Issue 22: Jack Houston

The Longing for Love

           after Kenneth Koch

Angela, Paula & myself were trying to write a hit.

It was a complicated labour, but we were Twisted Uterus,

& we would push into the ever longer night to realise

the song that already had its every rhyme written.  

Was it my drumming? Was it in the rhythm,

in the beat, that our song-styling was going wrong?

One thing was certain: we had to finish the song.

I tried tapping a cymbal. This made a pleasant tinkle,

but Twisted Uterus was no closer to what would become

our greatest triumph: ‘The Longing for Love’, a song

some thought too long, an epic clash of power ballad

& hi-hat heavy two-tone that’d mean we could demand

bowls in which the orange Smarties had been sorted into;

as things stood, however, we’d only be getting the blues.


I see you've been wearing shoes again, says Doctor,

good, good. He scrawls a scribble I know’s not even worth

trying to read. His handwriting, like himself, a scraggly turmoil

of shirt-tails & stains, as raggedly unkempt as the social

& emotional nadirs of our childhood &

I don't know what to do with him. It is best, I figure, to wait,

continue in my role as patient.

He feels more comfortable thinking he’s understood &

helped me overcome what is, in all honesty, only a minor bout. 

Tell me, he says, tapping his biro against his front incisors

as if this helps guide me toward the epiphanic realisation

we both seek, how did you feel about Mother?

I take my time. He bends low, ready to write out

over his dog-eared note-pad: I loved her.


See them spin their little wheels! little claws clacking!

How they snuffle & puff & ruffle & gruff!

How I wish I could hold them closer, only enough!

blast my suffocatory inability to reduce my affection

to a more auspicious applicatory strength & specific!

I must try! I must try! How many have I made dead?

squeezed until their little eyes pop so from their puffy heads?!

have them make that wheezy-squeezy sound that elicits

how close they are to being reunited with the greater forces

that bestow our lives & all we receive unto us! How I've lamented

the fact of upon releasing one it does not rouse, no more

to wriggle at me so felicitously & rub a tiny wet muzzle

against my first carpometacarpal in efforts to solicit sentiment!

Too late! Another one has passed! Damn my unwieldy thumbs!


Gardens cannot lie. Every angle within the relation

between its paths & water features reveals the truth

of its maker. Every single detailed detail giving clue

as to its inspirator’s verities. A well-tended spray

of carnations a tarot deck that reveals the order

of its keeper’s future. A well-maintained topiary

will clearly indicate how the slip-knotted rope

of passion will enter its creator’s life. The figure of a bird?

Romance will swoop upon them from the blue.

The figure of an animal? A one that scampers?

Romance will scuttle into their lives & weave through

their legs in a show of endearment. Is the figure of an abstract?

of planes & surfaces all too easy to misconstrue?

Avoid this gardener at all costs; they will destroy you.


Twisted Uterus reached the end of a long recording session

& The Engineer asked me to exit the little foam-lined box

in which my most recent moments I’d been creating magic.

The Engineer made a point of telling me how much of a pleasure

listening to me play had been as I left my drum kit

& empty throne behind the thick & soundproofed glass,

the same glass in front of which I’m invited to sit

& listen to my product as I had produced it thus far.

It's not until I was sitting in said hot-seat & placing

the headphones on, that I realised The Engineer’s reflection

must’ve exactly overlaid where my face was.

I’m not sure, now, whether The Engineer’s facial expressions,

faces of pure admiration, pure love, respect & fealty,

were intended for me, as I had believed they were, only.


You’re really gonna piss me off again, they say,

seemingly apropos of nothing. I remain

quiet, continue running my fingers through my hair

to try & get the knots out. Like that thing you do, there,

with your eyes. I try not to do that thing with my eyes.

I must try & stop doing that thing with my eyes.

It pisses them off. & stop stroking your hair.

It is like this most days, they tell me to stop stroking my hair

or something, more often more than one thing: I do.

Or at least I try to.

I forget, I guess. & it’s this that pisses them off, my inability

to not do what is or isn't pissing them off on any specific day

for long enough to not piss them off

by doing it again. But so many things piss them off.


I was young once as well, before age & its aches.

Had a young mother who was younger, too, believe

it or not. She would play. Me sat on her knee. Patter cake.

Baker's man. That sort of thing. I imagine I had, beaming

from my eyes, such a devotion to her, during these

brief moments, that it might be hard to imagine

how she’s since been neglected. But oh, has she.

It's easy once you start. Stop phoning, visiting, sending

a card at the appropriate moment & here we are,

no longer so attached, like the snicked off tendrils

of a potted cheese plant, it having nowhere to go.

I imagine this annoys our ancestors, her mother, her

mum’s mother, their respective menfolk & the village folk

they lived their lives amongst, all scowling down & resentful.


                     for Tamar Yoseloff

They didn't love me. They didn't love me. I purred,

they didn't love me. I wore my fur, showed real flair,

they didn't love me. I spread myself over the chair

& they didn’t love me. When I licked my paws

& rubbed at my ears & flicked my claws

& scratched at their sofas & rubbed all

up against their skinny, skinny shins, they didn’t love

me. I sauntered into a corner to cough up a hairball

& hiss, Everyone loves cats.

Except they didn’t. Not everybody loves cats.

Dog people. Dog people. Dog people

love drooling all over the parquet.

Dog people love you to heel, roll over & play-

bow & fetch. Dog people don’t love cats.


The song is mastered, re-mastered, uploaded & released

upon the world. We sit about our pc screen

& watch as no one downloads ‘The Longing for Love.’

We switch off, think of flogging some other stuff.

I suggest the animal game, everyone loves a kitten,

don't they? Turns out some prefer puppies.

Some only love gerbils, suggests Paula,

comforting her bass guitar. Angela is stricken

& I think of all the times that I've needed it, love,

needed its consolation, its restorative juju. Love

is truly something we all have to have. See the fox cub,

nosing the detritus of late capitalism, turning to the night sky

upon hearing a scream so like a human infant’s, a call of love,

the only thing that will have it cease its fight


through the bags stuffed into the communal rubbish chutes

of these buildings, like we will turn from our own scavengings

for the promise of love, scampering from our self-constructings

in the bin sheds of our egos, to follow our truth

to run through the lamp-lit streets in chase

of something that seems so familiar & see the face

of the moon loving the earth just as our galaxy loves

the inescapable void at the centre of itself, just as love

can also be found deep within the moist & the fertile.

We’ve all heard stories about soldiers coming

face to face on battlefields only to fall in love

before they’ve even had the chance to kill

each other. Well, perhaps not. But maybe if we all gave love

more of a chance this rare breed of outlandish love


story might have more chance of completion, too. Don't you love

the way rain feeds flowers even though it's so wet

& the way you can completely & utterly love

a book but think its film adaptation is somewhat shit?

Okay, that can break your heart, but still we sparkle, the love

inside of us ready to bubble out over the floor & loving

it like so much sugared, shaken soda water. & I think I may

know what this pressure is, this insistence on grasping after the

serendipitous insight that will slap me full in the face

& say, Now, Jack, hold me in your arms & plaster me

with every fidget of passion you feel must be given.

Explain me to myself using a series of verbalisms

that animate my nature but also give clue

as to why I have remained so obscured to you.


For I am Love, the love you’ve always wanted to choose

like the cereal a child come loose from the parental trolley

looks for, until finding yourself lost, your tiny screams fill

the supermarket from the fresh produce to the booze,

or with smiles like an eager torturer over the uncontrollable

sobs of your victim. All that matters in this life is me.

I am the love that will complete you, the last oddly-shaped

piece of your jigsaw. I am the love you can squeeze

like a berry, purplish love- juice staining your fingertips

& no amount of scrub-a-dubbing will lift me from your skin.

I am the love you need like you need food, shelter & a primary

figure to attach to. I will complete your every rhyme

gently, if perhaps with a touch too much zoom-zoom.

Trust me, I'm only telling you this because I love you.

Jack Houston helps run his young household and occasionally staffs for Hackney’s public libraries where he holds a regular free evening poetry workshop at Woodberry Down Library (every second Tuesday of the month). His work has recently featured in Stand, And Other Poems, The Butcher’s Dog and has been shortlisted for the Basil Bunting and Keats-Shelley Prizes. In 2017 his work took second place in the Poetry London Competition.

Copyright © 2019 by Jack Houston, 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.