prose poetry

A distant planet I once travelled to

When I came back I had
no language to tell of what I’d seen;
no one knew except a man who stood
arms outstretched

near my house, breathing. This
breathing man, unkempt,
bearded, dressed in the same clothes
every day, never spoke

of what he recognised in me, my
camouflage suit and tie,
secret planet orbiting above my head.
Many sadnesses live and die alone,

ruptures beneath the skin
like worlds you alone have seen
go unreported. Sometimes I sit
remembering the cliffs, but

it was many years ago. Others
have travelled there, I know,
seduced by siren beauty,
left with the mute ache

of having been.


Psychosis was a
bike he bought, cycling shorts then
a road to nowhere.

The boats

There on the flat water
deep-housed things wait to swallow them,
the clean line of yesterday’s

having bled. This country
turns them back, the boats,
when they come sitting low in the water
with hope; pens push them

out to sea with rhetoric written for children —
stop the boats! stop the boats!
we stopped the boats!
— as if we’re stopping boats

not people. At Christmas Island
we watched the sickening water
take them — men, women, children —
white with horror; they litter

our shores these people,
their lives like splintered
wood. Tired Indonesian boats
will groan, give up,

slicking the water
with disgorged people,
the broken timber heedless, no
matter where we push them. If

not the women, the men, what if
the children moved us, their sparrow
chests, wings sodden —
what then?

Nothing will be right in the world again

Plumber comes one cold morning
to talk of moving our laundry if the
sewer’s in reach – don’t want to rely on
pumps and mechanical things he says,

clucking his tongue, equivocating,
drops news of a football coach
murdered by his son.

Next day,
papers are ablaze with
images of him chiselled strong
from stone but gone. I

cannot forget what
his daughter tells the press:
Nothing will be right in the world
again, she says.

Boy-and-dyke, we
galvanise pipes against
corrosion, insulate wires,
superstitiously give time in mind to

battle half-expected calamities
— metastasising cells,
treacherous blood hosting
unwanted foreign visitors,

le coeur en panne,
hours lost in doctors’ surgeries,
wearing hope like a homemade badge —
even as we butter toast, make

renovation plans. We house our dreams
like caterpillars hide wings,
imagining flight
set against a

horizon where the sun won’t stall
broken and fizzing one day
in all that lawless water, its
wires exposed.

If you have won

You can work it out — if you have won
or not — by the simple application of a formula;
nature uses such equations urging water
to the lowest spot, helping giant, metal birds take

off, writing code for high pressure systems,
sudden lows; it’s a simple this to the power of that, so
add up where you are, who you’re with,
what stuff you’ve got,

how old you are
(divided by how much longer you think you’ll live)

and subtract all the things you could have been and
done and got and who you could have been with
if the train had not been late or
you had or hadn’t got on;

don’t forget the hours you were sleeping
when you should have been nuit blanche,
une petite tranche of the naked morning
to nibble on. (You’ll be surprised

there are no variables
— everything is mathematics;
like the millimetre lift at the edges
of your smile, the wild synapse of impetuousness

when you were seven that sent you
to the woodpile after the red belly black,
lifting broken palings — the woodpile itself.) All things
lived and imagined, held

stillborn, not conceived, ill conceived and awry,
undone and flapping ugly in the wind,
must be included in this most precise
calculation. The sum

of your life lived minus the sum
of the life you didn’t live but endured not having lived it —
this sum is the sum that tells if you’ve won
(which side of the ledger you are on.) Bankers

know this and speak of it in meetings
around long tables,
write it carefully in official statements that people don’t check
for errors, or shouldn’t if they

want the warmth of their own sun.

The body

Picture Gainsbourg à lit sans lunettes having
smoked a last cigarette
or cool in his caleçon drinking wine
a bony finger raised to mortality

some warm, dim evening terrified
when it hits. They lie in rows so neatly,
the dead, tamed with paths and

and straight gold lettering,
so still in their beds of sediment.
Not even the rain running on their

can hope to find them
and stir the stillness.
There are thick veins of lime
in the undreaming earth and heavy, heavy plates

unmoved by rumours of some greater thing.
There’s just the body pumping
its bony legs up that sweet hill
and then the precipice.


The morning peeks through,

timid thing, hanging back mute

in the stillness. Birds sit nuzzling yet, stunned


by the cold. A great brush has iced

everything. I sit astride my bike blue thighed

waiting in the lung of this day

for a breath. This is how


ends come – not seen until they arrive,

hard to believe in the silence

like news of a train derailed somewhere

out of sight. This


still-born day stares indifferent,

a whore in her civvies

says, ‘What of you?’





What Jesus said

What Jesus said to me at the beach kiosk

when I was queueing to buy an ice-cream for my kids,

jingling the change in my pocket,

grumbling inwardly at the price of two scoops

these days,


the little one standing on my feet for lift

enough to search for rainbow

among the tubs of dreamy creamy strawberry swirl,

fantasy late night chocolate cherry delight,

the eldest


caught in a forwards-backwards stance

between childhood and adolescence,

her sister using me as cover

for a guerrilla game of jab and niggle,

my wife


with eyes signing a conspiracy

of beer garden chips and drinks,

what he said, where I didn’t expect to find him

pushing late afternoon clouds aside

his voice


riding the put-put of a fishing boat,

what he said was shit, man, fuck,

I don’t even exist,

a whole fucking quarry of digging less real

than this


I am

and vanished,

his presence thinner than the wafer on the faulty cones

lifted by the gritty hot wind

to nowhere.



Love Sleeps

Love sleeps in the crook of his arm

now anchored with the weight

of her head, but it has slept under bridges

barely able to rouse itself


and en route between places

no longer named

and in conversations half-held

in smells and sounds wrenched free


and homeless. It sat looking from a distance

at what it imagined was there but

had neither arms nor legs

to crawl. It sleeps now where he


thought it might once when prone to personify

but it sleeps with her and with him

like a cat purring its dreams

foreign thing.

The flaws in his appearance

At uni a blind boy I knew recognised me by voice

in the dull brown-carpeted corridors of our residential college.

He could see vague shapes and shadows, nebulous, numinous movement,

carried his soup carefully, nose to the steaming surface to the nearest table


and ate hunched over. Once, I surprised him before the mirror

in the toilets wearing thick square glasses straining to see his reflection

and he whipped them off and pocketed them so quickly

that it must have seemed when he turned to leave


he had executed his sleight of hand flawlessly.

Later having beers in our respective fogs,

the light on me and him like anyone, I never spoke of it

but wondered was it so quick the turning for the door,


the lowered shoulder hurry that he never knew it was me

who had caught him looking for the flaws in his appearance?




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