Issue 17: Joey Connolly

First Letter from the Frontier

                        ‘Mearc’, Old English: mark, sign, character, boundary, limit           

Our Bishop has stationed us at borders

and on boundaries, to force up a congregation – to find what passes

through these mountains as we can – and has gone into the night.

We plucky few with our taken orders

held out flower-like to these unlettered masses, an information

their crass tongue is proof against. Thus I write,

put down this mark which drives between us,

pressing me into the paper and you

outward from it, to breathe out in the piercing air

of the world, bounded by its skies of bone and water. Thus

I am alone. So much unnamed: the trees, their branches. What’s true

rises from what’s sweet like incense smoke. But here

every written word’s a convoluted signature

and every painting seems a drawing of a picture.

In the Process

The microscopes began proffering all their mad doxological detail

in desperate excess of anything our species was ever likely to survive

long enough to see. It was then all these billionfold trivialities erupted,

immigrated woozily in to our formerly quiet, tidy lands,

all stamping tinily and wildly proclaiming

the randomness of the deal. It’s the blackjack hand

of your mind laid against the cruel pontoon of the world,

all twos and fours but the point

is that it feels as if there were rules,

incapable though the cards are

of specifying the guide for their own interpretation.

Ach! I misspoke. What I mean to say is this:

there’s a timeless fairground to-and-fro

between the reduced and therefore

manageable thing and the sprawling unmappable

backstreets of the actual,

that’s all. In every Western ever seen

the spittoon by the beauty-queen bar-girls

is half-full with what has been

chewed over and jettisoned, obscene and therefore

fascinating. And never a hand of poker played fair.

And although that was then, still the rule-card for bridge

should properly never be shuffled into the pack before dealing:

that’s the trick and the travesty both. It’s our fractional moments

of access to the appropriate software for editing

those rule-cards which make all future rounds

of the tournament so chaotic and also

hilarious: the odds-on favourite,

a former philosopher in a looming nimbus of a hairdo,

clapping a well-read palm to his temple in outrage,

dislodging his prescription spectacles in the process.

Incapable though the Cards Are

of putting paid to the alarming rumours threatening their concept of self and reputation

of enacting the dumb charade of their own explanation

of unseating the tsar who’s refusing their appeal for self-definition

of checking the bizarre ludic explosion of their own plausible interpretations at the hands

of the anarchic cackling deconstructionists

of piecing together the shards of last night’s string of massive revelations

of tuning the guitar on which their anthem will imminently be composed

of bribing the guards to their own typically unmanned control-room

of turning the dive-bar’s increasingly drunken chatter into uninhibited self-confession

of guessing the value of the coins in the cookie-jar of their budget for party political broadcast

of programming the VCR to record the pivotal climax

of what they’re told will be, by far, their next favourite box-set

of unlearning the disarming modesty which so trivialises their social personae

of bribing sufficiently the bards who already are busy recording their legend

of going the whole-nine-yards to a true Buddhistic-style self-realisation

of chairing the seminar tasked with the slow process of their own exegesis

of hacking up conclusively the catarrh from the windpipe through which they will sing themselves

of definitively influencing the pronunciation of their own name c.f. Burma

of waving au-revoir to the charming if unoriginal beau of

just saying so        of insisting        of telling all of us just what in fact you are.

Last Letter from the Frontier

It’s true the music here is plainsongy and austere

and there is little by way of gunpowder.

But I’ve learned that the fraction of what you will meet

in the world that is capable of requiting

anything is tiny and obscure. We make do. Frequently

I recount this self-destructive, back-biting anecdotal patter,

amid the strange branches I’ve renamed myself. Make

do, and go out with a gag. God, for the tiny requital

of receipt, some relief across the home-made traps

and walls and hokey decoys. Which after all

are all the sign I have that something’s out there.

I know that we have years – perhaps forever – to wait

until the drawling missionaries and the thrill and the skin drums

of pirates. And until then, I am bricking myself in.

Joey Connolly lives in London, where he is the manager of the Poetry Book Fair. His poetry and criticism have appeared in The Poetry Review, PN Review, Poetry London and The Sunday Times, as well as on BBC Radio 4. He received an Eric Gregory award in 2012 and his first collection, Long Pass, is forthcoming from Carcanet in 2017.

Copyright © 2016 by Joey Connolly, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.