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Chain Gang
Saturday Morning
At the Dentist's
Two Go to Arles
Second Opinion
Elegy for a Choirmaster
My Father at the Optician's
Late Picasso
Sunday Morning




(for Cyril and Geoff, Class of '61)


It's the day of

the Rag Parade

and behind a float

are ten of us chained:


and his slaves 


We all wear sackcloth

and the chains are real.

We all are Spartacus,

shuffling in single file,

and wherever one goes

all must follow.


At High Street

someone wants a pee.

We snake down

the toilet steps, line up

at the stalls and relieve

ourselves as one.


Then on through

the crowd-lined streets

winding and weaving

in pubs and out

rattling our tins

and our chains


lining the bars

for ten quick halves

until we can barely

stand. But if one falls

all fall, for we all

are Spartacus


and lifetimes on,

though we've all 

gone our separate ways

in this sober room

memory links us



and with sackcloth

and pen I mourn

those days and

two of those ten

eternally free

of their chains



Nothing to do all day
so finally took
the red settee apart

did it all with an axe:
lovely to see
the white wood split,
screws buckle and snap -
the fabric rip away

three-pence in pennies
a plastic tyre
an old fruit gum
a pen I thought I'd lost

stuffed all the wreckage in sacks
and dragged them outside

three matches did the trick

then I stood back and watched:
orgies of smoke and fire

and long-lost dreams
and love and desire

all vanish in air



Bibbed and bound
to the rack of his chair
I turn my face
from the lamp's cold glare
feeling my upper jaw numb,
my lip not there.

He's run off his feet today.
I can hear a drill bit whirr
through the nerve of some
other poor sod
in another chair.

Past a skylight float
indifferent clouds
in the sterile air.

Masked against the pain,
his blonde assistant brings
a tray of implements.
I try to stay cool but

abandoned once more
I draw my frozen tongue
across a void - and feel my age:

the filling that's missing
was older than her.


TWO GO TO ARLES (August '90)

(For John Davies)

On the Place de Lamartine
where The Yellow House stood
was a Bar Tabac where,
after nineteen non-stop hours
on the road
in your dodgy car,
we had our photos taken
triumphantly clinking
glasses, puffing
on Gauloises, glad
to be there
all in one piece -
for all we knew
on the selfsame spot
where Vincent painted
his sunflowers
or severed his ear

and further
down the road
on the site of
The Night Cafe -
'where a man could
commit a murder
or go mad' -
was a supermarche
in which, to the mindless
drone of musak
I bought chorizo sausages
to go with the 'pain'
and the six-pack
of biere
we drank by the side
of the Rhone
toasting that Immortal Pair
and arguing over
who should have won
the Oscar:
Douglas or Quinn.



I cover the carpet with an unread

Business Supplement

strip off my shirt and pull up a chair.

She drapes a towel round

my bare-white shoulders, wets a comb

and takes a scissors to my hair.


The blades are blunt but I don't care -

I click the remote and sit and stare

at a flickering screen that bears

the ghostly reflection of her and me

superimposed on a Sky News scene

of death and destruction.


She snips to the rattle and roar

of gunfire and I watch, blank-faced

and faintly feel her warm breath

on my neck, twin blades of steel,

the feather-light touch of hair

as it falls away in a careless shower.



All I really need
are Happy pills and
six months off but
he makes me
close my eyes and
concentrate wholly
on breathing in
and out

slowly and deeply
slowly and deeply

and one by one
relaxing every keyed-up
in my entire body
starting from the top
and working down

first the right arm
then the left then
the right leg then
the left

and not to rock
the boat I pretend
I'm going under
am half asleep already
but really I'm concentrating
solely on trying not to
give the game away

and then he tells me
to count down slowly
from 300 in my head
and when I get to
288 he starts telling me
in a remote out-of-
the-body sort of voice
that I'm on a deserted
tropical island and
the sun is shining
in a cloudless
blue sky and the sand
is hot beneath my feet
and the surf is lapping
up the beach

rising and
falling and rising
and falling

until I half start
to believe him but
by 270 I'm finding it
difficult to count and
daydream at one
and the same time -
let alone deciding
whether to sunbathe
or swim - and
when at 255
his wife rings
to tell him not to
be late and not
to forget the groceries
I start hearing car horns
and heartbeats and
the sound of my own
pain again - and rain
outside drumming on
nightmare heads and
cut-throat streets



Like the Later Hardy
he always appears to me now:
waxy-pale and thin in his purple cassock
his ancient whiskers yellowing.
He stands so close
I can see his nostril hair
his temple veins swelling
like fierce little tributaries
as he stands on tiptoe
straining to reach top C, stabbing
the air with his nicotine-stained
finger, one ear cupped
and cocked and always
listening for
the one bum note
from some unhappy chorister

And always outside
beyond the stained glass windows
night is falling: in winter,
hammering the headstones,
rattling to come in;
in summer, gathering on beach
and playing field, seeping through
nave and aisle, pulpit and pew until
Saint and Prophet
are martyred no more
and Mary and Joseph
and all the Wise Men glow
no longer brilliant blue
and yellow and red
but fade into darkness
blacker than lead




I sit in a corner

with his sticks and baseball cap

listening to him chattering away

as the serious young man with the lenses

tries to get a word in edgeways.


But he natters on regardless,

covering each eye in turn

and studying the test card, reading nothing

with one and down to line three

with the other.


Silence and darkness then

as the lamp's switched off

and a blood-red beam of light focuses

on his retina,


leaving one eye spot-lit

and exposed

- nine decades old

with all it has seen -

gazing out

through the infinite space

of this small, black room:


the very last of him,

suspended there alone,

defying gravity.




He called again last night -
for only the second time in years.

I knew it was him. He had on
one of those striped Breton jumpers
and looked like Anthony Hopkins
aged 90.

As usual, he didn't say much
but fixed everything with
his piercing gaze.

We were sitting either side of a bed
in some Mediterranean clime
and for most of the time he had his back
to me

He seemed full of joie-de-vivre -
didn't know he was dead.

I wanted to ask him for a sketch -
a lightning scribble -
but all I could find was a used envelope
and a stub of pencil - without lead.



trying to write
with dinner
on the go

skipping from stanza
to saucepan
and back

in a dream
in a cloud of steam

and sprouts
all wildly on the boil
roast sizzling
gravy thickening to a fault

but the words
not even bubbling yet
though forked and poked and tested -
for more or less flame
for more or less salt

and I wish it was as simple as
straining experience
through a cullender of thought

but it never was
and it never will be...