In the latest issue:

The Politics of Like and Dislike

William Davies

The Shrine

Alan Bennett

After the Shock

Adam Tooze

Punishment by Pressing

Hazel V. Carby

The Suitcase

Frances Stonor Saunders

Short Cuts: Thanington Without

Patrick Cockburn

The Lessons of Reconstruction

Randall Kennedy

Company-States

Linda Colley

Eva Hesse

Anne Wagner

Parachuted into France

Neal Ascherson

The Age of Sail

N.A.M. Rodger

Poem: ‘Near Gleann nam Fiadh’

Robin Robertson

‘You People’

Clare Bucknell

What Didn’t Happen

Michael Wood

Forster in Cambridge

Richard Shone

Diary: In Ashgabat

James Lomax

Two PoemsCharles Boyle
Close
Close

The Expert

An old girlfriend appears on TV
answering questions about the homeless.
Yes, the new government initiative
is welcome as far as it goes.
No, it doesn’t even attempt
to tackle the root of the problem.

Phones are ringing behind her,
colleagues are bent over keyboards ...
I want to ask how much she earns,
whether she still leaves the cap off the toothpaste
and if she has children, what are their names?

Just before we go off the air
she gives me that patient look –
as if a grasp of the basic issues
will for ever elude me,
as if I think I can make a difference
by giving money to beggars in the street
or offering them a bed for the night.

Velcro

There’s a tribe, I swear it,
in the Syrian desert
who bury their dead standing up.

Every five years, a great sandstorm
rages; diviners interpret
the chattering of skulls.

     *

Their warrior queen
models Armani. Their children
are force-fed videos

of the long march
out of Crittenden
to Zit. Their god is named

after the terrifying noise
made by the opening
of a hundred tent-flaps at dawn.

     *

The acrid leaves they chew
every waking hour
produce a mild

hallucinatory effect
of the kind experienced
by publishers’ reps

while driving on the M6
north of Carlisle
in light drizzle.

     *

Because their topography
lacks high places
they have yet to invent

the ladder. Because
of the premium they place
on originality in art

no two toothbrushes, funeral masks
or wheels
are exactly the same.

     *

Sex: see under alabaster;
Earhart, Amelia; Friday.
See also tongs.

It’s not that they don’t
enjoy it, but are often inhibited
by their distracting need

to rationalise the gap
between the gritty norm
and their culture’s pellucid ideal.

     *

Travellers are welcome
during the feast of Gordon
but should take care to depart

before the unwonted outpouring
of intertribal affection
is bitterly regretted.

     *

Lifetimes have been gladly spent
mastering just one
of their sacred texts

by scholars who still confuse
the place names and numbers
that may also serve

as exclamations of endearment
with those that signify
disgust.

     *

Ever since the cataclysmic
civil war
between al-Origbi and Philip

twins have been both shunned
and revered –
for the drear month of penitence

that follows their birth,
for the good times enjoyed
by the priesthood.

     *

by night, suddenly,
the Blowman will come.
Directly above the spot

where he will ejaculate
the glorious seed of the ancestors
into the sand,

a cloud in the shape
of Phoenix dactylifera
will mushroom in the sky.

     *

The cache
of lighter fuel, soda siphons
and stolen cheque books

found in a ditch
by H. du Plessix Gray
is not, as previously supposed,

a bluff, a feint
to put off tomb-robbers,
but the real thing.

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