The Collected Poems of Cody Jarrett
They’re real short, see –
just the few things
I managed to jot down
in stark lines –
short like the space
between the cosh
and the skull,
between the finger
and the trigger,
between the getaway car
and the state line.
And if any
of you cheap bums
says I’m ripping off
The Hollow Men,
you’ll be wearing
your face backwards.
This is how I see it –
a man’s what he is
and if the law
don’t allow for that,
things heat up.
But what a man is
to his Ma,
when it ain’t about guns
or money or liquor,
So I tried
to put it down pretty,
use the words
like they were flowers
not spent cartridges.
I tried, Ma.
The best of ’em
or just quit writin’.
Rimbaud gave up
everything he had,
done with poetry
at twenty and ready
to take on the world:
man of business.
You get to thinking
what they’ll say
as they lower the box.
You get to thinking
about what you did,
how it was shaped
by where you came from
and the folks you knew.
You get to thinking
about what matters,
whether you made it
to the top of the world
or whether the world
blew up in your face.
Morpheus in the Underworld
The further down the nine circles,
the louder it gets. Not from screams
or the yelped repentances
of death-shocked sinners –
that’s just so much propaganda.
No, the noise is from the all-night,
all-eternity partying. Eighties
big-hair soft-rock; empty kegs
jettisoned into the fires
that keep the whole placed stoked
and the saunas and jacuzzis hot.
There’s a whole new circle
awaiting its grand opening:
the Hugh Hefner Memorial
VIP Lounge. But chances are
he’ll live forever. Meanwhile,
joints are toked and fat lines
like barcodes in white
are hoovered up from the mirror
while despots and party girls
conga down endless corridors.
You’d have a hard time believing
this is Hell. Until the relentlessness
wears you out and you try
to find a room devoid of orgies
or shady deals. Until you try
to catch some sleep. Hammer
on the walls all you like;
no-one has work tomorrow,
in fact the only work anyone does
is the nails-on-chalkboard business
of your sleep deprivation.
This is Hell, remember: it’s
different for everyone, and all
you want is some quiet time,
all you want is a few hours’ kip.
Last of the Famous International Nobodies
At the office, he cuts his opinions loose
and sends them scuttling between
desks and filing cabinets. Before he goes
home, he retrieves them from the bins,
dusts them off, locks them in a drawer,
safe and sound and ready for tomorrow.
God forbid he’d have nothing to bore
his colleagues with; God forbid he’d go
home and feed those endless evening hours
into the grinder of allotment and DIY
and not rely on it being within his power
to have a voice again at work. The sky
self-harms: bleeds sunset. He’s still awake,
trying to place that quote about the bars
two men stare out of (Wilde? Byron? Blake?):
one of ’em sees mud and one sees stars.
Surely some mistake? Surely it’s not that
clear cut? How about this: one man
looks through the window of a studio flat
and turns away, denies the reflection’s him.
It’s all been done before, from invitations
to insert the now-vacated job role
in a place of total eclipse
to the straightforward
"[insert expletive] you, I quit."
It’s been done as spittle-flecked close-ups
in movies and to steel guitar accompaniment
in country songs. It’s been done
by dockers and welders
and office monkeys.
It’s been done triumphantly
and bitterly and ended in fist fights. It’s
been done by the disaffected sheriff,
handing in his badge and gun;
by the typesetter
eager for words
of his own and convinced
they’ll hammer themselves out in a welter
of travel, alcohol and sexual misadventure
and all he has to do is chuck it,
turn his back on it,
walk away from it all.
A Quiet Place to Stay
Peacocks stake a claim to the lawn.
The guy tending the bar
has named them. Time is something
he seems to have on his hands,
in his pockets, generally about his person.
Invisible units of time
clipped to his belt, a time fetish
on his key-ring like a rabbit's foot.
Time as a book mark, keeping his place
in 'À la recherché du temps perdu',
his third reading of the entire sequence.
Time as the pages in his diary,
discursive entries on the habits of peacocks,
the interchangeability of guests,
the slow passing of the hours.
The Inspiration Thief
I have been cleaned out:
I made on the bus
this morning and filed
for later use – gone;
those words overheard
in the staff canteen
that wanted to be
an extended piece
for two voices – gone;
the quirky concept
that threaded itself
through the gunmetal
like a mantra – gone;
the idly conjured
fragments dancing like
around the office,
blowing kisses – gone.
No prints, no traces;
just a ghost’s shadow
a thief turned blacksmith,
my words shaped as his.
The Prince of Torremolinos
Money has put him where he is now,
a man of business in a tourist trap.
Money took him through Fuengirola
and Benalmádena, an expatriate
carving a niche. Greased palms,
slick talk, bodies oiled and bronzing
lined up along the beaches like hot dogs
waiting to be turned on the grill,
pockets waiting to be turned out
in the bars. A loan here, a favour there,
a signature on the dotted line.
His name assumes a currency.
Bulstrode. Bull. John Bull.
Deals done cash in hand, off the books
and auditless. Some local muscle
to back him up, a reputation
ambivalent enough to make a tough guy
hesitate, but not scare investors off.
Money accrued. Money rubbing up
against itself, non-consecutively.
Money dancing its rude tango.
A couple of bars, a casino, interests
in a hotel complex. Money brought him
here, made him what he is now –
the prince of Torremolinos.
Bulstrode. Bull. British bulldog.
Twisted as a pound sign, in thrall
to the value of the Euro, he curses
the nubile acres of the beach
if his day-old copy of the Daily Mail
costs him more than it did last week.
He turns his back on the tanned ranks
of girls languorously arranged
as if auditioning for reality TV,
turns his back on the lads strutting
their pimply delusions. They’re nothing
till evening fetches them in, nothing
till their lusts and wallets are his.
Bulstrode. Bull. Businessman.
This is not Adlestrop. No birds singing
and whether the dull parallel of the rails
ends up in Oxfordshire or Gloucestershire
is anyone’s guess. It’s dark and I can’t see
the end of the platform. It rained earlier.
The service was delayed shortly after
the view stopped being worth the gift of sight.
Two hours between a sewage treatment plant
and a haulage yard and it wasn’t even like
the trucks were those big gleaming rigs
you’d imagine hauling dangerous loads
across Alaska. Now I’m here, standing
on platform zero and it’s either the railway
equivalent of Bruckner’s 'die Nullte' or
my second-class Twilight Zone ticket
has brought me to the start of a journey
I never took. Either way, the café’s closed.