Steam Baths

I have posted this piece here before, but I enjoy it so … here it is again with minimal editing.


An old man

Levers himself into

The hot bath

With the slowness

Of flowers blooming,

Steam dreamily blurring the room childlike and careless,

Coffee fractionally distilling into an empty pot.

And the lowering of his body

Contains the unspilled passion

Of bursting muscle,

Scalding liquid drifting over the wooden counter,

Flowers exploding along winter’s glittering edge,

The old man screaming

For the muscles to do his bidding,

And a teenage boy

Still as ancient ligament,

His chest suddenly,

Tellingly, flushed.



Seamus Heaney Tribute (possibly part 1)


Seamus Heaney wrote a lot about the past, which is one reason that it’s sort of appropriate that he translated Beowulf. For those who don’t know, Beowulf is an Old English epic poem, possibly the earliest work of literature in English (although Old English doesn’t bear much resemblance to modern English). His version begins with what is possibly the greatest start to an epic, as well as the best single word sentence ever: ‘So.’ I have used this a few times, and you can be sure every time I use the word ‘so’ to start off something, I am thinking of Heaney’s Beowulf. Here are several examples.

As a rare… thingy I will give some notes on the pieces. The first is about San Francisco. The line ‘shredded you to a whimper’ owes something to T.S. Eliot. Kerouac, as some may know, spent a good deal of time in SF, and in fact there is a street named for him. While I was there I drank in the bar that he used to frequent (although I forget the name and I shall not guess at it). The line ‘somewhere under the rainbow’ is a sort of reference to SF’s thriving gay population; and of course the song ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ from the Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland being something of a gay icon (by which I mean an icon in the gay community).

The second is a piece about writing, and what poetry is or is seen as today. I shall also give away that the quotations in the piece are entirely made up by me… part of the point is that a common trope in poetry is quotations from unheard of, or at least obscure, people.

The third is about love (from Nanowrimo day 20). It is basically about how I met someone I loved, and still love. It contains a few little references that I will share with you. Taiheiyoh is the Japanese for Pacific Ocean. Little Fluffy Clouds is a song by The Orb. Most of the rest is specifics, real or not, of a now long past relationship. Sighs.

Sadly I forget what I was thinking when I wrote the fourth one. My apologies. But you are free to read into it whatever you wish. Let me know your thoughts and I’m sure I shall recognize it if you’re thinking what I was thinking.

After the Spear-Danes
And shields
And myths have passed
This is how it ends
After the city has shredded you to a whimper
Twin peaks slope everything down
Through smog to the idle of the bay
Kerouac clatter down alleys
Lettered in gold
Living here
That sharp smell of impatient words
Burnt coffee
The twitching eyelid muscles
Leach out the beauty under the eyes
You become more tourniquet than tangerine
The only happiness you can grasp
Is the happiness of knowing
That you can survive
Totally alone
Somewhere under
The rainbow

shuffle the words
a fan of cards
spread hand
five and fifty
it is almost
the lengths we stretch
spin money away
flatten our dread
into stocky equaliser lines
maybe I shall
begin with a single word. So.
A fragment: surely that
will course up the ire and itch
of prescriptivists
incite a war in the margins
or perchance
a dictionary definition
the delicious skill of
copy and paste
is our lunge and riposte
[it will save time if
you declare your ignorance
in the prologue]
Franz Gruber said
‘we fall back on the classics
we are too lazy to improve’
I shall begin with quotation – in latin for preference
[it will save time if
you declare the reader’s ignorance
in the prologue]
history is a puzzle that is mostly sky
Perhaps I should bring out
a squat blue fragment
at random; magnify it until
it fills the frame of reference
until everyone can see
yes this is a piece of sky
‘Is it gold flecked, imbued with
the sweat and suds of promise,
with crystallized language?’
no, no, it is after all, only sky
George Wolfram said
‘If I name all shades of blue
in a towering column, that must
be poetry’
It certainly cannot be science
You are
the discarded parings and dregs
of history and philology
perhaps we should move
away from the 800

The sharp points
In days gone by
All pointed at me
And I said ‘Look at me’
Whereas now I would say the opposite
And by saying it I met you
Always sitting at the front of the class
(I always sat at the back)
You wore that skirt I loved
And clutched your books in slender fingers
And we crashed together like two waves bound for the same shore
And we held hands under the table
And I caught you when you jumped off the steps
In a puff of rosin
And we read together, our fingers entwined with the lines
You touched me like punctuation
We skimmed stones over the tai hei yõ
And I felt my present drift away
Like little fluffy clouds
There was an ocean of you
I could dive into

Sure, sometimes there were storms
And the waves would crash against the beach huts
And the rain would run down the buildings like tears
But, until the day I poured away the ocean
You always had your piano-slim hand in mine
And your smile brushed against me
Like light shining off the water

I was the sparrow
Skipping like a child
Branch to branch
I caught butterflies
On every twig
Snapped them from the air
Like dying stars
But in me now something has changed
The heart of a sparrow is gone
And in its place
The slow beat of a hawk
All terrible hovering adumbration
I can nearly see the blood pumping
In something small
As a shrew
Such a pretense of innocence
That will not save it