Mudlark Poster No. 31 (2001)

Tim Cumming

Raymond Alexander | Landscape with Flies
The Transit Poems | Things I Can Do Without Her
Dancing with the Captain and Tenille

Tim Cumming's first full collection, APOCALYPSO, was published by Stride Publications (UK) in 1999. He has poems in CORTLAND REVIEW, BOOMERANG, and RECURSIVE ANGEL on the World Wide Web, as well as GARGOYLE (US-UK), PEARL (US), LONDON MAGAZINE, and many other British magazines such as THE WIDE SKIRT and BILLY LIAR.

Raymond Alexander

I am Raymond Alexander and this is my picture,
a self portrait made entirely of human skin.
I have the stony smile of clumsy draughtsmanship
and my hands say more about my maker than they do about me.
You see the loose brushwork around the mouth, the eyes?
That is called experience.
These hands are the hands I have to live with.
Are you worried, as I am, about the state of your hands?
Is there something about you that simply doesn't exist?
Call me an impressionist,
say I was a badly executed attempt
at truth and nudity taken from life with the form and shape
that bad painters have, as thorough as Nazis,
the kind that last a month of Sundays.
It is the wonder of being almost human,
the luck of the draw, and draughtsmanship.
I see them walking in crocodile, the painters,
holding their thumbs at thumb distance
as if the world were something
to be tortured with brushes.
One had his thumb broken
by the father of a girl he knew and loved and broke in two,
abandoning the soft parts and taking the crust,
and he presses it to his mouth in the dark.
Another tells of an older sister
on a tiny island off the Scottish coast
who scares her children.
They are all enthusiastic painters
and they begin, with the slow but firm purpose
of water dripping into a basin in which an image develops
like a hole in a wall, a waiter with a tray,
a woman with a gun, with rings around her eyes,
with a good enough reason to do something cruel,
something about love,
the kind of reason you could pick up
and throw over your shoulder if you were strong enough
but you're not, you've simply hardened.
You have the determination of limescale to exist.
You're like a child's idea of what it's like to draw a face well.
I've seen people do it. They start with the eyes
then the crown, the nose and the mouth
that no one remembers after having seen it.
A good mouth is a good start
but some mouths need experience.
I have heard lips described as 'bicycle pedals.'
I have lain in the dark with cork in my ears
and a piece of linen between my teeth
and I have never been able to describe
the experience to you.
If I did, I'd begin with the eyes,
and my name, Raymond Alexander.

Landscape with Flies

The house fly is death and time in one small equation
that unravels through the rooms of your childhood
banging each of the doors and there's that hiss
of air escaping into space or is it the feeling of 'so what?'
You've got your own life to live.
You hear a noise, a scuffling under the floorboards,
your key's in a door with a history behind it
and isn't history brilliant? Doesn't it look good
for its age? You put its shell to your ear
and hear the sound of running feet
turning into deafening applause.
Where did all these faces appear from?
How did you end up in these shoes?
You're with your lover, the clothes are washed
and hung in your star sign, there are turning points
wherever you look, you don't believe
in time travel but the bed settee
pulled out in your head is bringing you down
to the obvious conclusions about the dangers of love
and filling a home inside the heart of another.
All your people are looking at you
like a piece of good news, a slice of history
with big smiles and no end to the weather.
You walk from room to room like a moving target.
There's a song being sung in the voice you listen to
when everything shines like aluminium.
A spring wind blows from the east which reminds you
of electricity and someone else's childhood.
Your little fingers are unfeasibly large.
You hear the opening and closing of doors
and footsteps on a staircase
leading you into a child's dream of a room literally filled
with large exotic flowers and the sound of voices,
running feet, multiplying like flies, thousands of them,
hundreds and hundreds of thousands of flies.

The Transit Poems

Dave lost his job the other day
plus his nan's dying and he's working
on his next book, a sequence maybe,
after finishing the Transit poems.
It's new year in the north
where old faces settle like sediment
and what he feels is quiet and deserted,
like a Georgio de Chirico city square.
His nan's on a morphine drip
and in someone else's book
it could be a striking image
but Dave isn't laughing or taking phone calls.
He feels far away from the world,
as far away as his nan's hand.
He'd got to know her on the point of no return
at the sharp end of a life like needlepoint,
the metal frame of the hospital bed, its sedative
heaviness, visiting hours five till eight,
and he's casting round for a footing,
a memory, a pattern, a pay cheque.
Blue moon distances simmer under his eyes.
His chest rattles like pennies in a jar.
The world was full of bare hands
and wheeling, beautiful birds and Dave liked kids
but didn't want responsibility. Like Aaron said,
I didn't ask to be born.

Things I Can Do Without Her

I can start as I mean to continue
but I must keep the story simple.
I must remember to change my underpants.
I may be late and I may be never.
I won't promise I'll be there forever.
I might feel I've been here before.
It's the truth, I'll say. I can say that.
I can act without thinking
and tell you what I really feel
without the world falling apart
and if it does I can stand aside
and watch it go from a safe distance.
I have earned that right at least.
I can laugh at my own jokes
and put my arm around you
though there may be times when
the rest of the world seems smaller
than the world's smallest currency
without somewhere to put your hands,
without going mouth to mouth.
What I've got's an open book that doesn't end
but if it does I must keep the story simple.
I can travel under a false name and do my hair
like anyone else but some things are mine alone.
If I like I can tell you about it.
I can keep going for hours
if I need to, if I have to.
I can learn a new language
with constructions you could perform surgery with.
Call me and I'll pack my life into an overnight bag
and stand in front of you beaming saying, I'm here
when everything finished ages ago
or I can stick it out by myself
on some kind of continental shelf
raised to shoulder height,
somewhere between the heart and head
and just within reach of a good language dictionary.
I can make it look like it never happened
and if it does and it doesn't work out
I won't say I told you so,
but I must try and keep things simple
and not forget the underwear, the toiletries,
our sense of the ridiculous.
I mustn't let the colours run.
If there's to be any running in all of this
I want it to be in the pursuit of happiness
and not of back rent.
I think of us running into each other
and I think of all the colours under the sun
running into the one brilliant colour.

Dancing with the Captain and Tenille

I love you, he said.
They were the three most frightening words in the language.
He pulled them carefully out of their plastic wrappers.
Like nuclear weapons, they needed rigorous
and secret testing to come out right. They'd laid waste
to countless millions the hard way, he knew that,
but it was no deterrent. He set up the drinks and said,
on the house. I'm in love. It's brilliant. 'Deterrent'
was a word from the past, like 'The Captain and Tenille.'
If love was that picture of Brezhnev and Honneker kissing
on the Berlin Wall, then he'd been living in the mouth
of a strange headed monster.
He kept a diary regarding this. Each new day
was a fresh line in illegible handwriting
like a series of sailor's knots which are all coming undone
at the same point. Events came initialed, like bank notes.
The days they met, the ground slipping from under their feet.
There were pay days listed, as regular
as periods. When her period was late, he noted it.
Spring was in the air, in shafts of backlit pollution
and by Christmas there was a baby. Life was so good
they wanted to make copies. Is that a promise? she said.
The best bits of life were like the golden age
of cinema. There's nothing you'd want to cut.

Copyright © Mudlark 2001
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