Writing Music About

Half Life

A collection of poems from 2005.


Full tilt
burning across
some dark void.

Heaven knows,
and holds its breath.

I am mortal,
forged in that instant
of terror and adrenalin.

Some don’t get beyond
the prototyping stage.


I live in my head.
I don’t know what you want from me.
I’ve watched you play your games,
and I know enough to mimic you.

In my head I have these worlds:
fantastic places,
full of beautiful structures,
and quite devoid of people.

I can’t describe them to you
in any way that you would understand.
I just try to create something like them
in the materials at hand.

In doing this I’ve found a use.
I find the logic reassuring.
Analogs of the pathways
I’ve walked on my own.

I don’t enter your systems with a goal
and leave when it’s achieved,
despite the objectives you have set.
Instead like to linger,
to hold a quiet vigil.

You let me create these places,
in truth I would do it anyway,
to create codified mementos
of that other place.

This is what some say is a gift.


We can say
with some degree of certainty
that we are born
and things are born of us.

This truth escapes many.

Even those who have glimpsed it
are capable of hanging this fact
around their necks each morning,
knotting it,
then turning from the mirror
and promptly forgetting.

Each day we head into the stream,
angling ourselves
to catch the signals we want,
while not being washed away
by the sheer weight of the current.

In the noise,
we lose sight of the fact
that we aren’t just receivers
but are transmitters too.


Particles of sound and meaning
in languages unknown to me
rush past me in significance.

The seeds of our culture
trace this radial geometry
sprayed out,
apparently indiscriminately.

I turn and watch the sprayer.
Carefully, he adjusts the aperture,
injection rate and pressure,
turning on his heel to bend the stream.

I sense him silently caressing in his mind
the forms etched momentarily in nothingness.
Holding them there for apprehension.
Each a precision-engineered transport
for the precisely manufactured parcels.

A starling pecks around in the dirt,
gorging unthinkingly on the grains
that fall within its grasp.

It is the agent of dissemination.
Ingesting, digesting, transmuting.
and re-transmitting.

It is an instrument of cruel imprecision.
Amplifying the decaying signal
and introducing correction errors.

The grain of the voice,
by some estimations;
distortion, by another.

We are of code
and ourselves coded
to encode/decode,
replicate and disseminate,

We too are cyphers:
starlings pecking around in dirt,
gorging unthinkingly
on that which falls within our grasp.


I am floating through something,
I’m not sure what.
I don’t feel myself
but, strangely, more ‘me.’
Not the ‘me’ you saw,
that has gone now,
but I think you’ll know me.

There is a kind of film
between your world and this.
I remember it described as a ‘veil’
by someone,
and it’s not far off the mark,
though it’s more of a membrane —
moister, more organic —
that envelopes you.

You’re almost close enough to touch
from where I am.
I realise I’ve been here before.
Many times.
Always the same me,
but a different you.

The Lord of Misrule

I am like the wind
howling round your little cabin
testing every seam.

I will find your gaps.
Every plank,
every board,
bears the hallmark
of your mediocrity.

good enough for you
are not for me.

Soon I will surge inside
and run amok,
tearing everything
you hold so dear
to smithereens.


You might think
there are worse places to die
than in your own mind.

But to live death,
and then remember it,
is no life.

The Chloride House

I’ve been to the chloride house.
I know its dark recesses.
I forget how many times I went.
(There are things it doesn’t bear remembering,
and the bureaucratic administration of pain
is one such thing.)

That facade,
weathered but somehow immutable,
swims in front of me.
I hold it there and
can already sense what’s coming.

The place is mocking me.
The way that roofline overhangs,
taking umbrage,
withdrawing light from the proceedings,
my proceeding.
It frowns grimly,
almost reptilian.

When I see it in my minds eye,
The house is just there.
I can’t recall anything of
how I arrived at it.
In my dreams I smell the burning flesh
and run screaming through fields.

Aether Net

Do you suppose they know?
Do you suppose they care?

Slipping off their radar
with horological precision.
Timed to perfection,
grey man exits grey zone stage left.
Everything is calculated, measured,
This is business,
after all.

And what of the tolerances?
What of resistance and cumulative effects?
Compounds compounding?

Back to the vanity.
Silently tracing a chalk outline
to glacé cherry lips.
Beautifully upright,
in control,
walking a tight-rope
with all the poise and balance that requires.

“A OK.”

I am invincible!
I am impenetrable!
I am …

… going to be sick.

I am choking.
I can’t do it.
I just can’t do it.

We know the texture of
chicken liver paté.
We live with it, and,
If this goes on,
will die by it.

Messing Around In Boats

It came from nowhere,
the feeling.

Came sailing in
on the back of a sound
from the street.

A passing car,
a giddy child.

Or maybe
that terrible conjunction.


I should take more drugs.
My own doctor tells me
I don’t take enough.

When I take drugs
I’m gorgeous and thin
and cute and pouty
and quite the beau of
whatever balls
I happen to be attending.

Engaging and witty too.
I swoon over myself
if I happen to catch
a reflected glance.

Has my doctor seen me like this?
Is he a closet socialite?
Does he trip the light fantastic?

I suspect not.

He’s got his pen out now.
Scratching frantically
on some tedious stationery.

He seems agitated,
beads of moisture
forming on his brow.
(I can’t think he socialises with us.
However well-disguised,
we tend away from the
agitated and sweaty).

With high-pitched glee
he slides the stack of forms
across the desk towards me.

His writing is pretty decent,
considering the stereotype.
I can just about decipher
its spidery form.

It says:

I promise the bearer happiness and beauty
and wit and… their heart’s desire,


It’s 6am.
I stumble to the bathroom,
fumble for the razor,
and turn on the tap.

What I don’t expect
is to hear the distinct strains
of the opening of Rhapsody in Blue
emanating from the nozzle.

That’s what’s going on this morning.
Not literally,
but not figuratively either.
This is somewhere wedged between the two.

There’s that screaming clarinet glissando
echoing the sirens of New York,
itself emulated in the air squeezing out
with the burbling flow of water.

I can’t deal with this.
It’s surreal.
(And frankly, it’s taken me quite by surprise).
But more to the point,
I can’t risk the ire of a sleep-disturbed wife.

Never mind the damage that an orchestra
brimming with brass and percussion
(not to mention the concert grand)
could do to the plumbing.


I laugh at the air,
laugh at how it passes through my lips,
the way it always seems to know
which way to go.

I dream that I’m an arrow on a score.
At some divine instruction
that same air
will take on a celestial form.

Somewhere in the clouds of
upper order density
I whistle
and that thin sweet sound
is everywhere.


Twenty paces
in opposite directions
ought to have done it.
But in death,
just as in life,
what begins in symmetry
ends in the opposite.

A point on a line
on a graph
in time
in a series
of others.

but not counting.

The devil isn’t in the detail –
he’s above all that.
He is dancing free
cloaked in the masque
of the charade.


You have to realise
I come from a place
where horses had headlamps.

You used to see their beams
searching out the shadows
as they crossed the intersections.

I only tell you this now
in case it’s useful
as a point of reference.


Posters had appeared
announcing that
the circus would be in town
a few long days from then.

The playground buzzed
with talk of heroes
naked to the waist
and exotic creatures in
gravity-defying costumes
performing death-defying feats.

Unimaginable acts.
Unimaginable heights.

I had seen them myself.
I remember one particularly well.
It had been pasted on the side
of the bus shelter.


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