flashback, heartattack, primadonna
I saw three words:

the names were stacked outside the Viper Room,

a Burroughs cut-up on the Strip.

I flashed back to collapse:

that golden boy, no phoenix from his ashes now.

And now I'm here at Heartattack & Vine,

at Hollywood & Crime,

the nexus of the nuttiness that drives this town.

I'm scoping all the broken souls

who flock here in deluded hopes of landing fame.

A grizzled loonbird wheezes through a mouth-harp,

punctuates his bleats with grunts like "Livin' on the edge!"

You must not catch his crazy eyes, his livid fear:

one look could tip him over edges you will never know.

They've all been spat out of the dream,

they hum and mutter to themselves,

the holy floating fools America discards,

the nightmare primadonnas of the streets.


satanic majesty
For him a nanosecond, scarce a slice of time,

washed over by the other faces, other hands.

For me encounter with a god,

if gods are merely mortals

deified by fantasies of swagger.

The very name of Jagger, like a dagger.

Michael Philip takes the mick

with swollen lips and swollen prick

and Warhol's great tumescent tongue.

Negrophile impostor, prancing narcissistic ape,

I met your henchman, your accomplice,

but you're the starfucked star

who awed me from a tender time:

Teacher's son turned evil cupidon,

Loog's pet droog with hand on spangled hip,

labial obscenity at the mic.

Hyde Park, Altamont, Powis Square,

and thence to Villefranche-sur-Mer

with Bianca as your mirrored twin,

the panther scorned by Pallenberg.

Then my first Stones shows,

twice at Earl's Court, one broken into.

Hyperbolic decadence on cusp of punk,

pale torso rising from the centripetal stage,

honky-tonk androgyne in heat.

When did parties overtake the songs,

or was it merely tough

to get the toothless Keef's attention

as he sank with Spanish Tony in the mire?

Of course I longed to be you,

strut my stuff in stadia

bag the babes you've had.

But Keef was right:

you didn't move me anymore.

Yet now you're here

in this our space and moment,

greatest star of stage and runway,

gracious as a king in your blue suit,

your hand in mine,

eyes scanning for the next idolator.


nordic noir
Not noir, in fact, but sheeted white

half-mirroring the deadening blank of off-white sky;

stout fronts of ochre, pinky-brown,

oxidised kings on plinths in Oslo's sludgy squares:

this North I have long dreamed,

borrowed once from Bergman and then from Moodyson and more,

plus those who Let The Right One In.

And still for me these serious souls seem

free of ennui, unplagued by snarky what's-the-point.

I like their lucid fluting vowels and

consonants hard-cut and pure,

not lazily lolling like ours

but clean like Skrei with sea-buckthorn.

I look for the exotic,

Hamsun's Mysteries in the fjords, Ordet's austerity again,

when really I am questing for the bleakness in myself,

reducing Swedes and Finns

to saturnine despair in silent winter parks:

an easy sketch for those who potter through the Munch-Museet

and stare into the terror of the dark.


bella italia
The old flesh sweats.

There's no escaping summer's sapping blaze.

A day alone with me for company,

the hubbub of an unknown town.

Through Anglo-Saxon eyes they preen and gleam

like narcissistic kings and queens.

Directions asked:

a prima destra, says the girl whose skin is olive oil,

whose tongue is music of the streets and stars.


departure in rain
Slabs of green in misting wetness,

wet that weeps on English fields;

dribble of the drizzle

and of trickling tears on smeary panes.

Three sons pull away,

the man-cub boys whose births I saw.

Half-wanting them to go, to leave me in my solitude and books,

but then the sudden dropping death that is their absence,

them dragged from me, my children, skin and blood,

their smells and laughs,

like I've retired, their visit charity,

a premonition of my slowing years.

The dog's collapsed and bored to death,

though this time yesterday she staggered up to Hunter's Tor,

observed the tiny ponies there.

Six of us in single file with cream teas in our tums,

onwards, upwards, limbs and lungs,

the stunning quiet among the tongues of fern and thorns of gorse.

But all of that was yesterday:

tomorrow had not come

and I could have my lads forever pressed to me,

tight to my heart.

Preserve them on the motorway in slithered wetness,

years of immortality ahead.

Yes, may they stay forever young and find their feet on sodden ground

and take the piss out of their old man,

buffoon of fifty-five,

who loves them more than they could know.


human be-ins
They swarmed here in their thousands:

hitch-hike kids in headbands, luv 'n' Haight.

They left their Moms 'n' Pops for seven hills and gingerbread,

for foggy daze and Jerry's jams.

And for a Bacchic moment flowers bloomed

and gardens shook with sound.

We knelt together in the park

and balled until the dawn.

But what went up, it soon came down.

The money talked, and talk of revolution petered out.

I came a decade late, and come again to find a place

where money speaks of money, little else.

The hollowed eyes of homeless freaks stare hard

at hipster tech elites.

I walk up hills and down,

and kids whose parents danced and laughed

are hypnotized by bleeping screens and cannot tear themselves away,

not even to look up or out upon the bay,

in case they miss their biggest score:

the app that ate the world.


exclusive escape
I've come for no distraction, timeless light and heat,

for crickets in the fig trees, smiles of waiters in their whites,

coffees proffered by the sparkling pool,

halfway up a mountain, mobile phones switched off.

So catch me if you can.

It's all I ever dream of

in the months of wet and grey and raging roads,

yet here I am and what's it all about?

The emptiness within, the chasing of the tail in vain,

the knowing that I've not achieved a thing I aimed to do

and haven't said a thing I meant to say.

So maybe this is what I mean to say.

I wish to leave behind one solid thing that I could point to,

say that:

"This is what he made and it distils the world we apprehend,

   the vain old fool, that mournful man past middle age.

   His words will stand and we can think he was a seer

   and not a pompous petty egotist 

   who flexed his flabby pecs in bathroom mirrors,

   imagined women watching,

   and then felt shame at self-regard."

There are no Kafkas anymore, no Robert Walsers to be found.

The world is full of poets in designer frames,

the memoir merchants with their egos daily sucked like cocks.

And I'd be one of those with half a chance extended –

whore myself to highest bidders

take acclaim as my sure due.

I like to think that I can see through all of this,

can strip it all away to purest vanity,

but egos rise to fight another day:

they know no peace,

demanding good reviews and longing for

the fawning praise of those who see a genius in their midst.

Humility for me's humiliation:

I know no other way to reach ascetic calm.

I sit beside a pomegranate tree

and listen to the ceaseless scrape of crickets,

compulsive voicing of communal urge,

and wonder what I mean to say or even if I need to say it.

Stillness thrills and all's as it must be:

the billions all across this ball of rock and sea,

the pointless purpose of each waking day,

the thinking that some answer lies ahead.