ripeness is all
'ripeness is all' the barman said
as he sliced the lemon and looked up with practiced seduction
at Madeleine, who blushed and turned to examine
the eighteen prints of giraffes and gazelles
that littered the overdone wall
intent on the pictures, she failed to notice the swordfish
that swooped across the wall behind her
and stopped six inches away from the top of her head
its beady eye watching and waiting
'now' said the barman
alas -- the fish missed:
a dire miscalculation that left it swimming around the floor
in a puddle of spilled margaritas
Madeleine lifted her feet with care
then brought one stiletto sharply down
on the fish's shimmering head
which popped, wheezed and slowly deflated.
the barman lowered his eyes, ashamed
Catherine Edmunds' Portfolio
ripeness is all
paint peels from the window of his pyrenean farmhouse
he is far from home
from spilled ashes
the light turns green and a soft rain falls
so different, reminding him of another life
before car headlights occluded his knowledge
before mountains grew unreasonable
now his wife cycles to the shops
in a polka-dotted raincoat
such things are wrong; he knows this at night
when the wind blows and he remembers
yesterday he saw an old woman
struggling against the weather
and for a moment
he remembered his mother
then he saw the shop front behind her
bright with USA logos on t-shirts
and the moment fled
reflected in the sun-shades
he felt a hint of something else
the roar of battle swirls round his head
the vertigo takes him again
'you should see a doctor'
his wife opines
hundreds of miles away in thought and time
a flock of sheep, hardy against the keening wind
crop grass and remember
what's in a name (that's not my name)
it doesn't matter what I call you
all I know is that when you said
you were leaving without any further delay
and I brushed your cheek with feathered fingers,
a sparrow-hawk fearing its prey would fly --
I might be giselle, but to you that day
I was chardonnay-bethany-britney-sharon
a pony-tailed kitten with unlikely cleavage
a whisper of ribbon, a pretty pink paperclip
my name is margaux-desert-orchid
I wear dark glasses, my jeans are tight
and I'm spilling over the top of my bra
for you for you for you for you --
slip back into my life tonight
between my sheets my thighs my lips
before I forget your name
Chaos erupts on the northernmost reaches
of this benighted planet, its core shakes, quivers
with pulses of magma. Pumice flies
from the surface plumes
up, up, up, beyond the seven circling moons beyond
the crown nebula beyond
the wind-whipped reaches of Sol beyond
and here I sit
crackle-glazed like a rack of roast lamb
tucked into a crater when everyone else has left
but that's okay that's how I like it --
'the loneliness of the long-distance cosmonaut'.
The planet's crust is melting tonight.
Gazing down from 20000 miles up
I see patterns; skull's heads, wounded antelopes, flowers
dancing on one leg, peacocks.
Time to go. I've done all I can. If
you were here you'd shake your head
but you're not.
You weren't too pleased with my cooking.
"Call that a rack of lamb?" you said.
Burnt? You call that burnt? No, this is burnt.
See your planet now? See? Do you?
Sorrow is yellow
and smells of stale bread.
Maggie flings open the window
sifts clean air from fumes
turns back, eyes smarting
to face the painting. Sunlit
on its easel, it weeps --
colours slide down the canvas
one fat oil slick into another.
She chooses a brush, soft, sable, kind
too precious to use, but
necessary to stop the descent into ruin.
Too late. He's gone.
She only succeeds in leaving
a stray hair or two
which she picks at with paint-splattered fingernails.
Christ, what a mess.
Grabbing a rag
she rubs and she rubs until all that's left
is the cadmium yellow undercoat
that glares like a Gauguin.
Ah, lover. What have you done.
She strokes the canvas with trembling fingertips,
sniffs the lingering turpentine.
the next morning
he stared at the camera
after a night of foggy dreams
spiked by frost
she ignored him
grazed on crisp grass
licked her thick lips
with thoughtful tongue
minding the sensation
beneath a tree
brushed to one side
and on the other
between the previous ghosts
and the sign of the bush of holly
Beneath the Roar of the City
"Red and black, red and black, turn the cards
think red, think black, not blue. Why not blue?
Blue's cool. Blue, blue, my love is blue --
can't remember the rest," she says to a stranger above
but commuters never see what lies beneath their feet.
She blinks, clears blurred eyes. The blue sign promises
Kings Cross, Liverpool Street, Moorgate, Whitechapel.
Once she could have caught a train to take her away
but the pain in her head is fading; necessity lessened,
fever subsiding. She sits on the pink and white tiles turning cards
with plenty of time because one day, he said, will be morning.
Solitaire palls, so she turns to clock patience.
Watch out for kings -- four of them here.
The last one keeps promises; he will give her morning
though the clock's stopped forever at a quarter past four.
The cops move her on so she tiptoes out into the roar of the city
where the air's sweet today, like daffodils and jasmine.
She never strays too far from Baker Street.
She has wounds. Some are deep. Some still bleed
but she's learnt to survive, to stay in her place, be safe.
Today she finds what she needs with no trouble;
closes her mind, makes some cash and spends it,
curls in an alley and sleeps. Another anonymous trick,
and a drink this time, which is kind, though she thinks
the vodka will trickle through the holes in her veins
and the man will complain. The thought is lost
as she slip-slithers back into sleep.
She wakes to find someone's stolen her cash
so she goes back to sit on the pink and white tiles
where the clock's still saying a quarter past four.
Red and black, red and black, jack, queen, king, cross.
No, not cross, not even St Pancras, and he wouldn't notice
her scars, being far too absorbed in his holiness loneliness.
She visits her king in his cardboard castle; he sees
the criss-crosses creeping up her arms. She scowls.
His breath isn't royal -- he should smell of primroses,
buttercups, coltsfoot, not rooks and apples and ash.
They drink his cheap cider, smoke a joint, talk of orchards
and bees and piglets. He says he'll plant her an apple tree
where the grass grows and earth smells of truffles.
She lives for days on that thought when she's back
at the pink and white tiles and the blue sign
that promises Liverpool Street. She'll never walk there;
the name makes her think of offal floating in pools of blood
like last night, only it wasn't liver and kidneys and lights
and hearts or diamonds and spades and clubs --
just a red lamp, and maybe not even her blood.
The man shoved her roughly, ground her into the dirt
so her scars turned black. More tattoos. Marked forever.
Mark? Was that his name? Or Jack?
Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack climb down into
old York Road Station, and break through below
where trains thunder by but just ghosts alight.
No, not Jack. His real name was marked on his forehead.
He'd paid well enough, as she'd lost so much blood
and he said he felt pity, though his eyes said not.
He stays with her now, will be with her always;
he's touched her. She cannot undo the touch.
She thinks she might have made enough cash now
to run past the gate that leads to the moors like the one in --
what was the name of the book? A girl, a gate,
an escape to the moors, a boy who was king,
and a lamb -- or was the lamb the king? --
and the sun always shone, there were kites on the crags,
but that's the wrong song, that's the one where she flies
to a land, a land? No. She can't remember.
Under the arches, past the blue sign, there's a chapel of white.
She could lie down forever beside sweet Lethe and sleep,
but Jack or Mark or Damian would return
with his heart on his sleeve, dripping terror and paint,
and he'd cover her mouth and choke her again,
pouring white acid down her throat.
So much for the white, paint it black, or deep purple
or red, always red, simply red, but that's wrong,
not that song, no the song can't remain the same.
Put on your red shoes, dance the night away beneath trains,
like Anna Karenina, what a wonderful name,
in that book long ago. Under a train -- what would that be like?
A screeching of metal on metal? Bright sparks?
A smell seeps past her of bleeding and death
and Jack's essence crawls up her nostrils, invades her brain,
and turns her thoughts to mildew and dust.
She takes out her knife, croons a soft lullaby to the droplets
that glisten along her arm. Then she deals more cards,
finds the Jack of Hearts. He's turned back to paper, and there!
He's gone! Fluttering away on a breeze of commuters
who fly past with never a care for the girl
at a quarter past four in a dream of orchards
where walls are tiles of green and cream
and there may still be buttered scones still for tea
in that land of poems, but that's another book,
and it's gone, all the books are gone, all the flowers gone
and it's still the wrong song.
The next day she knows her strength won't last,
so she seeks out her king, but he's moved. He's left her
some cider, a spliff, a note saying, 'have fun'.
She sleeps well that night, never noticing how
her body is used by the ghosts that inhabit
the silence that lurks in the shadowy corners
beneath the roar of the city.
But when she wakes up, the tiles have turned grey.
She knows that she'll never go home to the moors
through the gate where little boy holds a lamb
whose coat is matted with blood and Jack says,
"You see?" as he inserts fingers into her scars
and shows her visions of what will happen
when he winds her guts round and around and around
and ties the ends to a train as it hurtles along the tunnel.
The lamb with the cross sits and watches and weeps
for the girl and a morning that will never come.
She fades in and out of dreams of apples,
where commuters scream forbidden knowledge
and she wonders: why must she suffer the sins of commuters?
The sins of the ghosts who wander down York Road?
The sins of the queen beneath Kings Cross station?
The sins of the pigeons, banished forever?
The lamb lays down his cross on the lawn and says,
"You're right, it's not fair; I'll plant you your orchard.
Eat apples. Drink cider. Be merry."
"But you bleed, like me," she says.
"I know," says the lamb. "They hammered a brace of nails
into my head and hung all their rotting meat up on the hook.
I think they did that to you as well."
"Yes, they did," she says. "Come, let's share a cup."
They drink long and deep and at last her dream
comes true. She picks up the lamb and walks through the gate
and onto the moors, but a bloodied king stands there
reeking of death and dressed in cardboard,
waving a bottle of cider and smiling.
"The Jack of Hearts?" she says. "Where's my king?"
The lamb ignores her; says, "Don't worry,
the clock's stopped saying a quarter past four."
She looks, and he's right, it's turning back slowly
to morning. Her scars are healing; the gnawing ache
in her guts is gone. "I want..."
"You want?" The lamb looks puzzled.
"I want to save him."
"Are you mad?"
"Most likely, but look --" and she points out a man
on the Baker Street platform, his flesh filled with maggots.
"You're insane," the lamb says, "But don't let me stop you."
She feels the whoosh of the wind down the platform,
moves up behind the Jack of Hearts.
"Come then, my love," she says, stroking his back,
before pushing him gently. They tumble together
in an agony of sparks, see angels amidst the slicing of wheels
and blood spattered strangers.
The lamb turns away and mutters, "Betrayal."
"It won't do, you know," says the real cardboard king,
who's been watching, bemused. He kicks the lamb
into an apple tree. There it sits munching forbidden fruit.
"Thought as much," says the king, as he tries
to grasp a memory of mint sauce. What's that?
Something green? He swoops down and falls
the length of the escalator, felling commuters in his wake.
In the midst of this folly, he cries, "Off with his head!"
The people panic, beseech gods and mothers,
rage against immigrants, dole scroungers, foreigners,
layabouts, beggars, then gods and mothers again.
The king gathers up his pieces of cardboard
takes a swig from his bottle and wonders what
all the fuss is about. No matter. His head hurts,
but that's nothing new. He tries to think. A girl? A lamb?
He doesn't remember, but needs drink, as the cops
grab his arm for the fourth time today,
frogmarch him upstairs, out of the station,
and into the roar of the city.
she was heavy and french, full of oysters and wine
but he heaved her over his shoulder and ran
down the beach at sandgate and into the sea
where they fell with a monstrous splash
(the editor cut at that point)
so what happened next?
did she stand up and slap him and let out a stream
of gallic vituperation?
did she find at long last her inner mermaid
and swim round in seaweedy circles?
most likely the former, but maybe the latter
has left her a lifelong yearning that some day
she'll return to the sea with her handsome chef
who'll forget about michelin stars and such things
and roll in the surf with her embonpoint
she sighs in french
her cellulite quivers as one more oyster
slips down her throat all sleek and slimy
to nestle within her depths.
Elephant and Robot
Elephant nestles within my palm
gold flaked green, hidden, unseen.
Everyone else goes and gathers around
a silver-grey robot, who struts and poses
inviting wonder at flashing red lights
at cyborg enhancements and sink plunger weaponry.
He's horrid, I hate him, I know that he's cheating,
that somebody's got to be pulling his strings
for his angular movements give him away
quite apart from the clatter of knee joints and bunions.
Elephant whispers tales of the jungle
wide plains, watering holes, snakes and tigers.
Robot grows jealous.
He jumps off the table with grunts and beeps,
but his metal feet slip on the laminate flooring.
He cracks his head and his lights go out
and despite all his fine talk of William Hartnell,
of time, and relative dimensions in space,
he can't move, or untie the tangles above.
I turn away, holding on tight to Elephant,
close my hand round his cool green body
feel the rhythm, run with the herd.
he's flown there again over six thousand miles
to bathe in dark spices and find his mind
and fade fast away despite all we could say
the result for those who won't follow his lead
is an argument over mount board
glue sticks and what time should we begin?
where boundaries are blurred
no problem is found, but four dimensions
separate fast. three plus one need each other
remember snot? coloured stuff for kids?
you pull a big blob with small hands
and it stretches and stretches and stretches and
pfft. pulled into two separate pieces. if he doesn't
look after himself better than this, if he finds
one day he can't return, then pfft. gone.
split. his stolid parents wonder what happened
to their sylph-like son and the rest of us
sit still, sharpen pencils, smooth down paper.
Alfred hasn't seen the sky
for twenty years
not since that day -- when was it?
And they say, but look, look out of the window!
but that's not the sky
That's stars and nebulae, sometimes a comet --
Why not? they ask.
Sky... says Alfred
is grey and blue and salmon pink
and cumulo nimbus, alto stratus --
he chokes back a sob. Can't go on any more.
They give him a cup of tea
but it comes from a replicator.
It isn't tea
any more than the cosmos is sky.
Alfred is sorry,
but would they please slip something toxic
into his supper
misses the sky
so jeopardy and danger flow without,
within, and round about, and where can I
escape, where fly, where run, I cry, I shout,
you rat! romance is dead. farewell. goodbye.
I slice his suits up, shave his afghan hound,
immerse his laptop in a sea of foam
with oil of lavender, because I've found
it keeps him calm (I like a happy home).
the gas is on, not lit, you understand,
a ripe banana's stuck up his exhaust,
the house is wired up wrong, you see, I planned
this out in case my desperate hand was forced.
his chances of survival now are slim
since lipstick on his collar told on him...
Sandra and me
If I pour a stiff drink, I can sit with Sandra
in the room over the shop
look into the yard, laugh at Maggie next door
hanging rows of grey knickers out to dry.
She hasn't changed at all, still looks
(and sounds) like an EastEnders extra,
in that quilted thing from Brentford Nylons,
but you're not here to make up stories about her
while you smoke your roll-ups, then hide them away
when Sandra comes upstairs for her break.
But of course she knew.
How could she not?
She emptied your ashtrays, and God knows you stank.
That's why I started to drink -- dull the senses.
(Some of the senses.)
You washed your hair everyday,
and I'd run my fingers through to dry it,
feeling the heat of your scalp on my knuckles,
tangled up in your mane, where I wanted to be.
Then you'd build a spliff and I'd sit far away,
needing to breathe
but you'd think I'd gone shy --
so you'd pour me a drink then another and smile
till I wasn't so shy any more .
The painting still hangs downstairs over the till.
'Proprietor: Joseph L Goldsmith' it proclaims.
I painted it for you, and you hung it there
for all the world to see and know
that you wanted more than just my skills as an artist.
Fair enough. I wanted more too.
I wonder why Sandra still keeps it there.
Perhaps she simply likes it. Could be.
I wish I could like her.
You liked her enough to marry her;
she's petite and blonde, so I see the attraction.
But she's stupid. She still keeps your ashtrays and notebooks,
still tends your tree in its green plastic pot.
It used to bear half a dozen apples each year,
was radiant with blossom, such blossom,
that made me want to cry out to you, don't smoke! Stop!
Breathe the scented air, breathe the blossom!
When I come to work now,
Sandra greets me kindly, though still with that look,
part fear, part distaste, part suspicion.
She knew some things, guessed others.
It doesn't matter any more.
She welcomes my help, now you're gone,
and when she closes for lunch
we go upstairs and she makes me a cuppa.
I sit in your chair, put my hands where yours rested
chat, pass the time, but we don't even talk about you, just our children.
I tell her tall tales of 'Jemima' and 'Peter'.
She never thinks Puddleduck, Rabbit (more fool her)
never questions the names, never knows
I've no life outside the shop.
No children. Nobody. Nothing. No more.
The tree bears no apples these days, she tells me.
It stopped when you...
I want to pour gin on its roots -- a libation, an offering, a promise,
but I think you'd be somewhere up in the branches
laughing at me.
and I know it's silly, but I'd take up smoking if I thought,
but no, you'd laugh even more, and I've no wish to stink.
Should I tell Sandra? Maybe not.
Better suggest a bottle of gin
and see what happens. She really is pretty.
Who knows. You used to say -- you'd describe --
is that what you want us to do? Really?
She's blushing. You told her?
Of course you did. You told us all.
How many? Ten? Twenty? Thirty?
You claimed many more. I never believed you.
I think, in the end, there was only ever Sandra and me.
Sandra and me.
gone woodlice slugs ants
the butterfly you caught ate laughed
forked tongue indigo eyes
burnt out by summer heat light
red spider mite white marble
pepper-pot bright apples dripping
stamped hard forged now
take on camouflage rust ochre
and wonder what if
munching chicory wild mallow poison
digging up green potatoes daffodil bulbs
cherry tree falling
what if you moved on to another garden
and I followed
slip hiss slither away away away
catch me if you can
larkspur juniper heather
in another garden
My sonnetiser's brock - it's talking splong.
I'm at a loss; polisticated, lent,
yet blowsy. What do do? Rehearse? Prolong
Or disperuse the mighty poliment?
My meter's constimembered. Don't you see?
Enjambment failure. Stop. Deplock. Kerblick.
"'Twas ever so, Elizabeth," quoth he
without a pause; no mortar twixt the brick
and polster board. Ah, me! I needed frim.
It won't connect without; won't stick or stay
another day or plight confusion strim,
without fast render, colfered clean away.
The answer's in the romble from the West,
until she windles. Withy -- that's the best.
the third constant wife retired unto death
her mouthless starvation where once she ate
bog myrtle ripe bilberry heather
short hope, long gone, she'd craved escape
rejecting jollity redundant in derry
without any doubt her doorway out
let her out let her swim out
of this earth pushing down on eyeballs the grit
the anguish denying bright strangulation where once
her fable told lies simultaneously without fear or fret
the farmer from derry
caught her in blue absolution
regardless of worth replenishing her with silver
coins on eyelids won't keep out dirt ingrained in his fingers
remember slick scales yellow eye
swim further upstream swim swim swim
now underground waiting for the ferryman fisherman
she tries to lift the rock swim through earth
in derry he farms for the third fourth fifth sixth generation
laughs now she's followed the others
pours his poison fillets his fish and laughs again unto death