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from the project Night Allowance


It takes a truly great writer,

Of great courage, to turn

Playfulness into pathos.

This in response to my neighbour’s

Poetry, so playful, so

Emily Dickinson and then

Frost and Stevens and O’Hara

Maybe, and definitely Sylvia

(cow-heavy in her Victorian

Floral dress) yet such

Playfulness is not to be

Attempted lightly,

So dangerous is its profound

Effect on neighbours and on

Neighbouring causes,

So didactic and so elemental

In what it achieves and what

It leaves unachieved, to be achieved by others.

In short we must incorporate

Playfulness but take note of

This very incorporation, that is to

Say, we need a body first, we

Need a face first and strong facial

Musculature at that, on which we may

Fix and alter our smiles at will

(O so many words to part with,

O so repressed my effluvial,

Effusive selfhood),

And thus

The Dickinson of Capital Death

And the Frost of the pastoral epic

And then so many of them

William Carlos and Walt and Walcott,

The frenzy of servitude and the

Earnestness of heavy chains

And the profligate seriousness and

Morality of the colonised soul who

Clings to the dear language of

Oppression and feels deeply its

Solemn wound, unable to choose

And unwilling to recant,

Cantare cantare

La canzone della Salce,

O tenderest soul most

White-ready to be strangled by

Your strong negro-blood and

Thus ready to give birth to

The high tragedy of lived art –

It is in this elementary way

That we reach out to the

Peripheral tissue of the old

Mother tongue-in-cheek

And thus any subversion and any

Play is nothing but – nothing if

Not – a tremor in the heart

Hardly perceptible at the level of

The feet and hardly able to alter

The basic, the fundamental

Drum-tap-drum-beat of blood

Pouring out effortlessly into all

The living expanse of the language –

Mighty Leviathan that it is, to this

Very day, when

To mark my hand

I write.


Like a vast army of gentle tribesmen,

I feel little pins and needles

Dance up the pole of my forearm

From the long fingers to the crankly

Elbow to the humerus and the


Right up to my neck and to the nape

Of it, where my hair ends in little

Prehistoric pedicles of ungroomed growth,

More akin to primates,

Down my back this hair,

This lovely down, this crest of

Awesome fur to terrorize the enemies

Of the pack

And crestfallen I watch,

If at all possible, I watch

The outcome of my ancestry crawl

Up and down my back

Like a jester of times past,

When you had to fight for the day

And the night,

You had to fight for another few weeks

Of bondage in the hands of nature,

O we are such a fearsome race

And all our remaining hairs are

Scarce memory,

Faint memory of all that has gone


Of all the feral carnage,

The bloodbath, the terrific embraces,

The blunt instruments and the eyes,

Always the eyes meandering

Across the fortifications of countless


Spelling out doom,

Eyeing the battlements,

Sizing up the task at hand, when

The liquid fire would be unleashed –

Death had advanced now to catch

Up with our savagery,

No longer in the cave with the


No longer an ideal death among

Ideal death-fellows walking down

The aisle,

But now a death altogether more


No less sinister but more concrete,

More opaque

Less yielding to the eye,

No longer in the cave

But out in the open, in broad daylight

Blocking out the sun,

Silhouetting against it, plotting,

Unraveling, conspiring to seize the

Days off this sun and to give

O give so many little tragedies

To all that would care to follow its


Otherwise heartless,

Not interested in real numbers

Not interested in their roots or

Imaginary counterparts

Only proceeding by rote

In a listless sort of lulling


Great narcotic this death by


Great pacifier, to count the skulls

And bless your ancestral gods,

Laugh off the uninhabitable fear

And the coldness,

Look up to the fenestella,

To the stars creeping towards you


You were no savage

You were king and feoffor,

Patron of the arts,

Formidable warrior in fine brocade,

You had founded banks and

Erected Davids

And chiseled out an imperial

Profile and a rusticated existence

Of refined valour and urbane cruelty,

You were the founder of cities,

The foundry of base metal,

The chieftain of unrequited


You the prime vassal,

The assailer of beauteous pageants

And the ruler of unruly passions,

So many women at your feet and

Between them

So many times four-legged

But not of the caves

But of the cavities of one’s

Lusty appetites,

Cavitating inwards

Towards the merril,

Feeling the loins of your

Pulse thrusting forward,

To sting and sting again

Kill all and then

Perform the ultimate act of


Make love to earn love

Earn love and put it aside,

Set up a current account or


To profit from all the love,

All the pillaged love that was

Given first-hand,

Unyielding admiration and

Zest, to partake of the conquest,

How barbaric can this be,

How tribal,

How many men can eschew it,

Men who grow a fine mane of hair

And put on their helmets and

Ride into the stormcloud,

Commanding the opacities of the sky,

The compass and the gyroscope at

Their disposal,


This is no savagery

This is discovery and exploration

And leadership

Men are there to perform it,

To give it flesh and bones,

To give it thrust

To majestize it,

O and to sing it at the top of

Their chest-voices


Like a dense choir of

Fallen angels


At daybreak.

I get up

By reflex action.

I put the kettle on.

Nothing feels better

Than a clean shave in

The morning.

I shave.

A thing of beauty

Fresh images are difficult

If not impossible to create when

One is lying on their backs not

Really asleep but actually

Truly unconscious,

Impenetrable to the mysteries of the

Silent bedbugs and

Impervious to the house dust mites

That plurally occupy

A gloating position inside our hairy

Nostrils and alveolated air passages.

Scientifically speaking,

It is quite a stubborn problem

Trying to feel this unconsciousness

As a form of heedlessness or as

Mere inattention

When in truth

One is being continually and

Mercilessly pestered by all too familiar

Footsteps on crêpe soles or just on

Thick house socks,

All too familiar indeed

With all these questions if not questionings

On the date of posting or the date of owing

Some little pocket money to the

Occasional errand-boy and the

Expected delivery-boy and our boy going

To the nursery, a proper nursery-school

Of small affordable bills and

Ill-priced compassion

Paired with admiration as our

First-born is paraded during the festivities

In the form of a good shepherd of

The Lord,

A good shepherd bearing his stick in

The lands of Giliad, like

A strange, an eerie advertisement

To tickle our religiosities and the

Unction, the extreme unction that

We bear with sovereign pride,

As we die to wash up

After a long hot summer day’s work

At this slash of a job –

Nothing to place in the shop-window

Where my job should be,

Nothing to have and to be had

As a proper occupation for a

Family man,

So perhaps then

I am no family in a man,

I am only a man in a family,

Whereupon I could as well have

Only been the boy, the first-born boy

Of the family where unjustifiably

If not entirely proverbially

I always tend to identify with the


Like some cartoony Duke-like figure

Sitting on top of the world on top of

His horse

And commanding lonely views of the

Mean valley,

The mean valley of conurbal bliss

And corresponding repositionings and

Hustlings for the best seat in the

Stands, the best ticket,

It’s always a family outing that

Seems to justify the whole damn


Under the floodlights with our

Popcorn and our ice-lolly,

What a spin and then

What a hash we have made of

Our biological roles

Always striving for cost-effective

Solutions to predated self-addressed

And casually inflicted wounds,

I drink my strawberry ice

And it drips

From my lips

And I rhyme the bloody stain

On my freshly-pressed shirt

With the hours I’ve been spending

On the train

And with the dirt that seems to

Irk my throat,

Destined to sing and now gravelly

Destined to clear the consonants and now

Fatally hovering over the same needy


Through the inescapable grammatology

Of the right reasons for wanting

To be literate,

Wanting this – this superlative

Literariness, together with the counting


Wanting it badly for the kids,

We grew to need it

And they should never feel the need

Only the satisfaction of subtraction

And especially multiplication –

Go forth and multiply

Is an almost unbearable proposition,

So realistic it can not possibly

Have anything to do with religion

Yet it serves to remind one

How important the one-liners and

The overall language skills are

To a good career in the forces

That be,

Pimp or pimpernel in this

Affordable revolution of the

Glistening and the

Sleeveless and the recreational,

This revolution in kind

Like a sort of unintentional


A fuzzy walk through the same


But always with punctuality,

It’s a sort of German dialectics of

Ideas that never fail to

Materialize in a fast-track investment

Opportunity in fancycardom, –

How’s that for being literate and

Numerate and generally

Numismatic and vain,

As in all the pain that goes with

Raising the standard for the

Next generation of urges,

Unconscionable urges at that,

Mighty with the sword they bear

And haughty with their novel acumen

As they always try to go back

They are

Always wont to go back

And recreate the

Moment of their immaculate


Amid a pair of margueritas

And on a flower-bed of


What a promise,

O what a soft promise of