A Form of Words

Paul Batchelor

Just as, after the affair, when I knew I was in the clear
but came down with trismus of all things
and had, needs must, to post the ‘finest sashimi in Brooklyn’
through the half-inch letterbox
between my upper & my lower incisors
   poking it in there with the chopsticks
yearning to contribute in a non-confrontational way
to Miss X & her sister & her sister’s Awful Husband’s conversazione
on blue fin versus yellow fin
and then the ‘whole environmental thing’
(this from a cunt who ate a turtle in Indonesia)
I was saying nothing –
I’m saying nothing now.

         And if I had to do it all again
         I wouldn’t.
         John Berryman said that: I’m not saying it.

And just as, when those two blokes came to replace the boiler,
and asked would I like to pay cash
and I said ‘Nee probs’ –
         and watched them carry gear in from the obligatory once-white van
         and watched them work, and saw how, though both young,
         the elder laboured to the younger,
         but as they worked in brotherly quiet
         an hour passed before I realised
         the older lad was ‘touched’
         as I was taught to say, and how I liked the way
         the younger never lorded it, how
         even when the elder put the radiator back
         before the skirting board, or tripped
         over the blowtorch he’d left lying,
         no remonstrations followed,
         a ticking-off over bait in the van perhaps, but still
         a hundred unregarded acts of kindness
         daily & of a gentleness conspicuously absent
         in certain other unacknowledged legislators –
I can’t say I object to what is being proposed.

         And that we must learn to leave the table
         when love is no longer being served –
         Charles Aznavour said that: I’m not saying it.

And while I’m not saying a form of words couldn’t be found
I still think of them two blokes e.g. in Boards of Study
at the Russell Group institution where I am currently on probation
as I bask in the glare of my colleague’s world-alienating pedantry
yes I sit like Caesar in his tent
where the maps are spread
and I think of them two blokes
and it’s like a hole in my head
and I think of them two blokes
or else I meditate on what it means
to take your first full-time job at the age of 37
or on the nature of failure generally.

         When you arrive at the very bottom
         you will hear knocking from below.
         Thanks, Stanisław Jerzy Lec.

And just as, when I am getting through the drinks
that follow the interminable Board of Study
at the Russell Group institution where I am currently on probation
and the ego-chutney’s coming down like hail –
         ‘… what I would say to inner-city blacks is:
               hip-hop is the problem, not the solution …’
         ‘… I saw your TLS piece on Basil Bunting and I have to say:
               fourteen isn’t twelve …’
         ‘… of course the thing you mustn’t say is:
               Islam is truly evil …’ –
I might see if a form of words can’t be found
for the time in Brooklyn
when Miss X accidentally locked us out of the apartment we’d been renting
that last morning while the taxi purred & we panicked
         and there was 15 feet of pure white snow & it was 6 a.m.
         and the landlord wasn’t answering & the gods were asleep
         and we were like so do we call the cops or something
         and eventually I just kicked the door in
               and really it gave so easily
               I can’t say I shouldn’t have done it sooner
         and we grabbed our cases & caught the taxi after all
               which meant we’d make the flight
and, portered through wintry pre-dawn streets,
hearing Jay Z & Alicia Keys on the radio at that very moment sing
what had hitherto seemed a gormless knees-up of a song
about Manhattan’s ability to confer
a non-specific sense of optimism on the visitor,
I felt imbued with possibly dubious agency –
I now suspect my silences contain the best of me.

         And I’m a man who likes talking
         to a man who likes to talk.
         I never said that, Sidney Greenstreet said it.

And even now a form of words can surely be found
for my feelings when, packing up to move on
from one shitty rental to another, shittier rental
as I have done on an annual basis since the age of 18
I found the watch I’d lost the day we moved in
behind a box of books
where it had lain 6 months pressed to the damp wall
so the leather strap had furred into a caterpillar
with spiny hairs of mould
and when I fished it up by its buckle
I could hear the timepiece ticking on oblivious.

         Omissions are not accidents.
         Marianne Moore. You knew that one.

And surely at this stage in the game, surely we can speak
of Shorty, booted out first thing, early bird
breakfasting on a fun-size Mars bar
or trailing home through puddles, dry eyed,
indifferent as the weather … Surely it’s time to share
our knowing he’d been ‘interfered with’
if not by his mam (a ‘single mother …
you can smell it on her breath …’)
then by one or other

of her men – we’d see them at the gates, all the cars
Shorty got a go in!
               We said nowt at the time, the foremost
lesson of that fucking circus
driven home when Miss Bird (newly in post,
soon to fly south) asked what we’d like to be when we grew up –
on his turn Shorty sniggered ‘A rapist’
and everyone cracked up.
He’d ‘got life’ (been expelled) before the bell went. Class.

         Drank so much gin & whisky
         sweet mama I can hardly talk.
         That’s not me that’s Blind Willie McTell.

And might it now be possible to try your patience further
I said may I be permitted, reader, majesty, to tax your patience further
and find a form of words for how it felt to see –
         after the bailiffs had fucked off
         with a truck load of furniture, indoor slides for the bairns,
         the Xbox, microwave, deep fat fryer,
         Ikea light fittings fancied-up with glitter glue,
         widescreen plasma telly on tick,
         the sandwich toaster he must’ve won at the Hoppings
         and even, get this, her cross trainer;
         after they’d been turfed out too,
         him not all there (‘touched’), her pregnant, a month to Christmas –
my neighbours-across-the-way’s landlord stopping by for a poke about
                  (he even brought a flask of tea
                  so he could make an afternoon of it)?
         And can I hope to improve on the form of words
         he later found for his compleynt
         that having acquired so much tat
         he’d have to rent the place as furnished next time round
         which was frankly a pain in the balls
         or else offload the junk somehow or other
         though he’d get nothing for it
         because ‘nothing was worth anything these days’?

         Your silence will not protect you:
         Audre Lorde, I only appropriate what you were saying.

And surely one day soonish
there will be season due
to speak of Old Ray next door
who’d stop by now & then for a bit moan
about the number of ‘Pakis’ on the bus, or the number of tracksuits
queuing for heroin in Boots, or the milk from the Co-op
being radioactive & Polish,
or just to count the bottles in my recycling bin: Old Ray
to whom I spoke as little as possible
disliking utterly & without reserve his manner, opinions, face & smell –
and then after the stroke, his maimed voice
seeping through the wall
as he chewed the ear off his daughter-in-law
         who must’ve jealoused Old Ray
         had monies squirrelled away
a bass mope like farting in the bath
as though no form of words could be found.

O pray for me St Sasha
in fluent русский or via
yr unusually expressive eyebrows
when you remove the bone as one might draw
a hairpin, smear the rollmop on black bread
and indulge my little
pretence that the Russian deli at Elephant & Castle is
St Petersburg.

O pray for me St Edwin
with all the fervency the envious angels will allow
when, picked out on the dripping verges,
I feel against my cheek
the blowsy petals of the rhododendron.

O pray for me St Effy:
walk with me under the viaduct to Flass Vale
where goldfinches chivvy up &
         off across the way;
teach me to live the hours not the years
and do, please, to my dizzy, boring, Venlafaxin thinking what
Oz’s whistling once did to Sunday afternoons.

O pray for me St Jeff
from the snowball fight with Kiyonaga
to the mountains of Hiroshige
I am with you on the bridge in spirit
under the foxes’ bridal procession
and when you say so we’ll ‘stare down, see only
the sun at the ripples, the glint
of light a sugared glaze …’
for without you I am Cobra Verde
and I never had a friend in my life.

O patron of the honest overlooked, St Bob,
gentle man with border reiver blood in yr veins
when you are beach-combing Boaty’s Bay
for sea glass washed up from the abandoned works –
mermaids’ tears, fish eyes from punty rods,
frosted pearls & end-of-day glass –
pray for me now
I am becoming part of the immense
indifference of the world.

This state of the nation bulletin for J.P.N.