I have seen the best minds of my generation tending allotments in the suburbs, feasting
on the naked summer night
tripping the weary heat from deadbeat office and tombstone academy sprightly
to their spaded green space
ageing-hipped angels gone to earth promiscuous with bedded courgette and pattipan squash,
soaking up storm rain percussive on the apple orchard
who dig potato yes and carrot but turn on most to the perpetual glory of chard, Beta Vulgaris,
fingering fleshed ribs like taut skin on leaves young and tender
who howl with glee when they learn that the roots of the glossy sunset storm in their hands
lie deep in the beet family
who banish school-dinner memories of tinned beetroot bleeding into lumpen mash
when they plunge ripped rags of ruby in cool water
to be sweated simple and slow in the pan or sautéed in garlic by a cook stewed in Merlot
on the road to contentment
just a hint of bitterness in these leaves, hacked off in their prime with a promise
of renewal, which is a kind of freedom
loop the junkyard, skim a railway arch
at New Cross and skitter on the back slope
of a red-brick terrace to a tiled perch
above a garden where they consider
the prospects for a cock and hen coupling
so cockle-warm, so chirpy as a barrow,
so just like the old city, conjuring
birds common as litter back to the streets.
This is the plan: copulate, repopulate,
invest in a little town nest, start
a fashion – sparrow is the new red kite.
Or just a day trip, a scrap-iron hedge song
rare as a bluethroat: one twitch and they’re gone.
We sit tense as taxi drivers, a room full of de Niros
and they’ll all be talking to me.
I move close – but not too close – and take my place
next to the electrical guy,
who tells me he has a short fuse, and winks.
We seethe as other solitaries arrive late.
These are the minutes of the inaugural meeting of the
dangerous loners’ club.
(Motto: there’s no such thing as a stranger,
only an enemy not yet made.)
We mask our demons as well as anyone. We’re camouflaged by crowds,
agile, guileful, moving
behind enemy lines unsuspected. No twitches or headline eyes
blazon the unspoken past.
Our mission is strength through unity. Our shared torment
is inability to trust.
We’re Hobbes’s children: nasty, British and short
Trigger fingers get jumpy for revenge on the past
but we hold our grudges, for now.
You can touch the tension as silence limns the lines
between eggshell egos.
Feet shift, then at last psychos start
we have issues around people (we’re in touch
with our issues around issues);
we’re in search of the elusive id, which
we find has an ID problem.
We discover our inner children, who were bullied
long ago (probably by each other).
It seems I’m to be their leader. I hear what they’re saying,
they hear me, the chorus resounds.
We strive for closure. A wag suggests a coach trip.
Beachy Head. Single.
We sway on the precipice of laughter, retreat just in time.
I worry about the pushy ones.
I know my aureate plumage, my crimson wattle, my plentiful harem;
I know the earth, the trail, the forest, the pale;
I know my tail’s sweep compasses command of all
the grasses and spinneys in the known world;
I know I am a game bird, plucky and lucky;
I know grain, seeds, berries, insects, cover, survival;
I know I am East and West;
I know I am sanctified by evolution’s pecking order;
I know I am cock of the walk in the strut and scuttle of history;
I know this field of the cloth of gold is paradise.
And yet I know I can doubt all that surrounds me, as if deceived
by some malevolent woodsprite: sweet scent of stinkhorn,
poppies that bleed on summer fields,
purple bells of heather that colour my view,
artesian well, Cartesian method.
But I know a priori that I am undeceived,
that when I kick the beetle I refute the skeptic,
for I know my perceptions are guaranteed by God almighty
Rover of the Land, Shogun of the Mitsubishi
(praise be to Him in his quadruple nature,
let His four be by four, as I am humble two by two)
I know there can exist no being more perfect
than He who daily delivers my grain,
who in His wisdom brings me my trusted servants –
nodding imbecile stilt-legs in green boots with yowling companions –
who come to worship my raiment
and keep me plump and sleek and deserving.
But I can never know the Big Bang that ends all things.