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.

Moving Pictures

(He had not been to the cinema in decades,
decades Eight through Twelve, if you’re taking notes.)

He entered a lobby featuring popcorn and armed guards.
He went through to a bar with head-high stools.
He climbed a stool. He drank Dutch gin. He listened
to a waitress singing Verdi sotto voce.

‘Will there be a film?’ he asked. While no one sneered
the waitress snickered, pretending he was joking.
He took the hint and laughed along and waved
his hand near but fortunately not against his glass.

A bell tinkled … (No, here’s upmarket … “a bell tolled”).

In five languages including three he recognised.
a voice said, ‘Please go in. The programme starts.’
He climbed down from the stool avoiding jokes or toppling.
He followed the others. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffling.

He took his seat in tiered rows of luxury chairs.
The lights went out. On the intimidating screen
floods of coloured moving pictures glared.
Walls of noise drowned him. Surround sound.

Edging On

The wind had ‘abated’. He plays with the word, lets it go.
His need to play clever departed an aeon ago.
He stands on an edge. It is always an edge, but of what?
He steps toward the centre, he hopes. Hope is all that he’s got.
An albatross stands in the only path, blocking the way.
He thinks of a smart word, forgets it. The bird wins the day.
‘You win,’ he admits. The albatross says, ‘So do you’.
They stand quietly together admiring the infinite view.

What the Three Fates Witnessed

There was little to say at his christening. We said it again.
He breathed. He was noisy. His minders hoped he would have friends.
‘Or not,’ we whispered as his minders took him back home.

There was little to say at his weddings. We said it again.
His brides mostly smiled. His best men were maybe his friends.
Or not, we had noticed. It was eventually just he who went home.

There was little to say at his burial. We added it up:
his occasional successes, how he had longed to have friends.
None were there that we witnessed. This time he did not go home.

Into the Unknown

They joked about how statistically they should be dead.
So far nothing had disproved that they’re immortal.
‘We’ve had occasional glimpses of the portal
between this life and the next,’ one of them said.
‘But we haven’t touched its handle,’ another chortled.
The needle of the health gauge moved to red.

The Cat’s Cradle Story

He pretended to write a panegyric poem.
‘Someone ought to,’ he said. Rome seemed far away.
As did the Hare Krishnas chanting, ‘Ohm’.
Or Ampere? Watt? — He’s not sure what they say.

The wind resembled things that have no name.
Leaves fell. They would. But should not. This was Spring
when a young man’s heart should turn to fancy fame.
The police cat made a mess of balling string

or was that stringing messes? What was clear
was that fog was creeping over slime slick stones
and chill was claiming children he held dear.
The village wizard read his fate in bones

cast tumbling from an antique leather cup.
The story — gory, glorious, and wild —
accelerated till his time was up.
He pretended that was his intention all the while.