Sleep is for the weak.
I collected the reasons against it, which were in every body’s mouth. I marked them down, with, I think, some additions. (You may or may not remember.)
I feign now pleasure—sleep in splendour—notwithstanding
the sadness of the subject.
(Please read the letter.)
A fool could read the signs.
January long light
Janus I see you
God of locks and doorways
two-faced looking in Capricorn
Capricious like the snowy owl
We fear heavy body collisions
January time of doors
time looking back on itself
God of gates
spelt and salt
They say when you
walk through a door
you can forget what
you came for
he played injun in gods country
where boys proved themselves clean
dumb beasts who could cut fire
out of the whitest1 sand
he played english across the trail
where girls turned plum wild
garlic and strained words
through the window of night
he spoke through numb lips and
Time took your love – now time will take its time.
‘Move on’, you hear, but to what howling emptiness?
The kinder place is closest to your dead
where you lounge in confident no-motion, no thought
of budging. Constant in analytic sorrow, you abide.
It even makes you happy when you’re feeling blue.
Jump up, jump back. Flail on the spot.
I can disprove this ‘moving on’ nostrum.
Do the loco-motion in my living room.
This poem contains brief excerpts from the lyrics to ‘The Loco-Motion’, words and music by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, originally performed by Eva Boyd as Little Eva.
I who can blink
to break the spell of daylight
and what a sliding screen between worlds
is a blink
I who can hear the last three seconds in my head
but the present is beyond me
in this tiny moment of reflexion
I want to work out what it’s like to descend
out of the dawn’s mind
and find a leaf and fasten the known to the unknown
with a liquid cufflink
and then unfasten
to be brief
to be almost actual
oh pristine example
of claiming a place on the earth
only to cancel
Write, write, never stop. Tonight and all the nights to come. When I am at last face to face with myself. And must take stock. No more uniform. No longer distractedly pacing a measured area for the regulation exercise period. No more obeying wretched orders. My number still on the other side of the door. When I am done with drinking, eating, urinating, defecating. Done with talking, with calling things by their worn-out names. I light endless cigarettes whose smoke emerges from my lungs in broken chains, bitter swirls of rejection. Prison night has gobbled up the artificial light of the day. Ragged stars populate the vault of my visions.
When I stop, my voice begins to sound very peculiar. As though unknown notes were clinging to its cords, driven by strange storms from all those zones where life and death watch and spy on one another, two oddly hued wild animals, each crouched ready to spring, ready to slash and destroy the other’s essential nature.
I can live now only by wrenching myself away from myself, by wrenching away from myself my points of rupture and suture, those places where I most acutely feel splits and junctures, where I cut myself into pieces so as to return to life in unfathomable elsewheres: earth, roots, trees of intensity, granular effervescene under the sun.
Is that MY black dog-
with telltale compost on his nose?
Blade of grass, squash of persimmon,
some leggy insect on his forehead
next to the growth? Is that MY
red truck speeding up the vineyard’s
central avenue, porta potty
bumping along behind, toilet paper
unfurling behind in celebratory loops?
Some similes act like heat shields for re-entry
to reality: a tramp in flames on the floor.
We can say Flame on! to invoke the Human Torch
from the Fantastic Four. We can switch to art
and imagine Dali at this latitude
doing CCTV surrealism.
We could compare him to a protest monk
sat up the way he is. We could force the lock
of memory: at the crematorium
my uncle said the burning bodies rose
like Draculas from their boxes.
But his layers
burn brightly, and the salts locked in his hems
give off the colours of a Roman candle,
and the smell is like a foot-and-mouth pyre
in the middle of the city he was born in,
and the bin bags melt and fuse him to the pavement
and a pool forms like the way he wet himself
sat on the school floor forty years before,
and then the hand goes up. The hand goes up.
For Lucy McDiarmid
I have been thinking about the music for my funeral –
Liszt’s transcription of that Schumann song, for instance,
‘Dedication’ – inwardness meets the poetry of excess –
When you lead me out of your apartment to demonstrate
In the Halloween-decorated lobby the perfect acoustic
Of the stairwell, and stand among pumpkins, cobwebby
Skulls, dancing skeletons, and blow kisses at the ceiling,
Whistling Great War numbers – ‘Over There’, ‘It’s a Long,
Long Way’, ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ (the refrain) –
As though for my father who could also whistle them,
Trench memories, your eyes closed, your head tilted back,
Your cheeks filling up with air and melody and laughter.
I hold the banister. I touch your arm. Listen, Lucy,
There are songbirds circling high up in the stairwell.
The book that says the President is a friend of trees is a book of lies! The President should read the one about the little mouse that drove a car and got his girlfriend pregnant and they had to fly a rubberband-powered airplane over a stack of newspapers. Not a tree in sight. Not a tree in the whole book. Another book that he might pick up casually could strip the veil of illusion from his eyes: pretty women, the unpleasant foot odors of. But that is only what it appears to be about. It is a book about how to have a big piece missing from your head and live.