Noughts & Quandaries

 

The day the night
fell out with me
I asked it how
not what to write.      [20.6.21]

+

Once upon a time
in the scorching Arctic
crocodiles snoozed
while lemurs squatted
with hands outstretched
in cheerful welcome
of anyone except
those fierce hyenas
& in hope that
wannabe hippos would
go on nonchalantly
strolling underwater
yep some critters
will rejoice when the
Anthropocene
so loses itself in
Zarathustran reveries
that time will not
return but reverse.

+

‘Just a few patches of duckweed
on the pond’ Yen Shu wrote
whereas Su Shih reported ‘a drifting mass’.
Soon the pond will run dry and
lo! you’ll forget you ever fretted about duckweed.

+

Geraldine, would you
I or anyone dare call a will o’ the wisp
a hinkypunk? If so & if he or she objected
it might be wise to say Sorry I mixed
up my vowels
                    I meant to say you’re
a hunkypunk
                    I mean I mistook you for
a gargoyle without gainful employment
such as a drainpipe spouting out your
mouth or as often unkindly happens
your arse
                but whether you’re a
hinky- or a hunkypunk it seems no one’s
so far dared to say you’re the ety-
mological root of hankypanky.

+

A slughorn according to Chatterton
was a cross between a trumpet
& an oboe. Perhaps that’s what
Browning imagined rather than
the guess of recent lexicographers
that a slogan was what a slughorn
became when Childe Roland arrived
at the Dark Tower at last.

+

Remember Nietzsche up to his knees
in Dionysian mud long before the Delta blues
knocked Wagner off his perch. Where’s
Apollo when you need him? Maybe over there
in a trench without a wi-fi connection.
This Dionysian mud wasn’t a patch on
the Great War pits – we’re talking here
about the Franco-Prussian affair.
But don’t say Dionysian mud drove Nietzsche mad.

+

To enter the blood test clinic
you must swipe the digital disc
for your ticket and number.
When I’d found the disc I swiped
it the wrong way. What comfort:
a slight delay before my number comes up
at least in the world I still
apparently inhabit. World as will
and apparition. World as apéritif
in hope the main meal might be served.
Idiot, the word’s not when but if.
Conflate being with becoming and you’ll starve.

+

I was only ill in ordinary life.
I was well enough in my dream
to read to a festival crowd.
It was a sunless afternoon,
the reading in a dusty back room
with for getaway a handy bus stop.
Don’t blame me that no
festival crowd came to listen.
I was only ill in ordinary life.

+

It wasn’t as if
I needed reminding
the only reason to write
was to be reminded.

+

Did you hear about
the man with the wooden face
who kipped in his hammock
next to my bed every night in
the cancer ward? I’d see him
as I shuffled post-piss back
between the sheets. Flat face
veiled with string netting and
with comforting stick gripped
in comfortable hands. By dawn
he’d be gone, a tidy fellow
who left nothing behind
not even a note to say
thanks for the hospitality.
Whether tramp or scarecrow or
resident revenant I didn’t ask
him or anyone except myself.

+

One day! exclaimed Mr Beckett.
You bet. With or without
punctuation mark. One day or
more to the point another.

+

The last books Nietzsche read
before he lost his mind
were the ones he’d dared
publish. From beginning to end.
Some days he was impressed
although on others rather less
and he worried he couldn’t recall
very much he’d said. But nor can all
us writers. What else can we do
but leave it behind
like a glad or sorry widow
in case we too lose our minds.

+

Top’n’tail the detail – nail it wi’ self-denial –
pot it, shelve it – later, later.
Devour as you ought or repeat after me
Mirage mirage on the wall
may an ample margin mark my fall.

 

 



[Alan Halsey was born in London. He ran The Poetry Bookshop in Hay-on-Wye from 1979-96 and moved to Sheffield in 1997, continuing to work as a specialist bookseller and as editor of West House Books. His major publications include Five Years Out (1989), The Text of Shelley’s Death (1995), A Robin Hood Book (1996) and Wittgenstein’s Devil (2000). He has written several short studies of Thomas Lovell Beddoes and re-edited his Death’s Jest-Book in 2003. Alan died in October 2022.]

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