Writing Music About

Pandemonium

A collection of poems written under the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020.

Germ Warfare

Margins close in
but not horizons.
Not yet.
Maybe that will come.
We can only hope.

For the moment,
the germ of ambition still lurks
in the TV unit
and the wardrobe.
The habits of a lifetime
are hard to break.

So, at regular intervals
they venerate the host
that bequeathed everything they see.
Everything they could lay their hands on.

If anything, its mystery is magnified.
You can’t tell believers
that they’ve got nothing but belief.

Maybe we can beat it back,
this invader that’s among us,
pummel it into submission.

Maybe it’s too strong for us.
Already too embedded.

Let’s not forget
we created it.

Air Ports

My country has two major air ports,
both connected
to an integrated transport network.

Almost all airborne arrivals
come into my country
through one or other.

I can close both facilities,
but only for short periods.

Any longer,
and this would cease to be
my country,
and would become
just ‘land’.

Extraordinary Times

It’s the eleventh crisis this week.
They seem so commonplace these days.
Yesterday we had three
in the space of one hour.
Luckily for us
our critical faculties
remain undimmed.

We have to call an extraordinary meeting.
There’s nothing else for it.

It’s the day of the extraordinary meeting.
We’ve hardly slept a wink since it was called,
though thirty minutes without sleep
wouldn’t be cause for concern
in normal times.

Nevertheless, we do our best.
We will prevail!
(We say it out loud.)

In place of an agenda
the Chairman
is gesturing to a squadron
of paper airplanes
he has made.

He doesn’t speak,
in accordance with the directive passed
at the previous meeting.

He’s lined the planes up
at forty five degrees
down the side of the conference table
and is making engine noises with his lips.

It isn’t clear whether this is strictly
in the spirit of the directive.

The Chair implies that each one
will be flown in turn
over the course of the next hour.

He implies this by
picking up each craft in turn,
conducting a thorough inspection
of its airworthiness
and structural rigidity,
and then launching it
from a standing position at the head of table.

Over the course of the hour.

This is all well and good.
Perfectly sound.
The planes have flown
and everything has been duly minuted.
But what about Any Other Business?

It’s an academic question, of course.
There is no other business.
How could there be
with an agenda like that?

I’m reminded of the time
he produced a map
of an area of the garden
by digging up the area in question
and laying it out
on the boardroom table.

I want to bring it up
but I’m not sure how
to broach the subject
within the formal constraints
of the business meeting.

It was the most extraordinary map,
just like this meeting.
I feel the comparison
would serve us well.

These are not ordinary times.

As I’m pondering the dilemma
the Chair has disappeared,
firefighting some new crisis
that has emerged
in the kitchen.

In the Kitchen

The electric kettle
has stopped working.

By this, I mean
that it is no longer capable
of heating water.

It is perfectly capable
of functioning as a jug
or a vase,
which is what
the warranty suggests
in these circumstances.

It says that
if we put it to work
in such a role
we will see that it is indeed
still working and thus
there are no grounds for its return.

This is what all warranties say
these days.

We’re on our third kettle
in as many weeks.

They used to last
at least a month.

Distribution Point

They are handing out pins.

The people could use them
to puncture the balloon
they can all see clearly enough
is obstructing their view.
But they won’t.

They prefer to stick them
in their own eyes to justify
the impairment to their vision.

Who says romance is dead?

Madness

The world has gone mad.

This morning I saw a man on a ladder.
What he was doing, I don’t know.
He’ll have to come down some time!

Further on, another was painting something on
to the walls of his house.
As if that is going to protect him!

In the supermarket I saw ladies
buying jars of chickpeas.
Not the dried ones,
which one might imagine
could be used as miniature cannonballs
against a microscopic enemy,
but the soft fluffy kind.
What use will they be
when the time comes?!

Cicero would be turning in his grave.

I can only assume the strain
on people’s mental health
has simply been too great.

Equilibrio

We have developed something of a routine.
Every morning
she salutes my knee
and I the sideboard.

We don’t remember how it started.
It’s not important.
Allowances can be made to stretch
when you have a religion like that.

It gets us through the day.
At least, one seven hundredth of it.

Cause

The cause could not be ascertained
with any degree of certainty.
That was the conclusion of the report.

That was the conclusion of all reports these days.
Those that knew about these things
glanced securely at each other
in the corridor.

Death in the Afternoon

I’m married to a monster
albeit a seasonal offender.
At certain times of year
she dances around the patio
casually committing genocide.

The monsters of her history books
did not report their kills.
It was only later that the Wisdens of the world
let slip their batting averages.

These are different times.
The auditors have told us that
we need transparency.

So they put out daily briefings with the scores.
(It doesn’t matter that the cack-handed eugenicists
have missed a thousand here or there;
bodies stashed around the back).

My monster is no different.
She makes no secret of the tally,
reports it openly,
and probably inaccurately,
throughout the day.

She controls the information
and the media.
I have no means to verify.

The bodies are removed
by stripy-suited fixers.
They move around the terrace free to
shake down corpses for anything
they might take home.

Only now and then
like some scene
from a Monty Python film
do I see them wrestling
with one who’s still protesting
I’m not dead!

I can’t bear to hear the punch line
so I turn away
and focus my attention
on the sound of the cicadas.

Comings and Goings

The virus cannot survive in sunlight
but bacteria evidently can.
For at least an hour.
We saw it for ourselves
when it slimed its way
on to a table
in the garden of lies
where it visibly multiplied, then,
ripe with simultaneous inequality,
promptly divided.

Canteen

I am canteen,
holder of knife, fork, spoon,
aorta, pencil sharpener, pin cushion,
and any number of other
wrongly apportioned things.

I am blameless.

Rachel’s End

She was trampled
in her bed
as she slept
by a team of wild horses
charging through the night
on a starry course.

Celestial creatures
shod in iron
from the fire,
summoned in the confusion
of an earthly dream,
shattering her lamplight
into a billion tiny stars.

Mariano

He looked like he was born to climb:
dark and stocky,
low centre of gravity.

She said she’d never seen him move
so fast as up that rocky face.
Sure of foot as any of the village goats
who graze out on the peaks.

It wasn’t just that he was born
and raised in this place.
No one else round here is built
in quite that way.

Some hours after the funeral
a goat appeared in the street
along from his front door.

Black and beardy,
shooed by awkward neighbours,
it didn’t want to leave.

Cold Frame

Quadrants marked by wires
set against the sky
or more truthfully, the sun.

The marking of one thing
against another is what we do.

One thing set against the sky
another set against it
at right angles.

All of life is here:
some quarters empty
others breached,
climbers climb
and creepers creep.

It was always thus,
and will be
even when this sorry frame
has ceased.

Metres away,
more from him,
she’s in another world
receiving a steady stream of visitors
from this one.

November

And everywhere
torn voices flap
on wires
strung across empty streets.

Brittle with age,
rattling in the wind
that rifles through
seeking out souls
to bear away.

Lyle

I can see him now,
the long, liquid man.

Like a willow
swaying in the breeze
smiling that crooked smile
at what he’s conjuring.

He’s flowing now
like a river,
triplets and turns
tripping and turning
out of nothingness
into everythingness.

Blues and whites
dance a rill
through scattered rocks,
the stream thrown
this way and that
but always somehow true
to its unflinching course.

The river has run silent now,
leaving just the dying echoes
reflecting off more ordinary rocks.

And soon, they too will be gone.

Out for the Count

I sacrificed my foot
for the morning,
for a moment’s peace.

Even as the cock crowed
the third time
and the fourth.
Judas from the jungle
is slumbering again.
Dreaming, no doubt, of
six pieces of Advanced Formula
High Protein dried food
counted out.

When the World Ended

When the world ended
I was a boy
and a man
and no more.

The ending was an unfolding,
an unravelling
of systems that had somehow
set themselves up to be
and piece by piece
were ceasing.

It happened in the blink
of an eye for the watchers.

The blink of an eye
was a lifetime for me.

Breathe

However long this goes on for
it won’t be long enough for some:
Those who watched in horror
as the world went slowly wrong,
then fell into despair as it hurtled ever on —
a car crash where the metal never meets a force
quite strong enough to bring it to a stop.

Well, now it has.

Neighbourhoods that once belonged to humankind —
sprawling hinterlands of blight —
now teem with nature beautiful and bright.

There are those who clamour to return
to poisoning the water and the air again,
to ratchet up the grim machinery of greed.
The world is spinning on, they say,
and we must run to catch it up.

And there are those who beg them pause
to let us catch our breath,
re-evaluate the proposition posed by endless growth,
take advantage of the cool-off period on the deal.

Reset the economies,
re-find human decency, dignity, morality.
And let our planet breathe.

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