Paragon Railway Station, Hull
Paragon purrs: whooshed
doors, whistles; mag-lev trains rise,
aim at squares of wheat,
are gone on the dot,
toward sand-paper, wrinkles
painted on the sea.
Your chopper’s eye shows
an immaculate reef-knot:
motorways, A roads,
overs slipped through each other
to baize estates, leafy
neat neighbourly streets
with health and leisure centres,
Big Screen complexes;
round marinas, malls, swoop
to galleries, cathedrals,
gleaming academic towers.
Maybe to mock us,
there are mock-ups of all this
in the Mayor’s office.
Balsa, perspex, card,
wire, felt, Hornby 00 trees;
cross concourse, zoom high
to where their Dinky hatch-backs
are unstacked from sky.
A couple of sniffs
of cotton wool are caught on
one lonely chimney.
Back at Paragon,
the face-lifted station
is where the future seems
to have run out of steam.
From up there you’d see
Texas, Homebase, B&Q.
And further, beyond
where Spurn’s thin bird-bone of sand
drifts in from the east,
the night-bound ferry:
the wake from the lit-up P&O.
“Than: a god” – exhibit label, Cham Sculpture Museum, Da Nang, Vietnam
Well, here they are, beheaded, some amputees:
godly lepers of the worn-down stone. Defaced,
they need us now – oh so much more than we
need them: they cleave to the sanctuary of this place.
We understand these reliefs, the dancing girls:
those hips, those breasts, they do it for us still.
Elsewhere, down-town, their daughters curl on bar-stools,
bend over pool, pop cleavage behind the eight-ball.
We get the god-sized feet. We understand
their owner’s gone and forgotten these heavy boots,
flown off for good from this clodhopping flesh. We know
that it’s these weighty unknown gods, not us,
who remain here, beyond recall; who are left
forever nameless, earthbound, stony and bereft.
“Ein Gott Vermags”, Sonnets to Orpheus I, 3
A god perhaps. But it’s not that simple
for a man to follow himself through guitar strings.
His mind is split. Contradictory strivings
are his heart’s paths. At his crossroads is no temple.
Song, you teach us. It’s not about desire,
not about asking for what can never be asked.
Song is being. For a god that’s an easy task.
But when are we live? When does he trip the wire
that turns the earth and stars towards our being?
It’s not enough, young one, that you love, that voice
bursts through, blooms upon your lips. Try remembering
to forget. It means nothing, whatever you’ve sung
so far. Real singing – the truth – is another breath.
Breath of nothing. Gust of god. The wind’s lungs.
very loosely after the Latin of Sextus Propertius IV. 7.
“Sunt aliquid manes. Letum non omnia finit”
i. The Visitation
Death’s not the end of it, this much I know
– ghosts do exist – they walk right through our walls.
Can’t keep them down under shovelled earth, the dead
watch us while we sleep, peep in at your window,
lean like a leprous moon over our beds.
I know this for a fact – and this is how:
I saw her, the other night, just after the funeral.
I woke and she was there, a pale shadow
inches from my face, almost sharing my pillow,
watching, just watching me. Her eyes burned blue,
like chips of electric ice; kohl eyeshadow.
Her skin had this weird unhealthy glow
(not surprising – we’d buried her that day).
Oh Christ – her bones shone through as if X-rayed.
I thought of some translucent, poisonous creature,
a fish – fluorescent, flattened by cold, dark pressure –
that flesh I’d loved trawled up from horrible depths.
No, death’s not the end of it. Far from it. Death’s
too good for us. Not good enough for them.
They go on, and on. Won’t let us left behind
get any sleep until we finally wake
– shit-scared, sweat-wet and shivering – to find
it’s your funeral now.
You’re guest of honour at this other wake.
Fear in your throat you solemnly swear,
under pain of god-knows-what torment, ache,
to set things right – or never sleep again.
She’s got you bang on. You get described.
Her bony finger jabs right in your face.
Those eyes, the flash of fire like burning pits,
as she ticks off the weary catalogue
of weakness, failings, faults. You are a shit.
You see the angle of her hips has grown
sharp beneath her shift, she’s little more
than recrimination, skin and bone:
a slip of that girl that once she was,
a flap of flesh where breast had been.
(Through the fear, the shadow of those tits
– magnificent in her time! Low-cut, she cut
through parties like a prow – D-cupped and proud of it).
And this is it – she’s a ghost, and you, you’re thinking this!
She’s right. You really are a Grade A Shit.
Question is: How can you lay your lover’s ghost?
ii. Big Sleep
… not fall, more like,
two thousand years later at dawn, I stumble into sleep;
splash dry its shallows, puddles, nothing very deep.
And, when I do, I have those dreams.
You know the ones – the past crowds in:
the ones I loved, betrayed, the girl I left for dead,
they’re all there, with cocktails, smoking cigarettes;
joking, laughing, partying around my bed.
And I can’t move my limbs – I’m wedged in tight
by wood and silk. Something flickers. It’s candlelight
and, it slowly dawns on my thick skull,
what it is I’m in
is a coffin.
I am a wake. I am a wake…
… next thing, this morning,
I’ve got the Buddha speaking in my ear: I am awake.
Turns out some academic on Start The Week.
And I’m thinking it’s time to quit this job, this town
– check that quote this afternoon –
get myself back to where I was,
kneel at that crossroads,
say a prayer, bury this guilty load,
then strike on out, down that other road.
given a week or two of good days’ marches,
I’ll sleep more easy.
When it comes to this world of care,
each night be good and dead.
Won’t find me there, these hungry ghosts.
Let me die in a stranger’s bed.