Blackbox manifold

Issue 15: Alan Halsey

The Ague of Austerity: Five Poems 

Frugal Fractal

harsh hierarchies

assumed to amass

loved contours &/or

involved counters

for playing at prayers

an ambient imbalance

Eternity Leave

Summer nights for preface

or for writing something

serving as preface.

Summer nights warmer than

these last days

of the footnote period of mankind.

‘What’s the time?’

‘There’s only one

in use at the moment.’

‘I just wrote the thing

out as I heard it.’

To mention’s not to intone.

Things best kept

under wraps or wasps

Paradiso reconfigured in spa resorts

morning water aerobics & afternoon quizzes

saints & saintesses roasting on sunbeds

the target readership for paperback fiction

‘It’s only me asking

how yesterday went,

if in fact it did’

So you saw her?

Dumping last year’s bikini

in the recycle bin?

The middle east spreading west

past gentle pools & floodlit palms

calculating pensions to the last penny

allowing for slight fluctuations

between ballot & bailout

Come again?

No kidding?

Things dither in

the spaces words offer

this being a Christian country

and at evensong

our first reading is taken from

Chapter IV verses 1-6

of the Book of Malachi

that man of peace.

Nine Moves in Self-Defence

1. In the cabinet of curiosities

as if it might help you out of a tight situation:

a harpy’s hairpin.

2. Regard as reward in the message parlour

a paranoiac panorama misinterpreted as

a plausibility archived, a possibility achieved.

3. Origin’s region: mirror or morass?

Property soup or the sluggish smile of

Mr Murdoch’s apologist, smug slime?

4. There would be nothing ‘blatant’ without Spenser,

no ‘gusto’ if it weren’t for Hazlitt.

‘Environment’ we owe to Carlyle.

5. Keep talking and don’t worry if

everyone here’s like a lexicon on legs.

There’s always another way out.

6. Beheading’s ‘medieval’? Not a Renaissance custom?

not, if you’ll forgive me, the Enlightenment’s crowning glory?

Why’s ‘medieval’ such a principal anathema?

7. Sorry if for a moment you thought I was

another of those flagellants beating my imperialist self up.

The question is always & only how & where words are put.

8. Here’s another road stripped ready for concrete curing.

Still wondering why the earth isn’t everywhere knee-deep in birdshit

we pass the incident ahead without incident.

9. You’ve spotted an inconsistency? Slight lines

of unsightliness? Oh sister. Incest is taboo.

Constituent parts are not supposed to meet.

The Year of the Sinkhole

was 2014 AD, at least in England,

where ‘sinkhole’ had come to mean

the result of a critical moment when

the earth opened wide and ‘swallowed’

among other things cars, usually only

one at a time but in a local instance an

entire carpark, an example showing

that sinkholes shouldn’t be confused

with the more common but smaller

potholes. Nevertheless if you look

closely you’ll see that some potholes

reveal beneath the tarmac a larger

cavity or what craft jewellers call

‘a negative space’, in other words

a certain potential. But to return to

sinkholes they are places into which

dictionaries say ‘foul matter runs’

although a survey of the popular

parlance of 2014 suggests the foul

matter more often tended to rise up.

Soon after the Tories Returned to Power

the astronauts landed on a planet

where they found the Old Testament prophets.

All of them. Not the ghosts of –

they were there in the flesh

deaf & blind but still at their foretelling.

There also

& scarcely to be distinguished

were Ruskin, Malthus, Carlyle, Nietzsche & Marx,

among others, in a gated wilderness,

prize specimens of the old prophets’ menagerie.

That’s according to the log

only recently recovered

lacking transcripts of attempted communications

but showing many erasures & pages removed.

No crew members returned from that mission.

Alan Halsey's collaboration with Kelvin Corcoran A Horse That Runs: To & Fro with Wallace Stevens was recently published by Constitutional Information. His other recent books are Rampant Inertia (Shearsman) and Versions of Martial (Knives Forks and Spoons). Forthcoming are the third volume of his edition of Bill Griffiths' collected poems (Reality Street) and his extensive graphic contribution to Gavin Selerie's Hariot Double (Five Seasons). He is an affiliated poet at Sheffield University's Centre for Poetry & Poetics and co-directs the antichoir Juxtavoices with Martin Archer.