Archives for the month of: May, 2015

We look vaguely embarrassed.
Everyone else was here hours ago
and they’ve already familiarised themselves
with the floor-calling voice in the elevator,
the inert plants in reception.
They know where the carpet has faded,
locations of water coolers and toilets.
They’ve made themselves at home.
They glance at us, and wait.

The lattes are really great here.
They do a wonderful lasagne.
We are shown the documentaries
on poverty and terrible wars,
the crimes of the rich and imperialists,
we hear odes to the dead,
the outpourings of grief, the hope voiced
that we will learn from experience.

It’s a thriving scene. Everywhere,
people are empowering themselves,
exploring their gender differences,
asserting their individuality,
throwing sick parties, and taking new drugs
that kill only a few of us:
trade creates wealth, technology
liberates and entertains the masses,
and for those who are exploited and miss out,
we have more documentaries:
we feel sorry, and plan to change things.

It isn’t all work, of course.
There are seahorses, the sunken oil tanker,
wings dipping through cirrus,
moments of transcendence and humiliation,
the time I gave you head on the train,
the time you gave me head in the snow
near the ski lodge:
there are the wild bears,
intimate moments together with our families.
The birth of children. The death of children.
The sunrise with Koreans.

We like the funny films we’re shown,
they keep us captivated.
The picture is unsteady,
the high definition pixellates,
but we laugh at the one with the poets
and the prime ministers, how carefully
they prepare their legacy for the void,
all the boxes with papers and notebooks,
the months they spend poring
over letters and diaries:
around them, the abyss is cool and regal,
the surface so smooth, like a mirror or lake,
how is it they never realise
until it’s too late?

The one with the police is funny, too,
how they run in and beat
their brothers and sisters with truncheons,
how they are paid and what they believe,
who pays them, and what they believe
and don’t believe, where they got the money,
how they hold on to what
they call power:
the stories are sometimes sad,
they have twists, and they’re ironic,
well, they have everything.

Are there enough metaphors?
Isn’t it all a little too literal,
the faces with the pins driven into them,
the dogs with their guts spilled out
being rewound, pulling their guts back in?
We agree, there could be more music,
and the music could be better,
even the good music is played at the wrong time,
we notice the moments aren’t perfect,
and though there are good moments,
there don’t seem to be enough of them.

Still, we make ourselves at home.
We settle into our routines.
The job isn’t great, very tiring,
and then there’s the travel,
but we get used to it.
There are benefits, and perks.
We get inspired for a while,
then grow disillusioned;
we are praised, then cast aside.
There is a kind of sunset in our affairs,
a calm hour when the birds fall quiet,
no longer wired to sing,
we dream our level of suffering may relent.
We know tomorrow will be the same.
We know tonight will be different.


This is not what we ordered.
Where are the scenes by the sea
you promised us?
The forest trails, the musk of pines, unexpected
views over the mountains?
This is too small.
How can we grow here?
How can we feel joy here?

The mirror is cracked and desilvered.
Pipes above the sink
leak, the steps to the
porch are rotten, the house is run-down,
the whole region is mournful, dispiriting.
I thought you were going to teach us wisdom,
provide us with buzzes and highs?
Make us central? Affirm our lives?
What happened to romance, and liberty?
Where are the epiphanies?

This place is too mean and too poor
for anything important to happen here.
The soil is meagre, the climate inclement,
the air itself seems filled with inertia,
faith has long gone, the company pulled out,
the veins exhausted, the mine
is on its knees,
no wonder people are leaving.
There’s no time to rest,
no space for peace or contemplation.
Why continue?

You said there would be truth.
Everything’s worn out, even new things
are false and flawed:
last night my only dream
was of a path through a dreary neighbourhood,
stinking of boiled cabbage,
a brown, slobbering cur
growling in a garden of dead sunflowers.
Do you think we can raise our children
in conditions like these?
If we lived here our entire lives,
and left on the very last day,
what would we miss?

You’ve failed us.
We’re going, very soon, as you’ll see.
We don’t believe a word you tell us.
We are not going to pay for this.

At first, we arrive:
a subtle agitation in everything —
the ambient excitement of the young.
Details loom out at us, only
because we are who we are, otherwise
utterly banal. The cut
of privet hedgerows in suburban streets,
arrogance of the toys, genuine
silver in the teapot.
Fittings on taps and sockets,
different ways of handling mail and electricity.
All the signs, of course.
What the latitude does with the light.

How quickly we settle in.
Certain things, we think, will never suit us,
irritants of rooks, pervasive scent
of boiled cabbage,
the way they smile or don’t smile,
the asinine jollity of their pop music,
their sheer stupidity, obeying unjust laws.
Around the table, when we’re alone,
we laugh at them, but
decreasingly as the years go by.
Into the maw of daily life, we slide.
Concrete is everywhere, telephone wires:
children be children, just the same.
So far inland, the crunch and buffet of our shores,
the shattering lustres of the waves
still come to us, as sight sometimes
still comes in dreams to the blind.

They will grow to resemble us, or so they believe.
We drink their beer, intermarry, form bonds.
Their ceremonies we honour and perform
as we have been taught,
as if they are our own.
We notice more and more
how false the boundaries seem,
how prone to apathy and blur.
When the cherry blossoms open, we watch,
we see, as they do.
When the bombs go off, we mourn.

Trains claim our days; offspring makes us
confused about parameters and missions.
We put on affinities, take off memories.
How quiet the sound
of those petals as they fall:
how drawn our limbs to the limbs
of others. So long in place, are we sure
we know what we’re doing
observing these rituals
we have so struggled to believe in?
Sometimes we wonder
what we came here for, or why we stay,
at dusk, when the world hardly seems to breathe,
and we await the call.

First, take any poetry out.
It will only get in the way.

Leave in some sky, a kettle, pan, suchlike —
a few objects, real things to comfort people.

Don’t worry about technique —
technique is only for a select cadre of readers,

and their kind will pass:
meanwhile, let them talk about end-stops and enjambment

if they wish. It’s pretty harmless,
like guard towers or thorns reflected in a river.

Don’t get too hooked on meaning:
this happens anyway, but never forget to mention time.

Teach people to improve themselves: they like that.
Use metaphor a lot: disguise it as advice,

or fables, mirrors, or simply plain fact.
Leopards are fine. Ambivalence, so-so. Allusion (literary), bad. Critics

need you more than you need them.
Treat them with disdain, especially if they like your work.

Style? It’s personal. Maybe give it a classic sheen:
rusting cars in vacant lots, nubile girls — each

a dawn — waiting for the sun to rise,

Never, ever, leave anything of importance
locked inside:

keep your valuables with you,
vagabonds may often haunt your heels,

but give yourself a chance, at least, of getting clean away.
Be too clever. Be callous, and inconsistent. Irony

is a subtle god, worship it carefully.
Avoid the big themes: they’re tiresome,

just large potatoes among small potatoes,
centuries among instants.

Make your work as worthless as you can:
never trust a wealthy poet. Avoid fashion. Crucially,

never wear a cravat. Never obey
your own maxims. But be more generous, always. Serve the people.

You’re not the finished article, merely
a by-product. A part of silence, after

a sung song.
When the end comes,

you should be used up.
What’s left is everything.

Oh, and one more thing:
Forgive me if I have said anything wrong.

I am so sorry to take leave of you.
Peace be with you.