Sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ poetry are a powerful combination.
As I learn to my cost…
‘Angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night…’ I’d chew my left arm off with my own canines if I could scribe something one-tenth as good as that’ I groan into the laptop.
‘Ireton Soames, you’ve penned some wonderful poems’ simpers Stephanie Bangs from the beanbag. ‘I love that one about how you’d pluck the moon from the night, and toss it back and forth like a Frisbee.’
This is the day I destroy the world.
Stephanie had come out of substance-dependency issues. She’s sucked four cocks this morning. She does not think it too many. She could work at the Call Centre. She could get a minimum-wage position at a Supermarket checkout. But those are tedious options. She’d rather hang with the whores and hookers for a quicker profit turn-around. For me to write, knowing the rent is being provided for. That’s what lovers do, lovers use each other.
‘Every poem I write is pledged to you’ I lie. ‘You’re my soul and inspiration.’ She likes to hear that kind of think. You can see her drinking it in, like a cat slurps up cream. She has black elfin hair and elfin ears, Bambi-eyes like polished splinters of black gemstones, and the kind of breasts that prove biology outwits gravity – at least for a clutch of years. She has jackdaw blood in her veins, she’s attracted by shiny trinkets. When we kiss, I taste other men’s cocks on her tongue.
There are 470,000 words in the English language, with maybe 20,000 in common usage, going down to around 5,000 in conversation. You’d think all you need do is rearrange those words in new permutations. Add incandescence. Internal skipping reels of rhyme. Some allegory, a little alliteration. How difficult can that be? Describe how the sunlight pours in through a crack in the cane-blind… as rich as molasses, no – that’s just to steal from Joni Mitchell, the sun pours in like butterscotch. Is that permissible? Will anyone pick up on the theft?
Our mattress on the floor is heaped with tapestry-wove from India and silk-tessellated cushions from the antiques & curio emporium under the dark arches, they lie beneath the psychedelic wall-poster, the erotic Aubrey Beardsley print, and the collage of snippets inching across wall-space left to right, cut-outs from old magazines, slashed headlines and mutated ads ripped and reconfigured, super-glued into constellations. The aroma of patchouli oil and exotic herbs. Piles of old books and magazines, some stacked in attempted order on a shelf constructed from stacked house-bricks on a white melamine plank rescued from a skip.
We walk. The asphalt is a skin under which animal muscles flex and tension. People are corpuscles in the street’s bloodstream, in the swift torrent river of light with the brilliant glare of cars gliding that river. The moon is trapped between aerials and chimneys, balanced on tower-blocks. We meet Rich at the Burger Bar, he’s dark and thickset, with sad eyebrows. He recently split from Lorraine. They’d seemed good with each other, although he’s not the easiest of cohabits. Stephanie buys the vegeburgers and fries. She’s the only one with ready cash. That’s how things operate. I write. She hangs out on Call Lane, servicing sleazy guys. That’s how she contributes to arts and literature. She supports me. My writing. My poems. She believes in me. Which is more than I do. I don’t even believe in myself. I don’t know what I mean by that. I just say what I feel. I like that luring thump of little magazines ejecting through the mailbox as they cascade onto the welcome mat. Those smudgy explosions of insurrectionary art and words crammed to the seams with incendiary violence. Flick-flicking pages through to find my own tight shrapnels of spiky verse. They look different on the page, set against those of other people. Thinking fuck, theirs is better than mine. I bleed to write like that. Or – yes, that’s pretty good. I like that. Nothing is ever neutral.
Rich seems relaxed, totally at ease, until he begins into his spiel, and you feel the burning quality inside. He’s working through a new routine to use at tonight’s open mic. Homer Simpson discovers Springfield is a ‘Matrix’-style digitally coded-simulation controlled by evil Mr Burns. He can rewrite the script, select and delete at will. Who will he eliminate? God-bothering neighbour Ned Flanders? Surely not wife Marge…? Will the freedom of bereavement be worth the loss? How can you calculate that equation? The joke, of course, is that Homer Simpson is already an animation, created by Matt Groening. Rich thinks that’s so very cool. But, given the chance, who would you choose to delete from reality? Apart from obvious political targets, Game-Show hosts and Boybands? The editor who rejected my poem?
‘For me’ says Stephanie Bangs, turning the full intensity of her quasar eyes up to max, ‘I’ll delete everyone else in the world ‘cept you and me, so no-one can ever take you away from me.’ That’s not quite in the banter spirit of the game. But I smile all coy in contrived bashful. She likes that.
Rich looks at me. He fingers the knot of his silk scarf in a vague shutter-eye glimpse of Oliver Hardy. I seem to see a flicker of something in his glance, something I can’t put a name to, a disturbing thing like the gleam of jealousy or resentment. Rich lives the creative pose, a cultivated dandy bohemianism, neck-scarf worn with flourish, turquoise nail-varnish, hat with peacock-heart feather in the brim. He wrote a long comic-satire about Jesus born a woman which worked pretty well. His long theme-narratives draw an audience in, instead of my rapid-fire scattershot of shorter pieces. But that can work too. Catch them unaware.
Stephanie stays. We head for the venue upstairs at the Tawny Owl, stepping over snogging couples of various gender combinations strewn across each step. That’s just to random sketch the venue’s ambience… When I started doing this I assumed intellectual credibility would impress, with cultural references to Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard. I get swiftly disabused. That misapprehension doesn’t last long. But mention something about the cast of ‘Neighbours’ and there’s an instant recognition factor. Your references must relate. Yet poets should advocate anti-materialism, so how can we use catch-lines from TV-ads, ‘shoulda gone to…’, ‘simples’, ‘I’m not confused, I’m…’. Yet they evoke instant response.
Rich is a difficult act to follow, but I follow, get sniggers in all the right places, and come out of it with some positive ripples of applause.
‘Mr Northern Poet’ says the girl at the bar, ‘I just loved your set. Are all those things you say true?’
‘I’ve been accused of many things, but seldom truth’ I poke back at her. ‘Not a scintilla.’
The music breathes softly through night air. She is Veronica Speedwell, she tells me. I offer ‘Perhaps all is truth, and we are the lie?’, as though it’s playfully profound. Her depths are no more interesting than her surfaces. So why do it? You do it because it’s offered. Even when you know you shouldn’t. Even that niggling conscience-pang is good, it says ‘bad to the bone’, it says you’re getting away with it. When it’s there it’s impossible not to taste. Human nature is an old friend. There’s no guilt if you’re not found out. We have werewolf beast-genes. The human race would not have got far if we’d not been horny throughout history, and prehistory, and our frisky pre-human progenitors even before that. Some species have a narrow time-frame designated the ‘mating season’ when they suddenly go into an orgiastic frenzy for ten days, before quietly settling down again to grazing and eating nuts and berries. Humans just keep on fucking regardless of the time of year, and let’s be grateful for that. When a cock gets the pulse that can’t be resisted, and a pussy gets hungry to be filled, there’s no feeling better in the world… We’ve lived through too much history, we’ve outgrown too much sin. There’s nothing left to believe in, only the touch of flesh in a bitter world.
When she says ‘we are going on, there’s a party. You too?’, the world falls away on either side as we go out through the door without awareness of even opening it. Out into a stone forest city that melts into the sky. Its unstable outlines waver and brighten, while passing cars reduce to coloured lines that wheel slowly, keeping that focus always steady on the single point. The abrupt side-street is a walled-in canyon. The scrawl of tree-shapes hiss and surge above us. It’s a student house. I should have known. There’s a spatter of gravel that glistens and scrinches. A clamorous throb of noise. Rich is with someone who might be called Norma. Veronica has most definitely decided she’s with me. I have no strength to argue. I can’t invent anything clever to say. I never know how these things are done. I ask her stupid questions, don’t listen to her replies, and instantly forget what few words I do catch. No-one listens to what anyone else says anyway. There’s a medical skeleton in the hall wearing a bowler hat. In the kitchen they’ve fashioned hash pipes, the air all dreamy a-swim with hallucinogenic particles. In the adjoining room they’re laid about like corpses in a serial killer atrocity although there’s Hip-Hop vibrating the architecture.
I have an equivocal relationship with artificial energies. I’ve never, seldom purposefully… well, not very often purposefully gone out seeking it. But, like sex – if it happens to be there and available, impossible to turn away. She passes me a joint, it vibrates like something alive. Sparks and embers glimmer and burn in quarkness and strange. It sings against my touch. It trembles like skin. I dream theorems that guide me through the dance of constellations. But love is the drug I’m thinking of. Her mouth on mine, her red-snake tongue. The scent of her surrounding lightness, the pulse of blood beneath her skin. Neither small-boned nor slender. But with the kind of unquenched energies that produce this very strange weaknesses at the back of my knees. Rich watches us, sunk into the couch as if he’s grown tired of carrying his own weight. She holds my hand, leads me, we climb the stairs, try this door then that one. I swear she’s sniggering. Into a kind of luminous moon-gloom room. There’s no way I can resist such luring enticement. Her black hair uncoils, her eyes wide, threaded with fire. T-shirt falls away, a revealed skin whiteness, the pale pear-shape curve of breasts. A butterfly tattoo hovers above a well-tended goatee of pubes.
Staring, mesmerized, nerves in bits. I’m wearing Pink Panther boxers. Then I’m not wearing anything. We’re giving our skins an airbath. We should open the window, it’s getting gross in here. Listen, you can hear mould growing on the wall. Sick with darkness deep within belly and brain, flowing as smooth as corpuscles of blood streaming through my veins. I’m not gonna bore you with gruesome details.
‘We’re in bed and all you want to do is snog?’ Like she’s challenging me. Her breath smells of olives and peppermints.
‘I like snogging. Nothing wrong with it.’
Her fingernails tease and explore, delicate, insistent. Erupting a storm of moths in my scrotum. I go from flaccid to rigid in an instant. I distrust flesh. I push into her liquescence harder and faster than I should, before it fails me. She gasps and moves up against me, smoothly sinuous, vaginal muscles clasp, squeeze me hello. Her legs curl up around me, drawing me in, trapping me there. We both inhale the breath of relentless skin, a moist well of fire. She glows. Time is an empty place that opens up for our slide of bodies, the flowing back-and-forth, then closes in behind us as we pass. Time is a flexible thing, infinitely long yet also compressed into a very short space. If this one night is all we ever have, I’ll stretch it out to infinity. I try to hold back time, and it takes me forever. Feel the bed beneath us, try to believe in its solidity as we sink into each other, the springs groan, or maybe it’s my exhalation? She’s on fragrant fire. A burning woman, above me now, riding me, I swear the butterfly in her groin takes fluttering flight, I inhale a wind of interstellar dust, she falls across the galaxy of my body and we absorb in its deeps. It goes on, this way and that. Perhaps it’s the spores of chemistry ripping me, but once erect it refuses to rest.
It’s morning light when we half-wake. The covers are a hard and rumpled mess. Her groin is in my face, I stare intently, as if to count each frizzled pubic hair, as soft as feathers. She squirms around and smiles, ‘Mr Northern Poet. Will you write me a poem when I’m gone? Will you?’ And I drift. She’s gone when I wake a second time. Morning light. Dress and stumble down. Nora looks up from the kitchen, with knowing tease. ‘You’ve been with Veronica, her husband won’t appreciate that.’ She shoves bitter-strong coffee. No sweetener. I’m just looking for clues at the scene of the crime.
‘She implied they were separated.’
‘I don’t believe her man sees it that way. They run that hairdresser salon across the street.’
Rich leers. ‘Don’t worry. Sometimes a one-night stand is all you both need.’
‘She was great.’
‘She was hideous’ he gurns. A snappy one-liner. We both crack up.
We wary wend out into the chill, autumn’s last spasm, a Quasimodo-hunch in drizzle with an icy sting, the street digests us, a fidgety glance sideways up the direction towards the hair salon. Stooped, urbane gorillas who walk faster than strictly necessary back onto the thoroughfare. Swallowed into a huge poignant emptiness of city. It’s over. Done. No more to come. Except… of course, that there is. For this was the night I destroy the world.
Because then, casually and with ease, she drops that hand-grenade.
I make pasta. Dice rich shiny red peppers, dark mushroom-flesh, layers of onion, and courgette sliced in neat cubes. A shaker of herbs and spices. When Stephanie Bangs comes in off the street. And she’s crying. Long black streaks of smudged eye-shadow. ‘You fucked her, didn’t you? I know you did.’
‘It was nothing. It meant nothing.’ I have pasta-sauce as red as guilt on my fingers.
‘He told me. Rich told me about the party. About what you did.’
‘I was stoned. I wasn’t in control. And anyway, you have other guys.’ When I touch her it’s like touching a shadow.
She turns demonic. ‘That’s different, and you know it. That’s commerce. I do that for you. I do that because I care. I can’t even believe you’d use that against me.’ She’s crying, and I hate to see her cry.
I eat the pasta alone. She’s gone. She’s with Rich. She has jackdaw blood in her veins, she’s attracted by shiny trinkets. Now she has him. Now he has her. Perhaps that’s what he planned all along? In the night I see her black elfin hair and elfin ears, her Bambi-eyes like polished splinters of black gemstones, her breasts that prove biology outwits gravity. Memory gurgles like indigestion. And I feel this vast end-of-the-world desolation opening up beneath me.
Perhaps I’ll take a stroll down Call Lane. Just once. Just for old time’s sake.
Montage: Rupert Loydell