200 Section 17 Porton Down

[Section 17 of 200 is divided into two subsections. The first recycles the comic bickering middle-aged couple, She and Hen, from 17. The scene is loosely based on a dimly remembered real event from my childhood, in which my mother insisted—out of sheer nosiness and bloody-mindedness, with no political motivation whatsoever—that we drive up as close as possible to a high-security chemical weapons facility. The second subsection contains a series of strophes and antistrophes sung by fictitious choruses, in the manner of chorus and anti-chorus in the earliest Greek tragedies.]

Part 1


She and Hen drive up to the gates

of the chemical weapons lab

south of Salisbury Plain. A grim sign

on the gate informs chance visitors

intruders will be shot on sight.

“Drive a bit closer,” She demands.

“I need a good look at the place,”

she adds, as Hen protests but still obeys.

Soldiers appear,

and Hen rams the gearstick into reverse

and presses the accelerator down

with frightened foot. “Bloody

coward, you,” She grumbles, looking back

at the picnic basket now pitched off of the back seat

onto the oily floor of the clapped out old car.

“And now you’ve ruined our packed lunches too.”

Part 2

Chemical Weapons Experts vs. Conspiracy Theorists

A Chorus for Two Choirs


We drive to work in modest

little cars and supermarket clothes

that no-one will espy.

We check in with our finger-

prints and swap our jeans

for hazmat suits

as soon as we arrive.


We hang around the ancient

stones and rail against the sky.

From time to time a naked

woad-smeared man crawls

under the barbed-wire fence,

so long as he is not afraid to die.


We work with lethal chemicals

and spy around the world

to make the world a better place

for ordinary Joes.

We handshake with the Saudis

and spend our hols in high hotels

that loom over the deserts

of the UAE. We drain the minibar

and join the dancing Bedouins

in their revelry. We toast

arms dealers and dictators

with glasses raised over an open fire

and bid with spells the winds

and Djinns of change come in

to desolate your holy land.


We are the police that free

the world of weakness and of crime.

We tap away at night with keys

to prove fake news and

false flags downed

their towers of avarice

and delight and blame

them for the violent work

that we ourselves have done

with language. We spin

a web of lies around

your carcass of a soul and mind,

cocoon it in a comfortable crib

of our inventing and send

you off far into space

to languish and to dream

to no avail.


We put our passports

in our jacket pockets

and wend our way

on government-paid

flights back to our little homes

within easy commuting distance

of our work at Porton Down.

Our toxic legacy outlasts

all prehistoric megaliths

or seams of coal. Our mortgages

are paid by spooks, our cellars

dug in deep and sealed and packed

with weapons ready for the end.


200 Section 20 Magic Act: Kseniya and Zhenya do Las Vegas

200 Section 20

Magic Act

Kseniya and Zhenya do Las Vegas

 [I don’t know where or how to begin explaining the origin of this latest unusually personal section of 200, which could also serve as a standalone poem. I could argue that I have long yearned to write a poem that combines magic and surgery, Christology and pagan sacrifice, but that would be a lie. The idea only came to me recently as I labored in hospital under the physical and psychological complications arising from the amputation of my only surviving leg and yet was somehow born afresh from the experience. This poem is silly, dark, and cynical, like all my work, but there are nevertheless glimmers of hope and light within it, sutured into the seams.]

1 Presentation

Kay and Zee skip on stage

in the amphitheater, kitted

out in skimpy lingerie and surgical masks.

Zhenya clumsily cradles a stray

kitten she has picked up

in the back alley around the trash cans

and decked with pink ribbons.


“And for the next trick I am doing,”

Kseniya announces, “my delectable,

desirable, doped up assistant

will use a magic analytic algorithm

I have devised.” Zee tugs a piece

of yellowed scrap paper etched

with blue-inked ciphers

fastened by a blood red garter

to the black fishnet fabric

that wraps her stately legs.

“…to randomly select,” K continues,


“one lucky young gentleman

from our esteemed audience,

to aid us in our dark illusory

endeavor this fine day.”

Zee dumps the kitten

into the opened coffin splayed

out on the operating table,

as the audience oohs and aahs

and Zhenya of the mystical eyes

leads one unsuspecting member out onto

the box undone, opened out

like a cruciform flower

and straps his young limbs in

to the contraption;

as orderlies, like creatures

from the visions of Ezekiel,

wheel in instruments around him.


Kseniya raises her bone-saw

and sets about her grinding

tortuous work, long

before the mercy of anesthesia

finally kicks in. And Zhenya

performs a little ad hoc

circumcision with shaky hand,

as loose kitten hops off

happily to pick off odd bits

of freshly excised human flesh.

And Kseniya lifts up

the sawn blood-dripping half

of victim in triumph

for all to see.

2 Obscene

The joke lies in the point

where audience members realize

the illusion is real. Some march

out in disgust. Some throw

up over themselves in their seats.

Others cry blue murder but wait

to see the real magic

as Kseniya sews Humpty Dumpty

back together again and ghosts

in the gods

applaud random man reborn.

3 Aftermath

Infinity is not where you get to

when you count back down from ten,

but a deeper nothing, coming not at the end,

nor at the beginning, but in the midst

of things—a nothing filled

with half-dreams, knives,

scalpels, ether, tubes,

kittens, scattered limbs,

syringes, wires,

needles; your eyes your smile,

in the morning after

before dawn, blonde vampire

nurses drawing your mind

through a dream

with subtle lethal bloodsuckers.

200 Sections 12, 13, and Intermission

Section 12 Fair Cop

You get out of school with no O levels and the girl next door knocked up and obviously you want to do the right thing. So you join the police. The uniform impresses the in-laws and gains you high moral ground. No-one bothers you when you boss other people around.

You get up for work early each morning, kiss your wife and kid over breakfast and salute the Queen. “Don’t be silly,” wife giggles. “Just go do your work. Just make sure you get back home in time for tea and Eastenders and tucking the little one in.”

Everything is sweet. You have no doubts. Perps are scum and you always stick up for one of your own.

A public service, cop thinks, as he parades his beat. Watching couples canoodling on benches, checking there’s no nipple showing and shooing gypsy kids away. Nosing into the health and safety requirements on the building site and checking out the thickness of the tires of passing cars.


Breakfast is a riot as they scoff down their sausages and egg and mock left-wing female politicians appearing on breakfast TV on the HD screen overhead for being overweight and soft on crime. Fearful for their jobs, WPCs titteringly join the fray.

They are all now pumped up ready for the day.

Cop stops Jude coming back from work. “What you got in that bag?” “None of your business,” Jude replies. Cop looks at him threateningly. “You giving me lip?” Jude sighs, dumps down the bag. No reason to give the pig reason for arresting him for resisting arrest.


Steph skids into the quad at high speed. Cop jumps in as Yu and Da go into convulsions on the sunset lit grass.

“We got a warrant?”

“No need,” Steph replies, “Anti-terror operation.” Cop swoons.

The pair speed siren wailing into the close and leap out. Cop rushes round trying door-knobs and, if that don’t work, shouldering the door and muscling in or bashing the frosted glass out with a rifle butt. Steph has brought guns. Just in case. They are on a rush.


Cop feels his knees sag and drop, and the sound of an ambulance arriving,

a drip, a pulse, and unconsciousness well before bedtime.


Section 13 Passers-by

The police canvas two hundred

passers-by outside.

“I’m busy. I’m not talking.

I don’t want to get involved.

I’m not interested in politics,” are the usual replies.

So many passers-by and no-one saw

nothing, nought, nada, zilch, zip, njet, nein, nil, love…

the poet chief inspector avers,

remembering a poem from his youth.

So many people pass us by,

so many faces are not yours.

One point three billion not yous

in China alone

and every second more are born.

But only you are you

and always only will be you,

as I will always only be myself.

I seems unfair somehow:

that, of so many, for so long,

there must be only one of us,

and that,

if there were many,

we’d be less


But more unjust by far

the fact

that you and I can’t be

just one.

 and one he penned just recently:


You came,

Aster felix or Aster nefastus,

uncharted out of the blue.

I cannot calculate whether

you will be a destroying angel

or fall into a quiet orbit

or simply sail beautifully away across the sky.

Your comet hair flies back thrillingly

behind you as you speed confused,

moth-like, by gravity and light,

through absence of air.

I cannot tell whether you are Heaven’s Gate

or the gate to Hell.

I just yearn to hitch a ride.


What was that young lad’s name anyway?

–the one who almost died–

I must remember to ring his missus,

send him flowers and fruit.



The reader in his grotto pauses

the story for a breather to make

some apt but unkind remarks.

“Hang on! Chief Inspectors of Police

don’t write love poetry, except

on TV! And young lads who join

the force aren’t anywhere near

as oafish as you make them out

to be. As for the plot, I lost it

way back, when we left off

those two Russian dolls.

And besides you’re nothing

like the likes of me, and you

sure ain’t my brother, mate.


200 Section 14 Checkmate: Kseniya and Zhenya do the CIA

Checkmate: Kseniya and Zhenya do the CIA

“Karpov only won the game

by kicking Kasparov under the table

and psyching him out,” Kseniya opines.

“But Kasparov was beaten

by that big blue computer,’ Zhenya retorts.

“Amerikanski computer beat Kasparov,

Karpov beat Kasparov with psychological

kick. Therefore, Karpov beat Yankee computer

too, QED. With just psychology, kick, trick,

we beat military hegemony,

leap-frog , like dear leader Tweedle-Dee

do now over cybertech prowess.”

Zhenya moves a queen in and

Kseniya has run out of moves. Quietly,

Kseniya turns her King prone down on the board.


Zhenya has a thing for guys in uniform

she hopes doesn’t show.

Kseniya is all over the crew-cut

middle-aged man-child,

“I just love your apple-pie looks,

your starched khaki kit, your stern

hypocrisy, your family values, your guns

and old-time religion, and your sweet

teasing idea of a kiss.” She crawls

up onto the desk brushing the confidential

dossiers aside and kisses soldier on the lips.

“Miss, we don’t do things like that here,”

Soldier sternly replies.

Zhenya is shrouded in a hoodie and shivering

alarmingly. “Is she alright?” soldier-boy

asks Kseniya into her dewy blank soulless empty eyes.

“Do you have any drugs here?” Zhenya

starts up and asks bluntly with a banal

yet pleading look.


Kseniya throws herself

into the arms of soldier boy

in a sudden burst of joy and relief.

“Game’s over,” soldier boy replies,

“Where’s the thumb-drive?”

Zhenya stuffs a stubby-fingered hand

into her panties and pulls it out.

“Here you are, Sir,” she smiles,

methadone running through her veins.

Soldier-boy cannot resist the question.

“No. I just piss on him. Watch the video,

Soldier-boy,” Kseniya smiles back at him,

as she wipes a little dribble from Zhenya’s

mouth and puts her mouth

to Zhenya’s ear. “Job done,” she whispers into it.

“Now it’s our turn to have some fun.”


“Your name really is Soldier,” Kseniya cries out

as she glances at his neatly laid out

credentials on the bedside table beside.

200 Section 15 When Tweedle Dumb Met Tweedle Dee

When Tweedle Dumb Met Tweedle Dee

Dumb downs his half-finished hamburger

and lies back looking up at the stars,

coming into land, looks down

at the bright milky way of stars

lighting up the free-market

half of the world, the rest benighted

in authoritarian dark. “This is why,

we came here,” Dumb thinks,

returning promptly to his slumber.


Dee is rigid in uniform in the early morning cold,

waiting on the runway, as Dumb and wife

plod down the steps, trying to conceal

their jetlagged eyes and hands

outstretched meet and shake

in tokens of enduring friendship.

Dee grabs the chance

with beads of devious eyes.


Dee fists the podium with the full thwack

of a 200 megaton thermonuclear blast.

Dumb’s hands sail through the air

like antiballistic-missile-bearing planes.

“But we’re best of friends,” Dumb jokes.

Dee adds that “the world can rest assured

asleep in bed” and, turning to the dear

leader next to him, changes the tone.

“And when you promised to clean

the sewers, I bet you never imagined

I’d be one of the creatures you’d

be dragging out,” Dee grins awaiting

the simultaneous translation.

“I think he scrubs up rather well,”

Dumb oozes, “don’t you?”

playing to the crowd.


Protocol proceeds. Dee offers

the first gift—a hefty baseball bat

is raised and handed over with smiles.

“Give it to your son,” Dee grins,

“That shows who’s boss,” Dumb

grins back in return.

“And as our gift to you, Dear Leader,

the freedom of our finest fast food joints

should you pay our free land a visit one fine day.

Dee grins from ear to ear,

looks genuinely pleased, “Big Macs all round,”

he chortles in poor English, holding

vouchers up for all to see.

“I think that just about wraps things up,”

Dumb barks, good humor fading

from his faking face, as he walks away.