Tim Plester — poems
Elena Stashkova (Ionova) — illustration, compilation
Dance Of The Far Northern Sky
Listen. It’s a cold moonless night
in a small town on the
bleak secluded edge of the Arctic Circle.
Hush now. Time passes.
Hush now. The locals are all sleeping.
During the long dark months, on nights such as this one,
an ancient portal opens between this world and the next.
For this reason, we’ve been sleeping with the curtains open.
And finally, at a little before 5 in the morning,
they come for us.
Hush now. A hoarfrost whisper on the raw North Wind.
I rise and stand naked at the window. My pale
English skin, illuminated by the underglow of the street-lamps below.
I stand there dumbfounded. Compelled. Entranced.
As still as a frozen ocean.
What was it I wonder, that Jules Verne’s intrepid adventurers
had hoped to discover beneath the glacier, that they couldn’t
more easily have found in the wintery sky above their heads?
Hand-in-hand they dance before us. Carried aloft by 12 Valkyries on horseback.
Hush now. A chorus of empyreal will-o'-wisps, chasing their many green tails.
Up beyond the icebound headlands.
Up beyond the icebound scree.
Visitors, not of this Earth. Trapped somewhere between us
and the bands of Orion’s belt. Hostages to the high latitude.
I watch them flutter, then ripple, then eddy, then skip.
She watches them flutter, then ripple, then eddy, then skip.
Pull your head from out of your neck, lift up your face, and bear witness.
A Supercommunion with The Cosmos. A glimpse of The All Thought.
A reminder that this world below is still in the process of being created.
Gaze upon them for long enough,
and simple words cease to have any meaning.
Gaze upon them for long enough, and eventually they’ll begin to fade.
Beckoned by her smile, I return to the warmth of the hotel mattress.
We lay together, electrically-charged by our visitation.
Dawn is still another 4 or 5 hours distant, but
there promises to be some good fishing tomorrow.
That 40-pound brown trout may yet still be mine.
How Dry Does Your Deepest River Flow?
Wade on through the rowan and the willow
and the thousand-years of stunted oak,
and there, in the heart of the deepwood,
may you find them.
Barefoot upon ancient ground.
There, in a small man-made clearing.
Far from the idlers and the imbeciles,
and the petrol-pump and the pylons.
Incline your ear and your itch towards them, and be rewarded.
Hear their songs of testimony, persuasion, exhortation and warning.
Joyous and luminous. Sorrowful yet glorious.
Moving the very air about them. Soul-searching for their suppers.
Like young Joshuas, yowling at the stubborn walls of old Jericho.
This is the music of the wagon-wheel and the whetstone.
A lily of three-part harmonies among thornbush.
Oh Precious Lord, take my hand and lead me onwards.
As it was in the beginning, so it is now.
And thus shall it ever be so.
World without end. Amen and Alleluia.
Just Another Wretched Sunday Morning
You’d think I might be used to this by now.
My head all alone on the pillow.
A carpet of last night’s bourbon coating my tongue.
You’d think I might be used to this by now, but no.
I’ve been behaving like a puppy-dog chasing its own tail.
Like a fool. Like a chump.
Like a motherfucking unholy shmuck!
There are simply too many people in London, and not enough space.
Bottom line. There’s no way around it. It’s just the way of things.
We live all ontop of each other; stacked corpses in our private catacombs.
On some mornings, the walls and the ceilings feel paper thin.
I can hear the neighbours breathing in the flat upstairs.
I can hear the neighbours in the flat next door, slurping warm tea.
Above and to the left of me I can hear my neighbours laughing.
Through the wall. Through the ceiling.
And it feels like they’re laughing at me.
Oldest Pot Plant In The World
The broodboom Cycad first arrived
on the banks of the Thames back in 1775.
Fair to say it’s seen its fair share in all that time.
The Uprising in the American colonies.
The expansion and contraction of The British Empire.
The ages of Boz Dickens and Saucy Jack.
The coming of the railways and The Industrial Revolution.
A Great Stink. A Great Famine. A Great Depression and a Great Smog.
The construction of The Crystal Palace.
The re-location of The Crystal Palace.
The immolation of The Crystal Palace.
The Battle Of Cable Street and The Troubles in Ireland.
2 World Wars and 1 World Cup.
New Wave, Punk and The Carnabetian Army.
The end of apartheid in it’s homeland.
The Brixton Riots. The King’s Cross Fire.
And four terrorist bombs on a warm July morning.
The broodboom Cycad’s been steadily growing away
at an average rate of about 2.5 cm a year.
That’s 2.5 cm a year for the past 232 years.
It’s not in any kind of a rush that’s for sure.
Now, it’s my sister who possesses the green fingers in our family.
My fingers, in stark contrast, are toxic black. All full of glyphosate.
I fear I’ll kill this living fossil if I stand near it for too long.
And I really don’t want that on my conscience. Not right now.
Best I beat a hasty retreat to The Temple Of Aeolus instead,
and leave this ancient evergreen to continue photosynthesizing.
Or whatever that thing is that plants do.
Waking The Gods
The Godheads are sleeping.
It’s their divine Siesta time.
At the appointed hour, they will be
awoken by the resident sadhu monks;
who will bathe and feed them
before dressing them in today’s choice
of creamy silks and crimson robes
— ready to greet their adoring public.
That’s when the piped music will begin.
Shlokas will be spoken. Lamps will be lit.
And the doors to their golden shrines will slowly open.
There, beneath the luminescent limestone pinnacles
cross-legged in sockfeet upon the milky marble floor,
I will give thanks to Lord Vishnu for bringing her back to me.
I will give praise to Lord Shiva for giving us this second chance.
I will offer my blessings to Ganesh and to Hanuman
for granting me the strength to form those
in my gullet once more.
Om Shanti my friends. Peace be unto all.
Deep Song (For Federico García Lorca)
Come flow oh salty tears of ancient Andalucia.
Let bells toll. Let winds sing. Let castanets rattle-tattle.
They mourn for you still, sweet gypsy poet.
And it is an epic grief. Shouldered by all.
Carried like a trembling melody along rolling red roads.
Winding. Rising. Twisting. Turning. Harmonizing.
Spirals of weeping that echo from snow-capped peak to snow-capped peak.
Preserved in the clear air like the finest cured hams.
Your blood still stains the carbonated mountain waters
and gives it that medicinal metallic aftertaste.
You are the jasmine, the foxglove and the lemon thyme.
The evergreen myrtle. The swales of swaying broomstraw.
You are the nightingale. The turtle dove. The swifts on the wing.
You are the ruined cortijo. The broken hammam.
You are the ristras of sweet Pimiento
hanging like bell-chimes from the balconies.
See the old lady in the doorway dressed in black? She weeps for you still.
See the herdsman on horseback? See the virgin tossed in crinoline?
They mourn for you, Federico García; you their long lost lover.
Their father, their mother, their neighbour, their dead child.
I wonder, did perhaps the smell
of the lemon blossom fill your nostrils
that dark August evening in 1936,
when the militia-men dragged you to that lonely hilltop
and there, beneath the branches of the olive tree grove,
forced that bullet squarely through the back of your skull?
Breaking open your carefully pomaded hair.
Staining your handsome v-neck sweater, so.
Your body thrown into an unmarked grave
along with the school teacher and the toreadors
and the one, two, three, four, five thousand more that followed.
Ay yayayay! A cold dagger to the heart would’ve surely been kinder.
My Own Private Guernica
Snow falls upon the Sierra de Guadarrama.
Shadows lengthen in the afternoon sun.
I could have gone to see Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ today,
but I can’t face that capacious canvas right now.
I’m not in the mood for abstracted strategic bombing.
No, I feel shot-thru with enough symbolic shrapnel as it is.
Instead I’m stood here, watching the street-walkers on the corner.
Counting the number of imported cigarettes being smoked.
Counting the number of tricks being turned.
The bull is just a bull. The dying horse is just a dying horse.
The inverted hidden harlequins are just inverted hidden harlequins.
I could have gone to see ‘The Garden Of Earthly Delights’ triptych.
Or ‘The Black Goyas’ (painted at home by a half-mad old deaf man),
but best I stay right here, partly hidden by the heavy hotel curtains.
Collecting dust on my eyeballs. Slowly bleeding out.
A lemming on a clifftop.
A kitten in a gunny-sack.
I open the sallyport and close
the first door firmly behind me.
My white flag is unfurling.
I can feel my toes beginning to curl under.
I Lie Here In A Strange Girl’s Apartment (After Brautigan)
I lie here in a strange girl’s apartment, reading
a poem called ‘I Lie Here in a Strange Girl’s Apartment’,
written by an American man called Richard Gary Brautigan
who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the year 1984.
And you have to realise that I didn’t plan it this way. Not at all.
I mean, you have to realise that this is a case of purest serendipity at play.
I simply opened the book (first published in New York City 41 years ago),
turned over the page, and there it was; 14 lines long
and printed on paper now slightly mottled with age.
Lying here in a strange girl’s apartment while she takes a shower,
I find myself listening to the sound of the running water,
and imagining that it’s the sound of the Pacific
ocean that I can hear coming from the other room.
I imagine the black-green kelp. I imagine the seagulls shrieking overhead.
Richard Gary Brautigan’s ‘I Lie Here in a Strange Girl’s Apartment’
is dedicated to a woman called “Marcia”. But what I don’t know,
and probably never will, is whether or not this Marcia
is the same Marcia as the Marcia who Brautigan
dated for a time, and who turned out to be the last person
he ever spoke to (on the telephone), before pointing
a loaded .44 Magnum at his troubled and quixotic head.
That Marcia, so the story goes, tried calling back later,
but repeatedly got Brautigan’s answer-machine instead.
“Hello, as you can probably tell, I’m not here right now,
but you can leave a message for when I am here,
after the beep” are the words which Marcia heard.
Over, and over, and over again.
Et In Motorcadia Ego!
You stand here like Younger Memnon.
Footloose on crumbling legs of crooked asphalt.
Zen of flesh and Zen of bone.
A ghost-town nation stretching out before you.
Brush-fires and pimples of vegetation.
Flat. Bone-dry, and dust. So much dust.
You stand here in sandy silence.
Rocking for a moment. Just swaying.
Somewhere between Love Field and Parkland,
on the rough road to Arlington.
Waiting for those golden trumpets to summon you forth.
You stand here for what seems like a thousand days.
And then you feel it.
Soft smoke stroking the inside of your face.
And there’s absolutely no doubt whatsoever in your mind.
Your nerve-endings popping and winking.
Your pulse syncopating.
Your vision hazing over; unspooling at the sprockets.
Tell me you feel it. Huh? Tell me.
I just know you feel it.
I know you feel the tingling.
The back of your head slowly beginning to open up.
To crack and peel like
some over-ripe watermelon.
Hold onto it. Let it build.
The means are at hand.
The means are most definitely at hand.
A surge of hot air.
An implosion of white light.
And the Divine Draught rushing down upon you.
Let it quiver along your lips.
Nagging and tugging at your smile.
Blowing it beyond the boundaries of your skin.
Stretching it out to touch the very tips of eternity.
And you know now that it’s too late.
Beyond a moral certainty,
you know now that it’s much, much too late.
Sure, here’s the thing:
actually makes three minutely separated sounds.
Firstly, the muzzle blast itself.
Secondly, the whizz of the hot lead lozenge
breaking the sound barrier.
The impact on the target.
All Kodachrome eyes and Kodachrome teeth.
A pink rosebud halo.
Your brain-pan flapping open.
Your face — peeling off.
Wiggling, waving wings of meat.
That immaculate hairline rent in twain.
Gaping wide. Gargling.
And thank God!
Thank God Above for the wind through
your skull and the tea-leaf in your lungs!
It all begins with Gilgamesh.
And so, to Good King Gilgamesh
must it all, one day, return.
And these are not my words that go forth.
No, such things are a matter of public record.
Existence is suffering.
It ends when all the Buddhists are dead.
Thus was it written.
And thus was it ever so.
Look it up if you don’t believe me.
Get in line with the other sacred cows.
Go read about it in the funny papers.
We’re all just patsies in this
ancient vaudevillian soup dance.
No sir. No ma’m.
Patsies, sayeth the stone.
Patsies, that’s all.
Tim Plester is a UK-based poet, actor and filmmaker, best known for the documentaries ‘Way of the Morris’ and ‘The Ballad of Shirley Collins’ — plus a multifarious number of cameo roles for film and TV. He is the author of a collection of stagplays, ‘1-2-3-4 Plays’.
Elena Stashkova (Ionova) is a UK-based artist, and poet. Her work has been published in Modern Ural Poetry anthologies and in various magazines. She is the author of ‘A Gallery of Ural Literature, a poetry collection, and N City and Environs, a poetry collection. She has held three solo exhibitions in Russia.
Communication assistance from Jenya Stashkov