Two poems by Richard O’Brien

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                                                                                     Photo credit: Adrian Pope

 
 

    You & me & the incredibly distant island universes

 

1.

 

The man behind the glass removes his gloves.
The man without his gloves, glittered in salt,
flips up his goggle glasses, and he looks
like a woodsman training as a legal clerk,
tucked tightly in his suit — savage and tall.
His pockets brim with pens. His notes are damp.
He cracks the door.
                                        ‘You want to speak to me?’

 

2.

 

When John drinks coffee, and he does drink coffee,
it’s squid-ink black and his jitter’s justified.
‘That’s how we do it in St. Paul,’ he says,
‘but tell me about you.’
                                                                  I tried.
I tried to hold my threadbare quilt of life —
my three good grades, weeks in the dealership —
up to him, and he burnt through and charged on.
He told me that he was a journalist.
No, that’s not right, he said. A generalist,
which seemed concerned with keeping people sane,
although of course (he said) so few of us are.
Stubs in the ashtray. Grey mulch in the cup.
‘If you could see into my soul,’ John said,
‘assuming that you think the soul exists,
what would you see?’
                                                              I didn’t know.
He told me, and it was a litany:
the miles from Como to Cathedral Hill;
the baseball stats for 1934;
the fields of science and psychology,
all overlapping like a magic eye;
the words of Christ, of Huxley and Karl Marx,
and how it felt to drive a well-built car,
guide in your hand a finely-made machine;
genetics as a branch of moral law,
and fucking as epistemology —
he used that word. Epistemology.
Asked me to wait for him to finish work.

 

3.

 

I hold the joint like a laser
scanning the surface of the moon.
John bathes in thought, while I just
                                                                slowly
 
                                                                                pulse
and what he says is ‘Margaret, your mind —
with all its files and drawers, all its dark rot —
has barely opened up onto itself.
You’re still so young. I like it that you’re young,
but how — and tell me this — how can we hope
to know, to truly know, the dolphin’s mind
when all we understand about ourselves
is echoes, ego — a rat stuck in a tube
never suspecting life whirls on outside —
when we so feebly sound our own still depths,
how can we reach another consciousness?’
The mirror in the car is all his eyes.
I didn’t know. I said I didn’t know.


 

    Teacup Pig

 

What is the opposite of pulled pork
if not this piece of preening muscle,
dense with wealth? More pig per million,
protein-packed, condensed beyond
what Plato would pronounce ‘ideal,’
this wrinkle-cute economy,
this seemingly discreet sufficiency
risks making other hogs look homeopathic.
Its curt mohawk offset with a princess bow,
its only job is not to grow.
It grows. It havocs houses in its wake,
it parricides its china origins,
and all because, not knowing quite how big it is,
it wants more love than we can ever give.
Why shouldn’t it? Demand outstrips supply,
forgiveness is an unseen running cost —
the owner’s life becomes a business tanked
by sudden miracle, that can’t keep up
with orders. It was easier to care
when everything fit back into its drawer.
From this whisker in time, you have two options:
let the pig expand into whatever space
you can afford, or don’t. It needn’t overspill
on a strict watch, although its heart may swell
until its bones collapse like Jenga blocks
in some rare cases. Either’s worth a try —
the great gallumphing belly, or
the tortured thing that sashayed through the door.
One is a flattening, one a stunted joy.
Put me in a box. Tie me with a ribbon. Tell me I’m a good, good boy.

 

Richard O'Brien

About Richard O'Brien

Richard O’Brien is currently working on a sequence of poems about John C. Lilly’s 1965 dolphin language experiments. He is a Teaching Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham, and his PhD considered the influence of Shakespeare on the development of verse drama in English. Richard’s pamphlets include 'A Bloody Mess' (Valley Press, 2015) and 'The Emmores' (Emma Press, 2014), and he is a commissioning editor at the Emma Press. In 2017 he won an Eric Gregory Award.