Sid Smith front page

 

 

 

 

AGE

 

I

Once upon a time my cock

Was happy as a cuckoo clock.

But cogs of time that once renewed it

Caught my wedding gear and chewed it.

     Now my dick’s

Forever stopped at half past six.

 

Once it brimmed with optimism,

Spouting gouts of joy and jism,

Self-delighting, self-annointing;

Now this fountain’s downward pointing –

     Just a hose

Ensuring urine clears my toes.

 

Once a resolute erection

Gave my aimless days direction.

Now the prick that pointed at

Tomorrow night’s conjectured twat

     Shows the way

Down toward the fatal clay.

 

Once I chanted thrilling bits

From handbooks for Ikea kits,

Extracts from the Highway Code,

The shops along the Old Kent Road,

The causes of the Civil War,

Requirements for a leg-before,

The workings of the off-side rule,

And half-forgotten junk from school

     To stop me coming.

Now women’s bits are only plumbing.

 

How I shouted, ‘Praise the Lord!’

How I came a spinal cord,

Bumping down from Heaven’s gate,

Pumping out my body weight,

     To hit the floor –

And here I’ll crawl for ever more.

 

II

Ignore St Paul’s, forget Big Ben,

The Vatican’s a rabbit pen,

The Kremlin and the Hermitage

Compared to this a hamster cage.

     No sultan’s palace

Matters like a happy phallus.

 

Yet crabwise, crouching, clutching books

To hide our pride from nasty looks,

We hunch and bunch and keep well hidden

What public transport raised unbidden.

     Enough! Unbowed

Let’s meet the people duly proud.

 

Oh see each glad commuter stands

Announcing loudly, ‘Look, no hands,’

While eager maidens crowding by

To keep his tackle hard and high

     (A feather duster

Ensuring that he passes muster)

     Are reassured

England’s future’s thus secured.

 

III

A rumble as of thunderstorms

And London’s cunts were shut as stones.

 

‘Oh for someone young to do me,’

Women cry. And look straight through me.

‘Oh for someone strong and nasty,’

Women cry. And walk straight past me.

‘Oh for something harder, bigger,’

Women sigh. And I don’t figure.

       

But I’ll endure these brief years.

I’ll pull my hat down over my ears.

 

 

 

 

LETTER TO DEVON

Written on a Christmas card

  

Here’s hoping, Clive, they’ve stopped your dope and dole,

And beer’s what there’s an awful lack of, Annie.

If not, I’m sending from this northern hole

To the land of clotted cream and black Afghani,

     Of jam and acid tabs and skinny dips,

     GREETINGS AT CHRISTMASTIME begrudged through twisted lips.

  

‘Sid,’ you say, ‘so tell us, how’s the weather?

Raw we suppose, all icicles and sleet,

And the snow, down here a swan’s shed feather,

Is ready-blackened when it meets the street.

     Cold cracks the cobbles and the sunrise stalls,

     And dogs with lifted legs are stuck to workhouse walls.’

  

True. And clearer means colder. Rivers freeze,

Running in a tunnel under dull glass

Round bicycle bones. We’ve teeth on the eaves

And spiky like a bed of nails the grass.

     A low sun in a corner of the day,

     As weak as watercolour yellow, turns away.

  

Today I nipped outside to grab a nice

Shovelful of coke and nutty slack.    

Instead, with contact lenses formed of ice

And stalactites of snot, I staggered back

     To hug the empty hearth and curse in vain

     (Through windows double-glazed with panes of frozen rain)

  

The tribes of fearsome folk who crowd the town,

Who toil upstream against the level gales,

Coughing creatures with a barbed wire frown

And faces like places where April fails,

     Who spring and summer through will still complain

     For the lead necklace of December days again.

  

Tonight I risked my life and had a jar.

The landlord’s wife was cheering on a fight.

Her husband hadn’t time to tend the bar

With helping someone set a cat alight.

     It was a girl trying to get it lit:

     One of the posher sort, the type that doesn’t spit.

  

I blushed: she laughed. I shook: she bit my ear.

With football forwards’ thighs she pressed my knee

Till I ejaculated thus: My dear,

Your weight is wealth, it’s like gold, like rich fee,

     And heavy as treasure your precious head.

     ‘Are you trying to say I’m fucking fat?’ she said.

  

I said, Oh tell me how to serve you best,

What track to take till Time’s tread shall tire;

What foe to fight, what golden fleece to fetch;

Tell me, tell me, I’d win you your desire

     Though bought with crimson coins my dead head bled.

     ‘All right. I’ll have a pint of bitter then,’ she said.

  

I said, Oh party of my life and soul

Remove the ticking apple of my heart

And bite. We are one of a kind, a whole,

A part of a heart that is never apart.

     ‘The only thing we have in common,

     Is you’re a man and I’m a woman.’

  

So I left, wheezing through the freezing night

Where winds will whittle you to the white bone;

Where the streams and the smiles are locked up tight

And cold enchants whole bus queues into stone.

     A skull-like moon leaned over with a grin

     On suffering Sid, alone at the cold world’s rim.

  

But stop: through all this summer only hides,

Waiting where May-blooms clutch their roots and hold

And keep the secret – Life – that still abides

Though mean mid-winter grips, vice-cold.

     I too will clutch my root and hold and stay

     And be daft with the daffodils, dreaming of May.

  

It’s a dream of how Eden begins:

Bursting the doors of dawn on the first day,

His whiskers filled with lightning-bolts and grins

On green scene, flower bower, hoe-high hay,

     The lord of Devonshire mornings has come

     Where I lie, smiling at last, asleep in the sun.

  

 

  

  

ON A BIRTHDAY

 

I

Now like a classic Chinese sage

I’ll turn to verses to console old age,  

Scorning the raw disordered city

For the true poet’s envy, spite, self-pity.

 

And this is fitting for a sad old fart

Since art itself’s a dying art

And soon the maker’s role will be

Killed by the Singularity –

When supermarket checkout tills

Outdo Rubens on our baked bean bills,

And any bar-room stool ad libs

Dirty jokes to crack your ribs;

The lonely hotel guest’s beguiled

By wardrobes wittier than Oscar Wilde,

While every lift’s a soloist

With better melodies than Brahms and Listz.

 

Yet let our younger art creators

Lose their jobs to elevators;

I’ll enjoy these final days

Of history’s temporary literary phase

In which inflamed imagination

Strong from pre-Web masturbation

Served a readership who’d never seen

Pixels flit across a screen.

 

For nowadays who feels at home

Hugging alone some droning tome

All in immobile monochrome?

Given the choice,

Who but losers toil through Joyce?

What wilderness of empty days

Drives a man to Auden’s plays?

No one good at outdoor games

Endures the gruesome Henry James.

Only folk that love forgets

Wrestle the dreadful Four Quartets.

Of those who groan through Wordsworth’s Prelude

High proportions look like hell nude.

 

And therefore see the world forsake

Verse like a turbid ox-bow lake

Where we, with self-inflicted futile duty,

Fish the infected pit for truth and beauty.

 

And this is why: beauty and truth

One day slapped us through the gloom of youth;

Amid our dolor, dead men’s verses

Eased our adolescent ache like curses;

Leaving grief we’d briefly dwell

In walls of words where all is well,

Where lust and fear and the world’s wrongs

Are vented safely into songs,

And secret teenage dreams and doubt

On legs of lines can stride about.

 

So come with me, you sorry crew

Bereft of better things to do,

Your lives and loves so much amiss

You’re sitting here and reading this.

 

Unkillable, the need to speak

Drives our tireless treks that seek

Through sumps of dullness undeterred  

Borrowed ways of being heard –

Poetry, the perfect word.

 

 

II

I’ve rhymed for lust, for praise, for gain

But scribble nowadays to check my brain,

Penning each sonnet, song or saga

For reassurance that I’m not yet gaga.

 

I might unknowingly conclude a line

With some deluded not-quite rhyme,

Or reach for rhymes I can’t quite hold

Like William McGonagall pursuing his hat in a strong breeze that is also cold,

Or like McGonagall in a Dundee tavern groping drunkenly for an exit,

Or like some would-be humorous versifier who pictures McGonagall drowning in

    the silvery Tay and splashing blindly for the lights of a far-off shore and

    thereby hopelessly over-eggs it.

 

For though extruding through our charmless youth

Clammy voidings we confuse with truth

(The notions trite, the rhyming hackneyed)

Comforts us for being acnied;

 

And though through deserts of our middle years

We pump our output into Beauty’s ears

(Our hair departs, our bellies sag,

But handsome stanzas might secure a shag);

 

Yet how much more old age

Demands a recompense across the page:

Here where a whip of wit confines

Our desperation in a cage of lines;

The rabble multitudes of rage and woe

Kicked into regimented row on row;

Compressed, condensed, our grief so terse is

Crystallised as last to verses.

 

So let the fact I’m balder, sadder, fatter

Tame itself to subject matter.

A wasted life – so ill-begun,

Bungled, fearful, left undone –

Shaped thereby until a grace appears                           

That lays an absolution on these sixty years.

 

 

 

 

SEX CHANGE AT THE LONDON HOSPITAL

 

London muttered in its slumbers

As the pre-med pulled me under.

Rain,

Along gutters down drains

Clattered like an anchor chain

As I soared

Over the roar of the Whitechapel Road,

Treading water

Above the Ripper’s favourite quarter

(Whose murders

They say betokened a surgeon’s),

And thought I saw

In the London Hospital far below . . .

  

           **

. . . down in the morgue the Doctor leaning

Over women, softly breathing:

‘What is the meaning, the meaning, the meaning

Of ass and gash?

Her one and zero, semi-colon, exclamation mark, vowel and consonant, dot and dash –

And who dared brave

Alive this binocular gaze?’

 

           **

From their watchstraps sleepers slide.

Likewise from the surgeon’s knife

Lost among these crowded wards,

Swinging doors, corridors,

Free of my flesh,

I’m bollock-less.

 

           **

Who’s he

Shook this shape from your belly tree?

Around, carnivorous eyes of rivals but

He plucked you from those hooks.

Bared like a butcher’s parcel,

Seeing his hard-on

All you wondered was

Oh, oh, is this what I have to want?

   

Now in Maternity

Clutch your bundle like an amputee.

 

           **

‘Revenge,’ said the plughole.

‘Hate,’ cried the water pipes.

And from the toilet bowl

A belch of blood said, ‘Where are my tripes!’

 

‘Leave me alone,’

I said. ‘Can’t a soul take a stroll?’

 

‘Scatter and strew him,’

They said, ‘so the wind blows through him

Mournful tones

From his dried up marrow bones

And ribcage xylophones.’

 

‘God no.

And anyway, what for?’

 

‘So that his soul unhoused

Wanders like ours.’

 

But I’d have none of it, although

False eyelashes crawl

Spider-like from each plughole,

From every sluice-room tap or spout

Crimson fingernails push out,

And all the walls are questionnaires

Stuck with interrogative pubic hairs.

 

‘I’ll not dispute,’

I said, ‘with every murdered prostitute.

May your grief end

Out beyond the loo’s U-bend.’

 

But strange figures

Whispered still in the misted mirrors,

Hissed from the plughole’s little prison,

‘Listen!

Quickly now to where he lies hidden.’

 

So, over the dead like sandbags

With their cheap rings, tin brooches, torn hats, sad handbags,

A barricade

Of flayed, splayed, lost, betrayed

Corpses obstructing

Alleys they fucked in,

I’m tracking back, back

To dig up Jack.

 

           **

In Gynaecology                   

Women turn to me

Glands                                  

That suck our guts like spaghetti strands,

Powder bones

Like merciless millstones,

Crush us

Like the double back tyres on London buses.  

   

Oh women be good

I have a mission from our sisterhood.

 

           **

Whose hair fills the quilt

On the bed in the house that Jack built?

Why does water flow so slow

From the big sink on the second floor?

And the room of whose shoes?

And why by the bath the dentist’s tools?

And damp as a pubic pad

Whence this wad in the shower trap?

Nevertheless

Spying a spider in the bridal bed

Oh, his dilemma of disgust –

The live spider or the spider crushed.

 

           **

I saw now

That a great beauty ruled the town,

Her striding figure

In robes like a river.     

 

These filled the road.

In their folds            

Bright fish, tin cans, gold coins;                

Sun flecks, odd shoes, old bones;

 

With an intertidal

Whiff of urinal;

And drowned men tumbled there

To comfort her.

 

           **

Who

All those years had the use of you?

On a train of London windows,

Through suburbs of rooms and beds like meadows,

How you galloped bareback both astride

Love’s curly-haired hide!

 

           **

Silk and scent

May dress the well,

He defies

Double flesh designed for lies.

 

           **

Virginally shy,

I tried to hide my wet insides

(Full as an egg,

Frail as a Sainsbury’s plastic bag)

That multi-coloured

Fell out like a full cupboard,

The cut

Smelling of love.

 

           **

Their rage

Shakes the Underground’s coloured cage

To unknown

Totteridge & Whetstone,

Unvisited

Upmister Bridge,

Never seen

Edmonton Green,

To Morden, Theydon Bois,

All its web’s far fixing points,

Because he visited with blood

Their outcast sisterhood.

 

Therefore we’ll sit,

Jostled under plague pits,

Nodding together

Past dry wells, vaults of gold, bricked-up cellars

Through upside down,

Buried, black, London town, 

 

To bare his bones

And shame him like his shit on show.

 

           **

Where he wanders Wapping strand

Mussels squirt on either hand.

At Greenwich Reach this dapper walker

Opens oysters underwater.

He strolls alone the Southend shore

And liquid spills from the winkle stalls.

 

He winks now and tips his cap

As shapes stir on the fish-shop slab

To watch Jack pass,

Flat faces pressing the glass.

 

           **

The old go slower and slower

And here like bicycles at last fall over.

But bright-eyed

Under the high tide of his hair line,

(When searchlights found

Zeppelins swelling over London town,

And the bulging truncheon

Of some constable on point duty at a busy junction,

And bursting from earth the Tube between

Aldgate East and Stepney Green)

Girls’ flanks

Were tauter than motorbike petrol tanks,

Their lovely lack astride

Like the missing bit on women’s bikes. 

 

The dick is homeless now

That he fought for once with the sweet girls of London town.

 

           **

I’ll tread

A road woven of my own breath,

Built

Of a whispered wish,

Of a change of mind –

 

And climb

Till I am welcomed where,

Inventing with wings London’s limpid air,

Birds melt through

Illimitable blue.

 

           **

Let’s eat

In Haunch Of Venison Road or Pickle Herring Street.

Let’s not meet

In Spital Street or Old Fish Street.

 

We’ll garnish our meal

In Garlick Hill, Pepper Street, Saltwell Road or Saffron Hill.

And dispute which counts for more,

Bird In Hand Lane or Bird In Bush Road.

 

We’ll take dessert

In Pudding Lane, Honeypot Close, Sugar Bakers Court.

Then pay the bill

In Penny Road, Pound Street, Silver Place, Gold Hill.

 

But our ladies shall not gain

Turnagain Lane.

 

           **

My heart exposed

Is chambered like a Chinese word.

My guts depict

The names of God in Arab script.

I’m a monochrome tome

Trailing a Playboy centrefold,

A page from Gray’s

But in a state of nature, though, without the names.

 

‘Look!’

Says Jack, ‘This is my book,

I leave behind as

A bible for the finders.’

 

           **

On my belly something like the words ‘I am’

Consisting of two little roundy bits and one long one,

Which is a sort of tap or spout

For venting madness out.

 

           **

Their hearts

Tread alone the reddened dark

Deep where,                                                 

Most secret and most similar,

We pursue

Kindness, a home, the warm, the true.

 

No light, no light

But a universal appetite

At the blood drum –

Unless Jack’s razor edge should come.

 

           **

Triangular as Africa the thatched

Forest of my pubic patch.

But now what beast runs free

Under its jungle canopy?

 

           **

In fish-skin slippers

I skip across the river glitter,

Splashes snapping at

My ankles like a shark attack,

Man-trap or hang-man’s hatch –

Because this ditch is

Cunniligus for bridges.                  

 

Later,

Insoucantly as one might take a

Heathrow Airport travelator,

Passing black Embankment steps

(Water lifting like a dress),

Under loins of London bridges

(Whiffier than Oxfam britches),

I watch my lovers fall

Through petticoats of spreading foam,

Submerging there

Choked on a rope of woven air –

Because this sump

Makes London a cunt.

 

           **

My kiss

Would wear away lips.

I’d grope

And find bone.

Skinny as scissors

With my jigs and figures,

I’d dance on his grave until

Decay castrated him.

 

           **

As through a hospital robe

Its bare back shows,

Works                       

The rich earth     

And thick with England slides     

Down on the making tide. 

 

River enrobed,

Splendid in green and gold,

I’ll spread my knees                                   

Like you to the teeming seas.                   

 

           **

I’ll take his hand

To scatter over Southend strand,

At their command.

 

I’ll grind his teeth

Deep in the dirt on Hampstead Heath;

Post a parcel

Of tibia and metatarsal

To Walthamstow and Woolwich Arsenal;

Spread his knees

Wide to the tide by Surrey Quays

And thus appease

Their ghosts’ unease.

 

And roll

His skull’s old three-holed bowling ball

From Soho to the Albert Hall

To slap his soul

 

Out of its cage

Into their rage.

 

           **

Ride, wild stream,

Under our dreams. 

You mock these streets      

Like the running of beasts.

 

           **

The tide was down like trousers

So we crossed the rocks like razors

To poke in raggy pools that smelled of pee.

Then the moon silvered the sea

So the pools were mirrors,

With polyps, oysters, blind devourers –

 

And we woke,

The sheets foaming over our throats.

 

           **

I dreamed I waked

As lovers on my counterpane

Little as fingers, in single file,

Fell to their fate from my inner thigh.

I groped to the window. Thence I saw

The Thames above, around, below,

Whose all-enfolding waters were

Our common element like air.

 

A wind of water lifted flags,

Bubbles like balloons flew past,

And over neighbour buildings swirled

Migrating men instead of birds.

 

           **

It’s a home’s heart,

Gold bar, new loaf, warm hearth.

Is hidden as the new moon

That still rules.

Gathers the world like an eye,

Then looks away.

Among my limbs like loaves

It’s a caper or clove.        

It’s where my curves

Tighten to a spiral, and at last merge.

Is floating like a frisby where

My lovely lack, propped on nothing, surfs on air.

God gave my dough

One fold more,

Though the seal

Never quite healed.

(Or did the Doctor

Cut Cupid’s wound across her?)

It’s the stair

That isn’t there.

A drowned mouth,

Little vowel, thatched house.

It’s lipped like a splash,

They will rock in its outwash;

And read between

Its nested parentheses;

And let it fly,

From limbs they hope to untie;

And revive

That sleepy middle eye.

And my smile glitters

While I circle it in ripples.

 

           **

Ivy crawls

Hand over hand over hospital walls,

Out of its magician’s sleeves

Dealing handkerchiefs of leaves.

 

Where its hairy fingers grip

Thick across the hidden brick,

Dusty spiders now patrol

Beneath its shining parasol.

 

           **

In the gardens, weak and slow,

Roses cold as crystals grow.

For thirst

They suck dirt.

Their food

Is sun, that pale soup.

 

Thin, in rags,

They shiver by the path

Where I run to my love

Sick with our rich blood.

 

           **

We are sick of the muscular river

Black as a hen-night stripper,

Puddles in gutters that jump

To hug us like drunks,

Pigeons traffic has

Trampled to pads –

 

And so,

Down alleys only cabbies know,

Till London’s tarmac scab

Runs out at last

In mud, rubbish in bushes,

Funny-coloured buses,

A ditch in which

Detumescent Durex drift,

Down this wayward English lane

We’ll sink a spade

Deep in the wicked Doctor’s grave.

 

 

 

 

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