A tree so high I never came down

In that whistledown Sunday afternoon
I took a balsa plane my father made
giddy as glue! sleight as bones
rondels filmed as downcast eyes
on each seesaw wing
held loose as tinder
climbed as high
limbs laced between
the crag-barked branches of a light-struck pine
long-tailed birds all fleeing
in the sough and shriek of wind
let it go
with that slingshot fling
as if I came to slay giants (never could)
almost falling
knee fishhooked ‘round
a branch as thin as promises
forearm raked in shallow furrows
a hard kind of thirst
bark against my cheek and brow
hard as callused hands
a stitch, a breath
ribs punched in
waited til
the stars all died
in cloud cast aftermath
gone magnetic resonance blue
street lights, windows flicking on
in a far and moth-warm offering
the plane ink-dark, almost gone 
to a curtailed horizon
made that simple choice
between forever, falling

On This Side Of The Wall

The sun’s a smile

A brindle dog rabbit spurs

The sleep of fields

A swollen exhalation

I stole the green flecks from your eyes

Kept them fluttering and moth warm

Between my close cupped hands

A scratch, a breath

Crooned the ocean sound

Of half-remembered summer

I am still here

You have far to go

We are monsters

Holding hands

In our easy way

The sky almost burning

All epitaphs by glowered sun erased

Too dark, too bright for funerals

Published
Categorized as Poems

By The Shore With Ink & Oranges

You turned the peel in bare hands
Grimaced at
The limonene sting
The universe unfurling
How it imperfectly fell
As if knowing became naked
The embryo inside
Weak as stained glass skin
Theses days they put on chicken wire
To bulwark the shore
For glass houses and negligently cast stones
When glory was a thing
Broken easily in derelictions
As if that were prayer 
But half sideways
The emetus with a life of its own
Written when I thought I died
The sea exhaling all around
That estuarine scour
Of brine and diesel on the page
Screwed it up - threw it away
Read the impressions
As if ink was thin as life – a tide
Below, between machine ruled lines
A few, illegible gouged words
Relentless in their parallelograms
Living in some now alien hand
Tore it out but
Irregardless of how much I erase
It is the welt you left
Littoral in reprise

The War At Easter

The milk tastes off in wartime
Clammy on the tongue 
Even when you are so distant 
You can hardly hear the metal bend
You make galaktoboureko
So thick the shape returns
Wondering why Easter
Falls in archaic calendars 
Each year on new days
As if martyrdom were inexact in its demands
I imagine Medea’s tears
In thick and sweet and distilled stains 
When she learned she ate her young
Time Is a wolf, you say
And in one deft hand
Break another egg

This poem is a war crime

The prisoners have butterflies for mouths

Teeth bared like burnt-out buildings

They say exactly what we want

– without undue coercion 

Just the slightest quaver

Of the jaw and throat

Where stubble hides the muzzled bruises

We lied, we are wrong

We came to drink your blood

These are eyes not camouflage

In haloes on our wings

Here the children have hands of bone

Bandannas over nose and mouth

In the stench they forgot somehow to sing

The sun is bright in vain

Inviolate on the mountainside

The studio has that flicker scent

Of blitzkrieg and cigars

when you are almost halfway up 

Back arched in trapezoid envy

The sky is less steady than it seems

Icarine- the too harsh blue

Of interrupted broadcasts

Looking up, we make new stars

Name them in bravado 

See the smithereens

Cascade in new intaglios

On the surface of the eye

Blink the warmth of tears

Gravity has an equivocal grip

When you are almost halfway down

Knuckles raw as dinosaurs

Feet arched in Quetzalcoatl torsions

Sending hubris, sending love

We will solve this war

Like a misheard refrain

That thick comforting savour 

Of something on the stove

Notes played and played and played again 

Til, despite what we have heard

What we hear is right

What  we  hear  now  has

Eternally been right
——

Sleeping Under Bridges

After the thaw

We gave dogs for the recovery

To gnaw burnt bones

With that slathered drawl

That brooks no interference

With the jut and fragmentary remains

Until all such blasphemies were gone

The numb colour

Of this too thin desecration

We are in the onramp’s hull

You and me, me and him

Earth and concrete carbon black

Cars stretch like the evening sun

Speared across the dregs of tarns

Rumble and are gone

As if a metronome

                                 slowed

                                               and faltered

In distorted syncopations 

Brayed a catastrophe laugh

The smeared window

To another world

Broken when you fell in

Dragged up again

In piecemeal resurrection 

A coin flips from thumb to hand

Rise

As if there was any other choice

Monoxide dreams like rain

Your eyes watch the curtailed dawn

For a distant star

Too late

In them the fishhook sun

Pulls you awake again 

Glory & Proviso

A poet has no nation 

– excepting this

Glory is not your word

The petal shape

Of a child’s anxious brow

The adumbrate pane of self

Sun warm against your arm

Leant in that strangely desert face

Of the sill’s soft craquelure

Lead white and with the dirt

Thick in seam and corner

A mica fleck where one day

(The window left half open)

Something small may grow

Once we are

The long strides of morning

Leaving curbs and fences

In a shadow’s flicker wake

Politics in Wartime

I whistle in rough kin
To a camaraderie of magpies
They return trilled warnings in reply
As if to say you are no one 
That we know, a thief of songs
Pied and clumsy
As any bastard’s fledge
We dispute the global south
With that stalagmite part of speech
You say it depends
On which way you uphold the map
I say words
Are the same in any language
Pulling flames like petals from the edge
One for love, two for hate, and on
Til bare husks are left
Black and hard as any rasp
Cracked, with a little salt
Makes a beggarly repast
You say these things are
Almost the same
I say, halfway home
Smoke coiled between my lips
They are almost different

Between The Known & The Unknown Is The Eye; Photograph As Document, Photograph As Dream

We are all hostages. Start with an image from critic/philosopher John Berger’s 1973 documentary, Ways Of Seeing, which examined the changing construction, consumption and ideologies of art and image. Faceless selves sit behind a suave and sate young man adhered to by two adoring women. This is desire, glamour, prowess. It could be an ad for anything; here it is the power of credit, the pheromone of wealth. It is enticement and also threat. You can be the young man engorged with the latent force of capital, conversely, you could be nameless, faceless, impotent, with no imago at all.

Flip a coin. Here is cult of personality in the fetishised object of desire. The rose and tannin and bergamot, the compelling trace of decay unconsciously activating the basal ganglia. That death stench of ambergris preserved in oils and aromatics. This Is a warning, a threat, an uncompromising invitation. No need to give the year. The design and intent have not changed in a century. Add to it a label; type written on an aged strip of embossed linen paper.

We are captives. This is a ransom note. What it demands is nothing more than complete subservience to the carefully constructed image of the self.

Tear the page. Here is British photographer Richard Avedon’s 1958 portrait of an ageing Gabrielle Chanel. Grown old disgracefully. In that same iconic paint and couture, become a kind of mockery, a clown. The image torn from its prior state of careful cultivation. Become ragged. The locus of sensuality inviting now only that too thick lavender stench. The ambergris rotten. The exposed throat and chin with that wasting and vulnerable aspect of a beached and capsized cetacean. The behemoth picked at by swarming gulls in joysome, childish laughter. One imagines the entire carcass, roped and dragged like Gulliver, craned and submerged, slowly dissolving in the steel vats of some vast industrial process. This is also a ransom note.

Splashed across the grimed walls and monoxide spewing orifices of urban mass transport systems, leaching euphoric aldehydes from glossy magazine pages, are Barbara Kruger’s slogans. The stratagems of advertising are marshalled to a kind of bland political didacticism, posing as art. What is she selling other than the conventions of a mediocre, bourgeois ideology in the grain and bold of disposable newsprint. Tear it up.

In Barbara Graham’s mugshot, we strike almost the same note. But something more. Here is desperation, and fury, and beauty pared back to a few brute strokes. This Is Barbara Kruger’s ransom note, and obscured by that imprisoning montage, torn from some stray poem, a stray, unwieldy, transformative word; This Barbara Graham’s love note. “Good people are always so sure they’re right.”

Now, a word from our author – breaking the fourth wall, let me declare; I am quite old. A recent ophthalmograph revealed that I am short-sighted in one eye, long-sighted in the other. Thus, living in the blur not only goes some way to describing my aesthetic, but also my reality. The middle ground is a haze, up close – personal – expect an unrepentant perspicacity; from a far distance, a heightened perspective. I suspect, in this double vision, a deeper aetiology.


Here we focus on our two disparate, concluding images; This Is Barbara Kruger’s Ransom Note, and In The Dawn I Warn Myself Against The Dangerous Moonlight. The first is, although layered in its didacticism, eminently knowable. We know the exact time, the exact place; the stark inhumane light and subjectifying reality of a police station; the woman’s story – one of brutality given and returned – plain as the bruises on her face.


The other is eminently unknowable; we are told it is dawn, but is it? There is an alien, artificial quality to the sourceless light. The streetscape, silhouetted trees and Victorian water-tower, in sharp relief, could be almost anywhere. Montage, as Druckery says, is either discursive or dialectical; “The dialectical mission is to fuse fragments as concentrated form; the discursive one is to create fissures or interruptions in the established order.” (p.4) Where one unmakes the world, the other remakes it.


A hazy figure, by its garb, out of time, follows, but is divorced from itself. In the doppelgänger, Freud finds the returned imago of the self, once a reassurance of immortality, also “becomes the ghastly harbinger of death” (1919, p.9), evoking a sense of terror, of the uncanny.


The uncanny is evoked when the familiar is returned to us not only in unfamiliar guise, but outside of our ability to easily fit what we see into a sensible and apprehensible way of knowing (1919, p.16).

There is indeed something, uncanny, unknowable, something that unhomes us, that unmakes our understanding, between the burgeoning pre-dawn and the disoriented and disorientating figure. Here we have the familiarity and displacement of the dream. Between these two, the crumpled, ransomed woman, a narrative of hard facts and unrelenting sensation, and the unknowable figure haunted by an ungraspable, ersatz satellite, between the known and the unknown, is the eye, the gaze of the viewer.


After John Berger, we may say in one we have the prurience of the real – she “is not naked as she is. She is naked as the spectator sees her.” (1973, p.50) Defiantly returning our gaze, there is nothing like bruises to reveal her in her nakedness – the nakedness the viewer demands. This is an image that serves. It serves the state, the police, it serves systems of measurement, of commerce, of categorisation, of judgement, of plain, calculating reason. The other does not serve. In a kind of unprivileged object oriented ontology, the tower, bold as Tarot, the satellite, both star and moon and emblem, disrupt readily apprehensible meaning. In stark relief, have their own nature, their own irreducible agency, distinct from but intertwined in the fragility of orbit; it is the human, the anthropocentric, that, although originating both, nevertheless is out of place.


The first image, despite fraught sensation and ineluctable consequence (or indeed, because of them), draws us in to an all too human narrative. The second projects a frozen eternity, as philosopher Graham Harman said, such objects define “unified realities – physical or otherwise – that can not be reduced either downwards to their pieces or upwards to their effects.” (2014)
We, with the figure, are trapped in its dream.


Can we really divorce realities from the systems that have made them – think Frankenstein’s creature escaping into the tabula rasa of the arctic wilderness, where the dreams of objects are haunted by the ephemerality of their human originators – or is this just an anthropomorphised projection, a quirk of the ontologies and systems by which we assume, via a self-satisfied and overweening knowledge, a cold and haughty distance?

In pursuit of the self, unless we adhere to those carefully constructed and continuously blazoned parameters propounded by unconscious ideologues and the images and ideas by which we are all held hostage, there is now only a shifting blur of doubt. There are no good people. We are prisoners. With a fishhook mouth, and impotent hands, crumple this up and pin it to the sky. There is no room left for any other conclusion.

References
Berger, J (1973) Ways of seeing, BBC and Penguin Books, London

Druckery, T (1994) From Dada to digital; montage in the twentieth century, Aperture, Aperture Foundation, New York, https://archive.aperture.org/article/1994/3/3/from- dada-to-digital

Freud, S (1919) The uncanny, Strachey, A, trans. https://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/freud1.pdf

Harman, G (2014) Art without relations, ArtReview, https://artreview.com/September-2014-graham- harman-relations/

She Shrugs Cloud Shadow

The tv spills a cold, invasive blue

I have an impression 

Of you walking on my spine

As if I were an arc and cable bridge

And you a monster movie freak

Grown so large and petulant that

None could help but fall

The sea below hard and pliable as new discoloured bruises

Tear it down, you say

Crush them all beneath your unbound feet

As if the stillness

Before and after earthquakes

Were merely punctuation

Wrath is love, you write on the sky

The moon moves farther away each year

I still abide, calling in that silent way

That I have always had

She shrugs

Cloud shadow, listens