I. 18 July
A week I am in this hotel of indecision
xxwith its single fan musing how sweet it were
a helicopter waiting for a mission. Blades
xxchop the building rush of dark internal river
to a mirror fitting like the best fatigues.
xxWhen I touch it flashes blanks of finger-
prints before they are submerged below a plush rose
xxtide. Mr Quartz may be resting dead on line
to be a private plot of park or maybe just
xxa studio – all I know is this plot must be
mine. I must have it in all senses.
xxI’m sick of filling hollow space with booze
and food and air – here where the public
xxgarden’s riot falls so quick to quiet.
II. 19 July
Now we’re punting down a sequence of dolly-
xxshots and flashbacks called the Cam – dragonflies
zipping frames in the air all about us.
xxAt present Quartz is just an occasional scent
of Paris – arresting red wine kidneys pavement –
xxthat settles on us like a blush. I know he’s broken
contact to be shameful – that old mode of male
xxpregnancy again. “Shame is a beach
under the paving stones”– and if his story’s a confession
xxwe are all in it together. He once showed me a cartoon
mural of a cow airlifted by helicopter sighing “Ah,
xxla vie”. It was on earth as it was in heaven –
that state of affairs we call a restaurant.
xxNeither piety nor pity.
III. 21 July
The silence in our experience is growing Tasmaniacal –
xxbroken only by the odd bee bursting
kazoo electric snickers in some floating lotos.
xxSounds like the essence of violence to me.
Actinomorphic revolute reflexed – we’re surrounded
xxby states of teasels nettles brambles umbels.
Let us alone! or give us at least as camouflage
xxconsistency of cuckoo spit. The sheltered being
sheds limits to his shelter and when expectation
xxfeels a kind of circus tent let us mustrust
the staunchest trees. I read more of Quartz’s dossier –
xxhe trod down several strange paths and gods
only to live cruelly with a man he might have been.
xxIt feels like he is living anywhere …
IV. 22 July
Somewhere along the way he missed the sexual
xxturn-off, the secret brighter coloured life of organs.
So he began performing speechless contortions
xxfor passers-by who had to visualise this internal
circus of intestines flipped folded and sorely tried.
xxHe calls these trials “TONE”
but silent workings of his face are all we have
xxto go on. I’m getting jamais vu again –
we must be getting close. His eyes rise up
xxunbearable and might be seen to say “My beauty
you may not sustain. I am beef and you are
xxmy pet lamb devoid of blindfold at the carneval.
Call me a better Abraham. . .
22 July (cont.)
… take on board my propositions:
xxI break contact so you can be my pain
while I protect you from the pain. That way
xxlabour reverts to pregnancy again.
I call this going into partnership.
xxI couldn’t get no sacrifaction – and in the “couldn’t”
felt my love grow unconditional again.
xxNo one else right now is having this pain
and that is true for good.
xxAny murder charges are insane
but I worry that my pain won’t understand.
xxYour feet and hands are they not strong?
Can they not stand for swathes of grass and pavement?
xxThat trembling underneath your skin. . .
V. 23 July
. . . mere inoculation – also known as perseverity”.
xxHe falls to one more sequence of contortions.
Now I see this river its becoming running deep
xxinside. It’s like I’m in a tent that moves
the muscles of my eyes. I see this taut
xxsuspension was the mission.
It’s like I’m in a tent of muscle
xxripped and toned so I can almost take
his heart into my own.
xxMy naked body now is one big face
of camouflage composed of river scene –
xxreflexed revolute actinomorphic –
and with a slew of credits running through it
xxso I vanish. For what you leave well remains.
Spring out of touch makes the blood count for nothing,
Sugar. Till I saw you and felt an instant tense erase
all before me – a microwave pinging its chicken burrito
back to adolescence. I am so entered a new phase
of the film about us. Imagine: me, rookie captain
of an old destroyer playing at naval war games.
For ages I was run by a cleavage that kept my stoicism
hidden – from me and others. Now I must reveal it
to your father, the fleet commander, and you.
We’d all like to think I sail on Cicero and Sun Tzu;
for you remain ashore, encircled by a sandy halo,
driving our limbless veterans back to themselves.
We all have prostheses to bear – what else are emotions? –
and we must learn how to use them for combat.
Fight the enemy where he isn’t. I’ll show your father
we can beat the aliens that invade by our scanning technologies.
I first spy their craft: submarine skyscrapers that fly
and ruin our game. They seal us beneath a force-shield dome
and it’s like being held amniotically inside the death
of a triplet brother who was more mature than I am.
I keep seeing frogspawn, froths of washed-up surf,
then clusters of fiery exhausts, oreficial and fatal.
Their weapons are heartbreaking, unbelievable! – though not
to my Japanese colleague, who stands for my imminent stoicism.
Here it comes, finally: when I prise off an alien’s helmet
I see that he plays a team sport badly, he’s huge and ugly,
he lives on equipment, he’s denied the sun with his helmet.
Sun rising behind me, instant tense, I make him face me.
Those dull mangled noises he made – like an explosion
of old people, I’m told. I heard only a new voice
of responsibility singing its radar clear inside me.
When we chat online I mustn’t forget that my face
came from someone who died. Indebtedness
to the dead; that’s how our machines felt stronger than theirs.
Forget their hermetic force-shield, Baby;
forget them. You are safe on the island in touch with me
by satellite. Imagine your father awarding me
medals for saving the world with exposure to light:
men punching the air for days we can break together;
a photo of you, beating by heart, in a pocket;
and finally – yes! – my voice pitching in anew
with its bid for your hand and this being inside you.
Alex Houen‘s poetry has appeared in PN Review, Horizon Review, Shadowtrain, Stride, Cleaves Journal, Great Works, Free Verse, Past Simple, and Shearsman. He is co-editor of the online poetry journal Blackbox Manifold and is author of Powers of Possibility: Experimental American Writing since the 1960s (OUP 2012). He teaches modern literature in the Faculty of English, Pembroke College, University of Cambridge.