Transposition in the words of James Baldwin

We have invented the faggot.
I did not invent him.
Straight people invented him.
I have always known, have known since I was seventeen
years old, what you were describing was not me, and
what you were afraid of was not me. It had to be
something else. You had invented it.
So it had to be something you were afraid of
you invested me with. I learned this
because I had to learn it.
But you still think, I gather, that the faggot is necessary.

Well, it is not necessary to me.
So it must be necessary to you.
So I give you your problem back.
You are the faggot, baby.
It isn’t me.


Note: All words spoken by James Baldwin.

People like us

The numbers are important: it has been twenty years,
more than twenty years. Still, he is always home at six, exactly.
I have prepared the table, and the vegetables. Something
has been cooking all afternoon that we will finish together

later, but before that he throws his arms around my shoulders
and kisses me on the neck. We have a drink and talk.
Like all companions we have a secret language, and a world
within the outward world where characters, known only there

sub-plots, imaginings, laughter, have private lives and meaning.
Then, when it is time to eat, we go to the kitchen and agree
on how to serve. Did you know that in the Bible it says
be subject to each other? It means, I think, he is first, always.

It means, he thinks, I am always first. We assess the wine.
He is better at this than I am. At this, and many other things.
I am better at the jokes, I think, but we share a taste for the absurd.
Everything and everyone is discussed. No one has the final word.

Then there is a handful of hauntingly beautiful scenes, a girl
in a red coat, a crumbling beach house, the installation
of the finished bell, to be recounted later in a dream, music
and poetry piling up in a great heap of life.

For us there is nothing ever new under the sun.
In the place beyond the city where we escape
debates and news—where it is useless to mention
politics because there are no roads or pathways

and there is no right or wrong—people like us, lie down
in the grass, and for a minute there we lose ourselves
the sky too quiet to talk about, and we can be nothing
actually nothing, nothing at all, if not together, not as one.

[There lies Peter Clutterbuck now]

There lies Peter Clutterbuck now
still fourteen, on Phillip Island
where he was sent, and where he died
in 1935 parentless and poor
to the Newhaven Homes for Problem Boys.
His sister could not move him from this grave
since with him is another child
named Victor Hardy, still eleven.

The grave of P Clutterbuck and V Hardy is in Cowes Cemetery, Phillip Island.

[Years ago, when I was reading]

Years ago, when I was reading the philosophical works of Schopenhauer
I heard a sudden eruption of laughter on the street.
I looked up to see what the cause of this laughter was.
Across the road, an old man
extraordinarily obese, was heaving his immense body
along the footpath. He used a cane to help balance himself as he walked
and to relieve the strain on his back
caused by the great bag of fat hanging from his stomach.
It required considerable effort for him to walk only a short distance.
I felt revulsion at the sight of this man.
There were feelings of pity, too.
I knew immediately
there are no counter-motives to humiliation.
We live by climbing over each other
struggle to keep our heads
above despair
and try not to think of harm that’s done.
I lowered the book and listened to the sounds of birds
a howling dog, a small child in the street
asking something of her parents —
every voice repeating the inner nature of the world
and I knew what trouble and pain was
still to come.

Published in Pink Cover Zine, No. 3, November 2018.

Sr Pessoa

 Of course, in times of crisis I do not write
poetry—a consequence of having escaped
pretenses about pain and metaphysics.

Last night, though, my head was full
of dreams—most particularly
that my friend (a euphemism)

had decided it was time to leave—
bringing us to the long struggle (an embrace,
perhaps, but it may have been a death-clutch).

And when I woke
everything in my world was ruined
and in fog.

So, it has been impossible to speak
a word that makes sense
and there is no pleasure in a pun.

After all the excitement
I am just another child sleeping
face-down at the edge of the abyss.

Come over some day—
I can offer refuge
in tired abstractions.

I will put on my red dress,
make tea, and then
ignoring Life, we will walk or write.

‘Poetry is a small house’

Joe—who was the chef in the restaurant he owned with my mother—whispers in my ear: “I know something I wish I did not know. A disgraceful thing. Obscene. I think I know who did it.” And he looks at me, continuing to talk this way until he finally pulls a drawing out of his coat and unfolds it to show the image of a ‘crab-woman’, a beautiful woman who happens to have lots of claws coming out of her, like something from a painting by Peter Booth except that this was clearly drawn by a child or an idiot. Joe looks at my reaction and concludes I did not make the image. So he puts his arms around my shoulders as though we were comrades and leads me into a bar or a café, somewhere it always appears to be night and it is difficult to get a table. We navigate our way through the closely set tables trying to find one that is empty. There are few customers down at the rear of this place, where we finally sit down and I order an espresso in my best-sounding Italian. Right down at the end of the room an indigo wall has an unfinished, half-head portrait (lower half) of Samuel Beckett painted on it: the brain, everything above the bridge of the nose, is missing. I notice two poets I used to know, elderly women now both dead, have taken seats at a table not far from us. Someone emerges from a bunch of architect-lecturers to give a slide show presentation now being projected high up on the wall near me. I look up and see the words “alles, was vor dem sex-maschine… alles, was beim sex-maschine… alles, was nach dem sex-maschine” intercut with images, far more disturbing than the childish drawing Joe showed me. I did not understand the message of this presentation, though everyone seemed to find the language entertaining. Among some papers that have been strewn on the table by the presenter there is a newsletter that I made many years ago for a group of writers. The papers are being handed around the group. One of the architects dismisses the design I made. Asked who I am I can only say I am a poet. The dismissive architect asks me if a company with a very exotic and impressive name has published me. I tell him, No. I offer the names of a few places that have published me, and places I have worked, and things I’ve done, and say “… It’s not an opera house, though you can sometimes hear poetry even there. Poetry is a small house, if it is a house at all. It may be just a shelter.”


Published as ‘Four events while sleeping’, incorporating ‘Poetry is a small house’, ‘Religion is the art of belief’, ‘Martial art, sans art’ and ‘The program’, FIVE:2:ONE print edition, August 2017.
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