1: Not Enough Hours in the Day
What a feeling, when one escapes the musty
tomb-like bookshop atmosphere carrying a collection
of poetry under your arm, & barely stumbles three feet
before colliding with the gorgeous garish daylight:
a crisp clean sky like a newly minted fiver,
no clouds, & blossoms exploding on every tree.
This filthy city’s evanescent in its beauty.
I hate to admit it, but even the Sally Army band
look ritzy today, dolled up to the nines, but they pay
much less attention to style than the man in black
(& the black’s cranked up to eleven: the kind of overcoat
you’d clock on a villainous gunslinger in High Noon,
& a wonderful jet ensemble of boots, shades & gloves)
striding up the street while tooting a saxophone,
his soul-breath reeling into the air, blossom
cascading wildly from the aforementioned trees,
in a sudden puff I’ve made the assumption
was exhaled from his instrument’s gaping maw.
I mean, it’s even conceivable he’s the sole creator
of the city itself: the weighty memorials, the fountains,
the shoppers & seagulls & bus-stops benignly arrayed.
There’s not anything wasn’t born of his music:
there’ll even be a silence at the end of his song
quite as dark & desolate as the year’s midnight.
3: No vow’l no. 2, a la G.P.
What a joyful thought, to hop away from this musty
twilight bookshop air with a chapbook
of ballads snug in your armpit & run smack
into a ballsy Scandinavian roar of a day:
a sky fair & cobalt as a tarpaulin folio,
no clouds, & blossom dotting what boughs you can spy.
This dirty old city’s not shown such razzmatazz on any prior day.
Our local Sally Army band looks mighty glitzy, too,
in crisp mandatory uniforms, & hugging shiny horns,
but not as glitzy as that man in black
(& I say black with conviction: a long black coat
running down to a joint just north of his shins,
black boots, black Raybans, & hitman’s mitts)
striding through this outdoor shopping mall with a sax to his lips,
blowing his soul out into our atoms, blossom
cascading off hawthorn limbs in crazy fistfuls
in a rapid wind which (it’s my assumption, this) sprung
from his musical contraption’s gaping maw.
I purport that it’s as if this man’s an artist-divinity
for this city’s spirit: its circling gulls, its crowds,
its fountains & pagodas & monoliths & bus-stops,
all of it nothing but his music’s fabrication,
that hush waiting at his song’s conclusion
broad & totalising as a vinyl album’s run-off rut.
5: Opposite Day
There’s no reason to return to that fresh-smelling
overlit nightclub, Earth, without a haphazard sheaf
of money in your back pocket, then walk gently
away from a raven-haired & timid whisper of an evening:
opaque black soil quite easily distinguished from a slab of marble,
dozens of fires, & gun emplacements on all the invisible multi-storey car-parks.
That spotless countryside’s felt disgusting before now.
Even the Satanist demolition crew seem underdressed
in their birthday suits, belabouring their muddy jackhammers,
exactly as underdressed as the woman in white
(though she makes a nonsense of white: a white negligee
ambling towards but stopping just short of the ankle,
white lace gloves, a white balaclava, & Messianic sandals),
tiptoeing gingerly over the stream with a microphone stuffed up her arse,
sucking her body into the earth, the gun emplacements
secured to the multi-storey car-parks in sensible & evenly-spaced arrangements
around a slowly-forming ornamental pond which is unlikely to have been poured
into the clenched anus of her recording equipment.
I can’t honestly claim she’s either the servant or destroyer
of the countryside: the stalled tractors, the isolation,
the burning pyres, the ditches, the cheese-rolling competitions,
none of them anything but the realisation of her noises,
the sounds running away from the beginning of her symphony
narrow & tentative as an erased videotape’s first faltering frames.
Note: Playing the Changes is an ongoing project in which one poem (‘Birmingham Jazz Incarnation’, originally published in Lung Jazz: Young British Poets for Oxfam in 2012) is subjected to a series of linguistic transformations, mistranslations and procedural constraints.