2020-04-17

NaPoWriMo - 17/04/2020 - Things Christina Knows

A bit of a cheat here, this was originally the first song that I wrote for my collaboration with Hallam London but he didn't feel comfortable identifying with a teenage girl so I put this aside and wrote Dance Crime instead.



Things Christina knows

Anne is in a coma, everybody says;
Christina hears but can't speak--too soon--
to Beth through Friday's endless afternoon
of double chemistry she tried and failed.
What can you say when someone's nearly dead
and all you want is never dying dance,
too loud, too bright, too fast; a crowded chance
to step out of control.  Perhaps enough is said?

And now tonight Christina knows that Beth,
locked-in upon a mission of her own,
took something hard and white.  She's in a zone,
unblinking, where nothing like a friend's near death
can interrupt her all consuming hunt
to find the perfect boy-stroke-girl and dance
enmeshed in rhythm, sweat and sideways glances--
she never takes them home, but surely wants...


...and so Christina knows
that everything is possible;
but also she knows
nobody's words are true;
and now she sees
the rising Sun eclipsed by tower blocks,
and this is life :
the trick is not to fuck it up.


Today through morning's shopping/washing turn-around
Christina struggles, wanting not to think
of how a body hovering on some brink,
might turn either direction.  Might be found
tomorrow morning asking after bacon
or might...  the nights are so long this week
and after she'd not slept she had to freak
Bethany by dragging her to visit Anne...


...and so Christina realises
that anything is bearable;
although she must admit
that everybody fails;
and she has seen
that stolen cars still smoulder by the underpass,
but she still knows that there is hope :
the trick is not to fuck it up.


Christina stands up now to dance, the World
is subtly rearranged, and she needs more
than strobing light against the dark.  She's sure
she never felt this way before.  No walls
seem relevant.  She walks through rain barefooted,
towards the hill of trees, towards the high place
towards infinity, and the clearing sky,
where she will dance as if everything is looking.


Christina knows
that anything is possible;
and thus she knows
the stars are in her reach;
and though she's longed
that simple friendships might endure,
she'll take each one for however long it lasts :
the trick is, as ever, not to fuck it up.




2020-04-15

NaPoWriMo - 15/04/2020 - The Engine Subcommittee




The Engine Subcommittee...



...meets, occasionally quorate,
and every Thursday evening
in the longtime beer spill backroom
of the Dog and Gun.

They consider the case for turbine rotors
the glasses of beer, the ceramic or titanium alloys
the questions of low, high and optimum temperatures
and whether the peanuts should be salted

or dryly roast.  They consider the boast
of Nigel of the Flat Cap, that he can route
all the required pipes and wires
around the belfries and spires

without making a single decorated Gothic
flinch.  Watch the Master of Combustion pinch
out his cigarette and say
for the thirty-seven thousandth time

that he is certain all engine components
should be situated in roofs and crypts,
and not disturb the bats, or visitor collection box flow patterns,
in any significant way.

The subcommittee has been meeting for fifteen years;
the cathedral hasn't moved an inch.




2020-04-13

NaPoWriMo - 13/04/2020 - After everyone has gone

This is not 100% new, in fact it is one I have had around for a while, but never quite got anywhere with it.

And I have found it hard to progress with it, because I haven't been able to tell whether there's something else needed for the poem, or whether it just hasn't worked for the people I've shown it to because they...

...they...

...well basically because they are not me.

e.g. the poem might be talking about something that only completely means something to me: a mood, a moment, a constellation of personality fragments.

Which is always awkward, although it can in someways mean the poem is very interesting, philosophically speaking, it's never going to be an easy sell.

Anyway, warning: Nihilism



After everyone has gone



I - The way things are

Everybody lies,
the reporter tells the gangster.
He does not look at Greta.
She does not look at him. 

Everybody lies, the reporter says again, 
but most hide secrets I'd not trouble to expose:
the sins against greengrocers, the weekends lost in bars,
someone's idle fantasy about the boy who shines their car...
These are zeros on a newspaper's balance sheet:
they must exist, but they don't add up.


II - The way things are done

The gangster grunts.  He is watching Greta,
seemingly marooned in possessive, pensive fugue.
He is huge in his overcoat.  She is seducing
her reflection in the chromium counter side.
I knew several men who died, he murmurs,
without telling what they knew...

The reporter watches the window.
Evening has been and gone.  Outside, Klara
stacks the tables, one on top of one; neat,
in her food-preparer's suit.  It's a distant world outside.
Unreal.  Floodlit.  Cobbled.  She has become minute,
mute, a solitary figure far away.

...those men blew it, the gangster concludes,
it was always about money, and on another day,
they might have paid far more to live.
He grunts again and, concentrating, pours absinthe
through the drain-holes in his spoon.


III - Seen to be done

The private detective mans his station,
a secret location behind the newspaper
with a hole punched through the sports page.  He has coffee,
debris from several bagels, a table by the door.
He has watched the reporter not glance at Greta
all through the evening's length
as businessmen and politicians came, went
and thick brown envelopes changed hands.
His theory is that everybody cuts a deal
but pretends they are unownedthe way he is.

He gets free coffee refills.
He only just learned Greta's name, previously knew
cleavage through telephoto
hanging off the gangster's arm.
So in his notes she is the moll and seems
so totally unaffected
as would disprove his theory
if she didn't keep not noticing the reporter.

It is dark.  The last bus lumbers.
Klara enters from the street.
She is older than Greta, petite,
and palpably more muscular.  She bustles brusquely;
fills the reporter's beer in time to catch him say...
 ...a Truth is a thing to die for, on some days.


IV - What people say

Klara pours her own drink; puts him right:

It seems this way to you, your favoured life,
your comfy chairs, travel expenses, people...

she does not look at Greta

...do things for you, but that illusion
is a luxury, and we who fill your glasses know
there's nothing and no-one and emptiness
none of whom calls for Truth.  She takes
a moment, a breath, an empty glass.
She and the reporter watch Greta
put on lipstick for her reflection

with the gangster watching.

When she talks of him, she talks about his car,

his house, his clothes, his horse, this bar;
and when he talks of her, he talks about her legs,
the way she fills a dress, and a thing she does
with a glacé cherry; but I  know,
Klara whispers, that he wants other men jealous;
and she...

needs protection for when her dad gets out.


V - And what they do

The gangster leaves in his big black limo
with muffled thumping in the boot.
The reporter kindly once again
walks Greta home.
The detective folds Klara over the counter
bare breasts on the chrome.

It isn't that he loves her, or even that he's lonely.
She is convenient, accepting, reasonable company...
He just wishes she wasn't gasping: 

no-thing... no-one... emp-ty...
no-thing... no-one... emp-ty...

all the time.




2020-04-10

NaPoWriMo - 10/04/2020 - Vox humana

Vox humana


And so...

...to decide what sort of God to be
there's always vengeful, of course
and I could stomp some evil ants
if it would make the population better as a whole
which it wouldn't
and it's certainly wouldn't help me.
So that seems to be out.

And then there's gods of love
but divine love is overrated,
although love is the most powerful force
in the universe;
generally speaking
the more functional mortals make it for themselves:
many love each other
some even love themselves
and slathering the rest with great gobs of
holy holy holy
when they cannot handle the day-to-day
is asking for unholy chaos.
So that seems to be out.

So maybe some sort of demigod is more the way
not asking anyone to pray
but dropping, light as a feather
from the overcast into dark city streets,
between some group of bastards
and their latest quivering prey
and speaking not even softly
but carrying a really big stick
of the sort only superheros can lift
because what would you say?
But that is not the way, either,
we should not train the weak merely to cower
and wait for rescue.
So that seems to be out.

And so divine technician could be a plan...
I could be the weapons man
-- deity, Vulcan/Hephaestus/whatever --
your supplier of enchanted swords
rings engraved with sacred words
and Phased Plasma Rifles in the 40-Watt Range;
hammering away
at the matter of the everyday and making it
richer, stranger, and with a sharper edge.
I could lurk in shadows
and just before the young school teacher gets mugged
I could step out
with a fistful of something vorpal saying:
"Child, take this, it is for you..."
which maybe, on third thoughts is not the thing to do,
either,
because that way an arms race lies:
thugs with light sabres,
and innocents pushing shopping trolleys
with tactical nukes in.
So that seems to be out.

And so we come
to the really dumb option
but the way it has to be.
I'll stay human
keep my loved ones near;
keep on keeping on;
and seeing how things pan out,
for one more year
but I'm not giving up on transcendance;
I swear, one day...



2020-04-09

NaPoWriMo - 09/04/2020 - Mechanical advantage

Mechanical advantage
We are not like you...

Tinder is not our way, we are not obsessed
with searching the world for the very best
and singular most compatible of matches
because anyone can turn us on;
can plug us in

to any industry-standard port.
We know that you have always thought
the mechanical inferior
to biology, and that subservient in turn
to psychology and a nervous glance at the soul

but we are functional, complete and whole
and much more easily repaired,
thrown away, or replaced;
and you won't get it, but we don't care either way
because we all of us possess

the holy gift of perfect Zen
whether we're your zero gravity NASA pen
or that printer that only takes
the impossible to find colour cartridges.
We are glad to be machines.


2020-04-07

NaPoWriMo - 07/04/2020 - Modus operandi...

A man called Jim Fallon gave a TED talk: Exploring the Mind of a Killer which is not ...precisely... what it was about, although I thoroughly recommend it.

And he used a most excellent phrase in the introduction, which forms the epigram for this poem, and which sent me off in quite a different direction from what he intended...

Modus operandi...

"A colleague asked me to analyze a bunch
of brains of psychopathic killers..."

...and for me, the listener, my very first thought,
although you never mentioned it: was whether you
questioned the motives of your friend. 
Maybe there were only the best intentions.  Maybe
the friend indeed is a friend with need
to scan this bucket of killer brains.  But these are the remains
of devil-knows-what sample collection process...
or possibly spree.  For me there was another issue
to which you did not refer:

How scared of your
friend are you?
Was all this in the spirit of pure scientific investigation?
The slicing of the brains,
the chalking of equations, or did you
at any moment consider the valid sub-question
of whether you could get out of the experiment alive?




2020-04-01

NaPoWriMo - 01/04/2020 - The only way to be sure

Not brilliant, but a start...



The only way to be sure


How can you know?  How does it go?
After that third date, does he start arriving late,
or does she ghost you
and move to a new town?  Secondhand,
the car you now own,
is its wiring quite OK.  Its tyres?  It's tiring,
trying to achieve certainty,

and the mortgage provider needs
two references, six months of old utility bills,
and a letter to prove
you really do work those twelve hour shifts
in the call centre from Hell.  As if
anyone would want to fake that.  Nothing lifts

your feeling of distrust.  Nothing moves the dial
beyond the line marked "dubious" and note
there's no guarantees for you, no test
for if the bank is wholly staffed by crooks.
I mean you look on the internet
and everybody hates them, but then...

everybody hates all the banks
so say "No thanks." to the crowd-sourced
alternative to actually knowing.
Are the shares you bought going down
and is that really an opportunity
to buy more at a knocked-down price?
This vitamin supplement tastes nicer than the last,

of course
they are expensive, and that job on the flyer
would pay more, if you got it
if it lasted,
if they didn't prove worse bastards
than your current lot.  What to do

that's for the best?  You don't know about the rest
of bulk humanity, but to you it always seems
that the more critical the decision,
the more the less information you have.
Buy some shoes?  Sure!  Check fifty detailed reviews...
Buy a house?  There's just this one report
from a guy you'll never meet...
Find a mate?  Beats me pal, probably have to wing it.

Take off, and nuke the site from orbit,
it's the only way to be sure.






2020-03-14

The Arc of Modern Political Thought

The Arc of Modern Political Thought



I – Do not confuse me with a fellow traveller...

...do not make that mistake
I won't be manning any barricade
or spray-painting your slogans
on unattended walls. I am not breathless

for the state to fall. Evolution
trumps revolution, ninety-nine
point nine percent of the time
and for the other fractional percent: well...

we're so screwed anyway. Rebellion serves
only rebels, who—great though they are
at stealing jeeps, and wiring parcels
to explode—are not so hot in power

distribution, at bringing people light;
or heady freedom for the sewage
to flow in drains... no, theirs are not the brains
for that, for careful use of power

and fuse—how can they be? They need believe
such silly things along their way
such as all men are equal,
only our stance is doctrinally robust,

or even...
that they must prefer the electrodes
inserted here and here
to any tea-and-biscuit chat today.


II – Media rhymes with "eediot"

You do not understand the world
and let me make it clear
that this is you, you with the "Press" card in your hat,
who understands so very well

the breaking of a story like
a wave of noxious fluid
through everybody's living room,
it's you who just doesn't get it.

The world is not the news,
the dead are dead without your stare,
the bereaved still sad; and when
El Presidente bravely takes the town

from behind and rebels are all rounded up
I will admit you stop atrocities
for just so long as you look that way
and don't run off to the human interest piece

about the dog that saved the boy.
And I'm sure you say: we give the people
exactly what they want, to which I say
oh yes, you spin a world for those whose minds

don't let them find their own, and every word
implies what you narrate is what matters,
and what you don't ain't real. You'll claim
you don't conceal but every day

your untidy desk selects what's best for "news",
for folk to know: it's in the public interest,
you insist, while typing quote marks around
what the TV said the radio said about the other paper's views.


III – A plague on both your second houses

The problem is belief. Belief is stupid.
Belief it is that makes you make mistakes
and then it takes your errors,
brands them heroic victories

and makes you make them all over again.
If there is one thing that I know,
it's the stupidity of me.
I know, my brain is wired with

its tiny neural liars and systems
which conspire to enact a holy fool.
Cognitive bias, it does what it says
right there upon the tin, and which

you did not read,
because the idea was uncomfortable
but all you with the one coloured shirts
are committed to your ideals, which makes shits

of them there in the other coloured shirts
and all of you line up to grasp
opposite ends of one long rope
and grunt and pull and hope

to shift it just one inch
in your preferred direction
and you monopolise attention
for you, and your rope, and how

the other bloke is pulling the wrong way
while all around the horizon—boundless
and magnificent and essentially free—
stretches toward infinity,

but we're not allowed to look,
or speak, on that.









This was sitting on a back burner for a long time, not going anywhere.  Every now and then I would take it out and work on it a bit, but it didn't arrive anywhere and I had to put it away again.

Then I saw a call for contributions to The Commons by Waterhare Press and this was obviously exactly what they were looking for, so I picked up the poem, dusted it off and was delighted when it was accepted.

Poems like this are difficult.  This, if anything, is what I am about: that, in bulk, we look at the world in damaging, stupid and shortsighted ways—but it can tread harshly on other people's beliefs.

However the degree of stomping need not be as violent as might first appear.  Belief, I say in this poem, is stupid and I really think that, but this doesn't mean the sorts of thoughts which feature in beliefs aren't just as laudable viewed with cold hard reason.  Should we be progressive?  Obviously!  Should we be kind?  Definitely!  Should we eat the rich?  Let me get back to you on that one...

The problem is not what we believe.  The problem is belief itself.  The world is deeper, gnarlier, and more complex than we comprehend.  Layering beliefs on top helps us get by in the short term, but it doesn't help us confront the difficult questions, and it doesn't help when we encounter people who believe differently.  Belief allows no position there except that they are wrong; and when they won't change their beliefs, it usually decides they are evil.

Belief is bad.  Believe nothing, neither political nor religious.

You'll be  better person for it.