Tuesday, 10 July 2012


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

And You Know What Thought Did

If you could eat frost, you might think
it would crunch like an apple. You might think

that it forms in fruit like a snowflake forms
in the air. Crisp, and clear. Not so.

Frost in the flesh of an apple runs soft
and brown, and it California they smoke it out

with stove-like affairs that burn wood,
oil, paraffin or coal. Strange then, that

Californian apples are so sweet; so fresh;
because if you could eat smoke you might think

it would taste like a kipper. Not frost.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

I Live in Fear...

I live in fear of letting people down.
Last winter, someone leaked the blueprint for a plan
to put the town back on the map:
that everyone should stand and strike a match
at midnight on the shortest, darkest day,
then photograph it from an aeroplane. No way:

the workers wouldn’t break bread with the upper class,
the wealthy wouldn’t mingle with the mob,
the worthy knew a thing or two about sulphuric gas.

It came to pass that only one man struck; a man whose job
or game was civil unrest and civil dissent, but who claimed
to be lighting his pipe in any event,
a man whose face turned purple as he spoke.

I know very well that man doesn’t smoke.

A Safe Rule...

A safe rule in life is: trust nobody.
That’s the first, and secondly,
the man with 20/20 vision who achieves the peak
of Everest (forgetting for now the curve
of the Earth), looks east and west and gets
a perfect view of the back of his head.

Third, there will always be
that square half-inch or so of unscratchable skin
between the shoulder blades, unreachable
from over the top or underneath. And fourth,

as I once heard said, don’t go inventing
the acid that will eat through anything
without giving some thought
to a jar to keep it in.

I'm Dreaming...

I'm dreaming of that work, Man Seated Reading
at a Table in a Lofty Room
, and while I sleep
a virus sweeps the earth, and when I wake I see
the population of the world is


I take the observation suite in Emley Moor Mast
to watch the skyline from the Appalachians to the Alps;
those signs of life, a thousand miles away perhaps,
are nothing more than fireflies nesting in the grass
across the fell.

I manage very well, become a master in the arts

of food and drink and heat and light,
but then at night, with no one in the world
to cut my throat, I lock and latch
and bar and bolt the windows and the hatch.

Those Bastards...

Those bastards in their mansions:
to hear them shriek, you'd think
I'd poisoned the dogs and vaulted the ditches,
crossed the lawns in stocking feet and threadbare britches,
forced the door of one of the porches, and lifted
the gift of fire from the burning torches,

then given heat and light to streets and houses,
told the people how to ditch their cuffs and shackles,
armed them with the iron from their wrists and ankles.

Those lords and ladies in their palaces and castles,
they'd have me sniffed out by their beagles,
picked at by their eagles, pinned down, grilled
beneath the sun.

Me, I stick to the shadows, carry a gun.

Ankylosing Spondylitis...

Ankylosing meaning bond or join
and spondylitis meaning of the bone or spine.

That half explains the cracks and clicks,
the clockwork of my joints and discs,
the ratchet of my hips.

I’m fossilising - every time I rest
I let the gristle knit, weave, mesh.

My dear, my skeleton will set like biscuit overnight, like glass, like ice,
and you can choose to snap me back to life before first light,
or let me laze until the shape I take becomes the shape I keep.

Don’t leave me be. Don’t let me sleep.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature's first green is gold:
her hardest hue to hold.
Her first leaf's a flower
but only so an hour.
But then leaf subsides to leaf,
so Eden sank to grief.
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Let Me Put it This Way

Let me put it this way:
if you came to lay

your sleeping head
against my arm or sleeve,

and if my arm went dead,
or if I had to take my leave

at midnight, I should rather
cleave it from the joint or seam

than make a scene
or bring you round.

how does that sound?

Friday, 25 May 2012

The Air

What is this dark and silent caravan
that being nowhere, neither comes nor goes;
that being never, has no hour or span;
of which we can say only that it flows?
How was it that this empty datastream,
this cache of dead light could so lose its way
it wandered back to feed on its own dream?
How did that dream grow to the waking day?
What is the sound that fades up from the hiss,
like a glass some random downdraught had set ringing,
now full of its only note, its lonely call,
drawing on its song to keep it singing?
When will the air stop breathing? Will it all
come to nothing, if nothing came to this?

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Animal Graves

The mower flipped it belly up,
a baby garter less than a foot long,
dull green with a single sharp

stripe of pale manila down its back,
same color as the underside
which was cut in two places,

a loop of intestine poking out.

It wouldn't live,
so I ran the blades over it again,

and cut it again but didn’t kill it,

and again and then again,
a cloud of two-cycle fuel smoke
on me like a swarm of bees.

It took so long
my mind had time to spiral
back to the graveyard

I tended as a child
for the dead ones, wild and tame:
fish from the bubbling green aquarium,

squirrels from the road,
the bluejay stalked to a raucous death
by Cicero the patient, the tireless hunter,

who himself was laid to rest
one August afternoon
under a rock painted gray, his color,

with a white splash for his white splash.

Once in the woods I found the skeleton
of a deer laid out like a diagram,

long spine curved like a necklace of crude, ochre spools
with the string rotted away,

and the dull metal shaft of the arrow
lying where it must have pierced

not the heart, not the head,
but the underbelly, the soft part
where the sex once was.

I carried home the skull
with its nubs of not-yet-horns
which the mice had overlooked,

and set it on a rock
in my kingdom of the dead.

Before I chopped the little snake
to bits of raw mosaic,

it drew itself
into an upward-straining coil,
head weaving, mouth open,

hissing at the noise that hurt it.

The stripe was made
of tiny paper diamonds,
sharp-edged but insubstantial,

like an x-ray of the spine
or the ghost beginning to pull away.

What taught the snake to make itself
seem bigger than it was,
to spend those last few seconds

dancing in the roar
and shadow of its death?

Now I see, though none exists,
its grave:

harebells withered in a jar,
a yellow spiral
painted on a green-black stone,

a ring of upright pine cones for a fence.
That’s how the deer skull lay in state

until one of the neighborhood dogs
came to claim it,

and carried it off to bury
in the larger graveyard of the world.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012


I’m a fullblooded
West Indian stereotype
See me straw hat?
Watch it good
I’m a fullblooded
West Indian stereotype
You ask
if I got riddum
in me blood
You going ask!
Man just beat de drum
and don’t forget
to pour di rum
I’m a fullblooded
West Indian stereotype
You say
I suppose you can show
us the limbo, can’t you?
How you know!
How you know!
You sure
you don’t want me
sing you a calypso too
How about that?
I’m a fullblooded
West Indian stereotype
You call me
Yes that’s me
dressing fancy
and chasing women
if you think ah lie
bring yuh sister
I’m a fullblooded
West Indian stereotype
You wonder
where do you people get such riddum
could it be the sunshine
My goodness
Just listen to that steelband
Isn’t here one thing
you forgot to ask
go on man ask ask
This native will answer
How about cricket?
I suppose you’re good at it?
Hear this man
good at it!
Put de willow
in me hand
and watch me stripe
de boundary
Yes I’m a fullblooded
West Indian stereotype
that’s why I
graduated from Oxford
with a degree
in anthropology

Migrant in London

Sand under we feet long time.
Sea divided for we, you know,
how we turned stragglers to Mecca.

An' in mi hangin' drape style
I cross worl' centre street, man.
An' busy traffic hoot horns.

I see Big Ben strike
the mark of my king town.
Pigeons come perch on mi shoulder,
roun' great Nelson feet.

I stan' in the roar, man,
in a dream of wheels
a-vibrate shadows.
I feel how wheels hurry in wheels.
I whisper, man you mek it.
You arrive.
Then sudden, like, quite loud I say,
'Then whey you goin' sleep tonight?'

My Arrival

Showing the creature I landed
I slipped from my mother’s womb
flesh connected, laced in a blood-spatter.

My father waited with a bottle of rum.
The moon floated somewhere.
The sea drummed and drummed our coastline.
Mullets darted in wooded steams. 

A good night to end our labour – Saturday.
The country-midwife held me up,
‘Look. Is yu third boy child!’
My mother asked, ‘Him all right?’
‘Yes – all eyes, all ears.
Yes – all hands, all feet.’
My mother whispered, ‘Thank God.’
My granny said, ‘My Jim-Jim.
My husband! You come back?’ 
I slept.
Roosters crowed
all around the village. 

In the sun’s hot eye
my umbilical cord was dressed
with wood ash, castor oil and nutmeg
and buried under a banana-sucker.
There, a tree made fruits, all mine.

Sunday, 15 April 2012


I am leading a quiet life   
in Mike’s Place every day   
watching the champs
of the Dante Billiard Parlor   
and the French pinball addicts.   
I am leading a quiet life   
on lower East Broadway.   
I am an American.
I was an American boy.
I read the American Boy Magazine   
and became a boy scout   
in the suburbs.
I thought I was Tom Sawyer   
catching crayfish in the Bronx River
and imagining the Mississippi.   
I had a baseball mit
and an American Flyer bike.
I delivered the Woman’s Home Companion   
at five in the afternoon
or the Herald Trib
at five in the morning.
I still can hear the paper thump   
on lost porches.
I had an unhappy childhood.   
I saw Lindbergh land.
I looked homeward
and saw no angel.
I got caught stealing pencils
from the Five and Ten Cent Store   
the same month I made Eagle Scout.
I chopped trees for the CCC   
and sat on them.
I landed in Normandy
in a rowboat that turned over.
I have seen the educated armies
on the beach at Dover.
I have seen Egyptian pilots in purple clouds   
shopkeepers rolling up their blinds   
at midday
potato salad and dandelions
at anarchist picnics.
I am reading ‘Lorna Doone’
and a life of John Most
terror of the industrialist
a bomb on his desk at all times.
I have seen the garbagemen parade   
in the Columbus Day Parade
behind the glib
farting trumpeters.
I have not been out to the Cloisters   
in a long time
nor to the Tuileries
but I still keep thinking
of going.
I have seen the garbagemen parade   
when it was snowing.
I have eaten hotdogs in ballparks.
I have heard the Gettysburg Address   
and the Ginsberg Address.
I like it here
and I won’t go back
where I came from.
I too have ridden boxcars boxcars boxcars.   
I have travelled among unknown men.   
I have been in Asia
with Noah in the Ark.
I was in India
when Rome was built.
I have been in the Manger
with an Ass.
I have seen the Eternal Distributor   
from a White Hill
in South San Francisco
and the Laughing Woman at Loona Park   
outside the Fun House
in a great rainstorm
still laughing.
I have heard the sound of revelry   
by night.
I have wandered lonely
as a crowd.
I am leading a quiet life
outside of Mike’s Place every day   
watching the world walk by
in its curious shoes.
I once started out
to walk around the world
but ended up in Brooklyn.
That Bridge was too much for me.   
I have engaged in silence
exile and cunning.
I flew too near the sun
and my wax wings fell off.
I am looking for my Old Man   
whom I never knew.
I am looking for the Lost Leader   
with whom I flew.
Young men should be explorers.   
Home is where one starts from.   
But Mother never told me
there’d be scenes like this.
I rest
I have travelled.
I have seen goof city.
I have seen the mass mess.
I have heard Kid Ory cry.
I have heard a trombone preach.   
I have heard Debussy
strained thru a sheet.
I have slept in a hundred islands
where books were trees.   
I have heard the birds   
that sound like bells.
I have worn grey flannel trousers
and walked upon the beach of hell.
I have dwelt in a hundred cities
where trees were books.
What subways what taxis what cafes!
What women with blind breasts
limbs lost among skyscrapers!
I have seen the statues of heroes
at carrefours.
Danton weeping at a metro entrance
Columbus in Barcelona
pointing Westward up the Ramblas
toward the American Express   
Lincoln in his stony chair   
And a great Stone Face   
in North Dakota.
I know that Columbus   
did not invent America.
I have heard a hundred housebroken Ezra Pounds.   
They should all be freed.   
It is long since I was a herdsman.
I am leading a quiet life   
in Mike’s Place every day   
reading the Classified columns.
I have read the Reader’s Digest
from cover to cover
and noted the close identification
of the United States and the Promised Land
where every coin is marked   
In God We Trust
but the dollar bills do not have it
being gods unto themselves.   
I read the Want Ads daily   
looking for a stone a leaf   
an unfound door.
I hear America singing
in the Yellow Pages.
One could never tell
the soul has its rages.
I read the papers every day   
and hear humanity amiss
in the sad plethora of print.
I see where Walden Pond has been drained   
to make an amusement park.   
I see they’re making Melville   
eat his whale.
I see another war is coming   
but I won’t be there to fight it.   
I have read the writing
on the outhouse wall.
I helped Kilroy write it.
I marched up Fifth Avenue
blowing on a bugle in a tight platoon   
but hurried back to the Casbah   
looking for my dog.
I see a similarity
between dogs and me.
Dogs are the true observers   
walking up and down the world   
thru the Molloy country.
I have walked down alleys   
too narrow for Chryslers.
I have seen a hundred horseless milkwagons   
in a vacant lot in Astoria.
Ben Shahn never painted them   
but they’re there
askew in Astoria.
I have heard the junkman’s obbligato.   
I have ridden superhighways   
and believed the billboard’s promises   
Crossed the Jersey Flats
and seen the Cities of the Plain
And wallowed in the wilds of Westchester
with its roving bands of natives
in stationwagons.
I have seen them.
I am the man.   
I was there.   
I suffered
I am an American.
I have a passport.
I did not suffer in public.
And I’m too young to die.
I am a selfmade man.
And I have plans for the future.
I am in line   
for a top job.
I may be moving on
to Detroit.
I am only temporarily
a tie salesman.
I am a good Joe.
I am an open book
to my boss.
I am a complete mystery
to my closest friends.
I am leading a quiet life
in Mike’s Place every day   
contemplating my navel.
I am a part
of the body’s long madness.
I have wandered in various nightwoods.   
I have leaned in drunken doorways.
I have written wild stories
without punctuation.
I am the man.
I was there.   
I suffered   
I have sat in an uneasy chair.
I am a tear of the sun.   
I am a hill
where poets run.
I invented the alphabet
after watching the flight of cranes   
who made letters with their legs.
I am a lake upon a plain.   
I am a word
in a tree.
I am a hill of poetry.   
I am a raid
on the inarticulate.
I have dreamt
that all my teeth fell out   
but my tongue lived   
to tell the tale.
For I am a still
of poetry.
I am a bank of song.   
I am a playerpiano
in an abandoned casino   
on a seaside esplanade   
in a dense fog
still playing.
I see a similarity
between the Laughing Woman
and myself.
I have heard the sound of summer   
in the rain.
I have seen girls on boardwalks   
have complicated sensations.   
I understand their hesitations.
I am a gatherer of fruit.   
I have seen how kisses   
cause euphoria.
I have risked enchantment.   
I have seen the Virgin   
in an appletree at Chartres
And Saint Joan burn
at the Bella Union.
I have seen giraffes in junglejims
their necks like love
wound around the iron circumstances   
of the world.
I have seen the Venus Aphrodite   
armless in her drafty corridor.   
I have heard a siren sing   
at One Fifth Avenue.
I have seen the White Goddess dancing   
in the Rue des Beaux Arts   
on the Fourteenth of July   
and the Beautiful Dame Without Mercy   
picking her nose in Chumley’s.   
She did not speak English.   
She had yellow hair
and a hoarse voice
I am leading a quiet life   
in Mike’s Place every day   
watching the pocket pool players   
making the minestrone scene   
wolfing the macaronis   
and I have read somewhere   
the Meaning of Existence   
yet have forgotten
just exactly where.
But I am the man
And I’ll be there.
And I may cause the lips   
of those who are asleep   
to speak.
And I may make my notebooks   
into sheaves of grass.   
And I may write my own   
eponymous epitaph
instructing the horsemen   
to pass.

Everybody's Doing It

In Hawaii they Hula
They Tango in Argentina
They Reggae in Jamaica
And they Rumba down in Cuba,
In Trinidad and Tobago
They do the Calypso
And in Spain the Spanish
They really do Flamenco.

In the Punjab they Bhangra
How they dance Kathak in India
Over in Guatemala
They dance the sweet Marimba,
Even foxes dance a lot
They invented the Fox Trot,
In Australia it's true
They dance to the Didgeridoo.

In Kenya they Benga
They Highlife in Ghana
They dance Ballet all over
And Rai dance in Algeria,
They Jali in Mali
In Brazil they Samba
And the girls do Belly Dancing
In the northern parts of Africa.

Everybody does the Disco
From Baghdad to San Francisco
Many folk with razzamataz
Cannot help dancing to Jazz,
They do the Jig in Ireland
And it is really true
They still Morris dance in England
When they can find time to.

Sometime During Eternity...

Sometime during eternity
                                                       some guys show up   
and one of them
                      who shows up real late
                                                       is a kind of carpenter   
      from some square-type place
                                              like Galilee
          and he starts wailing
                                          and claiming he is hip
            to who made heaven
                                       and earth
                                                      and that the cat
                   who really laid it on us
                                                 is his Dad

          And moreover
             he adds
                         It’s all writ down
                                              on some scroll-type parchments   
          which some henchmen
                  leave lying around the Dead Sea somewheres   
                a long time ago
                                       and which you won’t even find   
         for a coupla thousand years or so
                                                 or at least for
      nineteen hundred and fortyseven
                                                      of them
                            to be exact
                                             and even then
         nobody really believes them
                                                   or me
                                                            for that matter
          You’re hot
                         they tell him
          And they cool him

          They stretch him on the Tree to cool

                         And everybody after that
                                                               is always making models   
                                          of this Tree
                                                          with Him hung up   
          and always crooning His name
                                     and calling Him to come down   
                                 and sit in
                                                 on their combo
                           as if he is the king cat
                                                            who’s got to blow   
                      or they can’t quite make it

                      Only he don’t come down
                                                         from His Tree
          Him just hang there
                                       on His Tree
          looking real Petered out
                                          and real cool
                                                             and also
                   according to a roundup
                                                    of late world news   
             from the usual unreliable sources
                                                               real dead

The World is a Beautiful Place

The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don't mind happiness
not always being
so very much fun
if you don't mind a touch of hell
now and then
just when everything is fine
because even in heaven
they don't sing
all the time

The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don't mind some people dying
all the time
or maybe only starving
some of the time
which isn't half bad
if it isn't you

Oh the world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don't much mind
a few dead minds
in the higher places
or a bomb or two
now and then
in your upturned faces
or such other improprieties
as our Name Brand society
is prey to
with its men of distinction
and its men of extinction
and its priests
and other patrolmen

and its various segregations
and congressional investigations
and other constipations
that our fool flesh
is heir to

Yes the world is the best place of all
for a lot of such things as
making the fun scene
and making the love scene
and making the sad scene
and singing low songs and having inspirations
and walking around
looking at everything
and smelling flowers
and goosing statues
and even thinking
and kissing people and
making babies and wearing pants
and waving hats and
and going swimming in rivers
on picnics
in the middle of the summer
and just generally
'living it up'
but then right in the middle of it
comes the smiling


Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Death of the Loch Ness Monster

Consider that the thing has died before we proved it ever lived
   and that it died of loneliness, dark lord of the loch,
fathomless Worm, great Orm, this last of our mysteries -
    haifend ane meikill fin on ilk syde
     with ane taill and ane terribill heid -
and that it had no tales to tell us, only that it lived there,
     lake-locked, lost in its own coils,
waiting to be found; in the black light of midnight
     surfacing, its whole elastic length unwound,
and the sound it made as it broke the water
     was the single plucked string of a harp -
this newt or salamander, graceful as a swan,
     this water-snake, this water-horse, this water-dancer.

Consider him tired of pondering the possible existence of man
      whom he thinks he has sighted sometimes on the shore,
and rearing up from the purple churnhing water,
      weird little worm head swaying from side to side,
he denies the vision before his eyes;
      his long neck, swan of Hell, a silhouette against the moon
his green heart beating its last,
      his noble, sordid soul in ruins.

Now the mist is a blanket of doom, and we pluck from the depth
      a prize of primordial slime -
the beast who was born from some terrible ancient kiss,
      lovechild of unspeakable histories,
this ugly slug half blind no doubt, and very cold,
      his head which is horror to behold
no bigger than our own;
      whom we loath, for his kind ruled the earth before us,
who died of loneliness in a small lake in Scotland,
      and in his mind’s dark land,
where he dreamed up his luminous myths, the last of which was man.