Poems

LEO TAKES LEAVE

A red wine head
my stomach’s doing the twist
Leo’s looking worse
and he’s got a plane to catch.
I’ve put him up for weeks
organised his trip
he ruined my flatmate’s
Gore Vidal book
and now he needs
twenty quid.
Have to hand it to him
he missed the plane
yesterday
got too intimate with my sofa the American friend is disoriented a drinker on a drunk Leo’s starting to lose the plot.
Give clear instructions
but he can’t follow
so wearing flip-flops and a dressing gown I try and navigate
Leo to Camberwell’s New Road.

Feel like his Momma
maybe I should take him by the hand. Leo staggers, pickled uncertain of which direction to place his feet. That’s it one after the other.   Cabernet Sauvignon boils my skin mid-December and chill factor’s high
pass the money
repeat directions
can’t believe a grown man
can function like this.   Leo near collides with the bus struggles aboard
waves goodbye he’s gone my fuck-up of a friend. Bet I don’t hear from him for several years to come.    
LENE: 2 YEARS APPROXIMATELY

Damn, it’s Lene on the phone
“Are you in London?” I ask
“No, Copenhagen, but I
will be in London soon. Can I stay?”
Anytime, Lene, anytime.
Lots of questions to be asked
Lots of life shit to mull over
How’ve you been?
Where’ve you been over the past two years?
Are you happy/sad?
Do you remember meeting
Cissbury Road, South Tottenham
Around four years ago.

This all happens in The Dogstar
where Brixton casuals
dance on tables
kicking pint glasses
straight towards us.
Danish people would
never act like this, says Lene.
Amused, disapproving (maybe).
It’s so loud we have to
shout at each other to
communicate.
Lene’s naturally blonde now
no longer impacted ginger
she remembers our connection
Lee who stole her passport
visiting Highgate Cemetery
May Day flowers for Karlo.
Almost another life away for both of us
early ‘92 and who would believe
that I could still let London
buff the colour from my cheeks
and Lene’s smiling, beautifully,
just twenty four
less self conscious
two relationships down, an
abortion, out of home and
now a home owner, hospitalised, still
chain smoking Marlboro (red)
- blatant product placement in
a poem (disgusting!) -
more at ease in her own skin
tiny lines around her eyes
a happiness across near perfect
features.
“Lene, you seem taller,
happier”.

She winks, gives
me one of the world’s great
smiles. Lene, I’ll see you in
another few years (I guess).

YOU DON’T SMOKE SPLIFF WHEN YOUR TWIN SISTER’S SCHIZOPHRENIC & SUICIDAL

That’s what Angie says
when I try to pass her the blunt.
Quite takes the edge off my high
“never tried?” I enquire
She rolls huge eyes
shakes her head, says
“life’s alright. Who knows
what might happen? What I
might find?”
Agreed. Nicotine stains my
tongue, hash boxes my
brain, I don’t get out
enough, earn too little
rarely get laid.

Crush the blunt.
Who knows what might
happen? What I might
find.
HELL (AKA THE BRITISH RAIL EXPERIENCE)

Feathercut, purple blouse of a shirt, medallion
and a cold kebab disintegrating across his
black demin crotch. Jesus, the company one keeps
on a night train from Reading.

Retreating from the festival
scribbling notes for The G
sun burned, lager bevied, the
sound of Metallica – ‘we play heavy
fuckin’ music’ – boxing my ears

Paddington Station, somewhere in the
distance, somewhere beyond this airless
carriage, somewhere – in my childhood
imagination – a Peruvian
bear once waited with a
Hungry & Homeless sign.

Across from me three teen angels
elevated trainers and Manics’ T’s
discuss the Gallaghers
- Paul’s a pig
- They all are
- Even Liam. He’s ugly too.

Thank you. Sunday’s aftermath of Brit media’s
deification of all the Oashit I can’t stomach
it’s good to know the kids are alright.

Try to use the toilet it’s been trashed
a soggy pulp of bog paper
splattered across floor, basin
and mirror.

The stations click past
- Hayes, Southall, Ealing Broadway -
unlovely in their neon light.

In front of me sits
a real English rose
bullet headed, beer gutted, ginger crop
chin to his knees
mouth locked in slow
gurning patterns

Behind me two black lads
read aloud the festival’s line-up
from T-shirts worn by legions of
Asian women
dismissive of each band in turn
- Suede? You seen ‘em on the telly?
- Fuckin’ batty boys, the lot.
- Silly Jap’ cunt.

Paddington Station approaches
passengers claw their selves out
of humidity/alcohol induced stupor
except for Feathercut who is gone
to the world.
I imagine him being shaken
awake, kebab spewing.
- To the boozer? Says black lad 1
- To the boozer. Says black lad 2

Paddington Station.
Give praise and thanks
to be out of that train
safely beneath Brunel’s glorious
black iron arc. Towards the Bakerloo line, breathe a little
easier now South London
is in sight.

ST JAMES INFIRMARY (Version)

The whole sorry mess of it

dead three days before his dad
broke down the door
I mean, that’s a stiff
and the funeral
it had to be Peter
we were burying
cos chaos ensured
before the box got out
the church door.

The priest was fat and pink
- a Vatican lifer, no question of parole – and started to talk right shite about what a loved son and friend Peter was
rather than describing him as
- a speed freak – a fuck-up – a loser – a sweet ginger maniac
Anyway, he kept talking shite
while his microphone started to
pick up some radio station
and feed it back.
I liked the
way it made that porcine
fucker sweat. He tried to swat his
mike, went bright pink,
fumbled the monologue,
got me thinking “death is messy
and, Peter, you died as you lived.”
When we went to pick
up the coffin
Karl stood rooted fast
in shock or stoned
or both
so I had to push him
hard or we’d still be
standing there.
No kidding, Karl was a
right dodo. And carrying
that casket I couldn’t help
thinking ‘Peter, you dead weight.’

They buried the poor fucker
in a decrepit suburban cemetery
and the junk fiends
sweating on their own poisoned
mortality threw wraps of smack
into the grave.
Should of thrown them in, a
pauper’s grave being
just a few bus stops down
the road they’d chosen.
Go on, Paul. Get in,
there, mate.
No, I didn’t say that
Instead, we took the
useless prick to a pub
and he was soon
falling all over the place.
Chunderama. So the
landlord ordered us all out
and we figured we’d show
him what for.
Peter, he took us apart.
Laughing? I bet you are.

COMFORT

Back home after WOMAD
Three days of music, heat (day)
cold (night), dust, dirt, sleeping
rough, agony (‘roid attack).
I shower
make a pot of tea
find something to eat in the fridge.
Modern life, it’s magic.
FRIDAY NIGHT COMEDIANS

In Brixton there’s a
bookshop that holds
stand-up comedy on a Friday night.
What’s to laugh about in Brixton?
You could if you tried.

I once worked in an Edinburgh
theatre, every night top-draw
comedians, tearing through the
routines. After three weeks I was
inoculated to stand-up – too much
sugar, ya know?
Still, I’m in Brixton on Friday
night ’cause Errol’s blowing
blues before the word herd
take the stage.

Errol’s on form but what follows
don’t fly. First up is Bernard
with mother-in-law jokes.
Unbelievable.
Next a South African woman who
sings more than she talks. Her routine
involves Barbara Streisand
getting a nose job. Next a big, bald guy
with a creepy whisper of a voice.   So far they aint attracted a fart.

Then a black American
woman gets up, starts testifying.
Race, relationships, celebrity,
work, money, grief. Oh yeh, this is the Brixton grind. Girl’s on it,
we’re choking, almost weeping cos
finally – finally – we can laugh out
loud. And we do. Laugh. Howl.
Yelp. Scream.

Back on the street it’s
sirensexhaustfumesmenacingstares
but we’ve laughed like an
orgasm. Life, for one magic moment, is joyous, lighter, easier to bare.

DAVE’S GOT A PROBLEM

Dave’s got a problem
no access to his kids
hates driving buses
smokes weed by the
kilo and always seems
bust.

I say, Dave, chill on
the puff, do a little
exercise, cook some
good ital food. Relax
into life, yeah? Then
shit won’t seem
so rough.

Dave can’t help being
stressed – Julie gets on
the phone and gives him
grief about the kids – Caroline
fucks him, but he says
that aint enough. He switches
on the TV, rolls a blunt, says
this helps me, helps me to relax.

Dave, you’re about to
hit your middle adult years.
You got a mountain of pain
to put behind and two
little girls to go forward
with. I don’t have
any answers but,
homeboy, aint this
way of living
playing too
hard?

BARE KNUCKLES

A grim London summer day
humidity that boils
and hay fever (hay fever? Hell, I live
in an industrial estate – pollution fever,
thank you) busts eyes and clogs
nostrils. Life wide
open, edgy an’ sore.

The sound of sirens
as thick as the air
and a black dust
silts windows and doors.
Crazy? Desperate? Cheap?
This how we
live, your brutal
poor.

Smothered with snot and
swollen eyed I watch
from my window the estate
world go by. At twilight
they ruck. Bare
knuckles, head butts, kicking
and throttling.

Brawling on the basketball court
falling on tarmac, wrecking each
other against green wire mesh.
Cage fighting.
One hits the ground, gets
stomped, wants to stop, the other
scenting blood, puffs up his
pec’s, comes in
hard.

Youths cheer, a kid waves his
crutches in the air, big Mama and
her two tots stop to watch, noise
and excitement
swell across the tower blocks.
Not often you get free entertainment
’round here.

THE GYPSIES (Peckham)

Gypsies are in my neighbourhood
from Romania or the Czech Republic
I guess. Dumped in Southwark,
The Daily Mail’s worst nightmare,
fleeing Eastern Europe’s poverty swamp,
occasional pogroms, centuries of mistrust.

Refugees who beg on
street corners, along East Street Market
and outside pubs packed with gurning
chanting Milwall supporters.

Refugees who pick through
binbags full of worn clothes – mother feels
the material, child plays amongst the refuse.

Refugees who wrap
themselves in rainbow colours – women
wear head scarves, men dapper pork pie hats -
flash gold teeth smiles, stride with a shoulders
forward pride. Exotic? You bet. Survivors? Amongst
Londoners the Gypsies look like they - only they - know
the meaning of life.

What do they make of it here? I’d like to
ask them, but their tongue remains Romany
and their eyes, a mournful brown, plead indifference,
suspicion, to my attempts at assimilation. So I watch
them, swarming amongst African, Asian and Turkish
diasporas, keeping a distance from funny gummy
white people (who pay them no attention at all). Perhaps
this is why the Gypsies smile. Amazed, incredulous,
to finally be oblivious.

The noise from the Peckham Road beats upon
senses. The Gypsies chew exhaust fumes – sour air
and fag ash sky – and smile those great gold tooth
smiles as sirens sweep by (not for us! God is great!).
Ensconced in unwanted council flats, up tower blocks and
scattered across North Peckham Estate, London freedom
clocked at the DSS, Home Office and crown courts.

Romany, your
journey – latcho drom – has just begun.

DUB HOUSING

Why is my lift so fucking filthy?
Fag packets, sweet wrappers, butts,
tissues, drink cans, outrageous crap
like cotton buds (who cleans their ears
in a lift?!)
mixed up amongst the gunk
feets drags in.

Sometimes there’s a small pool of
puke to greet ya. Often I imagine I’m Noah
crossing a Red Stripe sea of pee. On a hot day,
before the lift arrives, you smell it coming.
And, get this, when they clean the lift – the council,
that is – they take serious revenge. Don’t know what
they use, some kind of industrial detergent that makes
yer eyes water and stinks worse than the shit
Marchwood Close’s tenants
dump there.

I could use the stairs but I’m lazy
and, with a bicycle, they’re a drag. And the
stairs are no fuckin’ better, the pricks who
live on this estate dump orange peel and
smash bottles on them. Then tag every surface
possible with stooopid gang graffiti – PYB. Murdah
Crew. Yardie Mob. Young, gifted and black? Right.

Look, I aint slating this maligned estate. Couldn’t survive without my cheap flat – affordable housing for us, London’s broken and poor – and once inside they’re alright: spacious, light, functional, built with thick walls so yer neighbours exist as an echo rather than shouty
presence, arrive as reverb rather than distortion. Dub housing.

So why does the lift get such treatment from those who live in this concrete warren? No one

wants to carry their groceries and pickneys up

ten flights of manky stairs. Still, they persist,

determined to leave some signal of their existence

in this beaten steel box. Broken glass and pools

of pee, neo-autistic territorial pissings.

Or the trail of those pissed off at their territory.

No way I’m shifting out. Can’t
afford to live anywhere else.

WRONG SIDE O’ BED

I feel sour
I need a shower
Or maybe a slap in the face.

SOUTH DAKOTA ALMS

for Leonard Peltier

He’s ancient alright

toothless and dribbling

skin worn into canyon creases

breath harsh as kerosene.

Age and America have withered him

Asiatic features blunted and boiled

chewed at by malnutrition and sour mash,

stooped, wearing nylon clothes and a

gummy, shit eating grin.

The reservation inheritance,

known only to the truly defeated.

No wonder they called your territory

The Badlands cos this earth, this turf, all

unsettled bones and ghost dancing, has meant

harsh, punitive times for the seed of Sitting

Bull. Not how it once was, nah, I can see you

riding bareback, flowing like the long grass, a

warrior, a buffalo hunter, not the feeble human

who licks ketchup from fingers while scavenging

burger wrappings.

So long against the tarmac

stinking of urine and coated in the

soot of a nation’s exhaust fumes.

A monument to genocide, a national site

commemorating slaughter, has become

your hunting ground, sifting bins, collecting cans,

crying mercy and god bless America when a

dime is tossed at ya. Chief, they call you Chief,

you too become the site, a

spectacle for those of us warm behind glass

and steel. Move closer and Chief’s

rendered invisible, a button pressed, the cold

rejecting hiss of electric windows.

Stay still as you get near and

whisper wheezy pockets of words.

Yah, shaman, I hear your tale

as Alaskan winds gust off the prairies

sharp jolts of cold that don’t seem

to bother you. Talk of Wounded Knee and

trying to flee and a massacre you swear to

have witnessed. Gatling guns… children try and

run… an icy, open air morgue… I’ve read a book, seen

a photo… and now your lisping voice

talks of burying a wife.

I’d like to believe ya, I mean, you

look old as time, features of wire, leather,

water, soaked in meths and the twelve percent

solutions that stop you from feeling.

Time, they say is the answer. But for

you I don’t think so.

Bitter as an arctic breeze

Bitter as a winter slaughter

Bitter as a Peltier parole hearing

You keep trying

to smile, moving fingers

in that most universal of signals

- open palm, calluses, bony fingers –

calling on a couple of dollars for some

sweet love: Thunderbird or Night Train

to help still your cloudy brain.

There you go, Chief, hope it warms ya,

hope it helps ya find dignity in dreams.

GRACY SAYS

Gracy says

you smile with your eyes

(I like this)

when you are not nice

you are a thorn pork

(I don’t like!)

“Really?” she’ll say

with theatrical flourish

emphasising that the Sao Paolo

girl is unimpressed.

“Sure. Sure”

when trying to act convinced.

“Sure now” means she agrees.

These are the codes

we’ve worked out.

We spell them with gestures, laughter,

a lot of affection.

She’s Brazilian, Latina, finds it

easy to smile. And equally easy

to catch fire, to burn with anger.

I laugh, call her “La loca Juana,”

and she glares at me

with those ancient Amaz-Indian eyes.

Gracy says

“I shouldn’t be so nice to you, but

I can’t help myself.”

Her eyes smile too. Huge, dark,

lively, inviting.

Warm thoughts. Soft caress.

I move closer.

“Ah, you remember,” Gracy says

“you remember I like to be touched too.”