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Three Poems

Universal Access

 

I have only ever lived among pollution. Tell me it is not the sky I look at but an irradiated blanket, pitched between my street lamps and the real sky. To that I say the real sky is immaterial, an idea cast too far back into the dark to matter. My pollutions define me.

 

As a child I favoured invented worlds, populated by tribes with kaleidoscopic cultures, another one always over the mountain ridge. Today, in the city, the promise of a never spent or perfected flux is all that keeps me here. The new thing ever opening. Frontiers of the affordable and good.

 

I am stranded in the middle of Moby Dick: p. 274 out of 509. The Pequod, after listing in the South Pacific, has embarked upon its first ‘cutting in’, the process of safely flaying a whale of its blubber, which requires the whole crew to heave a hook-fed rope through the blowhole until everything gives at once, for the blubber envelopes the whale precisely as the rind does an orange.

 

Part of me would sooner stay here. There is too much to read. Far from a complaint, this is only to state the necessary obverse of infinity’s appeal. Were we to know that our present book was the last we were yet to read, its conclusion would be intolerable. Heaven, then, must be to choose a fixed point, knowing the brawl of infinite, receding options, as if slipping into a particular chair while rain hammers on the skylight. Here I can dip my fingers in the dripping hide.

 

Through my browser I watch a documentary, free of charge, about a church repurposed as a data centre where a record of every web page is collected through time. Truly, there is a holiness in this: shades of God’s forensic love for hair and sand. As well as sites they preserve books scanned by human hand, so that Melville’s relishing and fretful bulk can expand along its ultimate democratic tangent to take its place beside the novel’s Wiki page, as captured on almost every day of its existence.

 

A great wall: a cliff face of servers cooled by fans. Several-coloured diodes blink in response to uploads, downloads, the servers that need replacing. In this hygienic temple, across a medium of distance and physical substance I will never understand, they are polluting me. It is dizzying, exquisite. My white whale plunges forever out of view. This is the structure of the new sky.

 

 

 

 

 

Aisles

 

Plenitude and frigid air: death

could never come where fruit

will never rot before it’s sold

or thrown away. I could never be

mistreated, never fall to mischief

in this humming galleon of service

down whose many-jarred and many-

branded gangways I could trip

forever, never sickening or asking

where it comes from, how. Bacon

sweats and preens beneath its plastic

corset. On empty schoolnights we

would drive here, newly licensed,

and plunder the golden sundries

of the deli counter, less in hunger

than exquisite tedium: bhajee, satay

skewer, olive bar, layered salad

reduced to clear, the decadent

barbarian empire of freezers and

lurid condiments, beyond which lay

the household aisles, our lives

mapped out by ergonomic grid.

 

I lied when I said I never

wonder how it happens; how

like a quietly ovulating mammal

these shelves replenish. It speaks

of a greater kindness working

in our world than I’d assumed.

A providence less radical and more

assured. It stuns me into apathy

the colour and thin consistency

of milk expressed and pasteurised

by exploited farmers. Returning

here alone this frightened evening,

I made nest among the chicken

strips and mince, dreaming myself

a worm in the field that reared

such miracle and blight. I’ve never

known a hunger worse than two

pounds in my pocket here could quell.

My anger may never meet the air

but lies in wait, flesh under wax

in fruit that’s yet to perish, or to sell.

 

 

 

 

 

Far Enough Away

 

You mistake me for flesh: for the honest captain

who can follow where the cruising stars have signalled,

glittering and keen. My body isn’t like that.

It remembers water, remembers it too well

when you come near, but returns each night

to settled pastures, indentured groves, the landlocked

love that doesn’t think to guard or name its territories.

 

The mistake, I know, was mine, that I exhumed

this flesh suit in a mingling room and stood

surprised to find a real blood repopulate its limbs.

Will you sail with me? No, I wouldn’t want that,

wouldn’t want the queasy belly-sweetness as we left

that dock behind. You find me a bad and dusty ragdoll

dissembling on the quarterdeck, when my better flesh

 

is safe at home. The stars there are fixed and white as pills,

and I find them to my liking. I went back on myself today

to trace them, over fields of celibate frost and winter mud,

but even then, in the heart of my drowsy parklands,

far enough away from any salt or murky scent,

I happened on a weir carrying the din of water

from its mountain source towards a howling sea.

 


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

's first collection was The Claims Office (Seren, 2013), an Evening Standard book of the year. He is an editor at the online journal Prac Crit and a PhD student at UCL.

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