I Would like to Pay for your Chips, by Cécile Coulon (2018, Le Castor Astral)

It began at that so particular time of the night
where the end of one day bumps up against the start of another;
I went out in the rain, I was hungry.
The storm unleashed its hot hail on the flapping shutters,
no one was walking in the streets
which were slick and seeped down to the square at the bottom
where the fountain overflowed.
Normally bony dogs would be having a bath there
But now, no barking, no whistles.
The night, the rain, the heat.
I crossed the road. A guy waved from the other side:
two fingers and a mouth ajar to ask
if I had something to smoke, I threw up an open hand
flapping, like the shutters, to show him that no,
and I went on, face buried in my oversize hoody,
hair full of the smell of a day
that wasn’t quite done.
By the sign, a young girl in a pink skirt and a guy
with a haircut that recalled the best moments
of Agnés Varda, waited their turn to order a kebab
with extra cheese.
The girl looked at the mounted flat-screen
on the wall showing clips of american pop,
the guy threw and caught a plastic bottle behind him
turning it over skilfully.
After they’d paid, the owner said
“Sorry for the wait”
I’d only just arrived, so that made me smile;
“a box of chips, with ketchup
okay
you can wait
inside.”
So I waited, standing, leant against the fridge
in front of the empty salad trays.
It was then that a man, soaked to the bone, came in.
I pushed myself aside to let him pass:
his clothes gave off a smell of cement
and cheap alcohol, his hair cropped short, grey,
held water
like the surface of a field at four in the morning.
He ordered.
At the moment I went to pay for my chips, he fixed his eyes,
eyes rounder than the beak of a Flemish rose,
the weak mouth of those tired men who drink
a bit too much and who accept it,
he looked at me for a while,
and stammered:
“I don’t know what to say to you.”
At first I thought he was winding me up, but all the same,
his eyes, his eyes!
“How’s that?”
He took a great breath, as if each word
tore from him half of a lung:
“I don’t know what to say to you, Miss”
The guy behind the counter listened with one ear
filling the industrial chip trays.
“You don’t have to say anything to me”
I responded, shaking my jumper.
“I don’t know what to say to you because I know who you are.”
The rain left lightly shining grooves, falling
from his skull to the bottom of his nose.
I didn’t know what to say either:
midnight wasn’t far off, I’d come looking for what to expect til morning,
and this guy, perfectly drunk and sound of mind, seemed
about to cave in on himself.
“I know who you are, you write books.
How do you do it?”
“However I can.”
He gave himself a tap on the knees, and then
in one go,
tears, sweat
of the rain which comes from the inside
something humid and sincere came over his look,
already drowning in solitude and the bizarre night.
He turned towards the guy
who folded
the orange trays
with the precision of a dental surgeon.
“I can tell you that I didn’t get soaked tonight for nothing, no way!”
At my back, the fridge hummed.
A light smile installed itself, naturally
between my dimples.
On the counter, my chips were ready, well packed.
I took out my coin
a two euro piece and the drowned man said to me:
“I would like to pay for your chips, if you don’t mind.”
I sighed and left my coin between him and me, then I offered my hand.
He shook it.
“Thanks, mister”
and I left, my bundle of chips on my wrist.
On the way back, the characteristic smell of chip fat
invaded my nostrils, my hair, my clothes.
I will probably never see that man again, or at least, not like that.
Since yesterday, I’ve wanted to write about him, because I wonder
which of us in a few months, in a few years, will be betrayed
by the image they have constructed
of the outside world?
Will it be for others to shake hands
at that hour of the night
for a box of lukewarm chips and an iceless cola?
I would like for poetry to be as natural to those
who surround me as the emotion
that sprang forth that night, before that square
with the improbable ease of moments that might not have been,
but that happened all the same, poorly thought out
overflowing with grace, and impossible words

Heaven

In this place rain has fallen like this forever – a mist, the monsoon downpour and white noise. Then the forest, the edge of a forest where blackbirds call meekly and woodpigeons shelter on the curved branch.

Lightning cracks through everything in vanishingly small moments. And thunder unites.

Spaced along the eternal border are houses, backing on to the woods and in each, the back door is open and swings slowly since the wind is slow. Raindrops fleck the glass, and wet the mat.

In the centre of each garden, one of the risen stands, staring into the swaying woods which moves with the shifting intensity of the rain. It is warm, and their clothes are wet. They never look away. They want nothing except to continue to look. This they are granted.

The lord’s prayer dances on their lips, but it changes nothing, and means nothing. Still they call it, whisper it, softly. Its sound is completely lost in the rain.

They seem still, and at peace. And they might be

Duck

Does any animal float as well?
Resting on this peel of thickness
pedalling slowly, and honking

Duck taught the angels
how to fly – see them now
by the barrage, watching for tips –

just put your face in your armpit
and hang there, careless –
that is how to go about it.

Lessons such as that.
And how to remain calm
in the face of such rain

After duck stands up, wrings out his coat
he waves to the angels, who nod abashed
and calmly floats off into the sky

A Theology of Thunder

The peculiar tale of the discovery and ordering of this manuscript will be told at a more convenient time. The peculiarities of its form of recording deserve their own discussion – suffice it to say that the text is a gloss of a Hittite or eastern ancient Mediterranean language unknown until the ‘Vrontin’ carving was found in the cave in mountainous central Anatolia. It is perhaps the stub of an alternative development of a primitive religion, although the inclusion of unparsable terms makes its translation very difficult. To aid in comprehension, we have entered the most likely English counterparts, although it should be remembered that, for example, the goose noted in 15 [1] is probably not any species of goose that the reader will be familiar with, although similar behaviours have been found to exist in aggregate over many populations of goose across the world. The most difficult term to translate was found in carving 3.1, where a term for emotional brain capacity was found wanting. We have used the vastly unsatisfactory ‘limbic system’ as a stand in, waiting for a time when a translator with the right powers of sight can offer up a more fitting word.

Continue reading

Three Poems after Amelia Humber

Goss

After Amelia Humber

The tongue of the cosmos mouth
drags its mist along the pond
many eyes of the coral
or barnacle prayers impact
with a soft white thud and cloud
on the world’s hill – and deeper
the deep ink behind things seeps.

I stand in the softened copse
of the shore – rain drenched but warm
unnamed white flowers blow here
amongst the heather – their heads
bob and jump in the quantum
breeze – where I once might have thought
I now dwell with the land’s power.

*

Coopers

After Amelia Humber

Strobe lights over the shallows.
The marsh flows, hardly, but still
it flows here with the thin grass
so thin and black, it’s like hair.
A magnesium surface
and water, as the flock-spheres
make their debris way through air


In the mist there are things now
things you never wanted but
were offered for your viewing –
A procession of faceless
saints, a small black sheep hovers
legless, only seen in dark,
an entirely different sky

*

Point

After Amelia Humber

With a faint humming, negate
the sky as an unreached space
(a space we can hardly grasp)
and split open a vault – to
the dark above the grave pit
ridden with frost and snowlit
pourings – through this chasm tear


see the world as it could be
bare of all ground, all solids
floating in nothingness – then
between abyss and abyss
as it sees you – iris
vaster even than god’s eye
and the pupil that screams ‘live’

*

Painting credit to https://www.ameliahumber.com/

Two Poems

A Visit to Sylvia Plath’s Grave

Seeds of grass, pods of a clock
rock in the wind which picks up
and the dog barks once – we climbed
up green cobblestone steep street
and playground to Heptonstall
saw the abandoned ship drift
along a gravestone sea-path

and bump against the present.
It talked, the wind, it said words
from a wind tongue, softly, out
of itself in hidden verses.
A button is enough, placed
In her dirt. Sigh with the breeze,
over the empty space

The Ouse

The river never rests – pushed
by its own waters, it runs
pulled forward with earth-mass speed
round the bend in the land depth,
and at every moment, rain
sinks from the hills around – ends
with a collapse, its own path.

It is so fast and soundless
this – small orgasm of force
trillionfold, rumble drowned.
So perfectly the river
is loved by the rainfall – I
would have such friends

Loki

Okay. The colours of the world
are so bursting from everything
when I drive the car home that I cry
or almost – just to see the patterns.

How subtle, how elementally subtle –
there is no easy way to say this
how the greens between greens are vast
hold whole languages with space to pass by.

The trees at the traffic lights, with branchmass
reach out for a future less worrisome
in a concord of orange, yellow, and greens –
Fireworks pretend to the complexity

and brightness of these trees.
This is not hyperbole. Reach, I say.
I go home and make the beds
for my family, forget the night –

except your eyes, holding mine
like a caught spider in their blue fire
never relenting, and your smile. My friend,
I create endless worlds to try match it

Two Poems

Crowd

The vast pack turns now – howls
it echoes in the dark
locks of the valley cliffs.
The whole hive mind stiffens –
an enemy appears
and soon becomes shadow.

The light of the howlers
is a dim-burning light
not hot like communion –
cold; cold as hill mist tears
that graze clean the day’s grime
from forgotten arches

Running silently through
damp places on the hill
babbling under black clouds
and devouring, slowly.
At first, skin from your flesh.
And then, thoughts from your brain

Sun Worship

And as poetry dies a death
or is reborn – which is
the same, until it isn’t
And the sunlight takes on a sharpness
And the world begins again to end
quite unlike a mint falling to the floor
and breaking
cleanly in two upon the tiles
and the sheerness of thought stacks
so steeply –
Did not a roman slave walk
the dry paths of this split-cream coast
Does not this man hang such
washing as has never been bettered
in the warm air
Does not the mother walk a beach
as her dog exacts nothing from
the sea
as slow the waves pull down the coast
and the sun’s fog blurs horizons
and a thousand small discomforts –
there is still much to do
even on last days, which may fade
walking through a sliding glass door
as if to return shortly
but never returning (all this
in the sun)

Here, look up through the parasol
at the sun encased in black fabric
does this seem gaudy to you?
The prehistoric stands on a cliff
watching those same horizons
as the birdcalls change.
Ask for help from the sky-trails
as they spread into the blue.
Note the ferocious beautiful
of pre-bomb flares falling on the city
but note you may be thrown off the bus
by those who don’t understand
that a flower can exist in a wasteland.
Place your hands often on
warm heads of hair –
cope like this – in sunlit ripples
on some body of water
some body of air

Aphorisms 1

Often, the cry of the cynic is one of jealousy towards hope. I know this from personal experience.

*

When someone gives up on a joint project, it takes on the features of glass – cold and transparent. And behind it you see the back of the one who left.

*

There is something beautiful in taking something meant as an insult, and wearing it as a badge of honour. It throws light back up the arse of the insulter.

*

A translation is an excuse to write something new under another authority.

*

“Whatever such a mind sees is the flower, and whatever such a mind dreams of is the moon.” This is state we could strive for, so long as we remember that, not only beautiful, still, and peaceful, the flower has the nesting insect, eating it from the inside out. And the moon is bright, and hangs outside of our world, but lunar craters are cold, dead and sterile.

*

In poetry it is sometimes easy to look for crunchy language, rather than a true picture, or letting one build its surface over the other. But then, capturing things is not the kind of thing language does, like a graph, or a sum, or a photograph, despite these all having their subjective aspects, or hardly capturing anything at all. Language evokes, but must evoke on the terms of the reader. But do I do any of this? Do I even think it when I’m writing?

*

The writing feels right, it isn’t like what has already been said. Some of the language that comes is new, in new ways, some of it is couched in dull or dead forms, which have to be revised. But what does this feeling of ‘needing revision’ consist of? Of resentment, of defining the successful in terms of what I am not? Not old, not hackneyed, not used up? Writing a poem is equal parts what I like, or think is successful, and what I don’t like about what I have written, what is unsuccessful. It can’t just be one or the other. And it can be more. Sometimes I feel nothing about a sentence. Does that matter?

*

Resentment as a concept, a superiority of approach, defining yourself against Them, ‘what they do is bad and I don’t like it’, this concept has a lot to do with how taste develops. And this is okay, so long as we realise it, and can get past it from a negativity to a creative, positive, self-related progression.

V.66

Short breaks in the lambent parade
of life arrive at the greasy
spoon in the market. The hot oil
soon replaces everything else

with crackling. Money slips and slides
from hand to hand around here, but
in a way somehow comforting,
like a hospital, compared to

a hospice. Rain comes in again,
an intermittent then constant
grey wash to tamp down all the days
into a lead sheet over me.

Words can be used by anyone
at any time, and this fact is
a casket leant in the corner
in a dark Dickensian house.

The small bright machine in my hand
clicks and whirs and sells me products.
My low social achievement score
is indicative of distaste

towards crucifixion. I speak
and instantly eyes are on me,
disapprovingly rolling round
and round and round and round and round