Or, Confessions of an Absentee

i. Old Come Down

Think of this
as something of a mystery tour
on bumpy green-line bus suburban
drive down faceless roads that blur
as dissipated senses trapped
between vague dreams and sleep;
somewhere-else in time since sounds
of bus doors shushing open, shut,
brought you to plastic slashed seat here
on this thought-driven ghost bus…

Deeper, deeper, peeping in
from tether-ending to old beginning,
no option open for turning back
once you’re travelling silently here
on snaking grey to Windmill View,
pale as fellow passengers primed
for Phobiclinic disappointments…

Suburbia to phobia, in deep,
traipsing trains of thoughts disperse
and settle down in time, great healer,
red-faced doctor, portly plum
cosseted in nun-habit white coat
of peacock-puffed-up purpose,
needling pin-head beady eyes
into your vulnerable cerebral grey –
with stethoscope ears he’ll filter in
mostly what he decides to hear,
obscured by echoes he’s used to hearing…

…nearing that limbo place, old hat
therapy obtained through point systems -
bus pulls up by un-littered curbs
(no signs of life) of this uninhabited
suburb where troubled thoughts tumbleweed
about in search of sanctuary
in this unvisited territory –
the stop that beckons passengers’ stares:
only the troubled get off there….

ii. Obsessive-Confessive Disorder

Have you heard of OCD?

Three threatening letters spelling out
my disorder for me: O’s for Obsessive
I trace back to OHP-penned cant
scrawled on a projector screen…

I am the Lord of the Dance said he
and I’ll lead you all wherever you may be
and I’ll lead you all to the dance said he…

mind-pictures, images, jumbled-up inside
struggling to break free: a trip
down Memory Lane pulls up at polished
assembly floors, wood-bead rosaries,
Hail Mary-s, Holy Ghosties,
thoughts that go bump in the night…

Hail Mary-s, wooden beads, black sums,
one day the world will be ruled by numb-
-ers, numbers, numb bums
pressed on cold polished floor –

7 x Hail Mary-s Mothers of God,
Jesus and Holy Ghost: The Trinity
numbering Metaphysical x 3 –
subtraction, addition, multiplication,
transubstantiation, division:
deep irredeemable division in me…
Obsession: first introduced to me
as punishment for confessing too late
to something I didn’t do anyway
in form of writing out same line
a hundred and fifty times…

From the very beginning the tick of the clock.
The sound of a clock thinking.
From the very beginning the sound of my mind
ticking. Ceaselessly winding round
between hurdles of breathless minutes
dragging on the distance between stark numbers…
The clock slows down, thinking ticks fainter,
little saint in me first finds daylight
too fierce and bright to see school-dust
dancing in the shards from a hundred and fifty
infant skins flaking, dispersing,
drifting to mist of doubting ambiguity,
dandelion-clocking, tick-tocking away;
a swath of saffron incense, fog
of pollinating sin…

now his first silence descends on him
settling unshiftably like sediments of thought
at the bottom of morbidity
welded there on the pebble-bed;
silence smothering me, putting
its strong hand over my mouth,
refusing to let me breathe…

His lesson was very telling: some sense
inside-sense, in-sense, can’t be
expressed by speaking, this stifling
invisible silence restrains the lips
when they so wish to purge, confess
whatever’s on their numb tongue’s tip…
…can speaking get it out? flush it out
for good? or ill? weak will, weak will…

…as if some mental dentist numbed the whole
mouth (orison of the oyster soul)
with an injection of slow-working anaesthetic,
fitted the throbbing teeth with a brace,
swollen jowls, witless face,
unable to form any fathomable expression,
darkened by inexplicable sense impression,
sense of uncertainty seeping in
the infected gum, puss-green,
the little saint is teething: sins
pressing innumerably on his nerves,
pushing the wisdoms of innocence out
till the gums swell up with pallid burns…

all the time the clock-hand turns…

sense of sin burrows into the nerves,
poisons cavities, sours saliva,
coats the tongue with holy wafer
roof-of-the-mouth-parched rice-paper dryness…
the walls of the silenced mouth wear thin…
back to the beginning….

iii. English Martyrs RC School

First photo in school uniform, hapless snapshot,
papal red and popish white
of the English Martyrs Primary School tie;
cap pressed on halo of blond hair
hiding shy grey eyes, pink grin –
a bowed-down head, unsure half smile,
a true Little Father Time…

At this teething time something stirs inside
with the tired strain of rising early
out of bed unnaturally, un-rested,
time to be tested by the self, cold floors
for bare feet, hard outdoor shoes to suffocate toes,
dark school day mornings’ face oppressed
with black cloud brows bursting to tip
down, score monochrome rainbows…

grey and sepia, umber, beige,
muddy brown, puddle grey, black
I can’t see a rainbow
see a rainbow
only black black black…

face flannel rinse and wringing of spirits,
choke out the dreams to the snap, crackle, pop
of Corpus Crispies, or insulating glow
of Ready Brek’s fragile halo of homely
warmth, soon frozen to numbness in duty,
bottles of milk chilling out on the frosty
doorstep, silver top pierced by blackbirds,
jackdaws, straws: I burst into tears
at being forced to finish them, fits of sadness
at lunchtime, semolina tears, morbid
school thoughts, moon-faces and faraway trees’
brief spells of distraction, collect to inspire
a head full of maudlin into singing…

Raindrops keep falling on my head
now I’ve been woken up and dragged straight out of bed
nothing to be said, oh…

letting go of mother’s hand, so cold
in the visible chill of the morning…
I was so convinced she’d disappear
into ether one day without warning…

here darkness first set in; a sense
of an infinite, senseless, unfeeling, insensitive universe to which my sensitivity’s condemned,
oblivion-black as the asphalt playground
and breath-smoked running track, lost
to hop-scotch thoughts, skipping ropes,
trembling mental tightropes struggling
to come to terms; to cope…
let the panic wash over you…

Edwardian schoolgirl rhymes first sung
trillions of times ago to stamps
of laced boots hop-scotching beneath
billowing ice-white hems in wintry
school yards blow out their tributes
to keep up spirits of modern Emma-s,
Emily-s, Charlotte-s, Jane-s
clapping hands and chanting spells
to brush cobwebs of doubt away…

Eeny, meeny, macka, racka,
Rare, o, domino,
Ala-balla, jooba-lalla,
Hom, pom, flesh.

Ena, mena, macka, racka,
Rai, ri, domi, nacka,
Chika lolla, lolla poppa,
Wiz, bang, push.

Eany, meany, maca, raca,
Red rose, doma naca,
Ali Baba, suva naca,
Rum, tum, toosh

lollypopper, dominacker, om, pom, poosh…

push them out, push them out,
stamp feet, clap hands, out, out, out!

– Have a cigarette, sir?
– No, sir.
– Why, sir?
– Because I've got a cold, sir.
– Let me hear you cough, sir.
Very bad indeed, sir.
You ought to be in bed, sir.
Four and twenty bags sir,
Three blackbirds full sir -
Ba, ba, black sir -
O-U-T spells out, sir.

Ticking back the hands might point to my
time in hospital as the turn to decline,
a sharp pain in my appendix spelt
out you might not make the scouts,
a wolf cub struck out by Akela
stripped of his stitched-on badges for
felt-tip fingers and a stabbing stitch
precluding burst appendix…

I recalled my brother’s toddler tales
of The Lamp looming down on him in bed
and stealing all his sweeties, of his
calling out to a frizzy-haired mum
unlistening as a witch – but I
hadn’t had hallucinations before:
yet in that antiseptic-stinking ward
it was a dark age of constant night for
a scourge of daddy-long-legs covered
the sweaty windows, I’m sure…

With the subterfuge of being bullied
(the culprit being me) I lapsed
into the stigma of an absentee –
time for bohemian Mr. Davis
in his Willie Wonka ginger locks
and Rupert the Bear check trousers,
to come round before school, escort me
back to its plasticine purgatory, my
white knuckle thoughts and self-escape plots…
time to pull up my lamb-white socks…

Baa baa black sheep will you go to school?
No Miss, no Miss, no Miss Wool…

iv. What’s The Time Mister Wolf?

First sense of the sentence of homesickness
(predicted by predestined homebirdishness)
set in to the smell of tupperwear
sandwiches, plimsolls, banana skins,
hurdles – sense of being lost; elsewhere…

from the beginning the need to escape:
run out of class, turn hot-footed home
for the forbidden fruit-bowl moments
on the afternoon dining room table,
the option of early evenings and tea
warming the nauseous tummy –
right from the beginning the need to be free,
yet to fit in and to be on the safe un-delving
inside – C is for Compulsions, tempted
me into impulsive bids for breaking free;
fantasising, phantasmasising of fleeing
school, all the while the lessons droned
in/out my ears, my mind climbed out
and went AWOL back home…
fear of the self’s impulsivity….
fear of unconsciously selling soul
for security, certainty,
or of casting an irreversible spell by
simply thinking three simple words I still
can’t utter, can’t even write down
for superstitiousness, oh yes,
phasmaphobia you might say…

As a feverish child I’d sweat adrenalin
for fear of clumsily losing my soul,
selling it to Mister Scratch for no reason at all,
not in return for some princely sum
but simply because it could be done –
I even feared just thinking the lines
‘I sell my soul’ could secure the transaction;
no way to reverse it, no second chance,
destined to exist forever as a shell
for lack of something precious, invisible;
the only part of us truly irreplaceable.

First glimmers of the soul in me: what is it?
Alan, it’s time for tea…If my soul was me
then it was my soul I was most uncertain,
doubtful of, some sort of soulphobia…

school-phobia they categorised my symptoms as,
too sensitive to be, slowly prone to intrusive
thoughts (though aren’t all thoughts intrusive?); whereas most minds sieve in what they
wish to think, mine was honeycombed
with holes sealing themselves with a sense
of martyr-masochism; strove to keep
experiences in for no clear reason;
long, involuntary term of introspection,
onset of nerves – but didn’t we all have nerves?
Why do we say one suffers from nerves
when one has quite clearly lost them?

When I just couldn’t cope with the droll routine
of school, and stuck a finger down my throat
in the unlit fathoms of the lunchtime toilets,
torturing myself with ‘intrusive thoughts’
I feared were truly my own,
“nerves”, they said, was the problem.
“Nerves.”

Presumably I’d lost my nerve at eleven,
when some were losing their virginity –
my nerve had broken, my nerve had broken,
so what good was growing up to me?

How could I face up to life
when I hadn’t faced up to me?

First, the overshadowing sense of distance,
both in sense and in perception,
a creeping sense of absence…

absence makes the mind go wander…

absence, my capricious solution
to keeping myself at arm’s length,
time for delving into the soul at all else’s expense
like an introspective mole…

Prior to Primary School: play group,
(prior to play group the Humpy Dumpty
Club where I first learnt words mean
whatever you want them to mean)
crying at failing at tying my shoe laces,
being tugged away from mother’s hand,
dark of morning, sun of lunchtime –

What’s the time Mr. Wolf?
WORRYTIME!

Nursery rhymes, ring-a-rose’s sublime
hymn to plagues and dozing cows,
let dozing cows lie in their unfarmed meadows
along with dogs who dream of sheep,
firesides and chicken bones…

and when I was up I was up
and when I was down I was down
and when I was only half way up
I was neither up nor down

lucky dips, Jungle Sales, Redidindiguards,
elastic bandits, birdies (spiders),
jumbled names, vocab-a-brac:
Oliver Crumble would turn in his gravy
to see his little infants taught
to be true English Martyrs…

The dark set in when Fairy Fox
caught me white-eyed in the night
trying to picture infinity
and contain it in a thought;
then immortal childhood
Petered out to the wolf of worry
and into sad nostalgia:

dad started panicking for bomb threats
whilst commuting, buttering
only one slice of his toast every
Valium-cushioned morning,
sacrificing the other one
for the sake of the morbid God in him
asking him to fast for safe
passage to work and back…

mother started losing weight
at a morsel-masticating rate,
nerves sponge-wrung from nursing shifts
at workhouse-grave Swandean…

life is but a dream…

years before she’d lapsed a time
when grandma barred me from her bedroom,
took me downstairs with a cryptic
leave your mother be, she’s resting…
swallowed by the giant settee
I watched the tale of Jeremy Fisher
performed as a ballet on TV;
leaping about on lily pads as
the rain started to fall, then settling down
with the weather to angle – then the terrible
fright: a fish so monstrously large,
ferocious, jumping out from the water
trying to swallow him whole…

always scared at the sight of water,
deep water, dark, hidden depths
like that black-green tumble of oils
on the gloomy painting in my parents’ room
where I always swore I saw a shark
fining to the surface…

slowly, surely, started to see
too deeply, under the comfortable surface
deep to infinity, fathoms of blackness,
I didn’t want to see what lurked down there,
what massive beasts aggrandized to abnormal size, what monsters hovered in that silent dark….

the distance instanced itself swiftly,
wasn’t ready for the mist which gripped me
sinisterly, till I insisted incessantly
to a cautious father that I felt distant,
inexplicably, inexpressibly, as if
I was not in fact existent, just a lingering
thought in orbit outside the goldfish
bowl of life trying desperately
to tip back in and just stop thinking…
sinking, sinking, sinking…

but the currents gripped me,
I was caught in the whirlpool
suction, they tugged me under –
winter’s bleak and deathly dark
stole my summer thunder…

v. Soul Phobia

Long drive in banana-yellow Cortina
from Willow Crescent to who-knows-where
away from friends, memories, roots,
to Cornish brambles overgrown
and strange thoughts overblown
in the rubble-garden of Tremorton –
a witch’s cottage dad christened it wittily,
an inedible cud-clump of Hansel and Gristle’s
designs, Brothers Grimm-ish fairy tale darkness
about it; brother told me the story of
The Apple Tree which picked on my morbid imagination in its morose twist,
for there was such a tree contorting over
a filled-in well where someone else’s
wishes trickled, buried…

the school coach stopped outside, couldn’t hide
from the dazzling shadows of outside,
grey spectre of Secondary School came to
test me to the B-All; panics in the corridors,
despair at registration, concealing tears of sheer distress in the queue at dinnertime or sticking
a finger down my throat in the
unlit fathoms of the lunchtime toilets…
…had to focus on misty interests
to dispel clamping thoughts; I remember
suppressing a panic from my hereditary
illness whilst studying doodle-art
heraldry…azure, sable, gules –
I clutched at scrambled spares and tools
to tighten loose screws but education
only taught me desperation…
 
My first glimpse of oblivion:
the school blackboard, to me then
my life seemed like one scrape of chalk
smudging into the dark.

I was off school more than I had hot dinners
not scouring the streets but bursting my mind
with ideas that burnt brightly, then turned
to dark obsessing thoughts when at school;
possibilities pouring out of me I sought to explore
long before I found the freedom of poetry,
I was lost, so blissfully lost inside of me,
shunning nothing
feeling everything

Outnumbered by invisible bullies
punching at my equilibrium,
bruising with intrusive thoughts,
I despaired (can’t think of a better word) as
I followed the other boys down to
the muddy rugby pitch: scared of stopping
loving my father, though impossible,
it tormented me for frozen moments;
I panicked; couldn’t figure it:
numb for the obsessive buzz
of fear-bees bumping about my head.

- Alan Morrison!
- Here Miss, I think…

Suddenly I found my soul was lost
drowsing in a mind full of doomed beliefs,
dark doubts, a conflict fomented
tore the faith out of me, clouded my brow
with a deep sense of abysmal doubt –
had to get out, had to get out,
had to get in…
in, out, thoughts hokey-kokey about,
you do the O-C-Dokey and you turn around
around around around around –
that’s what it’s all about,
trying to break the circle, trying to get out…

(on the outside…)…
outside the windscreen I pleaded for
sanctuary from the sentence of school:
in tantrum filled with desperation
my nerve-struck knuckles pummelled on
the bonnet of my father’s car
like sleet pelting on painted metal –
dad’s face divided and strained as my cries
screeching with the windscreen wipers.

(on the inside…)…
either to be a premature dead-end or terrible
beginning, my thoughts juddered in my
darkening humid mind overcastting
with summer storm cloud maundering
from the blind east; tight eyes straining
to fathom detail of relentless hedgerows
cramping our car on narrow lanes
horribly idyllic in stretch – rain splattered
in harassing spits drumming the bonnet,
obsessing a web of drops on the windscreen
while the wipers screeched Can’t Cope! Can’t Cope!

Those tumbling coach journeys up to
cramped Landrake, up hill, down dale,
ultimately to forbidding school –
how I clung to my timeless interests, tried
to climb out from this spinning ride
that drove me to the scaffold of thought,
to the smell of orange peel, apple core
and cold air, in my mental stocks.

I used to pray the coach wouldn’t come,
do a wind dance in my head to stall its
determined chug to Trematon,
but come rain or wind or hurricane
the coach would always come.
 
Absentee days come with one
asthmatic catalyst of panic!

Through a goldfish-mask, to the subtle pump
of the nebulizer I re-discover
tranquillity, lost sight, sense of ever since
the last pants of innocence petered out
to airless puberty; sat there smiling
at my hunched parents pretending their
tears were just the betrayal of tiredness,
and, light-headed, learnt to breathe again
in botched amateur meditation…
 
Permitted for a period to blissful imprisonment
in myself – days of morbid introspection,
sitting downstairs in dirty sleeping bag,
refusing to wash, submission to self,
security of superficial cowardice, pretence
of being physically ill till something ‘psycho-logical’
was (detrimentally?) tagged on me…

I’d been absent from school for some time when Miss Black bumped into me in town and asked when I’d
  come back?
I turned white, went numb, just couldn’t say:
being still absent that Saturday.

(My class mates at school used to say
If you’re so clever why are you always away?
BECAUSE I’m clever I would have said
If I hadn’t been away that day.)

Going without eating, coughing the night
with self-trained tickle – anything to stay
off school next day – going out in the rain
to cultivate a chill, bliss of temperatures,
thermometers in tea – I longed to be ill –
feed a cold, starve a fever they used to say –
my fever was starved of empathy from
woe-betiding teachers, callous school inspectors,
Mr Evans with his sky-grey Navy gaze
of no excusing, warning my parents
I might just be playing them up, spreading
familial mistrust, trying to press-gang me
back into those deaf-dumb Comprehensive grounds;
fenced confines of a prison compound….

Sat, lacklustre, ‘mid the din
Of the ortho-orators –
Am I me, or was I him,
Stooped by the radiators?

Deep, deep down I always did
Knot my sickly stomach –
Others dared defy and carp,
Others slouched like hammocks.

I silent, timid, lachrymose
Allowed my mind to stray –
I faked alertness, mimicked zeal,
While my thoughts were far away.

I’d frown, I’d sigh, inside I’d die,
I’d plan a strategy
To cough my way through sleepless nights
So off, next day, I’d stay.

While some would be ashamed of this
I’ll simply end to say
That duty was for me a drain,
Numbing day to day.

my only release from this weekly trial
was scribbling out poems in the living room
in the soporific Friday afternoon,
quite oblivious to Mr Evans’ ever-presence –
but weekends were sacred, even he
couldn’t tug me away, I could feel free,
alive again till darkling Sunday
which I’d spend in inert mourning
for the fogging of the following day…

SUNday was a day not aptly named
For it never sunned on me.
My day of worry, not of rest;
My day of dark anxiety.

Gloomy mornings of weak tea,
Sickly dinners swamped in gravy
Served with cider always failed
To drowse my mind that dwelled gravely.

As Sunday afternoons seeped in
My thoughts would cloud over still more
Until the evening swallowed up
The safety of the day before.

The reason I believed in God
Was for the troubled Sunday skies,
Overcast like sad Golgotha:
Even the weather mourned Jesus Christ.

With knotted stomach, mind in grind,
Troubled brow in tortured furrow,
My nerves could never come to terms
With school on the tomorrow.

On the sofa I would gnaw my thumb,
Heave so heavy like a husk –
Some have also found their Hell,
And mine was spent in Sunday dusk.

then the therapy rooms:
un-telling scratches on counsellors’ pads
two-way mirrors, bric-a-brac,
tatty cuddly toys lining
low-lying window-sills, teddy bears
with bitten-out eyes, golliwogs
blanched half-cast in an anaemic sun,
an old dolls’ house so empty, no
one at home but an old rag doll,
no stripy Bagpuss to join me in
my drifting off from kith and kin…

no way out for me, nor in
for them, desperate, powerless to reassure
or reach me, save me from self-fear,
I was so ill-prepared for being here…

If I could wave a wand to cast
away the spell, I would
sobbed dad so often,
but no one could…

Let off the stress of school, conforming
each dark day between 9 and 3.30
for an indefinite spell lasting twelve months,
I reclined into an eccentric kind of reclusion:
the love of history, what’s gone, toy soldiers
marching like the past on my bedroom bookshelf heaped with damp Tolkien, Kipling, Haggard,
limed with damp-stain, cramming me in
with nostalgia’s sun-bleached souvenirs –
I’d always liked clutter, has to be said –
a desperate attempt to re-enact dad’s childhood
in the damp-stain countryside until
the rule of GOING TO SCHOOL dispelled
these morbid time-games, drove the genie
bottle-stopped in me back out
into wish-starved reality…

no more warped prayers to Odin, Loki-
striding thoughts, Gandalf-physiognomy
forming on the crumbly walls…
no more listening to Holst’s spirit-lift of Jupiter, RVW’s Seventeen Come Sunday
whilst staring out at a timeless green
through my bedroom window-pane,
forgetting the year, adjusting my name…

vi. The Fathoming

Time to fathom out phantasms,
give form, dynamic to intrusive fears…

I’d like to keep a scrapbook of your phobias…

the psychiatrist said, not sadistically
but with a certain eccentricity,
I could never fully see his eyes
for the reflection on his spectacles
in the naked light-bulb glare, as he
spoke sparsely, intermittently,
in-between confessions of my psyche
in a subtly silky Sud Athlikaarn accent,
my holy father this psychoanalytic Athlikaana…

STOP TRYING TO BE GOD!

I’ve got the whole world in my hands…
I’ve got the you and me together in my hands…

Should I have been confessing to a priest?
That dipsomaniacal Father Ted
struck off in the end for too many tots
of Christ’s blood as a night-cap before bed.
Raspberry-nosed, dosed high on incense –
on one end of a wood grid
with his spirited breath filtering in
to my cramped dark room of a head
did little to soak up the sin in me.

He needed a dry house as much as I
needed an explanation. For my first confession
I struggled a bit: I’d done no revision!

Invoking the (methylated) Spirit he asked
what I’d done wrong, I said I don’t know –
but he didn’t believe me – but I did believe –
if he believed in his God who he couldn’t see
why couldn’t he believe in me?
Believe I didn’t believe I’d committed
any particular, easily-specified sin?
He even suggested things I might have done
and in the end I capitulated, succumbed:
admitted to things I hadn’t done…

takes me back to my first ‘False Confession’…

…English Martyrs Primary School
Taught us hymns, Hail Mary’s, guilt;
On asphalt playgrounds, chalked pitches,
We played out innocence to the hilt.

One lunchtime, strayed to the other school
For spastic children, sat in class –
As I froze over a moment’s thought
My friends face-aped them through the glass.

Walnut-faced Miss Wall called us
Into her plimsoll-smelling office;
Pitting us against each other
With x 2 chances to confess.

Five No’s later, our only escape
From standing shame in assembly
Was for me to say Yes on their behalf
(A revelation to me).

Now I stood, the guilty one of the three,
Accused of betrayal by the other two
By confessing to what I didn’t do -
But who did I betray? Them or me?...

Was this, like taking First Communion
having not confessed that morning, a form
of perjury inviting Damnation? Who knows?
Only God I suppose –for you no absolution….

No absolution today I’m afraid:
the last milk bill is still unpaid.

The maundering milk-float of sins does its rounds
first thing every morning when it’s still dark…
silver top, gold top, cream of the pint
pours over cornflakes, sours the grain…

Looking back I should have confessed sins
I hadn’t committed anyway: just in case
in the future I committed them then I’d cover
myself in advance (precognitive purging) –
may evil come to he who evil thinks
is a saying I’ve heard somewhere, disturbing
but possibly something in it, I think,
to ruminate endlessly on dark acts
you know you wouldn’t do in actual fact
but that nevertheless obsess you like
a dark fantasy, can they be as good
as sins in substance and worthy to confess?
If so, one must find a name for them –
how about neurosins?

- father, I have sinned
- how so my son?
- I don’t know, I just know I’ve sinned…
- if I don’t know what you’ve done
how can I forgive you my son?
- I’m not seeking forgiveness father,
just a name for what I’ve done…
or for what I haven’t done…

Fear of losing control, of self’s possibilities,
or wanting to do unthinkable things,
ape behaviour alien to your nature:
reality testing psychiatrists say; consciously
one knows to destroy is to destroy one’s liberty,
but until this is lived out literally
it exists only mistily, as a theory…

free association peppered his guinea-pig technique, and though I held myself tight in binds of fright
I was never too frightened to speak.

- Your mother…

Sad, sad as sinking washing-up,
dirty water in a capsized tea-cup;
self-chastising, Catholic hang-ups;
chocolate, her self-christened sin,
swearing her highest vice – so good,
would starve herself to feed us so she would –
sobbing on the floor in floods of tears
in fear of repercussions from debt arrears –
scared of herself, frail with faith,
riddled in doubt as she flits like a wraith
through rooms carpeted with doubt;
scurries around her mental wheel
like an obsessing mouse,
spins chores like effortless confessions;
swallows sobs as she tidies the house.

In the beginning was the word,
and the word was Doubt.

There is always room for doubt
in the empty bellies of believers…

Alan, dinner’s on the table!

let me tell you a bit about belief:
it is not a belief until it’s been tested -
untested belief: just wish-fulfilment,
and the greatest test is grief,
not for the dead, for the living…

Alan, dinner’s on the table!

All I want is to be good. Just to be good.
Strong, bright, steadfast as a candle-flame
lit in the stony recesses
of cloistered St. Michael’s
at Midnight Mass…
warmed to the scent of candle-wax…

Father…

Bitter, bitter but so good…
little is better than bitterness, the
birthright to ends’ meet…skidded
down from higher rungs of crested
cutlery to empty plates, water rates,
recycled tea – to be cerebrally
middle-class but dated materially
like his seventies’ burgundy Maxi…
all the time slogging through shifts just to be
permitted to exist in poverty.
Just-So this bitter story. Just-So this bitterness.
Justified I think it is…but strife only bites
its own fingernails: only the interpretation
of failure fails, and bitterness bursts
its banks, floods back in sentiments…
my father will always be able to cry…

You speak as if YOU have inflicted
these troubles on your parents, and had
the power to put all right. Hence your
self-punishing tendencies. You haven’t
yet tapped in to a solution, eluding you
for the time being, until which you resign
to take on the vast atlas of family problems
onto yourself, a martyr through self-burdening –
stopping, stop-cocking, bottle-stopping
your own development, progression, only
to focus on obsessing on your parents’ powerlessness –
but you can’t solve what has no solving:
STOP TRYING TO BE GOD, just be human…

To be God? Who – me?
I wouldn’t have the first clue how to be….

you do the OCD and you turn around
that’s what it’s all about…oh!

C is for Compulsive, so I believe…:

Father, the ethical, earthed C of E,
called us Roman Candles, took his bread
un-leavened; spread butter
on only one slice of his toast,
spared the other half austerely;
stuck Anglican rationality –
Mother, Obsessive-Confessive, prone
to genuflecting superstitions,
self-prescribed Lourdes’ potions
for a phobia of pills –
but they shared one sparking trait:
waxen self-sacrificial wills.

Mother used to cross herself several times
if she’d use the name of the Lord in vain –
taught us to avoid cracks on the pavement,
walking under ladders, putting umbrellas
up in doors, to pop pennies in
the blasphemy box, to touch wood if uttering something we wished not to happen thereby,
like some unconscious spell, will to happen,
if we dared articulate the substance of a fear,
lest some thunder hands of fate clapped a response…

But what a sadistic God that would be:
quite pagan indeed – I didn’t believe
from the beginning in the Old Testament God –
the New Testament was stitched to the old
I understood…

avoiding at all costs, conjuring omens,
portents, willing into actually happening –
avoidance patterns like canticles
ward off certainty of possibilities…

checking, checking, perpetually checking
car keys, door locks, taps, stopped clocks,
fag-butts in the up-tipped ashtray –
must stub out the singed fag-butts!
Testing, testing…
reality testing: your thoughts are reality
testing: you wonder what would happen if
you let go – the interminable Devil tempting
your ear: let go, let go, else you’ll never
know what would happen unless you let go…

Always had a problem letting go,
plunging in the deep end –
preferred it in the shallows…
…let go of the edge, down deep down
into the depths, the cerebral depths
fathomless, smothering breaths,
fathoming, fathoming

coming up for air

- What do you see in those depths? He said, so he said,
tilting down from his practitioner’s pulpit…
- Nothing easily fathomed
dark as the torments of the damned
or far as I can go to comprehending them…
- I’d like a scrapbook of your fears
- Is that supposed to make me feel better?
- I’d like a photo-album of your phobias
- Is that supposed to make me feel better?
- I’d like some slides of your obsessions
- Is that supposed to make me feel better?
- Not necessarily – how do you feel?
- Oh, I feel much better.
But not because of what you’ve said
just because I’m being heard –
as soon as I’m no longer in here
my ears will burn with the need to purge…
- what did you just say?
- burning ears
- what was that…?
- ears burning
- what did you just think?
- burning
ears, must be my burning ears
betraying my membrane, telling my fears,
spelling out obsessions neatly, clearly
and the magic letters are O C D –

- I’ll be out of breath with the need to confess
my only palliating will be to express
- How express?
- Poetry.
- I’d like a slim selected works of your poetry
and keep them in a scrapbook
a little text to accompany the pictures,
not the waffle, just the imagery…
- will that help you diagnose me?
- no, but it would entertain me –
what stirs your pen?
- People. Feelings. Thoughts. Death. Love.
Lots of abstract stuff…

Spectacles reflect the light
the throbbing, prodding, probing light
glowing, glowing, knowing, knowing,
twenty odd years in psychiatry
can train a brain to distinctly see
into a patient’s mind, deftly find
a grey area of membrane, a cloud of ambiguity,
a semi-formed problem to slot neatly,
academically, into a category of disorder –
that get-out-clause for the shrink
as virus is for the doctor…
no sour cherry medicine to remedy me…

any self-respecting practitioner
has his ten point system for every symptom
confirming his own hypotheses, prognoses,
punching into his laptop prognostises…

To the patient beginner, neurosis novice,
all other such inflammations of the rational part
of the brain pickled in its draining brine
of serotonins will be a chair in a room,
a pair of spectacles’ shimmer, questions,
no answers, speculations, suggestions;
a listening ear deaf to fear, open only
to what it chooses to hear, a camera
in the corner, mirror on the wall, ignorance
to who is observing you behind that faceless
glass reflecting your gormless, pubescent
confusion – behind that sheet of glass,
that one-way pane, two-way mirror into
your mind sits a cryptic receiver like a jinx
in your sub-consciousness…

I’d sit there feeling distant, a blank face before me
listening to outpourings of my mind so poorly,
offering no solutions, no insights, no hints,
just unsmiling glass bouncing lamp-light glints –
there was nothing to understand was all I understood – sometimes I’d peer deep as I could
into the faceless mirror staring back from the wall,
offering no solutions, just futile reflections
of the lost ghostly boy with his nameless afflictions –
but I was no fool, I knew someone invisible
was observing me from outside my goldfish bowl.

Let all remain ruminating in ambiguity
terrifying to you, interesting to them…

vii. Feeling Distant

- It all started with feeling distant.
As if I wasn’t there, or here. As if I was
strangely absent. Haunting life.
Perhaps a ghost still lurks in there
growing up in his brother’s shadow –
but that’s too pithy, peering too shallow…
- How deep do you wish to peer?
- Deep enough to make all things clear,
to dispel fear. Fear of fear itself.
Must fill the space of nothing
by obsessing on something…
- Do you think you do this to yourself?
- Why should I want to sacrifice my mental health?
- How deep do you see?
- Too deep. Too deep even to sink.
- Next time try being more succinct.

It started with a panic, asthmatic catalytic panic –
isn’t it interesting how some words sound a bit
similar, etymology I mean, getting to roots of things, nuts and bolts of words which germinate
  to limit
thought itself – quite disturbing to think on it
but please try to be empathetic:
Good = God/Evil = Devil
obvious/unobvious isn’t it?

I cultivated limited breath
from suppressed dread of death…
tried to control my feelings, thoughts
morbidly prolific as school register noughts
attained through twelve months of mental truancy –
school-phobia they labelled it, bottled it for me…
budging out the old childhood genie…

If I’d known it was coming to stay
I would have got something in…

I was powerless save my propensity
at self-punishing, inability to forget.
Complete lack of self-discipline and will
as easily persuaded as dope-fiend by pill…

- My this is very stimulating
- And then there’s the deafness…as if suddenly
I hear but don’t listen, there’s nothing I can do –
just don’t listen: all the time some line
of thought’s distracting me – it’s like suddenly
turning deaf or no longer understanding
your own language, only when it’s spoken
by others; mouths move; lips articulate words;
words come out, sound out, disperse to air
blocked out by some filter in my inner ear…
always listening to myself…
- Do I take it you’re not a good listener?
- Maybe, but not from want of listening.
- But hearing isn’t necessarily listening is it?
- This deafness is imprisoning; I don’t choose
to shut off, it’s just I can’t shut off my thinking…
- Are you listening?
- Sorry?
- Are you listening to me?
- What’s that?
- Do you listen?
- Sorry? So bitterly sorry. I apologise, but I
didn’t choose to be me, you see; to be like this…

Did my obsessiveness set in repeating
Hail Marys for each wood bead of the rosary
strung like the conkers garnered outside
from the autumn-fall, vinegar-swelled,
knocking each-other, the loser the first
to split its pussy innards - or was it
while learning a lesson for not paying attention
in the classroom by copying out sorry, won’t
do it again over and over, but then
I didn’t choose to be me…

none of us choose our lives, identities,
not even our names – not just Christianity
is responsible for that. At least, it gives you
a second chance to find a namesake in amongst
the massed ranks of patron Saints –
you can be born again in alias – for my
confirmation I chose St. Andrew, my brother,
Joseph, but we’re still James and Alan. I
was named after Allan Quatermain
but with just the one l – if I had a confirmation
again I’d ask for no name but wait
for my self to grow into one of its own,
inspire its own, custom-made – names
are partly to blame for shaping our
identities – a label of syllables brailles
a creel on the ego-typescript of the brain…

allow me to attempt to explain:
before Able came Cain, before Cain came Adam
before Adam came God, or unutterable Yahweh –
but perhaps It originally had no name
till we gave It one through religion,
if It was still nameless we wouldn’t be
able to invoke It by name, to lift Its
title as a form of blackmail, to champion
our various claims to being above
judgment, blame…Don’t take the name
 of the Lord in vain.

Names tame, constrain, control,
categorize, capture, imprison, limit
in size the potential scope of our
self-possibilities…

No more need for anxiety or pain:
everything’s alright now it has a name.

Whatever worries you – give it a name…
give it a name, a name, a name,
give it a name to blame…

Names, labels are all to blame
for not grasping the meaning and aim….
human as I am I found my first coping stone
to steady on the day I was given a name
for my pet disorder: the unpronounceable
ocd, spelt out O-C-D.

…and you’re in great company:
Bunyan had it, so did Swift,
Boswell, Johnson (Dr. that is),
Kierkegaard, Rossini, Proust,
Charlie Dickens, Charlie Darwin,
Rousseau, Pascal, Stravinsky, Ibsen,
Satie, Hans Christian Andersen
and beached-up Brian Wilson…
something of a privilege…

Suddenly I felt relieved as if a vast weight
had been lifted from me, or shifted a little
to sit more comfortably; no longer quite
the crumple-faced Atlas I’d been for some time,
or the ever torn Tantalus – a wave
of self-realization washed through me
cleansing every cavity of doubt in me
crashing in, cleaning out dark caves
of fear that had echoed only questions in me
for years – now I’d come out into a wide
answering sea hissing O C D…

Not an answer of course, just a category,
I’d score 9 on the point system of their itinerary
and be eligible for the sought-after prize
of belated behavioural therapy
apportioned to me quite casually
after a half-hour condensed case study
and scribbled-out prognosis – only
a thirteen month wait for a gruelling shock-
tactic therapy to frazzle anxiety…
but still no explanations…

to begin with, you may be persuaded by
yourself to do your best to ignore and avoid
your own processes of thought, or attempt to;
avoidance patterns be the worn-out phrase
pebbledashes the shattered scatter of your mind
trying desperately to come to terms with itself,
its out-of-synch workings, its stuttering cogs,
stuck in a rut, in a rut tut tut…

brings to mind an interesting formative pattern:
old Catholic church-going rituals of childhood
could possibly account for this adult compulsion
of revolving ritual to avoid the pivot of sin
keeps you turning, micing, spinning your
tumbola thoughts, anything, any self-
distracting harmless action, ritualized habit
to avoid bad habits, tendencies to stop,
listen to the devil tempting your ear

YOU could be the Lord of the Dance, says he

try some incense, cross your torso
several times, make the spell, if it works,
then mores-so, genuflect when you get in bed,
confess to God with panicking breaths…

do anything but obsess on what obsesses you
but by so doing, find it’s all that obsesses you….

- whatever you do don’t think of pink elephants –
don’t think of pink elephants whatever you do –
what are you doing?
- I’m NOT thinking of pink elephants
- what do you do?
- I’m thinking of pink elephants

try as you might to shut the door again,
put your mind right, it won’t go away
by simply ignoring it – that old legend:
feed a cold, starve a fever comes back to play
but won’t be your redeemer:
this is no physical fever –

next comes the self-prescribing stage
leafing through each dog-eared page
of a self-diagnosis pamphlet – intrusive
thoughts read obsessions read phantasms,
conscious symptoms of deep embedded
conflicting emotions – no elucidation:
in the systematic verbiage of an out-of-date
leaflet – panic sets in with ceaseless
speculating, morbid ruminating,
as to the pinning down of your condition –
symptoms can be easily misinterpreted
depending on what you read into them…

viii. School and Avoiding It

I’d do anything to be allowed to stay
off school; every day I’d try and conjure
up a way of being ill (little I knew then
it was down to low levels of serotonin!)
I pleaded for sanctuary, for staying off school
by staying awake and coughing all Godless
night in the damp oblivion of bed –
I could only ever settle down when mum said
alright, we’ll take you to the doctor tomorrow –
Dr. Whoever would diagnose a blip of high
blood pressure but otherwise hypochondria;
prescribe me a sharp dose of school.

I used to long to be ill: anything than this
undiagnoseable state; being physically
ill brought with it an almost paradisical
sense of bliss, relief from myself:
I was off school for poor bodily health,
could be pampered, reassured, not told off
and scalded by the school inspector –
I’d illness as my hot-thermometer protector;
real fever, blissful fever, satisfactorily
moderately high temperature – long may real
fever reign, fend off mental fever.

Feed a cold, starve a fever my dad would say –
no food for thought for blissful bedridden days
(I know this is bad, what more can I say?).
Better have a real fever than imaginary one:
symptoms of phantasms, having my mum
mopping my brow as I broke out in sweat
Lemsipping through a puffed pillow day
pissing out Lucozade, burning by night
restless and sweaty (and if the fever petered
out, my asthma would come up trumps,
I’d be puffing away on my browns and blues);
better the sweat of real fever than porous
pores of a nervous panic, brow clammy
as if with temperature, but puzzlingly normal,
how often I longed for the mercury to rise –
off from school! Sometimes the two
fevers were indistinguishable.

Is it possible to will oneself to be ill?
I think, from experience, it is,
thermometers in tea can assist you in this…

but for me never anything so clandestine,
I wouldn’t lie, never lie, wouldn’t fake,
wouldn’t take advantage, wouldn’t try to make
mountains out of mole-hills, cry wolf, would I?

What’s the Wolf Mr. Time?

fear of the self, soul-phobia, compels
like some compulsion, a dipsomania, addiction,
while you’re withdrawing you’ll exaggerate
whatever possible physical symptoms you feel
and even make yourself believe you’re ill –
you’ll come to believe your own lies….
soon you come to cherish morbid highs
such as relief you feel when let off
school or the numbness just before sleep
when you get away from it all…

All language is misleading, corrupting
(I used to think more colourfully before I learnt
reading and writing), limiting thoughts, feelings
in the strait-jacket of words, vague phrases
are trumped up down textbook decades to
christen shape-shifting symptoms of
delirious broken-down minds; the most
famously vague of them all, the chestnut:
nervous breakdown. Then there are the phrases
clichéd and point-missing (how can you sum up
the unsumupable?), or simply not evocative enough:

I’m at the end of my tether; quite at my wit’s end;
wrung through with worry; going round the bend;
can’t go on anymore; reached the end of the road;
can’t stand it anymore; cracking up; can’t cope…
…if you’ve heard all these before
then there’s always it’s the last straw…

I’ve heard these trotted out so many times
they just blur into impotent lines –
no words can truly express the feelings
that necessitate their syntactic crimes.
The blind path of etymology: a perfect
example: pathetic/empathetic – no
relation apparently, or have they?

ix. C is for Compulsive

Crossing myself three times before bed.
Crossing myself three times before bed.
Three because it’s half of six – six must
always be avoided – make sure you make
the cross the right way up – nothing upside down Satanic in that – first the head, then feet,
left, right, repeat with me:
victuals, vestibules, wallet and crutch.

Don’t even think it! Thinking is sinning isn’t it?
Can’t even think blasphemous terms, don’t take
His name in vain, in fact, better to not even
say his name – or do you court perpetual pain?
(Won’t be soothed by a mortal aspirin).
Don’t even think to sell your soul:
the boatman plunges a very deep pole,
steer clear thy stern, don’t capsize
and tip into his sinking inking thinking….

THINK AND SINK – SINK OR SIN - THINK OR SIN

If you cross the aisle of pews before the raised altar, genuflect, or be a mental heretic!

God sits in those silent booths
that milestone every few cloistered paces
in Church; you may pop into one
whenever the urge to purge takes you;
purge yourself of sin to the ear of a receiver
within; not the Holy Ghost, a cloth-d receptacle
who’ll keep your confessions under his belt
and cassock; offer you absolution.

Time to kneel on the hard thin cushion
cake your tongue in the body of Christ,
tastes of nothing, rice-paper wafer
coats the roof of your mouth till swilled
out with wine; the unleavened bread
has no flavour to savour, its pure in taste,
like holy water, invisibly cleansing,
more quenching than the wet stuff…

First Communion: First Sin:
Forgot, God, forgot to go Confession:
No Absolution: maybe Damnation?
Incensed Him in initiation.
I open to receive His Body nonetheless,
Innocent to my callow sin’s trespass.
They’d said the bread, unleavened,
Would taste a bit like Heaven:
Had my taste-buds given up at seven?
Confusion at the flavour of the Saviour:
He doesn’t taste of anything.

The roof of the church
caked in tasteless Salvation
like the roof of the mouth
at Holy Communion.

You can’t have your transubstantiation AND taste it!

Then the blood: cinnamon and wine –
not simply to complement a dine
but also to cleanse your contaminated veins
rinse out their arterial sins
with celestial serotonins
to course through them so no salt remains…

salt, mustard, vinegar, pepper…

so rituals continue, recur, mysteries
likes of Roundheads and Oliver Crumble
doused for some time till histories
re-surrendered to them through toleration
truncated as their hefty collars…

Incense spreads through echoing cloisters
like a faithful grandmother’s musky perfume –
frankincense from a Boots cosmetics counter…

mysteries, rituals, suggested beliefs,
libations, communions, means of relief
through confession, absolution, retribution,
transubstantiation, damnation,
Latin hymns, beginnings, endings
permeate cryptic sermons of priests…
staring in masochistic awe
like Ticki self-deprecatingly towards
the altar’s salvation, shivering with insight
that he forfeited his heavenly right
for the cardinal sin of compassion…

rods knock down, excommunication –
surely God has empathy for the victims
of His Creation? He gave them free will,
He walked in their shoes, so why should
he turn from those who choose to choose
and send them hurtling down to burn?

Maybe some of us already suffer
torments of the damned –
but is this to prepare us for
Hell or a better hand?

I don’t think He will, I hope not anyway,
because spiritually speaking I’m going
the same way – not through suicide I hope,
nor by a brush with it like Stevie, but
by conjuring morbid doubt, failing to find
the way out, or refusing to go like Dido…

Am I to be one of those lost souls
whose genuflecting lives
brought with them disappointments
and clumsy suicides?
Or am I to rebel and quell
all my nagging doubts
and turn away from God until
his Heaven lets me out?

Control, control, must push bad feelings
out, flush them out, brush away questions,
block doubts out, perform my personal
rituals to navigate the battens of doubt,
steer round them with avoidance patterns…

If you want to shut the thoughts out clap your hands!
(clap, clap)
If you want to shut the thoughts out stamp your feet!
(stamp, stamp)

Compulsions come, light Roman candles,
pussy-foot round beacons on sand in sandals,
hair-shirted skin prickling within, shivering
without, exposed to stormy doubt…
long ago I first noticed His footprints fading…
was it me He was carrying
or was it me carrying Him?

I just can’t find the path out, the ball of thread’s
still bound, I’m lost and only partly found
in mouse-wheeling about –

thought – push out – push back – return -
remain – stuck inside – won’t shift –
too fat to lever through – examine – probe –
analyse – aggrandize – speculate – relate –
dissect – distort – contort – monstrous –
realise – panic – primed brink of impulse –
numbness – paralysis – pressed in on self –
pressed in – pursed breath – pursed muscle –
pursed brain – logic burst – paralysis – splinters –
bottle-stopped – corked – pickled – brined –
confined – fear-frozen – defence mechanism –
jarred mid-turn – survival – adrenalin buzz –
relief pelt down – somnolent – soporific –
solipsistic – deep breath – deep – breath –
release – relief – release…

impulse expelled, inverted, dissipated,
impermanence pushed aside as before,
tucked back under carpet of consciousness,
compulsion assembles its brain-blunting tools
to control all your thoughts through behaviour
that stalls you in your tracks, saves you from what appals, again you’re a moment-focused animal…

vivid images inarticulate blur
and dim their numbing pall…

think of bliss, focus on this
benumbing mental bliss –
Paradise must be something like this bliss
when panic persists then ceases desists
Hell must be not knowing yourself well
  and fearing just what Hell is…

my first sense of Hell was in feeling well
but mentally something amiss,
a sense of loss, cavernous belly-
ache of emptiness, too gut-sick to eat,
too afraid, and not having a name for this…

- what’s wrong?
- I feel sick
- what is it?
- feel sick I’ve sinned I think
I sink into cushions…
Sink. Sin. Sink. Sink or sin. Sin makes you sick.
Sin surges up in your throat makes you throw up faith, vomit it out to stain the floor
doubling you up in retching fit
when there’s nothing left to purge….

- If you don’t feel better by lunchtime
I’ll phone your mum so you can go home.

Bliss floods like serotonins
into every artery tensed within
this egg-shell soul – it’ll be fine,
sunny, safe back at home in the
warm Satsuma-glowing afternoon
and tomorrow will feel an age away
and maybe never come…

- First I’ll take your temperature
No. No tea to hand to put it up.
- It’s normal
Then I can’t be.
- You still feel ill? Then we’ll send you home –
I’ll get your mother on telephone…
Thank God and goodness and everything-else –
I’d even thank the Devil if it was down to him….

The cream phone of home rings. And rings.
And rings again. Goes dead. Ominously dead.
God’s dead.

- Oh, there’s no one home. That’s odd.
Odd. Very odd. Must be something morbidly wrong.
- Is there no one home? I’m all alone.

No one answering the call. Rather like me –
but if I heard my Call I’d answer it, yes,
answer it, trip hand in hand with destiny,
I’d be up and over the horizon following
Him before He could say Follow Me…

Do not be afraid…

A prophet has no honour amongst his kin;
kith and kin have the best intentions
and are quite well-meaning, but He said
you must leave all of them for Him.

No one home. Oh God. Curse fate. Curse
me mostly. Oh God. Can it be?
All alone. Where did mother go?

Several sick-bay sojourns later….

- Alan, do you know what a hypochondriac is?
I did know of course.
- Someone who oughtn’t to exist;
Someone who only pretends to be ill;
Someone who shirks from duty, life;
Someone who cries wolf like Peter –
- Is it Miss?
- Mmmm
- what’s the time Mrs Wolf?

Tawny, wrinkly, simian Miss Rouse,
caretaker and crotchety custodian
of lunchtime sick-bay purgatory
accuses me of being me
perhaps for the first time, shape of things to shun,
a hypochondriac, school-phobic, I’d prove one…

amongst other things, culminating in
morbid jottings, joining handwriting,
shading the gaps in-between the letters,
berated by a teacher who had little empathy
for such disturbing compulsive inkings…

My first sense of inexplicable loss
came in the doubt-shadowed shape of the cross –
crossed knees, thoughts lolloping around
like beads on rosaries, conkers on the ground…

Cross-faced Miss Wall casts dark on our
pale foreheads, fingers rosary beads,
makes us chant a Hail Mary for
each wooden ball, striking fear
of sin first thing in the Golgothic morning
assembly dead on nine for thine
is the Kingdom, Uncertainty, Story
long-pantomimed in Nativity plays

- knock knock
- who’s there?
- excuse me, have you a room for the night?
- no sorry
- knock knock
- excuse…
- sorry
- knock
- no
- we do have a stable though

An angel-faced Joseph guides Maddy Longhurst’s Mary to the straw-buttressed stable
for the birth to change all history –
one day in a school term’s routine…

away in the manger
a crib for a bed
the little Lord…
and so say all of us…

Miss Blades thought the sun shone from the halo
of my little Lord Fontelroy hair; she’d cast
her angel-faced golden boy in all the leads of all
her class’s plays – the most challenging
was playing David, singing I am a shepherd boy
before the assembly hall audience –
and when I slew Goliath inside me he grew
taller the more I slung little stones
at him, the stones would lodge inside
my chest; lead to dark obsessing…

Plimsoll spoor-print polished floor
grounds our numbers’ numb bums in
an overcast assembly hall;
Calvary clouds crowd the windows;
the dark jackdaws like a flock of crows.

Morning has broken…

Miss Wall re-manifests, impresses
guilt, our catechism –
unspeaking, issues this instruction:
Question your desires…

hymns to Him on every morning –
bespectacled, beaky Miss Blades
pince-nez pinched nose perches like
Professor Yaffle at her bookend piano,
marches thimble fingers on
the thumping ivories…

My eyes have seen the glory of the…

A hundred and something oyster mouths
chorus OHP-penned cant…

He’s got the whole world in His hands…

the whole world, and the one to come,
the world without end, inexpressible bliss
terrifyingly inconceivably infinite
white mist without form on and on…

more horrific than oblivion,
the claustrophobia of infinity…
as an infant I filled with holy terror
at that unfathomable legend: forever and ever…
the footprints started fading again…

Do not be afraid…

The music dies; lift of spirits sinks to sighs.

So each morning from nine to ten
six impressionable years branded
with one indelible AMEN.

x. Grandma – Death’s First Awakenings

The mid-decade limbo-time, bridge to dark
late eighties days, puberty reared its ugly head
and slowly crept about a body bombarded
with change; but cerebrally-speaking this
tortured metamorphosis (a hormonal lycanthropy
of sorts), the darkness was setting in…

Nineteen Eighty-Five. Only a summer adjusting ties
broken irrevocably through the longest drive
from Sussex down to darkest Cornwall
and a new home in brittle countryside…
up-rooted from the only true home I’d know
and flung into the sticks so strikingly
different: yellow mortar, orange bricks,
seventies’ fondant-curbed suburbia…then
sudden flight back in time in a taxi to
dishevelled Brighton with mum and wore-wounded granddad to share grandma’s last days
round a hospital bed with a bowlful of grapes
as I played in the hospital grounds…

Death lacks subtlety on first introductions:
there grandma lay like a corpse already
struck down by stroke, mouth agape, paralyzed,
dribbling, whining like a crumpled child,
eyes saucer-wide staring into space: the stroke’s humiliation – Beryl Wilkinson
was once larger than life in obesity of body
and mind, garrulous, gregarious, out-going, domineering, but endearingly so, fond of avocados,
now surrounded in the colour of the pulp of
  that fruit:
pale mucus green gloss on walls of the ward;
there she lay shrivelled-up like a raisin, dribbling
like a baby down her paralysed chin, but something still ticked deep within – her devoted husband held out my miniature plastic Christ in front of her frozen eyes, mistakenly he told her it was Our Lady
for the paint of the beard had faded –
I swore I saw a tear ebb in her frozen eye
and trickle down her wrinkled skin…

to behold this moribund sight touched me
profoundly then – too young to see
how blackly un-consolidating the end of it can be,
coma, sleep of the dead, or those readying
for death, long unbroken sleep that surrenders
breath – this moment embedded deep in me,
forming a morbid god I became lost to…

the morning she passed away we weren’t there:
the hospital phoned to let us know –
my granddad raged with grief blaming me
for his absence in her last motionless moments:
I’d made a fuss for tiredness, boredom, that morning, so we’d left earlier than planned you see…

only years down the line of lingering
ghosts in my time-haunted mind would I
come to site this deflated finale to her life
as a seminal moment in my darkness of mind,
when I first stared at the face of death,
grey, misty, luminous, fathomless –
the sickly smell of disinfectant turns memory to this
with the fumes of stale bed-linen piss…

xi. Intrusive Blue – Digression to my Brother

Nineteen Eighty-Six-ish. Dark time for me and you.
(I’d ask if you remembered but I know you do).
But you keep it to yourself like old obsessions,
struggling through puberty, grown in shade
like fungus of parental prejudices –
you made up your own mind, self-influenced,
browsing in prose, blissfully oblivious
to your private problems, personal in the abstract.
Your younger brother, pale, self-punishing,
bruised by his own blows – while you
were pummelled by bullies’ jibes – couldn’t
compare to your peerless pith, obscured
by the dark of your stubborn shadow;
possibly he was brave: after all you
were spared phantasms he battled with,
as he was spared your bullying.
 
Falling into first person, I pay tribute
to us both: two sides of the same bitten penny – despite barely having one to rub together - we
battled our apportioned adversaries best
we could; remember the time I struggled
to freeze my tears while you stood your ground
to abuse bawled out in brutish bruising prose
in the bedlam of the dinner queue?
You caught my eye, I appealed to yours,
mine red-ringed, yours older-brother-hooded
with pursed compassion, held in deep, still
so today but bruising there
each time I meet your melting stare.

No doubt you remember those dark times too;
my protectively asserting one night
when the dam of your stoicism broke down
and your soul burst out, how I’d take on those
bullies at school if they didn’t stop – but
back then I stayed wombed in homebirdish
self-exile, my compulsion to cry wolf of
the body for obsessions, intrusive thoughts,
six prison-like hours at school provoked;
so I was absent, twelve months off from obligation
when I tried to be absorbed in your shadow –
who could press-gang a shadow into school?
In the dark, a shadow’s invisible.

You were left to your own devices to fend
off foes in the corridor dark – the bubble
of inhibition burst with the slam of a culprit
against the lockers, and paradoxically
your plight was defeated in one goaded blow:
your initiation into brutish school boy tribe
passed with distinction to your sense of shame
in having succumbed to lashing out –
now you’d gained the pugilists’ respect but lost
respect for your own self-restraint.

You’d no choice, nor had I: couldn’t find a form
of combat effective against my enemy;
Dad’s soldier hadn’t been drilled for this
type of demon – reality’s rifle, fixed bayonets
of reason, crossed swords, can’t exorcise a ghost –
so I burrowed under my unpacked troubles, brought
on the strop of the School Inspector whose
coming overcast the morning when
Simpkin’s Soldiers slapped down in the post.

Ultimatum-ly my lamb-limp spirit
was rehabilitated into slow month-hours of school;
my slight rib-strapped satchel of bones
contracted on the rack of growing pains to
an under-nourished five feet eight that might
have been a more substantial height if meals
hadn’t been transubstantiated to problems
on my plate - my lily-white skin sustained its tint,
impossibly pale in the cold school light.

They asked me, those three, that dark trinity,
the Teacher, Inspector, and absence-tick taker
woe-betiding Miss Bowen, bible-black belt,
why can’t you just be like your brother? I never
told you that did I? Your obscure shadow.

One dark afternoon after school
you came in odorous of classrooms,
uniformed in the gold and black
of the Comprehensive, put me down
for my callow daddy-fied infatuation
with chivalry as Imperialist.
I capitulated, naïve
to phases, present in absenteeism.
You, dissecting the chop on your plate
as if a frog’s lung in Biology,
your cutlery, pilfered scalpels,
muttered you were a Socialist.
I read red into that heralding,
no inkling I’d soon share your diction:
junk cultures spawning like lab samples -
I can’t understand, on your soap-
pouf fee scratching berry-juice eczema
on nettle-rash skin, how anyone says
‘I am a passionate Capitalist. But back then
I just drooled for the crackling.

For us, the cryptic incantation summing
up that lightless time was CONSERVATIVE –
what did it mean? To keep the same?
To pickle? Preserve? I thought it could’ve come
from conservation as our Science teacher often
spiced Horticulture with politics, touting
our votes in foregone-concluded school
elections while we dug up potatoes.

Innocent novices to such semantics
on moving to that rustic Trumpton, we
earned a tenner between us for the chore
of posting Tory pamphlets through each blue-
rosette-d door of this burgess Snottyash,
canvassing for dad’s feral friend whose giant
paws cowboy-built a country prison
for darkly mortgaged future, debt of renovation
discarded halfway, sturdy as straw –
the wind huffing, puffing to wolf-blow it down
to the chagrin of Billy goats gruff.

We’d learn to live there as with loss
in unheated life-bereavement,
father betrayed to unemployment,
mother left to cobweb-sweep the pieces.

First night, we three slept downstairs
in the plastered sanity of the finished room,
but you, right at that botched beginning,
cast yourself upstairs, locked in the dark
of your territory, the light of your books.

It took me more time to be illumined,
to find first inspiration in the written line’s
spark, the lift of light music we listened to;
alternative view dazzling in from the sun-
struck garden through the gloom of the window
under the beam slanting over us like
a black rainbow brimming with timeless possibilities.

The light ignited inside me in time
like the lightning stab of awakening conscience,
a faith-conversion, reinvention of self,
heart, spirit, perception: we both woke
up from a bottomless dream to see the
concrete-grey bomb shelter garden outside
could become overgrown, green,
and this house’s brittle, crotchety stone
could in time prove to us every prison
has in it the potential to be a home.

We uncovered our own incantation
to wash away intrusive blue,
cast off the cold spell of private interests
with our new-found friend: SOCIALISM.

But as often the case you blindly imbue
a belief with an ingredient of you,
come up with a recipe of your own, cloak
with the closest comparison and stick
it in a semantic oven to rise, solidify –
so names, labels corrupt, constrain, contain
in mono-meaning discarding alternative views –
don’t treat your OCD as a determining label,
you said to me, but you didn’t understand
I needed that tag to rule out being mad.

Though Socialism was a limited term didn’t
limit our scope, just pinned it down like
a butterfly to cork – our beautiful conception
of how life could be was to be
a cross for us both to bear unbalancing
our own well-being equally inside
and out, in the public glaring contradiction
of reality: people weren’t how we expected them
to be. You were bullied for your unfashionable
beliefs, your sincerity, at school – I was
punished the same in a different way:
for my sensitivity, my nerves which served
a similar purpose to names and stick
they stoned you with.
One peer stood by you, your
only friend bar me, another brotherly
bond; he helped you fend off spitting fists
of violent verbs with his force-field of faith,
one of God’s chosen – in return for his friendship
you felt obliged to put Catholicism aside,
embrace prayer meetings, enlisting in
biblical mime shows of Born Again
tambourine bashes, all the while
doubting as Morrisons do.

Meantime, I suffered lessons on
mathematical abstractions, indivisible
substance of atoms, one of whom,
God, was devoutly worshipped by
that Zealot-bearded Physics teacher, blinkered
disciple of evangelism and Bunsen
burners, who shouted at me what are you
going to do with your life Morrison? (nothing
to do with Physics, obviously, I
would have said if I’d had a voice
but inhibition denied me that choice) –
I sulked on, dumb, deaf to the judder
of the devil I tried to put behind me,
whispering ever temptingly;
numbing me back to reality.

We once held leads, two brother mongrels
tugging them, the eldest dark, self-
possessing, the youngest, fair, insecure:
our feral parallels in canine miniature –
like me, you projected symbolism in
this animistic lycanthropy; how we
both suffered when the dogs were persecuted,
under sentence of death by the dog Herod,
sheep-obsessed farmer – you,
subjected to curses of interrogation
from his straw-masticating mouth in the back
of his cousin’s stuffy police car; while
I sat sobbing in the dark of the lounge
as PC Legg said they’d put down
‘the black one – what’s his name son?...’
propped on the ceiling beam, the
unannounced master of the house.

One of the blackest times for you and me,
but the dogs were acquitted, so were we
(anyway, the farmer’s shot gun
was just the gossip of hyperbole).

So, book-bound older brother, we’ve
both come through the other side into
the radish-bite of reality’s compromising sting:
scourge of work, striving for living, putting
priceless ideals to one side as we tread
the cracks on corrupted paving, but keep
in mind our old youthful ideals, not taking
our dream-raised eyes off principles’ strings,
invisible beneath our feet; our oldest
allies, the ends we must make meet,
though they were put in mothballs
along with stones and slings.

xii. Adrift from Kin

A prophet hath no honour Alan, my father’d quote,
especially amongst his own kith and kin…

A prophet hath no honour in his land (timp-tum)
A prophet hath no honour in his land (timp-tum)
A prophet hath no honour
And he’s bound to get some bother
Yes he’ll only come- a-cropper in his land (tumpty-tum)…

of all the troubled twists to thistle my life
I never predicted this distancing: first
the physical sense of distance, as if I didn’t
exist, was elsewhere, outside, lost as I’d
been as a child, having climbed out from
the car-door window and melted into
the stranger-jungled street….; it was as if
I’d suddenly missed my own shadow for
becoming it, transmogrifying into
my own light-cast echo – I’d been in my
brother’s shadow since birth, had become
his shadow without knowing it….

- What are you going to do about your absences Morrison?
When will you address your lack of presence?
It’s years since you left school and yet
It hasn’t made much difference:
You used to live in your brother’s shadow
And pretend not to exist
But now that you’re someone in your own right
You’re less conspicuous…
- It’s years since I left school sir, yes,
and every night the same dream recurs:
just when I think it’s time to leave I learn
I’ve still got one more term…

my first day at Secondary School I left late
in an unfamiliar place, no one waiting at the gate:
my brother thought I’d gone on ahead of him –
an hour or so later I’d found my way back
to the make-shift half-way house of ours
but panicked as I peered in through the window:
no one was in, the lounge lay empty
like a dying relative waiting for witness;
my rational side realized they’d left to
scour the streets in search of me, but
that more dominant something of doubt inside
whispered they’d abandoned me, left me on
my own forever – looking in through the
glass to a shell of home I felt something
steering off in me, cutting adrift, sailing away
on its own storm-rumbling journey…

…through the window I could see
the lounge was empty, and the phone
rang unanswered – no one home.
Trying to find them they found me
and pulled up in the lamp-lit street
fog-lights ghosting out my form
but they found no one home.

I’d spend the next ten or so years trying
to find my way back to a happier time
of unfaltering faith in family ties,
the absolutism of origins; the reassuring
unquestioned utterness of nurture, inception….
(happiness and fear are in anticipation…)

I’d never be the same again…not since
I first saw myself reflected in the window-glass,
lost outside, not since I first imagined
seeing myself through loved-ones’ eyes…
here the sheer horror of self-perception
started morosely closing in without
warning or obvious beginning, just subtly,
sublimely, clandestinely, like a slowly
invading illness invisible as a virus:

a mercurial adolescent I’d darkly become,
before knowing it I was as bitter as the wind,
bitter beyond my years through belly-
aching strife, clothes-outgrown poverty;
an obscure sort of poverty intent on chipping mercilessly away on the esteem
and stamina of a psyche predestined
no particular way, not nature nor nurture
my nemesis, just accident of circumstance
and subsequent intellectual corruption:
the incessant need to dissect, understand
instead of forget and look forward…

suffering wasn’t enough to numb me,
I needed to make some sense of its excuse
to nibble away at me…slowly but surely…
chip on my shoulder, axes to grind prolifically,
I found one day I’d left behind my temporal sanity
temporarily it turned out to be thankfully…

I can’t digress too much on this dark chapter
in my life so far, for it still fills me with
a sense of rational madness, inextinguishable
sadness – I’ve been told before I’m frighteningly sane
– suffice to say an acquaintance’s suicide
left me lost inside, nowhere to hide,
he’d confided in me not long before
his schizophrenic cloud cast over him
and drove him off the edge of a cliff…

internalizing this terrible incident I saw
myself in his shoes, before long I imagined
in turn myself in others’ shoes: should my
loved-ones lose me how would they mourn
and remember me; how would they feel
in my empty room pottering through
forgotten things, ex-belongings;
how would they miss me missing me…?

I became obsessed with becoming a memory

how else could I become this but by destroying me

a morbidly laughable thought one might note
but never before such a powerful thought:
self-oblivion, to make oneself nothing,
forgotten but not forgotten, forever outside
seeing into others’ sad memories of them…

‘…I was obsessed with being gone in all but mind
sharing in the mourning with my loved ones left behind –
but I’m still here. Still in the shade. A shadow visible.
Sometimes I wonder whether I was ever here at all.’

That winter when I was a ghost
Haunting those I loved the most
Haunted by the desire to be
Absent, mourned, my brother despaired:
If you’re like this for wanting to be dead
You might as well be, he said –
Somehow these harsh words gave me strength
To stay and mourn myself at length.

Sometimes I wonder whether I was ever here at all...

I suppose most breakdowns come around
and peter-out without us knowing it.
This is my most troubled confession
and I confess it to this empty page
in hope of absolution…
then I remind myself of that old school hymn…
Do not be afraid…
strange how some tunes stay with you,
their chords carved in your memory
like a chilling primal threnody….

…my story is a garbled threnody grizzled
as windswept stone of our Cornish non-home
from home, blistered, pockmarked
stony face like a Narnian Gnome
I saw in many aspects from many angles,
stood on my bed upstairs where the beam
slanted over the window-ledge just to
get a different perspective on things…
here isolation bred introspection
leading to final alienation –
an outsider lost outside –

first port of call: an ambulance drive
on a sunny school day afternoon
to get my treatment from the brain expert
in a two-way mirrored room.

Doctor Vorster went to Glorcester
to study a patient’s problems;
he fell in a puddle right up to his muddle
so kept up a scrapbook of them.

My therapeutic sanctuary was in slate-skied
Liskeard, a pencil smudge of grim urbanity
lost in time in the hinterland mysteries
of the Cornish countryside – a characterless
place, grizzled, tin-mine face, one might
call forboding or dour, if it weren’t so
commonplace; seagulls mysteriously
encircled it even though it was nowhere
near the sea – an obscurity as was
my mind in those dark clinging days for I
was stricken before my disorder’s invention:
the odious OCD.

Ah, so what could they do with me
but guinea-pig my mind, deposit me
on a silent carpet before a psychiatrist
(not a psychologist, a psychiatrist he’d insist) –
there he’d sit, a jackdaw in the ruins of my mind,
eyes watching like the rook outside Cock Robin’s.
So why aren’t you going to school?

My lights were on, more-so than most –
no gormless fool as other kids would call me
in sporadic bouts of bullying when they could be
bothered – they ultimately gave up: I admitted
to no reaction, betrayed no hurt pride, there was
no point bullying me, I bullied myself, my
ghostliness was outside their limited daily
spectrum – I was off school more than my
meal-ticket dinners meted to me
at stale sta-press reeking lunch, courtesy
of my stigmatic meal ticket – my erratic
attendance now the stuff of legend – most
days I’d have black thoughts for brunch,
the same every morning, the same stolid dish
obsessively processed, masticated
like a hair-bone splintered fish.

First hour in the morning I’d hover by
reception waiting for parents to ring
to reassure me they were still living.

The genie in the bottle of my thoughts
was choking in his all-consuming brine…

xiii. Absence In Residence

Time to stand on my own two feet,
at last the artist in me stands apart, asserts
his start, stares ambition in the face aware
that this could be his most fateful stare
as he slowly ascends a slippery stair
to vain self-actualization…

but first to get away, cut adrift for the sake
of straining sanity – first to assert his intellectual
stamina that it can stand as tall as his brother’s,
can stand alone, time for him to transcend
his assumed station relative to kin…

University stamps its mark on my mind
shimmering through mists of lost time:
it’d been a long snail-haul for me to make my way
to the red-brick of Redherring University,
second-rate but one of the first fifteen,
asserting itself through its history
to stand apart from its Oxford roots,
just like a younger brother growing into the size
of his older brother’s outgrown shoes…

but the stifling life of study, initiations in drink
and uninspired sexual liaisons lead
to a Gentleman’s Degree in the ancient history
of Athens and Rome, soon time to come home
thumping down to reality with a bite –
significant, again, in his absence was he
at the graduation ceremony – a Bachelor of Arts,
the fallen disciple of academia but the
up-and-coming apostle of unpublished poetry…

the prolific absentee: missed his lectures as he
missed his schooling, always an outsider
unconsciously, but with a self-effacing instinct
which ironically stamped his presence on
an ever-frustrated authority driven
to sheer exasperation by his invisibility….
one of life’s reclusive recusants…

always sailing close to the wind…
blowing him this time to the Brighton lights,
the town that never shuts, bustling by the sea
with scuttle of mock-bohemian rock-pool activity,
a perpetually plagiarizing bazaar
whose protagonists refused to grow up
like Sixties’ refugees, its shifting fashions,
stylus-hissing Motown-driven Modism,
shops, cafes, kitch, sanctuaries, second-hand
book-shop bursting stucco shelves of terraces,
retro labyrinthine Laines – here in this
self-rejuvenating cavalcade of music, booze,
joss sticks, buff lattes, cocaine,
artistically-charged dreadlocked aggression,
class divides like slashed six-seaters
sofa-surfing addict-riddled curbs,
this place of youth, aspiring/despairing young,
littered with arts clubs, book-shelved pubs,
beckoned with its stand-up poetry nights
for any poetaster worth his salt to take the mic…

but years of smoke-filled writing rooms,
dead-end jobs, commuting fumes,
seagulls screaming in the night
brought him to lows of limbo days,
lack of sleep, sleeping pill poisoning,
staying awake into the little hours
of every weekend till mounting poems
and stress brought with it need to rest:

from school to work there are common threads:
clambering into winter out from warm beds…

that old phantom Unemployment beckoned
soon following on from it, a crisis,
long over due since the first – a test
to ascertain his eligibility for
an official, government-sanctioned rest,
on the dole of the despairing, recently
attributed his own pet disorder, depressed, yes,
nay, suicidal, but still not enough
to score 10 on the point system – only 8
out of 10, only 80% suicidal -
means he’s back to meagre means
and the search for unfulfilling employment…

xiv. Dawn - A Truant’s Day Off

It started with school, prison-like school,
the obsessive desire to escape, but now
no visible confines cramping me in,
nothing as simple as struggling all day
for the paradise of home-time, now comes
a darker time when I’d long for another
home inside myself: true peace of mind,
which I learnt I’d never find at home –
the suffocation and torment spent at school
had been simply a metaphor for existence
as a whole: I longed to escape time’s limits
of any man-made and natural form:
school, home, family, love, duty, thought, death –
(my asthmatic rehearsal for which made it
more immediate) I longed to escape myself.

But there’s no sure way to escape yourself
except the flight of suicide – the sin of despair
or twisted pride, snuffing yourself out
is no sure way out, it doesn’t solve the nagging
shibboleth of premeditated death….

all there is is to contemplate it, then distract
yourself and find a quiet way to die without
showing it – to just be, exist, not mentally,
just bodily, join in the mouse-wheeling spin
of life, make pettiness, tedium, routine
your mind’s comfortable medium, beatitude,
and cease your questioning….

no one will come and wave a wand only a finger
at your witless face; a billion ways to banish
phantasms, to placate the furies you failed
  to outwit –
they’ll offer you pills, two-way window-sills,
ways to stall panic, cast out the manic,
but it’ll still bide there, that nameless despair,
and nag you and nibble your brain till its numb;
no pill can bring this spell undone –
believe in behavioural therapy, keep its bumping
efforts as your bible and before long you’ll be
benumbed, live no more obsessively,
thought-stopping your second nature…
but for the time being the conundrum is OCD…

Remember to read the label, remember
the old proverb of bemused experience
and you’ll soon become another guinea-pig
to the intolerance and prejudice
consigns your illness to obscurity,
till someone comes to prescribe the answers
to neurosistory…

till that far distant, edifying day
I must make sail with the stitched brocade
of high moral expectation, mock-
martyr patchwork idealism,
and plough through waves of thought-mutation,
self-forming, morphing abstract seas
imprison me in liberties…

something has to go, to give, you must give
to receive, giving’s good, you must sacrifice
what you cherish the most to grasp the grail
of the moment’s immortality…to carpe diem
the split seconds’ sense of infinity,
to become symbiotically
all that inspires me, to forever be
spiritually stimulated, spine-shivered without limit
to the deathless score of a universe’s strings…
forget about life and it’s limited things…
spirit off out of time where the clocks have wings…

but I’ll plummet in time, the magnetism
of gravity, the force of obsession tugs me
back to earth with a bump through its atmos
-fear, same chain of thought, the botched
paradox of existence (re: being lost) …

I can’t enjoy anything that must end;
infinite thoughts and feelings with limit!
Mortality’s labyrinth trails bend on bend
but leads only to what is in it!

But I’d rather scratch on like a rat in a maze
or a mouse round a wheel
than reach the feared exit
that doubles as entrance…

no choice but to puzzle on while the clock
ticks forward wishing to tock back,
pause, stop, take stock, control, contain,
come to terms, it wrings its hands
bruised by Time’s pulse, pink and raw
like the hands of a compulsive scrubber…

What’s the time…?
nearly time…

till then we little innocents
dodder on hop-scotching thoughts
trip on skipping tight-ropes looping
round us rainbow hoops we spin
to keep from crashing down;
round in circles clapping hands
the smack of infant singing stings
red ears burning, chanting our
preventative of verse….

feed a cold, starve a fever,
feed a fever, starve a cold,
starve a fever, feed a cold,
starve a cold, feed a fever,
feed a cold, starve a fever…

…so scream all of us!

Feed A Cold, Starve A Fever

Composite parts:

i. Old Come Down
ii. Obsessive-Confessive Disorder
iii. English Martyrs RC School
iv. What’s The Time Mister Wolf?
Losing My Soul - Nerves
v. Soul Phobia
The Blackboard – The Truant’s Day Off –
Intrusive Thoughts – Outside the Windscreen –
The Drive – The Absentee – Always Away - Misplaced – Sunday Dusk
vi. The Fathoming
The False Confession – Candles & Anglicans –
The Two Way Mirror
vii. Feeling Distant
viii. School & Avoiding It
ix. C is for Compulsive
Transubstantiation – Holy Roofs –
Torments of the Damned – The Rosary Beads
x. Grandma – Death’s First Awakenings
xi. Intrusive Blue – Digression to my brother
Gules Saltire, Azure Rampant
xii. Adrift from Kin
A Prophet Hath No Honour…- Absences –
No One Home – My Life in the Shade
xiii. Absence in Residence
Binds and Threads
xiv. Dawn - A Truant’s Day Off
Infinite Things

Invented terms: ‘Phobiclinic’; ‘schoolphobia’; ‘soulphobia’; ‘prognostises’; ‘neurosins’; ‘neurosistory’; ‘phantasmasising’ etc.

“…an astonishing sequence in fourteen composite parts, takes on the put-down phrase “confessional poetry” up front, by subtitling the poem ‘Confessions of an Absentee’. What follows in this densely packed but clear and cogent poetry, is a first person outpouring of someone suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in which the medium is also the message. Morrison may be subject to OCD himself but the poetry…is not at all an uncontrolled splurge, and the considerable skills required to construct, pace and sequence a sixty eight page poem are everywhere in evidence. …the assurance and energy of thought and the variety of imagery commands one’s interest throughout”
 Graham High, Poetry Express

“Vivid in the immediacy of its description and very moving”
John Welch, The Many Press

"By turns, sensitive, amusing, witty and touching" -
John Ballam, New Hope International

"Alan Morrison is a new but electric voice on the British poetry scene. Opening Feed A Cold, Starve A Fever is like stepping into a strange eerie world where internal and external reality converge, are juxtaposed, separate and then re-fuse.
  Seeing the ‘specialness’ inherent in ordinary phenomena is the essence of the poet’s art and the unfolding of his personal ‘take’ is the principal delight of reading good work. Morrison’s work is an interesting mixture of innocence and experience.
Morrison has a ‘voice’ (“All that poets can have”, as Auden said).
The ‘force of obsession tugs me’ Morrison writes, and the same force tugs the reader along compulsively through this saga of self-exploration. Morrison does not flinch about ‘coming out’ as a sufferer from obsessive compulsive disorder: for this too he deserves the high praise his poetry demands" - Barry Tebb