HAPPINESS


That feeling you had before the kettle boiled -

the winter jasmine weeping in full bloom,
the cloud of honeycomb

you carried home from a Spanish package deal,
the old, blind mongrel in the hall

tapping his white tail, the photo of your lover
on the sideboard as he looked ten years before

and still can when seen from sufficient distance
at various angles, in certain positions.

Then steam filmed across your eyes, floated them
on its raft of dissipating vapour to the East wind,

which smoothed out the scars on a rock's proud face
and froze a crow's feet to a sycamore branch.

It dropped you somewhere between the happiness
you already missed and that which you'll never possess.

Now, even in anything less abstract,
anything that bends, erodes, or breaks,

you no longer believe.





A WAY TO READ

Because the air-conditioning packed in
because the sky is blue and blank, because
the Israelites attacked the Ammonites
Cox creaks the window open.

Hebrew, he says, as if he's made a breakthrough
in 21st century theological vision,
so much lost in translation.

He smiles his portentous smile, crowds
his buttocks into the armchair
opens the book at page three hundred and twenty-four:
God is incomprehensible, yet we know enough to assert.

He scrapes egg yolk from his fly,
rolls tiny grains between his fingers like a rosary.
He reads from left to right reluctantly, out loud:
Where wast thou when I founded the earth? Declare
if thou hast understanding?

The students comb the ground,
as if they might find drawn in the dust
or shelled in their discarded gum
some hair-splitting way to read the world beyond their teacher.

But Cox bolts the window shut,
scribbles on the board what he claims as Biblical Hebrew
for a twenty-watt bulb.





THERE IS A TUNA FISH TIN WHERE THE EARTH USED TO BE

The terrain strains beneath the expanse where tins
pile up and around, and the easy way out
is to peel back their amorphous mass
from one's line of vision. To choose just one
tin of fish from the planet of a thousand brands
takes a slick, yet focused snatch.

Back home, mayonnaise caps the mixing-bowl
and the recycle-bin overflows with lids and lives
I never dared live: my stretch to the top shelf
that sent a pyramid plummeting to a shopgirl's skull;
my half-hour indecision between quantity and quality
and the subtle fudge of the final judgement.

The tin I bagged in seconds gawps from the table at the centre
of the universe, unknown to itself, halfway
between the woulds and could-have-beens
of someone else's life. I wrap my eternal present
between two rags of bread
and consider biting. Not quite yet.





THE INNOCENTS

Behind the bike sheds, the railings are lined
with faces. Children smoke their last cigarettes,
gasp their last requests, plunge their heads
through the narrowest of gaps, await execution.

I queue for miles of bunting and tinsel
for a donkey ride, snap panoramic photos
for the school rag and the Sunday School frieze,
No Room at the Inn for the next Millennium,
present a wallflower to the guest celebrity,
wonder how faces that big can fit spaces so small.

Three pop astrologers, heads packed
into paper crowns, lie spread-eagled
behind the cracked windowpane
in the gymnasium, empty absinthe bottles
tacked to their hands. One whiff,
and a star drifts overhead,
though it's really a satellite,
beaming our own signals back at us.

Someone must burn on the bonfire tonight,
and down by the bike sheds, the lights
are going out. The matches are damp.
The kids shiver in their boxers and knickers.
I inspect the railings. My face doesn't fit.
I fear I may be the Chosen One.


            Rob Mackenzie 2005