Poetry

Selected Poetry

 

The Sixties

 

ARCHANGEL

I whispered it

to myself

coils around the tree.

 

my voice

juddering through my bones

netting the tree.

 

No wilderness but this

I cried to others uncoiling myself

from the tree.

 

Eat and know thyself in eating.

 

In the evening I was nothing

 

At dawn    I am

created    willed

that man may blossom –

amid blossoms

that he may destroy

 

I come to you aged

my scales cracking

Shun not the fallen world

            for all its thorns

               embrace it

 

This spake the white worm Satan

Archangel of God

 

 

SONG OF AN OLD MAN

 

Your silk handkerchief

spread across the blankets

memories of the fallen

 

Your lips kissed strangely

and your hat had peacock feathers

Trying to recover you

in the waterfall

no wonder I drowned.

 

 

NOVEMBER

 

November

is

bleak

lamb

raindrop

glistens

on

barbed

wire

SHADOWS

 

Shadows

where both twigs and hulks frame the sky,

and if

the twigs were woven and the hulks built high,

no shadows,

there being no sky

So did they build who were frightened of shadows

twig upon block.

And under one roof, which was now their sky

they lived under lock.

But as

time loped by, fears grew of things that were out of sight

and worse

moving things, first beasts, the snakes and cockroaches and pigs, then

themselves,

they all stood still in fright.

fright is a curious substance

bubbling today

shadows, then objects,

slowing, slowing, slowing down

like a ferret about its prey.

And they

told themselves that all was outside them

it was

better to live in the black than the light

your fate

can never approach in plain sight

besides

you was never them.

them, them, the eternally present

only knowing when they touched another,

things that make love, feel the cold,

that is all.

How were

they to know the other existed

only

by the touch of something pleasant here

based on the fact they’d once decided

to cut

out the light and cut out fear

fear is in external objects

but fear clicks catches in the self

imagination lack has compensation

in the dark.

Too long

I watched them with all seeing eyes

hate was

brewing in my brain

So I

sent my messenger from the sky

to bring them light and shadow again.

Fear was in the total stranger

unlike the wolves they thought they knew

the wolves had never yet attacked them

eyes shut in the coal black blue

But with this stranger came a murmur

There was fear in the glimmering sky

And with the fear a sibilant whisper

crucify!

 

 

POEM FOR ARK

 

Cows bellowing across the fields,

I was afraid of them.

And sometimes giant clouds stamped angrily over the hilltops

 

But in dreams it was different;

cows’ mouths held no terror

and their mouths were cavernous soft

 

under the bedclothes.

 

III

 

He grew up in a forest

topped with swarming smiles,

midget pretty puckering smiles

buzzing flutters and big big grins.

He was lifted and tickled.

 

Later, taller, with a butterfly net,

he did not find smiles quite so nice.

the reds and golds were blotched

the grins had ugly flapping wings.

worse still, they bit.

 

So he moved to a cuboid.

There were no smiles around

and he was glad,

 

But sometime perhaps

an honest smile will flit through his ageing net

and she will be his Mona Lisa.

 

VIOLENCE

(for Father Kelly)

 

The fire coughs livid sparks

howling anticipation

                                                                 Ah, come in Smith

Fire!

red flash engines, jingling bell;

burning whisky pouring down

the wooden staircase.

                                                            Lift up your dressing gown.

Her carefully folded paper panties

ravished by the flames.

I don’t want to have to do this again.

Fire!

No escape but the door that is locked;

and the open windows fanning the flames

are barred.

                                                       Bend down; clasp your ankles.

There are twenty charred bodies

A baby’s cry in the scattering ashes

                                                    Whack, whack, whack, whack

Never mind, there are compensations.

 

PROGRESS

 

A scientist said

a sphere has no edges

no good for a head

put spikes in instead.

 

 

FRUITPICKING 1969

 

I am the virgin fruitpicker

who would twine the clusters about his fingers

but bent beneath the hump that hides the reservoir

fingers  fumble

tearing nothing but leaves.

 

Piecework

Every minute is a clutching

and the world is shrunk to high wet bushes

your stool and your precarious tray of black jewels.

It’s lonely work unless you listen

to the women’s voices.

 

You got to watch out for the Social.

 

Artie is chasing the children from the reservoir.

They laugh as they roll down the other side,

Artie has a wart on the end of his prick, say the women.

He’s the man of the field for all that.

Bursting down the row, fucking your world ten times a day.

You missed some back there.  Go back mate!

Obedient you hump your pitiful tray and stool.

 

In a sickening second the tray slips over.  Your glistening precious jewels spread across the mud.

Ten shillings’ worth of hours of work.

 

once

just once the currants are like flesh

to fondle

then: He’s happy today. Look you can see he’s smiling.

He got thirty bob today.

 

But more often it is dust

dust of dried up fruit

so many choking leaves

and glutted wasps

 

meanness, so meanness

muddy sixpences.

 

SEQUENCE

 

I

And to descend into the blackness

thin streaks of light bending backwards

deeper, deeper,

 

spirals the inward head

eyeballs roll

lidded

 

Red comes to vision

sinking into blood, turns purple

deeper, deeper,

 

bleep bleep bleep bleep

the dot on the screen jumps up

jumps down

jumps up

jumps down

 

slowly we are pulled through

the smoke

and the talk

to a kind of silence

 

bleep

 

the grey painted

walls come

 

bleep

 

orange

orange and grey

moulded in stillness

 

to rise to rise

to arms

palm trees across the desert

where flows the river quietly

beneath the sphinx

 

to rise to

raise arms

to movement

 

At evening the swallows swoop outside my house. Crazy

circles agains speeding cars

 

tick

the descent

tock

and bleep

 

bleep

 

II

Evening slips across the land

at a speed the street lamps just can’t reach

forward the golden world

chariot

 

down

wet

black

alleyways scattering shadows

waking happy Jack with his

little black briefcase

And every honest man is by his fireside

cosy, cosy

pudding and pie

with a cat for that

matter

and an evening paper

 

Hail to thee landlord

master of the dartboard dial

serve out the drinks

quickly

please

 

III

breath

necessary part

in and out

breathe

in

and out

 

winds too have their appeal for the

lost soul

but they carry too far

and oh my soul, too

cold

 

Heaven cannot be cold

 

Just breathe

 

and lady your bosom is

the rhythm of life

 

IV

And in the morning

I would go

down the lane between the sheep

barbed wire and farm houses

 

I would watch the fields

stunned by their foldings

ever changing

horizons

 

glimmer with the dew

the sky so close that I

greet it

in the morning

 

And as I walked

November

came winter out of the long long

summer

suddenly

 

so suddenly

there was no autumn

fall

through to the shivering

sheep

 

V

Behold

death’s chariot

eleventh fruit of the

one armed bandit

down    thunder

dawn

razor blade

to the tree

 

The ripe fruit falls

plop

and Farewell.

 

REFLECTIONS IN HELL

I

And is hell but ashes

desert of nothing?

What of the ceaseless tears?

Would they not have crusted ere this?

 

And if dull grey

Satan!

Where are you in this

lifeless

teeming of men?

 

II

If God is light

white streaming from his godhead

and the just bathed

in airy rooms

of light,

shall we not see the black?

 

And in the black shadows

flickers

purple behind the eyelids?

And scarlet, sure, is not of the kingdom of light:

night owls, screeching shades of popes

cardinals and statesmen.

 

III

Tell me prison, when will you talk of the mandrakes

spawned about the electric chair?

They’re selling them as plastic in England.  Squeeze

them and they scream.

But I know

I know

 

Apt it was that the necrophile should engender mandrakes.

 

IV

Count me not a tomb maker,

rather a knight that goes questing for

Hell.

 

V

Knock knock! Who’s there?

A corpse

Are you rotting, corpse, in your coffin?

Nay sir; I burn.

Tell me then who cries loudest in Hell –

Is it the Pope?

Nay sir, quoth the corpse

’Tis the living.

 

The Seventies

 

Glimpses of Spain/Morocco

 

There’s rusty iron and a smell

of musty wood

and dogshit in

the dark bar written

tall.  Forbidden

to sing

 

*

 

The family of men

centre – the eye darter

beautiful talks eagerly with his

ringed fingers

Right – rough wild eye

says “Francais est tres jolie, but I

can’t speak it’

Left – placid well asleep

Airing his socks.

All is well in

the family of men.

 

*

In Algeciras they turned out my clothes

with gloved hands

delicately.

 

*

 

The boy, hair dyed blonde

said

“do you remember me in Spain?”

I looked at him

his mouth puckered for a kiss.

 

No no no

 

“Where are you from anyway?

 

Russia

 

“Fuck you!”

 

*

Guard your eyes

Everywhere they meet folk

who want to help you

 

*

Lunch in the market

sardines and haricot

with much cold oil

 

The boy at my back plays with a knife

half jokingly.

 

*

A thief taken,

his terrible look

leading two policemen

and the rabble

homeward.

 

*

3.30 a.m. outside the gates of

CTM Bus company huddled

white forms of sleepers mingle

with the muttering of

arriving passengers.

strange circumstance

awaiting a private dawn

 

 

LOVE AFFAIR

 

She said I seemed so far away

I played my guitar.

My fingers restless on the strings

Not knowing what to say.

 

Her fingers clutching at my arm

I played my guitar

Strumming out the measure

soothing my alarm.

 

What do you see? she whispered.

I played my guitar

The jangling wires held me down.

I answered not a word.

 

She left of her own accord

I played my guitar

Heart riven by my fingernails

I played the final chord.

 

 

SONG

 

In my psychedelic flat in Bayswater

in the years before the bust

I made frantic love to the Mayor’s daughter

breaking through the upper crust.

I brought out a pack of Lebanese gold

that I’d lifted from my friend the lawyer

and the heat of our minds seemed to banish the cold

as the lonely guitar took us higher.

It was so far out as I fingered her breast

and pulled on her soft silky hair.

She rubbed her nose on the bone of my chest

to find out if I was there.

And I lay there entranced as she danced –

It’s so cool.

Man I’ve never been there before.

Just wait till I tell them at school

It’s cool

Just wait till I tell them at school.

 

I played my guitar and stared at the wall

In the months before the bust,

waiting in vain for the landlord to call

to shout that I’d got him sussed.

I’d made barricades out of tables and chairs

My dart gun stood at the ready

I’d got sixteen anarchists living downstairs

Bombs can get you higher than money.

And I got me a note from Jimi and Che

To tell me I was keeping cool

Right on brother!  Revolution OK

Man I ain’t nobody’s fool.

The fuzz on the corner creates a bad buzz

They’re always walking in pairs.

Just wait till I tell them downstairs

in pairs

Just wait till I tell them downstairs.

 

I waited my turn I stood in a line

In the days before the bust

shifting my legs, lost out of time

on the floorboard desert of dust.

The Grateful Dead gave a concert for free

the same tune in my head

the dizzy guitar, it sang about me

what I said what I said what I said.

I rolled up my sleeve and I paid the fare

I pointed to a possible vein

I faced the wall. I wasn’t there

I never felt no pain.

And I lay there entranced as I danced

It’s so cool

Man we could have been there before

Just wait till they tell us at school

it’s cool

Just wait till they tell us at school.

 

(St Albans)

 

PARENTS MEETING

 

Yes I know;  you understand him

Mum leans. imploring.

She even washes his hair

So they say.

 

You should beat him

Dad sits upright remote

He should be reading Shakespeare

So he thinks

 

I have two ears

two eyes

two mouths

 

When his mother at last left home

he locked himself in the school toilet

smoked and cried.

 

And when he went for poor worried Mr George

four teachers had to hold him down

so they said.

 

BILL

 

Bill sits at the back of the class he’s chosen –

chosen – he didn’t want to be shown up.

He does his work in a beautiful hand

then stares out of the window.

 

He comes to school most days now

A signal triumph – though he’s in trouble again.

He put a boy in hospital and the mother

phoned the police.

 

Very quiet he is, now as ever

I turn my back.  There’s a yelp.

Who did it?  Lazily Bill admits it.

He’s got nothing to lose.

 

I’m sure he doesn’t smoke in class

as a favour to me.  He writes

his beautiful poems, then tears them up

Satisfied by my praise.

 

We’re reading Sillitoe – everything

is true – he’s been in homes and worse.

His family’s a smash up

on the social motorway.

 

And lately he took a car

an expensive car and drove it into a wall,

drove it into another wall

drove it into another wall.

 

Wrecked it and walked away.

He sits at the back of the class he’s chosen.

He won’t be here much longer he says.

His cases are coming up.

 

 

 

(Bulgaria)

 

FREEDOM BOULEVARD

 

To walk down Freedom Boulevard

is to scan unbroken code,

scalp of the world ruthlessly parted

plastered by this empty road.

 

And what is gained in this lost time

but to drag uneven the spilling load

of thoughts and dreams and counter checks

as the buses march down Freedom Road

 

Bus by bus to measure the pace

of all who hurry on the goad

of future action – a lifted leg

to mark the cracks on Freedom Road

 

Christo Botev, join me weary

give your strength once overflowed

Let me tread this empty vastness

Join in the dance on Freedom Road.

 

FEBRUARY

 

Sour winds in Burgas

Sky a grey circus tent

Lit by the craning lamps

the snow clown swings

hurling showering cold sparks

in the faces

hurrying faces

pressed inn the mighty spaces

as here where the pendulum

swings heavy at the traffic lights

tearing minutes of life

from the faces

hardened faces

walled in the mighty spaces.

Grey dressed circus master

walks heavy among machines

towards the stranded child

down the faces

white lined faces

lost in forbidden spaces.

 

6.40

Burgas morning blue block sky

light in the hastening rush of pupils

spread in the sweep of rolling buses

flat in repeating windy spaces

wheeling world in a seagull’s eye.

 

Pavement morning lamppost sky

tight in the stamp of breathless steps

each with his secret love on the cracks

skilled with the footing of uneven places

shuddering wall in the seagull’s eye.

 

Burgas walking as if in the sky

pressed to forget the never reaching

feet on the heartstrings slowly beating

gained but a cloud blown patch of meaning

It’s not the wind that makes me cry

Here where the blocks meet the sky

lost and alone in the seagull’s eye.

 

ON A NUMBER 12 BUS

 

From the inner darkness the long bus drunk

raised his fists at the girls and boys

started to shout in a rhythmic beat

rasping shrill through sodden noise.

 

A cry from the murk from Christo, his Christo

A lung puffing rage against lounging jeans

and pop and sex – that they did not know

a word of his work or what it means,

 

Smirninsky Christo, did he die you think

did he die of TB in a bandit land

so this bus stop preacher can die of drink

or that boys in jeans can hold girls’ hands?

 

 

AFTER TAM LYN

 

I forbid you maidens all

that hold your country dear

to come and ring that certain door

for Englishmen be there!

 

They that ring that certain door

They must give up a pledge

Their rings, gold, silken things

Even their maidenheads

 

Annie has hiked her Polish dress

a little above the knee

She’s off to that certain door

as fast as go can she.

 

She’d not rung the dark door bell

but two times not four

When up spake young Christopher

Lady, you ring no more.

 

And he has brought her willing in

sat her down on his bed

he has hiked her Polish dress

right up above her head.

 

And he has clasped her thighs so white

softer than the softest down

and he has kissed her pretty lips

the sweetest in all the town.

 

And she has held him in her arms

as strong as in-drawn breath

Annie, Annie, cease not, he cried

I’ll love you unto death.

 

He felt her hand run down his back

A hand that held no knife

A hand as soft as new mown hay

held to his root of life.

 

And the rolling lulling sea

became that young man’s bed

She came a girl to his young arms

And left a woman instead,

 

And Annie has hiked her Polish skirt

a little above the knee

and she’s away to her parents’ house

as fast as go can she.

 

And up spoke her mother dear

Never seen to look so wild

Daughter daughter she cried

I fear you go with child!

 

If I’m with child mother dear

myself must bear the blame

There’s not a man in all Bulgaria

shall bear the baby’s name.

 

For my man’s no Bulgarian

He is an Englishman

I’ll hold to him like a strong tree

to see he receives no harm.

 

You can wed no Englishman

without you pass the trial

months of secret reports

will fill the police file

 

They will turn him in your arms

into a fascist snake

hold hard his slippery scales

don’t let him go or quake

 

They will turn him in your arms

to a pig from MI6

Hold him by his wiggly tail

ignore his squeals and kicks.

 

They will turn him in your arms

into a western whore

hold him hard to your breast

or you won’t see him more.

 

And she has held him in her arms

as tender as a baby’s breath

Annie Annie, cease not, he cried

I’ll love you until death.

 

The police have laid a curse

a heavy curse it be

thou and I can ne’er be wed

till town becomes a sea.

 

And so it fell one rainy day

Burgas became a lake

Through the torrents they did wade

all for their true love’s sake.

 

Up then spake the police chief

His face was sullen grey.

where will you make your vows

they said Pomorie.

 

We will plight everlasting troth

In Pomorie town of love

we will lay our bridal flowers

at the feet of Yavarov.

 

 

TO BURGAS

 

I

You kings of old Bulgaria

cloaked in the knowledge

of treachery

danger in the swirling snows –

the suffocating sun and dust

of armies on the plain

on the march – a throw of the dice;

a kingdom

a knife in the dark;

your foreign queens and jealous lords –

close your eyes in the peace

of sky and sea:

do you see

from the idle fishing boats

bobbing, raise your eyes

as if in vision on a shimmering day

see

Burgas now raise its white towers

from the salt marsh.

 

II

Burgas never so beautiful

as after a shower:

the tarmac and the concrete

glisten with a metal sheen,

reflecting dissolving

the harshness of the blocks to

a mirage of white towers

clean against the blue sky

the gurgling gutter

three yellow leaves

the whisper of an endless

red bus.

 

III

Water flows across the way

some day

between Nessebur and Sozopol

you kings of old Bulgaria

in a mosquito second

pause gaze

on the silent heights

of faceless windows in the sky

fortresses of daylight throng

the shore where

your armies disappear.

 

THIS MONTH’S BLUES

 

Rain dashes on my window, wind blows round my door

I got no minute to myself to break this aching store.

 

I lay with my baby all on my lovin’ bed

but the sleeping sickness got me turning my limbs to lead

 

When the rain falls on Burgas, seems like there ain’t no time

chased by the winds and loving becomes a crime.

 

Don’t you know it’s mean to travel on a number four bus

Your baby’s upset and she’s going home to face a fuss.

 

Wind’s blowing in Burgas, blowing the sun away

But when the sun comes back I’m gonna lie with my baby all day.

 

SONG FOR SOFIA

(after getting marriage documents)

 

Sofia’s a lady I sing this song for you

To some you’re just Shopski but to you I’ll be true.

Though your gallery is painted in a shade of shocking pink

And your cafes don’t sell coffee and I can’t afford your drink

In the trolleys and the buses you stamp upon my toes

and round your Russian monuments a cold wind blows

But now the sun is shining I’ll shout with all my breath

Sofia, Sofia I’ll love you unto death.

 

Sofia’s a lady I sing this song for you

though people just sneer Shopski to you I’ll be true

Be true to that office girl who nodded and who smiled

as long awaited documents into my hands she piled

Be true to those old men who just gave a smiling glance

as I burst into the sunlight, kissed the papers, did a dance,

be true to those young girls who handed me a flower

Sofia I love you more and more by the hour

 

Sofia’s a lady I sing this song for you

And though the lady’s Shopska to you I’ll be true

In this city in the sunlight my happiness is sealed

With hard to find taxation stamps the wounds of love are healed

Though the waitress brought me moussaka when I distinctly ordered soup

Even by the mausoleum I can’t restrain a whoop

From your majestic theatre to your snowy virgin peak

I’m in love with you city.  I’m a shopski freak.

 

 

SITTING ON THE LOADING PLATFORM (reading Livy)

 

I sit on the cluttered platform

looking at a cow grazing in the mud

picking its way slowly over the single rails

and sleepers.  Else the stillness of waiting

An evening not yet cold, just the smoke

curling softly from the high chimneys

against the steel blue sky and the grey

granary towers and the field of

cable drums in rows and rows

moments of changelessness.

 

And changeless too is the old man who

trudges up the track never faltering

threading his way through puddles

shoulders hunched for the coming strain.

Closer, his cheeks are bristled white.

He bends over the lonely tap, trousers

lap bare ankles over rubber shoes.

As he sloshes the water, and lurches off

bent sideways with the effort, changing hands

each twenty yards. Ten times he came.

 

In my book, Hannibal crossed the Alps

in turning pages, braved precipices,

in jumping lines of swift relentless words

to Trasimene. I look up – again that old man

rounds the corner an eleventh time

bucket jogging at his side.  Only it’s colder.

And the granary seems even solider against

a darker sky and the cow is rubbing itself

slowly on the fence. The hasty Consul ignores

the omens, the calf leaps bleeding from the altar.

 

Panic in the fog: moans of the dying

helpless splashings in freezing lake.

The trap was well set.  Hannibal triumphs,

his vow of vengeance almost met as the mists

clear from the rotting dead – look up

I shiver but the old man shows no sign

not faster or slower he trudges past,

changes hands and trudges on.

Or Hannibal will fail or ride his elephants

down the line, this does not change.

 

THE DEBRIS OF LOVE

 

The debris of love

the fall out – two bodies

falling in – the clumsy

clutching, falling, no bed

no world sufficiently wide

for this wasteful love

 

And the debris of love

as you lie on the damp of my sofa

twilight tights about your knees

and bra wrenched.

the mess of love is the mess of my room, so

book and paper strewn

and carpet rucked like your dress.

 

In Primorsko the wind caught us unaware in the garden

In Primorsko they ran like blown leaves, chattering children

In Primorsko the clouds built red castles against an autumn sky

In Primorsko at a puff the castles were insubstantial dragons

 

In Primorsko I held your hand and wished ourselves stillness

And the sky grew darker

The wind drives us; only the eyes remain.

 

Pages turn in rooms

A sneeze – the dust no doubt.

Who sighs for us?

A door bangs, the walls are so thin

Thin the curtains, the candle flickers

Hold me in your arms – the wind

is cold, the debris sliding and only

your body is sure.

 

The debris of love

your eyes roll sudden towards a corner

a wall a watch, the time, the time

your mother, your mother,

seconds tick, and grey hair falls

brows knit – чуваш ли?

чуваш ли?, my love.

 

NO TITLE

 

The gasping universe of slow revolutions

And Annie, you are my centre

Consider the atoms and lumbering galaxies

your circling thighs

would win me to combustion.

 

We live in a capsule beaten with wear

And Annie you are my pilot

Consider the circling vacuum of death

Your tongue on mine

releases my words to pour in your ear.

 

There is a centre of dismissal and recall

And Annie we are reborn

Consider the aeons ‘twixt reach and destruction

our child in your womb

is the beginning and end of all.

 

VASKO NYOTEV

(the idealist principled Communist teacher of Russian)

 

Vasko, your body covered with flowers

you who sang as we ran up the school stairs

suddenly your face is wax.

 

And if there’s no world beyond the cares

that killed you, beyond the love

that strained your heart

 

And if no mother’s cry can move you

to become a second Lazarus

and push those flowers apart.

 

Push apart the horror of death at thirty years

in this state where death plucks

so few acquaintances.

 

And if then nothing can be said

the sea wind blowing keen across the mud

but the vacuum of a dream dead.

 

So many, so many then came with flowers

for a red coffin lying on a mound of earth

dropped into the crack that gave us all birth.

 

Vasko nature’s cycle cut too short

a cry cuts the wind your child is pale at seeking

– but so many many crouch with only one thought –

 

you

 

 

MALINNA AT THE BREAST

 

A candle flickering

as in some painting

Georges de la Tour perhaps

our Christ girl child

prepares to suck and I

peep from the warm bed of guilt

to see the second agony

as the toothless gums grip and chew.

And Annie rocks

in silent pain.

This was never painted

my masters!

 

SPRING

 

Suddenly

it’s the evening

that jolts the heart.

 

In a flash

of mad pedaling

past lean and chat

 

Khan Tervel

on a ringing bike

divides the murmur

with a knife

 

the warring breeze

and flying sheets

taut sail the sky

tug at my heart

 

that I who

walk behind the blocks

am scarcely here

 

in this channel

of sudden intercourse

of balls and shouts and men from work.

 

green

and soaring implications

of grey in the falling sun

 

and every shaken carpet

proclaims a day undone

unthought

 

that Spring could bring

such shaking wonder

in Burgas.

 

Poems for Alma Mater

 

MY SCHOOL

 

As in an empty room, retreating walls,

again I walk

that chestnut drive to

the stone cross biffed

on old boys’ night.

Open the door –

the ambulacrum gapes,

its broken flags well trod

by rosary boys

in slow reverence awaiting

the hated bell

that ruled my life

now cracked.

We found a dead rat

under the radiator

where Father Physics lounges

warming his cassock backside

self-made favourite with the boys.

And their noses point

to my first common room.

That’s Razor.

He ruled the school

is what we believed.

There stuck to the loud speaker

Crazy John listens rapt

green snot dripping

to Pick of the Pops

Father Physics had recorded.

Let’s get out of here.

The corridor is cold.

A procession of pillars.

There I tried to hide my tears

whimpering mass.

There later I met Razor under armed escort

he was being expelled –

something to do with explosives and silver spoons.

But take care before you open the next door

There Montrasse, I thought so,

he’s throwing knives, he’ll kill someone

one day, is what we thought,

They’ve got a record player and it’s the Rolling Stones

and they’re standing on the snooker table

so they can watch the record turn and return

over the packed throng

I used to love her

It’s all over now for Father English took the player away

too much noise interfering with his Handel.

That’s the room where we polished our shoes

where they found Shag whimpering under a locker.

Matron reported his sore arsehole to Father

Father beat him for lack of hygiene.

Let’s get out to the Quad

We’re allowed this door now.

But keep off the grass – forty lines!

And lines of soldier boys

form deathless squads

on feverish Mondays and Thursdays.

There they are now faces frozen

in terrified insubordination.

Little dictators flex their powers

The rabble, the shower,

their guts for garters,

Bricks in their kitbags

rifles above their heads

running till their trousers fall down.

 

real wars are fought

in the mind

behind

the glazed eyes that stare

away from the white squiggles

and droning mouth

into dreams of guillotines.

This is the school block.

Silence at all times

smells of chemistry and antique desks

carved with legendary names,

we sat in love. fear, respect, contempt.

Father French who stank of fags

held his head in his hands

and waved us away.

Stew in your juices.

Father German who loved to teach

and went away.

Father English who declared

that Joyce and Lawrence should be burnt

but loved their books for all that.

For all that Father Science liked to joke

he had a mean flash

he broke Pete’s head against a door.

All that fear, never allowed to talk.

Prefects stalk

behind every open door.

There’s one now observe

the specimen face angry

with responsibility

too young.

For all that

here we learnt

most to judge a man by

the swish of his cassock,

made friends by mimicry

and secret codes,

dared what we could.

Even drove Father O’Religion

to walk on the roof one night

shouting he could fly.

He’d said the reins were loose

turning his lessons

into a wild chariot ride.

Down some steps below the stage,

it’s dark here, dark

as ink stained walnut.

We can wander, hands in pockets.

He won’t stop us – nor will he

face white and arm flung out.

Listen that’s Blaise playing Dowland

in a whitewashed cell of golden notes.

And Razor’s smoking a fag.

Here be an area of dreams,

rebellions plotted.  We’ll sit here

on the piano and rest.

Next door Pete and Tony and Johnny G

thump out the Rolling Stones but

don’t disturb them. They’re the counter-elite.

First to be forced down and shorn after every holiday.

Ah the dreams of long hair,

wild and straggling, a naked curse

on the dog collar world.

Dream of how in two years’ time

we’d ride our roaring motorbikes

up the long and chestnut drive

hair blotting out the sky and face,

girl on the pillion present her

to Father G and watch him squirm.

Let’s get out of here. There?

That’s the prep hall – of hundreds of desks

I could never find mine after film night.

Lost on the cliffs of Navarone.

I played Caesar on that stage,

pompous authority

stabbed in the back!

Let’s get out of here too

the memory of being throttled by the mad Papini.

 

Out by the entrance is the notice board

announcements of our latest crimes:

wearing of rings or chains

corduroy jackets, two tone shoes,

not in keeping with official dress.

Snuff!

How ever faster would they react

to our inventions? Out out

The air, the air,

past the tuck shop

to the vast green of cricket pitch

sacred grass – where could we find

a mechanical digger? – but the hot sun

on our back, lying in the long boundary grass,

the click of bat was calming

time for new thoughts, for loin

restlessness – the young nun,

the Italian maid – roll off the stomach

roll back for

Father English is reading his breviary,

but his eyes are alert.  His lips trapped

in a prayer.  New spring lust

a man in a black skirt,

candle sniffer.

 

Yes Pugin built

that stunted cathedral

tacking it on to the changing rooms.

Fill it with water!

a fitting place for fish.

How many early mornings

sleepless we crouched over the back

of the chair in front, eyes fixed

on the shiny bottom in front

farts were legendary

gas masks, boys.

Let’s get out.

Let’s get away from

the fathers who dressed like women

and suddenly were not fathers

betrayal betrayal mother church!

I crouched gown lifted

pyjama bottom beaten by father

lurking in the corner of my eye.

The forgiveness of sins.

 

Back in the ambulacrum

the stone stretches

cold cold cold cold

Let’s dance, if you shout

the virgin saints will echoe,

a jig never stepping on a crack.

Shake the blood! You were not

first among the rebels.

Barry got drunk and Johnny

told the head to get fucked.

Masks in the dream world

past, gone, too late

as in this empty room

retreat, returning walls,

memory will never

sleep

……………..

……………..

 

OUR CHAPEL

You could fill it with water

submerge those pews and

roots of pillars and dive

deep the cooling thought

from the organ loft’s edge.

Else climb those dizzying heights,

the gothic roof beam and then

fall to a harmless splash

on your back.

 

You could fill it with water

holy and salt and

with uncut hair dive

like a merman through

the broken pews and altar

rails – see their dead faces

straining upwards, swaying

like jellyfish above weeds

in a water tank.

 

You could fill it with water

lapping the blue Madonna

stain glass and dive

from the heads of angels

on a sun’s ray and

in the murk of altar cloth

and candle find

a smear of God.

 

FATHER CAREY

 

Father Carey

in a short sleeved shirt

arms are hairy

and smeared with dirt.

Perched on a ladder

in bright red braces

he’s tacking out wires

in the carved spaces

the vault of the chapel

rings to the sound

of Father’s hammer

hitting the ground

 

One little helper

after a prize

scuttles through the pews

to where the hammer lies.

Mounts the ladder

to an awesome height

Father grips the hammer

reassuringly tight.

Then he bangs the nail

below the devil who mocks

a priest in red braces

and bright blue socks.

 

Father Carey

in candle stained black

is quite a different person

on a different track.

He wields a ruler

breaks nerves and heads

quotes his Shakespeare

as he softly treads

round his anxious choirboys

singing in white

just to check

each hits the note right.

 

One little choirboy

marvels to see

that Father is just

like you or me.

 

RETREAT

 

Father Flannery stalking the cricket field-

swish swish his cassock – the breviary

a useful prop but his eyes are sharp

for talking boys – swish swish his cane

in the evening.

 

His shadow crosses the bank where we’re lying

swish swish his heavy socked sandals

and we feel his suspicion, immersed in our missals

we do not look up; he’s blotted our sins

with a fear.

 

But now he’s heading for copses of smoking boys

lying hidden in last autumn’s leaves

and Stevens rolls back from the Tropic of Capricorn

and Razor starts stabbing the grass

with a knife

 

And I’m wondering, feeling the cast iron cover

the direction and purpose of drains,

to creep in the night to gas with new incense

swish swish the grills of the chapel

of death.

 

That’s the retreat – to find old positions

in silence of sunlight and few passing shadows.

My body warmed in the glow of a fantasy

the black swishing cassock of Father Flannery

laid to rest on the cold heavy stone.

 

 

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