In the latest issue:

The American Virus

Eliot Weinberger

The Home Life of Inspector Maigret

John Lanchester

Story: ‘Have a Seat in the Big Black Chair’

Diane Williams

The Last Whale

Colin Burrow

In Beijing

Long Ling

Princess Margaret and Lady Anne

Rosemary Hill

At the Movies: ‘Arkansas’

Michael Wood

Ruin it your own way

Susan Pedersen

At Home

Jane Miller

The Ottoman Conundrum

Helen Pfeifer

Poem: ‘Muntjac’

Blake Morrison

Piketty’s Revolution

Geoff Mann

Short Cuts: In Tripoli

Jérôme Tubiana

Coetzee Makes a Leap

Christopher Tayler

At Auckland Castle: Francisco de Zurbarán

Nicola Jennings

Drain the Swamps

Steven Shapin

Diary: In the Isolation Room

Nicholas Spice



Waking early, and riffling the pages of a book
edge-on to watch the ghost pass through,
thinking of the sexual opening of pine needles,
the woman being absent from that opening;
this is not desire but idleness
as you might wake with legs around you
from a dissipating dream, whose story
came from a fiction you’d been reading.

And then to turn to the woman beside you
discovering pine scents in her caress
her hair last night shampooed, though
you remember real pines too
from the ghostly story of childhood
when you lay on the needles’ beddy springfulness,
wondering about women. This now premonitory,
of adult life vanishing later in the same book.

The soul as crumpled bedsheet

Moon shoots into fumy night sky,
worn down coin in fulgurous green,
as we arrive at Tompkins Square Park
after hotly debating a medieval sermon
at Sheila’s house: has the soul a pure core
and a penumbra of ideas through which alone
the shadowy events of every day
come nearer the disc’s intense white centre?

We go in, to watch Star Trek’s portentous
races against time: a scientist
looks at his daughter’s soil samples –
their planet is dying; oh yes, their love is pure,
as pure as I’d wish the daughter-love to be
in a Britain from which I’m self-exiled.
This is the night of the eclipse:
by 12.30 a thumb print blurs half the moon,
and something restless and unachieved
follows me through sleep.

The roar of the garbage truck wakes me up
and releases through my window screen
the ill smell of the weekend on St Mark’s Place
like a distillation of sweet-foul bodily corruption
around the perimeter of the untarnished soul,
as that haunting medieval language says.
One side of the bed-sheet’s rumpled
by my writhing last night. Your sheet, under you,
is a broad lath or a smoothed stream
in your peace last night and again this morning,
within the whorls of our anxious river.

My back is stiff; it’s urgent to pee.
I crawl down the bed, wagging my naked ass,
over a deep blue mohair blanket,
so that if you opened your eyes
my hot core asshole would be seen
by the cool core of your soul.
From the bathroom I turn aside
to my stepson’s soiled green armchair,
an hour to go before I make coffee.
He’s away in Europe; so I can sit down
to read Religion and the Decline oj Magic
when I remember I was dreaming of an Elizabethan
child’s translucent face contorted in sorrow
at the absence of her father.

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