from Crown


And the colour of direction clarified:
a pigment of air on the chatter
of the room, dilapidating like an old
master: Kalf’s svelte spillages in brown;
you sitting down to tell your father’s
spillage on the boards, firemen’s axes
breaking down the door. This world has been
cruel to you. I have heard there is another
crueller still. The firstness of America
is climate: frigid summers, torrid winters
that stagger the indoor-comer
with the promise of a crueller world
to come: brown as the canvas of a master’s crop,
assuring us the rain’ll dry like blood.

Assuring us the rain’ll dry like blood
still lurching along my veins (the clichéd blood
of mizzling Ireland, which’ll never cease
to be remarked upon). The wee country
of my memory grapples to fix it
in mind. All I remember’s oil tanks:
green, rotund, unclimbable, and contents
unknown. They were called oil tanks, but I knew
nothing of what lay within. Could have been
oil. Could have been leprechauns. I know
you’re wondering at my ignorance but sure
that’s Ireland: there are many memories
that have been lost like weather,
recorded in ice—but then we have no ice.

Recorded in ice, but then we have no ice:
this year you doused me in temporal fire
ignited to outlast an age’s span, O dread
fucking disease. You are simple unfanciful
agony. There’s nothing
I can ask of you. You’ve ziptied me in your
vice of clear pain, no, that’s not sexy;
elsetimes you throw only a pale shadow
flashing over the moment, like that
of a terrible bird. And then
I am afraid. In the core of this fired
frame you skulk, a reprobate, yearning
for release from the immune frost.
So let it melt: I’ll fall to murder you.

‘So let it melt: I’ll fall to murder you.’
That’s all grand and all, but the illness is more
permanent than the ice caps,
and your immune system’s not the landscape
of a fantasy novel. There is no will
sufficient to the drawing of that sword,
will be only the creep creep of remission
and relapse. Still, these gestures keep
you in a kind of continuation:
a perennial but necessary falling
short. Try to avoid eating methane
and CO2, why don’t you; but who cares,
truly, if the birds should fall and fish rise,
out of sorts, to a single leaden plane.

Out of sorts to a single leaden plane
a plastic sheath descends. It is a bag
for life. Our infinite supply of bags
for life implies that at some future point
(all else being equal), we shall attain
maximal life. For the materiel
of rhetoric is boundless in its power,
providing it is unfragmented by
its dialect. Tip for the curious
Sassenach: say ‘pyre’ but all the way back
in the throat. Add hard R. Do you now begin
to get the hang of this country?
This country is godawfully pro-life;
yes, this land is haunted by Jesus Christ.

Yes, this land is haunted by Jesus Christ.
I saw your man Christ there up Nutt’s Corner
after the ten-poun’ firework deal; gonnae
set off some screamers next twelfth time. Aye sure,
down roun’ Ol’ Warren they’ll nat touch you,
not even for the ritual layin’-on of hands.
Say hands like there’s half a W
in there. Bag is pronounced beg. As in beg
for life. Life you say close to leaf, as in
they fall down all around us and lie under
boot. As in yer mawn Christ’s hoos is stuffed wi’
begs for leaf, you can’t even get out
to the yard anymore, so full it is, where all
the sodden leaves are clamourin’ to go.

The sodden leaves are clamouring to go
where I will blow them, to the next lapsing
memory, the next storehouse of cordite.
Stormont. Where the reps are locked
in a death embrace. Behind closed doors
it’s a lark, everywhere else it’s belt-and-braces time:
Each draws support from fear of the other
like some incredible game-theory nightmare.
Sammy Wilson’s afeard of dinosaurs,
imagining what he might learn from them.
And of course the autumns pass, while times goes
no further: our women need the choice, our queers
the recognition that their love is real.
Milkman’s set in the 1970s.

Milkman’s set in the 1970s.
Individuals in the book trade say
it’s a hard sell. It’s hard to read it.
Burns’s talky style is a hard sell.
Just the style. The style of Milkman makes it
hard to read: something about how Burns turns
the experience of that place to
words, towards a clear articulation
of the coverts and thickets of Belfast
speech. A note to these individuals: a wee
word to the wise: a little breath in your ear:
from one who might know: you heard it here first:
a bone to chew on: the state forces
strain to reduce all politics to style.



[Luke McMullan is from Belfast, Northern Ireland. The sonnets here come from the manuscript of a work called Crown. He is currently based in London. Luke is the author of Ruin (2018) and Dolphin Aria (2012). ]

Copyright © 2019 by Luke McMullan, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.