In the British Museum

Earlier this year Rosemary and I travelled to the mythical city of London, to meet up with a dozen or so other poets, all inhabitants of Poets' Graves.  The initial meeting (where we exchanged code-words and established our Poetical Power by duelling with variably-rhymed couplets) was set for Friday evening.  So we travelled down on the Friday morning and spent the afternoon in the British Museum.

There is, very nearly, no better way to spend a Friday afternoon.

I try never to judge, especially in poems, so I am attempting here to deliver the whole mixed nature of the experience.  You should get touches of the vastness of time, embarrassment at one's ancestors cultural arrogance, watching other visitors, watching guards, browsing the gift shop, and even standing in awe before the certain exhibits.  I also firmly believe that even with its oddities, failings and unintended humour, the entire enterprise is magnificent and I sincerely hope they continue adding to it for centuries to come.

On a administrative note, let me take this opportunity to drop my blogging frequency to merely fortnightly.  Let there be no rumours that I am running out of poems!  At a quick count there's about 600 lurking in the pile and I'd imagine at least 25% would be bloggable.  It's more a matter of time and not wanting to rush the postings out.

However, enough of that.  Forward into the museum!

In the British Museum 

The Painter of London B76

Named for a water jug
this Athenian black-figure vase-painter
is anonymous.  Nonetheless consistent,
his character and style suggest
unique artistic personality
in five hundred B.C.

The cat statue that can't be seen...

...we did not see.  The gallery is closed
and possibly the King's New Statuette
is not so much to write home about? 

Chinese wheelchair woman asleep in gift shop

Wait here they said, in fluent Mandarin,
we just must see the big Assyrian beards. 

Roman copies of Greek philosophers

Let us fantasize,
that these once formed a popular Roman
philosophy exhibit.  Let's see the faces
behind the ideas, the slave recites,
two hundred times a day, and whips
aside the curtain. 

Please do not touch the objects

Some interpretation is required...

Door handles, toilet seats, mugs and plates
in the café, and books and pens, key rings
and more mugs in the gift shop--
are not "objects"

but Rosetta stones, guards, other visitors,
the fire alarms, Ashurbanipal--
those probably are. 

This object is currently on loan

Please move along calmly, gentle visitor,
the item normally itemized by the label--
neatly printed dates and names and just
enough description to pique your interest
--is not here. 

On knowing and having known...

As a reward
for guarding Room 13 for seven years,
Myra sees perfection.  After directing
a third old lady to the loos, she flexes
feet inside her shoes, and as she turns,
there it is laid casually in a glass case.
She takes a moment and makes
a mental note, that if a visitor
should ever ask after the ineffable,
sublime, or perfect, why?
This is where it is. 

A sky made from geometry

There is a world beyond this, hard
as it may be to understand, in fact
a Universe.  What other planets lie
beyond the sky, and in archaeology departments
across the land, what fervent plans
and star maps trouble minds
more commonly obsessed
with their next TV appearance?

There must be more!  More carvings; more loom weights;
more votive bowls and carved inscriptions,
ritual objects, tablets of all descriptions, knives,
death masks and tomb goods, weapons, bones and stones,
eating utensils, bas relief huntsmen
and local bureaucrat accounts dating
--it is believed--to the Early Consumerist era.

What is the British Museum for,
if not the Universe?

What is the Universe for,
if not the British Museum?


Days spent

A padded rooming house, earlier today...
Since Anger Bob was somewhat concerned with mental health, I was reminded about this one.

It's a bit old again, from 2010 I think, but stands up reasonable well against my current standards.  I might not say "himselves" now-a-days—it feels a bit coy.  (As I recall I hesitated at the time...)  Maybe also there are too many m-dashes.

This uses "hands" as a metaphor for the psychiatric staff.  It was only afterwards I was told that in the US "hands" is jargon for nursing auxiliaries.  I think the poem works well with or without this interpretation, however.

Administrative note: due to circumstances under my control, there will be no blog posting next week.  Talk amongst yourselves for a while.

Days spent

A hemmed head offers no escape
from the deftly padded rooming house—
sentinel cedars hedge it round.

Sometimes, in spite of care, he waxes
too strong for the watching hands—
needle-prick clouds breeding.

And on days too other, riddled
thoughts slam him sideways—
a soft wall to catch—no understanding

even for himselves. And days
spelunking and diving in the grey grains—
these days the hands call "good",

he does not know why. But perfect days,
they do exist, middling days drawn rarely—
everything balanced and in a place—

days playing to the gallery,
improvising on reality, insight,
variations on the theme of sanity—
even the hands applaud.


The Rain in Certain Car Parks (live performance video)

Here's a video of yet another song from my collaboration with Hallam London and one that's going into the pot for consideration for the album we're steadily grinding our way towards.

This was one of the earliest lyrics I wrote for Hallam.  It was the 4th that I completed, but the 3rd that Hallam completed the composition for—we have asynchronous parallel processing.  I am including the lyrics below, so you may be able to detect our style evolving (I can't, I'm too close to it...)

So, anyway, let me transport you to a secluded corner of an inner-city car park, where it is a dark and stormy night...

The Rain in Certain Car-Parks 

I'm standing in some car-park with a case
that I can't open.  I've no plan, it's dark,
and raining and my shoes are leaking slowly
and I know the man I'm meeting: he's a shark.
The clever fish keep clear.  I'll do the deal,
but watch the larger shadows as they flow
between the BMWs.  I'm numb
but there is so much that I owe.

If I can just survive...
if I can just survive...
if I can only live...
through these next moments,
I swear it all will change...

Car-parks, darkness, rain and cases,
silent men with folded faces,
eyes that swivel in their sockets,
metal objects clutched in pockets,
I do this for the wad of green,
the wish that I can fall out clean.

What was it years ago, decisions made,
that brought me to this day without a choice?
But I at least can try a better deal,
a wilder card, a last throw of the dice;
and surely it's my life to gamble with?
I shouldn't meet this man without a soul
around to witness what goes down.  He's here
and nothing now seems under my control...

If I can just survive...
if I can just survive...
if I can only live...
through these next moments,
I swear it all will change...

It's always dark and always raining,
it helps me hide, I'm not complaining.
It's heartbreaking, but it's my trade:
the way my little money's made,
so do the deal and walk away;
I'll live to deal another day.