26 Dollars In My Hand (combination)

 ‘There are no snakes in heaven, only crosses.’

Sun’s coming quickly through the window
and I’m squinting with my hair awry,
the relief pattern of this old Victorian chair
pressing into my backside until I feel a tattoo of flowers
dressing me for nobody’s pleasure but my own.
There’s coffee in my throat like linctus
and the softer parts of my flesh hold the blood of dreams
no longer remembered.

Surrounded by dictionaries and paintings,
I’m at my desk in Stephen’s old room
and wearing a mickey-mouse T-shirt, just awake.
With a cup at my elbow and recorded piano music
playing loudly from the living room,
I think perhaps this is the perfect life,
or some moment from it.

It’s Tuesday, the year of our Lord,
and smoke runs across the parcel of land outside, dissipating.
Ghosts of children hopscotch through time towards grownuphood.
Five trees stand framed in glass.
I’m waiting with my gentle mouth, breathing not thinking,
wondering if my tongue’s got a memory
of the word’s it’s been forced to say,
the skin it’s kissed.
People have begun being nervous around me.
I’ve been making them unhappy.
My toes, those mice with pork hairs, carry on regardless;
growing nails and dreaming of calcium.
My knees, not forgotten, click and dream of carbon cartilage.

I’m laughing, cut off from syntax, counting my little scratches.
I’m cold and thinking of red lipstick,
of pornography and the stories there are,
of truth and its differences.
What would I be doing if I wasn’t here naked?
How many bodies in their segments are now combining?

I’ve a list of things to do today;
typing and eating, washing and being Charlie Mingus.
A motorcycle accelerates outside and I envy the Mafia their silence.
I’m thinking of lipstick again, any color.
An aeroplane cuts through the sky,
a silver pencil going up without noise, imperious to America.
I’m wearing socks now, wearing clean teeth.
The socks are pink, my mouth trails the antiseptic of three color paste;
it’d be good to eat more than this.

The smoke still smokes,
reminding me, despite grass and earth,
of films where cars drive streets at night
and manhole covers lose steam to the darkness.
I’m wondering what poetry is,
whether food can be poetry.
Whether sentiment, even beautifully disguised in your mouth,
a head of hair, a breast, can be poetry.

I’m hungry and remembering the Arctic expeditions
where men lost on polar caps ate candles
and drank each others sperm for protein.
How long would it last?
There are children jumping outside my window,
I can hear them bounce.
Shaking their organs, they’re asking their mothers for milk,
unaware of the precedents already set.

I’m doing sums on dry paper;
if Miller’s mother suffered an exact confinement
he’d have been conceived just now,
a hundred years ago.

On this day Sir Phillip Sidney died in battle at Arnhem
and Montgomery Clift was born to be an actor,
Al Capone was sentenced for tax evasion
and the feast of St. John the Dwarf was declared.
Many births, much milk, more children here all jumping.

I want cake and water, more cigarettes,
the world and I want it now.
It’s true that they cut me from the telephone system;
I’m no longer worrying about surveillance.
All in all I like it,
although to hear your voice sometimes,
so far away, would be just enough.
Often, at night, I wind back the tape in my answering machine
and let in play. I drink from a bottle given me
and just listen; sounds fill the room,
stuck in time they bring me feelings of control.

“I could grow to love the fucking in New York
far from soil but dreamy and courageous”

See me dressing, pushing hair back from my face
as I think about the cult of underwear,
sliding into jeans and being careful with the zipper,
taking off warm Mr. Mouse and watching my little chest tremble.
See me dressing, running hands across my bristles,
so jealous of Jean-Marc Bahr in The Big Blue,
picking out a shirt from the black wardrobe,
my black shirt, putting it on and staring into the mirror,
feeling sticky and heading for the bath.
This is my life here; running with water and trapped in plastic.

See me smoking while I’m bathing,
mixing steam and sulfur,
counting pieces floating.
Soon I’ll be clean.
I’m scrubbing little parasites,
the pilot shoals of eye and ear;
draining wax and pulling lashes.
I’m imagining myself insulated,
covered with honey and baked quite crystalline.
I’m thinking of pastries glazed with apricot,
gelatin and maraschino.
Of gorging, being roman, swelling not regretting.
I can see my skin stretched out, a taught book-binding,
and my mind returns at a plummet to practices barely human.

I’ve been buying animal and crushing beetles beneath my heel,
thinking of Shaw and Jack London,
seeing the other city, here and spreading for miles around,
corrugated and puffy like a whore’s heart,
hanging around hotel lobbies,
looking for wet kisses and spare money.
The Indian owner of my local grocery store
tells me how pleased he is the Dow Jones has stabilized.
“Rather gray Tuesday Mister” he says,
“But not so bad thank God the Americans!”
I have this feeling it won’t be long
before we here in Heritage pledge to the flag.
(There’s a page in my paper devoted to the World Series,
full of language, alongside it runs a column
concerning the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
I can hear the seagulls calling
and am reminded this is a very small island.)

I’m drinking Newcastle Brown Ale from the bottle,
admiring its label and enjoying that taste of liquid.
I’m remembering grandfathers around the world
who came home with a few in their sack.
I can see my reflection in the window,
see the scars beneath my eyes that years of drinking bring.
We in England think of ourselves as a great drinking nation.
We imagine our parents around pianos singing to the past.
This is how we think of culture; singing and well-cooked meat
drowned in gravy. Maybe football as well and the filling in of coupons.
Even today when Everyman’s encouraged to lose
money on the stock market, other kinds of culture
have little to do with the working classes.
On the scales of these things sit all the Arts
with their capitalized notation;
opposite them, quite unbalanced,
rests the abbreviation of TV.

I was wondering before how many people were coupling.
Now I’m wondering who’s left reading The Caucasian Chalk Circle
and how many others think it a rest home for racist magicians.
What does it matter? Probably nothing, we progress, evolve.
From the circle to the wheel of fortune;
all of us laughing very silently,
collecting, developing our habits.

I was waiting for The Boy to come home,
this was two days ago.
He’d taken the motorcycle to buy heroin.
Some hours later I was pacing and Shane was becoming restive;
we were spending his money.
After midnight The Boy came back,
cold and apologizing for the time gone.
He’d been waiting for the weight to work itself
through a dealer’s digestive tract.
As I watched him unwrap the package
and start to break it out onto a piece of re-inforced glass
I could see the funnier side of such a bleak damn business.
Later, as it ran through me and I thought I was dying
(so long had it been),
I couldn’t remember what it was I’d found funny.

‘What we’re all looking for
is somebody who doesn’t live there,
just pays for it.’

I’m waiting for the boxing to come on,
waiting to watch two men beating each other with handfuls of leather.
I’m listening to more piano and telling myself to remember
that the prosecution service has decided the ‘Guilford Four’ were innocent.
Two more men beating each other bloody; England and Ireland.

My legs are aching and I’ve turned the heating up;
the gas company’s coming with its hammers and wrenches.
I’m looking at a picture of Warhol
wearing white hair and a funny strawberry shirt.
He’s drinking tea and eating nougat.
I’m thinking there’s been a lot of pale backs scratched.
Tomorrow, on wings, I’m going to his retrospective.
Tonight I’m going to practice my gawking.

The beer’s gone and the bin’s filled with bottles;
there’ll come the waves tonight, the waters that sluice my sleeping.
I’ll count dismemberments,
put the spare-limb department back on a war footing.
Count children calling before language,
where voices are simple and needs speak without nationality.
In the R.E.M. there’ll be milkshakes, rattlesnakes, flagpoles and floss.

The cars are going by without me.
There’s fog at the window and faces are forming.
I was at the Academy, a place braised from marble and beaten stone.
Taking a piss I heard a man fumbling for his favorite arm
and another man shouting a woman’s name
as though it was the last word he expected to say.
Back in the galleries,
away from madness and polished copper fittings,
I spent an hour admiring the word daguerreotype,
and then pictures of mountains
and many men with beards who’d started clean-shaven.

In the cafeteria,
a restaurant which customers serve themselves
or are served at a counter and take the food to tables to eat,
Anthony and I enjoyed apple cakes and cream buns,
discussing American slang as we ate.
Afterwards we went back to the tube station
and bought special editions of the Evening Standard,
printed to commemorate the earthquake in San Francisco
(more pictures inside).
Stood squashed in a carriage I remember thinking
it’s the English who say Americans lack class.

At home I smoked a little calumet
and thought of the man who used to be Marlon Brando;
there are no mysteries left, only dreams.

‘Lend yourself to others, give yourself to yourself.’

I dreamt I was drinking a calf’s head the color of turtles and painting.
In heelless shoes and hunting pinks,
moccasins and jackets,
I walked through graveyards listening to bones in their boxes;
to the maracas of death.

This is how it is.

[London, 1987]

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