A patch of gravel, the rash of children
playing without supervision –
in their nostrils a secret garden,
in their throats a name
that is immortal.
One day, near the garden shed, they’ll see
what comes with age is shame, discovering
a swallow’s nest is made of mud and saliva.
If patience is an aspect of love, then
she was not loving. But she stuck
like estuary sand. And you feel her
thirty years later, under your nails.
Patience, then. Play with your hair, there
she likes it that way. Try to describe
a mirage: it is inauthentic, like ‘like’.
It is Father’s smile written up as a vanishing line.
Stop looking at the clock, look
at that flowerbed the old dog shits in.
What in God’s name? Power is not perception.
The sun does not see the plot
it lets us see. We count the hours, our blessings
into a plastic bag, speckling them with phlegm
from Grandpa’s pipe stem.
Put it down to dust.
The contour of what was is yours,
it causes you to fall
out of bed in the small hours
when even a mouse is comfortable
under the hot-water cylinder.
By moonlight, from the front door, you see
a mirage: your past. Put it down
to mud and saliva, swallow.
A man in grey was waiting under a chestnut tree. It was me.
- Max Jacob: ‘Write Your Memoirs’
You spun me out of your guts
so I know the matriarchy’s code.
The great below was our home.
We heard no birds, every tree
empty except for white
droppings. ‘Settle down,’ you
say, ‘near the compost heap
of family and friends,
it’s getting on, sweet pea.’
There is no safety valve for the first
son, by twenty his pressure holds
steady at the fourth atmosphere, almost
explosive. Girls keep him
at arm’s length, a friend to share
rather than commit indiscretions with…
His silence is stylish – a black tie
with a narrow knot, steam-
pressed. His eyes can flatten a statue.
Move to pull up a blanket
the whole forest covers your body.
By morning you break
clear, a beast without the feather bed
that follows from a good job.
You are an anachronism: the last
steer at the fence, bending
over to get the grass that’s left.
Your friends went to the works:
Jimmy Taylor dropped the Honda –
those bottles in his coat pockets emptied
the bluest vein to sunset.
With assistance from the government
Wayne Rugg washed in Agent Orange.
Nine children made a jigsaw of him.
A sunspot lodged on Kevin Little’s back
and burnt through to his lungs;
the oxygen combusted.
When you have nothing
to do, say it: the sun the stuff the non-
stuff underneath now, how
she spun you out of her guts
covering this page in blood.
© David Howard