Just one more minute’s screen time, please
to check how long my screen time’s been
I can’t settle. My brain’s uninsulated
wires fizz under the floorboards, burn up
my thoughts like dust motes.
(Please, don’t touch that bakelite
switch. I think we need
to get a man in.) All these screens,
these grim receipts of status spiked
on cluttered desktops
in my mind. Today
I spent three hours watching e-ink
notepads being unboxed. I learned
third hand a well-known racist
commentator said a racist thing,
and scrolled until
I found the thing then dived
below its line, let outrage bleach
the gutters of my mind.
I’ve heard the brain
is wider than the sky.
Well, the skies round here are huge
and grey and I have nothing
to say. I have rendered every
stunning vista into
wallpaper. I used to think
that cynics were the clever ones:
that treadmill, low-fat cynicism
that sees the fault in everything
before they try to reel you in.
But cynics don’t just see what’s wrong:
they accept it. I don’t know
what I want, can’t picture myself
twenty years from now. I’m hasty
thumbs, erroneous corrections,
fidgeting the flesh clean off
my bones, a phatic vocal tick,
the ground floor of a tower block:
all that weight.
And I Saw England
In dusty deep July I threw
my sun-scorched body in the Waveney,
cooled my blood against
the streamer weed and pennywort,
then breast-stroked up the river under
alder glades to turtle-bask
on a disused bridge support and gaze
at England in the water’s pickle-green
and in the swan that glided
fifty yards upstream, attended by her
cygnet train, imagine England
in the centuries of blacksmith’s boys
and parlour maids who’d slid
their molten bodies off that once-was
bridge on days like this.
And I saw England in the little
rowing boat and in the loosestrife flowers,
and in the mighty cob that slipped
along the river top beneath the smudge
of butter sun towards me and his pen
and cygnets far beyond beyond my back.
I kept an eye on him, as I splashed off
to reach my clothes, my bit of bank,
but when I veered away he veered as well,
so I veered further still, convinced
that he would see I meant no harm.
I gave that cob the river’s width
but still the beast bore down on me
til he was only inches off and then
his vast wings flapped, the white arm
of his neck rose up, his ancient orange eyes
flashed like fire on Boer farms, like mortars
dropped on Baghdad compounds.
I saw that stately mask slip as it did
on Belfast streets, and flinched
as England’s martial, murderous hiss
shot out at me from its serrated beak.
Mate! To think you still exist; out there
now in hideous 4K clarity, logging onto
Zoom and catching up on Gogglebox
in the aluminium twinkle of an eco-bulb.
Don’t you prefer the past? The world beneath
a vinyl crackle, its edges blurred, its phatic chatter
rendered down to poetry? I could leave you
there, suspended in the amber of a Polaroid,
where our parents, tweed-skirted and double-cuffed,
twiddle the cord of a rotary dial telephone
and smoke in the house. But then I think of
Calke Abbey, the nursery shut up the day
the little Lord inherited the master bedroom.
On the rug, a dinky car, abandoned
like a goblet at Pompeii. The tyranny of that.
We don’t touch each other any more
twelve years in a double bed
down to business-like deals
we can’t bring ourselves to shake on,
not even an x at the end
of a text. I’m not saying
that I want to. I just wonder
where we went. But today
you sent a photo of our son.
It stopped me as it flashed
across my palm. We were there.
In his face. In each other’s arms.