When I stepped out of the house the air held rain, the scent of it, the taste. The light was bruised and yellowish. A blackbird was singing, very clearly, his song amplified by the coming rain. The scene felt familiar, already lived-through. The caption was Morning in the city of departures. I was walking through narrow streets close to the docks, under the piers of bridges, through brick archways. The cobblestones were wet and I had on no shoes. There had been a railway accident, journeys were disrupted or rendered impossible. You didn’t appear and yet you were present, if only in the feeling of missed connections. You were there in the sense of having spoken a vital word to me and then gone away, leaving me wandering the wet quaysides holding the word I couldn’t use, a bright coin in the wrong currency.
And when they bombed other people’s houses, we
but not enough, we opposed them but not
enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America
was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house—
I took a chair outside and watched the sun.
In the sixth month
of a disastrous reign in the house of money
in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,
our great country of money, we (forgive us)
lived happily during the war.
It’s 1 a.m. and someone’s knocking
at sleep’s old, battered door –
and who could it be but this boy I love,
calling for me to come out, into
the buckthorn field of being awake –
and so I go, finding him there
no longer talking – but now crying
and crying, wanting to be held;
but shhh, what did you want to show
that couldn’t wait until the morning?
Was it the moon – because I see it:
the first good bead on a one-bead string;
was it the quiet – because I owned it,
once – but found I wanted more.
My daughters are playing outside with plastic hoops;
the elder is trying to hula, over and over –
it falls off her hips, but she keeps trying,
and the younger is watching and giggling,
and they’re happy in the bright afternoon.
I’m indoors at the hob with the door open
so I can see them, because the elder might trip,
and the younger is still a baby and liable to eat dirt,
when out of clear skies a jet comes in low
over the village. At the first muted roar
the elder runs in squealing then stops in the kitchen,
her eyes adjusting to the dimness, looking foolish
and unsure. I drop the spoon and bag of peas
and leave her frightened and tittering, wiping my hands
on my jeans, trying to walk and not run,
because I don’t want to scare the baby
who’s still sat on the patio alone, looking for her sister,
bewildered, trying to figure why she’s gone –
all this in the odd, dead pause of the lag –
then sound catches up with the plane
and now its grey belly’s right over our house
with a metallic, grinding scream
like the sky’s being chainsawed open
and the baby’s face drops to a square of pure fear,
she tips forward and flattens her body on the ground
and presses her face into the concrete slab.
I scoop her up and she presses in shuddering,
screaming her strange, halt pain cry
and it’s all right now I tell her again and again,
but it’s never all right now – Christ have mercy –
my daughter in my arms can’t steady me –
always some woman is running to catch up her children,
we dig them out of the rubble in parts like plaster dolls –
Mary Mother of God have mercy, mercy on us all.
after Marie Howe
Once in a lifetime, you will gesture
at an open window, tell the one who
detests the queerness in you that dead
daughters do not disappoint, free your
sore knees from inching towards a kind
of reprieve, declare yourself genderless
as hawk or sparrow: an encumbered body
let loose from its cage. You will refuse your
mother’s rage, her spit, her tongue heavy
like the heaviest of stones. Your mother’s
anger is like the sun, which is like love,
which is the easiest thing – even on the
hardest of days. You will linger, knowing
that this standing before an open window
is what the living do, that they sometimes
reconsider at the slightest touch of grace.
I was reading my book by the window
waiting for you when I noticed one flower
of those you’d artfully splayed had snapped.
Like a limp wrist the orange gerbera hung, and over
my knuckle it vented a beige gunge. As I snipped
the stem for a smaller vase, the glow
of the radiant petals was too much. Time lapped
me round, the day went unseized.
For this was no opportunity I could have missed;
only the lonely moment which blazed
in my hand, unplucked. Like many,
I had forgotten that time isn’t money
and I don’t need always to be on the move
within the world you’ve shown me how to love.
Zib was young.
Her youth was all she cared for.
These mountains were her cots.
The wind her wings, and those pebbles were her friends.
Their clay hut, a hut for all the eight women,
And her father, a shepherd.
He knew every cave and all possible ponds.
He took her to herd with him,
As the youngest daughter
Zib marched with her father.
She learnt the ways to the caves and the ponds.
Young women gathered there for water, the young
Girls with the bright dresses, their green
Eyes were the muses.
Behind those mountains
She dug a deep hole,
Storing a pile of pebbles.
Never grew here before,
But what is this yellow sea up high on the hills?
A line of some blue wildflowers.
In a lane toward the pile of tumbleweeds
All the houses for the cicadas,
All your neighbors.
And the eagle roars in the distance,
Have you met them yet?
The sky above through the opaque skin of
Your dust carries whims from the mountains,
It brings me a story.
The story of forty young bodies.
Father opened the door,
There stood the fathers,
The mothers’ faces startled.
All the daughters standing behind them
In the pit of dark night,
Their yellow and turquoise colors
Lining the sky.
‘Zibon, my daughter’
‘Take them to the cave.’
She was handed a lantern.
She took the way,
Behind her a herd of colors flowing.
The night was slow,
The sound of their footsteps a solo music of a mystic.
Sediqa, Hakima, Roqia,
Firoza, Lilia, and Soghra
Shah Bakhat, Shah Dokht, Zamaroot,
Nazanin, Gul Badan, Fatima, and Fariba,
Sharifa, Marifa, Zinab, Fakhria, Shahparak, MahGol,
Latifa, Shukria, Khadija, Taj Begum, Kubra, Yaqoot,
Fatima, Zahra, Yaqoot, Khadjia, Taj, Gol, Mahrokh, Nigina,
Maryam, Zarin, Zara, Zari, Zamin,
At last Zibon.
No news. Neither drums not flutes of
Shepherds reached them, they
Remained in the cave. Were
Once in every night, an exhausting
tear dropped – heard from someone’s mouth,
A whim. A total silence again
Zib calmed them. Each daughter
Crawled under her veil,
Slowly the last throbs from the mill house
No throbbing. No pond. No nights.
Silence became an exhausting noise.
Zib led the daughters to the mountains.
The view of the thrashing horses, the brown uniforms
All puzzled them. Imagined
The men snatching their skirts, they feared.
We will all meet in paradise,
With our honoured faces
Angels will greet us.
A wave of colours dived behind the mountains,
Freedom was sought in their veils, their colors
Flew with the wind. Their bodies freed and slowly hit
The mountains. One by one, they rested. Women
Figures covered the other side of the mountains,
Hairs tugged. Heads stilled. Their arms curved
Beside their twisted legs.
These mountains became their cots
The wind their wings, and those pebbles their friends.
Their rocky cave, a cave for all the forty women,
And their fathers and mothers disappeared.
Me? I get up early, see. I like
the hour or so before the cars arrive,
the city sleeping there over my shoulder,
the early morning sky that is all mine,
a few gulls spelling Mmmm out with their bodies.
I make the most of that because, by nine,
I bear the city’s weight here on my back,
all these commuting cars and belching vans.
I hold my nose and try to keep control
with traffic lights: they lean out of their windows
to swear, to drop their rubbish, spit on me,
to smoke a cigarette and flick a burning
bit on me. The days I like the best
are Sundays, when I just lie in all day.
The acupuncture of a gentle moped,
or this hand-holding couple, afternoon,
who linger at my apex, make my view
the background to their love. I’ve heard it said
our card is marked, our day is done, what with
advances in technology, hot air
balloon and tunnels, gravity, but this
is human, really, to look at the distance
from here to there and say, well, what’s the shortest
that could be? I do not like the nights:
the river’s tinnitus, and the low hum
a taxi engine makes is like a dream
of my own snoring. Worst are those who come
to visit at that hour. Here, tonight,
a young man walks alone towards my middle,
dumb-belling a Scotch bottle underarm:
he reaches midway, looks down at the river,
then clambers over, stands there on the ledge
and holds on tight. I feel his warm touch there.
Oh souls, believe me, I’d never let go
if I could choose. I know by heart, exactly
what it is to just have too much weight to bear.
I went to Ilford on my own
walked up a dual carriageway
to McDonald’s for a cup of tea and a think then
went back to the clinic with half a blueberry muffin
in my pocket
I was handed a white laminated
square with a number on it
I will be called by the number not
by my name I lied
on the form that asked if there was anyone
at home my Uber arrived
as the cramps started
I was told to be home within one hour
the journey time was 45 minutes
I felt nauseous
the driver talked about ratings
he liked chatty and punctual passengers
he once gave a married couple no stars
when the man hit the woman
I felt dizzy we drove past his house
that’s my house
he looked up my ratings and said I was
you must be a nice person maybe
normally more chatty
I tried to sound lovely
said I was unwell in a weak
voice he joked I would get no stars
if I was sick
I go through my to-do list
to clean an Airbnb
I do it for money
I am a bad maid to industry’s heart muscle
there was one night between guests
I had a plan lie down
with the TV on
eat a Marks & Spencer cottage pie
sleep on the sofa wake up
change the bedding
go back to the big cold house I live in and feel
what to expect from
the last time the pain got
acute on a two-hour arc
I had had a hot bath
I had sat by the bath like a bird
a bundle in my hand
poked about for a god or a plan
what survives a day?
but this time there was no build
up there was no flight
the pain stayed still from the clinic
to the brown
and honourable sofa
not getting easier or worse
I did not
feel anything passing through me
but the room was dark and
I woke up at 7 a.m.
took some painkillers and finished cleaning
I left the key and got the bus
still bleeding a
bit still on the brink
of a big pain but going nowhere
my housemate was having a party
I was very tired but she
is out of sync and soulful
I needed to be dressed and nice
I made a bowl of beetroot
puree and hummus
I made a simple butter pastry
into it twisted the dough into sticks
they snapped in the oven but
smelt delicious for the people
I greeted them alone
didn’t know any of them
the pain stayed still I smelt real
leaned on the counter and decided
some of my friends arrived
I behaved normally
my good friend quietly asked me
to stop being cruel to her
I was very disturbed
told her I didn’t feel well
I followed smokers worried about
my good friend’s feelings until
I found her in the middle
of some laughing doing
an impression of a cat
scratching a pole
her movements in a black
and white skirt
she moved like a clown she
swung the lower half of her body
left-to-right she upped her arms
stopped to look at the room
through her hair then carried
on clowns invent new grace
for limbs out of ungraceful
lines in the room
I think I was mid-verb
like my friend I said to my head
I am mid-verb
maybe I have become the verb
I am not having
abortive was the last thing I
thought before falling onto
the purple and inhabited bed
face down we have to feel
everything in our stomach
ache is tempo
I have seem millions of films
I get it
or there is no story only comedy
but my friend has clowned the time
her skirt is so stripy
I am reading it now
a difference between being
scanned for a future
or past material
for latency or tendency
I am very interested in this and I
am interested in the catch of the bed
which idea is homeless?
what is surplus connection to poetry what is the
rushed little examinations on a screen out of view
screened from me the nurse
confirms she can see a vaguer noun
something like a burn
there is not a thing but time read
translated where there might be form
it is there or a picture of noise
not like a construct
of the noise like a head it’s this
he is waving
at the elaborate
so it is just legibility or esoteric
is not interpreted it is agile
easily switches between verb and noun
I could be creative but
I am beginning
to think stuck linguistically
awkward to material or reality
have to be
timely nothing has changed
I need to find my friend
the cat the clown so
she can tell me the time
she has animation to give
I went to Ilford alone
was handed a pink laminated square
a staff was inserted I felt
hungry time was coming out slowly
I shouldn’t have expected it to happen all at once
but I was told to expect it to happen all at once
they held up the staff
red for someone
I feel like a comedy
that’s probably a lot of it there
it’s still going on
In the woods at night men are fucking
amongst the gorgeous piñatas of the rhododendrons,
the avenue of cool limes.
By day I walk my son down the secret pathways,
smell the salt rime of sex on the wind,
a condom glowing with blossomy cum,
knotted and flung; I bury it gently
under the moss with my boots.
I envy them, these lovers, dark pines
beneath their knees, the tarry earth
opaline with the desire paths of snails,
fallen feathers in the dirt like warnings.
I know those days of aching to be touched
by no-one who knows you.
After he was born I wanted nothing but the wind
to hold me, the soft-mouthed breeze
coaxing my skin like the grass
from a trampled field.
How heavenly it seemed then, light shafting
emerald through wounded leaves,
the woods a church, we its worshippers,
and all that sex – freed from love and duty –
like being taken by the wind, swept
from the cloistered rooms of your life,
stripped and blown,
then jilted dazzling in the arms of the trees.
In through the translucent panels of the front door stained with roses
here and there their green stems wander sun patterns the cavernous hall
with rose outlines the wood paneled box came sharp-cornered the TV
so heavy to look at it cut into my clavicle was it
full of cannonballs and was it carried on four or six or eight
sets of shoulders into the room such impossible heaviness
for the size of it and was it full of tinctures puzzled colours
picture elements their sweep rates flashing across it when I saw
my reflection in the blackness of its face it was a child’s face.
Neighbours came over their fences a summer day but dark with storms:
a deluge impassible roads the forest lurching on the hill.
I felt my head turn into stone no it wasn’t the old TV
we carried her to the window the meteors that time of year
Perseids only sparks really the Irish Sea fell from the sky
in bullets through the afternoon and Kong Kappa no King Koopa
navigates his ship through the storm an engine or thunder rumbles.
Electrons pooled under the clouds the room was heavy with ions.
I held my breath in the lightning the sea fell into the garden.
Evening rose like the river then the flash with all of us in it
and her voice moves around the edge of the world and now I think I
remember what I mean to say which is only to say that once
when all the world and love was young I saw it beautiful glowing
once in the corner of the room once I was sitting in its light.
A cloud takes on the shape of a tortoise.
The tortoise can never
repay the gesture. Unashamedly,
its owner once believed that it answered
hello in its reptilian hiss
as she once believed that he, who delighted
her body, delighted her body
only. Did the creature ever think
a thought her way?
The tortoise snaps its tortoisey jaws
eating all that’s laid on
without looking up.
Dad reads aloud. I follow his finger across the page.
Sometimes his finger moves past words, tracing white space.
He makes the Moon say something new every night
to his deaf son who slurs his speech.
Sometimes his finger moves past words, tracing white space.
Tonight he gives the Moon my name, but I can’t say it,
his deaf son who slurs his speech.
Dad taps the page, says, try again.
Tonight he gives the Moon my name, but I can’t say it.
I say Rain-nan Akabok. He laughs.
Dad taps the page, says, try again,
but I like making him laugh. I say my mistake again.
I say Rain-nan Akabok. He laughs,
says, Raymond you’re something else.
I like making him laugh. I say my mistake again.
Rain-nan Akabok. What else will help us?
He says, Raymond you’re something else.
I’d like to be the Moon, the bear, even the rain.
Rain-nan Akabok, what else will help us
hear each other, really hear each other?
I’d like to be the Moon, the bear, even the rain.
Dad makes the Moon say something new every night
and we hear each other, really hear each other.
As Dad reads aloud, I follow his finger across the page.
A gentleman began to shout into the back garden
It wasn’t in the days when we had mobile phones.
He asked us if we could telephone his mum and let her know
that he was okay.
He was very pale, very upset.
I said, ‘Of course you can, of course you can’
After that, there was a succession of people with phone numbers,
which we rang.
Your body is a photograph of
migrants who arrived by boat,
each eye a cabin with a taut
iron bed and silver gromits
looking out to sea.
I am the passenger with a
wide-brimmed hat, perhaps a butcher
from Manchester, or a teacher from Perth,
unmarried, in love with the poets
who write of the British sky’s temper,
how it shifts from foot to foot,
snow has taken root here, bloomed.
The tattoos on your back
are the mermaid at the helm.
These white sheets the sheets
of gold and white sun
at the surface of the sea.
And the fringe of green
along it, the far away mountain
haloed by the mist that comes in
as the island inhales it.
It inches further every breath,
a kind of steady, stagnant rain.
A passenger runs their hand
along the rail. On shore,
the whole town has come to wave goodbye,
to see the young ship set sail.
Then they return to a small house
with a neat, clean veranda
that this poem cannot pass.
A brick-sized block of grey stone washed ashore on which was carved
the word SAY. My dad picked it up at low tide and two months later found
another, and another saying LES. We worked out that rather than a command –
like Rilke’s flow – it was the name of an old firm, SAYLES, which sold
refined sugar, with plantations in the Caribbean and a factory in Chiswick.
As capital flows, accumulates and breaks its bounds, so too had SAYLES
broken into various subsidiaries. Slipped, dissolved and loosed. You find
all kinds of things at low tide. One time, a black retriever came wagging up
to me with a jawbone in its mouth. What can’t be disposed of otherwise –
what can’t be broken down – is taken by the river, spat out or lodged
in mud. The SAY brick took pride-of-place on our chest of drawers –
masonry, defaced by time, made part of the furniture. My dad decided
to give it to you, in part because you’re an artist and he thought it looked like
art, but also, which is maybe the same, because it suggested reason
in madness, and made him – made us – less afraid. Last week, there was an
acid attack. Two cousins, assumed to be Muslim, having torn off their
clothes, lay naked on the road, calling for help. Passers-by crossed the street.
Things break, not flow; it is impossible, however lovely, to see the whole
of humanity as a single helix rotating forever in the midst of universal time.
Flow, break, flow. That’s how things go. Is it? What are you trying
to say? After the operation, they stapled shut his stomach. As the scars
healed, it became harder to discuss. He drank as if he had no body – nothing
said, admitted to or broken. Flow, break, flow. Gather up the fragments.
Now he is back to saying The country’s full. Why are they all men? Four months
ago, in a flimsy hospital gown, the fight had almost left him. In a tone
you’d use to distract a child, the nurse told my mum about her holiday to
Sumatra in the early ’90s. He likes custard, she replied. We told him when
to cough and when to breathe. He clasped a button that controlled
the morphine. Bleep. Bleep. What did the blue and green lines mean?
The sudden dips? What was the nurse’s name? I chose not to
keep notes. Thoughtful as moss or black coffee, or as the screen of
a dead phone. That’s what eyes look like when you really look at them.
Inanimate. Moss, though, is alive enough to harvest carbon dioxide,
to grow. Yesterday I googled thoughtful as moss, thinking it was from
a Seamus Heaney poem, but only found a description of the poet
“grown long-haired / And thoughtful; a wood-kerne // Escaped from
the massacre”. At school, we learnt that wood-kernes were armed
peasants who fought against the British in Ireland. I imagined them
(and him) as thoughtful kernels, seeds that had escaped death by being
spat out. I am nothing so solid or durable. What are you trying
to say? For years I made patterns in the air, not knowing what to say,
then you came and pointed out the paintwork cracked and bubbling
on the wall beside my bed which, though it stank, I hadn’t noticed.
The streetlight sparked on beads of damp. Your skin smelt bready, warm.
I couldn’t say how bare my life had been. The stillness in the room
was like the stillness in the air between the heaves of storm. We flowed
into and out of each other, saying – what? Saying. Not yet together,
we were incapable of breaking. Cradled in pure being. The paint flaked,
exposing streaks of poxy wall. I remembered a church where the saints’
faces had been scratched away, taking on a new expression: alien,
afraid. Some days I must look alien to him. Scary. One poet said
the devil was neither blate nor scaur, incapable of being scared. I sleep
scared most nights but feel no more holy. Once I pronounced “oven”
often like my mum does, and a friend laughed. The cracks appeared
beneath me. In the years before we met, though I wrote, I was too scared –
too scarred – to speak. Flow, flow, flow. I wanted to be carried along, not
spat out or upon. That SAY brick picked from the riverbed proved that
broken things still flow. What are you trying to say? When you asked
me that I closed my laptop, offended. Why? It never mattered what
I said. Whether you speak up or scarcely whisper, you speak with all
you are. To the eye of a being of incomparably longer life – to God
or the devil – the human race would appear as one continuous vibration,
in the same way a sparkler twirled at night looks like a circle. In darker days
I couldn’t say that to my dad, slumped in front of the TV with a mug
of instant coffee. Saying it now only makes me think of times I’ve held
a sparkler – the hiss and flare, the after-smell – which runs counter
to that whole vision. One morning, gagging on his breathing tube,
he started to text my mum, but before he could press send his phone
died. He couldn’t remember what he tried to say. I can’t remember
what I tried to say. Flow, break, flow. You hear me, though?
I crossed the border into the Republic of Motherhood
and found it a queendom, a wild queendom.
I handed over my clothes and took its uniform,
its dressing gown and undergarments, a cardigan
soft as a creature, smelling of birth and milk,
and I lay down in Motherhood’s bed, the bed I had made
but could not sleep in, for I was called at once to work
in the factory of Motherhood. The owl shift,
the graveyard shift. Feedingcleaninglovingfeeding.
I walked home, heartsore, through pale streets,
the coins of Motherhood singing in my pockets.
Then I soaked my spindled bones
in the chill municipal baths of Motherhood,
watching strands of my hair float from my fingers.
Each day I pushed my pram through freeze and blossom
down the wide boulevards of Motherhood
where poplars bent their branches to stroke my brow.
I stood with my sisters in the queues of Motherhood –
the weighing clinic, the supermarket – waiting
for Motherhood’s bureaucracies to open their doors.
As required, I stood beneath the flag of Motherhood
and opened my mouth although I did not know the anthem.
When darkness fell I pushed my pram home again,
and by lamplight wrote urgent letters of complaint
to the Department of Motherhood but received no response.
I grew sick and was healed in the hospitals of Motherhood
with their long-closed isolation wards
and narrow beds watched over by a fat moon.
The doctors were slender and efficient
and when I was well they gave me my pram again
so I could stare at the daffodils in the parks of Motherhood
while winds pierced my breasts like silver arrows.
In snowfall, I haunted Motherhood’s cemeteries,
the sweet fallen beneath my feet –
Our Lady of the Birth Trauma, Our Lady of Psychosis.
I wanted to speak to them, tell them I understood,
but the words came out scrambled, so I knelt instead
and prayed in the chapel of Motherhood, prayed
for that whole wild fucking queendom,
its sorrow, its unbearable skinless beauty,
and all the souls that were in it. I prayed and prayed
until my voice was a nightcry
and sunlight pixelated my face like a kaleidoscope.
Here’s my body
in the bath, all the skin’s
and lost dominions,
my belly’s fallen keystone
its slackened tilt –
for all the Aztec gold
I’d not give up
this room where you slept,
your spine to my right,
stoppered in my pelvis
like a good amen –
amen I say
to my own damn bulk,
my milk-stretched breasts –
amen I say to all of this
if I have you –
your screw-ball smile
at every dawn,
your half-pitched, milk-wild smile
at every waking call,
darling, dark-eyed girl.
When it rains in Boston, from each street rises
the smell of sea. So do the faces of the dead.
For my father, I will someday write:
On this day endeth this man, who did all he could
to craft the most intricate fears, this man
whose waking dreams were of breaking the small bones
in the feet of all the world’s birds. Father.
You know the stories. You were raised on them.
To end a world, a god dances. To kill a demon,
a goddess turns into one. Almanacs of annihilation
are chronicled in cosmic time. Go on.
Batter everything of mine that you can find.
Find my roe deer with the single antler. Kill him.
Find a girl, or a woman. Display to me her remains
on some unpaved expanse, like road kill
on Kentucky highways, turning from flesh to a
fine sand made of ground bone, under a sun
whose surface reaches temperatures six times hotter
than the finest crematory. On the surface of the earth,
our remains are in unholy concert with the remains
of all who have gone before and all who will follow,
and with all who live. In this way, our ground
resembles a bone house. Search in my body
for my heart, find it doesn’t sit gently
where you learned it to be. Thieve in my armory.
Take my saws, take my torches, and drown
my phalanx of bees. Carve into me the words
of the chronicler of hell. Make your very best
catastrophe. My piano plays loud and fast
although my hands are nowhere to be found.
Father, as you well know, I am but a woman.
I believe in neither gods nor goddesses.
I have left my voice up and down the seam
of this country. I, unlike you, need no saws,
or torches. The bees you drowned will come to me
again. Each time you bear your weapons, I,
no more than a woman, grow a new limb.
Each time you use a weapon, my sinews grow
like vines that devour a maple tree.
When I cry, my face becomes the inescapable sea,
and when you drain blood from a creature,
I drink it. On this day this man died,
having always eaten the good food
amid the angry ghosts, having always made
the most overwrought hells.
On this day the moon waxes gibbous
and the moths breed in the old carpets.
On this day from a slit in the ground rises
a girl who does not live long.
On this day to me a lover turns his back
and will not meet my eye.
On this day the faces of the death-marked
are part-willow, part-lion.
On this day has died an artist of ugly tapestries,
and his wares burst into flame.
On this day endeth this man upon who
I hurl the harvest of this ghostly piano,
and on the surface of this exceptional world
the birds have all come to our thresholds,
our windows and our doors, our floorboards,
our attic crannies and underground storerooms,
wires and railroads, tarmacs, highways,
cliffs and oceans, and have all begun to laugh,
a sound like an orange and glittering fire
that originates from places unseen.
We’re not supposed to parley, Ropey Joe.
I’m meant to close my eyes and shut the door.
But you’re a slender fellow, Ropey Joe,
____________________ thin enough
to slip beneath the door and spill your wicked do-si-do
_________ in curlicues and hoops across the floor.
I’ll be here. And I’m all ears –
there are things I want to know.
Oh tell me tell me tell me
about absinthe and yahtzee,
and sugarskulls and ginger, and dynamite and hearsay,
and all the girls and boys who lost their way
and the places in the woods we’re not to go
and all the games we’re not allowed to play –
there are so many things to know.
My mother’s got the supper on the go.
My father will be sagging in his chair.
But you’re a speedy fellow, Ropey Joe,
____________________ quick enough
to slide behind his back, a wicked line of dominoes
_______ zipping through the hall and up the stairs.
Come on, pal. I’m ready now –
there are things I want to know.
Oh tell me tell me tell me
about lightning and furies
and ligatures and diamonds, and zipwires and gooseberries
and all the girls and boys who went astray
and all the ones who never got to go
and all the words we’re not supposed to say –
there are so many things to know.
They told me you were trouble, Ropey Joe.
You’ve always got to tip the applecart.
But you’re a subtle fellow, Ropey Joe,
___________________ suave enough
to worm your way inside and pin your wicked mistletoe
_______ above the crooked lintel to my heart.
Come on then, shimmy in –
there are things I want to know.
Oh tell me tell me tell me
about hellhounds and rubies
and pretty boys and bad girls, and runaways and lost boys
and all the things that made my mother cry
and all the things he said to make her stay
and all the things we’re not allowed to say –
there are so many things to know.