Time Shifts in No Time

The species he’d just been and the one he was now
had never coexisted, he knows from reading.
He thinks this means that now he is in No Time.

He feels sulky in his immense and Saurian self,
each ponderous step one hundred paces of scampering
when he had been, till Tuesday past, a squirrel.

‘Think back,’ he tells himself. He thinks he thinks.
The time before the squirrel, what had he been?
Book reader, but what more? And what were books?

On the edge of something (maybe, nothing’s sure)
he assembles what were reasons some lives back.
Rhyming — what was that? — had seemed so pure.
Now he is less than bothered by its lack.

‘Or lack of lack,’ he giggles. A morass quakes.
He takes a step, another, and one more.
He plunges, wallows in the wake he makes
as his expanding body nears a shore.

Or edge. Or crevice. Chasm! Nothing’s right.
His body, just now massive, turns to light.

Burnt Ochre Battalions

Prologue

He thought, ‘I could get into this book I’m reading
or indulge in illicit love all afternoon.’
Not true. He lived alone with unread books
in a low-rent high-rise far out near the sea.
His penknife broke his pencil point. He wept
for as long as he’d read that heroes should. His cat
made sounds from purring care to impolite.

Together he and the cat walked to the door
and back again. And sat. They heard the wind.
They imagined hearing waves break shells and shale.

What they actually heard was moaning. ‘Let him loose,’
he told the cat. Who did. They watched the mouse,
too traumatised too long to hope, believe
it was free to go. It wasn’t. The cat struck
the last midnight for the mouse. So little blood.

The doorbell rang. The candle gutted. Wires
implanted in the carpet glowed and smoked.
‘It’s your turn,’ said the cat. He half agreed.
He threw open the door, winced and said, ‘Come in.’

The hooded creature, tall, without a face,
came in and brought the front door in behind him.
No outside left, no single place to run to.
‘I might as well,’ he thought out loud, and died.

‘Not so fast,’ the apparition said. ‘You have a task.
Your so-far clueless life acquires a mission.’
It handed him a wax-sealed parchment scroll.
He saw the cat was packing for a journey:
catnip, roach clips, goggles, tinned sardines,
and a silver whistle polished like a mirror.
‘You know more than I do, Cat,’ he said.

The apparition rubbed sand where the mouse had bled.
It said, ‘You both are criminals. That was foretold.
Get out, get out. Get out! I’m getting old.’

Outside was colder than he had remembered.
He carried the cat in both hands, like a muff.
The backpack the cat cradled weighed them down.
He walked the ridge, descended through the mist
to the shale that bore the onslaught of the sea
so easily that he said, ‘Eternity.’

‘Not ours,’ the cat said. ‘I think it’s time we read
our marching orders. Break the crimson seal.’

He tried and slipped. A rogue wave took the scroll.
The cat’s paw swiped and saved the red wax seal.

They shared the wax. As they chewed it, crimson fumes
spelled out instructions the cat read aloud:

‘Proceed to and surmount New Mountain Ridge.
Descend and commandeer a sturdy boat.
Sail to and anchor above St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Wait there for further orders. Don’t be late.’

That’s all?’ he asked the cat. ‘No how or when?’
The cat shook her head as he carried her up the beach.
New Mountain Ridge shown icily ahead
but the intervening forest was pitch dark.

Night fell further. The cat said, ‘We must camp.’
She, the cat, climbed a tall oak tree.
She let a length of coloured cord descend.
‘Tie it,’ she said, ‘to the ladder in our pack.’

He, the man, looked in the pack and found
among the catnip and the tinned sardines
and a snarl of things for which he had no name,
a ladder lashed from ropes and wooden rungs.

He tied it to the cord. The cat pulled it up
and made it fast. She called down, ‘Hurry, climb!’
With his rucksack swinging wide the man climbed slowly
until he saw red eyes below him. Then he sprinted.

From a moss-blurred branch they watched broad lowering creatures
congregating at the oak tree’s base, and sniffling
and exhaling, turning wet leaves into ash.

‘Don’t breathe a word,’ the cat joked. He said, ‘Hush.’
The no-neck creatures heard but could not gaze
upwards. He said, ‘Good you packed a ladder.’
‘And a small sword,’ said the cat. ‘But they are big.’

They watched the creatures circle. Then one stopped.
Its right side opened up. A man jumped out.

‘Those are vehicles,’ the cat said. ‘Like in old books.’
He shushed her, ‘Please be silent.’ Hours passed

in the seconds that the strange broad man below
looked up into the branches, seeing dark
and nothing else. He got back in his ‘truck’
—the word the cat kept whispering— and drove off.


The other trucks kept circling, burning leaves.

Riding Ebony Waves

He is bigger than Life but he looks small by Death,
Death beckoning him the way that Death does.
He says goodbye to his wife. He turns away and nods Yes
and follows Death into the suds
of the No More Chance Sea. He sighs and he kneels
and is crushed by an incoming wave.
It pulls him away. It pulls him out of the bay
to waters that are deep, dark, and cold.
They say that he’s drowned. No body’s been found.
The newspapers print and forget.
When the moon sinks at night those who have second sight
see a light riding ebony waves.
They say he’s joined up — you can’t make these things up —
with the Spirit of Watery Graves.

The Muse’s Wake

A muse dances on the lattice of my dreams.
She leaves me wakeful, bobbing in her wake.
Mixed metaphors assemble into teams
of day stallions each to a whinny on the make

do or dozy doats. Pure logic flees
the coop. The grass, that’s greener on the other
slide, the one plunging similes in the seas
of humid kindness, grows high enough to smother

used meanings. Did you notice logic left
the building when the muse began her dance?
Optimism and depression, both bereft
of raison d’être by the circumstance

of being here where every time is now,
relax, leave off existing. Angels take
possession of the fleet. With furrowed bow
dream-spangled vessels chase the muse’s wake.

Lionfighting Blood Sport

Atavistic’s too grand. We need a word whose definition
includes mean and cruel, desensitised and deluded
to describe ourselves. We pay money and our time
to witness publicly the mutilation
and public execution of a lion.

We applaud the undeniable bravery of one man
who stands alone as we would, we like to imagine,
implacable against the King of Beasts.

Down in the arena the spectacle looks grand:
the King of Beasts confronted by One Man.

It would be no contest were the man unarmed
or were the lion allowed to let the human go
or were, and here’s the rub, the lion not maimed.

We let words and bugle music sear our souls
and blind our staring eyes to what goes on
before us. We look down from our safe seats.
We are thrilled, we tell each other. The primal fight!

Man faces the great carnivore and wins!
Lions can leap and rend — we search for words
to connect us to our thrill at others’ danger.

As if we were one people with one goal.

It is simple here to let ourselves believe.

Out in the centre on the shining sand
the lion, head down and bleeding, sees the man
approaching with a red cape and a sword.

An hour before, a specially hard trained horse
had kicked out the lion’s teeth while it was chained.

Then “we” (our servants) remotely loosed the chains
and we ourselves watched the lion disembowel
the horse with rakings of its fearsome claws.

“Brave stallion,” we said. We, aficionados,
sharing culture-honed responses for each act,
mean that the horse died without crying out.

We don’t know, or we pretend we don’t, that “we”
months earlier had cut out the stallion’s tongue.

The lion is caught by cables cast from trucks.
Spread eagled. Extended weapons pull its claws
out. The lion roars. Bugle music plays.

Applause. Short intermission. “We” revive the lion
with electric shocks. “We” drive the trucks away.

The lion stands or tries to. We try — to applaud.

We watch each other. Who’s not one of us?

The man, our hero, shudders. kills the lion.

At No Time Slicing

‘Be still my heart,’ he’d said. His heart had obeyed.
Not wasting a second to wait for his own final rites
he transcended the usual way. He alights on an edge.
‘An edge. Again!’ he says. ‘This looks like Somehwere.’
He is right. Down there to his right the Elysian Fields
invite him. They call, ‘Come tarry, do not dally.’
Straight ahead, Sweet Nothing extends for miles and years.
He knows what’s left. His strong hands grip a 4-wood.
On the edge’s edge he sees the familiar ball.
It lies in emerald grass, on a crimson tee.
He hooks his shot the way he knows he will.
The ball, and he, loft down again into Nowhere.