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EP : From the Life — and two more poems.

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By STEVE XERRI.

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EP: from the Life

Part I : Idaho – London

I have seen how your time ends, but
that’s decades off and here you are planted
firm in this, your now, witness to the past
burning in the present, ancient fires

of Occitania or of Cathay
bursting through the thin-rubbed
substance of the low-lit salons
where I picture you (End fact,

you wrote, try fiction), groping
after gravitas, your youth
barely masked by chin-whiskers,
your hair a vertical hedge.

Deploying an exaggerated
backwoods accent, or poised
on imaginary cothurnae, you launch
to thumps handslapped on a loose-

skinned drum your spoken images
– of phallic crocuses, of magnets’
forcelines traced in iron filings, of gods
turning animal in hallucinatory

sealight – plucking from the air
the half-invented notion that ideograms
whack truth down hard onto paper,
locked against decay. Yes? Is this

close enough? my mishmash
version of a you who keeps scrappy
notes stabbed on a paper-spike
to work up later in the glow

of a library desklamp into the most
tender-lit, the most pellucid strings
of words your age will know,
your songs so right I wonder still

at the brilliant violence they do to time –
context and location wrenched
into shape – so that the dead speak
and dust dances as if alive.

Part II : London – Paris

Your panting life-force meets no like
among whey-faced scholars and stiff-collared
soft-focus poets. So begins a mission
to make yourself the one to deal with,

striding through ranks of war-hollowed men,
still in hock to phantasms of empire.
The levelling of battle – where all were equal,
alive one second to the burst of leafbuds

and staring into hell’s red gape the next – where
only the body and its count-out of seconds
in the light were real – has not led to every man
sat under his own vine & fig tree where none

shall make him afraid. The power that should
parcel out resources and the proceeds of labour
is diverted into stamped metal and bits of paper,
Europe an unproductive compact of shattered

fields and marble-pillared treasuries. Your answer
is to write a cleansing hurricane, suspend a whirl
of fragments in its perilous form – the more
top-heavy and compendious, the more its unlikely

spin will thrill you and your band of readers
overlooking the destruction from a high imagined
ledge and seeking clarities as of water – not hardened
into sluggish ice floe but reared up in a dynamo

of wavewalls, yours the place between them
where there is foothold in the maelstrom because
you declare it ; thus your catalogued acts of balance –
Kung wrangling statecraft, the cat walking a fence

in moonlight – are made available as templates.
When the culture shrugs off correction, you blame
the mental slop of those who ignore your hard-
forged ethos, depict them therefore rooted in Hades,

politicos, publishers, the worst of a dying order –
their flesh roped and broken, oozing in stink,
corralled in darkness, in putrefying chaos,
gleefully flayed and flyted by your lines.

Part III : Rapallo – Rome

An age without lodestar, no system to solidify
the best of history round the living, till a fleshy
monumentalist squeezes into praetor’s armour
with hammered pectorals – and you, hungry

for the heroic, see Caesar where Caesar is not; see
a peak reflected in the waters of Garda and plunge
headlong into deep mirage – diagnosing enmities
everywhere, railing at mortality which ravages

and cankers all things, but crying down also
the West’s eternal Other, the Jew, whom you think
to sniff out under every corruption. You shrill
a canary’s warning of a financiers’ conspiracy

to encourage the commerce of war : and when
war comes, your words hurtle across the airwaves,
abandon all note of incantation for the thud
of bar-room cursing. Now falls a darkness

my thought cannot pierce – how it feels to be
you, marooned by money troubles, revolving
ever faster in the attempt to stay still-centered,
shrouded in an ink cloud, scribbling notes

to the dead Marinetti, posting fiscal advice
to state officials who don’t reply. The low-burning
taperlight you keep defiantly alive does not
penetrate the shutters of your study, nor shine

on doors being closed to those of convex
profile, on the schemes afoot to prise them out
of established jobs, polished apartments ; to break
their habits of laundered shirts, of café breakfasts,

of music and reading, of property, of money,
of privacy and modesty, of clean bread ; to shut
gates on them, define them anew – as herdable,
experimentable, murderable, incinerable.

When the momentum of defeated new Rome
slumps, you come awake dumped in a prison camp,
far from any centre of power, your iron certainty
beginning its long erasure under doubt.

Part IV : Pisa

You have been dealt with : held in a metal-
roofed cage open to the burning air, perpetually
exposed to the dazzle of sun, of floodlight,
your overpacked head full of fly-buzz,

a whine as of defective striplights
and the howl of your own inner voice.
Is this not Italy, your place for starting things,
the distant hills of Pisa an echo of the slopes

where Apollo stepped out in radiance?
But here – among husks and rinds,
allowed no bed, refused all conversation,
deprived of paper and books, you,

hollering seer, are reduced to a whisper.
With your mind scrabbling for a grip
in the slip of days, you find that poetry
has broken into stutters scratched on sheets

of privy paper : but even now are driven
to record the bitter gifts of vigilance,
peering from under your blanket at ants
ascending stems of ryegrass. Far off

on the Lagoon’s perturbed waters, dawn
glitters a vomit of vermilion and gold.
In other places, lightfall reveals high mounds
of tangled limbs, bodies of parchment

and bone heaped in filth, mouths open
past screaming ; no sound but the click
of cameras ; in Milan, livid day on the trampled
bulk of your Boss slung from a lamp-post

head down and spat upon.
You so right & so wrong, caught
in the same great yaw as everyone,
low in the lowest rift and looking up

in vain for the purpling mountain,
for the cool grove where at any second
a simple tremor among leaves will signal
the passing breath of heaven on earth.

Part V : Venice

Your words voiced in weariness, recorded
in structured oxide on fragile tapes, gurgling
as under water, talking of the mermaid – the last
ribbons of text winched from your throat.

I see the trickle of your final days –
the shuffling body weakened by obstruction,
a blackdraped gondola your ferry to San Michele
and a chiselled slab among the crowds of crosses :

but none can track your mind as it goes static,
unlearns every impress it has taken, while you lie
in a whitewashed room within earshot of wavelets
lapping on the rippled sand they will rinse flat.

Let us say, then, that you see a window
open in the wall, an updraft of woodsmoke
against the October sky, flakes of pale cedar ash
and a spurt of sparks released from the whitening logs

of a gardener’s bonfire – matter coming unknit,
climbing in a great helix – a screw-thread air path
untreadable by human foot – taking what trace
of meaning high into the ink-dark void?

_____________

Mayday Soul Song

The privet at the edge of my small parcel
of garden gives a sudden judder : think a cast
of fidgets ruining curtain-up – argumentative
or amorous, definitely clamorous, sparrows –
out-shouting the blackbird, upstaged
soloist who swishes off affronted,
exit with alarum. The rowdy chorus
of passerine lust or dust-up nudges
the narrative on a notch or two, chirruped
prelude to next verse where, in every down-
lined nest, cells will split and fuse, safe
inside egg-walls steadily thinned toward hatching
as shell calcium migrates to the hardening
bones and beak of the embryo chick. All this

to stop by the time we’ve simplified the seasons
to endless heatwave. My fluttering soul
gives a sudden shudder, seeing phantom fleets
of dust-pale galleons and schooners,
dreadnoughts and cruise ships, forever
circling the globe with cargoes of rifles
and bibles, ship-rats and infections,
condemned to ply their routes long after sails
have shredded, engines worn out to silence,
searoad and anchorage lost their names
to undivided water that mirrors particles of light
showering into the atmosphere, while far down
in darkness, evolution dreams the reclustering
of microscopic swimmers and singing behemoths.

_____________

Keats In Old Age

In his misted vision, floating scribble
defaces the looming moon.
Lamb bleats and birdsong have gone

silent behind an inward hedge
of prickling noise. In the kitchen,
heaped blackberries left out overnight

are ghosted with mildew. He’d sample
a few filberts in their twizzled skins
if he could just find the nutcrackers.

The draughts that pierce the house
grow sharp in his lungs – the bobbing
craneflies won’t be here much longer.


Steve Xerri has been a teacher, musician and designer. He was Canterbury Festival Poet of the Year 2017 and has been published in numerous print and online magazines. His first pamphlet Mutter/Land was recently published by Oystercatcher Press.

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