A World After Proverbs
Where there is plenty, take plenty;
Where there is little, take it all.
– Irish proverb
When the hour drew Motholoch to Rathlin,
breasting the signal from Marconi’s ribs
in Ballycastle, she rode the Sea’s Swallow
on a dulse raft flanked by compass jellyfish.
They folded in the surf like tricolours
while she beached at the limbus of the moon
by logs furred with geese hungry to be born.
When she peeled the turf back from the mass-rock
it spoke to her of axe-makers and trade,
how oats and salt bought a corpse’s gold teeth
or the silk taken from corpses, of fish
poisoned for the stories of three gold teeth.
‘The oceans are poisoned now for nothing’,
she answered, ‘The tooth-standard is still in force.’
When the Virgin folded in Rathlin surf
like a jellyfish, it gave the first sign.
From McFarland’s abominable marriage
she took the next. Until the last seal breaks
Motholoch hunkers in the skulls of cars,
scraping the bald patch on her fur with shells
which gossip of a world after proverbs.
*Ian Duhig has written six books of poetry, most recently Pandorama (Picador 2010) and is currently preparing his seventh with the working title Ashtrayland. Read more about him at The Poetry Archive.
A version of this poem appeared in the long out of print ‘The Bradford Count’
About 3am we were awoken by a strange voice in our bedroom, voices actually, a conversation, several people tiptoeing up the stairs and something being dragged, thunking on the stairs as it went. I reached over and turned on the light and saw a large head trying to poke through the balustrades. “We’re lookin’ for Phil, are you Phil?”, I thought I heard him say in a wet whisper, slobbering on the upright spokes of wood. Squinting through the fog, though it had receded enough for me to realize that there were more behind him.
“What the …?”, as I got up from the bed. “Phil said there was a party, so we came, I got some Absent…”, now in a soft monotone, “Sorry we woke you up, Phil”
“No, I’m not Phil and I would really like it if you could please turn around and go back down the stairs and out the way you came in!” “What time is it?!“ And how in the hell did you get in here?”, now at the top of the stairs looking down at three puzzled faces I had never before laid eyes on.
The first one, Len, I’ll call him, was relatively large and a bit slow in his movements, at least he didn’t seem to be moving very quickly back down the stairs, so I addressed those behind him, “C’mon people, let’s go, there’s no party in here, see?” “There’s been some mistake, nobody here named Phil, see? “Do we look like we’re having a party?”
So Len turns around and looks down at the skinny guy behind him and I hear whispers further down the stairs like, “It’s not Phil”, or “Where’s Phil?”
I take a step down the stairs, Glenda is awake now and asking me what they’re doing here, but she knows about as much as I do. Len says to me, a little louder now, somewhat contrite as those further down the stairs have already turned and started back down, “Then we should go, right? You not having a party and we gotta go?” His lower lip jutting out a little, and spit at the corners of his mouth. “That’s right.”, I say, “You got it now.” So he shrugs his shoulders and lets out a deflated, “Oh…” Then, dragging his payload, or what looks like a Salvation Army rattan suitcase, he turns and follows his friends.
On the second floor, plodding along behind Len, who insists on dragging this oversized valise, which I am sure he could easily lift if he wanted to. Or is it that his arms are too long, that he actually is carrying it? “That’s right, let’s go, you guys have the wrong house, nobody here named Phil, no party…”
I notice a young lady waiting at the top of the stairs. The group directly behind Len is already headed down, and I’m still behind Len (there’s no getting past him), but she seems to be waiting and looking at me like she wants to ask me something. All the lights on the second floor are on and my son is nowhere in sight. I think this should have gotten him up out of bed by now, so I’m a bit concerned.
As Len navigates the stairs I’m looking at a pair of vacant ice-blue eyes on a young woman with long black snakey hair, sorta like dreadlocks and she’s got this tattoo the same color as her eyes running along her arm under the cutoff sleeve of her sweatshirt and circling her navel. She mumbles something to me about her tummy.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite get that, could you say that again?” As I lean in to hear her and gently nudge her elbow so that she will also head down the stairs, I smell gardenias and as she starts to speak I also smell the liquor on her breath. “Do you have something for my tummy?” She says dreamily. And she takes my other hand and places it on her, well,… tummy. She has a nice tummy, and I am flustered, derailed, all of a sudden off task and in the moment. “Well, your tummy, no I don’t have, …, for the tummy…”,or some such I blather, as Glenda makes it through the doorway of the landing from the third floor just in time.
“What are you doing?” says the weary and bewildered Glenda.
“She has a tummy problem.” I say. “She said something about her tummy.”
“So give her some Rolaids and send her home!” “No… why don’t you go find out where John is, and if the rest of the house is still here, I’ll take care of … her. And she shoos me down the stairs and leads the young woman into the bathroom.
I find Johnny asleep on the couch in the living room with all the lights on. The TV is on with the sound blaring, and there are a couple of kids standing in front of it in a trance, watching an infomercial. “Come on guys”, I whine, “there’s no party here, you got the wrong house.” And they snap out of it and look at me as it to say, “Huh?” I escort them to the front door which is wide open, the dog curled quietly next to it.
Glenda comes down the stairs with Ms. Tummy in tow, looking frazzled, mutters in my ear, “Don’t know what she’s on…” And as we lead the young lady to the door, she presses up against me, takes my hand and places it on her abdomen again and mumbles, “Thanks”, in a wash of vapors, and wobbles out the door.
*Pete Weber: “Currently re-learning how to function without owning a wheeled vehicle following an automotive unpleasantry.” http://unretr.blogspot.com/
Clocks n Clouds
Old wind-up clocks,
the tic and toc.
Once they were the metaphors,
the Wind-Up Universe,
the hand, the key.
Let it run until it slows and slows,
until we all ask, bemused,
“Why are the clouds
moving so slowly?
They should be home
for tea by now surely?”
And then they stop – altogether,
somewhere by Aberdeen ;
and Scotsmen look into the sky
and know there is a problem.
But metaphors they save the day,
and someone says,
“But hey, nobody still thinks
the universe is like a clock.”
And then things start to move
again, not far from Dundee.
*Seth Crook taught philosophy at various universities before moving to the Hebrides. He does not like cod philosophy in poetry. But he does like cod, poetry and philosophy.Read More
The Lady of Shalott
He set himself adrift,
a soiled mattress on a river
of discarded lager cans.
The only company he kept
a solitary picture ripped
from a clinic waiting room.
He watched her, mouth open,
but not in song.
She held his gaze from
a life in a binbag of clothes;
a mirror cracked from a hurled
vodka bottle; a hanging blanket
dampening from the dregs.
He was done with the outside,
it was cold there.
He carved his name into the plaster
above the bed. He’d need one
when they broke down the door.
Until then he would be there,
between the rushes, willing
that absurd third candle,
to finally go out.
John C Nash finally settled down as a self-employed bookbinder and writer in Northampton, UK. His poetry was most recently published in the inaugural issue of Antiphon.Read More
sprawled on a hill
overlooking a highway
we drink prosecco
Fresh, fruity lip balm
Sticks to my hair as I walk
Smile as he passes
*Amanda Neufeld is currently pursuing an English degree in the US, but she leaves whenever possible to eat Costa Rica’s Taco Bell or ride European trains.Read More
This, the first sad Sunday
when leaves puddle into corners,
rain sweeps sky,
air tastes of ashes
and all those other Sundays
stack up like tins of salmon
waiting for Sunday visitors
who never come.
The day becomes uncertain
in the dimming of the light.
I take comfort in drawing curtains,
lighting lamps, settling into night,
waiting for the stranger at my door.
*Helen Hill enjoys writing and performing poems. She has been published in local magazines, websites and anthologies and had her work read on local radio.Read More
the morning brought sheets of grazing snows
fighting for feet amidst memory of spring
at times like these the promise of hope is a
seasonal shift, an answering mind
brought on winds which whip themselves east and
cough over tracks. I see bones under skin and
remember that I am a long way from there
where I learnt to breathe bottles and teachers
would leer through jars holding artifice made
to mimic the plants that push through the paving
and remind us why – so hard to leave
but the hard ground will split in the summer
*Benjamin Norris is a poet and lecturer from Wales who currently resides in Budapest, where he lectures Indian Cultural Studies and Art History at a leading university. His poetry has been published in collections, newspapers and magazines varying from Exberliner, Artwurst, Magpie Magazine, all three printed journals of the IIAL, The Guardian, Scopophilia, The Love of Looking, Bristol Stories and Tales from the BigRead More