Bubbly Creek

One long arm of it is blind, and the filth
stays there forever and a day. It is
constantly in motion as if huge fish
were feeding in it, or great leviathans
disporting themselves in its depths. Bubbles
of carbonic gas will rise to the surface
and burst, and make rings two or three feet wide.

Here and there the grease and filth have caked solid,
and the creek looks like a bed of lava;
chickens walk about on it, feeding,
and many times an unwary stranger
has started to stroll across and vanished
temporarily. The packers used to leave
the creek that way, till every now and then
the surface would catch on fire and burn
furiously, and the fire department
would have to come and put it out.

Once,
an ingenious stranger came and started
to gather this filth in scows, to make lard;
then the packers took the cue, and got out
an injunction to stop him, and afterwards
gathered it themselves. The banks are plastered
thick with hairs, and this also the packers
gather and clean.

(From Bubbly Creek on Wikipedia)

How you die

I strip in the doorway when I get home,
stand in the shower too tired to think or cry.
I sing Happy Birthday twice over every
part of my body. At work I can’t eat,
at night I can’t sleep. The dreams I have now
have only three themes: gasping for breath,
wiping things down, somehow, by accident,
being touched by somebody. Did you ever wake
in those last moments, or in your sedation
did you ever dream? I still wake some days
with a small beat like a held breath before
the truth of this new world hits me. Be safe
say the families I call on the phone.
Your name is a poem I’m required to keep
to myself.

This is the day you start to turn.
What we suck up from your lungs turns frothy pink
and then the frank red of blood. There are tests
but no one willing to run them — you are too sick
and you have never cleared the virus. No one
would ever want to be what you are now:
a hazard, a threat, a frightening object
on the edge of death. We try not to touch you.

Stronger together say the screen savers
on every screen in the hospital, the banners
on the sides of the shuttle bus. What I’ll see
is just how much this isn’t true, how so many
of our sickest patients are Black or Brown like you.
I will see a forty-six-year-old Black man,
infected with SARS-CoV-2, die instead
from having a police officer kneel on his neck.
I will see those who protest police brutality,
though masked and mostly peaceful, tear-gassed
and shot with rubber bullets. I will see
your death multiplied by ten thousand,
by a hundred thousand, all those bodies,
mothers and fathers, daughters and sons.

With my arms at my sides, I watch through the glass.
I have never mattered less in my entire life.
And this is how you die, near no one who
ever loved you, a spectacle of futility
and fear. Time is called, and someone calls your
husband, and it isn’t me. I am not the one
who hears him cry out in grief.

(From The New Stability)

Because I have not done any writing

When I wake early I say to myself
Fight, fight.
If I could catch the feeling, I would;
the feeling of the singing of the real world.

Virginia Woolf

In the last weeks I’ve taken up, and put aside,
woodcutting, drawing, German. I’ve cooked
and painted walls and baked. Several weeks in,
I caved and made a sourdough starter (it really
does seem miraculous, the raising of bread).
Watched the lilac, then the climbing rose,
then the honeysuckle bloom. Planted sweet peas
and watched them sprout. I know I am fortunate.
Sat in the small, overlooked garden,
for which I’ve never been more grateful,
with a book unread in my lap, picking up
and putting down my phone, listening
to building works and the radios of neighbours,
staring into this fragrant, sunny, confined
space. I can’t settle to anything.

This is not the time to try Proust again.
I have found brief solaces in Boccaccio’s
Decameron: the people of fourteenth century
Florence spent the plague years holed up and drinking,
or otherwise abstemiously not drinking,
or they lived riotously in the streets,
no longer caring. A group – call it a bubble –
of noblewomen and men retreat to the hills,
to villas decked with broom blossom, and fine wine
for breakfast, and brief, funny, tragic, dirty stories.

I record sudden lapses in time, and languors.
I record the rose, the honeysuckle,
seeing Venus in the sky, at its brightest.
A week passes without my noticing,
and writing the date in the diary I record
my surprise that this has happened. Then
another week passes, and I do the same.

(From I am not reading. I am not writing. This is not normal)

I feel a great love for grass

I feel a great love for grass, thorns in the palm
of the hand, ears red against the sun,
and the little feathers of bottles.
Not only does all this delight me,
but also the grapevines and the donkeys
that crowd the sky.

                                        In the sky
are donkeys with parrot heads, grass and sand 
from the beach, all about to explode, all clean,
incredibly objective, and the scene 
is awash in an indescribable blue, 
the green, the red and yellow of a parrot, 
an edible white, the metallic white 
of a stray breast. How beautiful!

                                                            Helle,
dear sir! Yessirree, you must be rich. 
If I were you I would be your whore 
to cajole you and steal peseta notes 
to dip in donkey piss…

                                             Just think
with a little money, with five hundred
pesetas, we could bring out an issue
of the ANTI-ARTISTIC magazine
and shit on everyone and everything
from the Orfeo Catalan to Juan Ramon.

(From Salvador Dali’s letter to Federico Garcia Lorca, December 1927)

Dead brown mice

At sundown the western sky turned a deep
and almost brilliant red, changing
and softening in colour in its upward
spread until the verge from south to north
was like an immense but yellowing rainbow.
Then frost came lightly; there was the merest
sound of a crinkle in walking over the grass
away from the oak wood. This morning the air
was softer. On the broad marl and flint track
there were dead brown mice; they had crept
from among the withered leaves under
the bramble bushes; it is one of the signs
that winter is sharpening.

(From 100 years ago: Rooks set about the acorns in an orderly way)

Specific comments about certain aspects of the meals service

In reply to a comment about the
fish batter not being sufficiently
crisp, Mr Howe explained that one of the fish
friers was not working properly, but
that he hoped that this would be put right
in the near future.

Mr Howe also
mentioned that recently it appeared
that a small number of undergraduates
in lunch and informal hall were taking
two portions of sweet or cheese and biscuits.
The committee agreed with him that people
should not take an additional helping
which they had not paid for.

Mr Howe said
that there was a tendency for the pencils
to disappear from the ticket machines
outside hall; the committee felt that
for the benefit of others, people
should not remove the pencils from the ticket
machines.

Mr Howe was worried about
standards of hygiene in the ‘servery’
and thought that undergraduates could
play a part in preserving standards by
refraining from peering into the food trays.

(Kitchen Committee minutes from Fitzwilliam College Magazine, 1971)

Sweet poison

When I first started selling wild honey
the price was extremely high. Then someone
in Korea ate too much and died.

This year’s harvest: quarter of a teaspoon.
You have a few minutes before
you are overcome with an urgent need
to defecate, urinate and vomit.

After the purge, you alternate between
light and dark. You can see and then
you can’t see. A sound, jam jam jam pulses,
like the drone of a bee hive, in your head.
Then you lose all motor function.
The paralysis lasts for a day or so.

Normally we have to see a doctor
to get bad things taken out of our bodies,
but the honey does this for us.

(From a National Geographic photo of wild honey caption)

What They Don’t Tell You

My mum doesn’t know who I am.
Sometimes I’m her sister.
Sometimes I’m her dead mother.
Once I was Shirley Bassey,
which made for an interesting evening.

I’d assumed we’d have lots of time
to get to know each other properly.
I was wrong. Instead of visiting coffee shops,
we ended up visiting the memory clinic.
It’s like going home with a newborn baby,
but with less support and no balloons.

They don’t tell you that she’ll hit you
as you coax her into the bath.
Neither do they tell you what nappies to buy
when she becomes incontinent,
how to persuade her to wear one
or stop her taking it off
and stashing it in a pillow case.

They don’t tell you what to do
when she thinks that the small boy
you pass on your walk is her grandson,
and tries to talk to him. Nobody tells you
how to placate the angry parents.

They don’t tell you that she’s never
going to phone you again, see you get married,
be a grandmother to your kids.
Nobody tells you how to channel the anger
you feel that your fellow thirtysomethings’ lives
now involve marriage, mortgages and children,
and yours revolves around a confused old lady
who doesn’t know who you are.
They’ve chosen their responsibilities;
you’d give anything not to have yours.

They don’t tell you that you’ll spend hours
trying to feed her a spoonful of hospital jelly
even though she’s pretty much given up on eating,
because you can’t just watch her starve.

It doesn’t matter how distraught you are
that she’s wasting away before your eyes,
or how much it upsets you to agree
to the doctor’s request for a DNR order;
this disease is relentless .

I’m still not sure how to feel about it
when there’s nothing tangible to mourn.
“Waking grief” someone called it.
When the person you knew is gone, but not gone.
But it’s not. It’s a waking, sleeping,
cloud of despair. But then nobody tells you
how to grieve either, do they?

Especially when there’s no funeral to go to.

(From What they don’t tell you about dementia. Submitted by Angi Holden)

CV

My Most Illustrious Lord,

I know how, in the course of the siege of a terrain,
to remove water from the moats and how to make
an infinite number of bridges, mantlets
and scaling ladders and other instruments
necessary to such an enterprise.

I have also types of cannon, most convenient
and easily portable, with which to hurl small stones
almost like a hail-storm; and the smoke from the cannon
will instil a great fear in the enemy
on account of the grave damage and confusion.

I have means of arriving at a designated
spot through mines and secret winding passages
constructed completely without noise, even if
it should be necessary to pass underneath
moats or any river.

Also I will make cannon, mortar and light ordnance
of very beautiful and functional design
that are quite out of the ordinary.

I will assemble catapults, mangonels,
trebuckets and other instruments of wonderful
efficiency not in general use.

And should a sea battle be occasioned,
I have examples of many instruments
which are highly suitable either in attack
or defence, and craft which will resist the fire
of all the heaviest cannon and powder and smoke.

Also I can execute sculpture in marble,
bronze and clay. Likewise in painting, I can do
everything possible as well as any other.

From a letter Leonardo da Vinci wrote to Ludovico Sforza around 1483, commending himself for court employment. Via Letters of Note. Submitted by Gabriel Smy.