She lies in her well-kept apartment
above the spick and span cathedral
in the heart of the walled city
above Manila Bay and she dreams
When I hurt you and cast you off, that was buccaneer work:
the sky must have turned on the Bay that day and spat.
We'd tarried on corners, we'd dallied on sofas, we were
'She was right. I had to find something new.
There was only one thing for it.'
They arrived at the desk of the Hotel Duncan
and Smithed in, twitchy as flea-drummed squirrels.
Her coat was squared and cream, his patent shoes
were little boats you wouldn't put to sea in.
People, not meaning to, write themselves in
to the soap that your life is, rise or fall in the plot.
Seems that they were fleeing from the 1980s
much as a hummingbird flies from a flower's bell.
These were the times when wine was still a treat
and not yet considered a common bodily fluid.
You will have heard that the mind works much
as an oval of soap turned between two hands.
She went round the room seeking lights
that could be off without desire becoming love.
He spread his arms behind his head, a gesture
of libido she misread as test of temperature.
Every carpet has its weave and underlay, seen
only by the maker, the deliverer and the layer.
The year was a dog but the day was as good as
a song that ends with a wedding, meat on the rib.
Evening was folding over the grid, slick walkers
with armfuls of books splendored in dusk's ask.
The song of the pipes was eerie as a face pressed
to glass, as a basketball with a mouth and teeth.
They lay in the glow of the times and talked of
how people form a queue to exact or escape love.
Each sigh has a sequel, she thought, then he did,
then the whole hotel pulsed through that thought.
Scandal has an inroad, but you must tunnel out;
she rose and stood up counting, all hair and beauty.
Though we do not hear them, beneath our own,
our shadows' footsteps clatter, they match our dread.
After the Yoruba
Though the amaryllis sags and spills
so do those my wishes serve, all along the town.
And yes, the new moon, kinked there in night's patch,
tugs me so—but I can't reach to right the slant.
And though our cat pads past without a tail, some
with slinking tails peer one-eyed at the dawn, some
with eyes are clawless, some with sparking claws
contain no voice with which to sing
of foxes gassing in the lane.
parade smart shirts, while my broad back supports
a scrubby jumper, fawn or taupe.
The balding English
air their stubble while some headless hero sports
a feathered hat. I know a man whose thoroughbred
grazes in his porch for want of livery.
There are scholars of Kant who can't find Kent
on the map, and men of Kent who cannot
We who would polish off a feast have lain
late in our beds, our bellies groaning, throats on fire.
We who'd drain a vat of wine have drunk
our own blood for its sting.
Each of us in tatters flaunts
one treasured garment flapping in the wind.
Don't say Sir Pigeon in his cobalt bonnet.
Don't find among your notes
jottings on duvets and blizzards and the page
unwalked across black missives of girlhood
must be sent off and do not claim the furnace
of the universe is powered by human screams.
When the dark turns dark
or when the bullet lifts a scalp,
it is enough to know the lover feels the slap
that the world can hear the sharp shout
which wakes the cat
her claws one inch from the rabbit's bobbing scut.
I realise it's not all salad sandwiches
at pinewood picnics, endless volleyball.
I've heard the argument that talk of shame
and how our forebears thought their bodies dirty;
how we've all got one. Seen one, seen 'em all.
But it's not for me, beneath my double load
of Calvinist and voyeuristic tendencies.
For me, I have to see the clothes come off:
the way a button's thumbed through cotton cloth -
a winning move in some exotic game
with no set rules but countless permutations -
or how a summer dress falls to the floor
with momentary mass and with a plash
that stirs us briefly as we ply our passion;
a hand pushed through the coldness of a zip,
three fingertips that follow down the spine
to where a clasp is neatly spun undone
amidkiss, by prime legerdemain
and who cares that it happens once in four
and never, never on the first undressing,
it must be better than a foreskin snagged
on gorse thorns or a cold, fat nipple jammed
in the scissor drawer, the bounty and the blessing,
the mystery of nakedness reduced
till on a par with go-go palaces
where goosebumped, grinding strippers strut their stuff
in the birthday clothes of backstreet empresses,
down on a par with the oncologist
who gropes for lumps, the night-morgue man who clips
his nails amongst the naked, bin-bagged stiffs.
So, stranger, what I want to say is this:
if you're to join me in a little sinning
(and this is my place up here on the right),
please understand I'd value some reluctance,
a cold-feet shiver, as in the beginning
when Eve discovered modesty and slipped
in and out of something comfortable.
For there are many ways to skin a cat,
but ours is human nature - things come off
so rarely. Come in. Let me take your coat.
Into perplexity: as an itch chased round
an oxter or early man in the cave mouth
watching rain-drifts pour from beyond
his understanding. Whether to admire
the mere sensation, enough, or hold out
for sweeter ornament, vessels of wonder
born with that ur-charm of symmetry;
lovely ones we ache to prize and praise,
climb into and become because they try
our day-by-day significance: some of us
ugly and most of us plain, walked past
in the drowned streets: pearls of paste,
salted butter, secondary colors. They
drift unapproached, gazed never-selves,
blunt paragons of genetic industry. We
desire them but cannot want such order.
We stand, mouths open, and cannot help
stammering our secrets, nailed to water.
Just then, encountering my ruddy face
in the grand piano's cold black craquelure,
it conjured the jack-o'-lantern moon
dipping up over the roofs of the Tenderloin.
Only when I have done with the myths—
the inner spill that triggers us to flame,
breasts so sensitive a moment's touch
will call down fever; the dark sea-lane
between limbic squall and the heart's harbour—
will I picture you, just beyond innocence,
lying stripped by a thrown-wide window,
letting the cool breeze covet your ardour.
Kitten curious, or roaring down drinks
in Soho sumps, small hours tour buses,
satellite station green rooms, or conked
out in the bathtubs of motorway hotels,
there you were, with muck-about kisses,
sharking for the snappers, before hell
opened up for you and weeping sores
of after fame appeared, the haphazardry
and dwindling after three limelit years,
recognized with catcalls, wads of spit,
a nightclub fist, the scant camaraderie
melts fast, like your flat on Air Street,
the Lhasa Apso pups, the wraps and lines
of chang, the poster pull-outs, fake tan
smiles. It's paunch and palimony time
on Lucifer's leash. But for a madcap few
who cling, thin soup, one pillow Britain
is simmering with hatred, just for you.