Youâ€™re a Caution (Can I get off with you?)
You’re a Caution (Can I get off with you?)
Thirty odd poems by STEPHEN BLEACKLEY
SKATE PRESS Cambridge 2012
You’re a Caution (Can I get off with you?) ﬁrst published in 2012 by Skate Press 5 The Terrace, St Peters Street Cambridge CB3 0BE Copyright © Stephen J M Watson Stephen J M Watson (writing under the pseudonym Stephen Bleackley) is hereby identiﬁed as the author of this work in accordance with section 77 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The author has asserted his moral rights. The author is grateful to J D M Hitel for the more amusing half of the title. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise be circulated without the publisher’s consent in any form of binding or cover or circulated electronically other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on any subsequent purchaser. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Set in Iridium and Arepo. Ornaments: IM Fell Flowers Typeset in InDesign; music typeset with LilyPond Cover images from stock.xchng (www.sxc.hu) ISBN (where sold): 978-0-9515145-4-2
Poem titles Never leave me, lovely lady
Doggerel against Modernism
Love lies a-breeding Pretty-ugly poem
An English moustache
Epitaph for DMG
Sauls and Davids
The girl I aim to marry
B is for . . .
Trying the gate
The upper hand
Phone call, paraphrased
King Herod learns some evolution
La belle Hélène
The love of a cat
On a hat-trick of snubs
On a friend’s impending fatherhood
Well, you never know
I love you all (now go away)
Epigram meets Tragedy
Problems with HP
Experiment in enjambement
To his mercenary mistress
A pessimistic geneticist foresees his end
Never leave me, lovely lady (A lullaby for lovers) Never leave me, lovely lady, If you’re here, you’re here to stay; From the sun and moonshine shade me, Stop me turning old and grey. Scratch my back, and kiss it better; When we’re out please hold my hand: Watch it climb your stocking’s ladder, See it ﬁnds The Promised Land! I’m your baby, you’re my baby (Infants never have to pay). Lucky man loves lovely lady: All the rest is old and grey.
Doggerel against Modernism If Joyce had stuck to his singing, And Pound to his pots and pans, Content with a Sunday ambition To be literary also-rans; If Yeats had been keener on politics, Or getting his girls into bed, And realised the ‘art of the possible’ Meant keeping a brain in his head. If Bloomsburies and Sitwells had settled For writing out place-names in full; If Hem had been faithful to newsprint, And saved us his plain-chanted bull. If Eliot had stayed the staid scholar, Preferring more practical jokes, Then literature’d not be this wasteland, This lengthy, elaborate hoax.
If Faulkner had died of cirrhosis At the age of, say, twelve or thirteen; If Wyndham had been just a painter; If Gertrude had, well, never been; If Hardy had only built buildings That didn’t fall down at a touch; If Conrad had never learned English; If James hadn’t learned quite so much; [and so on, ad inﬁnitum . . . ] If these and innumerable others Had hung on to regular jobs; Then literature’d still be worth reading, Not some name-dropping gala for snobs.
Love lies a-breeding (An Exclusive) My good friend Venus, apple-arsed, Has gone back into her shell; Some cleverdick’s revealed her past (And he said he wouldn’t tell!). Turns out her name was Madame Sex She was born to make us breed; To turn us into clapped-out wrecks By passing on our seed. But man, whose brain grew over-large, Thought sex too black and white, And forced her into camouﬂage By turning on the light. And Venus, though still full of charms (And fashionably nude), Threw up, or down, her puissant arms And turned into a prude. Love is not sex became her dictum: Love has no head, or tail; Sex is just bits – thank God I’ve licked ’em! A charnel-house for sale.
But those who kept their amours courtly And never leered or winked, However well admired, they shortly After went extinct; And we descend from all the shits, The rapists and dirty priests: The time’s most accomplished hypocrites, Or just the outright beasts. So Venus’ lies have all gone bust – Her tricks are our mother’s milk. We have no other love but lust, And knickers made of silk. Venus was a good old friend, But she ran out of uses. I saw her lonely, withered end . . . And then made my excuses.
Pretty-ugly poem I The beauty, like the fox, has many tricks; But, hedgehog-like, is called to play just one (Surrounded as she is by crowds of pricks); And all that she could do, her looks have done. I slide my glasses down my nose and, blind To all her fair extravagance of ﬂesh, I ask her for the contents for her mind, With which I hope some thought of mine might mesh . . . Beauty dammed her; now she’s all a-spate: She tells me what she knows, and likes, and dreams; The ﬁre goes out; it’s getting very late, And she is rather tireder than she seems. Goodbye, then, to the eyes I never saw. (To think her clever words could curl my toes!) She says she hopes she hasn’t been a bore; Next time I’ll keep my glasses on my nose . . .
II The girl is plain, and plainly very dull; She hunches in a chair, her mouth a trap. The insults she has borne burn out my skull, And dried of speech, I stare into my lap. Her words are variations on a shrug; Her shoulders twitch; the seconds seem to crawl; I wonder if sheâ€™s hoping for a hug, Then wonder why I wondered that at all. I make her laugh: her sweater bobs, a touch; The smiling creases in her jeans say Yes! Again, sheâ€™s silent: my despair is such That it is I who hope for that caress. If only she had talked and been polite! But no, she had to sit there like a lump. And now, as she walks slowly out of sight, My eye cannot escape her heaving rump.
An English moustache People have been rather harsh About the ﬂaws in my moustache, And, to be fair, I would not choose To have it quite so many hues: There’s white and blond and red and brown, With blackest pube and hints of down. But I don’t really give a damn, Because it tells me who I am. I am, in case you need to ask, Not Frank or Goth or Finn or Basque, But, rather, that unpleasant brute Composed of Angle, Saxon, Jute, Etcetera (count them if you can): The muddled middle-Englishman. Within these pale and stammering veins King Alfred still attacks the Danes; The Vikings break a holy order; Scotsmen scuff against the border; Romans curse a British sky; And Harold gets one in the eye. This venerably unsteady blend Persuades us nature’s not our friend: Though temperate English afternoons Lack sandstorms, deluges, typhoons,
We never trust the wind to blow, The birds to sing, the crops to grow, And go on sniping at the weather (And always sole our shoes with leather). Not a thing seems heaven-sent, So we are driven to invent; Nature weeps some sorry tears Upon this land of engineers. And simple things like going bare Are things we simply cannot bear: Sex is a madness, we’ll be bound, And so we’ve forced it underground. That famous way we tolerate Denotes an equipoise of hate; For when it comes to outside dangers Neighbours look as bad as strangers. Feeling sea-sick on dry land, We salivate at the sight of sand: It’s only when we get to roam That we ﬁnd feelings for our home. And now the world is our hotel, Are we happy? Are we hell! By all means go on being harsh About the ﬂaws in my moustache: And though it sometimes gets me down (The days it cannot pass for brown), I think I’ll keep it in its place, This curious object on my face, The symbol of a mongrel race.
Epitaph for DMG (Read at her funeral, August 2007) Now time has passed, and left you far behind, We take a breath, and turn once more to view The outlines of your life, which call to mind The qualities and quirks that made you you. Weâ€™ll miss, I think, your virtuoso swearing, Your humour, glamour, unpretentious ways, Your brisk and open-handed gift of sharing, Your even-handed calumny and praise. Denying you were smart, you stayed acute, Cuttingly so, but equally forgiving; Child-like but worldly, stubborn but astute, A pessimist who made the best of living; Letâ€™s say you found an honest way to spend This gift of time, your enemy, your friend.
Sauls and Davids I Those of us not blessed with ease In swinging blithely through the trees; Who do not function as one ought, Our heads too big, our legs too short; Whose stomachs rumble when we smile; With nothing for us but our guile: We worriers who feel half-alive; How is it that we still survive? How is it it is we who thrive?
II Society, Iâ€™ll bet one to ten, Was formed by short and clumsy men. Wrong-footed by the simplest tools, We thought it best to change the rules; And, arms outstretched and tongues unfurled, We laid our claim upon the world. This might explain the sorry mess, But it is our world, nonetheless: And here we stand with gorgeous trophies â€“ Lots of disappointed Sophies.
Meanwhile, the ones they really love, Whose forms are sanctioned from above, So smooth they do not seem to shave, Resembling Buonarotti’s Dave (With hands like spades, unblinking, proud, Although he’s not that well-endowed), Are – oh how tragic! – all too rare, While Quasimodo’s everywhere . . . But one thing spoils our pretty plans, We D I Y Prometheans, And lets us know our time is run: That each man hates each other one, Not merely Jesse’s favourite son.
III These Davids, conquering every heart, But nobly only ‘taking part’, Await their turn like gentlemen, Until we go too far – and then, Effacing man’s corrupted name, They’ll show us how to play the game. We’ll have no cause to be surprised When ‘real men’ turn uncivilised, Indulging in good-natured ﬁghts: It’s these in whom the earth delights, The savages in cricket whites.
IV Civilisation’s thin ice cracks: All men will soon be silverbacks. The Witch of Endor shows her face In every burning, ravaged place. Like Saul, we’ll fall upon our swords, When David’s king, the world the Lord’s. We who are no good at all At catching belle or catching ball, Oh how we feel for poor old Saul!
The girl I aim to marry (A song)
The girl I aim to marry Is sitting over there. Her full-lipped smile Is just my style; I love her glossy hair! Her ﬁgure makes me tingle; Her eyes are black as night; Here’s hoping we can mingle, And suddenly take ﬂight! The girl I aim to marry Is moving through the room. Her limbs have grace To match her face – I long to be her groom! Her posture’s simply splendid; She glides as in my dreams. And nothing need be mended If she is all she seems. The girl I aim to marry Is close enough to kiss; She talks away, And I must say, Her mouth is hard to miss! She’s very fond of chatter; Her voice is growing hoarse . . . I’d hoped it wouldn’t matter; It’s time for a divorce!
B is for . . . Now I am at it properly with a female of the opposite sex and have got over my ďŹ rst cold it seems to me that I should crow about it like a poet. I shall show my sensitivity all the same not merely by my punctuation shot to hell but by glancing references to your epitheted breasts. As in: I worked on a crossword compiled by angels while you absently brushed at your sweatered breasts. Or: Smoking, I watched you rise from the bath-tub your breasts tingling. I feel like an art house ďŹ lm director slipping in a nipple here and there amidst the Nietzsche.
Not for me Spenser’s ‘ivory apples’ however gorgeous. With its blush of cohabiting consonants the word I use tells the world this is my partner, see, and yes, we talk. And when of course I start to mention the small of your back I’ll know it’s time to get packing. I notice you called them ‘tits’ yourself you coarse bitch
Extended metaphor There you are, vertical on the horizon, Though little more than a wavy line as yet; At best, a shifting, shimmering silhouette I try to train my sunshine-blinded eyes on; So this is how I see us – stuck in the desert, A vast expanse of sand dividing us. And here I am, waiting for a bus – I’m immobilised, I might as well confess it: The jeep is out of petrol; the spare tyre Is ﬂat; my desert boots are full of holes (And of course I have the tenderest of soles); The water’s low; and I am such a liar. I’ve every reason to sweat, and so I do. The heat rains down; I try my hand at squinting. Something – perhaps a parasol? – keeps glinting: Can I be sure that what I see is you? You shrug and cross your arms, and seem to me To be annoyed: you’ve turned your back – but bare it. And in your outstretched skin – how well you wear it! – You dive into a blue imagined sea.
Trying the gate Sex, which lives in every corner Of my intercourse with you, Makes my bashful body scorn a Hug performed in public view. But in private, how your hands shun Any contact – I’m too late! (He won’t want to view the mansion: Didn’t even try the gate . . . )
The upper hand I sit, you stand; and stand so close on those Long legs of yours, that I could rest my head Against your backside’s side, or if I chose, Might wind my hand about your waist instead. Indeed, I could do both, but, bothered by Your bossy ways at work, I’m bound to wait – Imagining, once home, the things that I Could do to show how powerfully I hate. And every time I see this come to pass: My hand about to strike your broad white arse. At leisure I consider ways to turn The tables, folding you across a chair; At least one set of bare-faced cheeks would burn, To pay you back for playing less than fair. But (and it seems a quite substantial but) Marks of submission may be what you crave; May offer you a respite from the rut To act the mute, chastised, but willing slave. And as you kneel, I stand (and how I stand!), Quite sure you’ve somehow gained the upper hand.
Phone call, paraphrased (or, The dangers of eavesdropping) Imagine this girl is a table Back arched, hands and feet on the ﬂoor; And if knotty, still willing and able To be polished and rubbed a bit more. What a shame she won’t shine any brighter! Now we’re done let’s not twiddle our thumbs: Lift your bum, get that stomach skin tighter, And I’ll call all my friends on the drums.
Exhaustion Exhaustion grows from my two front teeth. Her hips hide behind the bulbs of my nose, And her breasts, God knows, suckle my sinuses. She leans her elbows on my eyeballs And spreads her black hair back Through the honeycomb of my brain. (But don’t ask me, I’m half-asleep!)
Unscheduled landing My sleep is paradise; my hell, Well, waking from my sleeping ease. By sleeping I escaped my cell; By waking up I lose the keys. My chest, like empires, rose and fell; Awake, my breath becomes a wheeze. From dreams of sex (when I could tell), The morningâ€™s cold offends my knees. I thought I went to bed quite well: Something Iâ€™ve eaten disagrees.
Scientiﬁc anecdote Some centuries ago, it’s said, A noble with a broken head Shook hands with an orang-utan And thought him quite the gentleman. ‘Egad!’ said he; ‘I’ll have it proved This beast’s our cousin once-removed!’ Amongst my Lordship’s prostitutes Was one well-versed in human brutes, Who thought she knew the depth of rape, So made her bed with Mr Ape. ******** Emerging to polite applause, She showed the commonsense of whores: ‘Your science, sir, is full of errors. Your red-haired friend’s no homo ferus.’
King Herod learns some evolution Wouldn’t it be wonderful if women Suddenly started giving birth to monkeys? Not the sort of course they have already, Those pink and puffy brats you see in prams, Blubbering monuments to covetousness; Instead, their distant cousins, Jacks of the jungle, Marmoset, macaque and tamarin, Howler, woolly, squirrel, spider monkey, A mandrill for colour maybe – if they need it, Up against humanity’s few poor pastels. And think of the easy births, the short gestations These throwbacks or genetic quirks would mean: Babies up and about in months, not years, And keeping their curiosity to the grave; Crèches resounding to the whoop and squeak Of Borneo and the Amazon. Now and then, I suppose, we must allow A bare-faced big-head runt resembling mummy To claw and scream its way to light and life, The father sighing, ‘A boy – it’s just a boy . . . ’ : And if our simian progeny urinate In public places, do not understand A word we say, and beat each other up, Well, what else is new?
La belle Hélène When I was nearly nineteen, I did Paris With a pair of fellow refugees from public school. In amidst Chartres and Delacroix, and all those other names, We visited ‘The Burghers’ and ‘The Kiss’ chez Rodin; And, shortly after taking in a ‘Dancer’s’ labia, I came across a raddled bronze, ‘Celui qui était la belle Hélène’ (Or words to that effect).* And in a few months I was thrust into a world of girls. A nineteen-year-old female is so often an engineer’s dream, With upright breasts and pert behind And strong aggressive lips, dead gaze, and working shoulders; Built for the dance hall, and for invalids like me to take by eye . . . And there’s that sculpted ﬂesh, Scooped into ﬁtful thigh-high dresses;
* Note: This poem is based on a faulty memory. Rodin’s sculpture is actually called ‘Celle qui fut la belle heaulmière’ (‘She who was the beautiful wife of the helmet-maker’).
And faced with this unconscious, luscious magic, grown men weep. And so did I, and so I do; But all I see is Helen, who was known as beautiful. Strange, when you think what Marvell might have made of it, That that image of permanent impermanence Should have me by the balls.
Why not? (Lines on ﬁnishing The English Patient) God, I hate novels! God, I hate novelists! Their fresh-minted, stale-meaning adjectives, And their bleeding-heart sex scenes; Their blinding descriptions of complex actions (Marvellously precise but translated into the wrong language); Those Trivial Pursuit cribsheets their characters carry around, Written on (and off) their cuffs; Their ﬂuffed epiphanies; The penance they put their punctuation through; And above all, the melodious sob (‘You mean you never heard Casals play Bach?’) Of their third-person narrators, Like grease on a camera lens.
Handy Andy My hand is open; from it ﬂows The bounty every free man owes. My hand is shaken, and I ﬁnd My wallet has been undermined. My hand is shaking: does it wave Goodbye to all I meant to save? My hand is bound: it cannot move While I have everything to prove. My hand is closed, which may explain The numbing of my heart and brain. And now it’s suffered, let it stand And ﬁght, a ﬁerce, deﬁant hand: Annihilating all that’s missed To a clenched thought in a clenched ﬁst.
The love of a cat (A short poem) Rubbing its cheek against a leg, The lissom kitty purrs and bleats Some Hearts and Flowers catch, then eats Its ﬁll, and soon neglects to beg: The parasite that can be seen Must have a charm, and thus was bred This pretty face and empty head, This corny song-and-dance routine. Looking beyond the baby eyes, We think we know the cat’s intent: That simple need for nourishment Has caused these cupboard-lover’s sighs. But, solemn as a white-face clown, The cat knows nothing of its art: The stomach is the feline heart (While ours is rather lower down).
Earth or, ‘An Answer to Calvinists’ When people call me ‘down to earth’, I’ll wish I’d had a virgin birth. It’s a proper pain in the arse To be tied to life with bits of grass. When angels sing, my ﬂesh & blood Keeps my ears ﬁlled up with mud. And if I imagine ﬁt to bust I’ll suddenly sneeze in all this dust. Forget the ecstasy of a lay With a pair of a pair of feet of clay. I’ll only get to be sublime When up to more than my neck in slime; And Heaven will be when I lose the sound Of commonsense running me into the ground. That preacher lies about the worth Of deadness, who says, ‘Earth to earth . . . ’
On a hat-trick of snubs One, two, three: the cuts go deep; A weaker man would surely weep â€“ Though stronger ones would hardly keep Inquiring, Why? Why someone whom I thought I knew, Who ate my meals and liked them too, Averts her gaze as strangers do, To pass me by. But time has passed as well, and she, Becoming what she wants to be, May need to turn her back on me, Who still survives: Perhaps remembering far too much Of when she toyed with such-and-such; Whose very face recalls a clutch Of former lives.
But is it fair that she can pout And coldly spit her old friends out, When contact grows more roundabout, A bit less gripping? Have I become so down-at-heel, Beneath the tread of Fortune’s wheel, So low, now, that she doesn’t feel I’m worth the dipping? But then again, I’ve got a nerve, The way I’ve mocked her every curve. If we all got what we deserve, ‘Who should ’scape whipping?’
On a friend’s impending fatherhood Another one has put to sea With cuttings from his family tree. Though there’s no dry land to be found, No doubt it’s fun to sail around. But here’s my deck-chair on the beach, My spade and bucket in my reach: He may have something that I lack, But one thing’s sure – he won’t be back. So many set out, wracked with fears, The opposite of pioneers. My fellow loafers on the sand Are misﬁts, true, but rarely bland: Spurning the chance of sons and daughters, They write their surnames on the waters. It is, I fear, convention’s slaves I see reﬂected in the waves. In front of me the water nears; Behind, the sea-front disappears. The water’s crept into my sock; I’ve lost my stick of Brighton rock; And, now there’s nowhere left to hide, I’d better welcome in the tide. So what if I have kept my name? I’m drowning all the same . . .
Hungover Square Let’s raise a glass to social death! The throbbing head, the stinking breath, The stains that tell me where I’ve been: I came, I saw – and then went green . . . A rare and gloomy party-goer (And once as smugly dry as Noah), I thought I knew what to expect – A stranger’s stare, a host’s neglect. Instead, old faces hove in view: My card was full; my cups were, too. And ﬁnding I was so at ease, I started munching on the cheese; Thus soon, despite myself, I tried To cook a fondue from inside. My good intentions lost the ﬁght; My sins seemed, like the wine, quite white; And, by not counting all I swallowed, I lost my head – my stomach followed. What happened next? A grisly scene: A thirty-three year-old turned teen. The carpet’s new – to make it worse – And all I offer is this verse.
Millennial villanelle (New Year poem for 2000) Oh, I have seen the future, and it’s worse: So bad, in fact, I think I almost cried; So wear some black, and hail a passing hearse. Mankind’s insanely overﬂowing purse Is made (and cheaply too) of human hide: Oh, I have seen the future, and it’s worse. Attended by a useless, grasping nurse (That’s us, of course), Old Mother Earth has died: So wear some black, and hail a passing hearse. We said we’d ﬁnd a way to reimburse The rest of nature. Hey, guess what, we lied: Oh, I have seen the future, and it’s worse. And can we ﬁnd a way to lift the curse? Of course we can – but no, we have our pride; So wear some black, and hail a passing hearse. Progress begins its sorry, slow reverse: They say we should expect a bumpy ride. Oh, I have seen the future, and it’s worse. So wear some black, and hail a passing hearse.
Millennial rondeau (Another New Year poem for 2000) Don’t hold your breath – or if you must, Remember that we take on trust This yawning Rubicon we cross, This dreamt-up stretch of candy-ﬂoss. For all the ways we’ve puffed and fussed To mark this giant leap, it’s just Another dreary layer of dust – D’you think that history gives a toss? Don’t hold your breath. Let others stand agape, nonplussed By all those noughts, while in we thrust. You stop the world, and it’s your loss: You make the point that time’s the boss. Unless you crave a bigger bust, Don’t hold your breath.
Midnight sonnet (New Year poem for 2001) A couple tucked up safe on New Year’s Eve Await the coming hour with bedtime chat; And after talk of this, and this, and that, They wonder what the year has up its sleeve . . . A year ago, they thought they would achieve The world; but now their dreams have fallen ﬂat (Their bright new gains revealed as so much tat), They curse themselves for being so naïve. Still, life is not as gloomy as it seems – What could be better, after all, than this, The pair of them, locked in each other’s arms? And who’s to say they’ve quite dispensed with dreams? It may be that they hope, between each kiss, The year will bring some other body’s charms . . .
Well, you never know (New Year poem for 2002) Now the old year’s sinking fast You dream a new beginning: Your friends all beautifully cast, Your family strangely winning; You feel you’ve got a sporting chance, You’re going with the ﬂow; Perhaps you’ll ﬁnally learn to dance . . . Well, you never know. You tell the messy world to scram – Recession, bomb and gun; Since serious things aren’t worth a damn, You give yourself to fun. Your revels leave you high and dry, Your stomach lays you low: You feel as if you’re going to die – Well, you never know . . .
Two double-dactyls I Hansely-gretely, Engelbert Humperdinck, Famed for one opera Brimming with tunes, Finds that his splendidly Neo-Wagnerian Name has been stolen by Someone who croons.
II Fahrenheit-schmahrenheit, Ray Douglas Bradbury Illustrates man as he Chronicles Mars; Goes on ahead of us, Extra-terrestrial, Scattered through galaxies, Lost in the stars.
I love you all (now go away) The days are gone when I could say, ‘I love you all: now go away.’ The years are piling up on me, And I am not where I should be. Another me has made it big, And got the girl, and needs no wig. Another me resides in France, And sees his bourgeois joys advance Into a world of lunch with friends: An afternoon which never ends. To me, who gave him all this fun, He never sends a word – not one. I sit here with a splitting head And dream of going back to bed, Hoping that the music’s drone Has drowned the tinkling from the phone. The days are gone when I could say, ‘I love you all: now go away.’
Epigram meets Tragedy What Oedipus said when he knew the score: So that’s where I’d seen those knockers before!
Problems with HP One group devoutly hopes its curse’ll Fall on all who call him Purcell; Others nightly wish to hell The fools who think the name’s Purcell.
Experiment in enjambement Pretty girls are rarely pretty Girls for long, and that’s a pity.
To his mercenary mistress or, ‘Divas and Lazarus’ If I was much richer, and lacking in sores, I’d never see Abraham’s bosom, But I bet I’d get to see yours.
A pessimistic geneticist foresees his end I know that I shall meet My fate upon the toilet seat: For Parent A is weak of heart, And Parent B is weak of fart.
Youâ€™re a Caution (Can I get off with you?)