Stride Magazine - www.stridemagazine.co.uk

 

ESPIONAGE WITH JOHN

We're hiding out. Lie at work
lie around in bed,
it doesn't make it easier.
But that's an agent's life:
mostly boredom, occasional danger.
A note about it all, scrawled
on the bus between encounters. Asthma
from the fags that pace the day.
He calls me up, forgetting
the day's call sign, but there's talk
of a cellar bar, a drinking den,
a good spot for after hours:
there is always talk.
Tracking it down, out together
we'll lose that city knack –
punished at traffic lights, at kerbs,
knocking shoulders – we are
corn chewing farmboys
baffled by the Tube. Heads bent
as we make our way: there is
talk about the latest books
and galactic records, the mad friends
we kept in touch with and those
we've left behind. This week
he loves kung fu, John Dee & Dylan
(he always loves Dylan)
that croc hunter has the mark
has brawn, is actual
and Bunting's fucking great.

Later, warm coronas off Tottenham Court road,
the code sign is the novel
I left beneath the seats
and claimed later, digging by the feet
of the stragglers, a burly Portuguese. 
Our contact is far, so far away
we chase him but we know he's lost.
We're bad agents. Get drunk.
Talk too loud, too often. Sometimes
don't believe in the cause. When it's time
for handshakes on the bridge, really
we're waiting for the stranger
who'll notice us, point the way
help us plot the best route home.





MY WEST LONDON CONNECTIONS

It’s summer. The tennis courts
do good business. A woman walks along,
her nails plucking a racket string,
and later, someone will pour a Pimms for her
to ease her pain. On the corner,
an old man drops a Cohiba in the gutter
and rides a bone yellow Roller
to hell, for all I care. I'm on my way out.

But Boy Rider stops me at the steps,
quizzing me on my local contacts.
He has a sleek silver bike
high on his shoulder, and I
am his gateway for a drug connection,
the nexus for a good time.
I tell him: I am not the man he wants
I have no connections here, although
I know of Brixton. I‚ve sought the Romanian
in South Chelsea Cabs
and Grandpa, who squats on beer crates
outside Greasy Dinners. I warn him
about Cutglass, who will lure him
out to Denmark Hill, to a bedsit corridor
and hold a blade to his throat. But he knows that.
He has heard of these connections.
And, anyway South London is too far.

So we walk apart. Boy Rider hikes the bike,
up grey stone steps, while I go out
to the world. The jets are lazy in the sky
all the way to Heathrow. Wires,
like a slight, transparent thread
trail against my legs. They don't catch.





BLACK JACK

You can play that music all night long
turn it up, feel it, as we talk,
drunk around the kitchen table.
You can deal the cards, staring
at the garden through the window
at the tower block against the evening sky.
You'll measure it between thumb and finger
because you're that high.
You can talk like this all night long.

“When Skip James sings
I feel it in my cerebral cortex” someone says
and you have to agree. You can see it
when you close your eyes, a voice
thin and silver as a blade. Later,
you‚ll go out for cigarettes
and wine, cheap generic Orvieto
can make you blind, so you’ve heard.
On the way back, a car pulls up,
and there are threats and gestures.
You‚ll go home, take a Stanley knife,
run out into the street. She’ll call after you,
but nothing comes of it. You come back.
It will rain. Someone goes out to feel it,
a stranger comes to the door. Sometimes,
love calls around, sometimes hate.

It is midnight. You are dancing
in the kitchen. You look out and wave,
to everyone in the garden,
pressing your cheek against her cheek
your hands entwined in a fist.
“When Skip James sings
I feel it in my cerebral cortex” someone said.
You have less than a year left.





JOURNALISM

Brown honey, opium, brandy:
chill it at midnight, mix it up
bottle it in brown pharmaceutical plastic
serve it as tincture: we can
(if we try) formulate his brain’s distemper.
Stewed in the corner, the screenwriter says,
“I know of a chemist on North End Road,
a descendant of Crowley’s,
a good contact – he can mix it
up.”
     Or down in a grey town, humidity
on the tubes that could slaughter cattle
(which we are) a few of us
where moving around, arranging to meet
calling it a ceremony, the usual discussion
on a number of points: the library
in Donald Cammell’s beach hut
the last reel of “Jericho”, the voices
that ghosts leave behind on tape – we like
to mix things up. Colin Wilson
is our mark, the password to the keep
“Do be strict though, you know
how he can go on.” Later,
someone put a card behind the bar,
waving at the old magician,
drinking in a corner, a boy on either side.
“He might make an article for the Sundays
˜don’t you think?” I do, I do
and if you can, you should do it
if you can’t, better write it down.


          © Dan Bennett 2002