silent movie poem
the park before closing time
rimbaud in london
edward hopper's nighthawks
a frequent candidate for detention
Smell of someone's purchased-on-impulse curry
abandoned in its neat tinfoil box.
Conductor edges up the carriage,
stoops like a concerned male nurse
over drunks collapsed into crumpled evening news.
One walks like sheepdog. "Lissen, son
I coulda taen Joe Frazier. Nae bother."
Four soldiers, engrossed,
continue their cardgame
on the beercan table,
"You deal," says the boy with Mum and Dad on a hairy sunburnt wrist
Closed-down stations flash by.
Night crowded with phantoms
lost in joyous talk.
SILENT MOVIE POEM
Rain pours down the grey street
A mile away the park getting soaked:
limp trees, leaves becoming heavier.
You are in your room framed by the window
- yellow light blurred by streaks of grey.
Screens of thin, late-
summer rain turn our street
into a movie set. Black taxis hurry
delayed teatime drinkers home
and worried grey men like cheap detectives
splash across oily pavements.
It's all a film: Little guys in overalls
erect cut-out skyscrapers in front of
metalgrey clouds. A city of extras gets to work.
The spiral-bound scripts have been distributed.
Everyone has their role
and you're the white-faced, black-eyed star
giftwrapped in furs by the waiting Pierce Arrow
and I’m the failed director
distraught beside the unstained casting couch.
Dusk crawls down
The sun is folded in cellophane
like a rose held by a callboy
who didn't get asked
to the big opening night.
THE PARK BEFORE CLOSING TIME
( Late Nineteenth Century)
Cigarette smoke meets fog
and curls into leafless tress.
Shadows lengthen on townhall cornices,
the lit-up library
and the broken-nosed saints
outside the sooty Anglo-Catholic church.
Clothcapped boys in awkward collars
crowd out of the Gothic tech,
off home to shaded lamps and improving books
or stiff courtship in rooms
wallpapered the colour of fallen leaves.
In yellow November twilight -
swallowed up by massing dark
lonely housemaids say goodnight
in the melancholy of a park.
Mist on mossy greystone.
A sinewy horse runs beside
a river churned up like foamy coffee.
Two silent boys
over from Ireland for the shearing
cross a damp field
towards the huddled flock.
Caitlin marvels at the arched cobbled courtyard.
Our children acclimatise to quietness.
RIMBAUD IN LONDON
He enters a world of black and grey and smoke.
Houses back to back, pressed so close
smoke squeezes out. Huge railway viaducts
cross acres of blackened backyard scrub.
Little girls with faces like old women
dance to the hurdy-gurdy man
through labyrinths of redbrick.
Earcurlered Jews keep pawnshops open late at night.
Kabbala in the back room. Cryptic little beasts
crouch in rondels sprouting from the Tree of Life.
Ballet of crime. Switchblade jugglers lurk up alleys.
Agile simian pickpockets report back to their masters.
In warehouse attics, chattering old men
commandeer a grimy empire of deceit.
The Thames becomes the River Styx
but he finds an escape, sweeter
than opium in Limehouse
or boys in Soho — the Underground:
echoes from districts away, the hot sweet smell
and the face of a girl
across the trembling carriage
- secure in her furry collar,
surprised to half-amused attention,
cheeks burning to rose like a child's splashed watercolour.
He follows her home, watches her go
into a world of stuffed owls and wax fruit
in the comforting curve of gaslight glow.
He stands on the leafy pavement
as silence gamers like mist,
feels unacknowledged longings rise and twist
into desire to negotiate
a legal kiss,
then love and protect,
velvet curtain her from harm. Embrace
a reality forgotten since those tangled explorations in the soft
vibrating hayloft of his mother's greystone farm.
A Victorian park on a white afternoon
(morning’s frost still not lifted).
Not much sign of nineteenth century municipal pride.
The ornate little tea room is closed for Sunday
-chicken wire over shutters
like a liquor store in a ghetto.
Rust forms over No Ball Games Allowed.
Coke cans and burger boxes accumulate
round the scuffed bronze plaque
to the park’s 1850s benefactor.
We find a path through the prickly
Your sister walks ahead, like us
a figure in a winter landscape,
just not so desolate.
Two chubby girls in identical pink tracksuits
jog past us. Neat little breasts
vibrate in perfect symmetry. Momentary distraction
but I have to return
to you and silence.
In a clearing there’s an attempt at a zoo.
Rabbits lose their short memories. Birds of Paradise
suffer exile. We are sucked towards
the main attraction:
a white peacock
beautiful and cruel as the Snow Queen’s
She spreads her fan
and photographs us with her eyes,
looks down arrogant victorious
those eyes sharp and hard as a flint arrowhead, understanding everything.
EDWARD HOPPER’S Nighthawks
He’ll never consummate
that crucial big deal
Her hair is on loan
her stretch marks are real
The soda-jerk waits,
times cigarettes by the hour
but the bells ring softly
from St Martin’s church tower
A FREQUENT CANDIDATE FOR DETENTION
Licensed jester of the Fourth Form lower stream,
always the first
to explain the dirty bits in Romeo and Juliet
Star player of the truancy team, the only boy
to write about Jim Morrison
in an assignment entitled My Hero, not to mention
come in with a dead bat pinned to his lapel
on the anniversary of Aubrey Beardsley’s death.
Once, some high-ranking visiting dinosaur
from Tayside Lubyanka
heard him call me mate
and filed a lengthy and ungrammatical report
On the day I left
my rebel without a clause was enjoying
an improbably extended dose of flu.
Two years later I saw him in the city square
in a glint of Pictish jewelry
on denim and velvet.
He was plaiting his hair,
the girl beside him was tuning her guitar.
“How ya doin’,sir ?”
“Fine thanks, mate,” I said.