:: Article

Three Poems

By Darran Anderson

The Magnetic Mountain
For G Roberts

Take the first coin to shiver in the pocket,
the paper clips crawling across the captain’s desk,
take the ammunition rattling in the belt,
the antennae bending in prayer,
the subsonic hum of the vents
speaking in vibrations to the hull.

We were nine, the other boys ten,
and thus a lifetime our senior,
we filed into line as they led the expedition,
the eldest brandishing a cigar of unknown origin,
Fagin’s gang in the alleys hidden
behind Glasgow and Hawthorn.
Unearthing rusting ring-pull tinnies
with crumpled cubist women in swimwear,
wondering if they all really looked like that.
Diving out onto the Glen Road
at the tinnitus blare of ‘Dixieland’
from an Uncle Sam ice cream van,
clinging to the back of it as it sped away,
dangling from the star-spangled hat
or grasping white-knuckled
to his beard for dear life.

Q3. Please mark on the graph
at what point the forward momentum
gives way to the pull.
“You have twenty minutes left.
That’s twenty minutes left.”

When there was risk
they sent us in first, taking point
like scouts through a minefield,
my friend and I,
we held our breaths stepping lightly
through the alcos’ house with no front door,
the torched, abandoned squat
whose occupants had signed off their tenancy
by setting fire to a gas canister
blowing holes full of sky
in the roof and floor.

The third was the house of dread.
It’s owner had died in the fifties
and everything remained still in place
impeccably ordered but covered
in a funereal shroud of dust,
a sliding glass cabinet, a flick-light
switch in the bathroom,
a clothesline spanning the kitchen,
afraid to touch anything for fear
it would crumble or stir into life,
afraid of the ladder that led to the attic,
afraid of the dial phone that might
suddenly break it’s silence.

We were posted outside in the rain
as lookouts while the others took to plunder
and huddled in the yard
under a wall crowned with broken bottles
we got to talking;
what we wanted to be when we grew up,
where we wanted to go,
occasionally interrupted
by the sound of breaking glass
or a muffled whoop of delight
or an insult thrown from a row of eyes
at some high window.

In One Thousand and One Nights,
there’s a mountain of lightning-struck lodestone
that wrenches out all the nails
of any ship that it drew near
drowning the crew, regardless
of rank or privilege,
where they were going
or from where they came.

I was in Paris, years later,
when I got a text to say he’d been killed,
working as a chef in the Alps,
he’d taken out a short-cut one night after drink
wandering off the straight and narrow
and slipped into a ravine and wasn’t found for days,
always destined to end his days there
even when we were boys.

Never grow old, always stay the same,
never imagine what place it is, what date it is;
that event that will always happen
the date you pass every year,
uncelebrated, unmarked
that is simply waiting,
with every choice you think you make,
for you to just catch up.

Take the first coin to shiver in the pocket,
the paper clips crawling across the captain’s desk.
The sailor standing night watch
rattles his compass, wondering
if he’s been smoking too much.
Through the sea-fog, the night,
something is looming.
The rivets begin to unwind.

Where we’re from, the birds sing a pretty song

The clanking of skeletons
as St Brendan is rowing
harpooned to the moon, over crest and fall,
here’s to the saints
with no belief in god, to the atheist popes,
to the natives who drank smoke
and died where they slept.
Here’s to the sexual tension of the séance,
here’s to the workers in song.

In Barnum’s Travelling Fair, Tom Thumb
was punched in the face by Joice Heth,
nursemaid to the child George Washington
one hundred and sixty one years old if a day,
for drinking her half pint of straight whiskey.
Where I grew up, a Victorian terrace,
the sun set every night behind
a block of flats like a conjurors trick.
I used to imagine the sun capsizing
out of sight,
nightly boiling into the sea
off the shores of Donegal,
the steam-hiss of it
sending the birds
scattering into trees.

Ventriloquism is the bottling of demons,
they lynched polyphonists in their time
from hanging trees in market towns.
You are talking to the walls again.
Projectorless, images gallop full circle
in endless repetition, planes taking off,
artillery rolling in for the Vivian girls,
the sequence of pi continuing so far it starts
to become letters,
the words that appeared,
on the scorched basement wall
of the Ipatiev House
where the last of the Tsars
and his family died,
jewels sown into their corsets,
‘Belsatzar ward in selbiger Nacht
Von seinen Knechten umgebracht’
The images still come
when you close your eyes.
This sick spinning earth accelerates.

We are downstairs drinking,
steaming and singing
to keep the talk from going dark,
to the sound of keening violins
reconstituted in the orchestra of memory,
musical notes rising to the ceiling,
thought bubbles above our heads.
The child that haunts the house
is peering round the door,
the child that in his time
saw ghosts wrestling in the waves
and never mentioned it to anyone,
who knew the sound of the screech-owl
and how to answer,
who knew how to pick the lock
of the lazar-house,
who knows to leave the living well alone
as we deliver ourselves lord
a fuck, a pill, a drink at a time
to the world, the flesh and the devil.


Within the glass display case is mounted a petrified partially embalmed right hand holding in rigor mortis a blood-spattered ace of spades, the ace of clubs and two black eights. The fifth card remained undealt.
Blind and capsuled,
the Flax sleeps.
Orphic, it knows
what is coming;
uprooted and winnowed,
retted and threshed,
dragged through hackles and spun.
It plots a sullen revenge. A mute Iago.
To seep venom into streams and limestone wells,
to throttle embalmed pharaohs,
to permit swords to pass
through linothorax and tendon.

It sings its revenge in the hum
of an oscillating bowstring
mocking the penitence of St Sebastian
and the absence of God
in the key of G.

It’s conspired in damasks and bishop’s lace,
prison uniforms and burial shrouds,
rizlas and greenbacks.
It radiated the cambric shine
on the playing cards
that caught the eye of the finest
gentleman-gunslinger in the west
Wild Bill Hickock
his back to the door
of Saloon Number 10, Deadwood,
the Black Hills of Dakota.
Shot in the back of the skull,
ladies and gentlemen,
by one of the most nefarious
rogues to soil God’s good earth
‘Broken Nose Jack’ McCall,
for the crime of offering
to lend the hapless wretch
a few dollars for breakfast.
It’s the threads of herringbone twill
that drank the wounds of the Turin shroud,
it’s the glint in those eyes
that are closed, for now.

Blind and capsuled,
the Flax sleeps.
Biding its time.


Darran Anderson is an Irish writer living in Edinburgh. His poetry collections include Tesla’s Ghost (Blackheath Books) and The Fool. The featured poems are from his forthcoming book The Mechanical Turk to be followed in turn by Tatlin’s Tower. His hobbies include whiskey, gin, rum and regret.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, July 7th, 2011.