Alice’s Left Breast
‘Your great mistake is to ignore the satire
Bandied among the mute phenomena.’
– Derek Mahon
I am Alice’s left breast
And I tire of being looked at.
No one knows the depth of my feeling
Or my opinions about Syria.
Do you even care that I love
Abstract impressionism or find
Nudes rather a bore? Last week
I wrote a poem no one will ever hear
About a piece of concrete
Cracked into a shape like Australia
(Not, that is, because I admire
The country; I just like quixotic gestures).
I am not a pink-nosed captive kitten
For turning the pin-wheel of desire.
I speak tolerable Russian and have,
Through rigorous self-discipline,
Learned not to despair of a universe
Containing Martin Amis.
And sometimes, as I lie awake
While Alice sleeps and the plughole
Giggles, when the heating
Chugs on like sodden lungs,
I wonder how I got here
And how soon I can leave.
Man and Superman
The image swells and silvers
On the bit where Clarke Kent realises
It’s Lois up there, when he runs for the
Revolving door and comes out a second later
As Superman, then soars up and catches her
One-handed, and the helicopter too,
And sets both down softer than snow,
Saying only by way of explanation
That he’s ‘a friend’.
Turns out the distortion is strictly metaphysical,
An autonomic response cooked up by
The conspiracy of anima and lacrima as I watch you
Soak it all up like photographic film:
A whole heroic paradigm, ready-made for your heart
As it was for mine: fiction to blunt the heart upon
How it floors me, the dumb
Familiar leak of heartbreak coalescing
Into the realisation that all hearts start like this,
Empty chambers waiting for the flicker-flam of belief
In gods or heroes to light them up. And it hurts
Even more to see you still running after the
Credits have rolled, stiff short legs hurrying
Under your cape, and me just a man
Unable to save you.
We are the lovers.
You have seen us before. Perhaps together,
Perhaps apart – to us it hardly matters now.
In our heyday we sampled every imaginable
Combination of partner, position and scenario,
And learned thereby every type of pain:
The anguish of plenitude and emptiness,
The endless savageries back and forth
Of role reversal and jealousy and masks,
Changing places but changing nothing, for
In the morning everything was the same again.
Now we can’t even remember each other’s names
Or the circumstances when we met,
With comic hairstyles, perhaps, and togas
Or a penchant for lark’s vomit and sodomy.
Oh, the shapes we made, writhing in the orgy!
Of course, when circumstances required
We could be discreet, and met in secret
As a pair of shepherd lads or the insatiable
Anchorite with her father-confessor.
That was in the dark ages, among whose crooked huts
Our passion regularly inflamed the old men’s impotence
To such a degree that they incited pig-faced locals
To drive us out with pitch forks and vegetables.
Yet I still think my favourite game was the classical one
When one of us spotted the other bathing or hunting
And took a sudden vengeful yen. Then
We’d chase each other into the shades of the wood
To consummate our passion by the agonies of metamorphosis
Into an echo or a flower or a stag – for this defines us:
Always chasing, always changing. It is how you’ll find us
In the public galleries and the margins of your history.
Look closer. Wait a while until we move. There now:
Are you sure we are not watching you?