Variations On A Theme By Ezra Pound

(The only poem on ‘Numinous Magazanthus’)

The roads of the sky knoweth my body,
Cradled child by a lamp
Lulling his mother to sleep.
White birds, gulls at the window,
To seek shelter from the storm
In the green lap of the domicile.
I peck the glass,
Wind-smashed bones
In detritus dreams.

Even the child knoweth the sky
And its dark secret message.
His mother, green from death,
Stares glassily mad,
As the song of cancer
Croaks its last deep riddle.
Even the child, even he, knoweth
That his body exists.
His blood will change.
His horizons will disappear.
The lamp will flunk
In the last bitter chaos.

Air and body
Share a body
Of sin and love.
Child and mother,
Each a lover,
Each a doll
Teach a gull
To enter
The centre
Of their solitude.

The winds are rude,
I’m bitten, brushed,
Caught, returned,
On wings of bone,
Scattered bird-meat,
Whitening the centre
Of the sky
Where a cross
Towers over all who loved
Their mother for her child.

(written 1967, published ‘Eavesdropper’ 1990)


Tokkmaster Clerke

I once told you how I first came up that long, long hill out of Cullesdon and visited the local pub dubbed ‘Pail of Water’.

The rundown parade of shops, the golf-course on one side, the tracks leading to woodfalls and derelict smallholdings, and the strange mixture of council flats and semi detached owner-occupiers made that indefinable place, at one overnourished and prevalent, but at two disturbingly barren and bare-gnawn. Through the Southern Mysteries beyond Balham, it was soon that one met the Surrey Badlands, at the edge of South London, and that area to me by crap and root the core of such Badlands,

The golfers and pub locals stared imbecilically at any newcomers; the butcher’s shop kept so called satan-meat behind grinny windows; the girls begawed and bedecked themselves with flirting ribbons and enticing cockadilloes; the callow youths hung an arse round by the patron’s car park of the ‘Pail of Water’, sometimes helping the contraband lorries unload the cock-ale – delighted in by the local taste-buds; and the churn-owls swooped and whooped with the early dying of the afternoon light, betokening the preparation of other entities and elementals to squeeze themselves from between the sticky thighs of the night.

That day I arrived, after initiation from the shapes in the sky, they doctored me to their ways. The clan leader, Tokkmaster Clerke, who also acted as local general practitioner, served me the medicine and the mending and kept vigil by my several nights of bed-evil that ensued. He continued to move the bed on its ill-suited legs, muttering that the devil did rock my cradle, did cully my fever and did keep the bloody-flux at bay; but his hush-a-byes sure did beflum and bamboozle my thoughts for a while.

After, I stayed with the Sawdust family; they knew my history and why I had been called there, I was to be chief taster for those Societies that met at the Community Hall, standing across the road from the shops, a bit like an army barracks, with the letters of its name above the entrance mostly fallen completely or dislodged into a word I could not pronounce, The cabals and brotherships that there stretched their limbs from bodies politic within the big and small halls and lesser meeting-rooms feared sabotage from outsiders.

I had gained reputation in the ‘Square Mile’ further North as sniffer-out of poisons at the credence-tables of nobility and middle-class alike. I had cocked a tongue to many dire tidbit and toxic tiffin, and winked across to those sitting above the salt: telling a tale of treachery with my mere glance,

The Sawdust’s tried me out with every particle of local fare: the sometime bad toddies served at nearby Woodman-Sterne, the even more ill-reputed carrier worms dug from beneath nearby deadfall trees (considered a delicacy in parts of the Badlands ) and, finally, the scuds and curds that intermittently plummeted from the sky in crazy fibrous shapes that monsters said to be above the clouds sculptured from their own droppings.

And I passed mustard with every test.

Tokkmaster explained how the word above the Hall’s entrance, Cthulhu, was pronounced and what it implied; inside he showed me several huge black volumes with gold clasps with arcane titles, hidden with the drama props under the stage, whispered in my ears about the coming of even narrower fellowships and masonries to the area. And I was to be Chief Taster and Factotum to any such,

One day a banquet was held …. Of course, Tokkmaster Clerke was at the head of the huge oak trestle, being host and breaker of bread. The wine, deeply red, flowed down swift gullets. The food -great gristles of flesh, yellow fat and hairy skin lining the rare sides of boeuf and lion; even greater cow-udders, baked and prepared with the greasy tubes intact, the undersides green-fleshed and pocked with broken bubbles of melded fat; windfall fruit, knotted and almost branched with unwholesome sprouts of stale seasons; plates of flopping fish, still alive but unbelievably putrid, their fins pickled in vats of udder-grease as scaly extras; further dishes of octopus with inflamed, ridgy pores, squid with mutant tentacles, horny lapfish, swordfish bent and skewed, splattered blowfish, gasfish, rancid roe – the food was enjoyed at every hand.

All had passed across my credence-table for pre-tasting and, suddenly, a great boar’s head, overbaked and brainless, spoke the last word from the trestle: “Burp!” And spew poured from its sticky mouth,

They all looked up at me…. and stared icily, realization dawning. Dr Tokkmaster pressed his stethoscope to his own chest … to hear the devil in there. He grimaced and made as if to attack me…

I left that night, my job done, down the long, long hill. I was searching for some far-off pub to quaff a pint of their very best bitter and to partake of a packet of pork scratchings. Clean flakes of snow settled over me as I entered Cullesdon.

(published ‘Works’ 1988)


The Wrong Side Of The Bomb

Bernadette’s frock rucked up. She was simply uncomfortable out of trousers, at the best of times. Her voice was more certain than her demeanour:

“The bomb was easy to place, no policemen nearby, just a few wide-eyed citizens who thought I was one of them. They did not suspect I was a freedom-fighter, for they would have scattered like pigeons on flickering toes. I was dressed as an old woman with a wicker basket, a shawl over my head with the threads running from my frock and laddered stockings…”

Patrick wanted to interrupt Bernadette’s senseless, yet deliberate, ramblings. It was as if she needed to over-rehearse a well-worn story in order to exonerate her actions.

“When does it go off?” Patrick’s gruff voice acted disinterested, forehead tracked with frowns.

“In plenty of time to catch the nine o’clock news,” Bernadette answered. The frock rode more further up her thighs.

Pete arrived with Molly for some beer. He toted a few cans as supplement to Patrick’s supply in the ancient fridge. By then, Bernadette had changed back into the man’s clothes which she preferred to wear, with a tie half-pulled towards the unbuttoned shirt-collar.

Pete and Molly were ignored.

Bernadette really thinks she’s a cool dude, thought Patrick. He had been gradually falling out of love with her ever since he first met her. As for most men, relationships had always started with the climax only to tail off into something quite mutually destructive. Still, the common cause was greater than the common good…

“It was on the six o’clock news…” said Pete, drawing attention to himself as he sprung the first can, his words tailing off as he tipped back to drink it.

Patrick and Bernadette had unplugged the TV, for fear of it turning itself back on. Such uncanny phobias in hardened folk amused Pete. If one is purveyor of terror, one must suffer it for oneself.

Molly smiled sweetly. Beauty, in one so principled as a freedom-fighter, is striking. She often risked being left in the path of the bomb she’d placed, just for the gut thrill. But, today, it had been left to Patrick and Bernadette, for it was a day off for Pete and Molly.

The bomb had indeed been positioned badly. It had mostly killed the wrong side. The news had reported the explosion fifth item down. Better than nothing.

“Patrick,” said Bernadette, a cigarette whitening the air around her face. “Pete must be wrong. Don’t look at me like that. I planted it for blowing not before eight. It promised to blow when the *next* march was passing…”

Patrick stared.

“Bombs have no brains, Bernadette,” he said. “It is us who must guide them, nurture them, tease them into blowing straight.”

“But it promised… Its heart beat true. Not like the last one.”

Bernadette pushed her tie tighter into the collar, fabricating a purpose for her nervous fingers where one previously did not exist. This exposed her as the woman she was trying to shake off.

Molly looked up. Her blonde hair fell in curves down her back, the front of the dress unbuttoned to the lacy top edge of her bra.

“*I* was among those marchers in the second group which you were meant to hit…” she muttered at Bernadette.

Pete frowned. The whole matter was becoming far too complex for his liking. He and Molly had not seen the results on TV at all, but amid the reality of life around them. Pigeons, toes up; people lying around without their limbs, some missing heads, the gutters flowing, then silting up; drums rolling down the slope of Destination Street; windows shattered in the nearby Junior School, teachers wandering the playground in a dazed state, looking for the children; torsoes still twitching, even making phantom grunts through the stumps of the necks; Pete’s own ear-drums still throbbing from the blast.

Molly had run up to Pete in the street, cursing uncharacteristically. She was wet-nursing a baby in her arms, a baby which was dead, Pete could see. Nothing had gone the way it was planned. This crippled baby was on their side. They should never have left the bomb for Bernadette to set.

Bernadette suddenly had the urge to change back into a dress. The whole evening had turned sour. But, after all, by her clumsy efforts, she had effectively saved Molly herself from being blown up. No wars would be won if all the fighters were suicide pilots. And Molly had an uncanny knack of always being on the winning side, without really trying.

Bernadette motioned to Molly to come upstairs with her.

The steep stairs creaked as they walked behind each other. The men would soon have too much beer. It was dark in this house. It was something to do with the way it was built to keep darkness inside. A safe house, yes, but one that did not lend itself to the emotions; Bernadette always felt ill at home here.

The bedroom was no better. The wallpaper hung in strips. The ceiling blistered. The window boarded over after a previous mis-placing of a bomb.

Bernadette collapsed upon the bed, holding out her arms to Molly. “Come on, I need to hold someone. Let’s just be quiet for a moment … gentle.”

Molly shook her head, sitting in the dark corner on a rickety deckchair. The window creaked, as the planking shifted.

Bernadette felt her insides weep. She was a woman after all, and Patrick’s baby had left scars … and all for nothing, since its body had exploded on exit. An explosion in her dreams, at the time, but, later, she was unsure. Tatters of flesh and red gristle had slowly tracked down the window in this very room before it had been boarded up.

Now, there were other things outside, come to haunt Bernadette: trunks with bloodsuckers which, even if they had their limbs and heads returned to them, could have climbed no better the outside wall of this terraced house, towards the very room in which she now dozed. Others, patient in their recriminations, slouched along the pavements, grunting complaints to an unlistening world. Some, beating bones upon their own hearts like squelchy drums, gathered at the front door, despite promising not to come.

Molly, seeing that Bernadette was asleep, returned downstairs, where Pat and Pete lurked somewhere or other with the beer. The two men were too similar. Like their names.

She remembered to button up the front of her dress, before she walked down the dark hall and, with a sweet smile, unlocked the front door.

There were no heroes in a war. And only a few heroines to needle-fuck.

(first published ‘Nasty Piece Of Work’ 1997)


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