Sunday, 30 March 2008

"Is this a telling brushstroke?": Six poems from Jokebook by Thomas White

    The flaw called for, rectification taking
place in zest. For whatever reason
fault lines have to be navigated.
Perambulant flowers, snow-sculptures, soap dishes:
metaphors for geese or swans on

a lake, gaining interest with each
transaction, losing weight with each transaction

on their way to becoming symbols
and inflation. Balloons float off. Wealth
turns city to glass: through it,
arcadia John Nash landscape of haystacks
empty fields. Nowhere. With a little
effort, description clothes an emperor and
empire in dirty streets and blind
beggars. Pieces appearing in Paul Nash’s
Equivalents for the Megaliths. Wit drifts
off the ground to language: laughter
fills in, blue sky and immaculate


Beach charms queers (gents a bit crude). Fountain plashes, features calm, natural tears. Meant a bitter prude. Loo stinks. We chose spam, not rolls. A pent-up debtor viewed towing frozen rations. We pose, cannot hold. Towering chosen nation, repose. Can of old meat. Open, scoff. Let a loose hour intro sense. Up close man obsolete. The fun of it all to sour into cessation. Exposed and absolutely vulnerable to our interpretation: there is nowhere he can hide the hand that rests just above his stomach as if he still felt horribly ill. Here is now there, he connives. The sand contests. Lust or love is too much. Massive easel filled tolerably well. Ceres’ mouth, carefree, cons wives. This, and ton breasts. Must your grove itch? Screw such passive ease! Tell him to call her and he will see she’s ‘south’. Where beacons vie his phantom rests. Rust or mauve? Bitch poo. Clutch ass. If he sees, yell. Milk all their money, spill tea. Queer how the weekend dyes his pantaloons red (dusk). Shore woven with blue, much as if the sea swell’s silk. Trawl the muddy swill.


‘How like a headlamp
is that spotlight,’ he raved, ‘the headlamp
of an effeminate train – hi there! – and, right,
John Barry told Shirley to imagine
she was singing about a penis. I mean –
how many pricks like diamonds
have you ever seen?

I first met Cocteau at an all-male sex show – San Fran, I think
around 1890. He astonished me in lace panties
but wouldn’t expound,
just glared at the dancers on the pole
which is basically a vertical handrail
which gets you nowhere.
Possibility turned on its side and I felt desire.’

But the tracks converge and fade
for those of us who’ve gone the distance
to the blue wall of the horizon.

The track turned sideways

is the string of a balloon we need
not to float away
we need a past
weighed down with significance.

If we went back we would knock up
against shadow in a room full of furniture

but the past is much too big
and, in near-total dark,
where sequins lost down the sides
of sofas sparkle, resembles a nightclub
where we knock up shadows
(chair, key, rock, cup, cat chow)
and grip the pole, slippery
as the view flashing past the window


The fir’s point

blunted by a fairy. Pointy lines
hung with shiny baubles
deflect your face. Not me.

‘Firs point,’ slurred the fairy,
‘s tha iss limiless
cos ver isnafix

fix point, ri, so it don’t
haft uh ... hyoosh area.’
Can it be in question?


Is this a dagger I
see before me, handle
beside the point, where sawn

-off prose is a forest
wearing the scent of old
apples, off the shoulder

or just thrown on, showing
some leg? Foreshortenéd
but recognisable.

That stump as a handle,
a sawn-off leg nearby.
Adjustments over time.


hello and welcome

The SS officer takes the boy’s right
finger in his black grip, pulls back ’til it snaps
like wood in the fire: hellish
perhaps but in a grate.
Walls flicker. We’re warming up.

Is this a telling brushstroke? A blob of
narrative staining the tablecloth
around which a family sit, staring at a parcel.
The scene has been dubbed by scumble
into Eastern European. There are
significant islands of brilliance but the light
of the leaded window, the sad gathering, is hackneyed.
Follow a point in a mound of straw
across the surface instead of stopping for a moral.

I don’t know what kind of plant that is.
It’s a description. I have an idea
I don’t or can’t name
a mix of green and red

I can get to know. The false name
shocks like the false hand (the mask seemed
transparent until we found it smashed) he
unscrews, packages and posts.
What is description for if it’s partial?
The clerk picks up what I had taken
for a mark – it was a realist pfennig.

In exchange for a really sunny day
the wood for the trees. The shadow
of a branch points
to the sea, which I look over as if it’s a tedious document
pertaining to the lease on a house that doesn’t belong to me.
Nothing in the sky’s loft
to unpack. The point coagulates

in dusk then merges.
I’m so happy I can’t believe my luck.
The tree was a glove, then it emptied
its limbs into my lap. Dark is a good cover
for this sort of thing.

We’re moving too fast: rewind to
nude fingers smudging canvas
and sprinkling glitter. What
do you get if you cross an onion* with a truck?
Breaking on a joke cheapens the line
but keeps speed up. Juxtaposition
is singular logic. Pound pleaded insanity.
The truck slips
through the gap and smashes
into a trunk. It’s the fat lady for the villain.

*Poetry lives off the forest
all Christmas and no fir trees.
The onion, all fur coat and no knickers,
wrings its cracked hands, leather
thick as a bauble’s hide. An onion is rarely decorative.
It’s something you make sparkle yourself.


The author writes: "These poems are taken from Joke Book, a re-mix of The Goodbyes by John Ash. Each page I wrote had to reference that particular page in The Goodbyes. I wanted to see how that engagement would frustrate, coincide with and change my own writing." Some other of Thomas White's poems can be read online at Great Works, Dusie and Stride

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