the plumbing cantos

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.

Read More

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!”

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.”

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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

Read More

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

Read More

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

Read More

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

Read More

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

Read More

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 

Read More