I stand a failure. The barbarian at the foot of the citadel, Ignorant of Adorno, Derrida, Deleuze, The New Left Review. It is absurd. She took twenty years out of my life. Now I am old. Desperate for Viagra. I think I will moan In the coffers of the galaxy. It is quaint. There are three hours to Happy Hour In the Livingstone pub And I will have to sweat out each one of them. Give us some genius. It is cruel. Festival and incantations. It is too hot to think. Perhaps some great event for me Will occur between now and my death. It is absurd.
Albert done croaked it. He electrocuted himself 'cos his legs had given way And he couldn't walk the hill To his council flat no more. He didn't want to go into St. Martin's. He was 83. He took his shoes and socks off And put his bare feet In a basin of cold water. Then he wrapped the bare electric wire Around his waist And switched the electric on. He had a lot of guts. He was Company Sergeant Major To the Somersets In the War and Greece. Later he ran the Territorial Army in Bath. He was a right bastard. Wouldn't stand for no bullshitting. He loved Greece, The Changing of The Guard At the Royal Palace, He drank retsina till his dying day. He walked miles around Bath, and in the surrounding countryside, To his work in engineering and to the pubs. He would drink his beer and barley wine. At home he brewed his own ale and plonk. His wife died over thirty years ago in childbirth And he never looked at another woman. He was left with two daughters to bring up. He made chutney for himself. He made marmalade and jam. His tapestry is famous. His Mantovani LP collection was exhaustive. He played music all the time. He saw the sexshow in Tangiers in '38. He wore his bunnet And always had a twinkle in his eye. He was Albert.
I Coatham Hall is up for sale, The house of the Amundevilles At Coatham Mundeville In the Jarldom of Sadberge, Just five miles north of Danish Darlington, We rented the older half. That is my home. Pevsner says `Very plain C18 stone house with original staircase. Large early C19 W wing. Shallow hipped roof over all.' Coatham Hall is where I come from. The wee Scots boy growing up in the English village. II Behind the high walls round Coatham A wilderness: Paradise for a small boy's summer. Paths to be flattened through the head-high nettles Where the trees had been cut, The exploration through the woods to farmland. The old house itself; Kitchen walls five foot thick, Damp running down, The long stone corridor with the stag's head looking down. I grew up there with clamped emotions. III Grandfather Clark was a Planter And the Pettigrews were at the Boyne, Land in County Tyrone and built Crilly House, But our Pettigrews were from Malcolmwood. The Duncan connection through the Macreadies, And MacKinleys through Ireland. No Polks I think. My father came out of Calton Flushed with his brilliance. Heir to Irish Glasgow I supported Celtic, And walked around the University in a dream. The beauty of Mathematics. A rich material world, As entitled to from Coatham But no meaning Until Penelope blew my head off. Love is all you need. IV Fiona and Susan. Now thirty years and out of the mist, Cats are much more sensible. I came from the beginning. Penetration is a male thing, Not to be sneezed at. I walked out in the morning air, For it was that time of year. The demons whisper: Have fear. All love leads to breakdown, Better to survive by oneself Than live out an agony. The old house at Coatham didn't have ghosts. We played croquet and French cricket on the lawn. Two younger brothers and my parents. I wish I had the words for it. `Love is a vapour/We're soon through it', says Basil. Thirty years. V When I got my green Hercules bike For my birthday, my first bicycle, I fell off it badly in the snow. In days I returned and mastered it. For twenty miles around I explored Past Brafferton and up to Great Stainton, To Sadberge and Thorpe Thewles. I even made it to the sea at Seaton Carew. I loved my bike. I would ride off for the day And return joyfully to the empty house With no one to greet me. But there was the pleasure of returning home. VI In later years I had my black Ford Popular Which took me to Glasgow and back. And to Sitges in Spain And to Freiburg before Celan. I loved that car. I could take the engine to bits. I rebuilt the body to preserve from rust. On the Corniche at Nice Was its finest moment. I drove through the rush hour in Milan. And Paris with a bust headgasket: Machine gun shots on the Champs Elysée. I loved that car. VII Twentyfive years in Bath Designing a wilderness at the bottom of the garden, A substitute for Coatham. Failing at another job. I wish I could read my poetry aloud, But too many nervous breakdowns. I always sought the dream Of having someone else inside your head. And it came: schizophrenia. My blood disease should kill me. It tries every five years or so. But love, Not being alone in the world. That haunts me. VIII The sand pit, the rockery, The view over the wall at the Great North Road, The white summerhouse, Gooseberries and strawberries. Edwin, my own age, at the farm. I was born to greatness, The English country house. Now to be sold. I went out from there determined That I would solve everything. And I have. Me and the brilliance at Glasgow. It is all clear. I wrote it.
What is your business? I blow people's heads off. With what? Words. When does poetry work? When you gasp aloud on reading it. What is poetry? Words. Is there any meaning? It is too complex. You just draw out a few threads From the tapestry. How does it really work? It echoes in the subconscious. Can take weeks to penetrate Then it explodes. Can anybody do it? Only those incapable of anything else. It's just what we do, Our business. Words. Words.
I read everything and understand nothing, Painting pretty pictures of what never was. What I write about was before words, The holocaust reflected in my broken stupid love affairs. I see my mother in Arthur Rimbaud's, Condemning me, a failure, to the sanatorium. The first few poems were full of hate for her, Then, later, it was done more subtly. To live in an unloved vacuum all of your life, Craving the interruptions of the voices in the head. Poetry speaks to me, Susan speaks to me, Neverending music on the player, I am never empty. And people say `dig deeper, don't repeat yourself', I hit rockbottom fifty years ago. I know death. I have been there. You don't know what's happening and just drift away. I wish alcohol gave me oblivion. This life's been a waste of time. Only the poems.
Jo complaining about her first experience of sex: `But I don't feel anything'. Me thinking that for all the excitement My emotions weren't touched. The bones in Susan's face, the pain in Susan's eyes: The recognition that this was the same. Coming home after the long parched season since Fief, There are so few of us. You always look for it and never see it: Easy to be deceived. My best friends are seventy-year-old men, The trouble is burying them. Would I know it if I saw it again? But of course, we are a closeknit family. I read of homecomings, Muzot, Harar. For fifty years it has been my obsession Like Heidegger and his Being. Freud, Melanie Klein, Fairbairn, Winnicott, Bowlby, and Nancy Chodorow are my teachers. I think at long last I have come home.
`Did you have a nanny?', asked Fiona. `No, my mother nursed me', I answered. `That's where it comes from', she said. `I don't think I could take that', I replied. My mother was a marvellous Scottish farmhouse cook. Her lentil soup, a tureen she renewed every week or two, Has entered my soul. Take a ham bone and build on it. She cooked bacon and eggs on a slow gas flame to perfection. And fried pancakes. Her rock buns and biscuits are of the memory. And when it came to roasts she was laughing. Brussel sprouts and cauliflower. She could make trifle like nothing on earth. And her tablet was unparalleled. Rabbit stew was like chicken. But better. Rhubarb pie and custard. Lemon meringue. Strawberries and cream. I have lived a life of sweet dreams and nervous breakdowns.
All I live for is me drink And panning the dregs of poetry For a nugget. I range centuries And sit in the present. Trying to excoriate the `I' Which lives in my head. Takes a gallon of Bellringer for that. The rain beats down on the new patio With its view over Bath. House paintwork in desperate need of the brush. I wait for the downpour To ease my delivery to the pub.
Douglas Clark /Poems99/ Benjamin Press, 69 Hillcrest Drive, Bath BA2 1HD, UK/ email@example.com