17 Part 5

[Here is the latest (fifth) installment of 17, comprising Section V entitled Fall and Song #5 entitled Song for a Guy. The ‘songs’ seem to be taking over from the sections, as this long grim poem unfolds.]


V Fall

Mike hates Autumn:

the night drawing in,

the leaves falling prettily from the trees,

harvest, thanksgiving,

Dad gone with a thump, Mum burning

love notes, bank statements, pretty clothes in the dustbin next to the coal shed,

shedding tears,

blood dribbling from her nose, the pink blue flicker

of the paraffin fire barely warming them,

as next door’s fireworks go up on Bonfire Night

and they light up a guy.


Song #5 Song for a Guy

The girls on YouTube drool over Guido’s

barber’s shop hashtag Occupy coiffure

and swoon over Tito’s

early morning twitter chorus of camp fake news.

The bonnie prince coming over the ocean

with lance and unicorn

and the slender man waiting in the shadows

to sweep one special one away.

Guys queue up to chat.


On Bonfire Night the TV is replete

with public health announcements about burnt fingers

and scarred faces and plastic surgery,

prosthetic limbs and surgical masks,

as intercontinental ballistic missiles soar thrillingly into the sky,

and Catherine is tortured on a wheel.

and effigies and sausages are toasted on stakes.

“That Guido’s so into you,” Sophie gushes.

“That Tito is so cute. Such a shame he’s gay,” Em

gigglingly adds.

“Whatever!” someone posts

and gets a smiley face in reply.

The Goth girl in the corner

with the hashtags and the dreadlocks

and the attitude problem

and parent-approved dentistry student boyfriend

is watching online streaming video of infidels

beheaded and burnt alive,

Zwingli slain on a snow-swept mountainside

fighting for the right to eat blood pudding on Good Friday,

sangria puked up by Sloane Rangers all over the après ski,

as minarets rival the Matterhorn and the downed towers

of Manhattan and the moon descends unwatched

through a starless streetlamp-lit stretch of urban sky.


17 Part 3

[Here is the third tranche of Poem 17. It contains Section 4 and Song #4. This poem is exhausting me. There are so many ghosts in it and it is so dark and sad.]

IV Bangers

Back home, Mike takes it out on the car,

kicking the weak metal panels in and firing a shot

into that bald tire. Mum and neighbors shout

about the racket: cars backfiring, that old eyesore

of a clapped out banger parked in the drive,

the noise of rows. Mike remembers

sausages popping in the saucepan

and rockets going up on Bonfire Night

and bangers thrown to the ground to explode

amusingly around the feet of fearful girls.

He unloads a volley of shots into the bloody car

and sets off down the street armed and alone.


Song #4 Child Auto Accident Victims Lullaby


The wan little ghosts hang their yellow ribbons around

traffic-lights and trees,

crossroads, hedges, suburban setbacks,

bus-stops across the road from pubs and schools, zebra and pelican crossings,

hard shoulders, sloping driveways, country roads

in the middle of nowhere, singing polyphonic threnodies

through bloodless Cupid’s bow lips for lost lives.

The cherry and the apple blossom

falls about them like a vehicular glass of snow. Blood-

stained glass windowing our wing mirrors with guilt and grief.

Like frost, they are there every morning the mercury drops,

like a dew of tears every summer dawn, damning us.

No anti-freeze can melt them away.

Singing us to sleep with their sweet salt song of tears,

they blight fertile ground with corpses too soon put into the earth,

by haste, engines, wheels, machinery, gears, cogs, hub caps, gas, ball bearings,

glove compartments, sunshield mirrors, spark plugs, bald tires spun off into the air.

All sorts of bric-a-brac

they bring back from the grave as evidence, jangling

like the trinkets of gypsy children, bidding us with their black eyes

bid them due process and due farewell.

17–Part II

[Here is the second tranche of my ongoing long poem 17, consisting of three ‘Songs’ and two Sections (II and III), entitled Picnic and Gas respectively. Like 64, 17 contains a number of free-standing ‘songs’. But, unlike 64, in 17, these are clearly marked off as such and only very loosely connected with the sprawling main narrative of the poem. As is common in my work, all sections contain acts of violence (which I do not condone) recounted in a casual unsentimental or unconventional manner that some readers may find distressing or offensive.]

Song #1 The Ballad of Robin and RedCap

Robin, hoodied, rips the copper
piping out of the new starter homes
going up in the urban jungle and sells it on
for drugs for his merry band.
Little Red, brim of Man U baseball cap
pulled down over her mascaraed eyes,
is plied with magic mushrooms and raped in the woods by the gang.
The council pulls the travelers’ shacks and tents down in the night.
The police come round.
“Keep quiet about that,” Red’s Roma grandmother warns,
“or they’ll have you ’for good.’
“The wolf is always at the door.”
Red keeps mum,
as they tramp past the graves of Hansel and Gretel
and the rundown foreclosed gingerbread house on the way back home.

II Picnic

The place makes a nice spot for a picnic, amidst the buttercups,
on the old chase just outside the woods overlooking the stately home.
The blue and white checkered tablecloth is laid out over the grass
held down at four corners by salad bowls so the wind doesn’t blow it away.
Mum shouts at the kids disappearing into the woods,
as slices of egg and sausage meat pie set in aspic and pastry crust
are set out on the plates alongside spring onions, baby radishes, shredded iceberg lettuce,
a dollop of sweet pickle, scooped out from variously sized items of Tupperware;
wasps and ants flicked away.
Mum shouts out at the kids who have disappeared into the woods,
messing about.
The first shots ring out, bringing her to her knees.
Hans and Greta return from the woods with cobnuts,
blackberries and sloes and the skeletons of a dead mole and bird
to show for their adventures, as mum lies
face down in the egg-salad, bullet-wound oozing out blood
blooming through her flower-patterned dress.
Radishes and spring onions and lettuce hearts wreathe her cadaver
and the crumbs of pork pies are wolfed up by blackbirds and stray neighboring dogs.
Sirens go up all around, as mum is zipped up in a body bag
and Hans and Greta go off into care.

Song # 2 Hansel and Gretel Duet Lament

Trashing the doll’s house was probably a bad idea, Hans thought.
Greta cried for hours but never breathed a word.
The oven-baked flour-paste homemade toy cups and plates and fruit laid out
on the doll’s house dining room table; beds neatly made;
the stiff wooden limbs stuffed in doll clothes of doll mum
and doll dad tucked up neatly in bed for the night, curtains drawn.
The fun idea was Action Man, on night ops, sneaking in
through the chimney top, like Santa Claus, for a spot of B&E vandalism:
lewd graffiti on the wallpaper, drawers emptied, and dresses
and panties strewn about. Just kids messing around.
Mum doll wakes up in a fit and Dad doll is shouting at her
to shut the fuck up and calm the fuck down and throwing his fists around.
Broken china cups and plates and a black eye. The front door left
wide open as he leaves. Greta shrieked when she saw the work of art
in the playroom in the morning and weeping carefully rearranged
everything exactly how it was before.
“Where’s Greta? Mum asks, as Hans gobbles down
his soggy cornflakes and tea. “Playing with her doll’s house, probably,”
Hans replies with an angelic twinkle and smirk.
“Picnic today!” mother smiles.
Hans and Greta punch each other on the back seat as Mum concentrates on the road.
The car winds around the forest roads. Greta coos over the grazing ponies.
Hans is bored and looking out of the window for road-kill.
The care home looks like a hospital.
“Why can’t we just go home?” Greta wails.
Hans is silent and beats up on a younger boy as soon as they arrive.
Sobs himself to sleep; a baby bawling in a cot on the other side of the ward.
The girls are all round Greta, interested in her clothes.
The pair are let out for the funeral, Greta thrusting Hans’s comforting hand away
as colleagues and distant relatives toss clumps of earth onto the descending coffin.
“You trashed my doll’s house,’ she whispers hissingly into her brother’s ear.


Mike screeches into the gas station like Marlon Brando.
He doesn’t say it is a stick-up. The gun is shaking
violently in his unsure grip and the Goth girl on the cash-register
has frozen and pissed herself. He legs it.
She is already on the blower to the cops.
They are no Bonnie and Clyde.

Song #3 Piper Alpha Gas Workers Requiem Chorus

—-“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.” Psalm 51

We are the Piper Alpha crew.
We’re alphas to a man.
We pipe the gas out of the sea
and pump it to the land.

We are the alpha piper crew.
We hunt a microscopic prey,
for you to burn in homely hearths
to warm your winter days.

We take a boat from Aberdeen
across the cold gray sea.
Our muscles and tattoos are seen
by every lass we lay

Our bones are made of granite.
Our skin is soaked in tar.
We breathe a toxic fiery gas
that dragons all your cars.

We are Christ fallen
into the underworld
and coming up
with stolen fire,
to quicken your dreary days.

We are the dead who died
for your sins,
not for pleasure or for pay,
not some poor sods on a sunken cruise-ship off on holiday.
We live in Sodom and Gomorrah
with salt sea all around.
We mine a prehistoric wood
to fuel your luxury.

We go out in a blaze of glorious blinding light,
the cold sea
and the carcass of a rig
our only grave,
as body bags are flown
by helicopter to Valhalla by Valkyries.

We are the ghost pied pipers.
We crawl out of the deep
on hand and knee over the weed-strewn
moonlit sand
to entertain your children on the net.