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  Robert Sheppard
Robert Sheppard’s Warrant Error is just out from Shearsman. This work - four sets of 24 sonnet forms plus four poems, making 100 - is highly allusive to the language of the 'war on terror' waged after September 11, 2001. His Complete Twentieth Century Blues is still available from Salt. Work may be heard on the Archive of the Now site and he is the editor of Pages. He is Professor of Poetry and Poetics at Edge Hill University.



from Smoking Gun

part two of Warrant Error

Like I’m Nowhere

When I grow up I’ll become the next day’s
lesson from the Human Dog!
I’m praying, my hands pressed together
in bullet-sprayed breeze! I live in a darkening time!

I don’t know which ear controls what!
(Exclamation marks can stand on their heads.)
Your smile tears your faces to pieces;
it coaxes me to speak to the muse, as
men in macks tick their bikes across the line

In the misted signal box they crank and crash,
and barriers rise. We’re becalmed
among deafening billows. Guess whose name

fills the corporate cage? I guess I’ll leap free now
into temporality’s instant collapse

… there has been a rip

in reality, a fissure, a sort of plaster
over her private parts, a kidnapper’s
masking-tape gag. A patch
of prohibition. Whatever she does she
cannot bring herself off, condemned

to a purgatory of porn where oily
lovers worship each other’s tools. Her itchy
fingers ache for a sticky love-muscle

to spasm. Tight-arsed Rückenfigur
before the ice-capped peaks

of his ambition, paralysis
and yearning balance ‘like frogs
on a log’. This is my claw;
it is chained to my other hand…

Spasm or Whiz

Funk! he’d yelled the night before
I just want funk! funk! funk! the fifth
point of the compass the erupting cabin boy!

his polished love-muscle on a park bench
oily for a soft scientist. Crashed
in the ‘brace-brace’ position, he was the sole
survivor of the party, cowled in his lamé jacket

Waking up his threads in the morning
the bag-faced boy zips up his shorts

Enblossoming the ledge a mossy merkin,
the window-frame’s suspended PVC
fishnet. Between our nowheres
the clownish check shirt checks out his person.
But peel open people and people fall out

The Shot

To get the shot? Difficult, because the man’s head
is bowed, as if in acknowledgement of guilt.
The offence was capital; the law is crooked.
White knuckles squeeze the wire

Blackout absorbs him inch-by-inch so that mask
and erasure rule out unruly flesh and members

This could be animation incarnate or simply
the effigy shaking from the human covenant.
Handheld recorders float as a pummelling fist
punctuates each verb; recorded space,
grey noise. The vein above his ear winks. Later,

a woman enters, shrugs, loosens her dress,
unzips it at the back. If this were life there could be
love, Stygian soup, abstract and concrete swans

Given Up the Host

The ventriloquist with the wooden smile thinks
that the bruise’s owner owns the embrace:

The divorcees sit shoulder to padded shoulder
in each other’s body heat, released after several
lifetimes as hostages. Her uncle’s feud
with the hereditary bandit king is ‘resolved’.
She shrinks back into the umbra of her armpits

His shades anonymise him. His op-art tie tags him,
conjures the illusion of his post-modernity,
marionettes him towards her squeaky decree

This is a game without a theory. Your eyes
are muddy stones, your nostrils bolt-holes in stubble.
You’re perfect! Your tongue is a moist waggle-poke
catching the light, or gathering shadows

Heritage Trial

Like Orpheus, she looks back.
spider fingers she pokes stolen fruit
into her leery mouth. The bloated leeches
of her blood lips curl. She melts
under her own hair, stick-on melancholia

Trailing across the valley wall, a chain of soot
from the burning village. Blanched on the brink,
the blank-faced castle faces the day

Something washes the day away. It won’t
flow together as collective memory. I’ll
be forced to release a minority report Of Things
Quotidian – but Parliament is suspended

A pointed beard furrows a path to calamity.
Veneration recommences in the morning at nine

Berlin Inventive

Up the back alley of Karl-Marx-Allee
a custom-built prospectus of unreal estate
the proletarian stickman pisses away Luisenbrau
supplicants tremble for a Chinese blowjob

A tendrillous dandelion sprouts from his penis
a tense blending of muscle and will
we puff-fluff spoors onto the icy breeze

Bathing ourselves in the Spartan chill
shatters the reflection of our dipping limbs

When I wake I’m stateless. On the
chalk-board an up-date of the head-count
purged sheets and pulsing matter
no tungsten pellicle slips over my eyeballs
I can’t overstate the state I’m in

Parisian Download

Who flicks up that alley if you stray from the blvd?
He keeps it light and they shake at his jokes.
He is done, done in. They are done for

His curls curl at the latest terrorist download:
the hacking of the Christian chicken-neck

You’ve walked through the wrong door (again)
to catch this lot! He tells them stories about
themselves, choked in their choking chokers.
In the grip that grips him, loose skin shaking,
thin ribs wheezing, hands aloft, he recites:

This is what le philosophe saw last: his Being
spread like butter across the roof of a Citroëon
parked squarely below in its yellow box, a scooter
chained to shutters, and a dwarf juggling hour-glasses

A Nose

A nose-diving orgy of American mettle,
old planes piled high like Iraqi prisoners

slithering their loaded bellies on each other’s backs,
falling through fisted coral fighting the sky
of their scrapyard making, erupted
from ocean foam, dispersed into fleece clouds:
a plumber’s botched job with cheap sealant


A nose spites a face, mouth spits this protest
against anything we want it to be against.
We run with our beating eyes shut
along the dry track’s beat to the scrapyard,

the Hollywood pow-wow. Shunning
celebrity we deny the existence of our ears,
the rattling quiverful of quivering arrows

Smoking Gun

At the end of the world you are driven away
in the back of the National Limousine, flashing
your legs that wrapped around the international
affair, past flashbulbs of the Final Edition.
You’re looking at skinny girls in the magazine

They are sort of you. They kneel in shorts
on a bed as long and thin as your thumb,
tilted muse of cubist accidentals. Raise
your fist to the smoked-out sky, espy the fringe of flame

along the kerb where shadows chase one another,
the low light giving edge to their pursuit.
Mr Bin Laden is not at home. Not emerging

from his cockpit, not rubbing his good eye.
It’s not that beard of white smoke again

© Robert Sheppard 2009