Monthly Archives: May 2011

consider: face

A poor excuse of a poem, in which to display a recent portrait.

A face is not architecture – from scenes, consider the profile
a means to divide me from not. Above mind, then skin.

I feel a division
Take the literal shape

the same significance with a limb
e.g, I am, or I am not.
An eye is coveted. Each gaze
is listed, somewhere. Registered. More than once

something limits what I can or can’t see. A very
specific reflection
creates a landscape I recognise. Elements
of both parents, and all my past lovers

congregate in the corners, the pull of
my mouth aches into expression. I am not this face.
Consider teeth.

Still Here, no.2

Radha in the kund, love in the garden
nobody sees

Cow-herd stamping on a hundred heads
many miles and years apart
I’m still here.

Still Here no.1

the ceiling splits as clay and something like
water pushes through, an emerger breeding channel and
trains throw themselves from under hills, faces
push against glass and throttle passing landscape, or
bellowing obese stacks of cloud release their burden
and your hair is livid, flattened too but

you stay sitting smoking resituated furniture as
though nothing can remind you of the day you
cracked your hips, ejected afterbirth while

I looked on in terror: my mornings remoulded-
and a seedheavy leaf distracts me still, here.

Contur Intunecat – a translation

I am not your parent, or any of
your windows which
expose your figurines – I refuse
to sacrifice salvation.

I will not ask which I cannot give –
this residue looks heavenwards, we
shed our bitter and subjective courage.

You, and his full being, thrown in.
Inside and tangled, half-truth,
a passion play. You’ll stay on my back

Just a shade too beautiful,
covering the sun, once a cycle.
I am not your parent, untouched by poison.
For me, it rises, regardless.

an adolescent opening, or, “throwback”

He’d been sewing his melancholic roots all over the slabs of Budapest for almost three years now. They dragged along at the heel of his boot, cutting a slew of mire and wreckage in his wake. He heaved and pulled his way between buildings, slicing the streets and lugging this cadence with him like a vendor, plying his wares from district to park, from monument to tenement. Three years? No, two. His sense of time, his calendar was askew – there were springs, and autumns; he was able to distinguish the seasons, and held some sense of months. Wax, and wane, whichever was which. The slickly spitting waters of the Duna coughed themselves up as the moon breathed them in, and clenched back as it exhaled – the black sea swelled some thousand miles to the east. Hibernation sat in his mind as a subject of envy – somewhere beneath the silty drift of the river. Sleep, dust. Just.

A ship, an emissary of old English frustration, pitching to a reversed tide of the idea to escape. Some small success he’d had, but these weighed down his coasting and creaking frame like too-precious ballast; unbalancing, creating inertia and little else. The Black Sea screamed from across a lengthy border, grasping for her source. It moved through him, tossed him to shingle as it clambered through counties and lowlands, floodplains and summers.

10 songs for children no.7 – jealousy

the trick is not to calculate when
eating clay food interferes
with digesting your hair
and all the women truncate
their lower halves for you –

– still, my skin fits badly,
and mistrust is my root

suddenly, we are old.


Bored in an exam, revisiting old ideas

A Residue (a re-writing of The Zenith)

It was April, and a slaking of rain and vertical cloud had just rinsed the city clean. Rivulets formed at the base of bushes, and they picked up oil-slicked tributaries as they fell down the sides of the streets, searching, leaf-laden, for a way to return home. People were looking out of their leadlined windows, eager to step outside and breathe, and be reminded what it is to breathe, to live. You could see their faces readying their bodies for a congratulatory gasp of air, as clean and fresh as the city would allow. These days were rare, and the populous felt it from indoors.

There was one who did not notice the rain, though, and whose gaze was fixed on a nodule of hardened emulsion, a tiny, tumourous growth of pigment on the corner of a canvas. It was he who had put it there, carving it with the edge of a brush and lancing it through with a palette knife. He did not hear the almost comprehensible rhythm dancing on his shutter frames, and he did not see our tributory, now strengthened by a hundred slick and muddy brothers, rush past his door. He did not notice the rainwater pass over an old collection of artist’s tools on his step, and strip the top layer of paint, making half a second of technicolour arabesques swirl around the drainpipes. He was looking at his work.

He had spent almost an entire year on this one painting, a large and textured mass of colour. He had completed it several times, laid down his hands and relaxed his retinae, satisfied that perhaps it was ready to release from the studio. Within minutes, however, the sensation flitted away coquettishly, cruelly. Each time a final, finishing touch had been applied, it led to an alteration, which unbalanced the piece, and required a review of the flow of the eye, and brought up an ugly and unfitting clash of colour, or movement, or anything, and it became agonisingly obvious that the piece was indeed far from finished, only an idiot would think otherwise. Twice, he had covered the entire canvas again with white acrylic, to cover everything beneath. Look closely, and might can see the strata of several thousand brush strokes below the empty spaces, cavernous splits and cracks divided the cankers of reappraisal. Frustration was mounting, and desperation was overbearing his movements – he spat and scratched and mauled the piece, before prostrating and apologising and wishing it into closure.

Yesterday, one of his fingers fell off. It was the third one to go in as many weeks.

For the past month, every time he had laid down his brushes and palette knives with a sense of heavy-eyed finality, or kicked aside the wax coated wine bottles and shards of willow charcoal from around his feet, or picked the hardened paint from his greasy, matted beard, he’d move too quickly, and he would hear a crackling rustle, a shifting sound like rats in a dead tree, coming from his hands. Each time this happened, he would look closely at the source of the noise, always a finger, and inspect it intensely as it wrinkled like salted mollusc, turned grey, or brown, or black, and fall to the floor. The process was painless and fast, leaving a dry, flaky, self-cauterised stump behind, as if it was the result of an injury received as a child; an accident with a hammer, or a mild birth defect, a warning lesson from the family dog.

September came fast, and the leaves were starting to dry and curl on the branches that scratched on the window of the studio. Summer was already starting to seem like a memory of a half-dream, held for a few seconds on awakening, and seen with perfect clarity before quickly being lost to garbled, mossy symbolisms and abstract word association. He sat on his stool, flecked white with paint and looked at his papery hands. Only three fingers remained; his first finger on his left hand, pressed hard against his thumb, and the middle and smallest fingers on his right hand, looping around a palette knife encrusted with black, glutinous mulch. Every seven minutes or so, he would raise his right hand up to his painting – now several inches thick from the months of pigment plastered upon the frame, a physical, swollen calendar of frustrations – and scratch the edge of the knife through the top layer of paint to expose a sliver of April, a scar of spring. All the months were under there, a year and a half of gazing, of stabbing oneself with bottle tops. January was half-visible, a streak of whiteness, and both Julys were the wound and scabbed skin around a green lip of last week. Last autumn was barely visible at all, but to lay your hands on the bulging, obese surface of the painting would reveal its presence, buried.

The artist shut his eyes, and threw a small metal pot of silver paint at the top-right hand corner of the convex frame. It bounced off, and he heard it scuttle to the sides of the room. One eye opened, encrusted with blue cyan dust. For one golden second, he could see the piece as finished. As he pulled his arm away from the canvas, trembling with elation, he was sure that this was it; that the one cut he had just made through the heavy globules of arterial red, followed by the radial flecks of silver he had just launched… this had completed his work. It had. The painting loomed at him, and he shifted his weight from one cracking ankle bone to another to gain a few degrees of perspective. It just required one tiny extension, another inch of dragged marbling through the layers.

An exhalation, and a recognition of the same pattern.That extra inch wasn’t repairable; he had reached a zenith and then fallen, having completely changed the dynamic between the washes in the bottom-right corner and the sharpness of the veins stretching around the side. Tears of pain ran into his beard and the artist stomped around studio like a chastised toddler, throwing his portfolio against the filthy windows, scattering praise and high reviews from many years ago, shouting at the papers and glossy uselessness that floated down over dead candles and a year of picking away at a year of picking away. His feet crashed through mirrors and kicked all in sight; the skeletal remains of a mummified aspidistra scattered into dust-motes and moth wings, and the acrid cloud produced a wracking, dry, rasping cough from his cracked old lips. The artist fell into a wretched heap on the oily rug that covered most of the floor, and lay still, bare chest heaving, his liver spots rising and falling on pigeon bones, their erratic rhythms moving cog-like on his heartbeat.

A noise grew upwards from his hands. Tiny claws clambering, bracken fires spitting.

His head banged against the thin fabric with a hollow thud as he brought his hand to his face to watch the little finger twist and curl inwards like a dying spider, like a sleeping fern, atrophying quickly as a sped-up film of pestilence. It twitched twice spasmodically before turning the colour of London loam and hanging for a moment on a thread of papyrus-skin before dropping onto his stomach. His gut wrenched as the appendage rolled onto the ground near his chin, the droplets of hope and impetus drying up inside him as so many grains of sand slipping through a distorted hourglass. Only two fingers now remained on his ravaged hands, ashen stumps forming involuntary fists hung on the end of his arms like chicken gristle. Soon, he thought, soon he would be useless, sterile, impotent. He did not find the idea of mouth or foot painting at all attractive, and so what would happen if this wasting disease spread to whatever part of his body he used for his art? Would his lips suffer the same fate? His feet? His head? The idea wasn’t so unbelievable. And the painting hung heavy over him, glaring, scarred, unfinished.

He had not stepped out of his studio for so, so long. His windows let in the occasional polymer of daylight, hanging limp and sticky, photons of dead spermatozoa coughed out over his cluttered desk with its smashed glass veneer. Nobody had seen any of the work he had produced for almost fifteen years now; the exhibition he was planning on putting together was going to be crowned by this final painting, this unfinished, unfinishable virus that would complete the retrospective. He did not know what had happened to his family, his critics, his customers and investors. It had been too long.

The artist walked over snapped pencils and crushed cans, stood next to his window and scraped at the mildew, scraped again at the months and years that had gathered on the glass. Outside looked different to how he remembered it; the trees, which before were all he could see through the filth, now stood in front of tall buildings which seemed to stretch away into the distance. A thousand identical houses rolled down the hill to the left of his parched garden, and enormous cars were pulled in and out of a thousand tarmac driveways, like flotsam on a Perspex tide. A look of determination crossed the artist’s face, and he sat at the desk and scrabbled for some paper, a pen, his inkpot and an envelope. A letter would be written to his old agent (or the agent’s successor), the address was one he had never forgotten, burned into his memory when he was young, a darling of the town once. These hands had impressed, had burned with colour.

A letter announcing the completion of the retrospective, the apex of all of his work to date was written slowly and clumsily, in green ink on the old, stained paper. His remaining two fingers held the pen pincer-like, and the process was arduous, but determination drove it to completion. The old man was almost panting with excitement, a year of tears and struggles, eighteen months with hardly any food or water and with nothing to stare at but the same canvas, a mocking year, almost comple! Unwilling to step outside at this crucial time, the artist forced open the window and flung the envelope out onto the pavement, several feet away, to wait for a neighbour to pick it up, to deliver it for him. They would. He was sure of it.

The artist stepped into the centre of his studio and looked hard at the canvas. He picked up the pots of paint, held them close to his chest in the crook of his wrist, and poured their entire contents over his naked body. His ribs were highlighted by ochres, magenta ran through his hair and mingled with the greens dropping in a single, continous spout from his genitals. His ankles were heavy with blues and reds, and his back was pocked and shattered with a hundred pigments fast becoming one solid, muddy hue.

When he was completely doused in every colour he owned (even the tiny pot of silver metallic paint
from the corner of the room, that he bought for a futurist project that never materialised), he took a deep breath, bent his old legs and laughing, leapt at the canvas, knocking it off the easel and smearing it with the deep brown, sickly, heady concoction that covered and clung to every grey, wiry hair. He floundered around on the floor, feeling months of dried paint scratching and cutting his neck, his chest, his leathery thighs, plastering his beard to his clavicle. He caressed and attacked it, made love to and murdered it, prussian blues ejaculating over burnt siennas. He lay still, spent, panting in the knowledge that his work was complete. He could not see it, his eyes were caked and gummed with a colour so heavy it may as well have been a solid black acetate. Pushing himself down onto the canvas, he penetrated the layers of dried and sharpened paint, crystallised months and days opened to his skin and accepted it. Vision had left him, and finality was here.

A smile crept to his dark blue lips that were flecked with paler cyan when he heard the sound: The noise echoed once around the room, inside his head and off glass domes filled with old skin and moss. Scarab beetles under sand, rice falling on sheets of glass

It continued, clicking and rustling in his ears, up and down the sinew of his arms, on his eyelids, between his buttocks and over his knuckles. He listened until his entire body was crackling and popping and spitting with sounds of an untuned radio left out in a petrified forest. The artist’s mouth gasped once, spasmodically as his body shrunk like an autumn leaf, dried and discoloured beneath the mess of wet paint. His body contorted once, twice, and then broke into tiny pieces, which settled like dust on the canvas, and waited for the curators to collect him.

It was soon April again, and the rains returned, and the city opened itself to be washed clean. Rivulets ran, and collected their twins, and the residue of colours searched for the sea amongst the spinning leaves.

Saint no.23 (first exam piece)

That the young woman had healing hands was a difficult fact to deny, even by the most sceptical of observers. When she was hauled before the magistrate’s court in the presence of pockmarked deliquents and the white van driver with charges of running down cyclists, the gallery was brimming with cynical faces, eager to see what the free newspapers were on about. I was there. I was one of them.

Her estuary accent was disarming, to say the least. No mystically elongated vowels, no faraway moonfaced whisper of a voice. Her words and the way she spoke them undoubtedly added to her story, and we can all see that, now it has reached at narratively familiar ending. She spoke as though she was pushing words through gold hooped earrings, her phrases turned with Lambert and Butler and all the rest. Quite what she was charged with was always unclear. Wrong time, wrong place; typical outcomes with a messianic twist. She was first reported as being found wandering in the crisp packet and condom littered no-mans-land of in-between gang territories of Dagenham, the black spot accentuated by local press and the petty prejudices of the white working class. She’d wait for the bruises and the shanks, the chrome bumper breakings and the occasional gunshot. One witness claimed they saw her kneeling over a child waiting to be front page tabloid news in the neverending grinding into the ground of suburban London, and lift him to his feet, the wounds scabbing over within seconds. He picked up his bag of glue and swaggered over to the rust covered ice cream van. Of course, nobody could prove a thing. Getting anybody to speak to the police down there would require far greater, older miracles. But the girl kept returning, and was seen everywhere from Chatham to Dartford, getting up from the swings or the bonnet of a car, flicking away gum and laying her hands on the unlucky, the guilty, the crossfired and the brandished. Stories started appearing online, and cctv footage acted as it always did, the unblinking eye of a filthy urban deity, handing out punishment and reward to those it glares at under the yellow sodium light of the maisonettes.

Some claimed she was hero. Some were disgusted by who she saved. Some said she should go back to where she came from, but nobody really knew where that was. She didn’t wear a headscarf, and I suppose that helped, in a sad sort of way. Some said she couldn’t speak, but we knew that not to be true, in the end.

The congregation of the gawping and superior in the magistrate’s court felt ill, by the end of the trial. Here was a reverse vigilanteism, taking the lore into one’s own hands, so to speak, a dangerous extension of an old, hypocratic oath. The city needs victims, and it needs villains, and we all know this, somehow. What the city can’t stomach is saviours – we underpay our nurses and midwives, we string up our golden ones and doubt them when they return. If they must come back, let them at least speak properly. Let them understand the charges against us, let them forgive us. Let them be male. She did and was none of these things, a halo of hairspray and the static crackle of nylon followed her through the room, and she stared incredulously at the judge, rolled her eyes at the list of questions.

People play roles, of that we can be sure. The words we choose, the clothes we wear. By a certain point in our lives, we are Pierrots, we are Malmaries, Harlequins and Judases and Jonahs and Jobs. I’m sure that’s what she said, in not so many words. And perhaps this explained the look of complete boredom on her face as they carried her outside and drove nails through her hands, planted a crown of razor wire onto her head and poured white spirit onto her wounds. She looked to her left, and spoke to one of the pockmarked deliquents. Nobody quite heard what she said. She laid her hands on a blind man, and he could see. It was all just tricks, they were saying. Someone claimed she was a single mother, too. This started a frenzy.

„You don’t know what you’re doin’”, she said.

„Forgive us”, they replied. „We need you to forgive us”.

„You don’t know what you’re doin’”.

She spoke in that awful voice for some time, before falling silent. Parables, they used to call them. A mobile phone range tinnily in a pocket somewhere. People stayed.

Somewhere in London, the ground shook so much that all the envelopes in the post office headquarters fell to the ground, and those working on the outside of the gherkin lay down their sponges and buckets. The Thames rippled more than usual. The prayers of the faithful in Saint Paul’s were uninterrupted, and a young man bled to death outside a children’s play area in Dulwich. All was as it should be, again.

a guessing

Indentation remains
a bed –

spread clamminess, a must your shape
I fill with sand, a presentation of
the old days: green man and red
women straddle tenfaced beasts
whose names burn my face

I lose my balancing in concaves
a shell, you, where you were.
Sympathetic casting,
disaster of Paris,
a place to lie and maybe
what remains of us.


these games just arouse
all my livid memories –
a death in my house

family portraits

A pause chased my lip: it seems you
weigh your lust with consequence and
gaps fill space between blood ties:

you said something else too: you chose
to remove the dragging on your tongue
which formed a family, and I fit smoothly:

still life streams and we become you:
an image, too: there were days like this
our mouths moved and music came: