October – Charles Lauder Jr

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Husks

When death came to the men I’ve been,
it came quick
………………on the head
…………………………..brains free
………………………………………& in my lap
skull shiny & plastic

in that last moment: a sudden desire
………to be heard
………to live on in a child’s face
……………………a name on a bookshelf.

……………………………………….Don’t think of me
as a snake sloughing off
………………………one more
………………………………skin
but as a faucet
………torqued & tugged
………………till the water flows
………………………………once more.

Those young men?
……….They lie in my bed & weep
……….for the life that never arrived
Before I shed this husk
………………I must live
………………………one day longer than them
enduring like a Greek god
………………………whose cock
can touch the sky
………………………………………………& move the clouds about.

 

 

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Wide Awake

I swim up from the bottom of the pool. The dream that follows me
was full of red and gold, of going to dinner parties and rambling,
thinking I’ve finished a word when really I was only halfway there.
My tongue grew thick with sullenness. My father and uncle
broke into the house while I was away, came in through a skylight
that I didn’t know was there, hitting the floor with such a thud,
and then looked for ways to break out, scratched at the window
panes, banged on the door with bare fists. Someday I’ll have
a sense of direction, have what it takes to roll out of bed
and be me, a cowboy with six-shooter in hand,
like telekinesis, reaching out to knock something over. The spark
in the gunpowder carries the words to a deeper level,
though the sentiment is still the same: Untie the heroine
before the train can crush her beneath its wheels.

 

 

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Adam’s Dream 


I fell into the earth and witnessed
great machinery at work beneath the hills,
shafts turning flywheels as big as houses,
pushing grass and perennials up through the soil.
Engine pistons rose and fell like giant scales,
pumping up the power and path of tornadoes,
while rocket-sized cylinders flooded cooled water
across the fields of several counties.
How delicate, how vulnerable
like the young to injury when all seems flawless.
What happened before I fell is lost.

I remember standing at crossroads that led to
precipice, prejudice, predestiny. Perhaps
I had been chained, bound for a new land
surrounded by an ocean of servitude.
Or had I been a returning soldier
no longer casting the same shadow,
unable to fill the space in bed
where I had once spooned with my wife?
But neither of those roles seems real.

If I fell into the earth, I must have been up a mountain,
tumbled from a plane, had waxen wings.
Maybe simply to say I fell into the earth blind,
climbed out knowing nakedness: no heaven,
only meteorites to knock us about like billiard balls.
Deep in the tissue of my gut grow the seeds
of tumors. Your heart may not last another year.
I have secret knowledge and the power to name:
like a child learning about sex
is unable to forget, unable to forget.

 

 

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Home after Two Weeks Away
after Robert Lowell

Gone now the electricians
who drilled holes across the width
of the ceiling like woodpeckers after a worm
gutting the house of old wiringeach room
coated in plaster dust to be scrubbed
and repainted a new shade of white.
A quiet spot near the bath tub
has been found for the cats to stretch
and sleep out this long fortnight.

Two weeks, two weeks!
Is the poet ready to join life again?
Forty-six years have come and gone
each day wasted on distractions;
were I younger there would still be time
to make a go of it. Mundanity
seeps back like bits of memory.
An uncle has been hauled in
for a lifetime of fiddling   the family
closes ranks and says nothing
while my son talks of new levels
reached in his video gameholds out
two fistsa pawn hidden in each.
Black or white, he says. His eleven-plus
is less than a month away.
My daughter leaps about like a lion
in new school uniformazure-blue cardigan
sky-blue polo. September means clubs
starting up again and helping out at Cubs.
The wife downs Gaviscon
and can think only of the lessons
not prepared yet for her classes
She sits in the back garden grown thick from rain
the dog curled at her feet
away from the front garden
of broken palletschipboardgrey carcasses
of wire insulation. Six-foot sunflowers
stoop over in a partially neglected flowerbed.

In my study books on genocide
and gynaecology wait to be edited.
In the hollows of the room I scream
and scream
and wish I had been born a different man.

 

 

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In the Days of No Fear

Early Sunday morning when hardly anyone has risen or climbed into their cars
I head home, after twelve hours of washing dishes for all-night coffee drinkers,
on a second-hand ten-speed that gets me from here to there when buses won’t do
(only old people and divorced mothers who don’t drive ride buses),
taxiing like a plane for one-and-a-half miles across the empty mall parking lot,
through the underpass, past the apartments where I once delivered newspapers,
finally turning from Dewhurst Road to the top of our street, inching forward
to the invisible line marking the hill’s crest, the steep sweep of the street
that sends me sweaty and exhausted to work each Saturday evening
(and just about every other evening) clear and open, this street I trudge up
in summer peddling packets of bluebonnets seeds, at Halloween dragging
my brother door to door for miniature Snickers and home-made popcorn balls.

………………………………………………………………………………And I push free
letting gravity pull me down into its well
the first cross street, Barbet, coming up right away
but I have the right of way and sail on through
to pink and yellow brick, sun-baked facades
lining the length like a cheering crowd, air conditioners already
pummelling the humid morning, their leaky ends jutting out
of small windows and make-shifts hole in the wall, car ports
shading grease-stained driveways and beat-up pickups,
unmown lawns of the white trash families (we know who they are)
littered with burnt-out cars and dirty laundry, giant ceramic
flower baskets, elms, Arizona ash, and mesquite,
my feet, left then right, ease off the pedals,
then my hands off the grips, hang down by my sides,
momentum carrying me, one stray pebble could take me out
like a shot, send me sprawling across the tarmac,
grind gravel into my knees and palms, second side street now
and point of no return fast approaching:
they have right of way but home is only ten houses the other side,
I stare straight ahead, arms and legs still dangling free—
I may have trouble with distance but never speed—and say
a little prayer just before I hit the intersection:
“Watch out, motherfuckers, here I come!”

 

 

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What You’d Done

When you punched that boy
two years older and making fun
of your crossed eyes
how did it feel to make the stars
dance around in his head
to not let him get away with it?

Because I can’t remember.

When Grandma saw
……………………what you’d done
and didn’t scold you
though she was babysitting the boy

and your father smirked
…………………….a proud smirk
I don’t remember either.

But your mother stared
………………………and said
‘What will his poor mother think?’
and wiped his face of tears and dirt.
………That has stayed with me.

 

 

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Raleigh’s Scions

Returned from England I bestow this gift of grandchildren
like valuable treasure laid at your feet   you the king and queen
………and I magus explorer buccaneer spy
………blown in from the cold of the New World
………………………after seven eight years
………………………with natives half-naked half-crazed.

Their DNA is a cypher spelling out rough and tumble gorse
……….hawthorn and bramble shredding the balls of thumbs
………………ancient ponds where witches floated and innocent drowned
………………great warriors asleep underground await to be woken
………………………steed-shaped headlands stampede into the sea
……………………………….seawater spewing from black nostrils.

The dead   revered in song and story around the fire of a once
magnificent empire trading in flesh opium and tea
………lost generations buried in mud   burned by mustard
………dance as shadows on these chalky faces wild as dandelion and nettle
………………she on all fours roars and hisses      scratches at the air
………………he poised and on guard   finger pointed and cocked.

………………………………………………………………..***

On the journey here through Detroit to Oklahoma
then a two-storey train down into Texas
……….they marveled at how high we were…mountains of snow
……….replaced by a sun so hot it burned their ears as we landed.

Wires crisscross overhead like a cagesnakes hide at their feet
at the museum they circle round mammoth and saber-tooth
………hunched down and looking for the moment
………to springthen pose beside their fresh kills.

Your feast of grilled cheese sandwiches tastes of rubber
pickles too bitter…bacon thin and greasytheir first doughnut
………takes them two days to finish before they finally give up
……………….and chase each other for miles.

Night is as bright as day   lit up door to door with Christmas lights
front-lawn inflatable Santas snowmen and kingsthey clap
……….and shout….try to catch fake snow on their tongue
………………but turn down your offer of church.

…………………………………………………………………..***

You notice a change of accent when I translate
that I’ve lost my bearings   how to find the corner store
………my old school   where old girlfriends lived.
………America/home has grown small in my absence
………………a fear and hysteria grips the kidneys
………………so hard no one can piss
………………without a loaded pistol in hand.

You think he’s gone over   painted his skin
bowed down to trees and standing stones
………..tossed coins and armour into the river
………..to appease angry gods….and take me to the preacher
………………who tells me there is no saviour but Jesus.

What should I confess? That I stood naked in a circle
about the fire handfasted to a daughter of Mercia
………calling forth spirits of the forest
………to fill my limbs while I fill her
……………..with my seed and the air
………………with mud-moon howls,

yielding this ragwort   this cornflower   their fevered heads
buzz with my memories of glass and steel cities   fibre-optic
………highways….of drive-thrusdrive-ins….gated driveways
………………of starting over   the pelts from their backs
………………traded for new clothesnew namenew face.

 

 

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The Art of Eloping

her window as in a hailstorm
……………………………tic   tic   tic…….tic
outside dark-skinned adopted love child
waits ladder in hand   she’s been ready to leap
……………………………………………….all night
that eagerness to shimmy down drainpipes
at quarter to three endears her to him
she isn’t pregnant but forbidden from seeing him
they wake a priest…..wait for angered cousins to come
with the sun……..her mother cuts up all her clothes

but those houses never rose above ground floor
he merely had to walk right up…….knuckle rap
………………………………………………not stone tap
she swung her legs out and they were away
no ladder no drainpipe no ash tree to jump to
still………more romantic than a phone call proposal
meet you at the town hall at tenthree witnesses in tow
bonds posted and wedding vows approved days
………………………………………………in advance
it was at Easter like them…your mother offered me
a chocolate egg and asked what my intentions were

 

 

 

‘Husks’, appeared in California Quarterly (1998) and in my pamphlet ‘Bleeds’ (Crystal Clear Creators, 2012)
‘Wide Awake’, appeared in Poetry Monthly (2004) and will appear in my pamphlet ‘Camouflaged Beasts’ (BLER, 2017)
‘Adam’s Dream’, unpublished, but will appear in my pamphlet ‘Camouflaged Beasts’ (BLER, 2017)
‘Home after 2 Weeks’, unpublished
‘No-fear Bicycling’, unpublished
‘What You’d Done’, appeared in The Interpreter’s House (2014)
‘Raleigh’s Scions’, appeared in Oxford Poetry (2013)
‘The Art of Eloping’, unpublished

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