With the unsaid said,
the family skeletons sit smouldering,
shadows fused to the sofa.
The echoes of afterthoughts
stain the air,
taste of petrol.
the smoky sting of the whisky
brings back that winter
I bought my first bottle of Jack Daniel’s
Mum thought I was turning into an alcoholic.
Everything had already fallen apart.
Dad was on Prozac,
Mark was stitched and healed
but no longer whole.
He had the right to exit
the casual ward in daylight,
buy cigarettes or pick up dog ends in the road.
Psychiatrics’ modern weapons
had turned out to be not electro shock
but an enforced boredom
that, exactly because it was unsaid,
convinced patients in the locked rooms of their minds
that life wasn’t worth it.
The staff papered over the abyss in the daytime
till the doctors went home
then wheeled round the trolley
off the record
to medicate the wrecked and the write-offs.
My fear came on with the darkness
as each day faded
my thoughts sank into our insoluble problems
whispered that it was all my fault.
Late at night I grilled Mark’s cannabis leaves
so dry they crackled when I skinned up
and smoked not for the anchorless high
that amplified the fear
but just to have a ritual.
That winter I sat on Silly Bridge with the trains crashing through the arches
saw the village and the asylum both curious, alien.
I read Howl and A Season in Hell
holding on to the lines like you hold on to the metal bar on a rollercoaster
that stops you falling out
that will pull you through
In the land of the blind,
the people of the lie
conspire to believe six impossible things before breakfast.
Foxed, they gull themselves
Call up a crystal ball!
What near-future does the tarot tell?
Just this: the new card is the Con Man
he turns up again and again at the top of the deck
All the other cards are Fools
What would Mark Twain say?
That old joke
Have you heard they removed the word gullible from the dictionary?
You can fool enough of the people some of the time
The novelty in the act this time around
is that caught in a lie the Con Man is not phased
is openly proud of his contempt for the conned
No place here for Orwell’s honest propaganda I see.
Poets are liars who speak the truth
hunters whose arrows always fall short.
Words dog them
clumsy, heavy footed things
scaring off through the forest
crash crash crash
Are they the wise
who know they are fools?
Some kind of clown-anarchist
proclaiming approximations that may trip you into your own truth
Waking in the chaos of a friend’s 7th floor flat where he thinks about wanting to die
Amidst the cats and the wreckage the cracked cups, torn canvas, tubes of paint,
I find the broken frame of his glasses, and think This is what 44 looks like.
Who were you really, brother, two decades back, when you were shut up
in the psychiatric hospital?
while I, barely a ghost, got out with only a felt sense to follow, bristling into shapes like clouds, like nothing at all, ready to go into battle naked, if you’d wanted me to.
Then down my thin, lizard spine life was opening like a knife
and you, the surgeon, turned your back on the family of broken toys,
stepped in and out of Fairmile hospital like a cat on the threshold
of your life.
I leave my friend’s flat,
go downstairs, take a seat in the metro, feel only the seat back, juddering movement of the train, think of two rivers, the green Seine, the other mud-brown and midnight swimmable, the lights of Fairmile through the trees,
where you first picked up this hot thread that draws through the hand a string of disasters.
Something in the rat-brain as sharp and old as flint unearthed from the chalk of the Downs
and a violence that were still working out
Woke to desolation
slight weight in the stomach
loose jaw, inertia.
how many times in my teens did I wake to this?
and mask it, go downstairs
Streaky bacon or Weetabix.
The Guardian‘s thin newsprint.
Dad to my left – sandpaper face, broad back and builder’s hands.
This the moment he came in closest
and I weakened my shoulder, softened or I’d not have felt his touch.
Little brother practicing silent insolence, thinking godknowswhat.
Suicide… Or murder.
Mum, en face, orchestrating Conversation,
drawing a line around what could not be said
pushing it out of sight,
blood sunk below the skin.
so the bodysoul recreates the way
we recreated each other for years
fixing to our places
Outside was the frost, the cold green blades, the white plastic lid of sky.
and on this side of the glass – warm, cosy death.