The first time I played with David
…was at the Collingdales.
The studio: a warm, confiding light,
cloth merging into sunshine
in the gloom.
Looms were prosaic blocks
you rubbed together
to make fire.
Everywhere – books.
The house was built on them
in the same way that a mind
constructs itself upon
You were always here,
rather than the elsewhere
that my house inspired.
Chopping wood, drinking
I learned that time
conspires to keep you
in the places that you love,
aware of every moment in the way
that you feel water round you
in a river. Dave’s fingers glide
along the cello strings; mine fumble
but it’s not the music that’s important:
it’s the house; the thing I’m living up to.
I am flat, or sharp.
It doesn’t matter; call it art.
Men and bright metal and the air,
all burnished gold. Art, see.
The gatefold sleeve disclosed
a record that felt more: more bleak;
more serious – the chords processing
and the voice as frail as smoke.
I had a song about El Salvador.
It didn’t matter where it was;
the point was me: my seriousness.
When Dave played cello,
his tone was bleak; assured
– a doubling.
I felt the microphone display my voice
like billowing sheets. I felt it.
When I played it back
it was just me,
aiming to please and not to please.
Grit in an echoing quarry;
lost, but not in song.
The park was fathoms deep;
the town’s night-self.
Robert’s road avoided it. It had sly curves; a tilt
too fit for purpose: a slow lullaby.
Nervous at the piano – dull but spry – he used to study me,
stiff fingers playing
what appeared to be a finger bowl.
One day, I put “Respect” on
and I danced,
attempting to embody it.
He moved like I’d thrown fire crackers at his feet
and I was pleased to see the difference,
eager to prove my own night-self
in the ascendant.
“…sock it to me,” in excelsis.
The Duke’s Head
I was too poor
to pay the entrance fee;
had entered when the light
was still half-hearted sepia.
Aspic. I was suspended in it,
while, outside, daylight felt like a fire
that had refused to start;
reflected from the tiny shop
and the street’s sudden narrowness,
it seems, in memory, the colour
of a dying leaf.
People were a relief. You saw yourself,
at last, reflected in the narrowness
of the boys’ eyes; the girls’ pale shoulders;
how they sat there
like the seat was a boat’s prow.
If they sat still,
gilded as carefully as flowers,
it would come,
the thing the music named.
Outside, the darkness curled below
the window, seeming to protect
the things you thought were animated
and made permanent
by the wildness of your love.
Oh, but it was fun.
The music shop, instruments brimming –
simmering – in a light
that was like the light of libraries:
dimly, ironically withholding; displaying,
really, how the urge to sing’s
embodied in the swiftness of a curve;
a brassy glaze.
You plug in and there is
that hum: you on the runway;
power an imperative – the will to fly,
the bass making the thrum
of wheels; the drums
sending you upwards.
Your excitement, multiplied.
Not that which flies
but flight itself,
transcending how the shop
is like the inside of a cake;
the song, too: fake Phil Spector
made exciting just by being thrown
into the air.
My brother stared. He shook his head.
“It’s like the bloody
Kids from Fame”, he said.
Sun tries the roofs
but still the town is coffined
in its atmosphere.
Your hair, dull gold (I call it gold),
is doubled in the threads I tease
out in the factory.
I spool, or else unspool, the bobbins
and there is a moment when they rattle;
come unmoored – I feel it in my chest.
I will not rest, it seems.
I have the frail, attenuated balance
of a top; am spun between the streetlights
and the hedges, light and dark,
as though I am the two sides of a coin.
They stand in judgement:
all the houses; the sententious gardens;
streets deformed by shadow
into grappling hands.
I stood beneath her window
in my stupid hat, a panama,
and I tell people now that I was splashed
by passing cars
but all I did was stand,
my yearning so diffuse
it felt the way a fog looks
when it smothers you.
I ape my own predicament:
hunched at the threads,
it looks as though my body’s
shrugging itself off.
When I am Floundering
I am the element I flounder in.