Mudlark No. 12 (1999)

At a Shift of Points the Chorus Switches

by Martin Bennett

Martin Bennett read English at Saint Catharine’s College, Cambridge. He then taught in Nigeria and Ghana. He now works in Saudi Arabia. His collection of poems, LOOSE WATCHES, was published by University of Salzburg Press.




Bahrain Fish-Market: A Random Inventory
Tropical Stopover
Bull in the Chinashop
The Last of Summer
In Victoria Coach Station
À Une Femme Africaine
Dialectic: Staffroom 3
Riyadh Autumn
Aubade: London N.W.1.
Rhymes: An Irregular Sonnet on Their Elusiveness
Summertime in Italy
Bird Souq: An Expatriate Guide
The Reading: A Nightmare
Song of the Flags
Apparent Failure: A Triptych
After Cézanne
Gaumont Matinee
Nigerian Nocturne
Arabia Deserta (Riyadh to Al-Kharj Road)
Blues for Giacomo
Summer Exhibition
A Church in Florence

Bahrain Fish-Market: A Random Inventory

Ocellated waspfish. Gulf dottyback.
Black-eyed Trevally, red snapper, blue-tongue Jack:
From where the loudest sound is a sprat
Chomping bits off coral, they’re hauled up
Into an afterworld of thuds and thwacks,
Buried in air, instead of angels
Scaleless four-finned monsters wielding cleavers,
Gabbling prices across white-tiled flats.

Such anomalousness once laid aside,
A feast for the eyes as well as stomach! –
Proving camouflage can be psychedelic
The Picasso triggerfish, for instance;
A lapis and yellow Anafiiz whose tints
An old master might covet; Sultan Ibrahims
Compared to which even a Matisse dims.
That juggernaut of the shallows, the
Dusky-brown droop-mouthed grouper
Sports orange specks. Outglinting rainbows,
The silver-sided turquoise-striped Sohal
Like some light aircraft shows a logo
Of brilliant ochre. ‘Broad crossbars,
Transverse bands, blotches, borders
...’ –
A zoologist, listing them, turns poet-
cum-art-critic. The spectrum’s stretched:
‘Ventral part of head and lips deep scarlet;
along the body two series of jet-black dots
plus a pale caudal peduncle; dental plate
salmon-pink, the chin a lavender grey

As if Aladdin were, in fact, a diver,
There’s no shortage in shapes here either:
Bearded scorpionfish, blunt-nosed Pompano,
A horned zebra sole, some spotted grunts;
Species named after spade, cutlass, needle;
A long-tail carpet shark of whose lethal
Brainlessness an arms manufacturer
Would feel proud; rays that come equipped
With electric kidneys able to deliver
A two hundred and twenty volt shock;
Weird yet authentic double-ended pipefish;
The poisonous puffer; big-eyed scad...
These flounders are as flat as photocopies
From before angles had been invented,
Inks smudged, glimmers fading. Now add
A sex-and-colour shifting parrotfish –
Hermaphrodite champion of the oceanbed –
And the most feverish surrealist seems prosaic;
Epithets dangle like a severed net...

Tropical Stopover

Politics a game of volleyball with a too high net,
The town wraps all in hospitable smallness. Round as day,
The sea’s a diamond factory no boss can fathom.
Along the front the flags are genies dancing
Or are they soldiers vanished in a mirage of laughter
As sky beats invisible blue drums to celebrate
New Year arriving on the next down-breeze?

Back inland the hats are the colour of rainbows.
Wine and sunlight make even the policemen friendly.
Masks, stiltjacks, tamtams unlock closenesses that are
Everyday’s subconscious sadly hidden from itself. Aeeeiii!
All at once the air is alive with vowels. See.
Whistling the latest samba from Brazil, there strolls Senor Zephyr
In indigo bowler and flowing iridescent tails.
The sun blows and with tireless arms the waves clash cymbals.
Downtown saxophones rip bumphous doldrums to welcome shreds.

But look. La Place de l’Etoile Rouge is putting on her necklace.
Salut, tous mes camarades, I must be leaving –
Tomorrow I shall carry your memory like a postcard one turns to
As soon as elsewhere gets overbearing, o nations
With faces of gigantic stone that have forgotten how to smile.

Bull in the Chinashop
(or a Cliché Subverted)
For Matthew Sweeney and John Hartley Williams

Once the original bull in a chinashop
had charged to a stop
and the last prize figurine dropped
floorwards with an exorbitant clatter,
there amidst his shattered stock
the shop’s owner shook awhile in shock.
Pulled himself, if nothing else, together.
Lifted the phone (which somehow was not
broken). Pieced the matter
to the police who, wondering whether
the man’s as mad as a hatter
or just having them on, never-
the-less sped hell for leather
to the scene of the said offence
where the bull, proving actual, is questioned,
then charged on the spot for violence
without robbery. Seeing red with punishments
(drawing and quartering, being sent
down to Smithfield Market) – Bull, for want
of a lawyer, bellows in its own defence:
“But I didn’t come here of my own intent;
I was dragged by some anonymous poet
with more similes than sense.
Any damage I sincerely regret –
Say what you like, I was only looking for an exit”
Which statement, no translator being about,
made not a blind bit of difference.
From that day on, whatever the evidence,
Bull in a chinashop’s been branded ‘misfit, lout,’
period. (Something else quadrupeds must do without,
the shopkeeper was covered by insurance...)

The Last of Summer

Their branches scoring space like Shiva, wind
Takes the oak and the wych-elm dancing.
Out in mid-field grass and sunlight mingle
To project a viridescent sheen
Against else-clear sky: A mellow flash,
Some Martian’s April Fool perhaps
Though it’s now October and already
Swallows are in training for Gibraltar
And beyond; our cabbages’ve sprouted
Into king-sized turbans, behind the poplars
A harvester spouts stubble with a rrrrrr

Then sudden whoosh: Signs all meaning Summer’s
Gone again. Over barns, paddocks, meadows
Thistles propel tiny parachutists
Toward next spring, kamikazeish rendezvous
With some distant clod. A partridge scuttles past
As though on rails. Another snapshot for
Memory’s almanac, dapper crests of moor-
hens constellate the millpond, its surface
Turned pewtery with deep-stewed sedge.

Scattering perennial chromes and rust
The world’s a wheel that’s got us in its spin:
From thinning treetop to thinning treetop
Rooks unfurl furlongs of din –
Wintry echoes infiltrating southwards
Despite pylons’ titanic tuning-forks
Patrolling along the landscape edge.
A guesstimated twenty times shorter,
I dawdle here below the hawthorn hedge –
Footsteps going anapest, spondee, iamb –
Thoughts pausing between sight and rhyme...

In Victoria Coach Station

Exhaust fumes, urine, immemorial cigarettes –
A reek even freezing cold cannot dispel;
Passengers in groups, in queues, in seats
As the Rapide from unsunny Carlisle
Flexes brakes, with faces in a sullen row
The coach for Coventry prepares to go...

By the railings a mouth works up-and-down
At the universe and no one, the man
Attached identikit twentyish, lean.
The radiation he emits is all his own.
Studs like Braille, his jacket reads ‘Exterminator’ –
Fashion advertising a wide berth.

Daubed beneath, as if for bad measure,
Is ‘Chaos Day, March 4, 1996,’
The tatty dictat, ‘Letís start a war’.
Self-picked anti-hero in a B-movie
He cannot, thank Heaven, control, lack of script
Recasts him as sidewalk nihilist,

Bystander furioso whose mutters
Complement the chains about his wrist
And waist, spiky violet-tinged clusters
That are his hair. Minutes bristle. In a twist
He has not envisaged, a squad-car
Pulls up. “May we look inside your bag, sir?”

Misted breath. “None of your fucking business...”
This the expected give-away. Snap search.
Routine interrogation. One man’s mess
Others’ law, he’s led away. Also a bystander,
Though seated, here from the 5:10 for Digbeth
I shuffle sight with words, a verbose voyeur:

Have mercy upon policemen, punks and poets,
O Lord. Defend each of us from over-
righteousness; though this bus is no Chariot
Of fire and our Arrows of desire are
Blunted, somewhere amidst the fume-bleared concrete
A dream of Jerusalem, that Countenance, those feet...

À Une Femme Africaine
(After Baudelaire)

Desire kindled by impossibility,
My heart’s grown a chart of its own exile,
Border-posts on fire, meridians awry.

Distant four thousand and salt blue miles
Again I see her treading sunwhite sand,
Igniting my everyday with night;

The cold north sky beneath which I write
Is rolled back like so much old carpet,
Ocean and desert packed within a sigh –

Lithe souvenir! Sinuous spectre!
Out of a blaze of loneliness I sing her –
Though absence dupes, distances disguise.

Dialectic: Staffroom 3

Our unreconstructed in-house Leninist
from the safe pedestal of twenty thousand
pounds a year
ventures that Aleksandr
Solzhenistyn got it wrong
and did not understand
the wider picture

Three desks along
the moustache of the ex-Major
begins to bristle and
he fires off
a well-worn salvo
about ‘Commies, traitors,
and queers...’

Raised voices, blocked ears –
All around the silence
is an unheard whisper
going, ‘Let opinions wreak
their worst. Those who speak
do not know. Those who know
do not speak.’

Riyadh Autumn

After heat’s annual hiatus
(Nature lying doggo,
Months minus a single cloud)

There comes this quiet defiance
In the slant of light,
A sudden crispness to each echo

And shout. Summer’s embargo
Lifted, the air’s loaded with age-old
Imports, weightless cargo:

Fleeting silver and gold,
Exotic hints of cold
This early evening in late October –

Desert now slightly less so,
Its grim perimeter
Touched by a world elsewhere

Aubade: London N.W.1.

In odd-coloured socks I blink from basement gloom;
The garden is one more room, though infinitely brighter
And more varied, its walls tall weather-beaten brick
Supporting nexuses of drains, overhead,
Of course, the sky up into whose cloud-strewn ceiling

A pigeon unwinds with a whir of wings
Then earth-defying clatter. Like mad shepherds’ crooks
The hollyhocks sport maroon and indigo rosettes.
The goldenrod is botany’s Mae West;
A convulvulus raise chalices to the vanished moon.

Her wake a scattered necklace of dew,
Only the aerials know where she’s gone to.
Now enter trim Senor thrush; oriented by daisies
He tilts an ear to the twinkling turf,
A piano tuner for whom notes mean worms.

Down amidst the undergrowth our cat plays tiger.
Dizzily I stand here upon Summer’s precipice,
Mind aswim with names of flowers: clownish
Regalia of dahlia, delphinium, phlox,
Dandelion clocks launching seed toward next year.

Rhymes: An Irregular Sonnet on Their Elusiveness

Neatly beyond the mind’s reach they lurk –
That quatrain or tercet pulled up short
By hours, days, even years. Nothing for it
Except patience, poised between rest and work
Inspiration’s unglamorous obverse
And frequent sine qua non as writer turns
Deep-sea angler. Beneath conversations,
Newscasts, staff meetings, their chimed murmurs
Promise symmetries other language lacks.
Back inside your study, upon sleep’s brink
Again the silence stirs. Somewhere between ink
And aspirin you haul them in; relax
At last, prose left standing, for now outmatched –
Self strangely other, not as you might think.

Summertime in Italy

Brilliant orange smudged with gold
a lazily shaped cloud lies along the skyline
like a fire eater off duty and relaxing
at the beach, driven mildly crazy
by a large beaker of wine perhaps
while not far inland a sirocco rustles
through a Corriere della Sera
turning dog-eared at the feet of pines.

Ah daydreams, swimming trunks, cicadas!
Shades of ice-cream and balloons!
The sunlight stores up energy
like a horse at a gymkana
where differences in colour
count more than any prize
and lest it get overbearing
zephyrs provide a hint of blue.

Viviana, my mind’s imprinted with your name
and that trip in your father’s boat
across Lake Como one madcap June:
A mountain squall turned the water
miles of green and moments later
the weather switched again, a middle
distance painter revising his ideas...

Inside the Duomo was cooler than any drink
and shadowy Ferrara’s belltowers sent
the pigeons flocking like a roll of drums.
Even the cars are pretty, said your eyes.
Up on its hilltop a dozing Arezzo
dreams saintly processions across
the intonaco of time-cracked walls.

Below the ramparts noon signals shadow-
squadrons into swift retreat.
A team of oxen, colossally slow,
seems to collapse a field’s verge.
Still as cardboard at the reins,
only a yeoman stops them, plough
a tiller exchanging green for beige.

Back in Florence truculent Tuscan farmers
protesting against the latest meat tax
set the cobbles echoing like marakas.
Too old to pay it any mind, the Arno shrugs
a verdant shoulder and then winds on.
Cypresses duskily dissect the slopes
into neat rectangles and squares.
The end of an affair spiderwebs a room
in one of Treviso’s five hotels. But basta!

Melancholy’s a drone for another clime and season.
Ignoring the yells of sandwich-sellers
the express whistles, terns and swallows rise
above the station at Venice Maestre.
How well the tracks know all the operas!
At a shift of points the chorus switches
From Mozart to Donizetti –
Behind buff-and-pastel houses the sea
steps out in sequins toward hump-
backed islands and a meeting with the moon.

Genova, Rimini, Sorrento! My heart’s a belfry
haunted by your vowels’ sweet clarity.
Only the British Council bustles with busts
and does not see the Renaissance
continuing in the twilight’s strides,
tender depths of a signora’s smile.

Erice with its head in the clouds –
Selinunte's tumbled temples –
Etna smoking like some great uncle
recalling the furies of his youth –
These and other fleeting scenes, salute!
That run downhill from Fiesole
when my shoes grew wings
and I thought I’d never stop
yet now relive in your touch and gaze,
ah names like rural sportcars
headed for Alpine tunnels, forest’s
flickering gallery of shade
to which the moon holds the only key...

Bird Souq: An Expatriate Guide


To keep its spitting, fusty-thobed vendor
In chewing-sticks, cigarettes, whatever,
A penned peacock spends neon nights, skyless days
Revising, then re-revising strides –
Moulting tailfan ten riyals per feather:

Spot here the champion of palace walks,
Fountain-gracer, lawn-lord, Sultan of fowls
Reduced at one mercenary swoop
To an inessential commodity,
The hapless treader of its own droppings;

Nearby, some chicks dyed turquoise and pink;
There’s a quivering batch of parakeets –
Some finches packed like aerial sardines,
Wings for now a caged irrelevance,
Cost negotiable in case of damage.

Watch, further on, uncooing doves and pigeons –
A falcon clawing blindly at its pole.
Sell-by date notwithstanding, an expired wren
Lifts tiny legs as if in prayer,
Its life prematurely turned litter.


Out of respect for local customs,
Mortgage mountain, your next month’s pay-cheque,
Suppress all impulse to play the lock-
Defying Blake or Leonardo
Breaking cages in some Florence square.

Birds of a strictly different feather,
Observe, but not too closely, that row
Of seated ladies veiled from top to toe.
(Wayward glint of eye or bracelet excepted,
One might mistake them for black silk tents.)

A small nest-egg in sales and profits,
Their stock of imported fireworks is set out
Colourfully across the concrete floor –
Roman candles, Catherine wheels, sparklers, rockets.
Watch... But stop! Dour cock of the souq, here struts

A cane-and-beard-wielding mutawwa,
Part neo-Pharisee, part Whackford Squeers,
Public Virtue’s guardian molester.
Swish-poke-swish of his long cane, a brimstone croak –
And vendors, male and female, scatter.

Cages clatter; old barrowboys turn tail.
Rights, whether animal or human, bah!
He scowls, and cannot see this rebel whimsy
Dreaming welcome in a woman’s smile,
Freedom disguised as a cloud of wings.

The Reading: A Nightmare

Noon: A letter arrives stating (but, please,
no promises) I may be called on to read
my work, then a putative date and place.

3pm siesta: Courtesy of Dream Air International
all at once I’m there and ahead of schedule –
Meaning, to be specific, at the bar nextdoor.
Already wine flows freely. Still unsure
when or whether my turn will come, I swill
the stuff in obfuscating draughts
which’d give even a Dylan Thomas pause...

As soon as my speech begins to slur
and it gets tricky keeping vertical
I’m beckoned, noon’s possibility made firm:
The audience have been waiting some time.
They sit sober as judges; in their midst
the smooth white hair of a major minor poet
and editor who’s been rejecting my verse,
off and on, for fifteen years or more.

The scene shifting to dire slow motion:
Stranded anywhere between um and er,
I realise that, save some unfinished scraps,
I’ve left all my manuscripts back home...
Would people mind waiting till my partner –
a plane-fare or so away – fetches them?
The request ends up a last-ditch splutter.

Meanwhile, in the mail, another letter:
Same editor claiming my last submission
is plagiarised from something of his own
which, naturally, I have never read...

At this point I wake up, stage turns bed;
just in case dreams or nightmares come true,
I switch on the light, fumble for a biro,
start, between silences, to set this down...

Song of the Flags

Flapping mast-way between land and sky
Flags of Honolulu and Hawaii
I sing, those of the Caymans, Brunei,
Papua and New Guinea, Iceland, Togo,
Brazil’s a rhomboid yellow porthole
Through which night universally revolves.
So many the designs and combinations!
Flag of the Boilermaker’s Union
(Camden Branch); the Dominican flag on
Which the winds stop for a game of Ludo;
Tigerish guidons of butterflies,
Mountains’ atavistic tricolours,
The meandering pennants of rivers,
Trans-national flag of light and air,
For these too I sing, flags of dragon-breath,
The stony unflutteringness of cromlechs,
Zebras stampeding stripily across plains,
Captain Amunsden’s snow-stained banner
Some Eskimo now sports as an extra shirt,
Weird metallic flags from other planets,
Martian flags as big as the big toe-nail
Of the big Red Rock Eater, that of Venus
A cobalt blue and iridescent pastel
Capable of infinite expansion
Or contraction to cater for the differences
In eyesight found in extra-terrestrial beings;
Flags of Uranus and of Saturn
That seem not to exist so much larger
And more rarefied are they than our own,
Flickering technicoloured flag woven
From childhood afternoons in cinemas,
Banderoles of Captain Perry’s Crowship
Steaming into Tokyo Bay, behind it
A crashing green crockery of waves,
Mountaineer’s flags buried beneath snowdrifts,
A ships’ ensign turned handkerchief against which
Swordfish nowadays shine their noses
And oysters nonchalantly polish pearls;
Amoebae-type flags in clouds and oilslicks,
Vast mastless smogs and fogs and mists,
Geo-thermal flags of fumaroles,
Lava’s slow-spreading red and sable,
Farewell flags and flags of flags, flagging flag
Of sunset hoisting how many more flags
One midnight instant dreamily unfurls

Apparent Failure: A Triptych


‘The Best Hamlet of his Generation’:
Hard times, neglect, or the corrosive dollar
Have reduced X to the hack boffin
In a ‘B’ horror flick, emotion’s gamut
Dwindled to a single look, his script
The odd cliche between special effects
For which only howls and screams are needed:
‘Manqué, manqué, manqué,’ leers the subtext,
‘Below criticism, just short of porn.’


‘The Rimbaud of his Year’: Spurred on
By praise he never dreamed might be insincere –
Also in the pipeline a bildungsroman
Publishers are yet to queue up to print –
Here in the lengthening interim
Y peddles TEFL to reluctant ears:
Muse in mothballs, his voice turned droning curse,
He sweeps errors from language’s bottom floor
For more than he’d ever get perfecting verse.


Legs gone, heart going, Z meanwhile ponders
Missing medals, ungraced podiums...
Pole packed away, an overgrown wand,
That world-beating vault is forty years
In the run-up as, with a gasp, he clears
The bar of his own body; still inside his chair,
Feels himself soar on into the blackness
Where no newspaper has been before –
Last is first, less seems more, failure success.

After Cézanne


Hardly a fidget within miles
Architecture of the apple
A milk jug turned fluted column
Peaches no fleas of time can blight

An orange so round and still
It’s as though hands had sight
Eyes could touch

Space as scaffold
Bowl as pedestal
Plate as plinth

That table slanted to a critical mass
Its drawer’s spheroid handle
Irrefutably in place

A wine-glass about to vanish in the light
  which strikes it


‘The strongest, the most sincere,’
How fiercely he peers out,
A man with a mission
For now frustrated –

Let critics, dunces, dealers
Founder in their own myopia,
Squint a few centimes
Or ten million dollars –

The bluishness of light
Continuing here despite them,
Blending with his beard,

Bathing his massive brow,
That thoughtful eye plumb
At the portrait’s centre

Gaumont Matinee

To a rattling choreography of bullets
The actors fly like acrobats, last-ditch yells
Ballooning on their wake. Out of range
The audience sit munching peanuts;
Before they need shout ‘Ambulance!’ or ‘Help!’,
The hero arrives dead-on-time to ensure
Bloodshed keeps a safely celluloid size.
Where is the villain but in some backroom
Stirring poisons? How innocent is his
Badness that knows nothing else although, yes,
The state-of-the-artiness of his weapons
(Test-tube tarantulas with radar,
Remote-controlled snakes, steel frizbies, lasers)
Superannuates the good old delights
Of hiss-and-boo. His face is a monotone
Of malice, accent calculatedly
Foreign with sharpened vowels. It’s hard work.
One snicker could be fatal, a volley
Of belly-laughter wreak more havoc
Than any missile. Yet at x dollars per second
Our hero is as cool as buttermint,
Distress his oyster. Demented violins –
Silence – A cineramic boom! As planned,
The whole set goes up in smoke. Foes scuttled,
He rides happily into the Ever
After aglint with the names of stars.

O that all endings were so spectacular!
The hero’'s triumph supplies a signal
For us to scour pockets for the bus-fare
   Once outside the coddled dark
Our eyes goggle for a focus and ache
At the stark pervasiveness of light –
Past Barclay’s Bank, Woolworth’s, Tesco’s
Narrative thinning out in all directions
Then back to where we were before...

Nigerian Nocturne


Below corrugated iron sheets
The cement-mixer sleeps
Like some futurist rhinoceros
Or prehistoric tank. Moon’s
An amulet time has thumbed
Into a kind of face. One blink
And it might become an eerie drum
Whose beat is silence. Still
The near beyond pulsates
With fiddle-legged crickets,
Bullfrogs’ comic bass
Now sleeplessly I ponder
How to define these colours
For which day has not yet
Found a name – horizon bars,
The shadowy gape of nim trees
As stars take up position
Behind hump-backed clouds,
O sights and sounds lasting
Far into the morrow,
My head an attic cluttered
With phrasal jetsam,
Mirrors turning dusty,
Furniture that does not
  quite fit...


Dark, then, be my umbrella
Shelter me with your coolness
which is the loom
of hills distilled Solitude

Don’t worry yourself so
You’re doing fine here
where frangipani
close their eyes awhile

and everything’s drowsy
with the scent of trees
From verandah to sky then back
Night goes bush

(Kaduna, Northern Nigeria)

Arabia Deserta (Riyadh to Al-Kharj Road)

Minor jihads of horns to left and right,
We stop-start-stop through noon-dimmed traffic lights;
Start, at long last reach the smooth-laned outskirts,
City dwindling behind, its umpteen streets
Framed hazily within a single glance.
Pylonned and gouged and diggered, the distance
Fans out into man-made No Man’s Land.
Offsetting the swelling gamut of sand,
Cement factory flanks cement factory;
Our mirror clocks up a quick inventory
Of steelrods, breeze-blocks, fittings, girders, tiles –
Next year’s palaces, proto-shopping-malls,
Suburbs in embryo, contracts by the mile.
Here’s another stretch of half-built wall,
There a superannuated camel,
Fur turned murky as, hard by, the hubcaps,
Fenders, windscreens of imported pick-ups
Flash and glimmer, that tireless stiltjack
The sun rummages among car-wrecks stacked
Into a metallic ridge. Purplish smoke-
trail the only djinni, crushed cans of Coke
This desert of a desert’s flowers,
Too much we see in Nature that is ours.
FUNPARK 2OOO with all its towers
Stands a callow ruin, time as though reversed;
Run up against infinitudes of blue,
Its big wheel idles, no place to go to,
Fortune’s figment, relic of the new.

Blues for Giacomo
(After Leopardi)

So, my tired heart, it’s the golden handshake,
The big farewell. One deceit too many,
Yes, it’s over. Songsters may croon an ocean;
From now on out, stone not moonshine
Be our watchword. Twittering hopes all flown,
No more eternal this or that, period.
Enough of palpitations, no matter how dear
Or deluded the cause. Hush. You can despair
Your last. Fate’s sole gift for the likes
Of us is curtains. The world is mud,
A myriad sighs don’t shift a molehill,
Boredom and bitterness take all:
In other words, relax. Set no store
By yourself or nature, let its reign
Of ruin wreak its worst, heap vanity
Upon vanity ad infinitum...


At the garden’s entangled frontier
It stands, amidst autumn ruin and rust
A silvery now landbound Nautilus,
Plateglass armour keeping snivelling grey
Battallions of cumulus at bay.

Inside forms a planet unto itself:
Here cold’s converted to tepid dew.
Blooms unwithered, last summer stays
As though refridgerated in reverse,
Muggily immune, conserved from time,

A clime of scented swelter. The roof conjures
Second heaven whence sound cascades.
Water-snakes uncoiling in their wake,
Botanists move beneath bamboo arcades
To regulate the ornamental day.

Buckets of loam, thermometered and weighed,
Await feeding to epicurean roots.
My head swoons and envisions insects.
Somewhere amidst the shadows an orchid pouts;
A hundred-hundred shoots begin to stir.

Dreamily the green explodes from earth-
plugged fuses, hatches suns, meteors, moons;
A herb poses as a crested bird.
Tiny cacti constellate my tread. Melons
Squat meditating on their own girth.

Doored tropics! Antipodes in miniature!
Down each lush aisle a retired missionary
Plants seeds of memory, then, week by week,
Watches them grow into jungle towers,
Turquoise-trumpeted, steamily crowned.

Four, five nods of its fire-bright bell and
The tigerplant chimes it’s time to go.
Outside, the flower cupped within my hand
Is a talisman to light the drizzle
And busride home, an eye onto elsewhere.


They have prickly peculiar-shaped ears
a mere switch of accent can immediately
stop working. Their eyes, when expedient,
see similarities between chalk and cheese.

At the back of their minds lurks a menagerie
of facts trained to attack
at a sniff of disagreement. Repetition no object,
they could go on for years, even centuries,

and never ever get bored. This one seethes
from a favourite armchair; that one acts
the peripatetic pursuing you down corridors
then out the door, trampling the quiet of morning,

dividing even the flowers into wrong
and right. They know more about foreign countries
than the inhabitants do themselves, things
about you which you’d hardly have dreamed.

Useless to object this mightn’t be the case.
Here categories come armoured. Logic’s
a hitman hired to lead you down some alley
and then bring out a sawn-off statistic

against which amity forms no defence.
No experience is so complex it can’t be
simplified beyond recognition, rendered
dire and tidy in its own despite,

a doubt-proof fit. Like pebbles their certainties
are polished to a resounding deafness;
in unsaid reply you note how one silent breath
is more wondrous than a thousand speeches...

Summer Exhibition

All dawn-washed rectangles
The painting is a lawn
Look, even the liverworts have put on colours
Although, yes, they could be a myriad other things as well
Where have they sprung from?
How come in dreams our eyes still see?
Solemnity deposited like a sack of swampgas at the door,
Beauty takes time off to go skylarking
e.g. An Action Replay of a waiter’s race transfixed precariously for
  posterity in emerald porcelain
A pair of pimsolls the size of speedboats
Pre-Raphaelite postcards from Hove and Folkestone
This metal dragonfly
That bottled moon
A Ph.D. in Canines sculpted from a bite out of the encyclopedia
The All-Comers’ Latin American Dance Championship that on closer
  look becomes a work by Allen Jones
Morris Louis’s giant light-filled molars
Sails tinted with primeval landscapes
Some monumental smoke-rings from the palette of Frank Stella
Blue squares, white squares, grey squares, chevrons
A circle’s transcendent glare
Or is it just what I had for breakfast
This Catherine wheel which hangs so gently and makes no noise
A psychedelic nipple
O lunar dials and X-rays, sunsets depicted in a tent of flags
The painter has each fleck ordered like a hypnotist
Suddenly everything is windows, windows, windows
I the watcher gogglingly gullible
Now before me the sea’s focused into a turquoise pastel
In tiny zillions parks flash behind my eyes
And gratuitous as a slice of air
Birdsong gets the photo it has so long deserved
Even a car-axle proves it can be romantic
Beef-burgers wax lyrical
A tangerine make one laugh

A Church in Florence

Such brilliant shade, the wealth in colour
More sumptuous with each new fold –
Vision as miracle. Except through his skill

The painter has rendered it still more so
And filled a mouldering stretch of wall
With hints of heaven: Those frescoed angels

Seem to hold gravity suspended.
Oxened field, bridged river, terraced hills
Diminishing meticulously behind,

A Madonna and Child appear a part
Of them yet separate, eye, hand, heart
Aligned in tangential symmetry –

A moving quiet which back outdoors
I fumble to find words for, the hackneyed roar
Of traffic cannot quite take away from...


His heart ran like a motor fuelled with a mixture of euphoria
and melancholy after a little practice too automatic
to be called his own. Were his words really his or half-
remembered figments, no sooner heard than buried
and now repeated like some minor share-holding
in the starry bank of another’s fame rendered unimportant
by the trees conjuring statues to pick up their stones and walk?

Born of neutral zones like railway cars and airports,
so many chance palimpsests he made of waiting
Between began to seem his not-so-natural element.
Striped horses of exclamation roamed the tundra
behind his eyes, hooves registering riffs of thunder
no dictionary can contain. Shyness he made up for
by converting his imagination into a floor
for unprecedented meetings, then scribbling notes:
Whalebones and grasses, the colours of the spectrum
related to reflections upon last year’s Budget,
spark-plugs, pinetrees, Catherine wheels,
Mozart, Ella, the Acropolis and a bar of snow.
His twin muses were solitude and boredom,
Nothing Doing forging monuments to a rainy evening
spent basking in the adolescence of its whim
until the newscaster in genteelly clipped accents
announced the latest variations on catastrophe
and woe. He would be left brooding on the butterfly’s inadequacy
as an image for the soul. O for a butterfly of steel!
Yet, he consoled himself, is it not in being gratuitous that,
like a magic carpet, poetry’s most aligned to the far-reachingness
of the sky? Though just then the door of words banged shut:
Once more it was time to go out and tend his beans
whose silence he so admired...

William Slaughter, Editor
Department of English & Foreign Languages
University of North Florida
Jacksonville, Florida 32224-2645


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Contents | Mudlark No. 12