from Of Love, Death and the Sea-Squirt


Of Love, Death and the Sea-Squirt

Hoping publicly to humiliate her husband,
she filmed herself swallowing whiskey and pills.

That night, watching in snowy low-grade colour
his wife’s self-slaughter reproduced,

he fast-forwarded through all the abuse,
but stopped when she spoke of the sea-squirt,

listening with a sympathetic taste of acid on his tongue
to details of the creature’s life-long

search for a rock to make its home –
then the hideous consummation

as it set about eating its own brain.
That was the only part he watched again.



The Glassblower

A month after the miscarriage,
we watch a glassblower
fill himself full of puff
and breathe life into dead space.

A bulb pullulates from a knot –
a hot celestial drop –
into a gaseous envelope,
a molten clotted globe
enjoying its buoyancy,
sustaining its miracle of self-belief
until the wobbling elongating ball
grows taut as a raindrop
in its transparent caul.

The room grows smaller
as the membranous sac
stretches clear to the ceiling,
staggering elastically as it lengthens
and cools.

I imagine for a moment
all the vitreous flasks
breaking through the wall,
floating free and letting fall
a host of glaucous bubbles –
hovering over the city like
swarms of soapy cherubim,
clinging airily to
the surface of the river
then popping one after another
like the souls
that make themselves known
at night as drops of water,
distilling at the warm touch of a face.

And if one definition of an angel
is that it takes up no space,
then you were blessed:
a luminous trace in the memory.

The press of fingers in
the dark and silence —
unknowable, unnamed.



Reading Between the Lines

It is right that the philosophy section of the library
should be located on the top floor
where two biographers, unbeknown to each other,
work on the same definitive life.

There’s talk of a cache of love poems
addressed to a secret mistress
extending over thirty years,
and talk, too, of Nazi sympathies.

The two write with Freudian omnivorousness
of birth, war, death and sex,
while a few miles away, the subject’s wife and executrix
feeds his letters to the shredder.

Later, both will comment on the irony of this.
One will liken the strips of paper
to the fronds of a plant freed to the air; the other
to the fingers of a man slipping from a precipice.


Read selections from Stealing the Mona Lisa and The Invention of Zero.