A steady delete
of anything that tells us what we are
Walking the mile or so to school through suburban
1950s streets, a rag-tag gang of boys and girls
swelling as we progressed, we’d bark at dogs,
trip each other up, steal a shoe and throw it
up a tree, run away to see which stragglers
would be left behind. Trailing once the bigger boys,
I heard a shout of ‘Look out, shit!’, saw the pack divide,
but didn’t know where the danger lay, which way to run,
where this shit was hiding, or what it might do
if I fell into its hands. At a later date I blushed
when I learnt the meaning of the word. In Transition,
Miss Purvis kept me in one recess because I’d dared
to add loops to a line of ‘r’s in running writing class.
At lunchtime I knocked myself unconscious
chasing Gregory Goldsmith when he swerved and I crashed
into the brick wall of the school. I took turns with Angela
and Linda to come first in class and don’t know why
it mattered, or why I’m embarrassed to be telling this to you . . .
Stately, plump Buck Mulligan
came from the stairhead bearing a bowl of lather
I’ve read Ulysses twice, thrice, yet remember
only snot green sea, that Mr Leopold Bloom ‘ate with relish’
and, of course, the echo of Molly’s dreamily ecstatic
‘yes, yes, yes.’ I’ve lost a leg with Ahab, been wounded
crouched next to Orwell on the Catalonian barricades,
gone three rounds with Papa Hemingway, Paris ’29.
I’ve posted Herzog’s unsent letters and felt a little icky
at the fascination which swept Humbert Humbert’s life away.
In War and Peace I stumbled after Counts and Countesses
and their spiralling-syllabled names, but still arrived a page too late
to snatch Anna from the tracks. I went within a whisker
of wriggling between Catch 22’s wickedly closing jaws.
God forgive me, I failed to reach the gates of Paradise Regained
and, while on confession, I scoffed the fabled madeleine
before I went to bed, then wallowed in the wordy bog
adjacent to Swan’s Way. I’ve worn out many a pocket
swapping stones with Molloy, Murphy or Malone, inevitably
I mix them up. I need an intervention. I need a biblio-
psycho-therapist who might free me from the thrall
of all my readings past, the whimsy of living page by page.
My wife claims I spend my days trudging Roman Britain
looking for The Eagle of the Ninth, gorging on forbidden tuck
with Billy Bunter, the Owl of the Remove, or sailing
on Lake Windemere sometimes imagining I’m a Swallow,
or pretending I’m an Amazon. Sadly, all of the above is true . . .