:: Article

Four Poems

By Donald Gardner.

Cap On My Head

With my ego that moved like a house
and my id like a snail inside,
I knew how to get my own way.
No wonder my mum was afraid.

She gave me the best of her youth
but the best is never enough.
She cried in the sink half the night,
so I was sent to a school in the south.

Where the terrible sea roars in,
my knee-caps were chafed and red.
Where the cabbage fields sigh in the wind,
a cap was shoved down on my head.

Thoroughly licked into shape,
now I’m a man like my dad.
If I sprint for the 8.53,
nobody thinks I am mad.

My trousers are hoist by a belt.
My conversation is dull.
I’m a first-class chap for my job.
My brains are kept down by my skull.

History too has a way
of being a terrible bore.
It repeats itself all the time.
It’s supposed to follow some law.

Chaos we’re told always threatens.
Anarchy’s just kept at bay.
Roll over and turn off the light.
Thank God for another good day.

Fear of Writing


The pollution of the white page
the lewdness

exposing myself to the world
best keep it to myself

the terror
of error

doing battle with blank pages
riding a lance at

my own impotence
a fulltime Don Quixote

while others
no thanks to me

keep the world
rolling on


when I lift my pen
the hair rises on my head

if I were shaggy like a wolf
it would rise along my spine

I feel the hair
rising along my spine

having nothing to say
I set down words

if I did not
I would howl

I am a wolf
and the fear of a wolf

a bundle of fear without fur
an ancient scary creature

my voice echoes
in the primal forest

deeply troubled by the fear of dying
while I write I know I live.

Angela Will See To My Correspondence

When I’m dead
I won’t need to meet any deadlines.
When my time has come
they’ll stretch me out in bed,

at least until the doctor’s seen me,

who, when I lived,
always said the same:

“You’re well enough to go to work”,

(after a quick glance at my tongue
and absently reaching for my pulse).

And will I get up after all
(the force of habit can be strong)
and go to my job in that fierce-lit office block
with a bleak smile –
“I decided to come in after all!”

And the rest of the staff on the 11th floor
are standing in clusters round the coffee automat
nudging each other:

“Are you sure you feel quite all right?
Oughtn’t you to have stayed at home after all?
Don’t worry,
Angela will see to your backlog.”

And to each other:
“I recognize the suit,
but doesn’t his face
look a little bit strained?
Perhaps it’s just stress.”

“It is him though, isn’t it?”

When I’m dead
Angela will attend to my outstanding correspondence
that seemed so urgent when alive.

See me in my coffin
with a cheerful grin,
flashing my teeth
before the final curtain.

No more trips to the dentist either
my teeth are done,
their race is run.

Tricked by the embalmer’s art,
they all came in more or less even in the end
as they never did when I was vertical.

Kept Alive By Modern Medicine

The idea of explaining oneself to the young,
telling them how much better things were when we were young.
How we revelled in our youth.

How we could teach the young to be young.
Sketch out a few dance steps to show them what we mean,
what it was to be young in the Nineteen Sixties.

How being young
will never be the same again.
How we drunk youth to the full,
never wasting a moment.
Or if we did we wasted it to the full,
blind, ruinously.

Did we blow it or swing it?
Same difference.

Look folks, we blew it completely,
the grand gesture.
Not like you lot barely out of college,
saving for your retirement.

How we’re not shy to say it
now we’re old fogeys.
Fogeys of freedom,
no obvious usefulness.

After us not the deluge
but a cold douche.

Donald Gardner’s first published poem was in the Paris Review in 1963 and he has been writing poetry and doing readings and performances ever since – in London, New York and Amsterdam. He has lived out of England much of his life, moving to Holland in 1979, where his day job is freelance translator. Collections of his poetry still in print are: How to Get the Most out of your Jet Lag (Ye Olde Font Shoppe, New Haven, 2001) and The Glittering Sea (Hearing Eye, London, 2006) His book of translations of the poetry of Remco Campert, I Dreamed in the Cities at Night was published by Arc in 2007.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, June 10th, 2009.