on the doorstep of the world

stand on the street corner any street will do in any town in any frame of mind and accost the third woman who passes and ask her to show you her wounds and if she does you will see a half-eaten meal and a barrel of tar for the woman is a crown of rising dew who gathers the lilacs of evening beneath the newly-woken stars but still you turn your face away because this is not the woman that you meant

you follow your receding footsteps into an alley winding between houses made of books and meet yourself in a half-remembered room a room you knew when you were young and drawing down the blinds you light the lamp and in the blossom of its glow you accost yourself your demeanour grave and placing your hand on your arm you lead yourself from the room and walk to a car that is waiting by a kerb that stretches as far as the eye can see and at the very limit of sight birds the size of houses circle a dying whale

and the sky peels back like an orange and the hand of god descends and lifts up the whale

but ignoring this you turn your back on yourself and get into the car and the driver nods and unravels his tentacles and the nest of his body envelops the steering-wheel and you drive away leaving yourself behind

and you drive and drive all day until you reach the forest glade where the setting sun bathes its feet in milk and the exuberant trumpets of air descend from the moon to mate with the envelopes that flutter from flower to flower

a face appears

the eyes are closed the jowls lightly shaded in blue there is sweat on the upper lip

as you walk the face follows you sometimes eclipsed by the trees sometimes floating closer its forehead brushing your mouth and you can taste the odour of its disease and then you wake and by your foot is an axe and a carbide lamp and the colour of your sleep laps against the windowpane

so leaving your heart in a jar on the mantelpiece you climb through the window and follow the peak of the roof for a thousand miles until you reach an unusual fire escape with treads of sculpted butter and risers of veal and you descend the fire escape and find yourself in a hall where the forgotten years hang from the rafters like looms spinning a faint darkness that sifts down on your shoulders like dust and you live successive lives as a mason a squirrel and a mime and you spend an aeon pinned to the floor of the sea and the dark ships pass overhead and from time to time

the bodies of drowned mariners sink down to where you stand

a strange meeting

silence

no sound only the graveyard ferns

broken nearly the size of your hand reaching out closer than ever before to the fan descending from the clouds on a thread of fire the cockleshells and bleeding hazelwood nice of you to come now walk this way and the little flowers that blossom from your skin will carry you far away

and as you float in the icy atmosphere of gaseous stones that hide from the far-off sun and slip from your sight with the bonelessness of a cat and as you lie staked out to the cardinal points of the waning moon and as you swing by your hair from the sparks of ice you hear my voice and you ask me what I mean

now what was I trying to say?

ah yes

beneath the waves

beneath eaves that sweep down to the snow

beneath the biscuit tin

you and I are waiting for the bus that never comes we light another cigarette and from its smoke an engine appears with flanks of brass and amber reservoirs with carriages of breadcrumbs and late-night sausage rolls we climb aboard and lean against the walls each as rigid as a pole and climb the ladders that emerge from our heads and as we climb

hummingbirds swarm around us placing pearls in our mouths

and the higher we climb the closer we are to the sky which pelts us with eggs with cups and knucklebones you lose your grip and instead of falling you fly through gulfs of violet-tinted air swooping low to stroke the counterpane then soaring high to touch the barometric stars your flesh is of gold your bones of silver threads your hair is of amethyst here take my boots for there are miles between us and home

the dust on the road will accost us as we pass and dazzle our minds with promises of brine and in the brine astounding polyps appear each with its sickle its spade and its watering can and in the light of their headlamps we curl up and die only to be born again and again and again across a chasm of years and our limbs grow longer with each successive birth until our arms take root in the furthest galaxies and the span of our fingers encloses the web of stars that explodes into shards of multicoloured light

and from this light emerges a shining tree whose roots are in the darkest soil of the past whose trunk barrels through the days of the here and now whose branches reach to the utmost ends of time and there at the end of all things we meet ourselves again unsure of ourselves yet sure that we are one and birds fly down to roost in the branches of night the branches of the tree that has its roots in our words its roots in the darkest soil from which a million worlds have grown each a copy of this for what is time

if not a template of the multiplying worlds the ones in which I was you the ones in which the cheque is in the post the ones in which a peacock’s burst of electric windowpanes

open

on the shadows of the lane

the case of the receding brain

at a time when telephones were the only barnacles that clung impetuously to the sides of corridors a time when the plague on wings of lemon taffeta built its nests in the houses of the poor three knocks were heard though no-one was there to hear and the first knock was the wafer of a mouse’s sigh the second a profusion of flesh-coloured orchids and the third a concoction of rhinoceros horn and gin

in that time which was this time but oh so long ago a man with a windmill on his nose gave rides to children on the grey donkey downs that troubled his brow the weight of an almanac a Bradshaw’s yes it was the days of Sherlock Holmes I arrived and Mrs Hudson was transfixed to the wall like a monstrous octopus her hands clenching and unclenching in a slow rhythm like the pistons of the train that arrived in the living-room a man descended with thinning ginger hair which followed him at a respectful distance the receiver spoke (I had told you it was close to his heart) and a fine drizzle of precious stones fell from the clouds emerald for the cliffs from which lovers throw their limbs sapphire for the garden where we sow our children like tares ruby for the ghosts that haunt the cellars of deserted mills and diamond for the wind of course

Mr Holmes smoked his three-pipe bandolier and on the carpet before his eyes a jungle was spread out with sorcerous knives and the little hummingbirds one finds on examining the fingernails of priests “aha!” he said and shook the walrus hanging in the air and pocketing Watson’s jawbone he whistled for a cab

the cab was resplendent with feathers of crimson and white and ochre-tinted balustrades of skin and in the recesses of its inner ear was a smoking-room where Holmes sat down with his copy of The Times and began to worry lengths of string from his nose and place the veins of his childhood in a pile beside his boots his shiny boots carved from a single block of anthracite the boots in which he had walked from Piccadilly to the Strand the boots into which he had shaken the last drops of his acumen and solved the riddle of the sands

the cab drew up before a gentleman’s club and Holmes leapt out waiting only to shake a liana from his hair and he mounted the steps three at a time and bursting through the retina of his eye accosted a footman dressed in celluloid ferns

“quick!” he whispered and indeed they did stretching beyond the confines of sight reaching through the drains and waterpipes sliding like droplets of oil in salubrious kitchens in the unfashionable regions of town swinging from the gaslights on Russell Square and the footman led Holmes through the penumbra of the dining-room where lobsters tore the faces of portly men and into a region of howling vortices then across the snooker-room and out into the hall

and standing by a window admiring the sparks and the searing scars that tore the afternoon was the corpse of Coleridge wearing his flesh in tatters yet agitated by his penultimate dose of laudanum animated as if by wires

“I called you when I could”

“I know”

and Holmes seizing the revolver with which jellyfish are made fired three times into the air and a coronet of faded roses appeared in the gloom

“the game’s afoot!” and without another word he began to remove his clothes folding each item of apparel into the shape of some beast or bird and laying them on the floor of his cabin for yes he was now at sea his only companions the footmen in leaves of rustling stalactites and the corpse of Coleridge

they opened the cabin door and followed the passageway through caverns of living jade and towers that sang across deserts of powdered bone where the basilisks blinked slowly in the light of innumerable suns and the slow procession of hours bent in upon itself until darkness fell and the stars bloomed softly in the arch of the falling day and then they fell unendingly spinning like starfish in the crystal air each pinned to the crossroads of his life (or for Coleridge his death) and the head of each was a gaslit music hall and in each a story unrolled for the footman a tale of pastry-trays and wine for Coleridge a lamp of grey tallow and for Holmes the arabesques that rose unbidden from his pipe

at the foot of the gangway they found themselves on the threshold of a room where women in various states of undress exchanged languid caresses with wellmade statues of wax and beyond the room was an opening to a ledge that crumbled on the lip of a precipice and there beneath a stone was a note which read “follow me if you dare for the path is steep”

so they followed the path in somnambulistic haste each pinned to the tail of his comrade though Coleridge stank and they climbed for a day and a night and another day and as evening fell on the second day they reached a glade where the streetlamps bent to admire their reflections in the dew and lichen sprouted like hair from recumbent trees

and Holmes remembered and drew out his violin

the silent hour

the nasal corpses with quaint mannerisms
that shuffle up and down the deserted aisles
of forbidden pharmacies in forgotten towns
choose with care the ladders they pin to their skin

we too should borrow our torches from honest men
sow fingernails to reap a crop of owls
for the spaces between our memories and our words
are filled with mayonnaise

in the country of the blind

an ear as glutinous as a kiss 
clings to the side of the hill

on the shelf below the earthenware water jug
suns give birth and flourish and fade away
and on the table not far from the broken fan
lies a subterranean pen

spiders with blades of amber and sea-polished glass
cling to the window pane
like a drunken man might cling to the kissing-booths
that stretch in a row from the wainscot to touch the hand
that in turn is touching a hand that is touching a hand
and the hands are folded together like folded air
in sheets of woven light

they illuminate the improbable jelly mould
that creeps into our homes in the dead of night
on any day in any possible land
and hides behind our pillows which then explode
in a bouquet of wings and ribbons of sealing-wax
and spread their pools of mercury and tar
over the houses and children and gramophones
the antique gramophones with the horns of lead
and ankle boots that you only see in films
for no-one could wear them 
no-one would dare to be seen
marmalade and the odour of musty rooms
and blossoms of mouse-grey phlegm

and the house is full of buckets and weighing-machines
and the fireflies that gather wherever the world grows thin
and the cuttlefish that knock against the roof
are dearer to us than our bones

a commonplace point of view

the letter A is filled with the fire of the desert
cutting off hands at the wrist
like neon water-pumps
arranged on the lines of perspective that wander the town
on a dark evening when the incandescent birds
fall from bough to bough like the lips of a girl
who at the age of seventeen laid shoes on her bed
and turned from the flowers of ice that invaded her dreams
to lose herself in the childhood of her friends
who wove through the days of her life like a bucket of steam
muffled with banners of wings
and a ladder rose from her head to inherit the stars
which you ask me from which did the ladder emerge
the larger and smaller heads we find in the woods
the pitiless heads that follow us through the streets
the heads that exist and the heads that are merely seen
or the heads that are buried in snow
I would never dare to presume
for I am only the penny that never dropped 
and she had one of each 
though the head she preferred the head that was carved out of stone 
was a delicate shade of green
so she climbed the ladder and climbed the ladder again 
and halfway up she pressed her face to the wall
peeling back the wax that obscured the smiles
that form in the silent air of deserted rooms
and as she rested her face it began to change
becoming a lampshade a vase and a ball of string
entombed in the memories of those who give cushions to wrens
the blank discs of leather dropped from the ceiling like rain
for the hatpin was only the cage

			

modern times

the vague and incestuous regret felt by those who denied the conspiracy of stars was passed on to their children in the form of a pale luminescence that played fitfully over their secondary sexual characteristics thus giving their sons the aspect of helical boilerplates and steeping their daughters in brine

the mosquito rising from the sea will be adorned with pictures of cats and with bicycle chains so that all who see it will lift up their aprons and cry “this was indeed a paperclip moulded from air!”

in the caverns beneath my head a faint suspicion forms shaped by the hands that multiply on my spine and the blue artichokes of a day in childhood when my mother pierced my eye with a safety pin

all the incredible colours fly down to roost in the memory of my hair for I am old and my age wanders around the room picking up ivory hatpins and buckets of steam and when I sleep it perches on the anchor above my bed and showers me with buttonhooks and dice

old age is a cartridge of watercress hung from a tree

lean closer in and let me smear lard on your chin against the armchair that prospers by night that trails its jointed umbrellas across the land that sets up obscene effigies of earwax and string in the summerhouse by the lake that floats on the surface of the world

that whispers that mumbles that moans

on the corner of a street paved with spoons the salvation army band bristling with clavicles and pens strokes its blade and makes improper suggestions to passing safety pins

the disassembled puppet cast by the hand of god on the velvet pubic mound in the public square with the colonnades and the ever-decreasing owls where the electric lights make crutches of hammered skin

on the plain on the staircase the pier the alkaline salts of evening stain the mouth of the errant harpsichord here where sea anemones pulse in the long sigh of the shadows that muffle our ears with the jawbone of an ass while the candle-scented spanner trails its grapes of powdered bone

here at the clay mackerel of time

if

if when standing on the crust of the bread your mother used to bake you can see as far as the four corners of the sky and an emerald beetle falls from your mouth whenever you wipe your nose

and your prehensile tongue demands that you loosen your tie and when you open your collar the day begins

then on this day

the petrified forests abandoned under the stars will no longer attract the resilient gyroscope and the earth will grow wings like a cast-iron threshing machine and the first kisses of love will take fright and hide in a well

and then

in a day or two or maybe a year or more a stained-glass packing case will rise from the well and throwing handsful of salt to the waiting crowd will fall to the ground and split to reveal a girl with seventeen eyes and a smile like a pearl-handled gun

and the girl will fondle the cellophane limbs of the world and the voices of reason will cease to solicit the poor

***

all this I have seen and all this will come to be

when the dolls’ tea-party reaches the nearest star

under the bridges of rain

this is the plant we bought at the market that closes its eyes in the town where the sun goes down

I hold a book a thousand pages thick and by the light of a sudden hat my breath grows legs and scuttles to hide in the woods where the watches of our ancestors bear waxy fruit like the moon

the skulls of the rich are flavoured with plaster and dew and we pile them up at the crossroads where swimming trunks grow and the masonry that reflects their aching souls is a waterfall of shimmering crystal cones

wait for the pause that follows the blossoming scone

and you my friends who bury the weight of your years tearing out teeth like the earthworms that ride in balloons your greasy smiles can be found on the crest of the waves that beat on an amber shell

raise your arms in the shovel-scented air and fold the yeast that grows on the pantry floor

and then at the rainbow’s end

no weeds the sea gave birth to a featherbed of air the sentinel on the hill seized the frying-pan with which otters are made in the cavern beneath his feet the glowing flowers of cinnamon and ice emitted a high C-sharp there were none to hear their naked corpses strung from a lamp of snow

the blue horses of morning meet the elbows of afternoon

here where the days melt into a puddle of scented oil no beetles skim the offal of an unforgotten song our hair is braided with anthracite and jewels and our mothers smile at the lewdness of our bones why do we mutter the words that our children will drown we have no faces we have no time to be young and the clouds that cover our skin crawl over the ground

the quaint policemen clamber from our brains

over and over again a million times no-one came there were too many yew trees for that and then again when the lightning speaks the leaves of the thunder grow dumb and in my hand a blade and a chrysalis

take these several lines and knit a shroud a canister for those who bend their limbs in an alphabet of wings that fall from the sky that the jellyfish of night will be pelted with stones

my bladder is a luminescent pearl