Idle Time Scans

plateglass plateau
spotlit to split
an absolute alphabet’s
foreign fingers

‘if I’d brought my compass’

but even if we’d seen
a mormoluche or two
off the coast of Ionia

what then?


slave revolts in olden Ataraxia
or that other lost city Eudemonia

happenstop or voicestop
in pretence of anger

‘flinging the cartouche to the ground’
(the word was probably ‘crutch’)

in damned reprehensible
maybe representable domains

whatever this means
‘you’ll call her Cordelia at least’


careless text next carols
careless text next scholars

‘he knew how to trifle with the Muses’
but purgative obstacles were yet
another thing he’d forgotten
to make a list of

in an age agog with lowish expectations
barking up the wrong bast or phloem


I look at the photo then I
can’t remember if I remember
Beulah Spa and the bombed-out
houses around Spa Hill Woods

where a splaying oak from
a Robin Hood book in as I’m
not sure whether when I read
it lately I was reminded
Dick Turpin country

but I was certainly told about
Peter the Hermit
the charcoal burners
and the gibbet which once
stood at Thornton Heath Pond

where they hanged neither Hood
nor Turpin but boys bad as me


flutterfights & warsquawks
of magpies & pigeons
claiming the same spacious
limetree branch

predication & prediction
the same root

what it is
to be idly bedevilled by
or else indebted to
an ideal detail

past pests
buoyant as buyouts
purblind & parboiled

‘at the end of the day
a rabbit is a rabbit’

was that an explanation
or a conclusion?


neither red nor yellow nor purple but
‘the dark leathery colour of time’
preserved in the archaeological record
just as it was
in the living rooms of the 1950s
‘rooted in relation to
their own set of relatives’
that’s something I do remember
Auntie This & Auntie That
the only colourful thing
aunties seemed to have
was a budgie


Is your name Croydon?
Tell us what it is like
to be named Croydon.

What difference does it make
whether it means
Crooked or Crocus Valley?

Tell us what it is like
to jump from the upstairs window
of a burning building.


a coroner found the first Irish case
of death by spontaneous combustion
on the same day it was announced
that certain neutrinos had been
caught exceeding the speed of light

the coincidence of dates is of no significance
although the first if not the second phenomenon
would have been noted by the uncommercial traveller
I happened to be reading that day

how he met ‘a power man on the public Iway’
not a politician but common enough
a century later around South Norwood
or down by the sausage stall at midnight
a tramp everyone believed for reasons
I can’t guess a secret millionaire


‘As two night-birds flit’
‘As a shark and dog-fish wait’ –

Shelley on Sidmouth & Castlereagh
maybe reminds you of some recent double acts –

the sheer ache of their
haste to chasten –


Donna mi priegha
if I’ve ever heard of
the river Wandle

& because she asks me
I do remember
the trickle of a stream

you could see
at Thornton Heath Rec
through the railings.

Now I read that
Admiral Nelson
did his fishing

in the stretch
which flowed through
Lady Hamilton’s garden

she having diverted it
and in his honour
or rather because of

un accidente
ch’é chiamato amore

called it ‘the Nile’.


When to go flying is only to fall over

To repeat what has been said
in the last person singular or plural
resistance follows reassurance
which then reasserts itself
then there is further resistance & so on

As the psalmist says more than once

As soon as the calendar’s a list
of back-to-back Remembrance Days
the illusion of history will be complete


‘In the Great Scheme of Things’

‘A True & Faithful Relation of
What Passed For’

‘One book which is sometimes
referred to as a moveable atlas
had been restored by human beings
page by page’

How distant those days seem.
The chimeras
whether or not they
won that particular war
wrote what nobody would call
an exact account –

& since cameras then offered
a different deception
than ours do
& ‘pathos’ rhymes with ‘photos’
only as ‘luckless’ with ‘knuckles’
& ‘cancel’ with ‘conceal’ –

say they wrote what
they never claimed they foresaw


You find out about reference
when a word such as ‘zeppelin’
conjures the thing up
in your 5-year-old sky. Now

I see it no I didn’t. All
I ever saw was the fragment
of one that crash-landed
near my grandpop’s house

He made a shineless brooch of it
An exhibit now lost
That tells you everything you
need to know about reference


under these 4 umbrellas
there were these 4 poets
one wet August afternoon
walking in Epping Forest
which lays better claim
to Dick Turpin
than Thornton Heath

2 days later
under the same trees
but without umbrellas
there were only 2 poets
picking blackberries
this was just down the road
from High Beach
where the Visitor Centre
records Turpin’s pockmarks

but as for a famouser poet
the sales assistant echoes
his own question
John Who?




[Alan Halsey's recent books are Even if only out of (Veer Books), a collection of poems written 2008-10, and In White Writing (Xexoxial Editions), a narrative visual poem or a graphic novella, or both. He co-directs the Sheffield-based antichoir Juxtavoices with Martin Archer.]


Copyright © 2012 by Alan Halsey, 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.