18th Century Royal Navy Refreshment
Cheap dark rum promises South Sea adventure with Captain Cook at the helm
and natives on the shore in swaying grass and flowers. I’m neither guilty nor enticed,
only drunk on deck in rags scoured by sea salt like an outcast of the islands with scurvy.
I’m silent when the poets talk of displacement, wishing I was lost with Teal
in the jungle, eating papaya, making love in a tent in the steaming hills. I dream; I drink
and look winter in the eye. The wind cuts cold like an alcoholic surgeon and I hate
the prizewinners, the Nobel song and dance men with their gala ballgowns
and enigmatic transgender allure.
My bitterness lasts a week. I smother it in softness like a universal duvet.
Tonight I’m a northern god, drunk not suicidal, full of passion, marginal like a chameleon;
I need a haircut; I need to eat more pasta; if I was fertile, I’d be dangerous.
My enemies are viral but I’ve got them by the throat, ringing their necks like Jack Palance,
so film noir and Bogart, I could marry a Hollywood starlet.
In the morning, I wake to a golden heartbeat and my phone has downloaded the future
from a dream I had about a hurricane apocalypse.
It seems I’m ignored whenever I prophecy, and interrupted when I start
No one wants a show-off psychic on their timeline, so I’ll continue to draw and post
asemic images to my wall, hoping my allotment of likes is garnered
from an international crew of heavily sedated mercenaries.
Every day of December brings the darkness to a peak and replays a panoply of deaths
and shocking referendums without significant global consequences.
So I’m weightless when I meditate because birds are portals to a matrix of white light
which renders separation and disharmony an appalling illusion the world has imbibed
without realising celebrity is an act of internalised necrophilia.
We have a porn culture run by soft glove puppets from a fast food restaurant in Idaho.
It’s time for vegetable necromancy, time to manifest an underlying tenderness
when we shop. If I stare hard at the trunk of a tree will it absorb my essence,
pass me through to Teal in Costa Rica? We could go sailing, play volleyball in a forest
clearing. I could meet Shunyamurti for a delicate green leaf lunch.
We’ll ignore the drunken shamans offering ayahuasca to middle class executives
hoping to uncoil the million stress snakes in their veins.
There will be no post-narcotic fallout, no mythology to sicken my swollen belly.
The syphilitic ghost of Captain Cook is wandering the aisles at Lidl, chopping
up cold meat because he’s offended by the multilingual packaging.
The Caribbean is a freshly written reality on the hull of a sunken schooner.
Trees in the dark are the ghosts of your presence
when the sting of the herbalist sent me howling
down the lane past my insecurities, and we sat
on a bench and talked it over, knowing you’d leave,
would probably never return. I walk a golden path of leaves
into the park where the creeps and alcoholics hide behind
stone lions. Such memories are mulch. Who cares?
I need potatoes for tea and orange juice to wake me up
in the morning. The miracle of the moon is its effervescence,
the way it bubbles over Lidl. I follow the BMWs into ASDA anyway,
awake to your DNA in me. None of your manias fazed me. I
encounter them again at the checkout – dehumanised,
robotic, Armageddon locked in the chip of a cash card.
Strangely, the woman at the next checkout tells her child
they need to pay for vegetables because anything else is theft
disguised as an active mode of anti-establishment disorder.
You just wanted free garlic and ginger. What matters now
is the way I sweep the past of leaves with the swipe
of a barcode through a heartless scanner and the reasonable 5p
charge on carrier bags. Relationships have been fucked since the 70s.
The walk home up a slippery hill has me humming the Hovis commercial,
the one with the old boy who went to buy a loaf and nearly died.
I nearly die. My spine is stiff and my legs are lumps of lard
in a sizzling pan of bacon. I remember
when we talked of our work on the phone by the stream
and I said I would dance across the logs to impress you,
and you were astonished I would try to impress you but anyway why not,
water is a running dream through life and we all expect
a certain level of incandescent sensuality, even if we end up
having to struggle most of the time. There was a rend there already and the stench
of chemicals in the stagnant stream was enough to start my allergies.
By the time I get home, my spine’s a retarded Slinky
on a crumbling staircase, and I just need to post it on Facebook,
hoping you’ll notice, hoping the fear of meeting you so broken
will dissipate with the steam of boiling potatoes and a furiously sweet
ginger biscuit for tea.
There’s a song in my head when I think of you, and I pretend it props
us up even though we’re asleep on different beds at different times of the day,
and my recurring dream is the blissful sea in sunshine or rain,
in a land grown pale on whisky and barrels of ale.
I’m a sophisticated drunk and it gives me a chance to reminisce.
Once when I was ten, I stole a packet of football stickers and my dad
had me apologise to the newsagent with the marks of his belt
still raw on my arse. Something of you lingers in the blood,
but I know I’ll never steal again because pain is a rarefied sky
with a soothing ambience, and I’m all about the fragrant glow of autumn
on my loose and succulent skin.
Stephen Nelson is the author of several books of poetry, including Arcturian Punctuation (Xexoxial Editions) and Lunar Poems for New Religions (KFS Press). He has exhibited vispo and asemic writing internationally, and published in numerous journals, most recently 3am, Bones, Posit, Otoliths and Brave New Word. Find him online at www.afterlights-vispo.tumblr.com and www.afterlights.blogspot.com.