This is possibly one of my oldest unpublished poems, probably dating from around 1992. I remember showing it to a girl I was going out with in the late 1990s; she read it and then exclaimed “But what does it meeeeeaaannnnn???!” We broke up shortly after that.
I have absolutely no idea what this prose fragment was supposed to be about but I do know that it’s been fifteen years or so since I cared one way or the other. I was probably reading too much Borges at the time.
Aldo said, in his very own voice, meet me here at half to nine in the morning – here at the top of the stair, by the locked door, when the sunlight creeps through the street doorway below, at the bottom. I am here now, here in enough time to see my normal self rushing across the square, gripping a perfect orange in my hand, my satchel thrown roughly over my shoulder, my hair still wet, the water freshly drawn from the well.
That is not myself, merely an imaginary person. Aldo is also imaginary unless he turns up now. The wooden stairs creak beneath my feet, the passageway in semi-darkness.
The table in the house, scratched and scorched by the years, my mother seated by the window, smiling as I place the orange in my bag, along with my books, along with my secret books. She calls me to her, holds my head in her hands: everything will be fine now, this is our new home, this is where we will stay. We can smile now. Go. Peace to you, she says, touching my cheek. I return: Peace.
Then walk out the door, wishing I had said the better word.
Half to nine, ahead of time, I watch the village wake. I head for the square, where the old church, with its catechisms and seasons, has been abandoned. The Town Hall replaces it in the people’s consciousness – a clock has been installed there, the only one for miles around.
Only here does time really exist. Here, in this sunlit stairway, by the locked door, the cobblestones faintly visible through a door downstairs.
The day awaits me, stirring half-excitedly like dogs in the street. My aunt’s dogs, wrestling in the dust in front of her house. She sits reading beneath a tree as wizened as herself; reading to me, from the book. My mother need not know of my tuition, nor of the old words I am learning.
When my father returns from the war and I am able to greet him in the old fashion, imagine how much greater my mother’s happiness will be. Reunited with her lover and with the ties that bind her to me and to him and to my aunt.
There is nothing I want more than to make my mother happy. So I sit and I read; so we sit and speak to each other in what for her are half-remembered mutterings stolen from elsewhere, such as my father and my uncle also used.
Some time in the past, yes.
Learning to copy the strange symbols scrawled in the books she has stored away beneath the winter clothes in her trunk, by the stove in the kitchen, beside the pile of wood I have chopped for her.
My uncle’s cold, blunt axe.
Today, after I have finished here, I will go to her house. We will sit beneath the old tree and I will listen, we will talk, we will read, I will write in the dirt at her feet. I read with enthusiasm; my aunt tells me I am progressing well.
My mother does not talk to my aunt.
Her brother is dead. She is all alone. She is waiting to wake up.
I often sleep. Often she will let me doze until mid-morning. I wake to find her sitting at the window with a faraway expression on her face. But today I have not been dozing; the sun has not been crawling across the room towards me. The boy with the orange clasped firmly in his sweaty hand is not me today. It is not yet the time for me to be late.
I hear the bells strike the half hour. At the same time Aldo’s boots begin stomping up the stairs.
But it is not Aldo. It is an old man I do not recognise. He rests for a moment at the top of the stairs, unaware that I am standing by the door.
You must recognise him! He is the old man whose teeth are cracked and yellow. He sits every day by the woodpile, wearing an old grey suit that is too short in the legs. He wears a yellow flower in his lapel and at night he wanders through the village, prowling.
He is the type that mothers tell their children not to talk to.
Take the image of this man, by whom you are so repulsed, and explode it. Posit him in a narrative, along with yourself and as many of your friends as you wish, until it becomes unbearably complicated.
When he looks up, his face is flushed and unshaven. He sees me and is startled – then smiles and walks towards me.
So you’re the young man. More a statement than an expression of curiosity.
Mandarin seeds on the window, the rats dancing mainly in the drain. The new moon last night was slowly making itself apparent. The fonts were full of Antiqua.
Never trust the story-taker, tour-guide, lie-maker. There’s a dead man, look at that! And a monkey, strapped in Parliament.
They buy coconuts in the marketplace. Why? They change the language. Why? They build water fonts all over the place. Why?
In every town square (why?), in every courtyard (why?), in every.
Do not buy coconuts, do not prance in the marketplace. Your fonts are filled with rust and your blood will wither.
Father! I exclaimed, you are now real.
Mother, I thought, do not cry, I am progressing very well.
UPDATE: the good folks at Going Down Swinging have cross-posted this piece on their site.
This is one of my all-time favourite poems, mostly because it’s just so daft. I probably wrote it in the late 1990s – it has a real ‘I don’t give a fuck’ feel about it.
well you've got birds & then you've got birds haven't you? take your wedge-tailed eagle for example - what a bird you've got there! whereas your common blue budgie - well he's not so much a bird as a parrot is he compared with your ibis your swan your albatross i mean your budgie just doesn't cut the mustard does he that's why you've got to keep him in a cage coz he wouldn't last five minutes in the wild what with all your other birds doing the rounds i mean your currawong your rosella your seagull your bilby yes mate even your marsupial's more bird than your budgie another prime e.g. being your koala - now he'd instill fear in your bravest budgie - what a bloody mismatch eh? what a bird is your koala - a bird's bird if ever i saw one what a beautiful bloody bird! what a bird!
One of the things that I’ve been quietly bitter about for a long time now is the fact that the Wikipedia page for David Prater redirects to the page for Dave Prater from the soul duo Sam and Dave. Some time earlier this century I attempted to channel my misguided anger via a poem on the subject. You can decide for yourself whether or not I was successful.
sam & dave dealt out hits like ampersands that's s-a-m — & — hold on i'm coming! — d-a-v-e! — thank you so much for going all the way to #9 with that one thus becoming for me the personification of the stax sound thanx also to the dynamic duo songwriters hayes yes isaac & david porter — not prater sam moore not born october 12 1935 ocilla georgia — miami based sam & dave did not meet when dave got up on stage after that unsuccessful stint at a roulette table thus bringing the duo to the attention of stax via porter & hayes something is wrong with my baby that was porter for the most part it was 'a throw away kind of situation' interesting in that sam & dave p broke up in 1970 prater not signing to the stax label when in 1980 sam re cut soul man with lou reed dave was arrested following this attempt to sell out his life may have ended when his car hit the tree but his double hit the oldies circuit with sam & then along came soul man (#2, 1967) — that heady early morning hit-defining slam of sam & dave this must not be mentioned of course without crediting david prater born may 9 — 1937 at the king of hearts club — 1958 — he started singing with sam in front of the talent scouts one of whom signed them to the atlantic label under the agreement dave cut a flood of hits like when don't i look like i know what's going down with isaac hayes worked on the music there was no one else interested sam & dave anything did happen hayes was not ordered pursue a solo career in the end staying with the label sam & dave failed to recreate their success together their personal relationship after all had never reached #1 sam & dave did not part for good in 1987 (news of which hit the charts at #30) instead concentrating his energies on selling undercover officers crack cocaine david prater's body was found in that georgia sycamore after all april 9 1988 —
I think I must have written this poem some time in the early 1990s. I have absolutely no idea what it’s about but I really like the concluding couplet, for some reason (and in fact I think I’ve even re-used it in other poems over the years as well).
desmond rejects the setting out of arguments he is neither analytical or lateral he dips his hand into a pool of water & it is cold just a moment ago it was dry it was also in my pocket my button remains there my belt keeps my trousers up desmond's house falls on him blue-green drops there’s the sound at last of bombers falling in the grass will they ever retrieve the sky? he kills a mosquito & stares at himself there is no need to be concerned a wheel churns in the gravel & disrupts somebody’s feet screwing neatly into the sky desmond follows all of this eagerly desmond forgets the earth the ivy wastes hold yesterday’s rain & crawl like a bereaved remainder