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Best of Qualm


        May 2016

Jamie McKendrick


When we meet, I and my neighbour Michael,
we tend to agree
we'd like to strangle someone.

Who that is depends. I for instance
might have in mind a certain person
and he an alternative but we listen
to each other, deferring
to the other's grievance, the facts of each case.

There's no telling how far the blame extends
- we both know full well it does extend
far down the road and back in time and way beyond
the bounds we've set - but in fairness
we find it helps to keep the numbers down

and not to overreach ourselves. But then his dog
has had enough of what, in his little world,
he probably thinks of as just standing still
and makes a series of resentful tugs
braced at the leash until, behind his back,

my neighbour rolls his eyes and I agree
with a nod. Must be off,
he sighs and me: Right see you soon then Mick.


How irresistible all that ill-will is! It lures you
onto its silvery walkways and you find
your nimble feet glued. A fat shape,
unbearably beautiful to its own kind,
a factory of silk and toxins, registers
by touch your entrance and attempt to exit.
The whole device which seemed an airy disc
is now 3D, its flatness trampolines
in vibrant rays and parterres. Voices of fraud
slide along the wires. What looks like a door
opens its mouth to sing, but shuts without
audible utterance. On the fang's tip,
already withdrawn from your thorax,
a droplet with a green tinge gathers.

Les Murray


The smallest girl
in the wild kidís gang
submitted her finger
to his tomahawk idea -

It hurt bad, dropping off.
He knew heíd gone too far
and ran, herding the others.
Later on, heíd maim her brother.

She stayed in the bush
till sundown, wrote
in blood on the logs, and
gripped her gapped hand, afraid

what her parents would say
to waste of a finger.
Carelessness. Mad kids.
She had done wrong some way.


Verandah shops with history
and houses up dry gully-bends
proffer gouts of laundered colour
out into their gala weekends,

recycled fashion displayed
under bullnose eaves, down corridors,
cerise, magenta, nubbled teal,
lilac overalls that were a steal,

yellow bordure and buttony rib,
pouched swimsuits, cretonne ad lib
in front of blush crimson sleeves.
City buyers carry off sheaves,

tie dye, mai tai, taupe lingeries -
and cattle who haven't yet entered
a building wander, contented,
munching paddock under their last trees

till a blowsy gold-ginger horizon
built up out of the day's talk
glorifies and buries the sun.
A nude moon burns the newsprint version.

Tusiata Avia


Nafanua lays the flesh of smoked freshwater fish
against the skin of her belly
she is as dark as an octoroon
or a quadroon even.

Against the skin of her belly
a lover the colour of a brown paper bag
or a quadroon even
the colour of river shrimp and lake shrimp.

A lover the colour of a brown paper bag
who could pass for black or white
the colour of river shrimp and lake shrimp
Nafanua melts down to a golden roux.

Who could pass for black or white?
Nafanua with a body soft as pig fat.
Nafanua melts down to a golden roux
runs in shining streaks down to the open mouth.

Nafanua with a body soft as pig fat
Nafanua with a belly like a salt trout
runs in shining streaks down to the open mouth
of the brackish Pontchartrain.


Last night I spoke to the prophet
in Philadelphia by phone
I told him Lucky Dube was dead
That is just about the last straw he said
Lucky has always sung about peace
and now we need a sniffer machine to find it.

Today, Tammany (who is often mistaken for Jamaican)
gave that look to his uncle
Tammany never washes the pots
just eats the food and lets it rot
Uncle threw the pot at Tammanyís head
and banged him up against the wall.

Now, no one can find him
heís turned into something and flown away.
There is a boy called Willy Cramp
who lives next door with his mother
she makes him stand outside the eye hospital
while she brings coloured sailors home.

I watched through the side window one night
when Willy Cramp came home
I didnít know whether to laugh or cry
there he was, standing in the rain
wearing a ruined umbrella like a skirt.

Simon Carnell


End of summer Victorian Cromer
with its spray-lashed promenade
still goes a little into the sea on stilts,
three winding flights down
from the dank former elegance
of the towering Hotel De Paris.

There's a variety show on the pier,
graced by minor, former, soap stars.
Lives are brought here to breathe,
expand, and be photographed
on the beach. Days to remember,
free of what it means to be home.

One nil down to Germany,
a pub crowd lows with a single voice.
While a mother with a bruised face
teaches her daughter how to throw
chips from the pier, for wind-riding gulls,
which fail to catch them as they fall.



Say that the eye was 'the window onto the soul'.
Albrecht DŁrer painted one into his own eye
in his self-regarding self-portraits, and inked
the transom and mullion of a window
into the eye of his watercoloured hare:
both hyper-realistic detail
(the animal was before him in his studio)
and metaphor.
                      How you caught your own eye
(by which I mean mine, for le moi est toujours
, remember?)
unawares at the well-bottom
of a black-glazed tea-mug,
looking older, stranger, nothing like your own.
How I only knew that we were finished
when I saw the light in your eyes
for your new lover, switched off for mine.


The eye is not a camera.
More like an entire photographic workshop
with no interest in producing 'stills'.
A nineteenth century biochemist,
a German, dissected the eye of a guillotined felon,
in order to make an 'optogram', a photo
of the last image on his retina.
Then, un-deterred by its total failure
pinioned a rabbit facing a window,
chopped off its head, and laid its excised retina,
cut along the equator,
in a solution of alum for fixation.
Next day he saw the window,
'with its clear pattern of bars'.
                                                  Pulp fiction,
and several actual murderers Ė
including the woman who gouged out the eyes
of her mother-in-law to erase
the image of herself wielding a hammer Ė
ran with the idea of the tell-tale eye.


As the overdose of anaesthetic was fed in
to put down my old lurcher
I stayed to close his slowly glazing eyes
and thought of 'Building a Wall' -
the pioneering cinematic short
in which footage of Victorian workmen,
demolishing a wall, was then reversed
to show them pickaxing it up again.
Thought of the lethal flow reversed, that miracle,
the laid down held dog's sideways fall
becoming a gentle rise.
                                     Coming round
from the by-pass, we needed you to show
that you were all there. Could you squeeze
the nurse's hand? Your first word was 'water',
then 'give me something', meaning morphine.
As I reached to caress your hair
you smelt on my hand the nicotine
from a single cigarette, despite the handwash
in alcohol. Thought you saw a missing button
on my shirt (it was actually undone),
as the world resumed itself, in endless detail.

John Whitworth


The Love Bug will bite you if you don't watch out: Fats Waller

Alone in a library a lovely girl
     Begins The Faerie Queene of Spenser,
And as she pushes back an errant curl
     The Imp of Poetry attends her,
Squats by her shoulder, whispers in her ear,
Though what he says to her is far from clear.

Perhaps he instructs her in the Rhymer's Art,
     His Course in Seven Easy Stages,
Conjuring Artegall and Britomart
     From countless crabbed twin-columned pages,
Perhaps he enumerates her secret sins.
Perhaps that's why she blushes and he grins.

He grins, she blushes and she's beautiful
     Entirely Ė so the poet Auden
Blazoned his sweet boy's ceremonial.
     For Poetry is Holy Jordan
And she is Poetry, of course she is.
Except that verse is lies, and she's the biz.

For she's the Faerie Queene and he's the frisky
     Rude Mechanic Bottom, waster, weaver,
Wordsmith and manchild, marinate in whisky Ė
     The Single Malt, the Gay Deceiver,
The Poet's Passion and the Poet's Crutch.
He's onto something but it isn't much.

What isn't much is all he's got, and this,
     The perfect shadow of a sonnet,
Stands for the imperfect shadow of a kiss
     And everything dependent on it,
Counting the moonbeams, swinging on a star,
Etcetera, et-cet-e-bloody-ra.


He moved by night. He went alone.
He crept through corridors of stone
Into her reveries of bone.

He'd drawn a blank. The bird had flown.
His friends were fled, his cover blown
And this time he was on his own.

In Peter's Chair the Pope was Joan.
She cursed him in an undertone:
You reap the crap that you have sown.

He wouldn't listen to the crone.
He heard his own testosterone.
Out there beyond the panic zone

The night was right as pheromone,
A scattering of starlight thrown
Across the void of the unknown,

The wind became a sousaphone
Beneath the howling of the drone,
His homicidal chaperon.

Her wildernesses overgrown,
Her staunch, indomitable moan,
He guessed, though he was never shown.

He moved by night. He went alone.

Hugo Williams


A drop of something cloudy blue
hangs between two grave, attentive breasts,
which sway back and forth
like cobras under a cloth.
Her nipples flicker on and off
in amused disbelief
as I do the Indian rope trick
with my gin and tonic.

The liquid dawdles for a moment in mid-air,
then changes its mind
and comes down gradually
all over her top half.
Her nipples give me ten out of ten
as I write my name and telephone number
on a damp paper napkin
and take up smoking again.


The teenage con-girl in martial arts gear
hooks me like a numbered fish out of the night
and holds me up to the light like a ten pound note.
She lets me go ahead of her up some stairs,
through a door marked "Chinese Stock Exchange".
"You pay me now I come back later," she explains.

I sit down with some other lunatics in front of
a big old tv set with the sound turned down.
Karl Malden's nose pokes suspiciously into our lives
from some long ago "Streets of San Francisco".
"Will she be long?" I ask a man in pyjamas.
"Not long," he replies. "Tonight very busy night."

Hannah Baker


New Orleanian telephone-wire birds
tight-lipped over street-level shootings:
the aimless stray the co-op clerk couldnít duck out of
like a picture you donít want taken now,
then his cabbage-rose blood hits the asphalt;
the random homicide when bikers chase midnight heels;
the teenager, fired at for just looking at a manís SUV
sleeps in wires in ICU, coming to.

Is this all youíd see, if you hit pavement, shot:
a wirescape of birds spaced along fiber-optic
branches, with few actual trees
nodding their antlers of leaves?
Maybe leaves with lemons still green.
Is there only looking up? The rainbow skittles
in a teenís palm tumble, the face-down cell phone still talks.
What you last see, does it blare and torture

as the last real pulp of a life?
Framed by Newsome in a baroque, gaudy gold
with a trim of neon sheet-cake flowers,
a matting of chinchilla fur.
Captured as a cathedral-dome cut-out of sky,
light, and a wirescape harp-strung to poles.
Is this what children graze-wounded or worse
at a jazz funeral see last, having swayed

into someone dancingís lap?
Who open-fires on a second-line
and its caboose of twin drippy babies,
pear yogurt in their wrist folds,
their blotchy gums bursting
with three peaks of a tooth?
Who interrupts the song of women who, in chaotic tenderness,
rub and tunnel into their babiesí necks

and thigh-folds? Shaking, dip-bouncing,
laughing the squeal-trill of birds.
Who wants to hear the ages, let alone the names of
those in our city whose lives were lost to violence this week
with our without mercies, at an altar?
For now, the teenager who pedaled a childís bike,
who breathed at his reflection in a manís big car,
hangs on, his blood wiped from the courtyard driveway.


Charles is Julia's but only after her brother
Sebastian, who meets Charles from drinking
then throwing up in his rooms at Oxford,

has him. The next morning jonquils
alter the first impression. Out of one bouquet
a note to come to lunch at noon,

signed by Sebastian, and his silly bear,
who, too, could ask forgiveness
for last night's walk of shame.

At lunch there are plover's eggs to start with,
a passionate speech by a guest stuttering
strangely. When Sebastian has Charles

many more times at his real home,
Brideshead, mansion turned playhouse,
chapel turned gallery, turned actual

fortress, the Flyte who stands out, threatening,
is Julia, with her lap dog burrowing
in the dark place that is actually

warmer for her childless marriage,
vacuous adultery, airy religion,
the dog called a baby, a flirt, a toy.

It's as if Charles is already lighting Julia's
cigarette in the car together,
Charles Ryder and Julia Flyte.

Charles, clock without a pendulum,
clock good for a ship, the time ball
crashing down the spoke atop a kind of steeple,

at one in the afternoon, several ships fire,
giving mariners everywhere something
to go by, for their own chronometers.

Harry Clifton


I was wrapped in mine
On arrival, and it hit me,
The orange undersea light
Of the day of birth.

I was safe, though,
Unafraid of drowning
In the strange, new element
I had dropped into,

A man in a bathyscape
Of throwaway skin,
Old veins, post-natal,
Making his way in the world.

Some spoke of greatness,
Others of safety at sea.
Of the lying-in ward
Three pillars remain

And a great emotion.
Mother, am I beloved,
Or who else wears it now,
My dried skin cap,

For luck, on another ocean?


for Huiyi Bao

A Shanghai night-poet,
Keeping Chinese hours,
Looks across the lights of Dublin
At the sleeping powers

On western time. A little wine
But mostly tea, exfoliating
Leaf by strange green leaf
In earth-dark, where the soul alone

Breathes itself on the windowpane.
After Mao, the masses, slaughter,
Brotherless, the lonely daughter
Of the Policy of One

Is staring out, through bloodshot eyes,
At emptiness a Trappist monk
Awakens to, unblinking,
In the small hours.... O for advice

From that strange soul-sister
Out of Asia, someone new,
A veteran of Anabasis,
A follower of Chuang Zhu,

A Gnostic at the hour of sex
Who sees through all the books!
She must be sleeping by now,
Her hair cut straight across her brow,

Her dregs brewed out, her left brainís
Dreaming mind a hemisphere
Ahead of me, already night
In Shanghai, as I write.

Kate Camp


I knew you as the one who had placed birds
in places where birds might not be Ė
in the cool lightwell of the hotel
among the laundry; or on the sky
as a kind of momentary lettering.

Your authorship was everywhere:
in the close but never to be touching hands
of figures in ancient paintings
and in the smell of burning
that came up from the subway
and the grooved black and silver stairs of the escalator
vanishing neatly into their combs.


Sometimes I feel my body expand
I am heavy in every direction.
I dream that I am drunk
too drunk to walk or speak
and I crawl along the dream earth.

Is it possible to be a great, unwieldy vessel
made of dense material, hollow,
and somehow still be rising
as if drawn into an empty sky by gravity?

I could have been a scientist
the kind who gives names
to the members of a group of wolves.
I could have been a ship, making my effortful sounds

Jaswinder Bolina


If you believe in the soul, youíre the thing inside the other thing,
half corpus, half ethereal light, the idea the bodyís only necessary
so the soul can inhabit the world. If you donít believe in the soul,
inside you is a scratchy racket, a dark sizzle and rotor hum,
the idea of the body as faulty machinery. Tom says his motherís body
couldnít sustain the idea of itself. The inside of an idea is axons
rapping dendrites. Inside, everything is verging on rupture.
Inside my blue shirt is the undershirt with a tear in the shoulder,
inside the tear, the skin inside which is a network of capillaries
blooming when the shoulder catches an exposed nail in the hall.
Even so, we want to sit and sip our mojitos in sun.
In the muggy run of summer, our faces irradiated until the skin flakes.
Inside my face is another face come to take its place. It too is my face.
Itíll never grace the cover of Vanity Fair. It will not be inaugurated.
And this inside the already large and growing catalogue
of things Iíll never eventually do. No go spelunking. No passing calculus.
No sub-orbital space flight or cocktails on the Queen Mary.
Inside the membrane of what-wonít-happen-again
are organelles of the what-happened-before. Inside, says Tom,
is the image of his motherís face, luminous and holographic in xenon
beams of approaching headlamps or luminous and holographic
strolling in sun but not a lucid sense of what she looked like.
The lucid sense of the pier is stuck into the roiling murk of the lake.
Inside the lake are ions in undulation, and inside undulation,
phonemes meaning a thing billowing with gravity which is invisible
but pervasive inside everything. Tom says after his motherís body
undulated with cancer, it smoldered in the crematory
until all that was left was the idea of his motherís body.
No more strolling. Just axons and dendrites inside Tom,
memory as a room with an arsonist inside it, her face in dissipation,
as inside the match head, the bright idea of fire, and inside the flame,
the dark idea of luminosity as a thing consuming itself.


Hosanna to the gracious and eminent genius I never heard of.
Hosanna his opera opening in Minsk, his art exhibition in Zurich,
his graceful field theory and double album of great hits.
Collegiate bohemians must tack portraits of him in lucid reverie
to walls over their futons, over secondhand BarcaLoungers
in wisps of incense above the clutter of ashtrays on cardboard boxes
doubling as end tables. Their instructors might pant after
his endorsement and their boyfriends probably swoon,
but I never heard of him. Iíve read dozens of books
and never once encountered his sequence of fractured sonnets,
never once his instructional manual. I never rode in a Bentley
or wore a TAG Heuer or had his skill for dismantling his critics
so magnanimously, but this theme of not doing, of not achieving
is one I return to often driving past the pale motels that flank
the tollway west of Aurora or when Iím deliberating
between heads of lettuce in the Dominickís grocery store or when
Iím digging into the pouch of peanuts on a shuttle to Annapolis
conceding to myself I never will have cause enough
to purchase a tuxedo, how this is true for most of the lot of us,
most of us fungible bodies thrown at a problem not altogether
certain what the problem is, as in war only less heroic, as in revolution
but less righteous. No confetti or bunting will greet me.
I suppose itís good to arrive at this early, too, so as not to feel
threatened by it at some critical juncture as when attempting
to grease the palm of a maÓtre dí or contest a traffic violation
or when children are watching. No atrium is filled with any experts
awaiting my expert opinion, and itís this sense of feeling finished
with the self I return to most on warm, overcast evenings
in my minor apartment listening to the high-pitched locomotive
of cricket noise, buzz of the high-tension wires, the neighborhood
of intermittent elms, how far away everyone is, and me nearly dozed
on the sofa watching the ball club drop another series to Houston,
the squat shortstop up for a day or two to take the place
of one of the extraordinary wounded before returning to the minors,
to the slow crawl of bus travel across Carolina, to a spot on the bench
in a rainout, slouched and spitting sunflower seeds into a puddle.

Brian Waltham (1925-2002) Three unpublished late poems.


To be dead fair, she did all she reasonably could:
Low heels, a shoulder stoop, a slightly bent knee,
Crimping her neck, watching carefully where she stood,
But, looking at it squarely: she was taller than me.
I too did my best with more than two-inch heels,
Standing uphill, straightening my back,
Think tall I thought, you're as tall as it feels,
But what I needed was to be stretched on a rack.
We never said it, but eye-to-eye upright didn't work,
She must, like me, have felt something of a clown,
Or that we shared a kind of long-and-short quirk.
For at least two reasons we were best lying down.
It had to end. Her cat said I was shorter than her,
That Iago of a cat who couldn't even purr.


For one thing, although they move slower,
Your hands get clumsier, brush a fork off a
Table, are less than pin-point accurate in
Reaching for a cup, shave what the mirror
Says is there, but among folds and hollows,
Leave unfarmed too many holts and hangers.
And you look at these vein-proud, blotchy tools
And very quietly kiss them.

For another, although they move slower,
Your feet, by just that crucial much,
Underlap/overlap a downward stair, behead
A treasured toy, tread sideways unbidden,
Fail to miss the edge of pavement dogshit,
Donít like shoes, get cold without them.
And you look at these, your servants, and want
To bend near enough to kiss them too.

Oh come on! Letís spend more time on
Shirtbuttons and bootlaces, letís admit that
Putting on a sock is not at all easy, letís
Read what for the first time we understand
And will forget before the week is out.


In this land where, inter alia,
We both seem to live, it is
A courteous kind of fighting:
No lives lost, not a nose broken,
But the truth is weíre
All of us writing.

And writing is not reading,
But writing needs reading
Sure as talking needs heeding
Or the infant Einstein
Needs feeding.

Read me, read me, read me,
But our land is short of readers
And, scribbling hard, we ask
Where are the bleeders?

Peter Reading.  Ten untitled poems.

Mister, we are worse than the excrement of hogs
(which does nothing wrong,
but only enriches the earth),
for we crack on rocks the backs
of our supertankers
(which we dispatch
despite our retrospective intelligence),
and thereby, for reasons of avarice,
precipitate extirpation.

Today, once more,

Well, Mister, as I have elsewhere remarked,
it is a fucking good job
that it all doesn't matter.

  Dusk falls: young girls,
  gatherers, pass;

an old calligrapher
  (moon frosts his room)
  confronts a page
  stubbornly blank.

This Sixth Molar,
molested unmercifully
by years' ravages,
abstract it, Dentist, please -
first bit of the whole foul heap
to go for good.

A spectrum sphere, child's blown bubble,
incongruously wafts past a window
of the Globe where we imbibe while we may;

a bewildered sparrow flackered through
the fleeting vigour of a once great mead-hall.

  This morning he scrawled
one Haiku of no merit.

  This falling darkness:

that of which he is able
is a failed Tanka only.

   Dawn's lume,
bakers' ovens' fragrance:

   new bread -
we live for one day more.

As Artemis or golden Aphrodite,
Penelope shone there on his return.

[But men age quickly in adversity.]

   My guide to me:
"This subfusc flumen,
   so soon traversed,
may not be recrossed."

He is reading to his wife:
approaching the fiction's end,
   he decelerates -
who does not regret last lines?

We have ditched most of the draff:
the unbidden spineless books,
the grot-gathering gubbins,
the outvogued vestments,
the cracked crockery,
the pot pig moneybox,
the Morecambe Bay mug,
the vintner's final demand,
the last-but-one's divorce papers,
the last home's deeds,
the chimp's wizened scrotum souvenir,
world's gear,
the bulk of the whole fucking shitheap.

That which remains is a cleared desk
and a time of appointment.

Malachi Smyth


This love thing's
One big game of hide and seek.
Whose turn now
To crawl beneath the stairs
Or slide behind the coats?
Eyes tight and count to ten
'Ready or not, here I come'.

But whereas once
We hid impatiently
In eager and ill-suppressed
Expectation of discovery,
Now, it seems,
The game's for keeps -
≠One hides for good
The other never seeks.


The dernier cri
for le tout paris
outdoor heaters
at cafes
for smokers
in the rue vieille du temple
here where
waiters hear
just what they please
and contempt flows
like wine
from parisian carafes

Where do poets go
in paris now?
not to the rue vieille du temple
not to the bourgeois-boheme marais
quartier juif and quartier gai
(there's a venn diagram worth a gander)
didn't camus
used to come here?
or some gitane-toting philosopher
an a-la-carte sartre
in polo-neck and beret
master of all he surveyed.

The intellectual is dead
of a big head
now tourists sit
in his stead
eyeing each the next one over
wondering 'is that a noted author?
or some other?'
donít they know?-
the intellectual is dead
long live the euro
the eunifier
which achieved
what napoleon never could
and leveller
like robespierre
ne'er dreamt
we're all shoppers now
pigs at the trough
maxed out
and proud
measured in debt
of which there's never quite enough

Closing time
on the rue de bretagne
red wicker chairs
and marble topped tables
are all that remain
of parisian dreams
or do I mean fables?
closing time
on the boulevard ancien
des illusions

Hinemoana Baker


The two halves drill towards each other
eating through the mountain
excreting cement.
When they meet
the tunnel could be said

to be complete and the machines
bury themselves on that spot
become part of the mountain
it being uneconomic to retrieve them.
Each half is the size of an aircraft.

Each, no doubt, has its trajectory
mapped remotely from above ground.
What appeals most
is not the action of the tunnelling
or even the burial

these topics having been
well-traversed by other machines
but the way they use their food
how they shit out reinforcement
turning the gravel, the mud

the mountainís insides
into a concrete that prevents
the new tunnelís collapse.
Perhaps this is where
we went wrong.



By the time I reach the basket of rose petals
held by the young girl with the green sash
there are none left. Still, she holds
the basket out to me

like an air steward offering sweets
in the last fifteen minutes of the flight.
I breathe in the smoke
of myrrh from the censer
and breathe it out towards your photograph.

If this were a waltz it might go something like:
in space sound donít travel and everyone floats
wonít somebody light my candles

It would be sung in the voice you sang in
when you sang Johnny Cash
and there would be a visual element, of course
a silent film of a free diver
frogging down from the sparkling surface
to the place where the very water
becomes the sinking anchor tied to your feet.


The stone with a muka rope
tied through a single chiseled hole
the one weíll give a name to when it washes up
a thousand years later in the shape
of an island white with gulls.


We wrote words on pieces of paper and stuck them to our foreheads.
My mouth was on the plastic tap sticking out of the plastic bag.
Later I used my lips to free the sound of an insect from you.
I miss you (buzz). Pass me your lighter.

When I opened the door there was a cake on the front porch.
Someone had made patterns of waves in the off-white icing.
A single word in capital letters sang itself in chocolate.

Oh where is the cradle and where is the crime
Wonít somebody light my candles
Thereís fire in the chapel and ice in the rhyme
Wonít somebody light my candles


Is it possible to perform this word? To own this word?
To kick this word once in the face and want to do it again?
Is it something one can acquire, like land or collectibles?

Oh yes, yes it is a veritable killer whale of a word
creamy and foamy in its black and white propensities
and its refusal to speak English.


I am trying to leave you behind, my love
I am trying to leave you behind

The boat was a mouth, the word was a whale,
the moon was a flying fish, the swoop of a letter.
I miss you, itís like a cave in this mouth.
Itís a terrible saxophone solo.
Itís what passes for a lie down.

Jack Beeching  (1922-2001).   Two late poems.


Puppy, rampageous over empty sands;
Windbreaker, furtive in the tamarisk shrubs;
Up and down coastal roads, a loud Lambretta.

This bay incongruous: tilted fishing boats
No longer photographed. Last season's girls
Wear winter clothes, eyes wet from foam or tears,

And stalk like cats amid the crowd of gulls,
Or finger hair, or push reluctant prams,
Incredulous that they were filled by summer.


Loaded with fruit and wine, the women lift
Burdens of memory, their heavy flesh
Such wrinkled trash as no one, now, will touch.

Yesterday's dalliance marks their loaded stance:
Pink satin once. Exuberant as drink
The split peach of their sex. No passing face

Will ever turn those burdened women young,
Nor bellarmines of wine confer on them
Apple of love, gulp of oblivion.

Roc Sandford


Unicorn milk is unbelievable stuff; the highest of the twenty-nine angelical liquors in the enumeration of Averroes. The resolutely bovine get a spiteful buzz in the small of their backs by saying it's no better than cow's milk, and that a unicorn far from being more than a cow, is but a cow, one horn the less. Still, purists compare it with a womanís milk and to the upbeat it gives joy. And, but like most incredible things, itís hard to come by. This is how you must get it. First, go into the woods, the darker the better, though not too dark to see. Clawing wet cobwebs from your face, find a place where curdled fog-streamers are lapped in the inguinal folds of branches, and it smells of mud, fern, Spanish chestnut and honeysuckle. The thrushes and the blackbirds sing, but quietly and sadly, and slowly, and at a deeper pitch, so that it sounds not like singing at all, but moaning.

The unicorns at first will look like mist, but glowing brighter than mist. Sometimes their horn is gilded and their mane is blond. This is a trick of the light tumbling as if down a chimney through the forestís needles, webs, dusts, nests and leaves. What you have to do is to look fazed, in trouble, malfunctioning, forlorn. Tangled strands of thick hair blown across your face; some drops of blood tugged from your cheek by a bramble thorn; burrs, sedge and torn nettle-leaves caught both on your crushed-velvet skirt, which is a becoming bottle-green embroidered with wildflowers, and on your flame-coloured jerkin crudely sewn from enormous dead leaves. Something either back to front, upside-down or inside-out to your eyes. And even a fizz and soft sparks from the mussed or felted wiring, fine as hair and wrung by life from a rent in your neck. People who donít know what they are talking about say it is better to be a virgin. They are like those mushroom fanciers who spread self-interested disinformation. Because, no offence intended, soon a unicorn will come, perhaps several.

So Ė express delight, but in no more than a whimper, because however confidently they cluster round you, they are shy creatures and will soon bolt, even at the thudding of your own heart. Most unicorns have green, grey or brown eyes with vertical pupils and an alert, kindly gleam, not like a target or a cat. But what you want if possible is one with one green and one grey, one grey and one brown, or one brown and one green eye, shaded by thick white lashes. The black ones with dark green eyes are also special. So choose your unicorn, choose the very most best, and take it with you ever deeper into the forest, leading it by the kiss curl that curls down its forehead like a rill, until you find a glade where the sun glares through a sink-hole in the blackish, bluish canopy and warms and illuminates plump grass. Which, exactly like your skirt, is studded and spangled with cornflowers, bull-rushes and Indian corn, and pansies with smudged eyes, and dawn-coloured crocuses and unripe strawberries; and which looks as if lit from beneath, shining its own lime-green light (with purple patches) on the underside of the unicornís belly and the frog of your chin. But which gives with a shuddering squelch making brown water trickle around your unicornís feverish hooves, clumsy and much too big, not canted but drummed, shaded with white fetlock, and the colour of scorched amber. A hollow boom betrays, beneath the saturated grass, the existence of dry rooms filled with twigs and leaves.

Now, curry comb, hoof pick, dandy brush. Fetlock, withers, pastern, rump. There is a Dobbin or even Boxer quality to unicorns, and they will stand still, their legs planted wide and their ears swivelling pleasantly, to be groomed or, later, when you have their trust, ridden. The next bit is the tricky bit. Can you bear to kiss their hot, pink lips, not glazed like our lips, but made of marshmallow skin with stray white hairs, and flobbery. Though mild, they are simple beasts, and sometimes they will think you are giving them sugar and try to bite off your nose not out of malice but stupidity. Kiss their lips, caress their ears, suck on curly strands of mane, and even tail, out of which if you like you can fashion a living wig and a false moustache, and make them close their eyes by kissing their felted eyelids and blowing along their lashes, whilst all the time (behind your back) hiding a suede bridle inlaid with silver suns and copper crescent moons and fitted with a silver-gilt art-nouveau Pelham bit adorned with figurines of wood and water nymphs or, if you cannot afford one of those, a bridle made from binder-twine, its reins not plaited but strung, more loosely than a violin bow, with not blond but blonde hair, or black or auburn or grey. The bit must not jingle, nor must your nerves. So, go on caressing the unicornís ears, but quietly slip the bridle up its face, over the rifled, twisted, barley-sugar-scented horn, clear as a feverish icicle of Coca-Cola, and not frosted but as polished as a lolly already sucked. Rub its kiss-closed eyes and caressed yet swivelling ears.

Then use your gentle thumb and forefinger in the corners of its lips to open the mouth for the bit. It will shake its head, breathe grassy breath in your face, and pull back, and rear perhaps, but this is a formality. Last but not least, the milk. If you go on caressing your unicornís ears, it will grow languid and lie itself down in the grass, tuck its hooves with their polished copper shoes under its neat belly, and dreaming it stumbles, will twitch and brace itself in a hypnic jerk. Its breathing slows and you can slip the bridle off (you wonít need that anymore) and the unicorn, bridle-less and suddenly resembling a naked woman without her glasses, will toss its head, though without conviction. Then you can blow the conch you have hidden in your clothes, part your own legs, lifting crushed-velvet skirts in ruched swags like a safety curtain to your two hips, one on each side, as milky as unicorn pelt themselves and forming with your milky legs a kind of proscenium arch with a high escutcheon or cartouche. Then, after coating it in your living spit, just as you slick an udder with its own milk, impale yourself so, so slowly, in starts and fits. The sensation for the unicorn is the sweetest in the universe, and it will be yours to take home and keep. But be careful. The point is sharp. Unicorn horn can be really, really sharp.

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