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Hymn to Hermes



Email was your great back-handed gift
to man- & womankind,
    usurping Cupid
with your messages in place of eyes,
spying webcams,
lying emoji & pop-ups
& the downside
is the 24-hour stock-market
& the banking system
     & credit lines
knotted in the fiber-optic wires
& in the waves of the air
& bleary eyes
weeping, frightened or fatigued
before numbers & blue flickering screens.

*

Lift us up on your shoes of wings.
Uplift us with your parachute hat
& virus shield
along your bridges of graphs
to bring us down to earth
& bed, & debts & death
again.
For over your exotic rainbow
there is only a one-armed bandit
who cannot lose & the siren of free
business to business
heart to heart
mind to mind
communication
waiting to toss us over the edge
of the isthmus below.

*

But we thank you
—Exu in whiteface and Greek dress—
for informing us
that everything is a game
where chips stand for wheat
& shades & mascara for eyes & tears
& xes & cups for kisses & hugs
& a pulse for a tongue
& a click of a mouse for
where@ some everywhere
over the Internet
there is someone sobbing & alone

Recife, 2003


Hymn to Spring


Lord alone knows
what she means
by these outbursts
of flowers. 
Butter-
cups would melt
in her mouth. Running
hot&cold:
withering
looks; cowed asides;
sullen turns.

              *

Many’s the long down-
cast winter night
we’ve cursed the day
she was ever born
or bred,
 till she comes,
through downpours & frosts,
all smiles again.
   Like,
while we’re worrying our-
selves half to death
about her,
she’s just winding us up.

She’ll pull through:
the bounce back in her hair & step.
Can’t blame her.
    The forgiveness
we have sown with pills
on her so stony ground,
raises a revenant moorland mist of love
& cold breeze blowing back through
to fall and smother her back down again.

Recife, 2005


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Expo 1851


The crystal palace is Solomonically
as many feet long as
the years of our Lord that stretch 
from our Savior’s birth up
to this zenith of the industrial age.

Vic & Al are excited about the glass-house exposé
of all that is great about Brittany—once wayward daughter
turned stunning debutante; the gears of genes, hormones, 
breeding and old money all finally meshing together 
to create a national treasure we can all be proud of—a fine filly,
an irresistible machine. 
Charlie Darwin
is chipper about the science. The whole haute bourgeoisie
of England and beyond 
traipses through the marvel, 
for no more than a guinea a head.
Good value for money they purr, 
as they gawp at the exotic orchids and high-tech looms.

A site-specific demonstration of the whole cotton production process
from bud on sunned plant in southern Louisiana 
to dark rain-drenched Satanic mill in Salford
to starched shirt on a dresser
—minus, of course, the child labor, 
slavery, asymmetrical tariffs,
 unemployment statistics, workplace accidents
and the hacking cough of lint-choked lungs—
elicits much interest and acclaim. 

The best Frogs and sour Krauts can meanwhile do
is to turn up with machine guns and bombs.
“People in glass houses…” English gents 
and vets mutter 
disapprovingly through bushes of moustaches
still decorating stiff upper lips.
Drinkers dutifully toast queen and nation in East End pubs,
before rushing out for a piss. Nature calls.

                               *

The great event is, of course, 
as befits a great parliamentary democracy—
over which Ollie Cromwell still waves his wand of a sword—
not without detractors. 
Chad Marx thinks
it is all a ginormous unseemly fetish—overexposed— 
unworthy of the civilized world still to be—
orange blossom round a latrine.

And the right-wing rags sneer 
that the money could have been
better spent on tax cuts for the country squires
who read them grumblingly in clubs
between enemas and games of cards,
and worry that the hoi polloi 
or—God forbid—‘jocks’ and ‘blacks’ and ‘jack-the-lads’
might ‘get ideas.’

                               *

Meanwhile, Messrs. Holmes, Mr. Hearst, Mr. Edison and their ilk,
Dr. Jekyll, Jack the Ripper, Mr. Hyde, Dr. Frankenstein’s
monster, Rothschilds and Gettys,
Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg,
Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Trump
greedily survey the proceedings
with as yet unborn beady eyes.

Recife, 2015

Wind Eye


The old Norsemen tell us that a window
is originally little more than a breeze-block
letting in the draught
to clear the hut of smoke,
air it of damp. 
                          *
Glass promised everything:
visions of the furthest galaxies,
the tiniest lactobacilli;
a framed view out onto a nice landscaped garden;
soaring curtain walls mirroring heaven and sky;
underwater flora;
a probe into the very soul.
                          *
But looking up out now
through the mashrabiya
of security bars and safety netting
at the tall apartment buildings
that obscure the moon,
each flat marked by the dripping backside
of an air-conditioning unit sticking out,
as the all-year-round fairy lights 
of HD TVs and laptops
twinkle behind blinds,
there is a feeling
not of light refracted
but of darkness falling
and wonder
at what we have made of the world. 

Recife, 2015








Flints



In places, where the sea’s transgression once laid milky mud over Southern England, a gel, subtracted from the decomposing armor of crustaceans, has been concentrated by the corpses of sea-anemones and other once lived-in pockets and concreted into brownish cryptocrystalline tubers, thereby causing to arrive on earth these most helpful stones known to man. 


     No stone was ever more eager to be held. A flint is a willing quarry; keen to lend 
a hand; a disposable external bone. It breaks open like a coconut and its 
conchoidal inner surfaces, unlike the scales of fish, slot ideally into finger-joints 
and palms. Its glazed, slightly greasy, mottled, white reflective coating a pleasure 
both to feel and to behold. Flint is brittle but it cannot be broken without thereby multiplying its virtues. Like other uncomplicated organisms, it reproduces by 
fission. 
      Flints do not occur in a single mass, but in static shoals set fast in the 
chalk; they are discrete stones. Reserved; as if for us, to use. Flints, although they 
have never been ripped by an igneous uplift from the earth, can be taught, by a 
sort of accident, to ignite of their own accord. Through this latent talent they are 
mighty as blatant thunderclouds. But, because they do not flaunt their power, but 
exhibit it with modest reluctance, only on request, they are gifted with fabulous 
longevity.
       It is thus quite impossible for us to grasp the immensity of their translives, 
which cannot thus be said to exhibit epic scope.


Once the bliss of jelly has ceded to the joy of substance and angles, flints 
are happy to lie dormant for ages in their hosts, where they occupy no more living 
space than the volume of their own growth. They do not need extra room to 
breath. Their forbearance is from time to time rewarded by exotic travels. For 
such odysseys, these amphibious minerals need no ships; take no risks: they 
cannot be drowned. And, when washed up on distant beaches, they are never 
attended by princesses and tell no tales. 
      At best they are admitted for a time as minions, and in battle will act with
unswerving loyalty as their master’s right-hand man. In time, they are displayed in museums and admired by writers, geologists or artists, whose lives they will as 
long outlast as they have already outdone them in their work. 


Were it possible to imagine that there are souls, which survive the decomposition of the flesh, these could not be as air, but would have to be hard, discrete, like flints. Convenient, but resilient, figments of hope. Though there may be no souls, flints
occasion some hard proof that there is much more to life after death, but that this after-life, although more durable and protracted an existence, bears but little impression of its transient, gelatinous precedent. 



Oxford, 1990




 
School through Fog



Early morning treks to school
down the once hawthorn-lined lanes
trimmed now into neat suburban roads,
flanked by spanking-new government-funded semis and bungalows,
and on into the little town center 
with its grand neo-Gothic town-hall
and off down the road to the old schoolhouse,
are swathed in choking smog 
and swaddled in stiff sternly monitored uniforms
in various scratchy shades of grey.

The collective soot of last night’s warming fires
hangs like fall-out over the freezing dawn, 
a paranoia in the lungs; 
a lingering nightmare left by last night’s TV.

The fog at times is darker than the blackest pea in the pod. 
We pick our way through it by memory alone. 
Senses numbed by coats and gloves. 
School sucks, but at least it is warm and comforting 
and makes us march, sing, dance and pray. 

Milk is free but made rancid by unrefrigerated crates. 
Still we have to drink it down. 
The back-rooms are a dark museum to a long-defunct cotton industry,
full of ghosts of workers and slaves; 
a place to comfort and flirt with fearful girls.

The world is full of doubt and imagination 
and the cold certainties of science, discipline and the C of E 
are dull as the water of an undredged ditch
to any normal child’s lively mind. 
Perverts and the privileged are encouraged to thrive. 

Everyone is itching to get back home
to scratch chill-blained feet free of daps,
toasting them against the wires of a coal fire guard, 
eat poached eggs on thickly buttered toast 
and glue eyes to a ghostly greenish black-and-white television screen, 
seep in the homely holy smell of Dad’s cigarettes, 
gas leaking from paraffin lamps, as miners strike
and government rations warmth and light,
playing old parlor games by candlelight.

The fug of Churchill’s funeral; 
Kennedy shot; 
Dad’s Army on TV; 
home fires snoring and burning
—the fat of victory; 
The comfort of a thick blanket
and a hot water bottle filled from a kettle;
the fog of old wars 
choking and rocking us to sleep. 
The gleaming glass aluminum
NHS neonatal and family planning clinic, 
winking like a light-house through fog:
hope at the end of the road.  



Recife, 2015