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 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 it brimmed with optimism,
Spouting gouts of joy and jism,
Now this fountain’s downward pointing –
Just a hose
Ensuring urine clears my toes.
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.
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.
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)
England’s future’s thus secured.
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.
ON A BIRTHDAY
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.
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.
My wasted life – 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.
Along gutters down drains,
Clattered like an anchor chain
As I soared
Over the roar of the Whitechapel Road,
Above the Ripper’s favourite quarter
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,
I’m free of my flesh,
‘Hate,’ said the plughole.
‘Rage,’ cried the water pipes.
And from the toilet bowl
A belch of blood said, ‘Where are my tripes!’
But I was a free soul
Saying, ‘Let me alone.’
‘Scatter and strew him,’
They cried, ‘so the wind blows through him,
And his soul unhoused
Wanders like ours.’
But I’d not dispute
With every murdered prostitute –
False eyelashes crawl
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.
‘May your grief end,’
I said, ‘out beyond the loo’s U-bend.’
But still from the plughole’s little prison,
They said, ‘go now to where he lies hidden.’
So, over the dead like sandbags
With their cheap rings, tin brooches, torn hats, sad handbags,
Of flayed, splayed, lost, betrayed
Alleys they fucked in,
I’m tracking back, back
To dig up Jack.
Women turn to me
That suck our guts like spaghetti strands,
Like merciless millstones,
Like the double back tyres on London buses.
Oh women be good
I have a mission from our sisterhood.
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.
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.
That a great beauty ruled the town,
Whose striding figure
Drew 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.
I tried to hide my wet insides
(Full as an egg,
Frail as a Sainsbury’s plastic bag)
Fell out like a full cupboard,
Smelling of love.
Shakes the Underground’s coloured cage
Totteridge & Whetstone,
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,
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.
Silk and scent
May dress the well,
Double flesh designed for lies.
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!
Where her finger
Touches the source of the river
I kneel to kiss. And kiss
The threads of her wrist
That move among weeds
In muddy Oxfordshire fields.
I pray over
The veins of her elbow,
The strong flow of her waist,
And bathe at last here
In her brown beard astride the sea.
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?
Spying a spider in the bridal bed
Oh, his dilemma of disgust –
The live spider or the spider crushed.
The old go slower and slower
And here like bicycles at last fall over.
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)
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.
A road woven of my own breath,
From a whispered wish,
From a change of mind –
Till I am welcomed where,
Inventing with wings London’s limpid air,
Birds melt through
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
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.
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.
Ride, wild stream,
Under our dreams.
You mock these streets
Like the running of beasts.
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;
Spill a parcel
Of tibia and metatarsal
At Walthamstow and Woolwich Arsenal;
Spread his knees
Wide to the tide by Surrey Quays
And thus appease
Their ghosts’ unease.
His skull’s old three-holed bowling ball
From Soho to the Albert Hall
To slap his soul
Out of its gate
Into their hate.
As through a hospital robe
Her bare back shows,
The rich earth
And thick with England slides
Into the making tide.
Splendid in green and gold,
I spread my knees
Like you to the teeming seas.
Triangular as Africa the thatched
Forest of my pubic patch.
Now what beast runs free
Under its jungle canopy?
To the lightest toes,
The deftest feet,
This wild street
Where none may go
Commands me to its shining floor.
Tread alone the reddened dark
Most secret and most similar,
Kindness, a home, the warm, the true.
No light, no light,
Only a universal appetite
At the blood drum –
Unless Jack’s razor edge should come.
Would wear away lips.
And find bone.
Skinny as scissors
With my jigs and figures,
I’d dance on his grave until
Decay castrated him.
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.
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,
Choked on a rope of woven air –
Because this sump
Makes London a cunt.
The tide was down like trousers
So I 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 –
Till I woke,
The sheet foaming over my throat.
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
Drowned 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 her limbs like loaves
Is a caper or clove.
It’s where her curves
Tighten to a spiral, and at last merge;
Floats like a frisby where
Her lovely lack, propped on nothing, surfs on air.
God gave her 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,
That sleepy middle eye.
And my smile glitters
While I circle it in ripples.
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 each shining parasol.
In the gardens, weak and slow,
Roses cold as crystals grow.
They suck dirt.
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,
Sparrows traffic has
Trampled to pads –
Down alleys only cabbies know,
Till London’s tarmac scab
Runs out at last
In mud, rubbish in bushes,
A ditch in which
Detumescent Durex drift,
Taking a wayward English lane
We’ll sink a spade
Deep in the wicked Doctor’s grave.
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.