top of page

Poetry Three

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.

The Funeral

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

minute arrangements;

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

boom boom.

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

Poetry Three: Text
bottom of page