Beholder’s Eye

When summer ends and locust-song is stilled,
then winter winds will come and splash grey rain
upon these tables; where we now serve chilled
rosé, and rest, and celebrate how brain,
or mind, can make out meanings; winkle pain
from dumb paint globs: these daubs, those speckled floors.
My neighbour here proclaims her brushes course
with purest beauty. Looks to me a mess:
a mix of mangled manual metaphors.
She’d ostracise me were I to confess.

A Cruelty Guy

There is a cruelty guy, not on the national level
like the jackals that the would-be emperor unleashes
but more personal and focussed. Robin Hood
and he were soulmates in another life.

His obsession is to destroy the Goebbels clones
who compete for the mad leader’s favour and for the power
to oppress and torture normal civil people.

He is a sort of god, or a wraith — a cloud of hate.

Last night I dreamt that I watched him at work.

He rounded up some of the would-be emperor’s aides
and stood them shackled in a moonlit square.

He asked them to repeal their cruel rules.

When they refused, he showed them personal hurt.

He pushed a titanium trocar through their shoulders.
He threaded poison wire through their red wounds.

He tied the wire off.
                                      ‘Perfect poison circles
like ruffs of office,’ he said.
                                      They said, ‘Please
give us another chance.’
                                      He said, ‘Too late.’

Ferulia, Angel of Justice

She is not Death himself, but she is Death’s favourite relative
and his friend. They visit in each other’s houses,
water-logged stoved-in arks beneath the Styx.

She carries not a scythe but a rod of iron.
She visits the people in power who do wrong.
She asks them to do the right thing and punctuates

her message with the breaking of small bones.
Yesterday she asked a policeman in a border county
to apologise for calling people names.

‘They are not people’ was his answer. It made her frown.
‘Fingers first, or collarbone?’ she inquired
and did both when he did not answer. Crack, pop, snap.

At the same time, because, like Death, she is everywhere,
she called on the Lord Vice President. ‘You are a vice lord
disguised as a sycophant Christian,’ she said and frowned.

He knew her frown’s reputation and he attempted
to cover up his small bones and his sins.
‘I will leave you breathing so you can repent,’

and go forth to thwart, not aid, your master’s ravings
and to work for restoring decency for all,’
she said and frowned and raised the rod. Crack. Snap.

Bar San Francisco

The parrot, green except for where it moults,
butts beak against the barmaid’s well formed back
as she tots another tab up for the dolts
who line the zinc-topped bar while she leans slack
against the register. The parrot rolls
his eyes and lifts his shoulders, which I ape
while Caroline ignores us both and strolls
to Captain Hook who mouths some jape
about ‘the thrill is gone,’ not saying whose.
The parrot says it must be Robert Cray.
I cannot care and let the lady choose
the next song but she answers ‘No lo sé
and Pink Floyd hammers more bricks in the wall
and the night comes down and finds me glad to fall.

The late sun makes the whiter people sick
and tour groups shelter in the noisy bar
appalled, enthralled by Caroline, her slick
appearance, skin — the limbic way ‘ajar’
amounts to ‘making way’ so near her blouse
when she and the green parrot dip for drinks.
The uncaged parrot’s ancient pupils house
an admiration an old tourist thinks
no animal should have for Caroline
but she leans forward and we punters smile,
me and the parrot, and the evening’s fine.
The tourists take their bus another mile
and the green bird and the lady ladle beer
into my glass like it required more cheer.

Bar music really underscores alone
and lounges full of losers don’t add up
to more than busy signals on a phone,
to more than travelling salesmen who come sup
on distant dreams, expense accounts and time
like they’re not losing hair, waistlines, and hope.
Turn up the music, Caroline, and rhyme
what you believe the words must be, and grope
for notes you know but when you’re dressed can’t reach.
The parrots, watching, goes back in his cage
as we ignore the lessons he can teach
and I ask you to dance, and primal rage
propels us and our dreams across the floor
until the music stops, us at the door.

I like me in the mirror of this bar,
dark glasses, tanned, the parrot taking note.
I flash keys from a newly stolen car
and think that any day now I’ll emote.
The rock ban pushes for a Beach Boy beat
and two girls dance together, and a man
as old as both their fathers, kind of neat,
attempts to cut in, doesn’t understand.
And She turns up the volume, and the bird,
the ancient parrot, shows the secret red
beneath his green and clipped wings while absurd
bus tourists, like they mattered, jump and shed
their inhibitions, grin and try to dance
while I and my reflection hold our trance.

(published in November 2001 issue of MÖBIUS)

Bayou Belle Noire

The sawgrass parted grudgingly,
bowing and sighing in the airboat’s hot wind,
like an ageing racer’s heart braking on empty.
Flat-snouted bonefish boats
skimming west in the sunset
rolled half-hearted
half waves at the airboat’s wake.

The woman flexed heading the bow around,
losing two pounds in ten minutes in the late sun,
steam rising from her blue-black, lank hair.
Biceps tensed short arms muscled under fat
rendering her grace under tire
shaped back butt and candle — bookends
of over indulgent cooking.

Alligators near the shore quietly ignored
her approach until the moment day
fell overboard and drowned in the night.
Frogs took up the rant of backcountry preachers
buried as often as needed in a land
where water forgot to mind its manners.

Absent of love or any of its facsimiles,
her eyes adjusted fast and her slab hands
caught mosquito patrols phlat footed,
her bare arms flailing a dark so redolent
of dead fish she could taste its gumbo hunger.

Fish she’d stalked lay stunned or dead
in the broken-lid coolbox where she’d dumped
them during the afternoon — hard work in a haunting stalk,
poling the airboat through sawgrass hedges,
betting on the small pools of open water out of sight
from Cat Channel’s visible tides.

Flies buzzed off in the dark.
The fish they had blackened
poached in preternatural pails
of moonlight so thin it razored
hearts worse than Al Catalano
when he cut a mean figure there
in the parish before caching it
in peace, in pieces, in the coolbox.

Al waited, his hair white
among other whites, just passed-fors
each hoping to escape screened porch
to sag soft-thundering down and
hang soul-grab distance from rust pegs
that supported the coolbox door
broken off all those lost years back
when it mattered, when he used it.

Used it to hide hideous hide
and whatnot of rivals for her
tendrils, tenderness and tacit
acceptance of whoever smiled
her direction lamps into warm
heat, blew not out but encouraged
lymph light into boys’ shy places
forgotten since called up to preach.

On course to the cabin, she hesitated,
three hundred yards and four light-years
from Al, black-parched
in thin quartered light drawn back now
to conceal more than show why she
once caught his hard when it still beat
in minor-key measures each time
she entered his bar, sinister.

The bayou airboat bumped the pilings,
shaking mildew spores, beetles and breakfast crumbs
across the dank dark porch floor downhill
to meet her, landing with soft plops
heard mostly by midges. Black mud
from her boots mashed out arrival,
the only one Al had for years,
avoiding passed sentence for life.

Ripe fish raw thrown up the landing,
watery with waste from tired days
exhausted doing nothing hard,
she followed with line in right hand
and fish knife winking a greeting to
Catalano from the left one.
No words spoken, needs all long gone,
bound up tight: good taxidermy.

Al hung in his chair as he now
always would, tanned to near iron wood
by loosed elements of passion
in bayou protocols where boys
killed men to protect their rights, and girls
smooth like her retaliated:
keeping their lovers hooked, tame, tanned
where black waters ripple. Her home.

People Watching outside Tiel’s in the Jordaan

Dilapidated is too long a word
for one brought up on dubious stories and down by drink.
The lamppost that I lean against is red.
A saxophonist plays hues of purest blue.
I see seagulls and rucksack-bowed walkers, the crowded bridge,
and a thousand lame excuses. One fat man
has stuck feathers in his cap, up, like a fan.
An orange-shirted power walker passes faster than I run
or would run should this lamppost disappear.

Written on site in the sunshine 4 June 2018.
Note from 9 June 2018: Tiel Netel is the proprietor of a favourite Brown café in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam. Just now when I typed ‘tiel’s jordaan’ into Google Maps it worked, immediately finding and displaying: Cafe ’t Papeneiland Prinsengracht 2, 1015 DV Amsterdam.