|Wayne Burrows' current collection is Marginalia,
published by Peterloo, and his work also appears in the British
Council anthology New Writing 12 (Picador) and at www.thesleevenotes.co.uk.
He lives and works in Nottingham.
A cascade of lights, like a necklace swinging in an atrium,
floats out from a balcony to sound in the street
as a weightless breeze of supper-club jazz
and tinkling glass. I hear '68 trump '76,
Baudrillard's disciples trashing Lyotard
as if it ever really mattered, or anyone cared.
We leave our coats in a mirrored hall
that reflects to infinity its own blank, white walls.
We breathe warm air and petrol fumes,
crossing a point on the River Thames
where the water seems to flow both ways.
A man who hasn't eaten for two whole days
asks a pound a throw for printed poems.
With a ten-minute wait at the tube to kill
we read the posters for current films:
Notting Hill. The Inheritors. A Simple Plan.
You snap a compact open, check your lipstick, eyes,
see over your shoulder a solitary drunk
singing Heart Of Glass in a falsetto voice
as he wobbles along the platform's edge.
Your mirror throws sparkles into the vaulted roof
as a hot blast of wind from the tunnel-mouth
tears a notice for Meltdown clean in half.
That night, in a film starring Jackie Chan,
we see grace and violence becoming one
in a two hour sequence of baroque fight scenes.
All thought stops. We laugh like drains.
The coloured plastic clip-on case for your mobile phone
and the leather pouch to keep it in
are both on offer at wholesale price
if you ask no questions and hand over cash
to the bloke in stonewash and bleached blond hair
with a stall outside the TV rental store.
His back's to a widescreen with VCR
that shows – on satellite, in colour, close-up –
how a vulture's beak tears strips of skin
from the neck of an antelope two lions brought down.
A calypso drummer does Lady In Red
like a morse-code signal tapped out on a pipe
while a child jolts to and fro in a car
whose cartoon features – painted where its headlamps were –
beam upwards, plump as the boy is drawn.
He clings to a helium-filled silver balloon.
His mother wipes ice-cream from his chin
and rocks a pushchair where a baby squirms,
a hammerhead rattle and a vinyl giraffe
stuffed deep in its mouth. Her feet are surrounded
by shopping bags. She yawns in the sun, steps back and rests
one foot on the scale of a weighing-machine.
The heat in the pavement escapes like steam,
turns storefronts to jelly, melts stone into air
as though seen through a bubble, in a fairground mirror.
A Trick Of The Light
'Sweetness...it is a dangerous pleasure'
Walking at night, we catch ourselves on CCTV
behind the plate glass doors of the department store,
glance up through bikinis and sun-tan oils
to face the lens. Escape To Paradise
say the open skies and crystal seas
of St Lucia, Barbados or wherever it is
as they glaze the queue for the 279
to Tottenham and Waltham Cross
with coloured light. Underfoot, the litter of Perfect Skin,
Live To The Max and Fun, Fun, Fun
swirl on a cyclone of freezing wind
like tumbleweed in a frontier town.
Overhead, on billboards flashed bright with floods
and fluorescent strips, the smiling, quietly confident face
of the woman who knows her needs are met,
the man whose chiselled and sun-warmed limbs
frame a six-pack of airbrushed skin.
Steel shutters and notices – Group 4 Patrol –
detach these pleasures from our ownership.
The newsagent's shelves of plaster Saints
and Sacred Hearts sleep among signs
for The Sun and Mars. We count out change,
move our weight from foot to aching foot.
We are going home on whichever bus comes first.
The rooftops darken to a gleam of slate
like serpents' scales. Radio static crackles, fades,
as the ad-break's interminable jaunty voice
intrudes on song. Lie back, says a breathy female purr,
luxuriate in the relaxing balm of herbal essence
and aromatic spice... (behind her a sighing electric hum,
a rhythm like heartbeats heard in the womb)
...wash away the stress and indulge yourself.
In the open window, a fir tree bends
under the weight of water. The radio drones like a non-event
as I shuffle through papers, make notes and gaze
at nothing in this heavy air. For all your motoring
insurance needs...St Christopher Travel
in Market Street...that's right, only eight-nine-nine-five,
a limited offer, too good to last...
A helicopter churns in the bloated clouds,
the rain cuts short and a curtain moves.
You have to eat, says the doctor, in the studio now,
and a breakfast with fruit is the ideal start...
Lethargy hangs like an ion-charge before the thunder breaks
and the electric meter drops to twenty pence.
I take a coat and umbrella, leave the room,
pass a dozen billboards for cars, sweets, phones...
A voice in my head is singing eat, eat, eat
as I reach for the chocolate in the mini-mart.