Two Poems

Michael Symmons Roberts

The authorities asked us to call at noon,
to test their new helpline.
No one was available to answer our questions.

I kept the line open just in case,
held the phone to my ear all afternoon,
until its ringtone was my metronome.

Devolution is a constant process:
each week I secede another stage,
ratchet back and back

from every bloc until I am a law
unto myself. It is a mystery
to me why the warm summer heart

of this city is so silent tonight.
Maybe everyone has run off to the woods
to watch our gods and goddesses

disport themselves, now it’s a free-for-all.
But there is live news on TV, quiet bars
ravenous for custom, empty trams on time –

the pointless daily liturgies continue.
I dare not lift the blinds to look.
But my ringtone prays for me unceasingly.

I have become an anchorite.
I put the phone on speaker to rest my arm.
Tomorrow I withdraw into a single room.

This is an elegy whichever way I spin it,
to call to mind a city without you in it.

‘Doors which yield to a touch of the hand …
permit anyone to enter.’

Thomas More, Utopia

It was our game, to drive at night into their city,
scan the streets, choose a house at random
and stroll in mid-evening as the householders
were finishing, say, a birthday dinner.
We watched them look up, terrified but mute.

We picked lamb off their plates, emptied their glasses
then ran upstairs, threw open drawers,
tried on jackets, fingered through their journals,
pocketed the odd keepsake – scarf, set of car keys,
half-read book, a piece of underwear for shame.

We tried to get a rise from them by breakage:
a cabinet of crystal cups, statuettes of local gods,
but they are patient in their sad-masks.
Such acquiescence, you knew they saw you straight,
and even so would give you everything.

Our only rule: we never touched them.
Save one time I saw a blue heart-shaped soap
clutched in a woman’s hand and something in her
would not give it up to me for all the world.
I have it somewhere. Let me find it.