A Drunken Boat and Other poems



A Drunken Boat



A drunken boat


 My ears full of prose

I ventured up the river

of myself for verse.


Rimbaud's redskins shot

volleys of arrows at me

I was pleased to say.


There's poetry yet,

I thought, as one arrow pierced

me through both ears


and both open eyes.







When I was a child

their enormous sails blustered

in fierce city wind.

They were my mother

in ghostly dress when the wind

tugged at her dark hair.

She flew with the sheets,

skirts flapping and half our clothes

flying off with her


in sheets of laughter.



Night train

The night train stops here,

just at that platform. You will

hear it approaching.

Here the journey starts

into that plump-heart darkness

you will not notice.

You will be dreaming

of the carriage and the lights

in the far distance

that sounds like your heart.





  Long out of cities

he enters like the shadow

of several lives,


one of them his own,

but which? The street map is strange.

He cannot read it.


Once this was knowledge,

now it’s a shot in the dark.

He reads the drainage


and haunts the platforms.





 They were obsolete

right from the start. But later,

reflecting on it,


their obsolescence

seemed to be desirable

so they longed for it.


It was night. The wind

ran through their bones. They rattled

a little, quaintly,


as if uncertain.



                  Riding the Danube


We could ride over the Danube

or sit on the step watching melon-rind drift down the tide

in a summer that is intolerable

while the city is half-asleep or sheltering

near the railway track a long way from the city

which is a long way to whatever music is sung in its tunnels

by the dead who must live there

but rarely appear on the platform

we enter through the doors of the Metro

where the nearest waterfall is an escalator descending 

the other rising in the throat

into the light of midday

where a hot-air balloon is a heart

to a cavity to exhaustion to coffee

to the rococo pastry of the lungs.



One Nation



The place hasn’t changed. Things are in their place.

Things remain exactly what they were: just things.

Home comforts are what we expect of home.


Sunlight hovers on walls, remaining sunlight

even when spread on pavements. Our keel is more or less even.

Our clothes are comfortable simply because they’re our clothes.


Back to front, front to back we go, until we’re back

at the front. We try to preserve a united front.

Here is where we are: our place is always here.



The softness of the place, the pressing into grass.

The warmth when it arrives in forms of grace.


The soft bricks, the earth that crumbles. Rain

that gentles and does not precipitate ruin.


Temperate climes. Our fingers on the pulse

of dinner and bed, the night fumbling for pills.



The poor will get poorer, the rich richer. The wind

of fortune bloweth where it listeth. Justice is blind

and carries a switchblade. We preserve our kind.

Our forces remain alert and disciplined.


We will creep a little closer to the ground.

After today we will face the everyday grind

with less resolution. Things will be defined.

Life will be returned exactly as found.


 They Were Closing Deals


They were closing deals.
They were sleeping and waking.
They were done drinking.

It was difficult.
They were badly out of breath.
They were overweight.

They opened the door.
They ran out into the street
because the street called.

There's nothing to see,
they said, and could see nothing
that would help them see.

They were hanging in
under a star shower. Bright
sparks in the darkness.

It was a bad year
to be stuck outside. It was
all storm and stutter.

It was a long year
to be ending. It was hard
to keep track of it.

It was elegy 
without a subject. It was
simply vanishing.




Occasionally they hear dotage shuffling

up and down the hall, hesitating at the door

and asking in its feeble high-pitched voice

if it is time yet. Is it time? No, it is not,

they answer, straightening their backs.

Move away from the door, we need to use it.

And so it shuffles off, mumbling to itself,

disliking its own caricature gait

and ever less firm grip on irony

while they get on with life and slamming doors.

I see my father with his dotage grin

and watch as his eyes slowly turn to mine.

Get out, dad, I tell him, go now, while you can,

then realise he got out years ago.
I put my slippers on and comb my hair,

pleased to see how dark it is, like his.

There are doors leading to other doors,

they say, forgetting now to close them.


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