My arrival on planet Earth began with
an inconsolable open mouth
which shut silent in swallowing
now exhausted, addicted
I take the long, slow exit
from your planet dipped at the axis.
to become part of any realm you consume their food
tonight prepared with much affection, fattening and hot
dumplings, spiced tuberous vegetables, garlic,
sour cream, smoked paprika and pumpkin
on my bed a nude and perpetual stasis; eyes down eyeballing my
Bermuda – the jutting hips and pubic bone
where earth men lost their way
the arch between convex
insides scooped out
thoughts dissipate and rise to the ceiling
with the damp
and gazing back at the body on the bed
with paranormal potency
riddle together sleepless while the ink warps
we stare at each other, those thoughts and I
now and then and later
until a sound then/now, here again and
further present a sound almost 9000 days after my first meal on Earth
an extinguishing breath.
I stay a second longer with
his hand on my clavicle
Rib rattle plastic box.
And over bones
a calloused thumb is pressed wrongwaywards on a pin, pain kept comfortable on translucent epidermis. Starting every time with the want to –
every time –
to stop before that time that was the start the first.
A dawny buttery ritual with its tea or coffee (neatlyplease)
on hardboiled ceramic white
or stoic. As though in accordance with the darker longer hour before.
A private protest logged only
in same-old drooping eyes and intestinal moan.
A life strewn across cabinet in tablets bandages creams powders drips pills pipettes
and duh duh
duh damnable biology. Orange pill crowning microgestin tinfoil,
there the sweetness.
Nogra Arikha, historian of ideas, worries about the prospect of collective amnesia. It is said. And broken out of ohso appealing loop of malignant time paradoxes (some days self pity is speculative fiction), a sulking one lifts its skulking brow. The way it thinks,
is far too persistent and ugly. The way it thinks, it thinks,
might be better left be.
Just one implicit tear would be enough. Token thoughtless sorrow ringing from thoughtful mind;
became an island; and cruelly forgot – such thoughts are bitter (pump adrenaline) on a guilty tongue.
It draws its skulking scowl. An involuntary sight
by night, riddled with wet coils from worms, of worms.
A hagstone skimmed then sunk with bubbling weight on its brine.
The water claws about everything and sometimes makes a hole.
All poetry eventually leads to the sea. As does breakfast.
I found Cissy wrapped up in a grubby paisley throw upon the riverside where I knew it was her before unrolling from all that matted red hair out the top it was luminous and partdreaded but perhaps would coil if brushed it lay on the dusty sunroasted asphalt clean somehow protruding bodiless from the O opening of greenblue weave I knew it was her before I rolled her and the face was when it came pale and unfamiliar though fitting and the sight of my own sore hands on and rolling out the bluegreen cloth awoke me in some sense of myself as the centre of a tableau I was my own audience to and so she was unwound at the riverside which suggested drowning but her lips pink and dry and asking for I’m sure everything she eventually got as I thought cruelly my becoming aware of her discovery at all before here in venom though lucid I am paralysed I am always paralysed for a moment upon revelation just as on waking the exception being so distinct from the rule I leap out of bed sometimes my chest throbbing onto the river bed perhaps lay her to rest either in before or since the rescue which itself was staged by someone else her counterpart my carer though a creation as much as any old thing I can think before I see but her is and that unrolling body tumbles about the bleengrue teardrops the wrists leaping over each other and clatter on her thin bones her body unfolded itself to me as she unfolded herself at my push a mile or two from gruebleen sea where she could have gone to drown it was not me for though I have the face in mind and the face was hers I had never seen it once before for as they say the brain will not conjure faces of its own accord but can so make ex nihilo the sensation of familiarity that old measure of being what well we miss when pointedly in our present when déjà vu strikes stronger than any fixed memory the brush creaking through her knotted hair musksmell of synthetic bristles head bobbing back as though on a spring the wrists again now the wrists clattering over a broken neck almost bruiseless and quite peaceful my own hands in my peripheral growing numbish as I take the formality of her pulse two hunks of meat pressing into each other as the breeze dies down to tepid stillness like any sealed room the mouth lolling open in the dead air as my own breath tugs at diaphragm spasmodic I reverse the riverflow and drift backwards into my own blackness to see first the beginning.
The feet had to go first. Or perhaps the anus, so she could exit this world by the way she entered it: embryonic, gut first. Didn’t matter which, she told him – she was a breech birth. He had forgotten their penknife, ‘ just a zippo and some keys’, he told her fumbling through coat pocket. Giggling now ‘Oh-don’t-you-fuss’ – he would make a fine job of it, she was sure that he would make a fine job of it. ‘Eyeballs can boil, you know’ suggestive. Her nodding, ‘lovely’. She laid out the plastic sheets while he dug around his satchel for the marigolds, blowing each into a bulbous little salute before donning. How he loved her.
That month, crisp
on evening of alarming skies,
some awesome shade (or other).
The iced grass crossroads of King Mab
He did now.
With home gone
he did now spit fire.
He did now juggle that knife;
learned there was no trick to it,
you just did it without dropping the blade,
swallowed the fire and winced
through the blisters. Bubbled
Now he did feel that sharp
pick adrenaline fueling his shudder as he knew
by the way someone stood
that they meant for their next word to be brutal.
Bookspines rebound, latticed, black with it.
When sole of your boots came loose
you taped the mouth closed.
Repossessed jars labelled, white ink on vinyl:
buttons, grain, safety pins.
A violin, the new polished neck marked while
her fingers found their place. And those finger tips
wound up in tape as she played,
preventing the blisters.
she always made a terrible sound.
You marked the floorboards with the parameters of your dance,
perforated black lines.
She attended to the stereo wires
as the music started to crack. Affixed, twisted back in
on themselves; wringing out another year of sound.
It kept her in place
where it held that skin indented
like marzipan –
Your wrist bone pressed into hers, tape looped
in a figure of eight. An infinite.
My hands can reach a range of 17 semitones on a standard piano keyboard. This makes me an awful teacher, especially for children. Mrs Susumu had hired me to teach her daughter mostly as a charitable favour. We’d known each other for a few years now; I’d nursed the family cat more times than I could remember and her gratitude, along with her respect, somehow remained untarnished after the incident which threatened to revoke my licence.
Mrs Susumu had two children. Jeri the rebel, a bright boy given up long ago to a world of mud, k-nex and plastic pistols; then there was Mimi, a reserved, thoughtful child who was dull even for an eight year old. The pay was generous, and our first lesson a success. Mimi had a reasonable ear for a girl her age and already had some idea how to read treble clef. That opening lesson I reserved totally for gauging the girl’s confidence and understanding of the instrument. She knew a few scales and nursery rhymes. I’d guess that she would have done a little better in that initial lesson had she not been so nervous about me, such a large, bedraggled crow, perched next to her. But Mrs Susumu seemed pleased; she rang the next evening and assured me that Mimi was already excited about next week’s lesson.
Six days later Miss Mimi was running from the study bawling, face covered in hot tears and bubbling snot. She didn’t say what was wrong, she didn’t scream for her mother; she just ran wailing, utterly horrified. I stood in the doorway awkwardly. I wanted to comfort her but this shaggy mass of hands and feathers is the last thing she wants near her right now.
I had been taking her through the F major scale. She knew the notes, but kept trying to play it too fast and stumbled every single time. Half way through a particularly broken attempt I reached out for her wrist, indicating that she should pause. As my bony blue fingers touched her skin for the first time I felt an involuntary twitch. Her fingers left the keys and she looked at me. Blank, brown little eyes. So I showed her the scale once more, being sure to demonstrate how the slower rhythm helps the fingers find the correct keys. Mimi doesn’t listen. Mimi looks down at my spindly hands, dislocating and contracting alarmingly as they find every key in the two octave scale. As her face cracked from lip-nibbling discomfort to open, weeping horror I looked down at my own hands; they were almost translucent, and hideously contorted. Like the mutilated hands of a corpse which, with a sigh, I realised was just what they were. I knotted my fingers as I watched Mimi waddle from the room in tears.
I could hardly believe it, but Mrs Susumu wants me to come back. She suggests that we leave a week or two for her daughter to recover, but she wants to keep me in her employ. I’m flattered, but deeply embarrassed. I tell her no. I don’t think Mimi’s going to want to be in the same room as me again. More than ever I long for my own study in Furrington Wood, but plenty of the animals there would be more scared of me than Mimi was. With good reason too, for the most part – but that’s a story for another time.
All the lonely old bastards and freaks join a circus at some point. That would have been close to fact one hundred years ago, maybe even fifty. But today it seems unthinkable – a well educated bird from a clean, prosperous town was destined at one pivotal moment of misjudgement to adopt a gaggle of misanthropes and perverts as his family. For a short time, I am relieved to observe. I have a new job set up for me over in the next county west, but I don’t want to think about that yet. It’s not much more pleasant than my current employment, but I get to live in the one nest and the reek of failure is a little less Victorian in vintage.
I won’t miss many of them for long. It makes a change to be employed somewhere with other animals, but most of them are from more exotic places than I and we don’t have much to talk about. The lions boast tediously, the horses only seem interested in their costumes. Of the humans there were a few memorable characters. Develon the strongman has an acute lack of self esteem which I find endearing. One of the trapeze twins goes out of her way to be kind to me, the one with the slightly longer nose and crooked brow. I can never keep her name separate in my mind from that of her sour sister, her memory will fade quicker than I’d like. Richelle, Nadine, whoever you were; I am sorry. There is one who I feel will stay with me for long time – the unbelievable, the uncanny Garry “The Squawker” Davis. While working the drain on Gale Street as a Constricted Object Retrieval Specialist, I’d received my offer to join this circus from a greasy young lad, whose job I found later to be some strange merge between barker, stable boy and recruitment officer. He introduced me to the ensemble in the canteen as though I were the punch line to a joke they’d all been aching for. Nadine, or Richelle, (the shorter nosed twin) didn’t even bother to hide her giggles when I was introduced.
As laughter subsided I noticed a fellow hunched over his meal at the dining table. A scrawny middle aged man covered in irony grey fuzz, with the tiniest paunch resting on his bone-thin frame like some monstrous pregnant belly. He wore no shirt. His legs were like knotted pipe cleaners, his arms may once have been similar, but they had been separated from his torso a long time ago. Now his shoulders ended in a pair of lopsided grey wings, a little shorter than my own had been. They spasmed and flapped sluggishly. His fork rested between the toes of his left foot.
We became friends, partly because everyone acted as though it had to happen. I juggled, quite badly, but no one in the audience seemed to mind since they’d never seen a crow juggle before. Garry’s act was more sideshow. The wings gave him no talent or even visual intrigue being so grotesque and tiny. It was not enough for poor Garry to stand in the ring in the same way the bearded lady or three armed man could, their very presence giving enough gawp for any audience. Garry had to put on a show, his stage name “The Squawker” was part of a larger act. He pretended to be a simpleton with a country-gothic aesthetic, whose cursed bird appendages had given him a fixation with flight which his hilarious little bird wings only emphasised as futile. He’d lunge about the ring cooing and throwing himself off any structure he could climb arms-free. Part pratfall, part freak, part myth. He was quite popular.
Garry and I never shared a stage. I can’t fly any better than he can with these weighty hands. Besides, Garry never showed any interest in putting an act together ourselves and, despite the prods and hints of the rest of the cast, the Ringmaster seemed ambivalent. Next Thursday I start my new job. I’ll miss Garry, I’m sure of that – but I reckon I’ll be happier if I never see such a sharp and misshapen reminder of my own mistakes ever again. But my own mistake: that’s a story for another time.
There are worse things a bird could come to specialise in. I used to know a magpie who was hired by a fortune teller to stand in front of her stall and mutter ‘one for sorrow’ in the hope of attracting superstitious clients. Ravens are continually rented for gothic weddings, its hard work perching on a woman’s shoulder for hours on end, especially if the dress is silk, which it almost always will be. The whole practise is ostentatious if you ask me; and discriminatory, they would never hire a crow like me. Don’t get me started on canaries, they have a rough deal. The fight is mostly over for the poor fellows now, but it still happens; the cages, the smoke. But that is not to say that things are all bad for us, I knew a white rook who got a major role in a BBC miniseries. Major for a bird, anyway
It could be much worse, but even so, my current job is demeaning. I’m a freelance Constricted Object Retrieval Specialist. It pays alright when there’s work, but it is hard to attract clients when you’re barely ten inches off the ground. What my job boils down to is retrieving objects from nooks and crannies which most human hands are unable to reach. It’s a hard service to pitch, especially when you’re an odd looking bird like me. Not many people are willing to part with their hard earned cash to retrieve debit cards and key rings from the grills along the pavement. And if they are interested, a few of them are put off by the sight of the long, skinny, bluish hands attached to the end of my wings. Sometimes it can work out; I’ve earned plenty before just by hanging around one drain. You only need a few clients to drop their keys and that’s you set for a couple of days. The only problem is that the client will sometimes realise that he or she is seven or eight times my size and can easily stride away while I’m trying to fly after them. I haven’t been able to fly more than a few feet at a time since I had the hands grafted, they weigh the wings down considerably, being made of dense, human bone; on top of that they severely alter the wing’s aerodynamics. It’s humiliating leaping and flapping along like a chicken, I usually just let them get away.
A little boy in dungarees approaches me one afternoon. He’s dropped his toy car down the drain in the park and he only has ten pence on him. I do it for free; I can’t take a kid’s money. I sort of want to, but I can’t. The drain in the playground was filthy, I hardly had to reach down, the car was elevated rotting leaves, animals and worse. There was a cluster of dead slugs almost touching the front wheels; I nearly shed a tear for that. I hand the boy his car and he toddles off shouting “Thanks Handy-bird”. I don’t know whether it’s the informality of his address or the cluster of little slugs, but I feel sentimental. I feel a great longing to return to my nest in Furrington wood, it was my practice, my study. I don’t think that I’ll be able to return for a long while yet. But that’s a story for another time.
Why on earth do you do it?
The mud on the knees and seat of your jeans give you away;
the dirt that lurks under your nails
shamelessly for days following.
I’ve seen you
Do you think you’re some kind of
Digging up flowers and seeds,
some with old roots, deep and tangled into nests
some seeds, barely sprouted, embryonic.
Don’t tell me you’re acting in the name of some
high botanical justice.
I’ve seen those you leave bereft:
Tiny, Mr Phips
tending to chrysanthemums alone
Lindsy, and Helen with her round belly,
who just want one shot at the white picket fence.
This morning I found a baby shrub
leaning against the kitchen door.
It’s leaves pale and waxy,
covered in the delicate blossom of some older tree
like a mould.
You sap stained murderer,
why on earth do you do it?