Death by drowning

25 years’ culture and girls in string bikinis
Crowd in on the tanned skin and muscles
Riding the big wave of nihilism.
SISYPHUS on a surfboard. CAMUS
In a card-board box. JEAN-PAUL
Turning a blind eye on the sex hungry
Teenagers paralysed with the sudden emotion
On the beach of full-color eternity.
White slides on blue in the corner of the room,
And hard-muscled boys, new to the world
Of DISNEYLAND mount the wave and dance
In the whorl of noiseless oblivion. Late at night
Senseless nothings of water and energy roll
On and on and over and over dead bodies
Banging on the ocean floor. Dawn screams
Its new morning service and television
Sends urgent messages in static S.O.S.
Across the carpet, as half the world drowns
In white, frothy surf.

The weight of freedom

Though I did not know you, or your daughters,
I know their friends: isobars of pain
Have run in lines of high and low through
All this isolation — you, your daughters,
Their friends, and me, the line connects us all.

I wonder how it felt, tempting the edge?
I see you spinning, in middle winter,
Your body wheeling on the fine ledge,
Platform for your final acts.
I can’t remember if it rained that day.

Train and rail and hot engines express
Their sympathy and warn: we are mindless muscle,
Taut and hard; we are sorry, but
We do not stop for suburbs of the heart.

“All this freedom, my God! What can I do?” —
Was pulling you like gravity, merciless
And the most natural thing in the world,
Toward yourself. How could you resist?

Talking heads

On a walkway between twin towers
Of the English Department, someone has a set of drums;
Others have guitars, tuba, a clarinet.
Walking through the South Lawn you can see heads
Without bodies gathering and talking on the walkway.

Inside some secretaries are bothered
And tutors interrupted mid-sentence in a novel
By Conrad, with that ungracious sound poised
On their commas. Those musicians up there
Come out singing: words fly up off the walkway.


The ———————— begins to fall,
through your mind,
through your work,
on this page. There is nothing
you can do to stop the ————————
being ————————ed up against
the wall. It is a proposition
ready to be executed. It is a joke
with no punch ————————, the space
between • and • where all
your fears and expectations
of acceptance fall in a heap.
————————s divide the heart
of the matter, and are sometimes
——– or ——- when
they drive you to work
on Sundays, because you have
no job. The ———————— loses
its balance, and begins to fall.
It is your mother. Your boss.
Your lover. You, and every
chance you had to be
a free man. It is a problem
more important than God.
It is your problem, as you wait
your turn in ————————, thinking
about this ————————, where you
buy your ticket for the privilege
of executing some meaningful state
ment, by inserting your name
here __________ .


there are no barbarians, any more

saturday night and
the buffalos are coming

like some strange scene
in a movie by cavafy, they
are coming to eat off civil
ised plates and curl their tongues
round silver spoons

the buffalos are coming
and will chew the seams
of our velvet curtains then
begin to eat us too

then swing from chandeliers
hung like stars in the deep
blue ceiling

then touch the wood that
touched the shoulders that
rubbed the shoulders of
important people who ate here

the buffalos are coming
as buffalos must, to graze
in pastures not fitting
their ugly teeth and
sitting awkwardly in antique
chairs that often break
then try another

the buffalos are coming, they
really are coming, because
cavafy was wrong, and

cavafy told lies

The english garden

for Howard Felperin

A garden or a book, untended, goes on
Growing wildly. Exotic flowers, strangled
By the weeds’ democracy, drop their seeds
And sleep. (I call it ‘sex and death’,
The only subject writers know.)
Reading in the garden, rose and thorn
Are coupleted by nature’s random verse.
I rake up heaps of Autumn poetry,
Libraries of dried leaf and sentiment.
But critical neighbours sometimes catch me
Sleeping on the job. —They don’t understand
It’s harder to write poetry than for dream
To pass through the eye of a reader.


Alas, how is’t with you
 That you do bend your eye on vacancy
  And with the incorporal air do hold discourse?
Clouds, those beautiful fictions, perform tricks
 Before your eyes that just words shouldn’t:
  Cloud, ghost, myth or fiction—all the same.
New condensation forms in the unformed air
 That ethereal, unstructured whiteness of poetry,
  Impossible to write, impossible to read.
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