At Worthing




Fisherman gutting his huss by the line
Of a bland mild Autumn daggers you
Paranoid, trusses you up
In the cataracts. Netted with sole,
With a million crabs, you are whittled to scrimshaw
By prophecy:


“Filth and the wet and the doom of it: hark
To the trial of a town cut in half before birth;
Scarce half piled up to the scree, to the scrawl,
Of the sea.


In December we trawl through the gloom of it.
Gale whip’s coming down screaming
To scour the womb of it.


Tarmac the brazier tomb of the Ground King.
Batten the pigeon call coo of the dry.


Buckle the wattle round hutch, around sty.


Curtain the children, dismantle the loom.
Sit sackinged and blanketed, furled under smoke.
The winter will knock.


        Black gatherings,
Etna but wet, in the skies
Will blossom and bloom and apocalypse
Onto the paint of the film of the eye.


In gales on foot go the dumb hardy brave
Stiff battened in sealskin, boots,
Kin spirits, the Christ, and the sense of a spine
Against all the vast pyroclastic and hell
Of a storm that could pick at its teeth
With a sixty yard groyne.


“Preserve me, summer that was, sweet mother that was
From the million faces of Anvil:
The winter, the brine.”


        Flap smack
As the waxy lapel flapping slaps
At his face, backhand of a god
Surnamed Cutlass, or Windlass, or Mace.
Blood fizzes like ice and champagne
To the stubbly surface.


Furtherness beckons,
       so call to your mates
“Wake wake, and we go
To the ends of the sea to be
Scabbarded, iced in a blow.”


Two quid for your cockles.
Walk on and along
On the prom.


He’ll never say nothing like this to you,
Landling. Swallow that, stripling.


All gone.



The Master Whittler

to Jon


Fobbed in a duvet of dream, it starts
With alarm clock beeps mistaken for platyrrhine language,
Swallowdale bleats. Reality first is the loam of the head,
The little bed gulfstream schlepping itself off the chest and the neck,
Tipping the underhand delve of the morning
Back off the dampening tongue of the morn-self. Dawn
Yawns on in the arms of the dressing gown: eremite doctor.
Day.

The garage of language’s ratchets and spokes and adjustables
Cooled in the night. The strip lights flicker and blink; gizmos
Materialise in the hovering desk,
In the blob cast chill of the sink.
Scratch beard. Push hair. Push think.
Wink-yawnagain-wink.
Wake screen, wake gods
And we steady ourself, and we drink.

Sheaves of analysis wait for the scythes
Of the six o’clock chill of the mikveh flagellant’s eyes.
To sculpt a mercury staff or phlogiston whip
Would be easier far than this, to make sense
And to catch it. Now, the clamps on the platen are set,
The eyes on the nozzles of time are fixed and set.

Thrown down, old gods. No matter the speed.
I’ll lever the world
And I’ll match it.

BELONG (Video)


When I was born, in '85
“19” was Number 1:
The men wore boots and braces
And the people read The Sun.

The work was roofs and tarmac.
There was felt and tiles, and lead.
Our lot sold fresh cut flowers and all,
Since “years ago”, they said.

The boys had My Pet Monsters
And the Beastie Boys on tape.
The girls played “Like A Virgin”
Wearing earrings, creole-shape.

The edge of seventeen went past
And “House” was in its prime.
Your jumper had to be Lacoste.
You passed your test first time.

You played a bit of football
And you messed about with cars.
Your mates and you drank Becks, and
Danced and sang beneath the stars.

The midnight grass was hushed and blue.
The arc of the moon was long.
Indoors, the crystal chandeliers
Caught memory; moonlight; song.

Being young's the bollocks mate.
The summertime's the best.
The sun bakes hard the ground;
Makes hard your skins for scorch and test.

That sour July, the hosepipe ban
Was on. The grass was white.
Raindrops were fond as fairy tales:
The clouds were out of sight.

So when that afternoon you bought
Your pint and went and sat
By the opposite wall to the dartboard, you
Had naink in mind but that.

Upon the hand that held the glass
Two swallows were caught in blue,
Which proved your other arm that
Stated MADE IN ENGLAND true.

You sipped your lager: everything
Seemed good and right, and glowed.
'Til clip-clip-clop through the window, you
Heard the clip-clop-clip of the iron horse shoe
As your cousin, young Jim, and his nephew, Blue,
Came flying, swift as a greyhound round
The bend of the old pub road.

"The dirty in-bred pikey cunts",
Said Mick, with his bulldog's head.
Then Paul chimed in: "If you ask me
Mate, the cunts are better off dead."

The grass was silent, white and hot
On the boomerang cusp of the bend
As a cabbage white wing with its
Winking flit spoke silent things of the end.

Still, silent things were all you heard
As you rose from the velvet stool,
Glanced once at the dartboard, once at
Mick; once at the varnished grip end, thick
Of the pool cue: smick, smack, clip-clop quick
And the peace of the dead who took no stick
Was bought with the busted jaws of the fool
And the fool. So you went and said no word
And the breeze was light and cool.

The summer grass was curt and white,
The arc of the sun was long.
The stillness of the air was near
The flash of a crystal chandelier,
Its tear-drops hard and fossilized.

They hang where they belong.

The Smoke, the Joke and the Secret


YOU CAN READ all writing about us, pal. The press-gang papers ain't yet broke:
And perhaps that puts you ahead, in a sense, of a letterless nomad
Bloke, in a manner of
Writing: him be fire, you 
Smoke.

Given the flint-faced grannys in fifties pictures,
The squint-eyed, craggy-cut, clean shaved uncles and
Grandads, smoke-dried, whiskers a good mil thick like wire,
There's pathways to think they were nothing but chipped and knapped
Things, galleted shoulders, clod hearts, riveted leather
With everything soft and heathery, hay-rick sweet
Knocked off by the coldest snaps of the tintless winter.

You can sympathise, when looking in oil-dark eyes
(Pinning you sniper-keen from the pitiless past)
Why nobody tells old yarns of a Nan
Who, even in spite of a granite-hard life
That could snap any spineless mind like a plastic knife,
Knocks corners, hard bits, nail-ends off of her words
So swaddle-wrapped grandson gets all the sleep he deserves.

Who'd listen to that, when the verdict's paper mask
Is blacker and whiter than hers, and pressed for task?
But listen up: yes, the fox’s eye
Glints under the moon by the hedgerow’s side,
But the fox and the cubs and the fox’s mark
Are down Latimer Road and in Max Roach Park.

Wherever they was, in whatever age
A Gypsy who never read naink from the printed page
Was loftily scorning middle-men; un-suffering intermediaries. A mage,
A rerum magister, her distant sires and sons all secret khans,
She knew the tongue of the lark and ash, hedgehog and glistering greengage, sure:
But her London sons knew the raven caw, and
Her London girls knew the workhouse wheeze, and
The cab door clap, and
The gutter-cat paw
When they stopped in Grove at London’s door,
And the five-point star old Mum would teach-
Eye, ear, nose, tongue, little fingertip- each
To its partner sense each softly 
Spoke, away from the woods
By the cab wheel spoke.

See, the page, where tongue helps fingertip to eye to tongue to
Ear, is a bit of a Gypsy's
Joke.

We read the contours, cracks and lines
From the liar-man’s eyes to the shire-crone’s mines.
We read the creeks and the ginnels and that’s
How the knowledge came to be mine, that
London’s a sheet, green-edged with time,
Never lifted: all time stretching like a dream, a mind, a haze, and
Heavy on the clotting clays
Its long millennial sink-in incubates.

Skittish flea-troupes nattering flit
About the mildewed cankers whittled and whipped
To glassy squares on top of it.
The old mud highways, rutted and red,
Were graven in London’s skin like scars.
Tarmac, war-painted zigzag and two line white
And gold and red gags that.
The no-depth pools reflect no stars;
Mask over what was sebum, liquefaction, swill and slag; but
Slowly
Slowly
Slowly goes
In swells and turns underneath the frets and throes, and
In the low-slung places, where the truth of its guts comes up for air

You can scent the good old innards:
The deep molasses darkness of the gizzard.

London whispered all these things to me
By dun-edged Deptford Creek when I crouched down, cold in the mind and blood
And put my ear to the dark, denuded mud.

'Is that the sound of the sea?' I said.

'Not sea, but a heart of a sort that’s fed by she,'
Said London's murmuring heart to me.

I listened. 'They called me enchanted,’ London said,
‘They call me “One-that-seas-must-kiss”: they lapped at me night times, greedy-unwitnessed
Trying to quicken their vast old deadness.

‘Can you smell the lust now, Travelling flea? Or,
Small as you are, scent how my musks
Drew oils and spice-soaked ships on gold silk threads to the husk of the docklands,
Across the centuries’ wash,
The cyclic deaths of imperial dusts?'

Then London told me a secret: how to feed
On the sugars of London’s pasts, should I have need.

I thought, 'I'll keep that last bit secret.
I wouldn't want to see the city bleed.'

Yeah, we could sink a borehole into London's sugary guts.
The bellies of the blank-eyed fleas
Would fatten up more quickly, clot up nicely
On a diet of the lipids of the belly of the city.

But a Gypsy’s bound to be lying.
So I can’t see anyone trying.

See, I’m only a Gypsy, going on, slowly, but
London’s lucky to know me.




Damian Le Bas
London / Cardiff
2010 / 2013

Reflections




GREAT granny pauses by the silvers, silver-whites and starry greys
Of running water by her wicker basket. It is early in the year
And in the day: new minted yellow sovereigns, emerald
Bottle tops, and melted stained-glass windows seem
To bloom and melt and blossom on the stream
Like droplets from a vision;
From a dream, or even
Heaven.
She lifts the basket, anvil-heavy with the sodden children’s clothes;
Walks to the bender’s hazel ribs, its high crossed flue, its hollows.



Her granny pauses by the russets, hot maroons and royal greens
That flood across the wagon mirror’s graven crystal glass. Morning is now
Unfurled outside; the summer somewhere up the road will take
The cherry reds, the bosom-warming heat haze
That she coaxes into life inside the stove
And let it fall on England,
By her roadsides, in her
Meadows.
She treads a soundless step towards the lace and shutters of the door
Toward the coming noontide. It is hers; the land’s; her people’s.



Her mother walks on cobbles quickly, halts, and pauses as a flash
Of silver flows round red enamelled letters in the window in the street.
High noon has pitched her here by coral, peach and yellow tones
Of buttered scones and lardy cakes, Madeira,
Cottage loaves: her little threppence won’t buy much.
Her ragged clothes buy titters
From the schoolgirls on the
Terrace.
Hungry, defiant, sad brown eyes stop searing tears with stinging pride.
She runs. Back at the camp, the wagon’s axles lie in ashes.



Her eyes stare at her as she dusts the chrome, the glass, the mirrored doors,
A “kushti bit of flash”, they call it. The horse is gone; the growling diesel
Engine pulls the stubborn on. Metal and glass are bright, but
Cold, she thinks, then pauses: could have sworn
That grass and sky were mingling in the corner
Of her eye. She scowls: banknotes
On the table, trailer on the
Tarmac.
She reaches for the silver frame that traps great granny’s kindly stare:
Underneath its black-and-whiteness, deeper greens and blues are there. 






Commissioned by the Museum of East Anglian Life, Stowmarket, Suffolk
for the audio guide accompanying their Gypsy Traveller collections
March 2013

Boudicca


She chose the peeling painted door
In the side of their squat swart den
Where the piss and the mice and the rubbish came out
For air. No one ever came in through there:
She knew her foes would know that; that
They never looked to their right for the lateral charge,
But, with their rapists’ nature, liked
To stick to back and forth.

Up with the rising, mould-warm tang on the mist
Was that mixture of jokes, belly air and censer smoke
She tasted, telling of Rome and Rome’s encampments. Vile
Dun carpets, yellowing hessian cove,
Swill and sticky mahogany was their world. Men, these
Fat-clad men who freeze in her island's breeze,
Scared of the space underneath her trees.

Her reinforcements, on their way in the van,
Would make this easy:

Easy made things not for the rings of time, and since
In a series of gold and crimson images she
Had foreseen the death of the general at her hands –
His torso propped up stiff at the foot of the bar like a bust
And burst maquette,
A windlass handle queerly fixed at its chest –
“It must be Boudicca’s spear that splays his ribs.”

She seized hold of herself,
And so of time.

An antique dory, draped in webs, was propped in the corner
By the peeling door: of eastern make, the main leaf-blade
Was rusted, ochre scabbing over war;

She gripped it, and the shaft was sound, and at the other end
The lizard-killer point was sharp and thin and bronze and fine,
And through three hundred years at least
Had kept that tapering obelisk shape that rooted it in the east.
Now it told her freedom lived
And rushed at the Roman line.

Waiting would have been smart. 
The growl of her men in the van
Yards off
Was warming and changing the dark:

The wind was up.

Her fingers seemed to lengthen


The Takings of Charley Lee


From the wind I took the air
When I began to breathe,
And from the willow’s bark my mam
Cut chips to help me teethe.

From my brothers and sisters I
Took sounds to make my words,
And from their rhythms I took my rhymes
To make myself be heard.

From the meadow I took my bed
Cut from its golden straw;
Sometimes the meadow was my bed
When we were really poor.

From springs and sparkling streams I took
The water for my cup,
And from the sky I took the blues
To cheer my spirits up.

From the rabbit I took meat
To make my stew or pie;
And when I killed him, I took pity
Upon his round brown eye.

From mam and dad I took my leave
When I became a man;
I took my wife and took to life
In our caravan.

From dad I took some old advice:
“Son, stay out in the dale,
For if you take the road to town,
They’ll take you in their jail.”

I took his words to heart, until
The snow came, and my son
Took ill with cold: I saw he’d die
Without some medicine.

I took a breath, and from my trouser
Pocket, took my knife;
They’d hang me if they found it, so
I took it to my wife.

I took a look into her eyes,
And smiled to take the tears;
I said, “It’s alright, love”, but took
A shiver from her fears.

I took the road into the town;
I took the doctor’s vial;
But then a big policeman came
To take me with a smile.

I took the handcuffs on my wrists
I took to staring down;
The judge said “Vagrant. That’s a month
In jail. Now take him down.”

I did my time, then walked to where
I knew my childless wife would be,
And I thought about the things I took
And what they took from her and me.

The Eucatastrophe of Ignis F.


One


Daytime, you can believe you've seen it all:
Under a cloudless sky when no leaves fall

When cackle and caw-to-caw of magpies, or
Of jackdaws even, level across the morning,
Seeming light;

Brightness pulls at nothing. Then,
Forget about the night.


Two


Dusk is tugging, tugging at the borders of the world.
Purples hug the edge of bleeding blue that clings to lightedness:

Dusk slips over the hours.

The shades unfurl.


Three


Knowing that, by dint of silver-tintedness,
They would appal the sudden balance of the deepening, deepening yaw,
The tittering, bantling laughs of babies stopper themselves to silence.

All this happens: light is bound to sleep, and further,
By a dark oil copse, a mile or so beyond

An old pond-skater sniffs the dark
And skitters across his pond.


Four


Midnight is liquid over things.

The iron yew post sinks.

The toad, fat under mud, sets solid wet.

Sky is maw. Time, or oil, clogs
And floats like debt.

Lead, slab and drain's moss wait.

Heavy boughs – slung, old, knotted – wait.

Fust falls, slow, in the vestry from no air.

We should have locked the gate.


Five


Blood is abated from the wood.
Weather is trussed underneath the wood.
Magnetism is tranquilised.
The must makes an end of “should”.

Now, in a larch’s corner, shifting murk
Will sharpen- causeless- sharpens- starts its sharpening to
An arrowhead of point and lightless time,

Until, at the juncture of its finite lines,
There the clam-hand boggart sits
And stilly bides new time.


Six


Blindness is kinder than the glintless vents
A boggart has for eyes; wider than earth
The mindless deep behind them where mere lies, pallid uncertainties
Are spun into that expanding hole – that ante-world – 
All airless for the virtues.

But if the time-before-time has its echo, so 
Must the original time of time’s inception: ergo
Even the boggart shrinks when, over the boundless deep,
Will o’ the wisp sparks up in self-conception.


Seven


Fear may be inevitable, but nature cleft it early from despair.

Dark was a long time all.

Light did come, and when light did come, light did come

Un-looked for

Moel Sych



Salt, blood, back, burst lung, hazel root made man
That buckled and bit and barked for water,
For grain and shelter and milk
For his tiny daughter.

Bats, birds and sneering night souls of gone ones
Sizzled their hisses around him black-times,
Sneering the efforts that snapped his scapula,
Popped ankles and elbows out: receded at the defiance
That popped them back.

Blue burnished, cauliflowered knuckles of man
Dragged wagon shafts up Moel Sych when his horse had died.
Inside, baby girl whimpered and cooed
From movement, not from cold:
Dad had tenderly tucked her down in the bunk,
Red russet there, wagon a womb: great nan's blankets, the old wheel sound,
Featherdown all around.

Chairs, loneliness, doors and the sixties did for man:
No place in the end of this one place where he ended.
Foot, dreams and forebears rest under man's dry tongue

Who once, along Cadair Berwyn, walked and whistled
To gods he knew. Even dead, he held his last good breath
Til they buried him there. When the last clod fell in
Above him, purple rose like blood from the edge of the sky
Like earth had loved him.

Titus




STICKS are for kindling, shelter, heating
And sometimes beating,” his mother said, bashing at air.
The four foot cherry-knock elbow, heirloom mace of the woods
She swung scythe-fashion then kestrel stoop
Like the time that young PC got the downward brunt of her rage
And his helmet stuck on his whimpering, bleeding face.
She got six months.

                                                               Then when she came back
Up the track to the camp, her bosoms like big men's heads
Caught under her arms, she saw he'd started his first arch
Under the lip of the roof of the wood. He'd used the hazel
You'd use for a dozen new tents: this structure was meant to stay
There, and even though his sisters and the month of October
Were dry and didn't dis-mind, this monument grated like grist
In his old mum's mind, and rage came flying.

Sticks are for kindling, hazel for shelter,
Ash is for heating, and cherry's for knocking
Some cold sense into your head, boy,
Bastard boy.” She ran for him like a bullock.

I want to leave something here. Just one thing
Mum, please look: it isn't a mess,” he wheezed out,
Ducking the owl-sound swings of her old bark-busting club.

He was away, but “We don't leave nothing” said Mum
As the arch's taut, proud sinews sprang in a twangling flex
From their cold mud tooth holes. Motion rang out, 

Rang out

Ringing away

The Prison Prayers of Manasseh




Manasseh, vagrant, second son
Of Charles and Freedom Lee
Kneels on the lightless flinten floor
Of Kingston jail, Surrey:


“Who was Grai?
My poor dad's motor.

Who was Shushi?
My meal.

Who was Tushni?
My mother's reed-woven manger.

Who was Vesher?
My danger.

Who was Churi?
My heirloom: thumb-worn steel.”


Manasseh was the second son of Charley and Freedom Lee.
The only time they got to church that year was when
A flood came, silvering all the fens and, under its sheen,
Drowned sheep and fox and worm
And the colours of hope. With freezing fear
The husband and wife, both eighteen, ran
To St John the Baptist's sanctuary (nine miles, and hours on foot
Even in the dry), not seeking font or bread or water, but a name.
The lesson was Joshua 17, and when the echoing promise
Of “a lot for Manasseh” came shivering down the nave,
The blue of the baby's cheeks was eased, and though his eyes
Stayed shut, the tiniest mist came up
From the pink-white threepenny round of his days old mouth,
Fogging the eyes of his underweight mother and
Desperate, harmless father.


“Who is Old Beng?
My rival.

Who are the Galos?
Bars.

Who is Mandi?
Cold behind them.

The Wavver Mush?
Ahead.

Who is the Yogger?
Father of Birds.

Puv ta Paani?
All: my looking glass.” 


Manasseh, vagrant, second son
Of Charles and Freedom Lee
Kneels on the lightless flinten floor
Of Kingston jail, Surrey.











Grai – horse. Shushi – rabbit. Tushni – basket. Vesher – gamekeeper. Churi – knife. Old Beng – the devil. Galos – policemen. Mandi – I, me. Wavver Mush – other man. Yogger – gun. Puv – earth, ground, field. Paani – water.

If you want to save time, just read this. It's the best thing I've read.

All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event--in the living act,the undoubted deed--there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength,with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me.

-Melville