Couplets Written for a Young Man

 

I wonder, what manner of creature am I:

Animal, human, dead or alive.

Am I conscious, inanimate, gentle or harsh;

Am I part of the future, or part of the past?

Was I angel? Or demon? A guest of a host?

Will I one day be everything, nothing or ghost?

Am I crowned in the mind, or the heart, or the soul?

Do I most feel what’s shown to me, or that which is told?

Will I grow older, or shall I be young;

Is this life of mine over, or has it begun?

Of the secrets I’m keeping, the one which I know

Is the closest, the one which wherever I go

I keep with me: I’m yours. Only you understand.

What is truly the manner of creature I am.
 

For Blair
 

Tea Strain

 

As the device completes the final murmurs of its
Pleasant mantra, the ritual proceeds to its
Second phase: before lifting the device in question
I place the bag – no, not loose leaf, but
A true tea bag – into the wholesome mug.
I scatter white grain, to sweeten its earthiness.
At this time, I handle the cradle of the kettle
To pour forth the sonorous, simmering water
And the white of the mug’s clean centre soon
Fades grey like a sunset in late autumn.
This, this is the fact of the matter: as I press
The pouch of tea leaves to one side of the mug,
It does not bleed out that rich, ripe effusion.
Nor does it seep out, soft and insidious.
Nor, indeed, does it flow like a slow fog, or mist.
Instead, it flickers outward like a flame,
Dark flames underwater, in plumes of silent smoke.
And before stirring it to equanimity,
While it’s still distinct, I bless the curls of bitter
Cloud, for the sake of the fine, harsh flavour they will bring.
 

On Discovering my Grandfather’s Tobacco Pipe

 
An indefinite artefact, preserved in its own air,

Measured in dust.

 

Burnt-oak finish, smooth curves on the fine cusp

Of its basin, its crook,

 

The wooden handle, with its finessed weight

Is an instrument,

 

And it is haunted by the rusty and sweet smell

Of its purposes.

 

Left by the mantelpiece, in its own time,

Its taste of memories.

Your Design

Sometime between my very last cigarette, and my very last cigarette, I placed the crux of it between my thumb and forefinger: I held the idea, drew circles in the air with it. I held you in mid-air, controlled like a fine blade: like a finely-balanced, exquisite tool, a scalpel. Drawing it across its own arc of motion to form an anatomy. Imagine the curvature of a straightened arm, and the context of an affectation is pose. Brought to relief, by transposition.

This design kept you for a while – kept you in diagrammatic exactness between breaths, between inhalations, between the smoke rising and then becoming a clear sky all above me. I drew you, and it pleased me. The very form of it was purposive, delineated and precise.

Even after I stubbed you out I would remember the vertices and surfaces. They came from the mind, and the mind kept them: I had traced you before I had even discovered the real presence of it. I traced your curves with my finger across the lip of a coffee cup. I weighed the fullness of it, in each gesture of my hand. So it was that I maintained you. Though you – whatever you are – could hardly know it, I had sublimated the very flesh, the bones, the heart of you. It was true representation.

In this way, I perfected you. The idealized is significant. The thought-of form need not exist, and I dwelt upon it.

So that, even after I had stubbed this out, trails of you outlined the insubstantial air about me.

Visions in the Mist

From the wind mirror, the road we’d passed

Over, unseemingly, became immediately nothing.

Looking ahead, we were no different from sleepwalkers.

Front lights caught fog, like a lapse of memory

Before us. Even if you knew in which direction

The road curved, the road at least was

Unsure. I could not guess at the speed

We flew through the thick of it all,

Without basis for comparison or relation

As the entirety of the unmoving white about us

Did move, with rivulets of tentative whispering hands,

Disquieted by the hum of a warm, lonesome car.

You did not speak that night, because you had been like this,

Chasing mists, through a long and weary drive,

Too long. Kept tired eyes on watch, through the unseeable.

And I was a passenger. I was passenger.

And you wouldn’t believe me – even if you just

So briefly saw – if I when placing one aching

Boot on the dashboard, withdrew a cigarette

As a peace offering, at the corner of your eye,

And said that I had never before

Been in such safe mists. I have never felt

The warmth of this dispassionate silence

Until then: in the infinite fog, it dissolved me,

As we fell through the night: like a match dropped

Into the well, its own light falling, spreading shadows

And chasing one penny of hopeless luck.

So I did not mind, so much, that we had lost

Our lives while chasing mists, the headlights

Imprisoning light in the fog forever before us.

We were ghosts in the midst of our own white silence.

Last night we drove home through long, winding road across the fens. The mists of the evening had frozen into a dense, comfortless fog which would not relent, no matter how far we drove. It was impossible to quite see where we were going, or what was up ahead. We traveled at speed nonetheless.

I kept a look out in front of us, to follow the traced image of the road. But it faded in and our before us, like the scenery of a dream upon waking. My concentration began to fail me, and I could not help but look out into the fog for silhouettes, visions, lone travellers hailing us at the darkest hour of the night. I’d heard stories before about drivers down those roads, who encountered passers-by and saw strange lights which fell back into the fog, leaving nothing but a stirring in the memory and a sense of cold unease.

Then, it occurred to me: in such a dreamy state, streaming through the mists so swiftly, it might only be a matter of seconds before we unknowingly became the very ghosts I imagined around us. 

12 October 2013

 

We drew, sleep-borne, to gently acquiesce

To sleep’s own bed, and dream of tenderness;

 

To drift into the wonder of that peace,

Your whispered skin, your breath in soft release.

 

It troubles me, this beauty that you own,

And take to distant dreams of yours, alone.

 

Exquisiteness of touch torments me raw;

Yet there is something softer, something more:

 

I never knew, in waking life or dreams,

A man like you, as dreamlike as he seems.

 

Your body is mine, is ours: I praise this gift.

Your mind, though, lies beyond me, cast adrift –

 

So take me there. Draw me to where you rest.

For I cannot design, I cannot best

 

Your dreaming soul in all its sweet delights –

This beauty calls for me, in restless nights.

For Lauren Bacall, in The Big Sleep

The distant temptress: siren without song,

The silent sphinx. How many helpless men

Have lost themselves to it; how many a long

Uncaring stare has brought them back again?

Alone and without heart you give the very

Look of love; yet keep that love at bay,

At one arm’s languorous length, the poetry

Of such unspoken, and unmoving ways.

Invite, without one lost, invited stare;

Draw in, without so much as drawing breath.

Raise one exquisite brow, to silent questions,

And bring the questioner unquestioned death.

The chase is on, the mystery is all:

The question, though, is your device to keep

In silent screens. Define the femme fatale,

And bring us unresisting to our sleep.

In its own way this is really a poem for all classic actors, and all classic film. It is sometimes tempting to allege that all “class” has been lost in cinema. Nobody lights a cigarette with quite the same grace and elegance, anymore. Nuance and seductive, insinuating dialogue seem absent, at times. Although this is of course exaggeration, I do still admire the “Golden Age” for its focus on writing, casting, its allure and its suggestiveness. The actors were not all entirely perfect in their art, and it is too easy to glamorise and romanticise such things to excess; but in all honesty, I melt every time I so much as look at a still of Lauren Bacall. She is just dreamy. Fact.