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Smoke magazine - issue 47
Helen Clare | Paul Donnelly | Linda France | Lucy George | David HW Grubb | Brendan Kennelly | Sandra Liao | S.J. Litherland | Micheline Maylor | Daphne Rock | Ayesha Syed | Doyle D. Turner | Deborah Tyler-Bennett | Frances Wilson | Mark Wyatt | Robert Yeo
. . .
Among the thousand leaves
That flake from autumn,
there is one I catch in my voice.
Since then, my touch has been
Lined with its fleshy red.
John Aborigines, Perth
In clothes that do not fit, in shoes
On feet used to the unevenness of rock,
They totter on tarmac from bar to bar
Full of beer and an unbearable sense of loss.
The vastness of the sky is now come down
To the confines of roofs in towns
Where feet is obstructed and eye is shod
By thoroughfares whose names they cannot read.
If they return to where they come from
What they do not need or comprehend
Will beckon like the neon lights of a bar
To thirsty men who wonder what else goes with beer.
Nothing, one supposes, at nine in the sunshine,
Except for dripping beer in emptying bottles
Which their fingers hug, and hangovers,
Visible as the uneasy hats they wore.
The Yellow Shirt
Would it have made a difference, the yellow shirt?
Or the mustard, with thin black telegraph wire
design, and treble buttons on the cuffs? You thrilled -
but the collar was too narrow. I saw the discontented
bird of prey that lives in your lips raise one wing
and knew for your not buying of the shirt I would pay.
For staying too long at the doctors so that we both
had to wait, for the storm rain that had hemmed in your day,
for the drink you wanted and might have drunk in a secret
pact, for the black bile of your thoughts I have to pay.
The bird of prey is set to strike in the bow of your lips,
in the wings of your lips the bird is hunched, it beats
as you speak, cranking its limbs on its steady flightpath,
the flightpath of your insane drone of complaint, it knows
no other job than killing. Who can tell if a yellow shirt
would have kept the pet in its cage? We might have gone smiling
to the train, you with your shiny bags bringing you comfort and love
couture, I deluded for another day that the bird won't return
as if tygers have disappeared off the screen of existence,
as if killing is not a habit and necessity of our kind, in you
I see stripes of warring and loving and a dependence
to expend the rack of extremes: I am a cage shutting you out.
Wounds of Love (after Lorca)
This light, this devouring fire
This grey landscape assaulting me
This pain sprung from a single idea
This anguish of sky, world, hour.
This lamentantion of blood that decorates
My lyre without a pulse, lascivious torch,
This fascist sea that thrashes me,
This scorpion living in my breast.
All these are love's garland, a wounded bed
Where sleepless I dream your presence
Among the ruins of my battered heart.
And though I seek the summit of prudence
Your heart offers me a spreading valley
With hemlock and the passion of bitter knowledge.
Summer teatimes my father read the stories
in my face. He'd make an inventory
of every sunny day's new crop of freckles
until there weren't enough numbers to match
my splashy browns, the sting of my blushing pink.
To counteract the other wicked tale
the gypsies told - that freckles were a sign
my mother left me outside in the rain
when I was a baby - he used to say
they showed I was beautiful. And I glowed.
After so many winters they're relaxing
into ruddy, unfreckling themselves
in a rash of wrinkle and pore. I peer
into the mirror, trying to scry
the late-night scribble of their epic story.
My face wears dot-to-dot contstellations
of what I've lost - a tightness I'm glad
to be rid of - and what I've earned - a new world
of valleys and contours I mapped myself.
I raise the flag of it, content with stray lines.
Railings remain but
stairs are concreted over:
a notice in yellow and black says
these public conveniences are
(their spelling, not mine).
It's like Hadrian's Wall with its
curious ruins, its
ten seater latrine facilities,
only now under Lavender Hill
spaces and closets and stalls,
tiles and slates, and
the attendant armed
with damp cloth and bucket
and twopence for soap:
some day they will excavate
these caves where nuisance was committed
almost respectably, regularly;
if you adjusted your dress
and sin hid its awkwardness:
few would spot
two pairs of misplaced feet
under the three-quarter door.
Ghosts under Lavender Hill
can't escape. Myths and ghosts.
Slightly illiterate very municipal
clerks to the Council think
they have stamped out incontinence, but
it has only been driven underground.
The Language of Priorities
if i was this cold
in this weather
on a mountain
or the lakes
where i'd taken myself
for a jolly walk
of my own accord
the helicopters would be out
searching for me
dozens of mountain rescue men
would give up their evenings
home by the fire
with videos and wives
to tramp the hills
looking for me
i haven't left a route map anywhere
not in any foothill hostel
or country hotel
this city doorway is not a snowhole in the cairngorms
my jacket is not some £95 goretex shite
there will be no nine o clock news rescue story
in this case
Jonathon, the dead 18 year old
John's coffin is green
Green like trees splitting the wind.
His head sprouts roses
fresh as the dew soaked through
He's dead like a star
Piercing my belly
Spreading his cancer
Louder than death.
I mourn John.
Mourn him in bed.
Mourn him in pity.
Mourn him in pain.
Blood tears on my tongue
Blue daffodils crushed in bed
Desperate eyes bite through days
A fleeting touch grips the head.
John's pillow's a meadow
Calmer than memory.
Brave remnant of love.
His hair's on my breasts.
Tender shifts in time.
Couched in my blood
He's still as the heat.
He lives in the corners
Waiting to speak.
My first husband ...
My first husband was lost at sea
My second husband had a terrible temper, no patience at all,
He used to throw things, he did she said.
My daughter died last year
But still that's how things go.
My son he's a good boy,
She said she smiled.
He looks after me she said.
But ooh he had a temper the second one did,
Frightened me half to death.
And what did you say your name was dear?
I'm sorry my memory's
Not what it was.
The bus stopped
And the girl had to go
And the old woman wondered
If she'd told the girl
That her first husband, he was wonderful
And he was lost at sea,
Though she'd asked him not to go.
Wolf Mother Never
The wolf is always there, even when the field is safe
and the voice of your mother is calling your name.
Even when you can see her and run towards her face
because that is the part of her you never forget.
Even when the prayers fail to come and the old
tricks don't work and everything in the letters lies damp
and ruined. Even when the voices are solid and real.
The wolf is always between the trees and between
the houses and between the pretty views and between
the laughter. The wolf hides in the parcel
that one day could be opened. The wolf sits
inside the shadow of the grandfather clock
waiting to strike thirteen. And you go on
and on across the field and across the world
seeing the face of your mother in windows
and mirrors and pictures and drawings and other
people's photograph collections and on videos
and in magazines and postcards. All
your life you see her and run towards
her face because that is the part of her
that you never forget. Never.
David HW Grubb
Which is Something Like a Love Poem
You phone to say you're nearly home
and it is like
the clock that's been stuck
with its finger twitching
neither progressing or falling
just got new batteries
which is like the toilet
that's been hiccuping all day
as if all the water in the world
is suddenly undammed and unfrozen
which is like spring
and petals uncurling
and later the heat tempting
pine cones to open
and spill their seed
which is like the powder
that explodes from puffballs
pinged by autumn rain
which is like squeezing a spot
that's been waiting for days
which is like farting in the bath
or stopping by a bush
on a very long car ride
feeling the fast stream of pee
and watching it darken the soil
which is like the flush of colour
when hot jelly is poured
onto jelly crystals
and all that was dry
is made plump and shiny
and then the jelly slips
from the mould with a slurp
which is like taking off
a too tight bra and dancing
which if you are very nice to me ...
Getting off at Pisa
Long before Erica Jong I'd begun
to unzip it, on a packed train
from Genoa. Pure luck we picked
that carriage so I had to push
past this soldier to find one free
seat to dump our baggage, leaving
me in the corridor, my back
to the partition beyond which
my friend nursed her resentment
and two rucksacks and disowned me.
Like slipping off a dress (the shift
was in fashion) I shrugged off
public approval. All I wanted
was his mouth. This was pre-sixties
when kissing was an end in itself,
delicious as licking off icing
from a cake and having it, non-stop
while the train rocked through
peerless Ligurian countryside.
There was nothing between us -
no promises, not a postcard -
no language except tongues.
It was bad taste - yet I'm left
with a flavour of something unsullied
like the memory of a perfect picnic -
and though shameless, not dangerous:
he may have been going all the way
to Rome, but I was getting off at Pisa.
Kafka: The Liverpool Years
Franz strolled up Canning Street
wearing, almost jauntily, an iron lung.
It was nearly sunset and autumn
was climbing into his briefcase.
Beneath gaslight he struggled to read
the address to which he'd sent poems,
with sae, several months ago.
Considering his next move he sat
on the kerb and a mask of rare birds
settled on his upturned face.
And somewhere in the city
smoke was slipping quietly
between the lips of envelopes.
Kafka considers a career change.
He will become a Performance Poet,
since Liverpool is famous for this.
And comedians too, of course.
Performance Poetry is most popular now,
there's even a course at the University.
So it must be worthwhile too.
He thinks he will change his name though,
Franz the Performance Poet isn't catchy.
Then again it may be witty or ironic.
He decides to think about it.
Meanwhile he must think of a gimmick
so that he'll stand out among the many
Performance Poets who pack the halls.
Czech, he thinks, Performance Poetry
read out entirely in Czech.
No one has ever done that before.
Not in Liverpool anyway.
He decides to think about it.
To supplement his income from poetry
Franz works the late shift at McDonalds
where beatniks and bohemians hang out.
Tonight he feels pleasantly confused.
It could be the currency or
the double thick milkshake
one of the customers bought him.
Or it could be the presence of poetry.
At almost every table there are
people reading and writing poems.
He feels a sense of community
and a poem about to emerge:
'The pale horse of despair',
it begins as he shovels fries.
Trapped on the front row
of yet another production
of Educating Rita
Franz is taking notes
furiously in Hebrew
so that the girl
next to him can't read
what he really thinks of it.
She smiles, translates
and simultaneously relays
everything back to
The Absurdist Party H.Q.
beneath The Adelphi Hotel.
Later that night Franz
will be followed home
by The Rocking Horse People.
I drifted home.
Rolling and skipping
from one loosely-tied thought to another,
half-hitches of the mind.
Remembered myself through the door
and walked in on a story
Facing the wind,
your eyes squinted a distant truth.
Waves of story
holding our collective breath
in the back of our throats.
It wasn't some faded lure this story had cast
that pinned us all like clouds to the sky,
but instead the car-crash fascination
that causes you to slow down
and show your white movie-screen face
through the glass.
We all were wondering if your story would wreck,
if you'd drop it in the depths,
use it to bait bigger tales.
We watched you steer that story
through to the gentle lap of laughter.
I stole a line or two before
my mind knotted me
to the next thought,
lashing me to the mast.
Doyle D. Turner
Up above the turret the dark chews the weather vane.
She stares into the surreal light her belly turns arabesques,
her fingers press into the pane.
Raymond come home. It's dark Ray. Raymond come home.
The curved glass makes her feel she is on the inside
of a fishbowl. The whole world turns around in coloured laps.
She swims. Captured.
Don't you take him. I need him here with me.
In Elysium a celebration begins. Night is coming.
And a velvet cloak drags across south Ontario and falls
here on the small brick farm house.
Miner's wife, 1914
He's quit the mine, and chosen this.
Cotton gloves hide my nails, blunt
bitten moons. Through a door's crack,
I see him lumber, sleeves snow-cvapped,
primrose-oily hair. He grabs a collar-tack
hands flounder. Steps back,
Private's khaki rains shirt's snow to sleet.
My white-lashed lids have salmon edges
a fool he was, they said, to marry me,
but whispering 'white rabbit', he
laughed coins into a beggar's cup.
He's soldier now, blocking the door-crack.
I close lids, mind dark as the coal-brooch
he carved me. His mates chanted
'Albino', chucked stones at my window,
his mum and da' ranted
but came to the wedding. I'll not be a widow.
He comes from the room now, cap slanted,
no coal-dust rimming blue eyes.
Salt water flooding white-stalked lashes.
Khaki muddles everything I see,
cooing 'white rabbit', he
chuckles coins into a beggar's cup.
Copyright in these poems is © the individual poets 2003