4. Never get out of the boat
Morning in the social factory.
Writer, broadcaster and male comedian
Jasper McGoombay has joined us on the sofa
to talk about fatherhood, his guff underwritten
by incoming news on a scarlet ribbon:
the Northern Line is suspended;
London Bridge is closed; another head
has been found on Wimbledon Common.
I’m watching telly with no sound, the laptop
propped, precarious on the sofa’s arm,
ladling gloop into our first-born.
Rhubarb and Custard. Noggin the Nog.
Bless. I lost my head thirty years ago.
Jasper witters on in dumb-show,
as the sofa starts to shudder and sway, its go-
away-green offset with a camouflage throw,
a chalky choker of tyres lashed to its arms.
As if this were a sloop on the Mekong.
As if this were a raft on a branch of the Amazon.
We’ll build a bigger boat when we get to the ocean.
The little girl has found a thing
in my mobile phone, it is round, like a planet.
Oval. She picks it up, pops it in the digital basket,
and before you know it we’re at the watchtower. Ping.
Bagpuss O Bagpuss O fat furry Catpuss. We stand,
the two of us, and crane up at the hut, high in the air
and blitzed with tags, Bleep, some of which begin to stir:
the mice on the mouse organ. Gabriel the toad.
Hastily, none too daintily, she puts the object down,
as the pearl-grey knitting-needle whiskers clack
into view above us, Ping, then down the slide it backs,
Ping, Ding, Ting, emerging from the tunnel-mouth
arse-about-face, its hackles fizzing static, as if spiked
with sugared water, standing on end like a frightwig
so it seems to grow in size, the colour changing too, Ping!
Pink and white transformed in hue to scarlet and black.
Above the head a think-bubble appears, in it is Emily’s thing.
A small, red rubber heart, all dusty with dust. Also a farty
little dog. Small and white. A hand appears to be holding the heart.
Out to the dog. More paw than hand. All is red and black and white. Ping.
The dog takes the heart in its mouth, gently, gently. As it does,
I see a heart no longer but rather a mummified head.
I look for the thing that Emily found, the original thing. Disappeared.
Was it a head? Ping. Was it a heart? Ding. O fat furry catpuss.
I’ll be plumbed in tubal purgatory, dunked
in the memorex churn of retro kids’ TV,
or a public information flick where
a Zurbaran ghoul in a sack-cloth hoodie
beckons you towards a septic tank,
when some class of a non-space kicks in:
a chilly institutional scene, keyed to a greyish colour
unknown to Farrow & Ball. Let’s call it Adorno’s Breath.
The pulsing time-stamp says it’s now,
[03.35 AM], but otherwise the scene preserves
the spectral replicant candour
of the totally generic: strip-lit narrow
rafts or pallets tightly-packed
along a corridor of polished concrete,
off which lie modular hangars stacked
with forms, some naked, some shrouded.
Normal programming resumes
with early 80s Eastern European animation:
Once Upon a Dog, A Kitten named Woof,
Lie Dream of the Plasticine Crow.
But not before the drone ascends to a bird’s-eye,
and something glossily fat and black
beetles up the screen. A canteen trolley?
A cleaning lady? No. A ... a mobility scooter.
19. The gambrel
‘Spring is a bit of an issue this year,
the sticky tissues of the buds,
the budding leaves, the solstice,
up on the limestone plateau,
where Tomsk patrols
the willow grove,
all slabbered in woad
with his arse painted blue,
his sleeve tattoos,
his shaky grasp of personal grooming.
Out of his skull on DMT,
he keeps smelling roses
where there are none. Roses. Rosewater.
Some kind of gorgeous ointment.
The mobile in his hand
shining like an ear of corn, his fur
combed out into little red points.
He is hunting for Uncle Bulgaria.
Hunting down the ageing King,
Alpha of the primal horde
of Wombles. Hogger of the lady Wombles.
Even the Moomins want him dead,
hung like a ham from a gambrel,
strung up like a ham or a hock
while the lads draw lots
for his tartan cope, his tartan tocque’.
Midnight. I’m at the watchtower,
its darkened hutch,
a hatchery beneath
the roof’s blunt dovecote,
nicked and deckled at the eaves,
as if comprised of leaves
and not kevlar, as if
we didn’t know the going rate
for ivory and iron ore,
for nickel and coal ...
stands in the storm, you say,
but I incline to stillness,
like this mist that clings
to bark and bole
when no wind blows.
I squeeze inside the chute
that slowly draws me up,
as if by peristalsis, a last dry heave
easing me onto the slatted deck.
Bless. Three blue birds in the silver tree:
Mary, Mungo and Midge.
Sentinels of the upper air.
Beneath their gaze I’ll go to sleep.
27. The mobility vehicle
In the spiritual gloom of a lock-up,
a little electric motor snores,
and will run a short while longer
on juice they hack from the Big Six.
They have prepared it, gilded the wheels
and handles with gold: the foil from Easter eggs
and blister packs; crushed stamens; anthers.
As the horns and hooves of the sacrifice
were gilded, and garlanded with flowers.
At dawn the youngest leads it outside
to expose it on the concrete apron,
watching the little girl
precisely anoint the customary places:
an axle’s oily oxter, the steering column’s vertebrae.
Paddy’s Day. The pipes. The pipes. A burst
on the tinny tin drum
is followed by a directional scream
that shatters the headlight and mirrors,
the screen of every last device in Wimbledon.
Now they wait for the earliest scavenger:
me. I circle and sit, circle again,
then warily approach, my two ears flush
with the sides of my skull,
glad to have a part to play,
but showing respect, taking only my due.