Anthony Lawrence: Five poems


I was not prepared for this. I would have thought
a man wearing glasses
with part of a broken ploughshare in one lens

and the smoke-trail of a riddle in the other
would have preferred
a lofty register, leaving iron filings to curl

from the highly-strung lathe of his recording.
Yet here is a voice
so resonant with acoustic Irish music,

you'd half expect a coppering of barnlight
and a smear of creosote
to bond on the ill-lit country dance floor of itself.


I was in the dark, in the storeroom of a French restaurant
        in Watford, my back-
side printed with rings from taking the weight of a waitress
        while sitting
on a crateful of empty soft drink bottles the day John
        Lennon signed
Mark Chapman's copy of Double Fantasy, then turned
        his back as a truck
backfired, twice. No, he staggered inside, shot, and said
        as much before
he went beyond the fabulous to be indeed more famous
        than Jesus
over the weeks of world-wide mourning. I tell this now
        because, unlike
most of my generation, I've never been asked where I was
        or what I was doing
when John Lennon died. My mother says she was knee-
        deep in a shag-
pile, snipping around the pattern for a pair of trousers
        when the wire-
less told of how Kennedy had bought the big bazooka.
        My father can't
remember his whereabouts or movements on that day,
        though has
a vague recollection of being down at fine leg when a man
        shouted something
about Dallas, a sniper, but then wind took the rest of his
        words away.
My main concern is for the manager of a French restaurant
        in Watford
who, if he's ever been asked, would surely have thought
        twice about telling
of how he opened a storeroom door to place a crate
        of empties on a crate
of empties on the morning John Lennon died.


Being clipped erratically under the bollocks
with a bound thatch of stinkweed
is not altogether marvellous, yet
it gives the day the kind of edge it had
when, lounging in suburban water,
the subtle mouthings of river fish
arranged like silver reed points
along your inner thighs, you made
some vague connection between
the oral demands of infancy
and what sex means, and you wagered
on the falsity of stories involving
freshwater eels, mottled and cruel,
that rise from the mud for your toes,
then you lowered yourself
past willow snags into water
the sun glosses over, and you aged
fifteen years in a wash of brackish oxygen,
then climbed naked into the light
of a Sunday school picnic, your arms
dripping with the need
for human warmth, the underside
of your bollocks raw from stepping
over a bank gone to seed
with stinkflowers and the litter of sex,
your hands veined and trembling
as you enter a bible study circle,
where you are not mistaken
for a prophet as you lie down among them
and whisper "Help me, my life is undone"



With a sound like an old rooster chipping
rust from its mouth to announce the new day,
the weathervane turns. On Disaster Bay,
corrugations of water rise, building
rollers that shape the rocks with what they bring:
dead frigate birds, rope, splintered oar blades, grey
mast beams crimped with iron. A wave, and Seaspray's
beaded curtain rises. The storm-dead sing
as foam and sea-lice issue from their throats.
On a stone floor in the keeper's house, blue-
lipped, skin bleached as harvested brain coral,
twenty five bodies harden under coats
of sailcloth. A bell and a tern come through
the wind: chimes, cries, their brief memorials.


From the shore, he named rain-blurred lights the swell
was bringing on a kind of elegance.
They'd crest a driving wave, and then they'd fall,
going out for seconds like eyes a trance
has frosted. He recalls, now, the small lamps
on a trawler's net booms being like lit wings
on a plane that had ditched in a vast expanse
of whitehorsed water, its cabin listing
violently. When the lights went out, something
cracked as the trawler hit the Green Cape rocks,
and he saw how three young men were clinging
to the gunwale, silenced by wind or shock.
He screamed `Swim away from the boat!' One tried
and lived. Two surfed to the ends of their lives.


The old men cough in their sleep like water-
fouled inboard motors, their dreams current lines
where no fish glide, in dangerous weather.

Awake, breathing evenly, with laughter
lighting their mouths, young men become, in time,
old men coughing in their sleep like water.

Many die here on the stones: a daughter
who fell; a son the groundswell claimed. They shine
where no fish glide, in dangerous weather.

Wybung Head, in fog, can be sinister -
a profile of the dead; a telling sign:
the old men cough in their sleep like water.

Tonight, to end her longing, waves caught her
side on. Her sea-going body reclines
where no fish glide, in dangerous weather.

The full moon, rising, blows its aorta.
A gannet expires on a reef of slime.
The old men cough in their sleep like water
where no fish glide, in dangerous weather.