Canto XCI

I could talk of bad teachers or nurses,
sure, I could relay a fair few stories,
but I’ll be stumped for yarns or pretty verses

when asked to name a single decent Tory.


Canto XC

From this suburban hill, between each road,
the extremes of South London can be glimpsed.
A momentary glance to my left side

shows off the famous site for porcine blimps
that dotted the iconic Pink Floyd cover,
where yesterday our Mayor BoJo pimped

the latest Power Station makeover—
homes, businesses and jobs, jobs, jobs!
I look right to see smoky billows hover

above the burnished hues of Dulwich Wood,
perhaps a smoldering pile of leaves and branches,
but closer to me, just down the same road

the sudden scent of bacon sandwiches
blows up from a film crew’s catering van,
they must be shooting in the local houses—

another sitcom, condescending, bland.
you’ll catch it on a minor freeview channel
six mirthless episodes before it’s canned,

or maybe a tense thriller, starring an old
film actor, now signed up to ITV,
no longer needing The Method to channel

the hangdog spirit of a CID
inspector deciphering some cryptic kills.
It’s this or theater, dahlinks, no reprieve,

after those heartless bastards dropped The Bill.


If mantelpieces are the true altars
of post Victorian society,
I wonder what faith can be weened from ours?

The money plant’s an easy one, a plea
for the crumbling markets not to flatten us,
while the two Buddhas with the fat bellies—

the one found in a housing estate bush,
the other carved from Etna’s lava flows—
encourage us to remain quite aloof

to all the boons and bilge that fate allows.
The other chaps, carved in the Philippines,
don’t make an easy pair to analyse—

the first hides in a barrel, only when
you raise his hiding place above his head,
his penis pops out, mounted on a spring.

The other man carries his appendage
as if it were a hefty bag of coal
and on his stand someone’s engraved the adage:

HELP ME! It’s a punishment for all
the times in which he boasted of his size
and so the vengeful gods, ever watchful,

as keen on irony as they are wise,
made it grow to monstrous proportions
and now his only hope of pleasure lies

with amorous pachyderms and cetaceans.


When out on my day-to day/same-old,
I listen to a podcast as I weave
the usual short cut through November cold.

In this one a philosopher believes
that consciousness is computational.
He speaks on where materialism leaves

us with regard to free will, can we still
claim such a thing exists when all we are
is a complex brew of raw materials?

He mentions how sometimes we drive a car
along a well known road, when suddenly
we realise our own thoughts were elsewhere

as our bodies took the wheel. Which one were we?
The self that changed the gears and pressed pedals
or the self that wondered what they’d have for tea?

If there is a moment where our mental
exertions find the impasse of a choice,
frame the outcomes, judge which one’s essential

to guide us into virtue or to vice,
then in that moment we are free enough
despite determinism’s loaded dice.

I half agreed with him, for what it’s worth,
while knowing there’s two sides to each debate
as thoughtlessly  my body strolled and swerved

through the shady thoroughfares of the estate.


You’re ill and pregnant, I am simply ill,
so I must shuffle like some ghost butler
who meekly navigates Victorian halls.

I do not complain, nor do I mutter
when sorting out the tea, laundry and food.
But when I change my mind on going out later—

I’d rather stay in, sate your shifting moods
with whispered pick-me-ups and countless cuddles—
you tell me not to with these exact words,

“I’ll be okay my love. I’ve got Pot Noodles.”


The guy on the bus is rocking to and fro
like he’s watching a sped up tennis match;
like elephants in some back garden zoo.

The passengers keep their distance but watch
in case he pulls a shank and goes to work
harvesting ears to make a fancy brooch.

He points at some of us, but doesn’t talk—
when his stop comes, the relief doesn’t last,
for as he rises from his seat to walk

we’re greeted by the sight of his bare arse.


I’ve thought for several hours about the child
at the supermarket, pushed round by his Mum,
his eyes fixed upwards, mouth open wide

and every now and then flapping his arms.
We crossed paths maybe six or seven times
and I was quick to look away to some

eye level blurb for a discounted item.
Though at one point I veered into the path
of the lifestyle guru famous for his schemes

on how to gain the maximum of worth
from monthly lower middle wage packets.
A household name, this minister of thrift,

yet all I noticed was his single basket.
There is a silent sadness that speaks out,
our inner lives shine through, we cannot mask it

as we all shuffle off to the self checkout.


I run two laps during the magic hour
and from a certain point I shoot a glance
toward the city’s growing clutch of towers

then back towards the sloping hills that once
were used for grazing sheep in the Great War.
Below, the workers in their council vans

have knocked off from their current daily chore,
installing drainage to tackle the lakes
that form downhill after every downpour,

though it seems every penny that we make
flows upwards, zooming through the city’s veins
to reach the ground floor as the street lights wake

to rise storey by storey til they gain
the penthouse vantage point from which they fly
to offshore spawning grounds where they remain

oblivious to our receding lives.


The Christmas ad campaign for Marks and Sparks
has got shot of the condescending mugs
of Peter Kay, Twiggy and Mylene Klass

and offers us a twinkly little plug
for X Factor, all wide eyed beams of hope
from contestants on their first corporate gig

to sell the same old tinsel covered rope
while singing, “When you wish upon a star,
your dreams come true.”¬† But here the slippery slope

comes into play: for each week as one more
is booted off they also lose their place
on the advert, which could be, to be fair,

a masterwork of irony, seeing as
all but one of these bright things will fail
in doing what the cheerful lyric says—

reminding me of that same Disney tale,
how at the end all of Pinocchio’s wishes
have come true so that we can forget all

the other kids that got turned into asses.


The midwife moves the tinny stethoscope
across your stomach, waiting for a sound
as frantic as a horse’s full gallop,

reminding me of childhood afternoons,
travelling the span of the longwave band,
the foreign tongues and vinyl crackle tunes,

the shipping news read by the RP man,
all flotsam in the bandwidth’s constant hiss.
There was no target for my wanderings then,

while now we sample no Moroccan hits,
we only have your belly’s groans and whirls
until we find our child’s racing heartbeat,

a tiny drum heard from another world.

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