Hammer Glow

This declaration of intent takes us in.
Deep in the cavern, the roof is mirrored
by the water that spreads
across its floor, glacial, balance

balanced on vertigo, that a tumble
into its chill could not dispel. The pointless
rediffusion of points and lines:
the speckled double-glazing prickles with excitation

brushed by the fans of the real. He looks like a
Medici medallion with its face rubbed off,
a split mouthing the air
with round teeth rolling in a pulp

of generation, the diamond-cut prize. At the
centre of the slow whirlwind, like a crowd
at a rock festival, uniform but individual, not a song,
the choral image almost spirals into itself:

you find deep dark away from it in
the last days of the Revolution before the
restoration, selling its ideal in one quick deal,
angling into its pitch interior. This is

yesterday’s dream of tomorrow
that by-passes today in its certainty:
bison in flesh-and-rock. The shine on black
is the purest skin of light, silver powdering

these rough plains, grain between the teeth,
like a silo where it funnels between constricting
metal and gurgling compression, thankless
and eternal as an angel, code with no enigma.

Pressed bricks pace themselves like long dashes,
a call sign to keep the channel open, unique
in their melodies, snagging the light on their edges,
pooling shadow in their pitted grout craters.

Glassy ranges in the palm of nobody’s hand
refract your inspection into introspection,
a trace of transport, dimples in snow. Count the toes
that drop with this misformed foot from the gown

crushed and rucked upon its thistlehead embroidery.
The goddess, limp but majestic, has clipped each
nail straight across like a good Girl Guide. Silver
beeches reach into the air and across the water.

I bring my face closer to this miracle. I could stain
it with inky ego from the ribbon of selfhood onto
the picture until it is the picture, not pixels and names
arranged like splinters along the coasts, trading vessels

heavy in the heavy water. A human hand thrusts
into the billowing wave-curve; a head lifts to the bushy sky,
adrift from its driftwood raft; gulls torn by gales
into shreds. Heat rises: mirage sinking. Spinach

on a bed of purple cabbage drizzled with membrane,
yolks in a swirl gestating pure space, sicky
melange, the surface turns, burns energy,
as bright as the smear of London, the dab of Paris.

We’re leaving the lights on so the birds may suicide
against plate glass; the aliens may navigate straight
to the Liver Birds, the cormorant mouth of the Mersey.
The shadow thrown by your body from the open fire

stretches its legs across the floor, climbs as body up
the wall opposite, back across the ceiling to the darkness
above your head, which is your head. In the ring of glass,
with its circle of text, nothing diffracts you, hammer glow.

Sheaves of corn bend to your breathing; a band
of lead haloing you like a pantomime snake, blesses
stained glass with wormy thumbs and a flowery sneeze. A
diurnal nudge. Water flowers above its surface: skin-thin

it hints. The poppy field is fielded as unity. Only the sky,
a strip above high horizon, a well that dips into wisps of cloud,
winching buckets from the azure, shoes on the rim, lets
you down and dries you out for all eternity for the hell of it.

The reflection looks out and falls in love
with the real boy for once, flicking his leonine hair,
shifting his sleek limbs, to keep split-second pace;
he wants to hold him under until he’s gone:

allegory won’t keep faith with this faithless
water boy. Beetles roll in red dust as though the surface
were this one shade, eruptions of red stone, ravines
and moraines, under blue disremembered skies.

Trunks finger dead leaves, a desperate mossy clutch
to hold themselves to earth, having twisted through
every shade of leaf. Striplings erect and pole-thin stretch
from mould. A man controls his body,

crushing power. What if he were to brush
his eyeballs across the schematic bluebells
which toss their heads here, would we still recoil
from him as from monstrous desire, a vision

of things only as they are, a rodent’s view? A blur
on a ledge prepares to plunge, a miniature looking
at itself in the mirror. He’s no larger, patting
his snub-nose. His arms and legs swing from a defaced

torso; toes twitch as arrows fly. One flicks
through his leg, entry and exit, a trickle-tickle
of blood, a drip on his toes; mesh to mask,
he fades. He carries his divinity like a curse,

amid a ring of angels with haloes and halitosis, 
sermonising complexes and castration.
He’s intent upon capturing every minute of you,
on a throne of wine for this monarch of light. If

you look at this long enough, it’ll move
again, still drying, not dying, never fixed like
his vision: a blurred frame holds your clear head
but you’re not of it, marched around the garden by a ghost.

Angels flutter amid refugees, point the way to
freedom. An eye, resting, hazel, dry lashes
catching the light, a brush of brow and expanse
of cheek, mercilessly records. Eyeful of solidity

blanks your view of the depths, it’s plasma 
awaiting image: mountains cut like sugar
or salt, staples that you would only mention
if you weren’t really looking: the great Jupiter

red-spot of the Titan’s single eye, mobile
across mobile features, as he melts into
his own flesh and bone, bubbling soup.
The mind predicts activity but the eye doesn’t

follow. You’re locked into this tunnel as a piece
of the tunnel, flexures of snake, mottled
with veiny scribbles, as the serpent
coils its script, a glaze on the gaze. Dunes

support the arc of the bay. Look out
to the horizon’s cream smudge, settle all thought
upon its uncertain rim, rustling your
5p plastic bag of bread and tinned sardines.

Your mirror, your virtual mirrors, make
this world: silver shoes balance on tiptoes,
irregular stares down a sinking nautilus stairwell.
You grip the flexing handrail hoping not

to be sucked into the heart of heartless illusion.
The stellar latticed circle gapes in the air. Limbs defy
the backdrop which is a floor, gravity’s big flat fence.
It’s the centre of the centre and anything you say is off-

centre; the pure black pupil is like nothing
that existed before you. Blood vessels burst
like the refugee child’s balloon I saw today
bouncing its way through my migratory scoping.

Light is at its ancient game, fading spectrally
as it travels; the metallic-fleshy timbre of its music
tinges our ascent. We’re acrobats with vertigo.
We nod a beam across the glitter.




The Listening Table

He can’t kick aside the threat of music.
He parts the parts of the seas of silence.
The audience is the musicians. The mixing
desk set between two computer screens shines

but nothing mixes. Internet connection is
down or controlled by the listening police.
Square-eyed shades transform a face into
its withdrawn cousin, and the tube in its mouth

pushes it farther out of human shape. Transform
the whole man into a cyborg of song. Listen!
He makes the love call of the National Beast,
silver-booted on the glistening shopping parade.

The mirror of this retail-therapy world
soaks in his noise. Once nothing
is said and done. These are silver-crinkly
visages of access. Denied. Don’t look too hard:

a guitarist mid chord-thrash, or bowing a high note,
even polished brass against speckled walls, its
harmonic deep in the conundrums of plumbing. Probe
its length, menacing. Palms articulating bare arms

pummel the drum-heads. Enigmatic to the core, she’s
divorced from her signature year, everything scaled,
tonalities tightened to higher pitches. The
soprano saxophone, under its player’s crouch,

peeps between his legs, making for the open.
If your shirt is a boxy fold of sheeting,
it’s not anti-capitalist erotics, so the arms depend,
eyes lower, transition to catalepsy in slo-mo.

The music that lifted her above tiles carries. On.
A requiem for humankind, the piano untenanted,
frozen steps quickened by silent music. One
squeezes air across a piccolo. Turning on a tuning,

the guitarist is turned away from us, and
we cannot see the fretboard clawed by his
left hand. His right clutches his forehead, as though
he’s not of it, the sound out there, somewhere.

Reconfigure this pattern into finger-picking: the
harmony of the universe restores; tape-spools
eye you unblinking. She’s framed at the piano now,
grey-faced, obvious, says: You’re fiercely present

in your shirt, wiping most of your lower face away.
Everything is observant in this readiness: laptronica
across scarlet ground where it holds the crowds off
with their insect-rustle beats. Techno

without glitches, twiddling and twitching,
high-fiving capers, naked unhooding, mouth
open mid-song, his voice fades into drone.
We wait for something to change. Backs to us,

they commune with the map of the wall,
their outlines like police-chalk on death tarmac.
An erect snake scrapes the floor, stands
as thick and rich as its sound. He’s slowly

drawn into the length of this tube; it’s his breath,
his voice, his thinking, his shakuhachi attack,
well above the instrument’s dictated
range. This is concentration concentrated,

sound’s origin lost in pure sonority, tubes of air
held together by tense sinews. Tricky
timings splayed on the keyboard think
for themselves, trained out of training,

phantomised by silence into brushing the floor clean.
Sound art’s shapeless assault, mixing citizens’
crowing, is crowded out by the worst poet’s
civic platitudes, as sand sweeps over sound,

snare rattles, shakes. A saw moans its way
through a piano, flaking into splinters. Men shuffle
through shavings, shrieking pronouncements against
‘art’. A spectre at the humming drum kit overrides

the sheer non-expressive nature of this sonic
stretch where it disappears into human hair. 
What can you do to substitute our unknowing, non-
hearing, except strain the smoothness of a viola,

retain the tasteful stained-glass emblems, and let in
the swirling shapes and whirling electronics? We’re
disappointed: we wanted nothing less than an idiot
with a squeezebox piled on his knees, howling

because he can’t pay his way in this shapely refusal
of flow! We leave that to your hair, a shower
of performance. Barrels roll in dust or smoke.
Out of the miasma I dance in migratory dérive,

balanced like sound, body-stockings and flesh-paint.
There’s no sound until I cease moving. Then
there’s simply the anticipation of sound which
is sound itself. Tablas like sonorous fruit wait

for ripeness: polyrhythmic pattering with
fingers, patterning with palm-beats. The man
with the claviercentric hands is exhausted by this
counter-information, these counter-intuitions, head

twisted to watch what he cannot hear, preferring dis-
comfort in the service of comforting sound. Out of
extremity squeezes mediocrity! She leaps and steps,
bangled legs stamping apart. While he whispers bamboo,

she keyboards involuntary tinkles against the groove.
Everything in this world is a drum;
his mottled baseball cap contains him.
No chance he’ll spill into the environment or

spin out of control unless he vibrates his lips,
touches the cyborg piano, each key wired up
for some transformation he fears he might
not be able to handle. He tips the mic

as though spilling sand into his open throat.
The woman whose hands see these things
looks across the room, half her face
in harsh studio lights, the other half listening

to the table singing into her elbow, along her arm, through
clamped hand over an ear, a comforting woody tone
that persists like background noise, except it is now
the anthem of her consciousness, as we listen with

everything in addition to our ears. The intent
is clear, though his gesture is unresolved, his song
ceases mid-phrase, while the shadowed faces
make this a canticle just by looking, yet looking out.




[Robert Sheppard's most recent publication is the pamphlet Hap: Understudies of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s Petrarch, from KFS, part of a longer project ‘The English Strain’. The Robert Sheppard Companion, edited by James Byrne and Christopher Madden, has recently appeared from Shearsman. His collaboration with the photographer Trev Eales, Charms and Glitter, will appear from KFS in 2020. He lives (but no longer works) in Liverpool.]

Copyright © 2019 by Robert Sheppard, 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.