:: Article

Drink & other poems

By James Byrne.

River Nocturnes


(Scrub moon requitals)

    Gemming white flints pearl up
    a transmutable necklace—

       presage of jade
        as if Ferris-powered

    watercrowned / watercorridored
at the dock berth

    the river’s black bell
      snaked by a wash of marble

A plashed stone for the veinwork
    to disembody—

      jellyroll vortex of grey buildings

          a face crashing
          into the shook river


Antiquated maelstrom in silhouette

   (the self slaloming
     ceremonially with the tide
       —such psychical deceptions!)

Shadows refract under streetlamps

    a bankside of mock Narcissi    spur
    the body as mothshadow—
            its blackmirror outline
          clinically disperses at the quay

    Here light is fluxive
     yet trainable
    as any acrobat

      scientifically (and non-scientifically) agile

    once curiously positioned

         it is barely tangible


Overly astringent
    so as to hoodwink
      into weatherlessness—

       the sulphury harbour air
        the smokish rain

reflect zenith distances—

    water-fringed swale-markers
     in a skyscape that is translatable
    only as the mood turns

    (vision to mind    a language
    on repeat)

But how to paint it in     (the movement)

     labyrinth-trails in a sonical stormlash
       pronged overexposure of lightning
     a skybull stamping out spherical thunder

       The after-echo crackles off to sea

         traded in the City
          for pincered rain—
         a pincushion under Greenwich causeway

How to paint it in
          to annihilate the merest anchor-point


(Is she the supreme humanist
    moving among inhuman faces
or a shivery pythoness)

    Her gildedness concealed
      by the Barrier’s silverrodded orbs
      where an ashy cloud door hovers
    like a brooding jury


            doubles open


Let’s have a drink and clear the halo of the glass
And clear the halo of watercubes from the glass.

I meet your eye and cheers and check for poisons,
Enemy, family, stool friend, Celtish at the table—

If genealogy’s all canker, mine’s a double-double.
Let’s drink to bloodscoot, the bonnys, the dumps,

With gold eyes lighting up in dark rooms, in secret,
Among scareheads who detonate the private cloud.

Who knew, so much in common, a body’s reservoir
Filled with pints of swampy, ragman’s enamel smile,

You are my animal, my brother in the grotto song,
Who, by fire’s tremolo, touchsight, frills my shivers.

James Byrne’s most recent poetry collection Blood/Sugar, was published by Arc in 2009. Bones Will Crow: 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets, published in June 2012, is co-edited with ko ko thett and is the first anthology of Burmese poetry ever to be published in the West. Byrne is the editor of The Wolf, an internationally-renowned poetry magazine, which he co-founded in 2002. He won the Treci Trg poetry festival prize in Serbia and his Selected Poems: The Vanishing House was published in Belgrade. Byrne is the co-editor of Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century, an anthology of poets under 35, published by Bloodaxe in 2009. He lectures on English Literature and Creative Writing and was the Poet in Residence at Clare Hall, University of Cambridge. His poems have been translated into several languages including Arabic, Burmese and Chinese and he is the International Editor for Arc Publications. His next collection is entitled White Coins and will be published in 2014.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, October 13th, 2013.