:: Article

Four Poems

By Will Slocombe.

A Man’s Estate

      After Richard Dadd’s portrait of Sir Alexander Morrison, 1852

REFORMS AT BETHLEM HOSPITAL—A special meeting of the governors of Bethlem Hospital was held on Monday last, in consequence of a report forwarded to the president and committee by the Commissioners in Lunacy […]. The report especially related to the imperfect and inefficient manner in which the visiting physicians performed their duties, and the attention of the governors was earnestly called by the commissioners to that important defect.
          – London Standard and London Daily News, 29 April 1852

Bailie Fyfe’s Close boy, Edinburgh man,
Sir Morison, alienist, retires to his Country-Box.
Set at Anchorfield, Firth of Forth behind,

this looks like an estate portrait, Morison
repoussir. He is, after all, past gaunt, finally
tipping his hat to Bedlam, knowing the end

is close. Behind him, seventy-three years
Improving the Condition of the Insane,
but his good name suiner tint nor won,

Conolly and later seven thirl-shafts buried
in his practice. Like Newhaven fishwives,
they gossip and gut, say he cannot keep his house

in order. They don’t accept that he knows
Scotch wisdom—a guid cou can hae an ill cauf
so put him out to pasture. It’s past joukin

whan the heid’s aff though, so he mad-doctors
still, resigns himself only to the future. Behind
him, now, what remains are the back-ends

of bar, bakery, and betting shop, lectures,
and this insane composite of a man
and his estate, showing him between

sorrows, but with great enough pride to tell,
as Stevenson would have it, the other boys
not to meddle with his toys.



Who, but we, did wander through
The murderous chafe of days sublime? (Aaron Fagan, “Peripeteia”)

The problem with aiming above is that the sublime
only takes you up to the threshold and what passes—
beyond understanding?—is that peace that is missing,
that place with a nothingness of necessity. Left

stranded at an exit that would be entrance if we could
let go of snap-back re-vivifying *ping* but we’re already
never too late for such naïve frivolities of immanence
as the wait of the stones we’re holed in drags us under,

back down this parabolic grounding in the step of the
door, this return finding us root-stooping in mud.
Beneath the days’ rub at punctual blisters of thoughts
that there can never have been never to have been,

ever having being foisted like a cheap digital watch
bought on a one-way street. Crossing this arc-and-
return arc-and-return an illusion of gravity created
by a sullen god trudging in the night of His creation.


The Business of the Future

After all


is done—over, ended—and said, here and now.
What else is there to say, words exhausted,
reality heat-atrophied, a self-conscious arcana’s
retrospective of a Tower’s density melted

into carbon-saturated air only to be then
superimposed onto the Hermit’s saffron
flames and soot negatives from a Star’s flash
photography that can be seen across even this

distance? Prophecy is time inverse, now
cast into that past, a future presence harking
back to cards we will have already seen:
Hanged Crow-Men, iron Wheels of Fortune,

Death. These rites protect the entombed, then,
a Fool’s constitutional in projected freedoms
to indentured accounts paid off (never repaid),
mortgaged to Taurean futures blind-optimistic

Judgement already has been. Now as then
manifest: a destiny of time-stamps, spectres
of a future imperfect till the World ploughs
its slow Cancerous ruts to Sun-burnt oblivion.



To have your muisak silenced, a bad afterlife
for the beaten. The Jivaro called savage,
but with so little to make up, just one small

step from head to brain. It’s still the tribal
way of medicine to preserve your own:
decollate victims, steep in ritual compounds

until, jaws thrusting forwards, you claim
the trophy. Today, they come shrink-wrapped,
sectioned in white plastic, a convenience

of custom-built boxes written over with a
scrawling of labels—take-away totems for
the modern mad-doctors and medicine men.


Will Slocombe is a lecturer in post-war American and British literature, with interests in postmodernism, metafiction, and technology. A recent convert to the creative side of the artificial fence, he has poems forthcoming in Envoi and Poetry Wales, with his first full-length creative work, a metafictional biography called Bordering on Bedlam, forthcoming from Parthian in 2012.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, April 20th, 2011.