Moments in the Life of Ulysses
We swagger into the blackened hall.
We’ve lost our way, the dark having lost us.
The storm severed the cable lines and
now darkness encloses us, enshrines us
timid humans in faint, dreamy oblivion.
But now a flicker from a slant candle
casts dark shapes on the white backdrop;
a girl in Marilyn dress, her hair like a
pop-corn poster twirls her fake pom-pom
and hums the tune to a solitary song.
In this light we are the spirit world;
no globes glower on the lighted stage
and no reason stems from prejudice or action.
We are all equal, so equal we’re now lost
and can’t possibly be returned to normality.
And it’s now that we realise the show
must go on; we search for each other
in the momentary abyss; there is confusion
in this dark, the body of a boy brushes me,
an odour is left in the dark like that of youth.
And we are trying to find our way, seek our way
by stealing whispers, placing intrusive footsteps;
we don’t know how to seek one another out,
we don’t know what’s happening to us.
We search for desperate shadows in the shadows,
but they are not there. We are Ulysses!
We are the lost lamb, the unborn calf.
People close in on people, from behind, at angles.
The hot heat from their bulging bodies pulsates
into quirky rhythms. Strange somehow. Song
breaks out: ‘In the jungle, the mighty jungle …’
All along the passage way we slink and slide.
We search for bodies we dare not touch and
for faces we cannot see. Penelope appears to us.
She is unattractive in Ithaca. The shadow encloses,
the light comes on, the blinding awareness, a gulf.
We find we preferred the dark.
With apologies to John Betjeman
So we arrive in sombre black,
sit to silent murmur and stained glass.
Broad benches beckon our tainted
moods on this dry afternoon funeral.
In Heaven parlour maids flutter last
tune the harps to the A-major scale and
puff up the pillowed cloud.
The wake is set in buckets of beer on ice;
roast chicken legs and cocktail sausages
wait for tight stomachs and pale sore eyes.
Someone Irish will inebriate themselves.
Then the reverend in his satin robes
climbs the pulpit and the widow drags her
feet to front row honour, standing next to
brown wood coffin, covered with red robe.
Now blow out the bronzed muted trumpet,
sound the tangling bells of gloom
Let the weeping start like a lark’s air.
Drop a hymn book or two and
permit the flowering handkerchiefs
to bloom about these warped faces.
In the aisle there is soft polish on the floor.
The walls cream white with wood beams
and a pine carved cross hangs lead heavy.
One notices the small things
when one notices the dead.
When the sermon commences in a
huddled pack we sit, absent, uncomprehending.
A low hum humbles a baby’s cry.
And then there is that silent silence.
Lumps in throats, swellings in the eyes.
And he carries us into some oblivious blur,
over the cross where Christ laments,
up to the dark air stuffed in the ceiling.
Into the sky where memory-streaked
faces haunt us from corner to corner,
pillar to post. Dead faces in a church.
Someone South African sputters.
Later we drink beer on the porch and talk
of old days when tomorrow will forget us.
We smile because smiling’s what we do.
And we know, finally, the dead are dead.
Small Things, Great Matter
The resounding moment comes in small doses.
You can almost savour the taste;
a sweet pea green, brittle, bland.
Or, if you prefer, we have visions so
striking that we are Moses incarnate,
riding the sands of the rockless desert.
(The problem being all is lost at nightfall.)
We may travel small distances to see
great things – and then wonder why we
bothered at all. The regret fumes, throngs.
It’s all a matter of sensibility; we say that
Lazarus came back from the dead -
“I will tell you all, I shall tell you all.”
And that, believe it or not, Fortinbras
is the real hero of Hamlet, merely because
his Scandinavian trek is so worthy of praise.
It’s a strange thing how it all works out.
"Turning and turning ... things fall apart.”
Well, personally, I’d be rather disappointed
if they didn’t. You see, it’s all to do with physics.
The small things turn out to be what matter
most. Very annoying, these double standards;
paradox, irony, oxymoron and antithesis.
Now, they claim The Ring to be subtle! And
Shostakovich to be, “enraged from the core of
his being.” When did I lose track of it all?
Finally, a symptom of extravagance:
“Please make full use of the fire hydrant.”
Sitting for a Portrait
When she eats she envelopes the whole table.
It shifts in her direction like cat to fish.
Tomato sauce erupts over the pizzas
and she says she wants to paint my portrait.
At her house bacon sizzles in grease, oil, lard.
We sip at apple flavoured tea with lemon.
She says, “Strip and I’ll study you.
Like David, like Apollo. Nude power.”
Now I’m reclining in classical pose.
My genitals bathing in their unconfined youth
and she is peering occasionally from behind
note pad, sketching the absence of foreskin.
It’s then when her brother walks in that
we reconsider our positions in the light of
ambiguity and he’s eating asparagus from an
oily, slithering tin. I can’t help but chuckle.
She says nothing but muses over this or that
symbol, plopping into her mouth a ripe
banana. Her brother, still standing at the door,
slightly shocked, betrays symptoms of envy.
I could swear he turns green while she has
toned herself a subtle pink. I remain the
colour of hidden flesh and underwear tan.
Her mother in the kitchen cracks two eggs
and splatters them into the frying pan oil.
Just then her father whacks two golf balls
from the terrace into far obscurity.
From the fridge comes last night’s pudding.
Spotted Dick. Bangers and mash for lunch.
“I want to paint your portrait,” she says dissecting
a curled sausage with slow grinds of teeth.
She envelopes the table. I suddenly feel small.
Incident at 12 Hampshire Lane
There he is – Death approaches.
The mocking bird chirping from a weeping willow
out in the garden of distant surprise.
Tubes elongate him, a cold and clinical machine.
Puffed up nose weeping mucus thick
and discreetly pale, somehow discreetly green.
The oxygen seeps heavy, air-filled into
lungs collapsed, charred, and it will not be long
until The Light Appears, the Distant Light.
They gather in the living room, black morbid
joy, waiting patiently for the eventual hour to come,
so that the tissues can be bought out in full.
All the while the men ponder enticing wills and
play snooker, deciding to dish out the rare red
wine collection between them for starters.
But he will not go … he will not go,
they are unimpressed to find. Not at all the
way to carry on, you must understand!
We would all appreciate a little assistance
on your part, Father. Just to let you know we do
have corporate management to see to.
And still the mockingbird sings, he chokes
and splutters spit and talks of times in war, delirious
belief in holding Cabinet Posts or War Hero.
They are getting bored, you can see.
The pet peacock nestles by the bed and looks
arrogant. Step-daughter takes grasp of pillow.
But they cannot do it. He is too aware,
too capable of haunting. They resign to slow
death. Sit and smoke long cigarettes.
Yet who should come creeping though the door?
Who should come to grant them their desire?
She is short. Wears a maid’s apron.
She inquires after his health, respectfully.
They are unanswering. She asks if she can do
the cleaning. They say: “Yes, certainly.”
And so she wheels the vacuum cleaner in
from the passage way, quick flick of wall plug and
she is hoovering away, hoovering away.
Death comes quickly now. The Light Invites.
They laugh afterwards about the probability; to have
one murderous maid so innocent, so oblivious!
Full Moon Over Bleak World
We pretend we’re freezing but we’re not.
From an industrial heater we scoop food,
making over-critical remarks.
We’re grateful at least for the suggestion
of hot tea at the table.
A few minutes later we sit and sulk; each of us
has stolen the other’s place and silent hate
stares out from fat bloated women and slim
girls in varying states of nervous conditions.
Outside the moon is full; lunar light descends,
spooning us in pallid misery.
We measure our existence with false smiles.
We believe we have no option, other than
to accept living out this mindless decay.
Someone has told us It Will All Be All Right and
so we linger in the bleakness and our moon-beam
halos make us look like miserable saints
all in a line outside a discount coffee shop.
Still we eat our dinner and pass off jests to hide
the scorned prejudice.
We manage to steal an extra
pot of tea and make light fun pouring salt into the
prim reverend’s steaming cup.
Such ridiculous actions weary us,
being a large part of our lives now;
in this day and age resorting
to lunatic antics and child games to suppress the
pressing forces of an imminent nervous breakdown.
Yet our minds are moons waiting to be explored.
We do not know ourselves at all.
We’re full and bright; we feel we’re about to burst;
casting moonlight over one another.
It’s the wrong thing to do; we’re aware of the
dangers of becoming an orbit.
Like a solar-system we’re propelled by the
same gravity; linked by the same resolve,
and still our destiny remains light years away.
A smiling face brings no happiness to the meal;
we stare longing for the bitterness to break out.
Under the factory-like fluorescent lights there’s
a sadness we choose to ignore.
We all long for the confrontation, the easing of
built up pressure.
Soon there’ll be no mention of triviality and we’ll
splinter into still smaller fragments, afraid to
probe the faces of the quarter-moons.
©Neal Hovelmeier (Ian Holding), 2020