1993

One of the pockets of his rucksack is filled
with empty chocolate biscuit wrappers.
They are more like skeletons than gravestones.

Things are always getting lost in the mass grave –
notes and stories and the shrunken heads of enemies,
gold and salt all the way from Timbuktu.

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Moon Spring

Part 1

Even the feral children stood in orderly lines –

their shoes spit-shined and their caps doffed, their fidget fingers still,
their white eyes wide with wonder and space –

stood among the sky-high high-heeled mothers to be and the stray dogs
and the spivs in the street who never looked up and never thought past –

and passersby and a gang of clergymen and spotty teenagers who dreamt.

Pink blossom fell from the trees like Japanese confetti.

And then came the astronauts –

each with matching green mohicans like growing grass seed,
their white suits, their helmets under their arms –

towards the rocketship and on up towards –

the astronauts shaking hands with the crowds and backslapping one another
and looking for all the world like brothers –

on their way up into and on past the sky.

Part 2

In the media centre junior reporter Michael Cloudsley eats salad
and types a minute-by-minute report of the mission.

He yawns with lettuce.

The online news editor is on the phone again:
“Keep typing.  Keep telling our readers things about that rocket.”

He yawns with pepper.

He yawns with cucumber.

He yawns with rocket.

In the next room is a large screen showing the rocket making its way up, up,
up, up, up, up, up, up, the image repeating like some height-hungry toddler.

In the vastness of space the image has little meaning.

He yawns with cress.

In the next room are three glamorous astronaut’s wives along with assorted
scientists and engineers and representatives of the shuttle’s sponsors,
a kind-of sort-of car manufacturer.

Cloudsley types some more words to paint this picture for his readers and then

He yawns with mushroom.

He yawns with tomato.

He yawns with a bit of everything.

Part 3

How much do astronauts get paid per mission?

Halfway between the Earth and the Moon
Halfway between somewhere and nowhere
Halfway between the beginning and the end
All of the way between being anything anyone back home can do anything about

And when one of them, floating, asked:
How much do we get paid to do this, again?
They all cracked up a sonnet of laughter, like
Ha ha ha ha, ha ha ha ha, ha ha ha ha, ha ha.

Part 4

Cloudsley yawns with ice cream.

All these many hours later and he is still watching,
and typing updates on such minimal mission news.

He yawns with cone.

The astronauts’ wives are still watching too, watching and getting pedicures
whilst their husbands – green-mohicaned space brothers each – soar up,
still up and up even after they are so far up that directions become
meaningless.

He yawns

In between updates he writes speculative, sleep-deprived,
probably libellous fictional accounts of what is going on up there.

By the time of the next moon mission Michael Cloudsley will be world-famous.

Part 5

It took them all day and the rocket landed late at night.

The astronauts unpacked and set up camp under the stars,
slept like feral children on the surface of the moon.

Part 6

The first astronaut woke with the cacophony of the rising sun,
and the smell of stale male sweat and steepled sleep –

sat up and looked around and remembered how he got there,
and his green mohican flopped in all directions –

flopped with morning doze and the weightlessness of the moon,
whilst the other astronauts slept on and on and back on earth –

back on earth it is morning too and –

the astronaut peeled off his sleep layers and made his naked way
to the lake in which to bathe and preen and erect his mohican –

the first mohican on the history of the moon –

the lake is full of long, flat weeds like spinach tagliatele, in which
the astronaut becomes entangled as he lolls on his back and laughs –

a long, hard lunar laugh which he watches up into the sky and
transmit back to earth like he is a benign, mohicaned dictator of the earth.

He cooks breakfast on a camping stove.

Part 7

Cloudsley yawns with salad for breakfast.

He is not watching any more, just writing fictional moon landings on the back of salad leaves –

on peppers, on tomatoes, on slices of cucumber –

and then eating the evidence until there exists, in his stomach, a rainforest of moon landings
such as would be impossible to explore, even with all the mohicaned astronauts in the world

at your disposal.

Your Singing Soul

(I realise that this is a bit unseasonal.  I wrote it in February but have only just bashed it into shape.)

.

An empty half-mile Winter’s beach.  The air like jaws.
Not a soul.  But your singing soul.  No other soul.

The wind like saws.  You stop.  Look left.  Look right.
Quickly, clothes off.  Pushed into the sand.  Stand.

Sand and chill attacking your naked body.
As you run.  And then.  Waves like hammer blows.

Your feet.  Your ankles.  Your thighs.
Your stomach.  Your chest.  Your shoulders.

Your singing soul.

And back out.  Running full pelt to your clothes.
Sand everywhere.  Your uncooperative wet body.

You put yourself back together.  Still in one piece.
A death-chill on your lungs.  Your heart hammerbeat.

Your brain saying.  What if anyone saw you?
Your singing soul.  What would it matter if they did?

Coal Tar Soap

The streetlight reflected off the blade of the knife and the hair gel glaze of his platinum-blond mohican.  I shifted my weight from one foot to the other and a red onion wobbled off the top of the pile of shopping in my arms, dropped to the ground and rolled fatly until it came to rest against the mugger’s boot.  “So,” I said.  “What now?”  He swung his foot back and then kicked the onion hard against the wall.  The message on the screen of the cashpoint was still there, the elephant in the room.  I averted my gaze, knowing that if I looked directly at it I might smile.  I did not think that my smiling would be advantageous.  It would not have a positive effect on the mugger’s mood.  It was already an ugly thing, violent and bare-toothed.  It told me that I wasn’t out of this yet – that he might still decide to stab me, if not for money then for fun.

As I waited for him to speak I thought about how this was all my fault – my fault for being too stubborn to buy a plastic bag at the shop, my fault for being too cocky, too sure of myself and taking a shortcut instead of walking the long, safe way home.  If I hadn’t been holding my debit card between my teeth it probably would have made things more difficult for him too.  As it was, grabbing it from my mouth and then marching me to a cashpoint had been so easy I wished I had thought of it.

He turned to me now.  “So, what have you got there?”  He was looking at the shopping.  “Um… ginger beer, potatoes, brioche…” I began to list as he reached over and started to pick through the groceries, his rough hands all over my shopping.  “Why are you carrying this stuff?”  He was looking straight into my eyes now.  “Why didn’t you buy a plastic bag?  Wouldn’t that have been easier?”  I gulped.  Didn’t say anything.  Looked down again.  “Red pepper, um, chewing gum…” I looked at the floor, “…red onion.”  “What about that?” he asked.  “That?  Um, coal tar soap,” I answered.  “Coal tar soap?”  “Yes,” I confirmed.

“Ok,” he said as he grabbed the coal tar soap.  “I’ll have that, and the ginger beer.  And the brioche.  Don’t call the cops, don’t follow me,” he instructed gruffly.  “Bloody waste of time,” I heard him mutter as he walked away, blade and mohican and all.  I just stood there in the street, what was left of my shopping in my arms.  No ginger beer to drink when I got in, no soap to wash with.  I waited until I was sure that he had gone and then I approached the cash machine.

I leaned in, so that the screen was just inches from my face, the message still displaying on the screen.  “He’s gone now,” I whispered.  “Can I have my card back?”

14th June Poem

I could climb into a paper sack,
Post myself away and never come back,
Far from things of which I need to keep track.
Travel by rail, road and sea.

Everyone would just leave me be.

And when I was travelling in my paper sack
I would not know forwards and I would not know back,
Not know anything but the darkest pitch black.
Would not see, just feel.

I could find out what was real.

And I would think of climbing from my sack,
Standing up tall and straightening my back,
Stretching my arms and legs, hearing my bones crack.
And I would stay quiet and still.