Pack Rat

Drunk in a roadhouse and happy,
I dance to the beat of the band.
It heats Cuervo Gold margaritas
that fuse, in my brain pan, the sand
left over from mining for Maundy
in my tent on the outskirt of dreams
where she, still in love, still accompanies
my travels. I order Jim Beams.

Published in The Armchair Aesthete, June 1996

Capitol in 2045 CE

Pig Duroc and Cat Ginger wade in water dark as tea.
It is ankle deep in this part of old Washington DC
‘It is low tide now, but dampish,’ the cat gingerly explains.
‘Especially now we are suffering from unending monsoon rains.
Clove your hooves and clog dance. That churns up baby squid.
They’re an easy catch. I’ll show you.’ Cat Ginger purred and did.
Pig Duroc did a pirouette, then a header, pranged a bream.
He ate fresh fish and chortled. ‘Without humans life’s a dream!’

An Uncalm Day in Saint-Galmier

I think that I’ve been banned from Saint-Galmier.
The horrid rains that washed us down from Beaune
had stopped, but lengthy queues along the motorway
persuaded us to leave it in Lyon.
We cruised the D-routes till the dwindling day
conspired with tiredness and ennui to hone
our interest in hotels marked tranquille.
Saint-Galmier had one, for our ordeal.

The room is white, innocuous, and clean.
It opens on a garden with tall trees.
The pool is in the garden. Yes, we’ve seen.
And will one take one’s dinner here? Yes, please.
Apéritif? A sherry’s peachy keen.
That’s sherry brandy, waiter. Please surcease
insisting that we ordered it. La carte
before the hors again. Think of my heart!

Bad dinners in this country are bad luck
but happen once or twice each twenty years.
Tonight is one such time: the sous chefs pluck
the quail I planned for dinner to its ears
then poach it with the salad in the buck-
et used for chilling wine. The bird appears,
much as its mother knew it, with its head.
I plop it in the bucket, go to bed.

headed quail

The Street Is Silent

The street is silent.
I hear the walking cat.
I cannot say anything true.
I do not hear the cat.
There is no cat.

Samuel the black cat pushes
the wooden door against my back
and speaks to me. He jumps
out the window
and
looks back
from the sill.
Peter's cat Sam 1998

A psychiatrist wrote to me that
he has read The Chapel fifty times
(50 times!) and does not understand it.

Sam looks down at the cat in the street.
Ghost cat

I read The Chapel fewer than fifty times
before it and I came to an understanding
hanging against each other
like mad men embracing
in the lull between rages
amazed at our remaining strength.

The street is silent and floodlit
bright as daytime Monnickendam.
I turn the light on, to write in one
of the many rooms in Peter’s mansion.
I turn it off, to read, sitting on a towel
padding moon dust on the stone-tile floor.

From the dark side of the glory olding house
we looked at the waxing hard-gloss moon
through 12 and 20 millimetre lenses,
the telescope’s motor adjusting
for the earth’s rotation,
our continuous flight!

Samuel looks
back in,
jumps
from
the sill
into
the room.
He speaks to me, eyes large
compared to how they slit those second days,
the real days, hot days when the sun
strikes out the words night makes me write.
Half-there cat

Not all the gods of Polop have been Greek
and up the hill from Samuel and me
the stations of the cross seem empty at this hour
where what traffic persists
is hard to see and hear.

I wrote today of goats and sheep
but there were only goats
in the almond orchard
below
the balcony
from which
we mortals
and the cats
had watched the moon.

The sheep were falsely added and I failed.
Adjectives were superfluous.

I sleep better than I have for a year,
yawning from the altitude
while lying on the beach,
bursting with energy climbing
the stations of the cross
admiring the half remembered peach
of T. Eliot
and the driving sweet timbered saxophone
of A. Ellis,
the base of Dwayne Dolphin,
the drums of Brian Cox.

The wetlands round Valencia are being developed
but I wrote in sunlight about the rumoured truths
of Dade County Commissioner corruption
yet still there are no sheep here, only goats.

A breeze comes down and carries me to bed.
The sleeping hand and the beautiful arm,
they embrace me
and sleep comes down to kiss me,
pass me by.

The street and I are light,
and lighted, empty
beneath the dark-frame skies.
The street and I are empty,
full of past and future.
I see stars.

My head is full of stories
but only words come out.

Some say that Sam’s an evil cat,
the light in his eyes
not being
that of Mercy.
Evil Cat
I have said that Sam is an evil cat.
He says I am calling the kettle black.

Sam and I move to live in a bumblebee,
wanting to fly without that appearing possible.

I walk among my almond trees.
I belong to these trees and they
to the earth that claims me.

I pick up fallen twigs and sticks
— always sticks among these almond trees.
I break the sticks separately across my knee,
standing on one foot and seeing the valley.

I carry the sticks and twigs by
handfuls to a corner of the fields.
Adjectives desert me;
‘orchard’ is too grand, too closed.

‘Field’ overreaches.

I carry the sticks and twigs
to where I drop them.
I will burn them here.
There is no need for tools
and handfuls are enough.
There is much to see among
almonds, and always sticks.

The wasp cuts the bee’s body
from its head.
The wasp eats all of the bee
except
its eyes, one wing, and a knee.
Sam and I are not home
and thus unharmed.

The daytime sounds come up the hill
past the goats I abandoned for terraces.

The Mermaid’s Port

For those Mondays when the question is, ‘Why not a rhymed double sestina in iambic pentameter?’

The mermaid thought it strange he brought her clothes.
Scaled up, she had looked fetching in his nets.
But now, in port, this captain seems ashamed.
She knew he lied the way he rubbed his nose
when she inquired had he been placing bets
and he denied that he had used his phone
and every other implement she named
to signal to the harbour. ‘Why the crowd?’
she asks, reclining by him on the deck.
She cannot see his eyes: his head is bowed
and his mumbled answer brings to mind the moan
she’s heard each time her arms went round his neck.

The nights at sea when she had learned to neck
while breathing air, he had not mentioned clothes.
He’d shown no salty dog desire to deck
her out in any fabric more than moan.
He had been happy to explore and nose
around, not even asking what she named
the boat, the bridge, the cabin and the nets
he called his home. He’d said three was a crowd
and cloaked his parrot’s cage. She’d been ashamed
on finding Polly boarded up and bowed;
it had been Poll who taught her how to phone
Poseidon and the dolphins that take bets

that mermaids make. And mermaids hedge their bets.
Each time one surfaces she risks her neck
for destiny and fame, not for a phone.
Each mermaid has a well developed nose
for adventure, and this mermaid, named
Cassandra for her prophecies that clothes
will kill the fish, a fey forecast that nets
her ridicule, has been a bit ashamed
and hopes herself she’s wrong. The hours bowed
above a crystal ball sent her on deck
to catch a human and to make him moan
and take her shopping. She asks, ‘Why the crowd?’

The captain tries convincing her the crowd
is only tourists taking walks, and bets
her in a week she’ll see the shops she’s named
to him at sea, and will have learned to phone
her sizes through to Sacks. ‘You have a nose
for bargains,’ he says, setting Polly’s neck
and himself a task that leaves him bowed
untangling his so-shipshape lines and nets
a hundredth time. She asks, ‘Are you ashamed
to share your port with one who made you moan,
who believed you when your promised her fine clothes
if she would leave Dave’s locker for your deck?’

It’s more than sunburn makes his face match deck
in colour (teak). Reporters in the crowd
wave to them both. She reaches for the phone
which hangs above her head. She had been bowed
but now the crowd can see she wears no clothes
and some jump in the water, some climb nets
and one, the ‘Homo’ of his species, aptly named,
stays sapient and thumbs, she thinks, his nose
at her (his?) fickle captain who, ashamed
now treats her like an albatross whose neck
too close to his will probably cost him bets.
The ‘sailor’ boards the poop deck with a moan.

Reporters note her taut yar lines and moan.
The sailor swabs her fin tracks from the deck.
Ships’ doctors tug their stethoscopes and phone
their practices and lie that they have bowed
to some new flu that flew up each one’s nose
and felled them, so their every patient nets
no cures today: they have a sickness named
infatuation. ‘Mermaid, put on clothes!’
the captain yells. The sailor swabs his neck
but no one notices. The gaping crowd
can’t know how they are helping her win bets
she made that made Poseidon sore ashamed.

‘Poseidon, I may die. Aren’t you ashamed
to let me meet such danger while you moan
or let the sirens for you, those so named
because their songs have drowned out those who crowd
your lockers? I can’t fathom your stiff neck.
I bet you this young man was queer for clothes
and bet the sirens not, a hedge that nets
me nothing, but it’s scary being bowed
across the bowsprit which the sailor bets
will break beneath my bosoms. Pick the phone
up and answer me. I know you deck
the sirens in my absence; I’ve a nose

for your unfaithfulness. Your streaming nose
(you’re underwater, so don’t be ashamed)
distends whenever sirens are on deck
or up to bat (a pun). Pick up the phone!’
Poseidon knows how sirens cover bets:
Ligea wants Cassandra tarred and bowed.
Leucosia wants her smothered in wet clothes,
and Parthenope to date has not named
the part she’ll take if winning, probably neck
of mermaid. Poor Poseidon gives a moan
and gets stuck in, his trident helps, a crowd
of sirens seeing mermaids in their nets.

Cassandra’s crying’s futile but it nets
the interest of a preacher whose blue nose
her breasts put out of joint the while he bets
her finny tail’s those Marimekko clothes
the Finns have been promoting. He’s ashamed
of his own responses to the crowd
of pulchritude he’s read about and named
an ignorant myth. He prays with bald pate bowed,
his lowered eyes afraid to seek the deck
if anyone is watching, but his moan
comes to the mermaid’s ears. Her pretty neck-
idness has made his holiness take phone

in hand, let’s say, for surely that’s a phone,
and wring it till Poseidon in his nets
looks through Cassandra’s ayes along the deck
and, when he sees the man of cloth, ’s ashamed.
The sea god sends tsunamis toward the crowd
but slow enough that they can save their clothes
and close the sea gates which the town has named
Rhea and Chronos, also hedging bets
about which gods it’s prudent to be bowed
to, and so, prostrate and every nose
flat on the quay, the visitors all moan
and fear this time they’ll get it in the neck.

‘Cassandra, silly mermaid, save your neck!’
Poseidon calls out. ‘I don’t need a phone
to say come home. Don’t fear the siren crowd
or listen to yourself. Your flaking nose
should tell enough. Old Helios is ashamed
for burning you. He’ll cover all your bets
and given half a chance he’ll also deck
half the congregation while they’re bowed.
The sailor will be thrilled. The captain nets
more than a deck hand’s worth: a suit of clothes
of pure asbestos. Let the sirens moan
henceforth, for, for your bravery I have named

this port ‘Cassandra.’ Tawny mermaid named
a fool for thwarting Helios who would neck
a redneck mermaid, throw away that phone
and come back home. Hecuba’s not ashamed
nor should her daughter be. Dive down and deck
Dave’s locker. Let the sunburned lubbers moan
about which man or mate has won the bets
and who’s lost what in that tumultuous crowd.’
Cassandra dives and feels a dolphin’s nose
gently nudge her past the harbour nets
beyond the breakers, past where yachts have bowed
their prows to her. She laughs, ‘I need no clothes.’

Poseidon, saviour of her neck, I’m bowed
in admiration while the crowd on deck
laughs at the part that’s named the parson’s nose
as the other actors, sore ashamed, now phone
the constable who nets a tip for clothes
he’s fined them for their making, moan, false bets.