SMOOTH GLOSS FINISH
Imagine a pair of wrestlers, deadlocked and inert
for hours on end simply because family is cause,
effect is aging, and so with thickening of necks
we get data. Such suspension is heat,
in which the intimacy of those who make up plans
of common works is rediscovered.
piercing an abscess, keying a programme –
it’s easy to manage a limited operation
if you can substitute something like a ‘living statue’.
The organisers have scrambled special huts.
Imagine an immense crowd assembled in hope
of witnessing a bull-fight in a ring that’s far too small.
Near-and-far smells of plaster, pelts, wax, smoke,
screens, oiled locks, and indoor palms.
Nothing but evening in here for the audience;
out there, a summery river lustrating itself
past shutters. Above all else, some spirit
must be generated for the statue to become vehicle
and audience possible. All the occasion’s intensity
has been concentrated and let loose
in little cakes.
A hoof raised in the economy of fear,
the young statue’s hide runs like water
gone somewhere terribly fast yet trembling still
under the hand of the ‘butcher’.
His beauty lies in the audience avoiding his gaze.
His flesh exudes a perfume of fungi,
a captured dampness held by a frame
broad, porous, and sleep-worn, as if sleep
has been angling for fear. The unendurable
kick-starts a curve of audience joy,
for eating an exotic species is the best luxury
of feeling death isn’t even necessary.
As a satyr is neither man nor beast deprived
but hunger pressing its breast to prey,
so statue and butcher consummate seasons
of hope this evening. Such images are pauses
the audience makes between uncertainties.
Sweet immortality of habit, the young statue’s mind
harbours a vivid plan of road network, river-
line and mountain range. The butcher must keep
distance spaced fine as a salad to touch the unbroken
animal – what’s before him is never less
An amputated hand cannot be
disowned for grasping futurity; so the audience swarm
with exchanges: ‘where’s his stand?’; ‘is that mascara?’;
‘the posture’s awful’; ‘he’s diving deep into memory’;
‘he’s going for total realism’...
The butcher seems drunk with the youth, an embryonic
ship in a bottle. Never having met, they already share
a phantom history of excuses, domestics,
and merry-go-rounds of bingeing. These excesses
of life force, which locally block the poorest economies,
are in fact the most dangerous factors of ruination.
‘Relieving the blockage’ was always the end
of this feverish pursuit ‘in the darkest region of consciousness’.
Plan was to gainsay excess with a series of easy extractions.
A statue from statute. Awe from drawer.
Some lag from flag. The juice of justice.
Salvation from salivation. Ending,
The horizon catches light sound of propellers.
How skin contains responsibility.
How skin is of fire.
As the surface of a gun barrel reflecting a scene
adds to the scene some realism, so the butcher realises
with a blow how the audience draws a new-born
with all its bellows and calling.
The next series will feature
various out-takes, including an Arctic woolly-bear
moth that completely freezes each winter, thaws
each summer, until as a fourteen-year-old larva
it finally mates to die.
I’m lucky to have this permanent job.
Some of these folks have been raised almost entirely
on live feed...
‘A rapey month of little walks’ is how
my wife cast this time, but it didn’t stop
there; it’s like a distended accident – that instant
between knowing you will crash and actually
slamming into metal rolling on indefinitely
till a massive shiny sphere, rippling mercurial,
gathers space in the living room giving
the impression that to be thrown is to be newly-
born, descended from oneself.
As anxious curiosity becomes a form of genital
so the sphere has thrown broken voices back
in heaps to keep us both absorbed in its domestic
plunge. It was perfect for a while:
‘Here, sweety’, I said as I heard it in my head.
Sometimes it gave a kind of raptor coo.
I could also hear distant ocean in the shallows
of its breathing. But there was something martial
in the mix of absent- and bloody-mindedness.
Every time we gazed at it it rolled
around its surface dimpling reflections
of what we could have done until we felt utterly
submerged – ‘asleep with a million jelly fish
in a huge tank of time-being’.
Drifting tranquilized can be a good thing.
As a child I was teased by older kids who said
if I closed my eyes and tried hard enough I could
see through flesh – I cried purely because despite
their lies I knew it to be true.
My wife and I were having silences that wouldn’t
settle for the sphere. Echoings and cooings turned
to muffled anguished straining – as though every hour
triggered off a bowel. I know now
that in the beginning was not the word but a tone,
yet at the time I couldn’t even distinguish the sound
of bees in honeysuckle from flies in the corpses
of frogs. We needed a broader concept of imminence;
something of the sphere had gone subcutaneous
but we couldn’t tell just what. I suggested some poetry
could make nothing happen for a while. Not enough,
Honey, she said; write it like it never happened.
Like it never happened. For existence is believing
you know what you love and what does the loving...
Copyright Alex Houen 2014
Alex Houen has published poems in various publications, including The Fortnightly Review, Shearsman Magazine, Horizon Review, PN Review, Shadowtrain, Stride, Cleaves Journal, Great Works, Free Verse, and Past Simple. He is co-editor of the online poetry journal Blackbox Manifold and author of Powers of Possibility: Experimental American Writing since the 1960s (OUP 2012). He teaches modern literature in the Faculty of English and Pembroke College, University of Cambridge.