"The End of my Youth"
It was back in the dazzling years in which Saturn
was locked on his screeching and slicing return
and I had allowed a young lady to flatten
and paralyse me with refusals to learn
the primal rules of human conduct.
I hadn’t realised at the time
(so I was just enraged and gobstruck),
she lived along a borderline.
In other words, she was a nutcase.
One minute she loved me, the next she would say
that I was a huge unforgivable cuntface
for defending myself when she caused an affray.
She told me she really should give me a smack.
Some said I was wrong ‘cause I answered her back.
I was flabbergasted. They told me it’s normal
for your lover to threaten to hit you and then
ignore you forever, and I was an awful
savage beast, the foulest of men,
for taking offence to such harmless behaviour.
These people called themselves my friends
and called their “advice” a magnanimous favour.
I hope that they meet grisly ends,
these floppy-haired shitheads. I hope they die screaming
with innards gushing from their throats,
their worthless blood in gallons streaming
and staining their woolly ethnic coats.
I hope they die in agony
like the agony that they caused me.
Because, you see, I was in love with this fruitcake,
which felt like being chained to a rock
for two or three years with a deafening toothache
in all of my teeth and a wasp in my sock.
I struggled with every last breath in my body
to get young Lucy to see sense.
The struggles got more and more desperate and shoddy
as people said I was obsessed and intense
and her parents, who also were mentally stunted,
threatened and abused me for trying to speak.
My psyche was being, from every side, hunted
by the morally and intellectually weak,
my worth as a human being discarded
by the emotionally retarded.
Lucy had appeared so loving
and real, as do most borderlines.
I had no cause to think she was bluffing
and saw no barbwired ‘Achtung!’ signs.
She’d never made a cup of coffee
in eighteen years, perhaps that was one,
or the time she went all sulky and stroppy
because I’d laughed at her when she’d sung
that it was a long way to Temporary
instead of the correct Irish town,
or the fact she’d thought the way to ensnare me,
the first time I’d kissed her, from eyelids down
to wrists, was to thrust and thrust her crotch
at me like a broken bottle of Scotch.
She was bigger than me, nearly five foot eleven,
half of which was ginger hair.
I called her the Norse word for fox, which is ‘Reven’,
and loved her with fire that, till then, wasn’t there.
For twenty-six winters no girl had inspired me
and I had inspired no girl in return.
The planet Earth alienated and tired me.
No-one encouraged my passions to burn.
Then suddenly, up popped this fantasy-catcher
who talked with a precocious wit,
who hated New Labour and Margaret Thatcher,
who hated all manner of middle-class shit,
whose poetry had the nerve to rhyme
(and rhyme with skill most of the time).
It was love. I would’ve glued my nipples
to egg-cups depicting Prince William’s face
and shouted in Welsh at a bucket of pickles
while dressing a badger in Honiton lace,
knelt on a glockenspiel coated in mustard
outside the Ministry of Defence
with my trousers awkwardly adjusted
and stapled to a picket fence
surrounded by watchmakers playing kabaddi
for that girl, and in many ways, I did.
She’d written a poem entitled ‘Daddy’
about how her Dad was a cold-blooded sod
who did nothing at all to make her feel loved.
I decided to give her the warmth that she craved.
I bounced along the streets of Highgate
as though they were a trampoline,
filled with joy at finding my soulmate,
filled for the first time with genuine
happiness, all the flowers saluting
in the supernatural air,
God or Fate beaming and patting
me on the head as Lucy drew near
and we gazed adoringly on each other.
Enfolded in her long pale arms,
I wished we could be enfolded forever,
lying there reading each other’s rhymes
as I showed her Iamb and Trochee and, best
of all, my frolicking friend, Anapaest.
As we lay together, still covered in yogurt,
she whispered that it was ridiculous how
much (and I’m not saying this like a braggart)
she was in love with me. She said “Wow,
you don’t just want to strip and fuck me,
you’re so unlike all other blokes
I’ve met, you want to kiss and hug me,
caressing my cheeks, and this isn’t a hoax!”
So, it was more than a little unnerving
when, our love just nine days old,
I knocked on her door ‘cause my bladder was churning,
while she was washing herself, and she scowled
that she ought to slap me for disrupting her peace,
with fury and contempt on her face.
“Well, no,” I calmly warned, “if you hit me
I’ll hit you back,” which I thought was fair.
I may have adored her poignantly, hotly,
but I wasn’t her punchbag, that had to be clear.
“Well, I reckon,” she continued,
“that I could have you in a fight.”
To a man like me, who’s not bulging-sinewed,
this feels like more than an idle threat,
but she didn’t explain herself, and for hours
she wouldn’t say sorry or anything else.
“I’ll speak when I’m calm,” her text-message glowered,
as though it was my fault. With hammering pulse,
lost between love and self-respect,
I ended it. What the fuck d’you expect?
This provoked all sorts of opinions
from my floppy-haired accentless “friends”,
such as “Your tears are from peeling onions,
you don’t love Lucy, how dare you pretend,
you ought to apologise for your behaviour
and feel embarrassment and guilt
and at least be grateful for all our labours,
for all the honesty we’ve spilt,
Lucy’s words hadn’t sliced like a cutlass,
she wouldn’t have meant them “in that way”,
it isn’t important that we didn’t witness
what happened, she’d prob’ly just had a bad day,
it’s how couples act in a state of normality,
you need to wake up to reality.”
Jon, Kirsty, how could your minds be broader?
You met Lucy for five minutes, once,
and know nothing of her mental disorder.
So what’s your opinion worth, you cunts?
But I was trapped. I couldn’t be choosy
or follow my heart or keep hold of my shield.
I had to apologise to Lucy
or break down. My fate was sealed.
I begged her and begged her to sort out the problem
and blamed myself so the pain might cease.
She read my apologies and snubbed them.
She didn’t call me. She called the police.
So I broke down. I broke, with a broken heart,
as people I’d cared for said it was my fault.
Her parents had no time for any
of Lucy’s boyfriends. But, with me,
they’d said I was worth every penny,
a decent lad at last, who’d see
their daughter right. So, not bizarrely,
I wrote to them saying that I was confused,
that I loved their daughter and was hurt sorely,
and that I was sorry my anger had raised
when she threatened and blanked me until I described her
as a selfish insane bitch,
that I didn’t mean it and didn’t deride her
and hadn’t realised just how much
she’d suffered psychologically
from her Borderline P.D.
I told them that, till now, I’d known nothing
of mental health issues, and all that I asked
was they give me a chance to explain all my huffing.
I told them they had my respect and they risked
no dangers by speaking to me, I was human,
flesh and blood just like themselves,
and that we had many things in common,
we came from the same one of Britain’s two halves,
my family had its fair share of troubles,
my mother was poor, my father was dead,
my uncle’s depression was drilling his eyeballs,
his daughter had cerebral palsy and hid
from a husband who forced her to fondle and rub
their children, and walloped her with a golf club.
Lucy’s parents’ replies consisted
of “Fuck off. We don’t want to speak
to you.” And this was not contrasted
by the responses of other folk.
“Why did you write to her parents, you weirdo?”
they said to me. “Christ! What a strange man,
what a stalker, what an antihero
you are. Leave these good people alone.”
I was gobsmacked. Why don’t people get it?
Why don’t they understand anything?
Why are people so cold and pathetic
and deaf to the key in which Life should be sung?
They should grow up, grow some balls and a soul,
or else fuck off out of the gene-pool.
Humanity and life no longer
made a drop of sense to me.
Complete confusion mixed with anger
and misery that none could see.
Had I produced some awful karma?
Were Kirsty, Jon and Lucy right
it’s normal to ignore your partner
after literally starting a fight?
Did no-one understand my feelings?
Was up really down and down really up?
Was my despair just meaningless wailings?
Was I the one spewing belligerent crap
as Lucy cavernously echoed
around my heart like a stuck record?
Five years beforehand her illness was triggered
and Lucy was removed from school
when a gang of her classmates chortled and sniggered,
kicking her head like a rugby ball.
For three years she stayed in a specialist unit
and one day tried to take her life.
No-one could offer a guess to how soon it
might be till her mind stood on solid turf.
Most likely she’ll stumble through adulthood frozen
still at the emotional age of thirteen,
causing an argument or several dozen
like both of her parents appear to have done.
It’s crushing and tragic and baffling and scary
and a long long way from Temporary.
She’ll never, for as long as she’s breathing,
love anybody, including herself.
The strongest emotion she feels is self-loathing.
Between what appears and what is, flows a gulf.
She cares more for her poker addiction
than any living joker or Jack.
Life has dealt her a messy affliction,
one of the shittiest cards in the pack,
she’s a fragile, broken human being,
that’s why she accepts no blame,
why she’s incapable of seeing
through windows to her neighbour’s home.
That’s why she can’t begin to reason
how life feels to a different person.
The same could be said of Jon and Kirsty,
for the opposite reason to Lucy’s complaint.
Life has been served to them, garnished and toasty,
more condiments than an autistic could count,
with a napkin the size of an en-suite bathroom
in case, God forfend, they should spill anything,
no need for fluoxetine or lithium,
no need to think deeply about right and wrong,
in cosy quaint provinces miles in the distance.
So, “Live your life like we live ours!”
they demand, as though everyone else’s existence
is as straightforward and cushy as theirs.
So, all they can see is how right they are
about everything, everything else and then more.
Kirsty and Jon were so shocked they near fainted
when I wouldn’t play their morality games,
complaining to all with whom we were acquainted
that I was a meanie who’d called them rude names,
that they were the fairest of judges and juries,
that I care only for myself,
that the problem had stemmed from my unprovoked furies
and not from a teenager’s poor mental health.
I begged the girl’s friend to act as umpire,
as a reconciling force.
He treated my pleadings as though they were gunfire
and ran from them because, of course,
I was a stalking, subhuman turd.
In this opinion all concurred.
One of her friends was a half-Turkish rebel
with a punk band named Two-Fingered Salute.
Adem the Anarchist. He believed people
should love and look after and help and support
each other. He told me, “I’ve heard all about you,
but Lucy has never said anything bad.
It sounds complicated! I’m happy to meet you
and talk to you, if Lucy’s word
allows it.” Surprise surprise, it didn’t.
Adem never spoke to me again.
Drowning, nauseous, desolate, maddened,
I asked his parents to throw me a line.
But it wasn’t their problem. They couldn’t care less.
This was the point Lucy phoned the police.
Around this time that I was learning
what a wonderful species the human race is,
and that mighty emotions like passion and yearning
are just a tick-box behavioural quiz,
and that trying to reason with people is stalking,
and self-defence is morally wrong,
and girls are allowed to hit boys, I got talking
to another young lady who seemed to be strong
in the face of the war-crimes from which she’d migrated.
Kristiana was younger than Lucy – sixteen.
The poetry that she created
and I read off a computer screen
was full of rape and menstruation
and corpses in a Balkan nation.
Both these girls wrote striking verses
in language I did not expect.
They wrote of close escapes from hearses
and how their little worlds were wrecked.
Their little worlds were just a couple
of miles apart on London’s face
but I had met them in a bubble
in a corner of cyberspace.
Suddenly, one afternoon, Kristiana
told me her family twisted her brain
and had done since back on the streets of Tirana,
and that she couldn’t stand the pain.
She asked if I knew anywhere
where she could stop and breathe some air.
I pointed her in the unusual direction
of Keith, a fifty-year-old bloke
with whom I’d shared a strange connection
for over a decade, who generally broke
every convention that I could imagine,
his bald head sunk in an army coat
with “Do something useful – Riot” badge on.
In recent years he’d shared his flat
with various teenage waifs and misfits
who I supposed would earn their keep
by rustling up assorted titbits.
Keith was certainly no sheep.
An indiscriminate befriender,
he wasn’t fussed by age or gender.
Keith had been a woodwork teacher
in a girls’ school, years ago.
His occupational departure,
which came as a use-killing, life-freezing blow,
came from the fact his social circle
included girls in their mid-teens.
By now he had been out of work all
decade long. He counted beans
while strumming on mandolin or balalaika
“Daisy, give me your answer, do”.
His brother went sailing round Lake Titicaca
and bought Keith a hat that said ‘Peru’,
but woollen stitches cannot curve
and so it looked like it said ‘Perv’.
It was towards this man I pointed
Kristiana. She moved in.
She cooked Albanian meals and planted
artichokes and changed the bin
and helped look after Keith’s old parents,
both of whom were on death’s porch.
She’d packed her bags and made a clearance
while her family were in church.
Her older brother Joseph quickly
hacked his way into her email account
and emailed and emailed me asking exactly
where his sister could be found.
But I couldn’t tell him exactly. His sister
made clear if I did it would be a disaster.
Her brother, her mother, her father, had hurt her,
I don’t know how. She wouldn’t say more.
Apart from to say that each one was a nutter
and that her father had broken the law.
She shuddered, “Please don’t talk to Joseph!”
but I know it’s wrong to ignore someone’s pain.
He sounded so desperate. And I thought, “Who knows if
this lad is genuinely insane?”
I told him his sister wasn’t in danger
and that she was living with honourable folk.
I tried to be soft, though I knew it would injure,
and told him she’d run from her family to seek
a new life, but if he waited a while
and gave her some space, then they might reconcile.
I did my best to help both parties
but Kristiana had made up her mind,
so that was that. My human duties
had hit a wall with no way round.
At this point the police came knocking
and asking where Kristiana was
and complaining her mother and father were shrieking
at them each day to do their jobs
and warning me these wild Albanians,
despite the domestic abuse in their home,
had formed the craziest of unions
to track me down to the streets where I roam,
with a private detective, a legalised stalker,
to force me to point them the way to their daughter.
Their daughter and Keith came round for dinner.
I made extra curry for him and his gut.
And then we set off, in Sir Edmund-ish manner,
with Keith in an army general’s hat
and long blond wig, to climb some alders,
planes and spruces on the heath.
With Kristiana sat on his shoulders,
he shouted “Help!” and I turned to see Keith,
his trousers fallen to his ankles.
“Put the girl down and pull them back up,”
I laughed. It wasn’t like he was in manacles.
But, stood outside a crowded pub,
the bespectacled oddball preferred to insist
that I pulled his trousers back up to his waist.
And then, one day, my doorbell hooted
and through the spyhole I discerned
a hall-of-mirrors-esque distorted
vision of two faces, pained
and anxious, Eastern European,
middle-aged, behind my door.
I froze like I’d been turned to iron,
half-naked in the corridor.
The woman looked like Kristiana
but prettier, with more years and curves.
She whispered an ‘Ave Maria’
and mimed a cross in trembling swerves,
then opened the letterbox to my home
and called through it her daughter’s name.
They wandered up and down the pavement,
up and down outside my house.
The police, when summoned, made less movement
than a one-legged K-holing mouse
glued to a fridge, for ninety minutes.
Then they finally arrived
with fucking hells and Gordon Bennetts
as the mother screamed and raved,
“He has my daughter! He has my daughter!
Archie Macjoyce, I beg of you,
please, talk to us!” I looked and caught her
begging me, her face shot through
with uncomprehending agony,
despair, confusion, tragedy.
I caught a fleeting glimpse of horror
in that howling woman’s eyes.
No wakened soul could make the error
that on that face were written lies.
No worthwhile human could relinquish
empathy, their heart grown cold,
for such a face that burst with anguish
at the absence of a child.
No Christ nor Buddhism nor Shinto
could help this woman to repair.
Nor I, stood by that third-floor window
glancing down into despair.
What could I do? My hands were tied!
I turned away, wet-cheeked, red-eyed.
Grasping to my garden railings,
orders barked into her ear,
she klaxoned forth determined wailings
like “I’m not going anywhere!”
Eventually, with the assistance
of four more coppers in a van,
there came an end to her persistence.
It took the force of several men
to prise her out of my front garden
and lock her up inside a cell
where, for a night, she’d be no burden
if the guards ignored her well.
She, her husband and her son
were banned from hassling me again.
But a mere restraining order
can’t keep an end-of-tether Dad
from his quest to find his daughter.
He followed me along the road
and with a look of desolation
on his face, his palms outstretched,
said he was past all consolation
now Kristiana had been snatched
from him, his life had no more meaning
and he was ready now to die.
He begged me to relieve his pining.
I felt his pain. How couldn’t I?
He begged me to talk face-to-face
with him and his son. Did I have any choice?
They knew where I lived. Did I have then much option
except to walk into a hotel bar
and sit and submit to my total absorption
by a stranger’s domestic brouhaha?
Joseph was eight years my junior.
He told me that my words were lies
as he sat there trying to hide his mania,
scowling at me with hate-filled eyes.
Joseph said he loved his sister
more than he loved himself, and risked
provoking the truest response I could muster
when he glared at me and asked,
“Do you know what it feels like when somebody who
you really love won’t speak to you?”
I could have said, “Funny you ask me that question,
I have an inkling how it feels
to love someone who seems a bastion
of all my ambitions and all my ideals,
who tells me she returns my passions
and has the same drive to create,
who giggles, hiding behind cushions
when I kiss her pretty feet,
who doesn’t bother to inform me
that she’s properly mentally ill
and wonders why things turn all stormy
when one day she decides to tell
her devoted adorer, in tones full of hate,
she should slap him and could have him in a fight,
yes, Joseph, I do have the vaguest of notions
of how it feels when such a girl,
for whom throughout years without any fruitions
I’d waited and waited in a black hole,
decides that she will never even
ask me how I am again,
so I contemplate sticking my head in an oven
while self-proclaimed enlightened men
and women with degrees in Moral
Gamesmanship from Pansyville
University designate me as a feral,
selfish, loveless fascist from Hell
who accepts no critiques and possesses no virtue
‘cause if you’re a man you must let women hit you,
as though I ought to respect the opinion
of a bourgeois cunt whose existence is safe,
who claims to be my friend and companion
but has no experience of life
and tells me it’s my fault the girl who outdrew me
now swaggers round telling her friends I’m obsessed
as I cry in my cider till it becomes foamy
but nobody notices that I’m depressed
and I yearn for this psycho each minute, each fortnight,
each year, with loneliness strangling my heart
and I wake up to birdsong and gathering sunlight
feeling my soul has been dragged through the dirt
and the human race is a faecal deposit,
if that answers your question, Joseph. Does it?”
I could have said that, but instead I said nothing.
Instead I just sat there and stared at this boy
and remembered his mother’s resistant handcuffing
and the look in her maddened, bewildered eye.
This grimacing lad and his big-faced father
said Kristiana had left home
because of me, and I was her lover,
and I’d been imprisoning her for some time
in one of the rooms of my flat in West Greenwich.
This was the first I’d heard of it
but enough was enough, I needed to finish
this piffle before my identity split.
I told them I’d bring the girl straight to their door
along with an officer of the law.
When I phoned Keith he still was grieving.
His father, Dave, not long before,
had passed away. When Dave was living
he’d been a sailor in the war.
The young and overwhelmed lieutenant
controlled the back half of a ship.
He didn’t quite know how to face his opponent.
The Messerschmitts raided. The front half let rip
with a barrage of fire, in a state of commotion,
but Dave was confused and did nothing at all.
The back half surrendered to the German nation
and Dave was court-martialled. His sentence was cruel:
for the rest of the war he sat docked in Tobago
eating bananas. He was told, “Go away, go.”
Keith explained that Kristiana
had left old Blighty’s shores for good.
She’d left with a man who was now her partner,
one of the best friends that Keith had,
a thirty-year-old bloke named Michael
with Spanish blood and curly hair.
Together then, by van and cycle,
armed with phrase book and spare tyre,
they’d both gone tinkering round Europe.
So, Michael was Kristiana’s horse
and, I supposed, I’d been her stirrup
and Keith the saddle beneath her arse.
But while they were trotting round France and Moldova,
what was I going to say to her father?
He was randomly waiting outside Greenwich station
as was his custom. I said to him, “Look,
I know that this sounds like it’s circumlocution
but, well, the thing is, I take it all back,
I’m afraid I can’t help you. Your daughter’s in Scotland.
I don’t know where. Sorry. I did try my best.”
He stood there bemused as I tried to be subtle and
explain to him gently the chance had been missed.
“Let’s go to Scotland!” he said with some vigour,
“Somehow we can find her!” I softly said, “No,
I’m sorry,” and hoping to God that the saga
had come to an end and that I could just go
and get on with my life, I scuttled away
and stared into space for the rest of the day.
The months went by and Kristiana’s
father carried on and on
waiting for me on street corners.
I told him to leave me alone.
So did the police, who took statement and statement
(the police and I were quite close by this point).
His private detective still made an assortment
of rude-voiced phone calls with no restraint
to my workplace, my friends, to Keith one morning
as he sat playing “All the Ladies Take
a Shine to my Helmet”, a song he was penning
about a fireman. Week after week
the Albanian persisted. He did not cease
until he was in court and I changed my address.
Kristiana and Michael popped back to London
a couple of times to visit Keith.
I wasn’t told. She’d said she’d abandon
this city forever since it was where both
her parents lived. Keith flew to Albania
to stay with his friends among eagles and hills.
I wasn’t invited. Joseph’s mania
remained robust in further mails.
If I was the type with no basic compassion,
I would’ve just told him that he was obsessed.
Instead I advised him to face his condition
and talk to a psychotherapist,
not that my own mental health was superb.
My brain felt squashed into a cube.
My brain felt squashed into a bottle
wired up to a machine
with switches and levers and motors that rattle
and dials that squeal up and down when they turn,
being prodded and spanked by a nine-headed squirrel
with boomerangs instead of legs,
called Colin, inside an old cider barrel
being rolled by an army of stuttering frogs
on skateboards made from locksmiths’ trousers,
lychee peel and toasting forks,
over fields of electric razors
on planet Saturn as it makes
its tortuous journey back again
to the place where it was on the day I was born.
Keith’s mother died. A splendid lady.
She doted on the Albanian girl.
She’d always wanted (and that’s not greedy)
a daughter with a cheeky smile,
pigtails and a frilly bonnet.
Instead she got a stupid cunt
in a woolly hat with ‘Perv’ written on it.
Instead she got a son who spent
his pot-holing holiday in a harness,
getting stuck and then winched out,
then photographed looking gormless
in a local French paper. Instead she got
an unemployable funny old soul
with Buffy the Vampire-Slayer on his wall.
Old Lily passed away then, leaving
Keith and his brother their childhood home.
The house where Keith had spent most his life living
belonged to him now. It was his own.
Coincidentally, this was the moment
Kristiana and Michael chose to come back
and live in Keith’s spare room without payment.
Shortly after, I found myself stuck
without work, on the brink of eviction.
At that point, walking down Keith’s road,
I saw, as clear as my own reflection,
passing straight by me, Kristiana’s Dad.
He did nothing at all. He had nothing to say.
He didn’t even look my way.
Stunned, I immediately phoned Kristiana
and warned that her Dad was patrolling her streets.
She replied in a voice full of panic and drama,
in chavvy half-Jafakean spits,
that if I was lying then I was disgusting,
then I was the lowest, most underhand
piece of excrement ever existing,
and did I get that, and did I understand,
‘cause she knew I was living like flotsam and jetsam
and if I was going to lose my home
it wasn’t her problem, but was this a stratagem
to force her out of Keith’s spare room?
I told her to fuck off and ended the call,
which Keith said was not very nice at all.
What made her imagine I might have been lying?
Why couldn’t she smell the acrid truth
that if, as she guessed was the case, I was dying
to force her from the Palace of Keith,
then pretending her Dad was there wasn’t the worst case
scenario I could have flung in her way,
I could’ve just pointed him there in the first place,
I didn’t fucking need to lie!
And then she randomly heard from her cousin
whose husband’s employment agency
had noticed, among the dozen on dozen
they get every day, Kristiana’s C.V.
She’d led her father straight to her herself
and she could not blame this on anyone else.
Not far behind Daddy came Mummy and Joseph
sidling up and down the road,
staring at Keith’s house with obvious motive.
Kristiana and Michael stood and hid
behind the curtains, their dreams all shattered,
horror streaming from their eyes.
But the words of spite that she had uttered,
her groundless accusations of lies,
were never regretted. She never said sorry,
just like she had never expressed any thanks.
She never admitted she’d treated me wrongly
or that I’d helped her escape from her jinx
of a family, her schizophrenic mother,
her hated father, her twisted brother.
Keith had another, small, spare bedroom
full of books and tents and junk,
affording a couple of feet of headroom
between the ceiling and top bunk.
As my eviction day drew closer,
I asked if there was space for me.
He said he’d have to talk it over
and ask the others if they’d agree.
To Keith it didn’t seem to matter
that I had known him for twelve years
and always said and thought the better
of him, or that the house was his.
Kristiana and Michael said yes, they could lever
me in, providing it wasn’t forever.
Kristiana was determined
that the draining-board stayed clear.
As though becrowned and robe-of-ermined,
a friendskin throne beneath her rear,
picking her nose with a diamonded sceptre
that took many hours and servants to make,
vigorously as a helicopter
she’d wag her finger if beaker or fork
remained undried and breeding bubbles
by the sink, or if I put
a corn-flakes box in the eminent couple’s
bit of the cupboard. She told me what
to do, and she did the same to Keith,
but he wasn’t the sort to display any wrath.
I asked him why he let this ingrate
who didn’t pay a penny in rent
believe she had some kind of mandate,
stamped on the wall in the boldest of print,
to boss him around as though she was a monarch
in his house, the house that he owned,
and treat him like a serf or eunuch.
He shrugged his shoulders, sighed and frowned
that he couldn’t deal with confrontation,
especially not at a moment like this
when his brother, who lacked filial emotion,
insisted that they sell the house,
when his grief was still raw for his Mum and his Dad,
so we ought to just do what Kristiana said.
By this point I was taking rather
a lot of drugs. One afternoon
I offered some to Kristiana
and Michael, off a tablespoon.
We walked beside the river, tranquil
as a horse licking the knees of a pope
before Kristiana dropped an anvil
in a bowl of oxtail soup.
She told me the police had warned her
about Keith....................................“My God,
really?” I said....................“I don’t under-
stand...............what the....................when did
.............but....................Christ, I’m surfing
the Milky Way........................are you certain?”
Weeks later, back in the land of the sober,
stood in the garden with Michael and Keith
poking bits of log and caber
into a blazing, crackling hearth,
smoke-clouds rendering me tearful,
I listened to Kristiana harangue
that she knew I felt she was ungrateful
but she didn’t owe me a single thing,
that she could’ve escaped from her family without me,
and she wouldn’t apologise for or rescind
her acid-tongued accusations about me
lying to her, and did I understand
and did I get that, ‘cause as far as she knew,
I was lying back then and was still lying now.
Flabbergasted, I packed my rucksack
and made my way towards the door.
“Don’t go,” said Keith, who thought I should backtrack.
“Why do you do this? You’ve done this before.
You give up on friendship far too quickly.
Kristiana could be a really good friend.”
But I’d lost my patience with Keith and his sickly
untesticled failures to comprehend.
I went to Bristol, became a squatter,
watched a policeman get floored by some stone,
sniffed enough powder to nearly find Buddha,
broke into a house where a poet was born,
met the first girlfriend to deserve my heart
and fucked her on a roundabout.
Rachel, the only woman to ever
appreciate my mind and soul
and loins. One of the few who’ll bother
to fight those whose ideas are foul,
and she fights and fights, because this planet
swarms with those who have no love,
those who will not spare a minute,
who have no anger and no drive,
no sense of justice or of duty,
nothing, nothing, nothing at all,
no passion, empathy, depth or beauty.
You cannot reason with a wall
of silence, ignorance, moral cowardice,
but Rachel tries her best to, regardless.
Not once has Rachel threatened to hit me
and then ignored me for hours on end.
How strange! What a curious absence of “pretty
normal behaviour”, as some would contend.
Instead, she’s loving and understanding!
I must be doing something wrong
(again). I clearly deserve a swift branding
as “terrible boyfriend”, I ought to be flung,
for a year or three, into a dungeon,
weeping from an emotional scar
that digs as deep as a Triassic canyon,
being told how trivial my problems are
by the monumental waste of space
that we call the human race.
One day, in a park, me and Rachel got chatting
to homeless Geordies who said to me,
“Why are you unemployed and squatting
when you’ve got an English degree,
when you’re from a fortunate background?”
She snapped, “What the fuck do you know about him?
His parents had nothing. He was born a six-pound
chanced bag of white trash. Factory fodder.
That’s all that society wants him to be.
It’s done fuck-all to help him up the ladder.
It don’t matter shit that he scraped a degree.
He works in pubs and shops and the like,
which is all that society wants from its folk.”
The last I heard of Kristiana,
she and her family were talking again,
which marks the end of this brain-spanking saga.
Keith, that worldly prince among men,
had met the schizophrenic mother
who Kristiana had called “a disease”
and Joseph, the crazy scowling brother
who Keith had told me not to appease,
who Keith had said had more than likely
raped his sister. Joseph bought
Keith some chips, which made him rebuke me,
“These people are nothing to worry about!
What was your problem? They’re really nice!
He bought me some chips. I rest my case.”
According to Keith these people had never
harassed me at all, I was making it up.
They hadn’t stalked him, so they hadn’t me either.
That was his argument, bottom to top.
He must’ve imagined it then, being pestered
by private investigators on the phone,
and the day Kristiana’s Mum was arrested
for breach of the peace outside my home
and the social worker who told him the story.
According to Keith it was all my fault,
as he told me I should’ve ignored all their teary
requests for my help, should’ve given them nought,
and had I listened? Oh no, not me!
But they’re wonderful people, that’s plain to see.
The only one for whom I feel sorry,
of all of them, is the bewildered Mum.
She had the head-caving misfortune to marry
a man who beat more than his bandleader’s drum.
My own mother knows how it feels when a bully
inflicts the full force of the back of his hand.
She never had any intention to sully
my view of my Dad, but made me understand
that she wouldn’t defend me, in fact she’d disown me
if ever I raised up my fist to a girl,
unless the girl landed the first smack upon me,
in which case, retaliation was my call.
And my long-suffering downtrodden mother should know.
If you disagree, shoot yourself through the head now.
My mother, who’s spent her life slaving in factories,
should know, not some therapy-dodging bint
or her child-brained parents with their pyrrhic victories,
my mother should know, not some privileged cunt,
some floppy-haired goofy-teethed self-righteous wanker
with no experience of life,
some rat-faced soulless child-of-a-banker
obsessed that their liberal appearance is safe
(who’s never made friends with a negro or Asian
but thinks they’re a racism authority).
My mother should know about retaliation.
So, female or male, if you’re violent to me,
then violence will very much be my answer.
If you don’t like it, fuck off and die of cancer.
I know how it feels to be booted and clobbered
by baseball-capped imbeciles out on the chase,
as drivers rush back to their condiment cupboards
when I run to them, pleading, with blood on my face.
I know how it feels to be stood in a playground
surrounded by a violent threat,
reedy-throated, quick-pulsed, fear-bound,
every lunchtime, soaked in sweat.
I don’t expect this kind of rubbish
from someone I love, who claims she loves me.
I don’t expect people, their intellects sluggish,
to tell her she’s blameless as blameless can be
as she snubs me and wrecks my emotional health
because I had the gall to stand up for myself.
But these were the years in which Saturn, that order-
obsessed old orb, was set on a course
to bulldoze my bedroom and burn down my larder
to force me to rebuild my house,
to rebuild it with deeper and stronger foundations.
He’s like that, Saturn. That’s what he does.
He’ll knife your reality into slim portions
that don’t fill you up, every twenty-eight years.
Late twenties, when breakups and suicides rocket,
when rock stars gargle pills, suck guns
or choke to death on their own vomit,
when my life cracked beneath the tons
of pig-shit spewing from people’s throats
and amoeba’s-clitoris-sized hearts.
These were the years in which I was awoken,
as though with a punch in the guts as I slept,
from a youth in which only a few things were broken,
and shoved on a battlefield where Nonsense leapt
around the place, hurling me in front of horses
and broadswords of Nonsense that tore me to bits,
an army of Nonsense through which nothing passes,
whose soldiers of Nonsense gave Nonsense salutes,
so I had to stand facing this wall of Nonsense
otherwise known as the human race,
and I’d never, for even the briefest of instants,
imagined that people were such a disgrace.
I’m a good man. If you cannot see that I’m good,
you’re an arsehole who can’t see the tree for the wood.
But then it’s true that people are arseholes.
All they ever fucking say
is “Get over it. Forget these reversals.
Do nothing. Say nothing. Let them get away
with hurting you. It doesn’t matter.
I couldn’t give a therapist’s toss.
It’s none of my business. I’ve got better
things to think about than your loss.
Don’t fight back. Don’t challenge. Don’t question.
They have the right to hurt you, you know.
Leave them alone. Stop all this combustion.
People don’t have to talk to you.
People don’t have to co-operate.
You’re obsessed. Give it a rest, will you, mate?
No, I haven’t got a moment
to read your irrelevant poetry.
I’m busy watching a man with a rodent
stuck up his nostril on T.V,
and listening to posh kids with stadium-sized egos
artlessly wittering of cigarettes and gold
in accents that make you assume that they’re negroes.
I couldn’t care less how much sweat you’ve expelled.
This isn’t the era of Wordsworth and Shelley.
You cannot inspire the masses with verse.
To attempt to write for the workers is folly.
If you want to get published then take my advice:
Forget rhythm and rhyme and your passionate need.
Write something cryptic that no-one will read.”
So, this is the world that we inhabit,
a world whose dwellers couldn’t care less,
a self-destructive sort of planet
where people won’t help you and will miss
the fact that you help them, ignoring
nature, decency, love and pain,
a world whose people are pointless and boring,
with no wish to feel for their fellow man.
This is the world that I’ve had to adjust to,
this is the world I’ve been forced to abide
and accept for the way that it is, and I must do,
since otherwise I will not survive.
But this isn’t my world. I don’t belong here,
because unlike other people, I care.