Worrying That Bone in the Gnawing Dark (take 1)

‘In my head is my only house
unless it rains,’ said the Captain.

But my mind is homeless, shattered, hovelled, beggarly,
a half-assed collage, assemblage, semblance of

drawings of creatures alien and earthen, ghostly and beastly,
machine and organic,

                                    a homeless man’s poem in print-out,
from his blog (that’s our world, where the homeless blog,
not just the mentally homeless, like me, but the bodily homeless),
he with whom I exchanged words on George Square, swapped verse,
mine sounding like the housed, well-fed, self-taught luxury-lexicon
it was, his sounding like the history-full, conspiracy-cracked, trickster
logoi it was.

                    A friend’s art photograph is in here,

                                                                              in my internal
homeless shelter,

                              and a bad snapshot photo of my deceased father
sitting in shorts so high and tight it looks like he’s in his undies,
holding our firstborn when she was a wee and spark-eyed curly-
topped toddler on her grandpa’s lap—bad photograph of a happy
memory, sweet pain,

                                  an illustration from a children’s book,

unused and useless printer,

                                              the corpse of the computer with its dead-
eyed sightless monitor-head,

                                                a taped-up crumpled list of books I
want to read this year (from years ago), written on a torn envelope
in hopeless handwriting, most of the books still unchecked off, unread,

the rat-tat-tatty bookshelves double-stacked, piled, stuffed,
extracted volumes re-shelved erratic, the too-many teeth of
permanently jaggy-toothy smiling mouths on both sides of
my brain casing, jutting further on one side and gap-continuous
in adjacent rooms of this homeless mind,

                                                                   allegedly homeless and yet
a multi-roomed shopping cart full of tumbling and worn possessions,
trash as well as treasure, squeaking down alleys in a city not its own,
homeless only because rootless, uprooted, extracted and retracted and
grafted onto an island-swatch across a great divide of tide,

                                                                                               a mind now
swimming in a whole other ocean.

                                                        And ah, the beloved green-glowing
numbers of the bedroom alarm clock that my mind nightly clings
to for ragged comfort in the lovely folding dark, the standby sleep
mode, though unable to sleep full nights half the time, waking and
remembering it’s homeless and worrying that bone in the gnawing
dark, trying to slam itself back to pseudo-oblivion or sly-slip itself a
micky-track back to dreamland, but usually flubbing it and ending
up wandering soft-lit cityways like always for another middle-of-the-
night wear-out session.

                                       So maybe my head is a house after all, O
Captain, a homeless house. Like the stories I’ve read of walking, living
houses that wander the earth in search of occupants,

                                                                                       that’s my mind.


(photo by Flannery O’Kafka)


T. S. Eliot’s ‘Journey of the Magi’ as a short film (reading by yours truly)

I was privileged to play a small part in this short film project. The film piece is called ‘of the’.  The poem you hear me reading is ‘The Journey of the Magi’ (1927) by T. S. Eliot.
A few notes on the ‘theory’ behind it: The filmmaker, Guy Phenix, wanted to focus on Eliot’s life at the time he wrote it, that he was changing his citizenship from the USA to Britain and his religious affiliation from Unitarian to Anglican. Hence, the double or split screens. (It was filmed through a really cool DIY contraption involving a mirrored viewfinder, which you can see at his website.)

I too wanted to play a bit with transatlantic identity, so I initially tried to do the reading in direct contrast to Eliot’s own adopted (he’s originally from Missouri) posh English accent with which he reads the poem. I attempted a hardboiled Philip Marlowe detective type voice for the reading, drawing on this for two reasons: one is that the descriptive language reminds me in a strange way of Raymond Chandler’s own noir poetic prose style and the two authors were living and writing in the same era. Furthermore, it’s a little known fact that Chandler too had a rather complicated transatlantic identity: at age 12 his divorced mother moved him to London and he eventually became a British subject, only regaining his U.S. citizenship in the 1950s (you learn this kind of fascinating info when your wife listens to BBC Radio 4 every day). So for all intents and purposes, having been latterly educated in Britain, he would’ve been quite the English sort of chap. Yet his crime fiction has become iconic of a quintessentially American diction, just as Eliot’s poetry comes across very English.

Of course, this all hits me personally, since I have my own transatlantic identity: having moved to the UK at age 28 and having now been married longer in the UK than the USA, and having had two of our five children in the UK (the youngest with dual British and American citizenship). The Marlowe-esque reading got pretty emotional at points and I really liked it. Unfortunately, it was too uneven. I couldn’t pull it off consistently (being no voice actor) and at moments is sounded hilariously silly, whilst at other moments rather moving (to me). So the reading in this film is not the hardboiled one, but rather a fairly straightforward take, though I think a bit of Marlowe lingers unintentionally. It’s one of my favourite poems and I’m pleased to have its incredible images and rhythms coursing through my mind and soul this Christmas, and having thought through it all a bit more and being quite surprised to find that it touches so personally on my own life story.