How It Is


The old stone streets of Durham are losing their cobbles like sore teeth.

On they drill, those big shouldered county council blokes

in pit hats and yellow jackets, ear-splitting stone-splitters cordoned off

to prise up time’s suppurating slag and lay down new time in new rocks.

But time is space, and the paving they pound in is never so heavy

as the air they work in. It’s not even air that’s wrinkling them into

grey twists of men smoking outside the hospital doors after coronary

scares, or bodies wheeled through fluorescent corridors, gazing at you

in astonishment, grateful for the latest in hip replacements.

Tick tock go the secretaries’ heels, statistics in command

checking out the wards. Nurses glide by, their professional competence

neutered by their brogues and starchy caps, raised drips in hand.

Everyone is being taken care of, don’t worry, you will be all right,

say the men in green fatigues, removing their gloves and mouth masks.

Screens are still talking brightly when the theatres close for the night,

but it’s hard to believe you’re the blokes you thought you were, and no one asks.


The Soldier on Routine

We are living with the young Christ
in the Green Zone. Even we who are not He
suffer hands tugging our hems,

though our minds select the bodies
we see. Young Christ is dual,
but what of Him is like us is, like us,

taken in by order: the roof and walls,
the roof and walls, inside which we sleep—
boot scuffs and dust, the white floors wiped clean.

He does not eat some days, and so too
we choose, and can. It's not that this
isn't hell, though the lamp-switch lights

long into the night. If we could name
the mindframe sight, the body wall,
a solid feature with a latch, through which

we exit, armored, to disorder, that is, Ur—
the original being, or its prebecoming.
Out there the zone is we, the tank

a brutal country, singing. Young Christ
is dual, though even the god He is won't
interfere. The cells beneath the surface

of the seen he says he senses like his own
skin, still unflayed. That scrim in him,
keeping him human, among us crimping

barbed wire over buildings. Our hands
bleed, but then we've made a thing
and can put it from us. If only they'd stay far

from us, or else we infiltrate a mind—
walking in on the backs of the word
uttered, a word shook loose through

the terrifying bodies, where every pore is
unbarriered. A hand nailed to a house,
the pierced room a cage, the wound a seam

we fill with seed. Body in which we live
unsafe, and then He breaks through to
two at once, and this by violence. We who

are not He cannot contain it. Schism of many
chambered brain, schism of time, schism
of no into infinite pain, amnesia of the known, of

where we were before and if we're where
Eden was, where's the latch? Where are
leaves to cover all these bodies? We watch

our hands in motion widening the wound—
it's there we enter, as though we could pass through
to the princeless, incinerated kingdom.


Below the Raven's Nest

I was trying to find my voice
under a fir tree and scribble
and scratch something more
or less like it onto a page,
but she came down halfway
from her crosshatched jumble
of sticks and seaweed, wedged
near the broken crown,
and explained her situation
with grinding clucks, tut-tuts,
and insincere chuckles,
as if forgiving the rudeness
of a first offender, a violator
of rules maybe too difficult
for dim-witted outsiders
to take in, to get a grasp on
without official help. We stared
at each other. She decided
I might be hard of hearing
or somehow hopelessly challenged,
dropped to a lower branch,
and leaning forward
for emphasis, began cooing
to an idiot child, then barked,
had a brief asthma attack,
warned a very bad boy
(who'd just disgraced himself)
never to do it again,
and after some teasing lip smacks
and a one-legged squat,
in case I was simply speechless,
gave me a death rattle.



The minute gears mutely whir. To put your ear
Against it is to put your ear inside it.
It does not tick. It isn't a heart.
It has no pulse. It isn't a clock or a wrist.
Scrutiny can coax no secret from it.
There is no hearse with one flat tire
In endless circuit, headlights dispersed
In fog like sunset behind a veil.
A paving stone extends a grave through iron
Gate to a door at home. To knock
Your hand against it puts your hand inside it,
As in a cloud at night the pale moon
Gathers itself outside itself its own light
And glows dimly behind the dust that outshines it.
It has no heat. It isn't the sun.
It isn't uncertain. It does not think
About the sun or the distant balls of dirt
And ice that circle closer to the star
With each circuit done. Comet tails
Darkly flowing back as the horse leaps
Forward, straining against the catafalque
All November, predict disaster as grammar
Predicts breath, the need to breathe, or the mind
Must rest. It is its own edgeless disaster,
It is there as if it were not there. Vague
Repetitions haunt the circumference.
To walk out the door is to place your foot
On a stone worn away by another's foot.
Rumor has it that the sun sends heat in form
Of sight. Watch the ice as it melts
For proof: water pools, darkens on a stone,
Becomes as a shadow on a stone,
A horse's hoof as it rises off a stone,
Except it rises forever, and the shadow is gone.
Such processes turn the minute gears.
It is not a note in the margin. The margin is
Covered with snow. When the winter fog
Disperses a black horse stands on ice
And cannot move. It is as if a breathless song
Hovered like a veil in the air. The black
Horse's breath spirals upward like smoke.
Pyre-smoke like a thumbprint as a cloud.
Similes sing mutely in it, likening the unlike.
Mourners name the peace they find and walk
Away. To step into it is to find it missing.
The footprints are before you as you go.


My Hypochondria: A Soliloquy

All day I felt a small disc of numbness just below
my scalp, a collapsed vein, I was sure, or a clot,

the first signs of a seizure coming on, of an aneurism,
or possibly a stroke, that anesthetized zero flaring

and disappearing for hours, like the red-blank-red
blinking of a stoplight, so that I lay awake that night

contemplating all the false scenarios of death: the helium
ascensions, the eternal returns, the crumbed body

called back into the grass, the unity, the whispering cup
on the Ouija board, but I found inside of me no heaven,

no Elysium, no Valhalla, no dreamtime, no Egyptian
Fields of Aaru, no meadow fat with buffalo, just the perfume

of myths, a bad disguise, like someone trying to cover
a bald spot, but the hole shows through, doesn't it, the numb-

spot at the center of the world, the straight-nothing that isn't
even black, which is what I felt leached to the top of my skull,

that yarmulke of emptiness, that blood-nothing at the core of us,
striking its one note for eternity, while our hearts, pink

and motherless, look to the sky with their eyes gummed shut,

like a nest of infant birds. When did I become
like this: paranoid, delusional? When did I start

looking at my own thoughts through a wall of glass?
When did I become this diminutive person, this toy man,

this Godless Pinocchio? Why can't I find the crack, gap,
that moment when the tape was spliced, that step in time

when the old self lifted a foot and the new one put it down?
Aren't there origins: the garden, the bang? Walk back against

the current, and won't you find the river's source?
Trace the etymology of every word and won't you find them

gathered in the same mouth, the same grunt, the same breath
across startled vocal chords? When did it begin, when was

that first drop of consciousness replaced? When did it start,
this abduction, this swap, this backwards dialysis of selves,

every molecule in my body muddied and returned? Why not hunt
the ghost of my former life? Why not hunt what haunts me? And if

the mind holds experience the way a Doppler holds weather—
as a symbol, as a code—then what choice is there except to chase

the storm back across the continents until the last ice-crystal
of cloud melts back into the oxygen, until the mind, bleached

and purified, reveals the noble blue that lies dormant within you,
or so that at least you can see that once you were okay,

that you were blameless, that you were luminous.


A Rose Tree

When we went to live at Top Lodge
my mother gave me a rose tree.

She didn't have to pay for it—
it was growing there already,

tall and old, by the gravel drive
where we used to ride our scooters.

No one else was allowed to pick
the huge pale blooms that smelt like jam.

It was mine all through that summer.
In October we moved again.

But even never seeing it
couldn't stop it from being mine:

one of those eternal presents.
At the new house I had a duck.