:: Article

Letter to a neighbour & other poems

By Alex Houen.

Strange meeting
for Davide Castiglione and Ai Weiwei

It seems that from a volume of others
    I fall silent, surrounded by recognition
in the form of rubble. When there’s
    love it’s not always D. H. Lawrence on a mission.
Here I am, floating free
    of the whole free love thing, suffering
severe concussion of a little history
    turned personal. Nothing
concrete about that. Nothing concrete
    in wanting to be a lovely surgeon
making lovely loop-holes beat
    deep inside a body that’s been searching
how to make a new sacrum
    outside itself for a ‘dainty bit’ of sacrifice.
Or how to turn a tangled bracken
    of reinforcing steel bars into a straight face
that’s never occurred to you.
    I am somewhere between
name and number, and I try to
    imagine myself between
name and number. This is what I call
    making friends
with severe concussion. If my facial
    expression is a marble field
of grass, that is so it recalls the rubble
    and can continue long without me;
can continue to double
    for so many fingers raised to the CCTV
inside that scours the intimacy of the internal
    and infernal as one organ;
can continue to perform with no scalpel
    my beauty work as lovely surgeon
pursuing any sign of D. H. Lawrence.
    Look – twilight filling shrubbery with incarnate fury.
I love how what’s properly useless often happens
    to grow into an alternative day buried
unreckoned in a little history. And how
    that extra day can grow into a setting,
placeless, solid, bright, and crowded
    as an airport terminal. Eating
there with a hunger you can’t fathom
    feels de rigueur? So I eat to the letter
of the comrade I imagine –
    the stranger the better.

letter to a neighbour

door ajar / summer flies / this room a stride / you
cross my mind / free from the funny farm or on
parole again / vandalising your own home as i speak /
what mouth has ever sealed a roof inside its head? / i
see your point / a house needs breathing space /
japanese knot weed may indeed spread to a wall
between itself / between what is too fast to forget /
too bare to remember / an open secret plan adjoining
flash-backs / yes i see / building a cave could be a
breeze if nowhere looms an absolute for absolution
to ablute / and tomorrow your breeze-block toilet
plan will draw the invisible boundary line you’re
building / the line we say we sanction /
                                                when i asked
a friend how much to shoot you in the head i
thought i was joking / a walrus moustache sunning
itself in your front trench / freedom puppetting the
way a home and what it’s not abrade each other
suddenly as laughter / your red laser gunsight
unzipping my living room wall / between itself /
between /
                                between you and me i actually think i
could fall for your demolition / recall my share of
mortgage a friend injected at a fixed rate / teenage
years returning with a dream of home / the back half
built of something with a shelf life of canned fruit / so
we coughed and coughed to hack up our tangible
architecture / a viscous skeleton standing for air /
blue pink / sinking hands / plughole eyes / i’m so still
in the face of it i feel you dislodging inside / bearing
earth from around your foundations in search of
blood waving its little white dress / as long as need
be / the life led there to be spent /
                                                        i even like your
idea of swearing as a conservatory / red white orange
muscles of carp rippling up an internal pond /
orchids and fly-traps / humid heat of speech / the
slew of stones it warms to host / yes / so many an eye
outlives its socket / and what is a promise if not a
ghost? / that’s the genius of your planned extension
cave / transcendence is no planning permission /
what is a sun if not its removal? / discarded earth
core / grey breeze weed / flies / your body yoked to a
shadow / discharged

An Unpainted Sacrifice by J. M. W. Turner

“The greater the distance, the more landscape
cooks up horizon to a light clumped so close
it broke into my home to live on —
a hungry angelic orphan
smouldering as a household sirocco.
It will never be all voice and no body.
The more I gazed,
the more it seemed to speak nothing
but swelling demands:
    Clasp me speechless, lend me your ears
and I’ll make you numberless days
rising over a scumbled lake where even a skiff
of compunction is barely discernible.
    Commit me your duty —
I’ll consign you painstaking focus
for any city to feel oblivious
and full of the best cattle and sheep.
    Give me your sheep and cattle
and I’ll render you cloisters
of water where everywhere tension
converts to calm skin of reflection
to show you the softest durable Venice.
    Have you ever witnessed a crypt
without depth? Give me your Venice,
I’ll make you incredible morning toast
of mountains spread with golden voice
of all you love most.
    Do you think you hold no price?
Tender me what you love most
and I’ll make it happen purely
as priming of canvas for cobalt blue,
white lead, rose madder, and chrome yellow —
all to burst into paradise . . .

    And so it went on, until I made my face
a death-mask. Then I reached for a palette knife.”

Houen Mugshot 2

Alex Houen is author of a chapbook of poetry, Rouge States, with Oystercatcher in 2014, and co-author (with Geoff Gilbert) of another chapbook, Hold! West (Eyewear, 2016). His poetry has appeared in Best New British and Irish Poets 2016 (Eyewear), as well as various magazines, including Poetry London, The Wolf, Cordite, PN Review, Fortnightly Review, Molly Bloom, and Shearsman Magazine. He is co-editor of the online poetry magazine Blackbox Manifold and teaches modern literature in the Faculty of English, University of Cambridge.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, May 28th, 2016.