And when her bitter screeching filled the house, as it frequently did,
The boy went to the front room, always dim, the blinds down to protect
Carpet, curtains and suite, and on the plum velvet armchair he’d sit,
By the mantelpiece brass clock that never worked, the lacquered screen
Hiding an empty grate and, next to his feet, the companion set – poker
That never poked, sleek brush that never brushed ... and would that
Burnished shovel ever deign to lift dirt? But in any case the fire
Was never lit, the room rarely visited ... though occasionally a rumble
On the distant street drew from the glass crystal locked in the cabinet
A brief keening note. Back again to the upright piano his eyes.
Such sonatas of silence on hidden keys! Duets even ... light
Forever stealing in to play along the polished lid in knowing gleams.


Loathing lackey moths, blundering shield bugs,
Attention-seeking butterflies, ladybirds, wasps,
I lie still in still water, know what I need
And how to take it efficiently, almost invisibly.
Only an empty thing needs to be seen.

For instance this loud barbecueing buffoon
Who first builds a water effect for my home
Then emerges in flip-flops and shorts
To offer – at my feeding time – his bare flesh
(Remind me to laugh when I’ve laid eggs).

Crepuscule is my hour. In the magical dim
I’m an atom of twilight, a warp in the air.
Even so I wait till he sits with his glass
Then come in low and go for calf (stealth
And precision – the smart shield and sword).

Locking onto his heat like a missile, I land
On a space craft’s deft legs to perform keyhole
Surgery, slitting the skin with twin stylets
That vibrate like motorized carving-knife blades.
In slides the fascicle … seeking arterioles.

Each strike a gusher - my juices inhibit his
Bleeding inhibitor. A flow so torrential that
After the rocket technology, surgical probing
And bio-war black arts I put to shame beer guts
By drinking three times my own weight.

The blood of fools is rich and sweet,
Intoxicating. Altar wine! Ruby port!
Only adepts of excellence approach
The sublime. But even this ebriety
Disciplined - ninety seconds in and out.

Then the dark to digest this new wealth,
Draw what’s needed to make cunning eggs
That can wait through a decade of drought
For a fertile fetid hour to strike. Oh yes
I walk on water … navigate by the moon,

Mate in mid-air at fifty feet up
And ruminate in rank pools
- But always after digestion diversion.
This evening an exquisite sunset.
I turn you my ass and shit pink.


after Francis Ponge

Stalwart the long body, head hard and full
- Yet it’s happy to lie in dark rows
Till the silk robes of flame give it soul.
Of course only the head can catch fire

But it needs a strong body to bear up the head
(Worthless the limp matches free from hotels)
And the contact location and style must be right
For the fruitful surprise attack, brusque, swift (a strike).

Harsh reality rasp … then a crackle and fizz
When, as though by a conjuration … sorcerer’s art
(A suggestion of Lucifer in the sulphurous whiff),
The small neat head explodes in a halo of fire.

Though the flame’s often tentative after this flare
As if too shy to dare … lying low … guttering.
Then it catches on, bending and billowing, leaning out far
(Like the sails of a clipper exulting in wind)

Mad with joy that a uniform head,
Dark and dull, could develop
Such marvels - a pulsing blue core
And an undulating yellow and gold aureole.

Now at last it’s relaxed, getting into the swing,
Strong, fulfilled, knowing how it should live
- When all of a sudden it runs out of wood,
The succulent white fuel entirely consumed.

And the worst not that this exaltation should cease
But that what’s left is such a disgrace
- Brittle, ravaged and unrecognisable,
Bent as an old crone and black as a priest.


The madrileño waiters are stocky and small
But their ginebras con tonica are slender and tall
And delivered with splendid abandon, the bottle
Not only upended but pumped down as well
(With the free hand usually balancing a full tray of drinks)
So the gin cascades over stacked ice … welcome sight …
For it’s crowded and noisy and smelly and hot
Where five of the seven ages of man share the same small bar
And all drink and snack, smoke, talk at once and throw
Oil-sodden serviettes, olive stones, toothpicks and butts
On the floor. Next to tattoos and tee shirts
Are old men with fancy canes, women with fans.
Even those with no teeth are dressed up to the nines.
Nor do years cow the middle-aged pair who now fierily kiss
And squeeze each other’s behinds - she an overweight Carmen
With lime-green stretch pants and long badly-dyed hair,
He a little bald man in a cream suit, pink shirt and tie,
Black patent shoes. Short and fat - but a peacock - he pirouettes,
Snaps out his cuffs, holds aloft like a matador’s sword his cigar
… Then resumes feeling Carmen’s bum. Suddenly song!
Not a record or drunk. A song bird. But where? Where?
Out across from the door, above the balcony
Cradling a bicycle and the next with an upside-down sink,
Someone’s put out a caged bird which lustily sings,
Its bright thrown-back head leading the eye up and up
Many floors further up to the final surprise
- Leaning out from the tenement roof at its corner,
A shanty of tarred boards beside the full moon.


‘Are my students more dim-witted, ill-mannered, lazy, unimaginative
And demanding?’ I asked an old colleague once. ‘Or am I just more
Intolerant and dismissive?’ The bastard guffawed. ‘Why not both?’

Well, if they put me back on interviewing would I ever employ myself?
Praying, en route to groups larger and noisier: O deliver not the soul
Of thy turtle dove unto the multitude of the wicked … but to early retirement.

Then this evening’s BA Tourism & Leisure, with muslim girls mostly,
Was quiet, attentive, even sweet. Their contributions started and ended
With giggles but were sharp in between. And they seemed to have faith

In me ... to think I knew everything ... to imagine I was dedicated ...
I ... who believe in nothing, know nothing, care about next to nothing
(When did I stop remembering students’ names? I forget.)

Bent in the easeful dusk, dark hijab-ed heads. I thought of Scheherazade,
The tireless performer, of the thousand and one nights of making it new
And of surfeit … boredom ... fabulous creatures … belief ...

So then wheelie bins harbouring demonic djins, genie wisps escaping vents
On backs of hotels, those strange but peacable monsters the cleaning machines,
Humming, ruminant, scholarly, probing all over with scrupulous brushes

And the bright wayside shrines of the city - the illuminated phone booths
Lined with cards – Storm in a D Cup ... Tie ’n’ Tease (Hotel Visits)
... Tanned Gorgeous Pre-Op Transsexual – Big Package & Tits.


Light the night wind, soft the rain. Astir the garden’s ancient trees.
Through the dark house a soughing and creaking … secrets craving release …
But the double curtains of the innermost chambers hang deep, heavy locks bar the doors.
Turning, thrashing … moans … cries … jewelled quilts cast aside.
The lady lacking husband and children grows old, sorely bound.
Paired in the game tonight, guessed what our ingenuous rivals planned.
Locked eyes, triumphant. Profound meanings. Deeply read.
The spring wine warm within us as the candle flame shivered.
But no message sent. What is true? Even the immutable Heavens renege
And the seventh night of seven mocks the Herdboy star.
Ache to go there – dare not. Need to sleep – but cannot. Already sounds the fifth watch.
The night goes. I, Li Shang-Yin, renowned for limpid thought and prose,
Would gladly study sorcery to stay bitter day and the barbarous years
But that Chang O has stolen the immortal herb and fled to the moon,
There to rival your beauty – but never surpass it. The first direct look
Made me lost and afraid, immediately an outcast of the universe for eternity.
Come to me in the redolent murmurous night. A step, a creaking door,
A swish of silk, a fall of hair, a scent, a breath, a look … a touch.
The turned-down lamp … the loosened robe … the shudder of terror and ecstasy fused.
The bodies fused. For ever difficult to meet – and still more difficult to part.
Come to me now. We are no longer young. As deep as Three Gorges
The grooves in my cheeks, as bleak as T’ai-po’s crag my brow.
Only in dream is the brush of many colours ours to paint petals back on the bough.
By the table set with red pomegranate wine I talk to a presence, an absence … air.
As in the beginning, my life a trance. Ever and ever. Now as then.
Cries fail to summon, prayers rise to no Heaven. Hour of flame, years of ash.
Only grey dawn will come. When he drives out in thunder – but no words.
I to office in official robes and solemn frown, the vagrant clouds more fit to rule,
The windblown weeds with more resolve. How day, role, chore, vexatious life
When the terrible lucidity of desolation sees beyond space and time?
It is far to the Hill of the Immortals, Prince Liu sighed. Not so for some.
Past that again, in range on range, ten thousand jagged mountains rise.


In the courtyard the students mill, noisy, excitable, migratory birds,
Leaving soon for the sunny lands
Of universal entitlement where failure is obsolete and everyone,
With just a little effort, succeeds.
Bon voyage! I’m off too – but the other way, to Cold Mountain.
No more exhausting disputes over
Grades. When even A’s demand more, imagine dealing with fails.
(Only time always passes, I sigh.)

Oh they aren’t all deluded. I shouldn’t make fun. And old men
With weak eyes and weaker faith
Fail to see the blithe world renewing herself. From the north
Of the barbarians come the civilised
- Magdalena, Katarzyna, Boguslawa, Teodozja, Beatrycze,
Shaming the slothful with diligence,
The boorish with graciousness, the dull with illumination
And the cynical with hope.

Magdalena, to be young again and love you as you surely deserve!
But young men are ungrateful boors.
I was one once myself (and, the slowest of slow students, learning
To love took me forty five years.)
Shine, my radiant redeemers! We are soon forgotten, sooner still
Replaced. Oh you’ll be missed,
Colleagues bleat. As much as I’ll miss you, I want to hoot
(Though I will miss free stationery).

Twenty four years! My last lecture - seize every opportunity
To reject opportunity and gaze,
Reflect, ruminate. Only in idleness are we properly active,
Only in reverie truly awake.
Such sublime moments fathoming heaven and earth,
The journeying, troubled clouds
And men … and now, en route to second childhood,
I’m a student myself again.

Except mad to get at my set texts. I want to reread every book
I own, arise at dawn into stern
Silence that asks: Are you one of those needing noise? Or one
Who exults in this? ‘No! Yes!’
… And the daily grind soon not dull minds but bright beans.
No more the weak bilge of work
But strong, bitter, black, foam crema … champagne of morning.
Make bitter black truth aerate your life.

Look to tomorrow’s goat skull on a mountainside so today
Is warm flesh in the gardens of paradise.
As I said to my Systems Design seminar: The time box
Must be short to stop functional drift.
Youth that has everything is always the ingrate and age
That has nothing the thanksgiver.
In the taking away the unlikely replenishing. Finitude
Is beatitude. The going is good.