The Ague of Austerity: Five Poems
assumed to amass
loved contours &/or
for playing at prayers
an ambient imbalance
Summer nights for preface
or for writing something
serving as preface.
Summer nights warmer than
these last days
of the footnote period of mankind.
‘What’s the time?’
‘There’s only one
in use at the moment.’
‘I just wrote the thing
out as I heard it.’
To mention’s not to intone.
Things best kept
under wraps or wasps
Paradiso reconfigured in spa resorts
morning water aerobics & afternoon quizzes
saints & saintesses roasting on sunbeds
the target readership for paperback fiction
‘It’s only me asking
how yesterday went,
if in fact it did’
So you saw her?
Dumping last year’s bikini
in the recycle bin?
The middle east spreading west
past gentle pools & floodlit palms
calculating pensions to the last penny
allowing for slight fluctuations
between ballot & bailout
Things dither in
the spaces words offer
this being a Christian country
and at evensong
our first reading is taken from
Chapter IV verses 1-6
of the Book of Malachi
that man of peace.
Nine Moves in Self-Defence
1. In the cabinet of curiosities
as if it might help you out of a tight situation:
a harpy’s hairpin.
2. Regard as reward in the message parlour
a paranoiac panorama misinterpreted as
a plausibility archived, a possibility achieved.
3. Origin’s region: mirror or morass?
Property soup or the sluggish smile of
Mr Murdoch’s apologist, smug slime?
4. There would be nothing ‘blatant’ without Spenser,
no ‘gusto’ if it weren’t for Hazlitt.
‘Environment’ we owe to Carlyle.
5. Keep talking and don’t worry if
everyone here’s like a lexicon on legs.
There’s always another way out.
6. Beheading’s ‘medieval’? Not a Renaissance custom?
not, if you’ll forgive me, the Enlightenment’s crowning glory?
Why’s ‘medieval’ such a principal anathema?
7. Sorry if for a moment you thought I was
another of those flagellants beating my imperialist self up.
The question is always & only how & where words are put.
8. Here’s another road stripped ready for concrete curing.
Still wondering why the earth isn’t everywhere knee-deep in birdshit
we pass the incident ahead without incident.
9. You’ve spotted an inconsistency? Slight lines
of unsightliness? Oh sister. Incest is taboo.
Constituent parts are not supposed to meet.
The Year of the Sinkhole
was 2014 AD, at least in England,
where ‘sinkhole’ had come to mean
the result of a critical moment when
the earth opened wide and ‘swallowed’
among other things cars, usually only
one at a time but in a local instance an
entire carpark, an example showing
that sinkholes shouldn’t be confused
with the more common but smaller
potholes. Nevertheless if you look
closely you’ll see that some potholes
reveal beneath the tarmac a larger
cavity or what craft jewellers call
‘a negative space’, in other words
a certain potential. But to return to
sinkholes they are places into which
dictionaries say ‘foul matter runs’
although a survey of the popular
parlance of 2014 suggests the foul
matter more often tended to rise up.
Soon after the Tories Returned to Power
the astronauts landed on a planet
where they found the Old Testament prophets.
All of them. Not the ghosts of –
they were there in the flesh
deaf & blind but still at their foretelling.
& scarcely to be distinguished
were Ruskin, Malthus, Carlyle, Nietzsche & Marx,
among others, in a gated wilderness,
prize specimens of the old prophets’ menagerie.
That’s according to the log
only recently recovered
lacking transcripts of attempted communications
but showing many erasures & pages removed.
No crew members returned from that mission.
[Alan Halsey's collaboration with Kelvin Corcoran A Horse That Runs: To & Fro with Wallace Stevens was recently published by Constitutional Information. His other recent books are Rampant Inertia (Shearsman) and Versions of Martial (Knives Forks and Spoons). Forthcoming are the third volume of his edition of Bill Griffiths' collected poems (Reality Street) and his extensive graphic contribution to Gavin Selerie's Hariot Double (Five Seasons). He is an affiliated poet at Sheffield University's Centre for Poetry & Poetics and co-directs the antichoir Juxtavoices with Martin Archer.]
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