A slim serrated blade of panic
penetrates your rind and bacon body
as the bookshop café table tilts
beneath your elbow and your plate
and lunch and cappuccino
are about to slide and smash
in front of all these well-bred readers.
You gasp and grasp but nothing’s moving
only you and this small moment
has not started a calamity.
Yet some calamities are started
by one lurch of failure: when a corkscrew,
exiting a cork askew, impales
a thumb, the bottle falls and breaks.
Once a skewer of alarm goes in
the flesh beneath your shirt gets seasoned
with salt and pepper specks of sweat.
Imagined rows of razor gazes
shave away the blushing layers
of your nerve-rich epidermis
into ragged flakes like Parmesan.
Passengers & Crew
RMS Mongolia, Indian Ocean, June 1917
A music teacher and a theologian
were strolling quietly on deck
ten minutes into afternoon.
They were thinking about lunch
and landfall only hours away
when they felt the first explosion.
Three engineers, a quartermaster and a winchman
perished – with a boilermaker
caught up in the second blast
when furnaces and steam pipes split.
Also killed were some fourteen
native members of the crew.
A Parsee passenger was saved from utmost danger
and the parson-theologian
jammed his fingers as he clambered
in the lifeboat; but, by staying
self-possessed, the music teacher
salvaged all his valuables.
I wake up feeling bruised by dreams.
Last night was full of clattering –
a pebbledash of hail
on windows. Sashes rattle still.
My rituals with match and gas disturb a battered kettle
whose mumble-whispering sounds like
soft wind made thicker by fine rain.
Coffee keeps its promise
better than most manifestos:
after me, the sewer rats will get their caffeine rush.
The kitchen’s contents disappoint:
my nose recoils from chlorine scents
of pears gone past their prime.
Tepid fruit-drink cartons boast
they’re not from concentrate then split and spill juice on my hand
so when I slip the sugar pot’s
white slotted lid around the spoon
my finger prints remain
as forensic evidence
suggesting I’ve been bleeding from some undiscovered wound.
I ought to blame the absent landlord
rather than the former tenants
for the choice of pictures.
Each portrait is an alias
and landscapes are all alibis no one should believe.
A moving target has to deal
with what’s not happened yet. I trust
the telephone to bring
routine recorded messages
which say if I should be allowed, or be afraid to leave.
Michael Bartholomew-Biggs is the current poetry editor of the on-line magazine London Grip. His most recent full collection is a narrative of love and aviation, Fred & Blossom (Shoestring 2013); and more recently he has produced a chapbook, Pictures from a Postponed Exhibition featuring images by the artist David Walsh (Lapwing, 2014). His website is at http://mikeb-b.blogspot.co.uk/.