I am not at large. This morning I’m at small.
I stay inside, as inside as can be,
and I sing from songs the words I can recall.
Since I’m inside I sing them silently
but the jackdaws lipread and one takes offence
at lyrics he imagines aimed at him.
He tells a heron who becomes incensed
so much she tells the seagulls, asking them
to foul my sundeck next time they fly by.
I bribe the gulls with ginger snaps and gin.
I remind them jackdaws never are their friends.
Machiavelli’s Prince has taught me how to win
but my victory’s static, Pyrrhic. All take wing
but me. I’m grounded, and can’t even sing.
I play with memes I cannot understand
the same way I watch jackdaws fly: amazed.
A small idea grows quickly out of hand.
Reality’s all right when it is phased
but this morning I’m afflicted with entire
and edifying concepts I can’t grasp.
Whole universes soldered on a wire
of probabilities fall off voids and clasp
unto each other. Objects, each at rest,
have no precise locations I can find.
And though I’m sure I can, I am hard pressed
to prove, because it is false, that I’ve defined
‘at rest’ correctly. The memes have moved away,
as have the jackdaws. Go outside, then. Play.
‘I am looking at God,’ said the squirrel, ‘and at the Profligate Panda.’
The jackdaw and I enquired did the rodent feel well.
‘As well,’ he replied, ‘as the golden-egg goose of Uganda.
‘As well,’ he went on, ‘as the soil-cleansing thistles that dwell
on slights they infer from the tales that parishioners tell.’
‘This is serious,’ I said. The jackdaw agreed and surmised
that the squirrel had been maddened from being too often surprised
by random events till his brain had been seized by the odd
erroneous idea that the phenomena of nature disguised
personal messages to him from the Panda, or maybe from God.
My mind is by definition what I know.
Or is it? Do by ‘mind’ I mean my world?
Two selves, both mine, are not disposed to go
through one door. They did once. A flag unfurled
and ushers of a potentate or prince
rushed me along a corridor to meet
my fate. Or someone’s. New found evidence
suggests that the deaths recorded were too neat
an explanation for the dying fall
of joy. Where was I? Hopefully, not there.
In fact I was. I had to watch it all.
Or was that fiction, when the raging bear
tore me, both of me, into what you see:
a mind encumbered by reality?
The demolition of the old house, less sad today
as it progresses so far we do not recognise
the home it was, reminds you, you say, of how old people
get by the years deprived of what they were
until when they eventually depart
what dies with them is not enough to grieve.
‘You are young,’ I answer. ‘You are fixated on the world
of appearances that young eyes find important.
A pimple or a wrinkly weathered skin
is what you see and think that’s all of life.
The spiritual, if ever, arrives late.
All souls take time to learn to meditate
and, unconcerned with ego, to align
themselves with the notes enriching Nature’s tunes.’
We sat out the last hanging. We’d gone inside
for a glass of bubbly something and a snack.
Once you’ve seen so many gallows birds swing wide
it’s a given probably that one more will lack
the drama justifying standing up
and paying attention. And yet this plump hors d’oeuvre
provokes in me a sense of throwing up
my hands. You’d think our sous chef could manoeuvre
some better grub for all the cash we’re paying.
‘Here’s to us,’ I toast, ‘and to rolling in new money!’
The majordomo strides up. He is saying
(while you and the others look at me all funny)
as he presents me with a hemp noose and an urn,
‘Hurry! Hangman’s waiting! It’s your turn!’
The night is bright. We dance the Green Chihuahua.
China saucers of Bacardi break and spill
across the rolling deck, slide overboard.
You are three parts blissful lightning, four parts cloud.
Nobody’s needs are noticed. Music swells.
Someone is singing shanties. You claim it’s me.
I say Aye Aye in Urdu. A tall wave
breaks over the bow. The chilling sluicing foam
plays havoc with the deckchairs, clears the deck
of the less light-footed dancers, including us.
He had retired, a long-expected dream.
Not one he’d liked, but still it had occurred,
and now, instead of generating steam
for projects where he had the final word
and spending evenings building up his team,
he waked when he could sleep, and found absurd
his days containing only three events,
unless he counted going to the Gents.
He tried to paint, a vagabond from rules
he’d built for thirty years, but could not draw
the curtains yet. He’d founded schools
for analysing worlds, but could not claw
his way with chalk. His sketches looked like drools
debility might bring to him. His flaw
was that his visions failed to make the paper.
He threw his easel out, a useless caper.
He joined a gym to taper down his waste
and exercised his options to get fit.
The girls he met there showed no urgent haste
to join him in his exercise, emit
admiring ooh la la’s. They were not chased
by hormones in his case. No need to flit
about and waste a ‘hi’ — this wispy weighting lad
was old enough to be their uncle’s dad.
He persevered, with moxie built from years
of start-ups masterminded, funds and all,
by his enthusiastic drive. With cheers
and grunts he hailed the savage wake-up call
he’d set himself for five. He gave up beers
and fatty foods, embraced a volleyball,
and sallied forth with quotas as of old.
It lasted fifteen days. He caught a cold.
Recuperating fast, he took up games
limiting himself on purpose to just three.
All games he’d played, he still knew all their names
and half their rules. He paid the entrance fee
required for each sport’s club, and suffered shames
he hadn’t know before. He couldn’t see
four moves ahead. This forced him to confess
he’d lost his touch, or never had finesse.
A sailing yacht soon tied up at his dock.
He put on Mephisto boat shoes every dawn
and polished brass and teak until the clock
announced with bells across his perfect lawn
the cocktail hour. He buffed the starboard chock
before he took a drink. It made him yawn
and wonder what it was he felt he’d lost
now he was free and quiet. No longer boss.
It is when he’s pressed for answers that he shines:
a lifetime’s training in escape combines
with natural talent to whisk him away
from what the question was, and in this way
he entertains all his interrogators
and tones along the way their corrugators
with mental gym and mirrors and the sway
of curtains which he draws so night bests day.
He draws attention to how columbines
inverted look like clusters of small doves
and so without a comma or full stop
he leads us sometimes laughing to the line
he does not draw or cross, but walks its fine
thin point-to-point until the crowd goes home
and he does too, to burnish all his chrome
until his plate and mirrors gleam and shine
to where not even he can find a sign
of what it is he cares about and loves.