A Hymn to Proteus


The City of my Body (or the Body of my City)

One more body,

in the wash of people that flows through the city,

waiting for the crest of waves

for the break – for the tumble down.


You see your face reflected,

briefly flashing between crowds in office windows,

neon snake-lights, trailing through like fireflies or…

anxious thoughts.


You wish you could carve through them

with the blades of your shoulders, cutting a line through the crowd,

yet they lie heavy, aching, held low and useless like the wings of vultures.

They could pull you up and away, prised out from the grooves and rivets of the city.


But you feel brass grind against copper, between fingers within pockets,

grinding you down but keeping you going.

Yet not in the direction of change,

of a kind that doesn’t rattle – your nerves or your needs.


Just how much control do you have,

when even your bones grow without your permission,

muscles in configurations without consent?


Your own quivering architecture is matched against a city,

that grows to imitate its inhabitants.

Like a body of threads and beads – knit-tight like a carpet,

with a thin skin to keep it in, waiting to burst and grow in all directions.


Your greatest poetry is the one you do not speak,

bone poetry, sinew poetry – poetry sung from teeming cells,

tirelessly reconfiguring, that do not ask for a by-your-leave,

in order to design – and create in the city of your body.


You are its unknowing servant,

you are the mechanism, the culmination of flesh and mineral,

your pleasant rotations – coalesce into concrete anatomy.


The intricate puzzle box of your body, that nobody has the stamina to solve,

to blow the dust off, to walk desire paths in from the borderlands,

out of the din of streets and into the slim alleyways of your centre,

looking for the hidden knowledge of breathing, where the noise becomes a soft rhythm.


Something to rely on, to follow, to feel,

something aside from muscle memory,

that leaves you to grasp between the gap,

yet there’s no one there to guide your hand.

And so… you’re left to improvise.


The Creek and the Crag


There is a creek, just down from the crops, with crud packed-down husks all the way to the edge. Where a boy, inching forward, goosenecks the breeze, bits of bristle pressed into the ruddy, mottled flush of his knees to be casually brushed away…


Vivid creatures flapping and grouping at the top of the crag, and gushing down in a speckling torrent they fill the fields with black spots and grey brown dashes…

squawking like the end of the world.

The crag itself is a downy, bearish portrait against the sky. Unclimbable, pricklish obstruction, this grizzly spine is barely understood but by birds and lizards. The soft bed of the creak waits below for its eventual tumble a thousand years hence, yet the rest washes over and away past the barn to the dam.

And the boy, lying on his stomach and looking down, spits into this babble and it too is carried over the stones, meets with a twig then disappears into the dam.


But is it Natural?


The sea owns the clouds in the sky

and with sky as inheritance,

the creatures of the sea, their protean forms,

curling and pirouetting, flapping and beating

could then commute.


Those shapes described through water finding reflection above.

Then, with land as intermediary, that vital testing ground

where fish once slapped fins against a harder surface,

skipping mud, and breathing hard upon its shores and embankments.

Where ancient mayflies first fizzed around  shrubs and ferns.

Pterosaurs and then the birds…


Later men in their wooden frames would join this dance.

Peddling first, feet and thighs translated into thrust.

Rickety… canvas… gliders.


Once again, now ancient creatures of the sea return,

rising, in their black, azotised form.

Pumped out with steel proboscis, to feed this hefty carriage,

that ferries men through clouds.

Clouds which themselves teem

with microscopic life.


And so then is man’s ascent his own ingenuity?

Not raised upon the backs of the dead:

Human, proto, prehuman, prokaryote.

Not the ascent of an evolution fulfilling its function?


That in its own ingenuity evolving and encoding the possibility

that a mammal should surround itself with a shell.

Protecting its soft limbs in an alien region

like so many organisms before it?


From inorganic to organic, inert to kinetic – from simple to complex.

From sea to soil to air to beyond the atmosphere,

to whatever secret dimensions within and beyond.


Flagellate, fin, wing and solar sail.

What is technology but the snails shell,

or the bird that drops stones on that selfsame shield

to peck the moist mollusc flesh within,

an arms race, but for what higher purpose?


The Language of Fossils


You’d be hard-pressed to find monuments more fitting

to a life cut short from living cloth, made flesh in this dimension,

egressing segment by segment

from a higher mathematical plane of form and ratio.

Each pronunciation issued from the metallurgic lips of nature.


Indefinite articles, hermetically folded and compressed,

embedded like hieroglyphs into the fossil record,

punctuated by time and shift geologic.


Read stories of the palimpsest earth, along lines of sediment,

whole languages written upon pages of shale

and scattered with shells and debris – liminal curls of grammar.

Words inhabited once again by hermits, new meanings for old,

living… scuttling… bricolage.


Stay with them a while and study the sutras of ammonite scrolls,

as Literary worms twist their turns of phrase about your feet

spelt out with the ribbons of their bodies.

They will worm their way into your subconscious

Infesting… reproducing… luminous graffiti.


See the Belemnite scribes, their quills full of ink,

record ancient battlefields

across the tabula rasa of shifting currents,

erasing and rewriting anew.


There is no Rosetta stone for this lost kingdom.

A rebus of clay, mere fragments in the drift

later hewn by Victorians overdressed,

amateurs with little hammers and wax rubbings.


Etymologies sold at market as curiosities, charms and trinkets.

She sells sea shells‘ at beach towns and seashores,

snake-stones, thunderstones, verteberries and devil’s toenails,

sand-dollar signs in their eyes.


The museum drawers full of ciphers,

hewn and once again dispersed.

Petrification leading to further classification,

new phrases impressing the soft shade of minds.


Those notes and phrases, half sketched in yellowed pages,

from locked wooden cabinets, sliding draws, themselves antique.

Volumes forgotten, dioramas of mineralised swirls and symbols,

a thesis misplaced but waiting to be discovered.


Faust’s vision of Thule


Archipelagos of wheeling birds,

merely motes of dust,

what is the point of a reasoning mind,

   if it cannot contain your vacillating flight?

I lie upon a shore of doubt,

feculent seas of half-digested thought,

lapping at my bare feet,

like the shifting tongues of Proteus,

openly devouring themselves,

within a mouth salt-cracked and raw.

I listen to its groans, soothed by the reply

of fog horns: those spheres of sound

which blossom as the fungus

and punctured by the beaks of gulls

‘bove teeming, steamy waters

…they warn of an encroaching mist.

Silent, the Siphonophore hangs beneath this sea,

like the spirit of a plastic bag, buoyed ‘neath chopped obsidian waves

…It is the Father, Son and Holy Ghost within our basin,

the mind’s eye emerges through its sloshing rim.

Now, wooden hands are reduced to shavings as they curl into the shale

to grasp at something solid

and losing a hold they never had, cohesion speckles,

like steam, glitter …and dust.

My head: a cracked egg,

cave of migraine; a fractal vulva,

open and unfolding its inner carpet-

crimson blossom to fill all this world.   

And then it stops,

the vision freezes – crystallises for just an instant,

camera flash and cordite burn,

hanging in the retina.

Frozen, for unmentionable years,

but experienced in that awkward blink,

between an open shutter – and one sliced shut,

a state of grace before the egg shard guillotine.

The yawning prow of an ice-breaker shunts through this collaged debris

and I awake from between the cracks of cracked fingers,

in the mirror, above the desk, below the clock.

These liver-spotted hands cup the face I see,

one rheumy eye peeping,

I am its intense …little …pupil.



I’ve had these recurring dreams for a while now. In one I’m able to move satellites, planets, galaxies and all the debris of space against a softened blackness, like some cosmic play of billiards.

 I seem to have no body of my own, perhaps invisible or perhaps reflecting no light from those celestial bodies, still trying to see out there in all directions and inner angles a kind of embodiment or self.

                                                                                   [I absorb]

[All mirror]

[Without reflection]

                                                                                                                     [All is silence]

Other times ’gainst a backdrop of strangely-patterned, yet prim wallpaper in an old condemned house, moving flattened stars and smouldering worlds ‘cross the paper, leaving their own scorched trails scrivened into flimsy, timber walls. Yet still real, with vast consequences, constantly unfolding ‘til there is nothing left but bare timber and ashes on the floor, ghostly silverfish skittering through the litter.

 I daren’t look at the sky through the rafters, even as it drips on my face

In both cases there is the slow, growing fear and realisation that I have irrevocably changed the face of nature, in a way that leaves me lost or with no sustainable space but some capsule to inhabit.

[No previous relations remain]


                                                                                    [Keep hold of your bearings]

All senses gone but vision and nothing left to see as I pass what few ancient and diminished stars left to my singular track. To see, unexpectedly the moon’s white eye peering through the vignette of a broken window, frosted at the edges by an uncommon wind. That blows over fields and fields of nothing but gabble-ratchets and reeds, like her breath, like…

 Love perhaps, and sickly relief returning through veins and limbs long forgotten, reawakening a sore spirit; in this way she disappears and then returns to me, igniting lost pathways, sweetening bitter flesh.



‘Neath the grey sediments, something stirs,

Rising …and falling,

Surface gently rippling with its patterns and curves,

A pressurised environment surrounds him with its starry night.

And no being has ever seen this secret display, nor ever will.