will turn your fingers green and blue,

the chemicals make sure some pain is stamped
in hidden cuts across your dirty hands,
and make your cigarette feel greased and damp.

You do enough and find you cannot stand
that shit, and rest a while to catch a break
even though behind on what you’ve planned.

But rolling cigarettes is a mistake.
The paper slides in fingers stained by grease.
This isn’t quite how long you meant to take.

They say it takes about two minutes’ peace
while you’re away and staring at the sky
for fire to take a hold and then increase.

You only have to once forget to try
to concentrate and put the blowtorch down
for it to fall and end up on its side

from one foot flames that barely leave the ground
the smoke will fill the ceiling space up first
the top third of a room a toxic brown,

until you see the flame flashover burst
before the walls and carpet start to strand
with fire like a waterfall reversed.

And this is where we are. On burning sand,
emerging from the Forest into heat.
The popping ember blizzards come to land

on melting naked flesh, the pain repeats
it’s endless rain – some people curled or crouched
and rocking back and forth in lost defeat,

some lying on their backs try shouting out
at every glowing piece of grit on their
bare skin, still others pacing out their doubt –

as if in unknown war zones, anywhere
the rest of us have never heard before
or passed the opportunity to care.

I ask about one guy there on the floor,
whose folded arms, crossed ankles, staying mute
as if all this is easily ignored.

I question Pat – “That guy seems resolute.
Who IS he?” Pat’s already done this once
so says nothing. Just looks down at his boots.

“My NAME’S Dave CAPANEUS.” He is blunt
and blasphemous. “Oh Jesus FUCKING Christ
I don’t care. When I leave I’m going to punch

the living crap from God. I’ll do it twice!”
Ignoring bunker busting bombs nearby
he scrambles to his feet to start a fight.

Now Patrick’s not a temperamental guy.
I’ve barely seen him say an angry word.
But slowly growing redder he lets fly.

His “DO SHUT UP!” is louder than I’ve heard
from any other person. Comical
somehow, yet leaves a silence undisturbed

that only he can break. He then recalls
that Capaneus lost it with a guy
who wouldn’t pay for plumbing he installed.

He tried to climb his building when he died
from falling form the second window sill,
to hurt his client cowering inside.

“Let’s just keep going. See that river filled
in over there? With concrete that won’t set?
Go round the Forest’s edge there if you will.

This is as amazing as it gets.
Above this stream there isn’t any flame,
so we can wiggle through but don’t get wet.

A London island near here that’s un-named
abandoned in the middle of the Thames
and made of concrete, has the odd remains

of aggregate that’s piled up in tens,
and at the centre of the tallest mound
they say an unknown builder there who spends

Eternity, but faced towards the town,
is buried there. His head is made of gold
his arms and chest are silver, further down

his arse and legs are brass, but then I’m told
his left foot’s made of iron, right one clay.
The right one takes his weight but doesn’t hold

and so this builder’s cracked in every way
(except the gold which somehow stays there whole)
and concrete pours out every single day

from every crack and orifice. It rolls
to fill these flowing tributaries you see.”
“How come I’ve never noticed (if it’s “Old”)

this island and the streams. They’re new to me!”
“There’s lots you haven’t seen and more to come.
Now follow down this stream from near the trees.

Another twenty cantos, then we’re done!”

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Canto XIII. The Forest of The Suicides

tomatoes

CANTO XIII

We left behind the Nessus and the blood
but new oppressive feelings followed on
while hiding in a sickly blackened wood.

Above the trees, the Harpies sing their song
the Forest of The Suicides below –
those female tropes are still not dead and gone.

When more men kill themselves while sinking low
often where’s there’s lurking shame, there’s blame.
Down there is where tomato plants will grow.

“The best tomatoes grow here,” Pat explains
“in sewers being fertilised by shit.
They’ve been through several people. All the same

they’re different, better, but… No, DO NOT pick
them. This is why your stomach’s always wild.
You work with waste and keep on getting sick.”

I pop a fruit off anyway. The riled,
resigned tomato plant responds: “Dear boy…
You have the maladroitness of a child…

The omnipresence of my gout annoyed
me less than your behaviour at this hour.”
I mumble “sorry” quickly to avoid

the mood becoming any further soured
I try to speak without appearing rude
discovering tomato plants can glower.

He sighs, “My many years of solitude
are better than your facile questions, sir.
My placement here, to which your words allude

is from a suicide attempt referred
to often (though it happened in my youth).
I shot myself while feeling quite disturbed

while in Marseilles (though I’m a Pole in truth)..”
“YOU FUCKING POLISH BASTARD” floats across
from River Enoch Powell. “How uncouth…”

Tomato Plant goes silent in the moss.
Despite my prompts he sullenly stays mute
“Are you OK mate?” thinking that I’ve lost

him, then he shudders gently “Savage brutes…”
I small-talk gently, asking “What’s your name?”
“While Konrad Korzeniowski won’t impute

a meaning, that I’m Joseph Conrad, famed
for writing might.” “Oh yes, I’ve heard of you,
but not your suicide though – that’s a shame.”

“I didn’t die from suicide. My view
is that the gout contributed to death
at 66, depression it is true…

But such self pity! Why should we waste breath
on foolish youthful misadventure now?
Intemperance in passion should be left

behind us.” “Isn’t talking better? How
are feelings processed if you never speak
about them?” “But I simply won’t allow

unfettered caterwauling, not unique
in darkest Africa perhaps, though…” “WHAT
did you just say?!” I realise the reek

of British Empire hangs around his hot
and stinking space. And while I sympathise
about his being ill, it’s what is not

acceptable to me. Dismantle lies
to get to somewhere better, yes, perhaps,
or do I bother venting my surprise?

He splutters, clearly taken quite aback:
“But I detested that King Leopold!”
I’m sensing his defensiveness has tapped

a nerve beyond an explanation, old
and baked in Empire’s sunburn hardened boats.
“You haven’t BEEN to Africa!” he scolds.

I realise his generation floats
along a tide that never should have been.
I must refuse his navigation notes.

He died before Frantz Fanon had been seen
to write about an overtaken world
colonially creased, depressed and screamed.

Now reason, whispers, shouts and silence hurled
between us doesn’t seem to make a case
or let our hidden prejudice uncurl.

I have to go. There isn’t time to waste
when suicides have so much more to teach
than how to reinforce our thoughts on race.

I look along the row of plants at each,
their fruit uniquely glowing in the fug –
communities of people out of reach.

I ask: “What was it forced you to unplug?”
“It isn’t really like that”, ventures one.
“You can’t just cure us with a few more hugs.”

“Before I’d even tried to to aim the gun,
I’d lost all sense of what was down or up,
but I was clear what needed to be done.”

“It wasn’t that I didn’t give a fuck”
another speaks “about my family
and friends. You don’t see straight.” I cup

my hands to catch tomato juice and see
how late I am for them. “And how’s things now?”
Then nothing. Silent. Waiting carefully.

The silence breaks “Well when I’d left the house
I’d left some notes of course. For Mum
and Dad, my sister, friends, and feeling proud

that I had got control back from the hum
of pain, I walked to Hornsey Lane (the bridge)
and looking at the cold and grey A1,

(it’s easy climbing up the fence’s ridge)
the way I’d planned so carefully ahead,
I jumped.

It isn’t so romantic being dead.
That second past the point of no return
a final shift takes place inside your head.

There’s something then that isn’t often heard,
that in that moment, you don’t have control,
ironically the lesson that I learned

that everything that tore away my soul
I had the power to act and change it all
but couldn’t now. The choice I had, I stole

from my own self. And now that I recall
these things for every day I’m here a plant,
I’ve lost a better life there after all.”

There’s more I want to understand here, but I can’t;
a Cane Corso dog full coloured coal
has sniffed his way across the mossy slants.

As he begins to tear and chew and roll
tomato flesh and stems and fibres break
between his teeth. Their screams unfold

their form of living death while still awake.
“OH GOD. PLEASE. STOP.” amongst the gurgled chokes
arise and land too sharp and hard to take.

We have to plug our disappearing hope.
But as we leave somewhat to my surprise
I feel Pat’s curiosity is stoked.

“So how can those plants photosynthesise..?”
he asks, “There’s total lack of sunlight here.”
The question isn’t answered, but he guides

my thoughts in what I always knew and feared.

Copyright Michael L Radcliffe 2016.

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Canto XII: VIOLENCE

violentatm

Canto XII

While sliding down a steep escarpment, scree
and faeces twisting ankles while we try
to slow ourselves enough, though hard to see

it’s possible to feel the lime applied
by builders from Victorian times preserved
by fetid air for years and trapped inside

the sewer made it hard work and unnerved
us way before we saw the Minotaur
along by where the blood red river curved.

“WHAT THE FUCK YOU COMING THIS WAY FOR?”
he thundered at us never blinking, pale
for someone bull-headed and rendered poor

and stunted, but particularly male,
conceived by non-consensual sex with bulls
as if his violent nature never fails

but due to someone else’s failing pulls
away his own responsibility.
But here he is in Hell. The fault is full

and his and his alone. He rounds on me
“YOU FUCKING GAY” and comes at me to punch
me in the head. I totter back and see

his half-drowned van, still white but scraped and crunched,
embedded in the river bank, and hide
behind it, neck and shoulders pinched and hunched,

my throat is catching on the left hand side
and sharp as if some food has caught and stuck,
my legs slo-mo, my stomach tightens dry.

“YOU FUCKING FOREIGN CUNT COME HERE YOU FUCK”
his bradawl focus doesn’t see our signs
between each other hoping for some luck

we start to run along the bank behind
the wide perspective from the van improves
the further on, the running calms our minds.

Until we hear the sound of horses hooves.
Three centaurs canter over drawing bows
and one says “Back in the River before I lose

my shit with you.” Though somehow Patrick knows
we’ll be OK, a centaur trots up close
and shoulder-barges us then smirks and slows

enough to smell the alcoholic boasts
he fires at us; me noticing my flank
already sore with tension stress the most.

“He isn’t dead, we’re travelling this bank
of River Enoch Powell. Let us pass
– and you’re obliged to guide us, being frank..

I know about your Father being crass,
his love of horses…” “Let me give you him,”
he points to Nessus “He’ll be good. He’s fast.”

The anxious toxic sting of breathing thin
that comes to my attention in the lull
is crawling like a poison under skin.

Distracted though, by Nessus; “These we cull
with arrows every time they bubble up.”
He points at River Enoch, at the dull

lit feet and heads and body parts and muck
of mostly men of violence below
the surface of their bloody stinking rut.

“There’s every kind of violence here you know
from anger disproportionately done
to physical but also mental blows

and through to those who torture just for fun
to see you crumble in emotions terms
or break you with the barrel of a gun

when psycho bosses pushing till it burns
while smirking like your empathy’s a crutch
and for the weak as far as they’re concerned.

when those who think that non-consensual touch
is not a problem: punished here as well
for sexual violence even once too much.

when blackpowder will leave an acrid smell
when skull meets pavement, single punch, and cracks
when blood will clot before the final bell

when eight police will knee her in the back
when IEDs throw Humvees in the air
when slavers must ensure the boat is packed

when threatening a child with a stare
when neighbours dogs have jumped the fence and bite
when dragging somewhere hidden by the hair

when doggedly insisting on a right
that’s luxury by any other name
from oil and sweatshops working through the night…”

“Please. Stop.” I beg. The slow encroaching pain
from waves of nausea start to amplify
the background hum of violence that drains.

“Who are these people?” I begin to cry
“I don’t know where I am or what to say.”
“We’ve crossed the Enoch to the other side.

You’re on your own.” He slowly trots away.

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The Plumbing Cantos: Canto XI

cantoxi
We slosh along through sewage to a smell
so full-on that we’re forced to catch our breath.
The rising currents from the holding cells

much further down escarpments; smells of death
are emanating from the nearby tombs.
“So who is buried here? Says on the left

it’s ‘Major Walter Clopton Wingfield’. Who…?!
Was he a heretic?” “Depends on what
you think of ‘Real Tennis’, I presume.”

he chuckles “While we’re waiting on this spot
acclimatising to the odours here,
you’ll need to occupy your mind while hot…”

“Well there’s another tomb that’s also near:
it’s Henry Edward Manning (Cardinal
to you!) A heretic?” “Err… We appear

to be quite sidetracked now. If I can pull
your focus back to where we’re going next
and let the reader Google him in full.

Dear boy, I see that you are quite perplexed.
So let’s describe this in a verbal map,
before the story’s flow’s completely wrecked.

It’s Circle Seven next beyond this crap
containing three concentric circles like
Matryoshka Dolls are tightly inter-wrapped

together, packed…” he squeezed his hands up tight
six inches right in front of me and stared.
“The Violent go well beyond a fight.

Tradition says the Violent have dared
to act against a neighbour, God or self…”
The conversation twists. I’m un-prepared

for poems stigmatising mental health.
The Violent I fully understand,
but suicide is one alarming bell

of ethics baked and cast in clay-less sand
– a rigour mortis logic long since dead
and slipping through the fingers of my hands.

” and then beyond that further on ahead
the Fraudsters – even worse than Violent.”
“Eh?!? Fraud is worse?! Not Violent instead?”

He glowers at me. “You’ll see what I meant.”
“Go back a bit though Patrick, let me grasp
this Violence you told me: Re-present

that argument again before the last
and final circle that we hit. Un-pack
it some. For me you’re going much to fast.”

“Well also Usurers are at the back.”
“Wait, Usurers are Violent? How come?”
“It seems to me your taking the wrong tack.

Not knowing in advance won’t make you dumb.
Your writing this progresses, then you find
your way through things. Just try to let them run.

The point of Art is finding things from blind,
and making things works through the unknown mess
you’ll piece it all together in good time.

Move on against your apprehensiveness.”

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Canto Ten

tyburnplaque

“D’you think it’s fine for me to have a look
inside the tombs and see what’s there? The dark
and void-like space becomes an addict’s hook

to someone curious like me.” The stark
response from Pat is that I can
but when I speak to think before I start.

But interrupting me, a builder stands
inside his tomb and orders me to “Go
back to where you came from.” He understands

Nothing. In best South London I explode
“No you fuck off, you wanker.” Not the calm
I would have liked, I started down the road

of self defence, and wishing on him harm.
“So where you from? I bet your relatives
aren’t English.” What is this? I’m often charmed

by people thinking they can friend me with
some nationalistic shit, but this is not
what I’d expect, as if I’m somehow his.

We’re interrupted by another lot
of “Tell you what – the Polish plumbers took
away my work, those bastards broke me, stopped

me earning.” This second guy has looked,
his burning hair and melting flesh that slides
across his neck, his body slowly cooks,

pipes up: “I met you once before I died.
I put a water valve in by mistake.
It should have been a gas valve.” Then he cried.

“That installation blew. I’ll always hate
myself for that. I took out half a flat
and half a family because of late

the night before I’d got quite pissed and sat
up chatting up this chick. I did the job
hungover tired and feeling flat

and died in the explosion when the hob
ignited. DId the girl survive? I hope
the daughter didn’t die.” A life well robbed

became a little worse, when how I groped
for words convinced him that the worst he’d feared
was true, inferring words I never spoke.

Affecting those his story was, my tears
ran though I never knew him or the girl
before the broken moment he appeared.

“Ahem.” The first guy desperately unfurls
his England flag and wipes the shit away.
“So did we win that vote?” he sweeps and twirls

the flag despondently, his face is grey.
“You mean the referendum? Yes and No.
We’re out of Europe, yes, but that’s to say

the country’s now in free-fall. You don’t know
the racist stuff that’s happened since that vote.”
“But what about the immigration though?”

“I’m not a racist though.” He adds. I note
his body language changing – subtle shifts,
defensiveness and shades of winner’s gloat.

“So come on mate. Well, why do you resist
the immigration thing?” My body tense
like I’m the one who’s dead, my feelings drift.

“The numbers coming over are immense.”
I know they’re not, but tension in my throat
has cut me off “…it doesn’t make no sense:

We’re full. The housing shortage form the scrotes
who come here, don’t pay tax, so NHS
is fucked by all the refugees in boats…”

There’s tightening in my struggle to express
my feeling that he’s wrong. He is in Hell.
But where to start? The way that you address

that argument, and making it go well
that immigrants are not the ones that kill
the NHS or housing stock that fell

to ruin years before an overspill
of people smaller than a town from here
is not the problem, unconvinced him still,

that all of life i valued and held dear
sounds hollow if you think that someone’s thick
and treat them with contempt and silent sneers.

While valuing the Other isn’t quick
but takes a special place inside your walls
when other countrymen won’t let it stick

the argument continually stalls
when seeing “Them” as “Other” is the fault.
I kicked the fucker right between the balls.

Well what was I supposed to do? I thought
a lot, but this frustration takes me out
and all those clever words are being fought.

I realised there isn’t any doubt,
the chances are he’d do the same to me
without a second thought and twice the clout.

I felt no better for it but believed
I had no other choice available.
I checked there’s nothing else to be retrieved.

He muttered something else contemptible
about his Postal Vote he couldn’t change.
I found that part most risible of all.

Rejoining Patrick, thoughts and words ingrained
in my expression, asking me my thoughts
I laid out my conflicted mind, explained

my obviously being out of sorts.
“Remember this dilemma that you faced
and all the things you feel this story taught.”

The smell had drawn us to another place.

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The Plumbing Cantos: Canto 9

Tyburn Mouth

I must admit it’s hard to trust a guide
whose face is drained of colour just like that
as if your fears are also justified

As nervously he smooths his coat down flat,
then seeing how he’s worried me, perks up
“I’m waiting for the messenger…” says Pat

“Do people get through here?” I interrupt,
“from further back along the route we’ve been?”
“Not often, But I’ve done it once before.

Yes, someone that I’m not sure if you’ll see…”
Before he’s finished talking I break off
the conversation. Up above, a scream

From Furies; shrieking, blood stained noisy coughs
and firstly (though I jump a bit), I calm
myself and then I make the journey stop.

“So here’s a thing I just don’t get.” Disarmed
by this, old Troughton stares and waits for me
to carry on, but nervous rub my palms.

The Furies pause as well, though testily.
“The Furies in the stories always seem
to be a woman: Vengeance, Endlessly

and Jealous. Ancient authors often dream
up women just to load them up as tropes.
They’re just portrayed as jealous vengeful screams.”

“Are solecisms coming soon?” Pat jokes.
“My grammar’s not as bad as that. But still.
I want to write a poem that, I hope,

is not for denigration or for thrills.”
As if on cue Medusa then appears
“Don’t look at her! One glance alone will kill..”

“…me to stone, yes, yes, they’re fears
from myths I know. But this just proves it’s true…”
“Oh Zoe, please don’t look” says Pat in tears.

“My name’s not Zoe! Look it’s just like Who.
The women screamed and ran from everything.
I want to write this differently. Don’t you?

I bet Medusa doesn’t really sting
us all by turning us to stone. It’s time
to look.” And slowly, carefully, I bring

my head around to see her face with mine.
She didn’t turn me into stone at all.
I looked and blinked through London’s mist and grime.

Instead I saw her face. She stared. I stalled
my male gaze for once, and realised
she’d taken on the brunt of being called

an Evil Woman. Why was I surprised
she looked so tired? But then I looked again:
a human being buried by our lies.

I saw we didn’t have the right as men
to judge her on appearance or describe
her, criticise her look, or clothes and then

I realised I’d stared at her, and tried
to make it seem less awkward but instead
she looked at me a while, then laughed and sighed

“For fuck’s sake…” she smiled and shook her head,
and strode away without a further word.
We heard another sound that stopped us dead.

Another woman came and then I heard
her saying “I have agency, I’m not
a cipher just to move the plot – some “bird”

appearing randomly. I’ll tell you what:
I’ve got a load of jobs on, but I can
just grind these bars out. Careful while they’re hot.”

She ground the bars with glove protected hands,
controlled the angle grinder like a boss,
and leaves the bars exactly where they land.

And off she tramples through the Thames bank moss,
the hi-vis vest she wore said “Mercury”
I watched the logo disappear across

the water’s edge. So now our way was free
of obstacles (at last) to Circle Six,
with yet more tortured people left to see.

“These – I suppose, you’d call them Heretics.”
said Troughton, pushing on, “They make a show
of being good at plumbing, but their tricks

for cutting corners/cheating: most don’t know
about the orthodoxy tradesmen say
they have, while they explain the rates of flow

unvented cylinders will need. It’s all display
to charge a little more, and then ignore
all that and do it different anyway.”

An England flag is lying on the floor
amongst the sewage, burning hot near tombs.
And I could hear the cries of pain were raw

and open screams, and tombs like open wounds.

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My Throat Closes Up

My temper stirs against unjust
behaviour. Anger, Fear and Needs distilled
begin to form a yell, but in the shouts
my throat closes up.

Rehearsing thoughts through whispers strained,
decanted into empty rooms where no-one hears
dissolving sentiments to try to solve
my throat closes up.

As if in some peculiar way
the universe or target hears and answers “YES”.
though mostly it or they return a “no”
my throat closes up.

So parched and routed, stopped at birth,
instead I write the strangulated words;
a poem should be read and heard
my throat closes up.

©Michael L Radcliffe 2015

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Plumbing Canto VII:

This Canto ups the pace a bit now, as we squeeze in two Circles of Hell: Circle Number Four, where the Hoarders and the Spendthrifts are punished (ie, those who are really bad with money), and Circle Five, where the Wrathful and the Slothful are punished. If you remember, the last Canto (VI) ended with us meeting Plutus guarding the gate of the Fourth Circle.

Canto VII

The tension takes a hold within my gut
as more confusion hits me once again.
A scream puts my behaviour in a rut.

I’m glad of Patrick showing him disdain.
He tells me not to worry with a wink.
He says to Plutus “Get this in your brain.

This man’s allowed to be here.” Plutus blinks.
“This journey’s his. You MUST not take control.”
As Plutus calms right down, I start to think.

There’s bloody loads of people in this hole.
They’re going round in circles pushing weights.
They bump each other as they start to roll

but seem to be in couples, filled with hate.
They wave a piece of paper in their face.
He says “Too dear! A waste of money!”, waits.

But always the response: “It’s NOT a waste!
We’ve got the money, why d’you hoard it up?”
then circle round again with little grace.

This paper that they’ve waved is all screwed up.
I try to steal a look, and I’m surprised.
A Quote I wrote is in their hands, all cupped

up tight, and this is work that they deprived
me of ten years ago when I was skint.
But now I see the problem un-disguised.

They’d never even given me a hint
of these extremities within their world.
They never called me back at all. My stint

of waiting was a memory that curled
around my confidence; a mix of fear,
alarm, frustration, dark emotions pearled

along with one good thought becoming clear
that only letting go a love of things
can start to make these things all disappear.

I’m drawn towards a doorbell ringing out
from nearby paper shops. A queue has formed
of people clutching giro cheques, no doubt.

The Lotto ticket counter being swarmed
by people spending every penny, blown
the lot. Despite the times that they all have been warned

by people meaning well who’ve never phoned
a single hotline helping destitutes.
We traced the riverbank, and heard the groans

from fighting and foul language that pollutes
the Thames, and we forgot our thoughts on luck
and just how dumb it is and how it mutes.

“OI! WHATCHO LOOKIN AT YOU STUPID FUCK”
a bloke has shouted at another guy
who scalps him with a bottle in the ruck,

and lots of people brawling in the mud
are fighting. Each one naked, as before,
and there a lad I knew once, drenched in blood.

I saw him once on Plumbing Module Four.
He’d boast about some fight he’d had last night.
But here he won’t be drinking anymore.

No alcohol to numb them from the sight,
and pain and shame and rage they might have felt
before from kicks and punches, stabs and bites.

“There’s two types punished here.” As Patrick knelt,
he spoke and pointed at the Thames, or Circle Five.
“In here the Wrathful pay their dues. They’re dealt

with on the surface, here you see, alive
with writhing bodies, but below as well
they keep the slothful, even though deprived

of air, you’ll still detect them from the smell
as passive and aggressive words float up.”
And sure enough I listen and can tell.

A larger bubble pops and sounds a muted “fuck”
and “bollocks” or “it worked before, you twat”
and other things that people say when up

in arms, but say it just behind my back
or out of earshot with a smiling face.
We head to Vauxhall bridge to stay on track.

I feel relieved to leave them in disgrace.

© Michael L Radcliffe 2014

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Plumbing Canto 6: GLUTTONY

Though knocked unconscious ONCE AGAIN by this,
this utter sadness “Lusty Man” exudes
I’m woken by the smell of inch-deep piss.

I’m in another circle now; squint through
the browny rivers running round my boots.
Disheartened folk, submerged, and yet protrude

from underneath a mouldy sewer’s fruits.
The place is like a massive manhole bench
that’s blocked and backed up hard, because it suits

as punishment for Gluttony; a stench
that rises from the turds and tampons thrown
down toilets; items lost. There’s my old wrench!

It’s guarded by a fat old worm who groans,
his three heads barking, snarling, rip & spit.
This Cerberus will tear us to the bone.

So Patrick Troughton scoops up clumps of shit
and slaps them quickly in his open gobs
in hope his hunger satiates a bit.

In fact it works! He settles down and bobs
about a little while I look around
and see a guy who’s sitting up while gobs

of fecal matter drop and trickle down
his neck. I hold my nose and ask his name.
“It’s Cérdez.” Not a name I know. I frown.

“Should I remember you?” My frown remains.
“I used to live around near Stockwell tube,”
he says and wipes the waste away again.

“I’d never cross the river ever, dude.
I’d never travel North, lived always South
of Father Thames that Bazalgette has screwed.”

“But will the Thames flood London’s people out?”
I ask: “Is there a future for my work?”
While Troughton shovels shit in Cerby’s mouth

“They want the Super Sewer built to lurk
below the Thames to process all the waste.
The Tideway Tunnel (as it’s called) won’t work

No matter where the access dig is placed.
The NIMBY-est of people win the fight
to stop the work from being in their face.

The irony. They don’t want this in spite
of being gluttons making waste at will,
indulging just because we had the right

to lay a block-paved driveway that will fill
a skip with turf that soaks rainwater up,
and even at the bottom of a hill.

The politics and arguing are stuck
while poorer people, drowning, wash away
ignoring that our climate there is fucked.”

“But what about my mates who live today?
What happens in their future? is there hope?”
The guy turns back; there’s nothing more he’ll say.

The smell of crap has now become a joke.
Dejection settles in, and seeps through clothes,
as if you’re in the shadow of a rope.

“You shouldn’t be so nosey”, Patrick crows.
“Oh come on Pat, you’re not for real.” I growl
“That people like their privacy, I know.

But yet, to me, this place is way too foul
to carp about the dignity they’ve lost.
If you could lay the Guilt on with a trowel

you would” as, wading through the dross
I ask “Who’s punishing the people here?
The “Good” v. “Bad” distinction makes me cross.”

I feel the conversation being steered
away to things I do not want to say.
I’ll tell you sometime over pints of beer.

But then we find that Plutus blocks the way.

Copyright 2014 Michael L Radcliffe

Back to Plumbing Canto 5

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Plumbing Canto 5: LUST

My toe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bewildered, my reaction comes too late.
A piece of paper hits me in the face.
I try to peel it off, the wind inflates

the picture printed on it. Then I place
the image. It’s Page Three, a topless shot.
from countless building sites, disgraced

I throw it in the wind again to rot
and try to think of something else instead
Now Patrick says: “That thing you’re thinking: STOP.

Eject that daft idea from your head.
‘Confessions of a Plumber’s just a film.
No sexy client wants you in their bed.

But just in case you think they one day will,
you need to meet a chap who thought the same.
We’ll find that man in Satan’s hellish kiln.”

I’ve seen a fair few things while rodding drains,
but never seen a hardy plumber cry.
And this guy wouldn’t even say his name.

I asked him what he’d done, and so the guy
began to tell me all about the wives
of clients that he’d shagged and said goodbye

by leaving them to face their shattered lives
and husbands, children, littered in his wake.
And sure, it takes two people’s sexual drives

to start a fire as people tend to take
advantage of the momentary surge
forgetting all the jetsam in the wake.

But anyway, his punishment was merged
with what he did in life; and so
it’s punishment that physically hurt.

“But what does it consist of really though?
I can’t help noticing your lack of clothes…”
I try to cope by staring at his toes.

As hard as it may be, the lack of clothes
is part of punishment, as every pain
is multiplied across his skin, he groans:

“You know when one day after touching drains…
you catch a stomach bug and diarrhoea…?
…and every hour it all begins again…?”

“And THAT’S your punishment?” I scratch my ear.
I know that feeling well, the pain it brings.
“It doesn’t really sound all that severe…”

“But constantly, and also other things.
You know when cutting copper pipe that thick?
The cutter leaves a burr around the rims…

…that cuts your skin in semi-circle nicks…
…and flux gets in it, stings, and makes you scream..?
…but everywhere, and even on my…” “Really?”

“Well, yes, it worse than all your foulest dreams…
..And plus… you know when crawling through a loft..?
that’s barely room enough, and hit the beams…

your head and shins and elbows battered soft…
while insulation made from fibre glass
and dust gets in, your mask keeps knocking off…

it leads to rattling in your lungs that lasts
while constant rubbing makes the whole thing worse…
…and glassy fibres scratch you up the…” “Right,

I think we should be off…” His tone is terse
“You know the times you’ve trodden on a nail..?
without your steel-toes boots on, and you burst

with anger, throwing tools around and hail
expletives just because you’re tired and ache
from running up and down the stairs and rail

against the bleeding radiators, baked
to death for hours, then drained to freezing cold,
then going up the loft again, you’ve raked

your back across a batten, feeling old
and bent and tired…” I try to sidle out
and still he talks. His eyes are closed and cold

his voice becoming fainter, I go out.

Copyright 2014 Michael L. Radcliffe

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Post Rage

Post Rage Now. Coming down.
Throat worn sore, drying rasp,
teeth clenched hard, slackened jaw.
Your nine lives, eight too many.

Feel that burn, after terror,
halted grief, worked too hard,
aching arms, scorn and scorched,
locked in anger, keyed right up.

Solid resting, gathered up,
apprehension, stretched ahead,
horror waiting, sometime later
ready or not, come again.

© Michael L Radcliffe, 2014

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Field Notes From a Catastrophe

All it took was One Stern Word
Turns my legs to mush, my heart
beating out my bursting chest.
Like you want my fury stuck.

That’s the way it started back
then, I think. It takes me days.
Stopping not a choice. But you
wouldn’t know. You never ask.

Setting up my life for me.
You had no idea at all.
Never even knew me now.
Grown to be the man I am.

Now you’re nothing. Fading out.
Nothing left but lashing out.
Sins have come to find you out.
Sitting, watch you peter out.

Soon to be an echo down
ages, gone to meet your saints.
We will still be Living Lies
Loving you in spite of that.

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Reversal

The slow black dog chased the car.
The car ran on paranoia’s gasoline.
The Winter Equinox an ancient time
to figure out a sense of what it means.

Advent runs past pell mell –
A canter into Christmas Day above
reflection. Time to put things right again
and pray for sun returning, light and love.

Cuts take their time, seeing how
to fit things together, making whole
before the Brussel Sprout sulphur masks
with humour all attempts after all.

 

©2013 Michael L Radcliffe

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Happy Birthday

Today’s the day to celebrate. I. Am.
I’m. here. I made it. I’m alive and loved!
I’m 43 today you know. I am!
And that’s enough to party every day.

Today is not a day to celebrate
your ego: have it stroked some other day
And please don’t cry that tempus fugit, or
let tempers fly about the things not done.

Today is not a day to celebrate
your past achievements or the lack of them
You’re more than anger, shame or guilt or fear
of what you did or didn’t build or do.

Todays the day to celebrate just this:
That you are loved and cherished by your friends
and family, and self-respecting. You.
Are. You. Won. Der. Ful. You have to know that.

Michael L Radcliffe Copyright 2013

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Plumbing Canto IV

Canto 4 tools

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I slowly woke to Patrick’s ashen face.
A muggy thunder stirs me from my nap
and taking in the God-forsaken space

I see I’m standing knee-deep in some crap
(as plumbers often do) but can’t see far.
Though catching Patrick’s eye, he turns his back.

“Now follow me, as I’m your Guiding Star.”
“Are you afraid?” “Well, no. You fear the worst.
Just pity makes me somewhat under par.”

Then finally we enter in the first
and foremost circle mostly hearing sighs
from people I knew well, but never cursed.

“Now what’s the deal with this? This just denies
my expectations, feelings, let alone
the thoughts I had about my clients lives.

The people here were nice! I want it known
that these ones paid on time, and more than asked!
Not like the stingy ones with hearts of stone.

And she was one who listened in the past,
and he was one who left me with a beer
and these ones found me extra work at last.

I do not understand why they are here.
If this is Hell, then where’s the justice Pat?”
He looked me in the eye. A smile appeared.

“I’m sure you’ve got a list as long as that,
of people that you’d love to put in Hell,
consign them, mark them “trash” from where you’re sat.

But learn and understand this lesson well:
The thoughts that some are wholly “bad” or “good”
are concepts that you really must dispel.

Just put the nasty ones in here? You would!
When really all of us are mixed up mess
of motivations, circumstance and “shoulds”.

So don’t be so surprised or get depressed.
Your clients will surprise you every time
And knowing this will save you much distress.

I pointed at a man: “Ah! Was his crime
to treat me with suspicion from the start?
He watched that “Cowboy Builders” all the time

He couldn’t see me honesty and heart.”
“Ah no. For watching way too much TV
is why he’s here. I know it’s hard. Now please

We have to reach that castle. Follow me.”
This castle was surrounded seven times
with walls that were the highest I had seen

and once inside I saw a well designed
and tended meadow, somehow feeling wrong.
We found a little alcove, hid behind

some shrubs where we could watch it all go on.
I saw some people who I do respect
and idols who I thought could do no wrong.

Old Patrick, staring hard at me, detects
the conflict in my feelings: “Let me hear
and help you work things out as you reflect.”

I ask if Pat’s in here (to make things clear)
He nods. “So what’s your crime? What are your sins?”
“But tell me why should I tell you my dear?”

“Look when your plumbing clients ask you in
by all means take an interest, BUT don’t pry!
You’re in their house! They’re other people’s things!”

I took his good advice, so while I try
to write this down I won’t be naming names
although it’s true and carefully described.

Then Patrick stands and shuffles down a lane.
I follow him and try to read the signs
towards the place where there’s a constant rain

and let’s just say that nothing really shines.

© Michael L Radcliffe 2013

 

Read the previous Canto or Read  All The Cantos

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The Plumbing Cantos

Hello everyone.

I thought I’d create a single page for the Plumbing Cantos where you can find links to them all in one place.

I’ve started writing a series of Cantos about my experiences of being a plumber, based on Dante Alighieri’s description of the 9 circles of Hell in his “Inferno” poem. I am drawing heavily on Dante for guidance, but setting it in the modern world. It is peppered with real and imagined experiences, a smattering of plumbing references, allegory and humour. Oh, and Patrick Troughton.

Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental of course.

So here they are:

Plumbing Canto 1

Plumbing Canto 2

Plumbing Canto 3

Plumbing Canto 4

Plumbing Canto 5

Plumbing Canto 6

Plumbing Canto 7

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Plumbing Canto 3

Last one for the weekend. This is the 3rd one in an ongoing epic poem series, based on Dante’s Inferno. You can read Canto 1 and Canto 2 first if you’d like to get a sense of where I’m going with it.

This is my favourite so far.

 

Plumbing Canto 3

The legend written just above the gate
said: “Either this or living on the dole.
Through here you’ll get to see the people’s fate

who made Themselves the only worthy goal.
The closest thing you’ll see to modern sin,
your last remaining chance of staying whole,

Abandon Hope all ye who enter in.”
“Take courage, lad” said Pat “No turning back.
We’ll fortify ourselves with shots of gin.”

And in we went; the air was blue and black
with languages and angry voices, next
to plumbers’ vans of every type all stacked

along the River Effra’s banks, with text
of every type, and stickers everywhere
in every livery that you can get

with plumbers’ numbers, Gas-Safe stickers, large
emblazoned names in clashing colours loud
as dodgy typefaced scattered business cards.

The sun was coming up behind a cloud
revealing everything and more besides
and in amongst the massive plumbers’ crowd

were posh and chavvy standing side by side.
Some spiky crew-cuts, male & female, all
the races represented thin and wide.

And every single person, big or small
was absolutely naked. Every one.
There’s every type of tatt and piercing, all

were glinting in the light, the rising sun
had brought out midges, biting everywhere
and bruised and open wounds began to run.

“Excuse me love” I said “Don’t mean to stare.
But why’ve you got no clothes on? What’s the point?”
“You dirty little bastard” she declared.

“I’m after 15 mill compression joints.
The Plumbers’ Merchant on the other side.
We’re going over there” she says, and points.

A boat approaches. Squinting and inside.
the Mayor of London brings the ferry there
and moors and waits to give them all a ride.

“Well HE can’t come aboard” the Mayor declares
“It’s fine” says Patrick “He’s a special case.”
At this the naked plumbers shout and stare

The Mayor of London hits them round the face.
He’s found an oar and grabbed it, swung it round
and beat them on the boat, and took his place.

“Get on” hissed Patrick “Do not make a sound.”
I’ll tell you things about these people here.
What goes around does truly come around.

And if you’re plumbing well, then have no fear
Don’t pay for advertising like they do
‘Cos if your work is good, then people hear.

It’s word-of-mouth that brings the work to you.”
By then, the smell, the wind, the heavy sun
had got to me; and Troughton’s words rang true.

I passed out, tired, and feeling overcome.

 

© Michael L Radcliffe 2013

Second Canto    All The Cantos

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Plumbing Canto 2

Last night I published the first of my “Plumbing Cantos”, with a brief explanation of why how and what they’re all about.

It seems I’m on a bit of a roll, and have now written the second one:

 

Plumbing Canto 2

The night ahead felt long and daunting now.
I tried to get myself together. Please
bear with me trying to write the whole thing down.

A muse to help my memory, I need
to get across the weight of these events.
“So Patrick” I began ” Some answers, please.”

“Why me? I’m no-one special. Were you sent?
D’you think I’m up to this? I’ve got some doubts…
This journey may just be at your expense.”

“My name’s iambic, fitting (just about)
Tom Baker would have fitted, too, it’s true.
But Tom’s alive, and my name has the clout

And Bill and Jon would not have worked for you.”
“Nor David Tennant?” “No, he’s still alive.
But this is not about a Doctor Who.

I represent the power you derive
from idols, rock stars, father-figure types.
All archetypes that formulate your “tribe”.

It seems to me that something’s come to light.
These second thoughts you’re having make me ask:
D’you want to make a living fixing pipes?

Before you answer that, I’ll cut in fast
by telling you who sent me at this time:
The spirit of a client from the past.

A woman who you worked for heard you whine.
She had concerns about the things you wrote.
The plumbing work you did for her was fine.

She read your poems. Liked ’em. And she hoped
you’d be successful. Truly she believed.
So when she saw you struggle, then she spoke:

‘A friend of mine (though fortune’s not his friend)
has got himself a little stuck in life.
It may already be (for him) the end…

For those in his profession, doubt is rife
but cheerleaders are there to spur him on.
He also quoted me the cheapest price.’

She sent me. This is why I came along.
Take comfort from this every single day
whenever things may look like going wrong.”

I carried on the journey straight away.

 

© Michael L Radcliffe 2013

First Canto    All the Cantos     Third Canto

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Plumbing Canto 1

I’ve had an idea for a series of poems that I’m going to write called “The Plumbing Cantos”. They will be based on Dante‘s description of the 9 Circles of Hell in his “Inferno” poem which forms part of the Divine Comedy.

The Plumbing Cantos will form my first attempt at an epic poem, and will take a lot of inspiration from my experiences of plumbing in the real world, while at the same time attempting to be universal and allegorical at the same time. They may remain as they are or be re-written on the fly. I may take comments as a sort of informal “Reading Group”, and I reserve the right to take them on board or ignore them completely. Don’t take it personally. 🙂

Here we go:

Plumbing Canto 1

I came upon a mid-life point in stealth
Like many other people: Forty-Three,
Not living, working hard at something else.

I’d lost myself in darkness. Hard to be.
Un-certain how I got there. Hard to say.
I’d felt there was a better life for me.

A kind of sleep-walk brought me day-by-day
that kind of living death we all despise.
I stopped to wonder how it got this way.

A tower block! And then I raised my eyes
To see my home; the window’s light a hint
Of warmth and comfort made my spirits rise.

A woman dressed in onesie, leopard print
had stood and blocked the entry phone to me.
She sucked her teeth and flicked her purple tint,

her hair across her face but not for me.
Her children, feral, kicking footballs near
My legs, some windows, cars and OAPs.

“Oh will you shut the fuck up! Keys aren’t here.
Serenity, you’re doing my head in. God!”
My chance to enter in did not appear.

Instead I turned around and left and trod
the broken glass-strewn path the way I came
towards the dark and cursed the little sods

And so I tried another way in vain –
the route was cordoned off by thin blue line
“We’ve had to make arrests” Police explained.

It’s not the kind of night I had in mind,
with feeling overwhelmed and under-slept.
A leash-less, snarling Staffy dog behind

began to bark and chased me till I wept.
I sat on fencing, gathering my strength.
I couldn’t work out where to go and yet

A man appeared. We talked of things at length.
“Have pity on me, sir.” I rubbed my eyes
“I don’t know who you are. I somehow sense

that you can help me.” Looking up he sighs.
“I have to say you’ve seen my acting kids
on TV shows, dear boy.” To my surprise

he says “the biggest role I ever did
was Doctor Who from ’67 on.
Now can we talk about the things YOU did?”

“You’re Patrick Troughton? No, you must be wrong.
He passed away in Georgia, USA.
I just need help. This Canto’s got too long.”

I’m meant to go, tonight, along the way
to quote for plumbing work at half past eight.
I’m also meant to invoice by today.

I’ve lots to do before it gets too late.
I’m feeling overwhelmed, this job’s too much.
I want to be at home on my estate.”

“Well ‘Leopard-printed Onesie Girl’, as such
Won’t let you pass; you’re in a kind of Hell.”
He paused a while, my shoulder felt his touch.

“I think, dear boy, to get you feeling well,
I need to guide you on a journey through
the circles that describe your Plumbing Hell.

Perhaps in facing things, you’ll be renewed.
There’s happy, well-intentioned people there,
Or possibly you’ll realise you’re screwed.”

A chance. This opportunity is rare.
An unknown path, a chance I’ll take, of course.
To be a better man or live Despair.

He lead the way. I went without a pause.

 

© Michael L Radcliffe 2013

All The Cantos   Second Canto 

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Bass Gods

mtf_tKwQO_108

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Almighty God of Thundering Bass from above,
The water torture of drip-feeding, shaking and pain.
I tried to pray thee once “Would you turn it down, please?”
You poured your scorn and fury on my unworthy head.

And just because I dared to approach this Great God
the gates were shut and bells removed, stopping ingress.
I supplicated other Gods, like Noise Pollution.
who couldn’t use the powers given, and impotent to act

They couldn’t even name the Gods above, but calling
it “bass” like “ass”, not “bass” as in “ace”, and so still
the Bass Gods who pounded away, punished my sins
that served to anger more, and compounded the hurt.

I tried to understand why the scorn had been poured
with oaths and cursing. Nights that I needed some sleep
or illness overtook me. But answers did not appear.
I called the God of Housing, the Only Remaining.

A Call and Answer Prayer that ran backwards and then forth
had yielded some results: It appeared that the threat
of homeless life gave pause. And the Pause was employed,
but not for long. The Bass Gods returned victorious.

I caved. Abortive, tries to retaliate. Nothing.
Accepting omnipresent capriciousness. Sad.
A growing cancer lingering in the background
prohibits growth in every way possible.

Lord Have Mercy.

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Paper Bag

Harry Baker's Twitter Profile photo

Last night I was lucky enough to catch poet Harry Baker do his thing at a private party.

If you haven’t heard any of his work, do go and look. He’s won various poetry competitions and is (or was) the Poetry Slam Champion 2012. You can follow him on Twitter as well.

He did a great poem called “Paper People”, which you can see on YouTube with him performing it either in Palestine or at the Bikeshed Theatre Live review, where the sound is a little clearer. But it got me to thinking. What happens when you drop out of the Paper Society?

I thought there would be a good poem in writing a response to his poem. So I wrote it this morning. I’ve called mine “Paper Bag”

Here’s my response

Paper Bag

I dropped out of your paper society.
The paper people didn’t want to see
me anymore. I fell down papered cracks
to live in Cardboard City. Out of sight.

Your paper currency is no good here
We only take card. My descent is lent
some extra weight, I contemplate my bent
and battered box, it’s GSM too low.

See, once the papered over cracks are there
you cannot see them. Madness stops me now
from joining in your madness, mental health
has taken out my means of joining in.

I found this in a bin. The one I slept in.
I fashioned it into a house of sorts
Its printed surface sports a wendy house
a child is looking out the window smiling.

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42

 

 

42

 

I’ve reached a middle point in life, I think

where if I stretch my arms out either side

my finger tips can very nearly reach

the boy I was and older man I’ll be

and treat those two imposters just the same.

 

I realise, of course, that I’m the One

who cheats himself the way that those two can’t

and if I stretch my arms out either side

of life, the universe or anything

I’ll be the only one that I can blame.

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Breathe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will you breathe with me please?
Can you stand still? Just as still
as I slow down life in this place.
Can you taste the air, cold
like the first time ever again?
Can you feel in a way
that is new, some old things?

Will you look? Please. And breathe
in the cold air of Autumn
Can you live as if skinless
where the touch of another
is what lives with you, hurts
for more days than it should?
I suspect that you can’t.

So you war. Making life
much harder than it is.

 

 

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September On

The crisper mornings, clearer somehow
Sharpen focus, lighten up the air
As sun will contrast frosted grass
with heat that doesn’t work at all.

Some will find a kinder meaning
come alive than warmer seasons,
fight against your natural gloomy
scrabbling brain that is trying to cope.

Nature starts to close things down.
Early nights are better, lessened light
before the Christmas season’s cultural
testcard blocks transmission.

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Tribes

 

When I called, she told me that you’d gone out.
but I thought that all of you were best friends.
I mean mine, and not your own exclusive club.
I was left to think that it was our hub.

I could see from then that it was my mistake
That in fact you weren’t having a fun time
at the times when I was on the centre stage.
It was this that began a lifetime’s rage.

So I cycled over to confirm that
where I knew you’d be, having a fun time,
(And I caught the lot of you from out of sight)
I was not a part of your divine light.

It was then that one of you just looked up
And she caught me looking as I darted off
But I paused to stop, as a kind of nausea hit
with the sadness, shock, and my world split.

Then the return journey from the crime scene
seemed a lot slower from the new baggage.
For a week you let our friendship stall
until 7 days’ worth of guilt made you call

“Maybe now, perhaps, you’d like to come
to the pub and drink with a number of us.”
Did I say that I would? I should have been stronger
And I should have confronted you all head on.

But instead (and all the more sad)
Things dissolved and nothing was said
and I knew that for us all to stay alive
I would have to find a completely new tribe.

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Shoes

Shoes

They say you shouldn’t judge another person
until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.
But how are you supposed to feel about
a person wearing YOUR shoes?

– who walks a thousand miles and more but does it
with much more grace and makes it look so easy?
They don’t display the same sloping shoulders
despite the same decaying, creasing footwear,

pronating, though, they still can find the power
to run, and not to trip and fall while others
decide they will not laugh, but help you stand
and others still look on and sympathise.

Yes, who can do that? What are they like these
extraordinary people who don’t appear
to have the same restrictions, cut the same way,
but still they leave me wondering how.

And – trying to find my motivation
I put my hands behind my back and stare
down at my shoes.

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My Jumble Sale Mind

My Jumble Sale Mind

My mind is like a Jumble Sale
where people come to rummage
amongst the chaos, clothes and things
and nonagenarian scrummage.

The day had started out so neat
with tables laid out nice.
But now it’s piled-up, pushed-around
and no-one’s looking twice!

A tumbling hall of bric-a-brac
and long forgotten clothes,
descended on by everyone
all treading on your toes.

You’ll offer things at 20p
and still they’ll barter you down.
They’ll say the object’s not worth shit
then wear the thing uptown!

The things you thought would disappear
have stayed and not been sold.
The worthless crap you didn’t mind
was grabbed and bought as gold.

And so it ends, it’s packed away.
Tired, deflated, late
you’ve only empty feelings now
and ten pounds eighty-eight.

Image © whosjack.org

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Confidence

All I need from you is something
like concern, and being gentle,
empathy, the loving touch of
hugs, or questions like: How are you?
My God, that must be terrible!
To show me that you care or just
believe in me would bring me some

Confidence

Life is hard, and so are you
Making life much harder still
sad, I’ll look for all that stuff
somewhere else. I’ll find the fuel
Love brings. Someone else believes
somewhere I’m a good person
who’ll reach fifth gear sometime soon.

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Stillness

Time goes on. I watch the seconds, minutes
and hours tick away like passing cars.
I haven’t noticed. Except the odd
peculiar detail. And then they go.
Within a moment unremarkable.

The stacking up of urgent tasks. Ringing
phones. Impatient e-mails won’t bring me round
because I’m hit by high demands and
damage done has given way to lower
thresholds and expectations than before.

Simple tasks are incomplete. My eyes are
red and heavy. Short breaths. Heavy limbs. Days
long; as if I’ve over-reached. Stung by life
half a search for serum. An antidote
to cancel out this strange unwelcome poison.

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Paranoia

The questioning the actions.
The reading subtle signs.
The analysing stupid things
that aren’t between the lines.
The only option possible
is one you have in mind.
The only truthful answer is
the one you’ll never find.

The “Nothing’s wrong!” that never works
and never satisfies.
The way it feels and compliments
a lifetime’s worth of lies.
The friendships that are twisted
are never quite the same.
The playful dance of quiet thoughts
perpetuate the game.

The way forgetfulness forgets
the way it started out.
The non-existent whispering
imagined as a shout.
The tapering of friendliness
that ends in being alone.
The rarer sound of human voice
that follows ringing tones.
The justifying arguments
repeated every day.
The bubbling resentment
that never goes away.

I seem to have fallen back into poetry again, after my last rather intense bout of art show work. One of the advantages of being multi-disciplined is that when you burnout on one artistic form (painting), you can fall back on another (poetry).

This latest poem is one that has tumbled out amongst a whole host of others over the past few days. I tend to write nothing for months and then finally a whole lot of poems will come out at once. I’m currently writing another one that’s very long and story-like, provisionally titled “The Ballad of Facebook”, so it might be a while before I post it.

I appreciate that paranoia is not the most livening of subjects, especially while most of the world is celebrating right now, but I’m aware that I owe you all a post as I’ve fallen silent for a little longer than normal. This poem has just been completed. Ink barely dry and all that.

I’m wondering if anyone else can relate to that feeling of paranoia. Have I described it accurately? Is your experience of it different? I wanted the poem to have a slightly naïve air, as I think paranoia stems from naïveté. (Did I put all my accents in the right place there?) I’m sure there are some cunning linguists out there who will be able to tell me…

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White Van

She wasn’t very young. She’d had a life of hauling
things around. Her latest beau’s a fitter
that’s working hard enough to leave her keys
inside her un-attended. Then she went.

Abandoned and gashed along one side
she crashed out right in front of council flats –
a hidden part of Southern London – rare
that someone comes there just to hide.

And then the raping starts as kids break in,
go in and out her sliding door that’s on
the side, and open up the back with ease
before they rip the innards out and spread

the contents everywhere. The carpet tiles
and underlay, the grip-rods, scaff poles, tools
and spray paint cans all arcing through the air
and sometimes used to mark surrounding things.

Her owner came and rescued what he could.
He brought his brother’s bravado – useless when
the kids had gone for tea. The men could not
save her. Insurance men were called. They couldn’t

turn her over. Turn. Turn turn.
Turnturnturnturnturn.
Turn. No. Battery: dead.

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They came.

They came
straight in, no pause
“Now this I’ve got to see”,
she said and carried bags and
some coats to keep them clean from blood
and then the sound of someone being
kicked. A sound like sandbags. thud. thud thud. thud
as fifteen people set about him, trainers rain
the thuds along with “FOK”, “You FOKing FOK”, “You do
that for?” And probably he knows or doesn’t think he
don’t deserve it as he collapses on the floor
he needs to be supported by his mates but
instead they pick him up and take him with
and off they go and drain away. It’s
dark and quiet – peaceful now there
is nothing left to show for
this entertainment. Close
the blinds and up the
fear for all
concerned.

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e e cummings

e e cummings

I came across a good poem by e e cummings today.

I’m reading a compilation of his selected poems, and to be honest it’s been heavy going. I like the idea of reading something that is mutilayered, but in his case, it’s possible to have too many options.

As you may have surmised, I wasn’t looking forward to whiling away my journey in his company, but earlier today I read a poem that was so good, it made me feel bad for cussing him on Twitter this morning. I thought I’d share it with you:

hate blows a bubble of despair into
hugeness world system universe and bang
-fear buries a tomorrow under woe
and up comes yesterday most green and young

pleasure and pain are merely surfaces
(one itself showing,itself hiding one)
life’s only true value neither is
love makes the little thickness of the coin

comes here a man would have from madame death
neverless now and without winter spring?
she’ll spin that spirit her own fingers with
and give him nothing(if he should not sing)

how much more than enough for both of us
darling. And if i sing you are my voice,

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At last! I’m in print!

I got my first copy of my first ever poem to be printed today. Cool! As you can see, it’s been put into the book opposite a reproduction of the icon I did for the moot community, which is good all round, and pretty exciting.

It has been published in a book called “The Becoming of G-d” by my mate Ian Mobsby. He went off to the States yesterday to embark on a speaking tour to publicise the book.

He’ll be at The Episcopal Book Store, 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017 later today from 4.30pm to 7pm, (if you’re reading this from anywhere near there do drop in, he’d love to see you) and then on to other parts of New York, followed by Montreal, Canada, Jamestown NY, Chicago IL, Denver CO, Vancouver in Canada before ending up in Seattle WA on the 1st of July.

If you want to catch up with him, check his full itinerary here, and be sure to say Hi from me.

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Esau

Two Brothers

I am important. To me
you don’t seem bothered. At all.
You don’t put time in – with me
it’s all work and business like.

I’d love to rescue a piece
of something useful from this –
the history shared by us then
has made us men, and shattered us.

I’m not important. To you
I’m part of brokenness. Trying
to live a better way. But
just tell me how you’re doing.

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A sonnet

I wrote this sonnet ages ago. I needed to find it again last night, so naturally I came here to look for it (hey, I don’t store these things!) and couldn’t find it.

I realised that I hadn’t actually posted it. Horror of horrors.

After frantic digging through old notebooks, I finally re-discovered it. So here it is:

The park I take my kid to every day
has always got a scar or two from nights
before when older kids graffiti spray
between the scooter runs and knifing fights
and bites were taken out of children’s swings
by fighting dogs to sharpen up their teeth.
The morning’s fallen leaves and other things
disguise detritus lurking underneath.
My little girl knows nothing of this world.
She loves the slide, the sandpit, climbing frames,
the roundabout from which she’s often hurled –
just innocent equipment for her games.
And over there beside the broken fence
she’ll carve a better space through innocence.

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Perichoresis

I’ve just submitted my first poem for publishing. It’s going to go in to a theological book, by a friend of mine called Ian Mobsby – the book is called “The Becoming of G-d” and will be published soon.

I’ve read a lot of the book, and it focuses on recovering a better understanding of the Trinity. It gave me the idea for writing a large chunk of the poem in dactyls, which have a kind of ONE-two-three rhythm, which I could then break up with iambs, as the idea of interjection by writing takes hold.

A dactyl consists of three syllables, with the first one being slightly stressed. Some example of where this crops up naturally in the English language are words like “Happiness”, or “Perfectly” you would naturally say “PERfectly” rather than “perFECTly”. Trying to construct an entire poem out of dactyls is a bit of a task, but I think it has some merit. Here it is:

On Friday nights we went to clubs
until we noticed something that
night when the three of them came and took
over the regular dancing. So

Did the Creator throw shapes on the
dance floor whilst dancing a salsa that
turned all the heads of the punters there?

Vogueing away while the other two
scattered. They took up their places but
somehow remaining together there

How the Companion perfected that
fight in a way that was calming them.
Making them friends from thereon until

Now. The Revealer is reveling
showing us all just a little too
much how its done by his lead for us

Dancing together while beckoning onlookers
come on and join us, and have a good
time. Doesn’t matter it’s happening.

Keeping the rhythm up copying
maybe looked easy as no-one would
dare to reject their advances then

in pairs we couldn’t make it work
and groups of us tried sussing out
as individuals put together
were fitting triplets into four time.

We stopped the dancing, getting going
on paper noting down what happened
as dancing disappeared while writing
and scrapping round some bits of paper.

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Manflu


My body’s wracked with never-ending pain
I try to swallow through a swollen throat
another cup of honey, lemon – hot,
my bed is soaked and heavy with my sweat.

I shuffle sadly to the nearest doctor
with all the sadden pathos of an opera
to plead my case for need of medication
and hope I do not need an operation.

I’ve watched through every DVD I have
and then again with commentries. I blow
my nose again and clear away more snot
that exits from my nostrils day-glo green
the likes of which is normally not seen.
My scrunched up tissue tower nears the ceiling
and no-one understands the way I’m feeling.

I crawl back into bed to sleep again
I don’t believe I’ll ever feel the same
my body’s wracked with never-ending pain.

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Spatchcock

I didn’t say the thing you thought
I said. You misinterpreted
my words with “should”s and “ought”s.

No WAIT. We’ve gone to something else
instead of what it was. I’m still
a little angry. What she tells
me isn’t that. You’ve made me ill

with this. I’m going to thump you in
a minute. Just a minute. Let
me say what I’ve been trying to
say from the start. It was something
vital. Something helpful for us.

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I Cannot Tell, Verse 1

This is my take on an old hymn – I’ve re-arranged the words to make a poem of lament. To me, this is a little more real than the usual triumphalist bullshit.

Blogged with Flock

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I Cannot Tell Verse 2

Blogged with Flock

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I Cannot Tell Verse 3

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I Cannot Tell Verse 4

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Untitled – a poem

Hyde%20Park.JPG

The thought has come to me before
at times I want, at times of stress
like now. I look at flowers grow
too beautiful for words, I think
about their death. And mine. Amongst
a thousand others. Hidden here
this garden quietly grows between
the city’s noises, roads and buildings,
as if some grass could halve the pain
we know we have to carry knowing
that death will bring us to a stop.
I sweat blood.

The thought has come to me before –
my life has been a gamble, not
on rolling dice like these two here.
I’ve understood experience
as something bringing change to this
short life. I might be wrong. I think
of everyone I’ve known. The women
are here. My friends have gone away.
Their lives are finite, too. And how
remembered will we be? Too late.
There’s nothing I can do about
it now. My breathing is erratic.
I’ve finished.

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Bus to Work – a sestina

Waterloo Crater 1

It’s pretty easy here. I’m sitting still.
The engine chugs. I regulate my breath
whilst watching passing fathers. There’s his son.
They’re on their way to school. The bus moves on.
A new electric car draws up. We move.
It’s left behind. It’s stopped at lights that changed.

That building site’s a mess. It hasn’t changed
there’s always something happening, but still
the same. It never alters. Will they move
the cones? We’ll hit them soon. Too close! My breath
stops. Beamer driver has to try it on.
It’s grey. The forecast says there won’t be sun.

I try to focus. Jesus Christ. God’s son
is meant to help me persevere. I’ve changed
the way I think. I want to switch it on –
the peace they say you get from God. I still
myself and somehow can’t. If prayer is breath
I’m blocked. By what? A small unknown won’t move.

That cyclist doesn’t want to live. Just move!
These people think they’re it. They think the sun
shines out their arse. She needs to draw a breath.
She’s talked so long without a pause, she’s changed.
She’s gone a purple-red. Good God! She’s still
not breathed! So loud! Wait. Did I turn mine on?

because… Well, if the meeting isn’t on,
this journey’s wasted. What the…? Did he move
my bag? He looks a nutter. Just keep still.
I can’t quite see his face because the sun
is in my eyes behind his head. It’s changed!
The sun came out! It’s lighting up my breath.

I wake most mornings feeling short of breath.
The thought of work no longer turns me on –
the daily route to work that hasn’t changed,
the place I live because I never move –
it’s everyday, but just because the sun
will rise, and stop my body lying still.

And will the breath of God return and move
me on? And resurrect me like the sun
today? I wait each day un-changed and still.

Sestinas are difficult – the idea is that you have to re-use the last word in each sentence in each verse – but in a different, set order (in this case “breath”, “on”, “changed”, “move”, “sun” and “still”) and then you have to use them all in the last short verse of 3 lines (again, in a certain order). I’m making it sound more complicated than it is, but it’s easy to follow when you know what the pattern is. But a bugger to write.

Its great fun, because it can force you to make disjointed sentences that make the poem sound like the ramblings of someone slightly un-hinged, or in this case, the disjointed things that you might think about on the bus.

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11.37pm – Villanelle

11.37pm

A shadow hovers from the past
tonight. And as I lay in bed
I feel my heart beat just too fast.

I turn. I wait. I think it passed
I need to know. I check it’s dead.
A shadow hovers from the past.

Some things grow to be too vast,
and as those things press in my head
I feel my heart beat just too fast.

And when I think that I’ve surpassed
the creeping, cold, despairing dread
a shadow hovers from the past.

A different thought that might contrast
but thinking back to what was said
I feel my heart beat just too fast.

And as I give it up at last
and put it down to how I’m bred
a shadow hovers from the past,
I feel my heart beat just too fast.

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Underground

You think you know, but do not know me well
I found another place, another hell
It’s mine, and mine alone, you cannot touch it
The secret place where only I can dwell.

My thoughts were pure, no mediation needed.
Concerned that all my thoughts would go unheeded
I ran away and hid in public places.
How ignorant. You’re proud that you succeeded.

Acceptance only happens when you’re solo –
you’ve got the time to play it back in slo-mo
and realise you made the better choices
than those accusing you of greater lows.

A confidence appeared from God knows where
a loneliness that’s hard enough to bear
and friends appear, concerned, and bring temptations
as power shifts from things no longer there.

This is my first attempt at a “rubai” form of poetry. The form grabbed me, as its origins came from the need to pass around subversive information without being detected. I think there may be more verses, and it needs a little work.

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Rum Royals

Their skins are taut, their eyes are bright – they’re royals.
I bet the most expensive balms of man
are slathered on each night, preventing boils
from ruining the smoothness of one’s tan
whilst one’s on horseback flouting hunting bans.
For this and other crimes, you’d best take note –
Republicans are desperate to vote.

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Minor Altercation

But I’m not avin time for people like
that. D’you get me? Scuse me bein rude but
your bike’s there. How’d I get dis up the step?
I don’t think you got no sense. Thank you.

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My one and only Haiku

What is the point of

English poetaster tricks

by cunning linguists?

 

 

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Current Affairs Couplets II

It’s sunny now that autumn has arrived
The kids are back at school – and we’ve survived!

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Current Affairs Couplets I

The London Public Transport system sucks
The summer was nice weather for the ducks.

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RS Thomas – nailed it!

In a previous post here, I was attempting to write a poem about the poet RS Thomas.

It didn’t quite work, but after much wrangling, I think I’ve finally nailed it. It centres around the character of Iago Prytherch (I’m not quite sure how you pronounce Iago Prytherch, but I tend to pronounce it Ee-arr-go Prith-erk), who he mentioned repeatedly in his poems – I’m very pleased with the result. Here it is:

RS Thomas give it up, man!
Prytherch does not give a damn –
Did not really give a monkey’s
For your poets or their flunkies
exorcising guilty feelings
in a way that’s quite revealing.

Thing is, it’s quite boring, Thomas –
having this inflicted on us:
Rural worthiness and God
in a way that’s very odd –
My God’s in a place more urban –
More a universal version.

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To RS Thomas

rs_320.jpg

This is another work in progress. I can’t seem to finish poems at the moment, but I think that this one might just stand up as 2 verses, as is. Any feedback would be welcome.

To RS Thomas

GIVE IT UP, MAN!
Iago Prytherch
doesn’t give a monkey’s.
He did not care
for poets or their flunkies.

He had a choice
as you did too
though we kid ourselves
that choices are something new.

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Work in Progress (Psalm 22)

lon_rainy_street.jpg

I have started writing this poem based aound a re-interpretation of Psalm 22. Be warned – it’s not very uplifting.

Dull in the Morning

My God, my God
why did you forsake me?
why didn’t you save me?
why did you run from this?

Inside
I’m screaming
all day
no answer
all night
silence.

It’s alright
for you.
You’re the King.
Everyone loves you.
My father trusted
and you delivered alright
trusted and disappointed.

But then –
I’m a worm
not a woman.
Scorned by men
hated by everyone
mocking me
insulting me
shaking their heads.

You brought me out of the womb
then you made me trust you
from the breast onwards.
From birth
no choice
womb onwards
you have been my god.
But you disappear
at the first sign of trouble.

Bull
all around me
the strong smell of bullshit
suffocates me.
Roaring, tearing
their prey
opening their mouths
wide on me
poured out water
bones out of joint
my heart like wax
burning inside me
my strength dries up
my tongue sticks
to the roof of my mouth
laid
in the dust
death
dogs surround me
a band of evil men
circling me
piercing me
I can see all my bones
people staring
gloating
they divide my clothes between them.

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T-Shirt


I wore this t-shirt
when I was five.
It fit me better
back then
but I keep it now
to remind me that I’m still alive.

My t-shirt was smart
it was deep blue
when I look at it
it reminds me
of you.

I framed it
and hung it on the wall –
everyone who visits
can see a smaller me.

It’s faded now
but you can still see
past the holes.
And I am still convinced
that one day
I will wear it again
with pride.

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Biriyani

A plate full of dhansak
a plate full of pulao
a plate full of gobi..

For a mealtime
at least
a man who would be king
eats like one –
shovelling it down
like a Cnut
trying to hold back
the inevitable tide
like Cleopatra
poisoned by Cobra
he can feel his veins
pulsing
more pulao
a piece of chicken
naan
like Ghengis Khan
he attacks waiters
their poor service
naming each one:
“Abdul”
or “Oi”.

A stuffed paratha
is presented
a peace offering.
Head bowed,
bent knee,
like Sherpa Tensing
offering to carry a burden
to cover the shadow of disappointment;
hot, lemon scented towels
wipe away the tears
please come again
10% service charge added.

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Strawberries, Rest & Motion

These small red fruit
are known as “strawberries” –
At least, that’s what I’m told.

But I can’t say “strawberries”
so I’ll call them “bodies”
as I’m barely two years old.

– a poem inspired by watching my daughter eat strawberries at lunchtime today.

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Smoker’s Prayer Movie

I made a movie to accompany the poem that I wrote.

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The Smoker’s Prayer

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. This poem seems appropriate for the day.

Lord
As this flame ignites
tobacco and paper
so ignite me
with your consuming fire

Breathing in
this mix of good
and bad air
this quickening death

Breathing out
as I let go
both the things I cannot cope with
and the things I can
a temporary relief

And as I stub this cigarette out
I remember that I too
will one day burn no more

For dust I am
and to dust I will return.

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Acre Lane

Walking down the street
One day
I separated
I was crying
divided in two
a casual observer
watching myself cry
beside myself

What’s the matter?       
I casually asked        (No Reply)
Not knowing how long
This division would last   

Mildly anxious            (Keening)
disinterested           
wanting to join in
enviously detached

Building annoyance       
Look                    (Accept me)
what is this about?       
No patience

I give up               
this puzzle
wasting of time            (Breathing space).
a nonsense           

And I think I am whole again.

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