Numbers station

A Numbers Station is a Cold War artefact.  A weird short-wave radio station that transmits nothing but some distinctive sounds (often low quality music) punctuated by uninterpretable sequences of spoken numbers.

Clearly the whole point is that it won't mean anything, except to the very few lucky people who've been given the key.  It's a cheap and very private way of sending simple messages to Your Man in Halifax.  Nowadays one just emails; via encrypted channels, of course.

None of which stops the numbers stations from having a cult following, a bizarre style of their very own, and hoard of conspiracy theorists who stalk them.

Pulsars are relatively mundane in comparison.  They're neutron stars: single atomic nuclei the size of small industrial cities; the remnants of dead stars that weren't quite large enough to form black holes; spinning spheres with surfaces moving at sizeable fractions of the speed of light; powerful radio beacons "chirping" so precisely they were originally labelled "LGM" for "Little Green Men"—which they aren't, of course.

So nothing to write home about, really.

Numbers station

A song of distant, static-abraded numbers
the mechanism unwindsmonotonic and discrete.
It had an edge once, but not now
so neat as the mind recalls it.  There's a gap...

...around the days she faked, in faking lived
and now has left behind.  Don't think about the boy
and forget the laughter pastedcrudelybetween the mind
and the point, too far to guess, where a neutron star spun...

...down, the definitive direction: empires, cricket balls,
angels tumble from the blue, and in doing so
draw nearer.  The man reached for her once; unknowing,
implored some sweaty comfort for the fall...

...to pass the time, she builds a short-wave radio
from wreckage in the tracking station.
She turns the dial to sample languages; shrapnel
of news and song; the soul of the pulsar chirps...

...for a moment, and a tiny, tinny voice chants:
two, seven, five
two, seven, five
zero, zero, zero.
She grabs the code pad...

...which isn't there.
Something has ended,
she doesn't know what
those days are over.


The man who ate the world

I found another poem that was inspired by David Bowie.  This time directly, as I wrote it while listening to The Man Who Sold the World on repeat play.

As a poem, at the time, I never quite felt that it worked.  It needed something more than I had been able to put into it...

...and so it languished.  Until last week's sad news set me off on an extended session of listening to David, which necessarily included TMWSTW, and that lead me back here: to, re-read this.

And it has a lot going for it.  It needed some tightening, tuning, polishing; and it's not perfect of course.  There's a visible weld down the middle.

However, all-in-all this is as good as it's going to get, and if there is a time for this one, the time is now.

The man who ate the world

He eats.

He eats prawns, brawn, surf and turf
and lawn, and tiny-little handmade hors d'oeuvres
in fistfuls of a dozen.

It is Zen, a total focus, a mathematician's
locus of a point which moves
from plate to mouth. There's nothing else
of which he is aware.

He inhabits his moments with relish
especially in the topological sense: a manifold
whose destiny is to wrap itself round lobsters,
as many plates of fries, seasonal vegetables,
toast-and-pâté arrangements as it possibly can.

Bought his first café at twenty-one
soon angled on owning the pub next door.
The club was an obvious move;
had to take out a mobster or two
to get the hotel OK a whole chain.

Then it made sense to own his suppliers,
and the logistics people were for hire
and then sale.

It's a long walk, from talk of serving scampi
in a small town, to wheeling deals in front of
and behindentire governments
but he got here.

And still he eats:
genocide by chocolate, wonton soup,
coffee liquors, the cheeseboard,
a smorgasbord of goujons
and don't spare the ribs.

This is his way:
conspicuous consumption, the working luncheon,
in places appointed for filling faces, and he's the big man,
the master of this race: the suited, the college recruited,
plutocrats, the freshly commuted; all round and shiny
little parasites, who cling limpet-like
to unreliable accounts at anyone's expense

until today
when one of them mentioned
a small South-American country
that's up for sale.


The Red Planet Blues

Not exactly about David Bowie.  Not exactly not about David Bowie either.

If we've learned anything, it is:
  1. embrace the ambiguity
  2. reach for the future
  3. never stop reinventing yourself.
Iain Banks wrote in Excession of the Zetetic Elench a faction split from The Culture who believe in investigating the Universe by allowing themselves to be actively transformed by the beings and cultures they meet.  The Elencher ideal is that if a member of another advanced civilisation, say The Culture, were to meet a member of the Elench twice, they would have no way of knowing it was the same individual.

Does that sound at all familiar?

OK, enough waffle, on with the poem that isn't about David Bowie.  I must have others that aren't about him either, but this is the one I remembered just now.

The Red Planet Blues

Ziggy played guitar,
     jammin' good with Weird and Gilly...

There are no spiders
on Mars, spinning
in bone-cold canyons
to trap unwary space cadets.
There are no great domed cities, shining
pale in the brave red sunset. There are no get
of Edgar Rice burrows;
no green, six-armed warriors
riding thoats or laying eggs
in odd moments
out there in the rusty desert. No Martians for the chronicler
to document their steady decline
after the Earthmen came.

Earthmen must come.
It is necessary.
Pick up the pickaxe.
Start digging a canal.


Panicking by increments

A sense of despair,
earlier today...

This is a sonnet, and this is a common type of poem for me, where the only inspiration is a certain mood/emotion that I attempt to capture.

Some people may find these particular sorts of moods bleak, but I don't.  I absolutely cannot explain why, but there is a way in which the abstract contemplation of bleakness is not, in itself, bleak.

It's something like: although bleakness is bleak, bleakness is also appropriate to certain situations and so when considering those situations the bleakness isn't crushingly miserable...  it's appropriate.  It's still sad, of course, but a cool, contemplative, melancholy sad that's relatively sweet.

I said I couldn't explain.  Try the poem instead.


Panicking by increments

The clock unchimed; its moment never came.
Coffee, skinning in the mug, and rain breaking
on the window. Hands trace the tablecloth.
Neither with a task and both quite lost, moths
without a flame. No blame attaches, but shame
stains things. She says she's glad he came --
a third lie for the day. She feels his pain.
It should be more. She wants to score, to regain

the initiative, but then he's gone. She
touches her face, hand to cheek, both cold.
Is that allowed? She's older, and there's less skin
upon the bone now. One day there'll be no she,
the bones unaccompanied. If she were bold...
she's not. She dusts. Unwatched, the clock unwinds.