Magpie as gambler
Here he comes, love this guy, chack-chacking
like a cue-ball off the break. It’s the smart snickersnack
of the Scissorman, or a rattling stack of easy chips,
all bets, roulette, oh yes. Spick-and-span, pin-prick neat
with a livery ﬁt for thief. He’s a rascal, a two-bit punk
in a three-piece. A stitch-up artist, a silent era roll-me-over-
in-monochrome-Romeo. Tommy guns, dominoes,
uckers, boys! Jounced like knuckles, or Annabel’s dice
gone cock-eyed, snake-eyed, would-I-wouldn’t-I’d.
So what’ll it be? A golden boy? A silver tongue,
a lugubrious Captain? A take-me-anywhere-anytime
Valentine? A knife in the ribs, something in scarlet?
The cruel one, the smart one, or one with a secret?
Shuffle and nudge, eyes on the cup, lady or tiger
or aces or duds. Where is he, that guy, that short-circuit
whipcrack, that out-and-out hustler, that joymonger-jack?
He’s off. You’re cleaned out. The deck is all jokers,
the joint’s full of snakes and your pocket’s been picked.
52 Card Pickup
nec te quicquam nisi ludere oportet
Start small. One half-open eye may survey thirty
square feet of bed for several hours. Note that not one
of the seven shining hells you built is half as hot
as this ﬁeld of white linen. Know all your dreams
are now the same six confidence tricks, shuffled.
Trust nobody. Not the old goon at the instruments:
the nerves splutter imperatives, but all news
is duff gen, scrambled, haywire. Be resigned,
if not accustomed, to the rank flue that opens
between heart and mouth. Learn to bluff, and bluff.
Get superstitious. Develop a taste for patterns, pairs,
but know that you’re all out of luck. Here you are
sinking the black on a sure shot, snake-eyed, dropped
right in it with no getaway. You’ve got one bad hand
and you’ll play it. Sweet nothing, and you’ve stuck.
Tally up. Find the same spilt deck, the same face
turning up, whichever way you look at it. Bluff,
but fool no one. There he is again, the duff joist
that brings the whole lot down. This is the house.
This is you, in bed at noon. Weeks pile up, discarded.
I’m only half-surprised to find the heart
stranded half-way down the M4. This is not,
as you might think, a metaphor. The cats’ eyes
all join up and there it is, red-raw and chugging.
The stereo’s on the blink. So it’s the racy roar
of eighty miles an hour in the dark, and that hot,
nagging tattoo – a doom-drum, counting down.
Three years ago I split the thing in two,
left one half of it in town, lobbed the other
out beyond the London Orbital. Now here it is,
jammed crudely back together, flashing red.
Just like my mother always said – leave one man
for another, and you leave the better part of you.
She knew a thing or two about the heart, its plush
interiors, dim-lit. The heart has four red rooms,
through which the blood is pushed in roughly rhythmic
stops and starts. Think of the poor dull traffic,
nudged from heart, to brain, to gut, and back again.
Once I read that the heart can only travel
at walking pace, so it can’t keep up this shuttle,
shuttle, shuttle. These are not helpful thoughts,
said the therapist, behind her wedded fingers.
Also – We cannot treat you for a broken heart.
I went away with sertraline instead – a little oil
for a scrapped Tin Man. I’m counting down the junctions.
All the while, that little tyrant’s in his palanquin,
drunk on his drumroll. You draw a broken heart
with a cartoon fracture line, like the house
built on a fault, walls gone, all rooms exposed.
You can die of a broken heart, something to do
with the vagus nerve, and enough rancid adrenalin.
At eighty miles an hour, I find it hard
not to think of myself as a rope-bag full of blood
thrown forward faster than it was meant to go –
the ventricles, the veins and valves, the arteries,
whose A is a rude mnemonic, and also means
away. Away we go, my tin can and my palanquin,
my unhelpful thoughts, my little scrawl of blood.
Anyway, I pulled off at Membury to write you this
while the wipers beat their soft, half-hearted thud.
Olly olly oxen free
All right then. Let’s out the entourage –
the fright mask I’ve been keeping in the attic,
the switcharound that happens someday soon
if I’m not careful. The Lizardman, who waltzed me
through a ﬁt of jewels and juice; the Puppeteer,
the Plague Doctor, the Goon. The Sleek,
who likes to dandle me above the things I want
then auctions off the lot to someone else.
The girl with all the gerberas (yes her –
I’ve not forgotten her). The Imp who whispers
Sister isn’t pleased. The Bitch, who’d go for you
as readily as she would me, the Jenny,
with her fingers in the till. The Bride,
who means to leave you at the altar,
faltering and foolish, while she’s skirts-up,
halfway-gone to Córdoba. The Hangman,
with his gallows-sticks, who draws a fingerline
across his cheek, and tells me nothing, now,
will ever be the same, not with that curse
around my neck. And the one who never
trusted you, who purrs her syrup stuff at 4 a.m. –
how being here is leaking, leaking luck
from every cut and scrape I got in getting in.
We have a good rapport. I pay the bills,
obey the rules, and mostly, we just let each other be.
But all the while, I know they’re waiting for
the pavement crack – that fracture in control.
Call it what you want. But it took seven years
to learn a lie is a broken mirror, that an error
may be flipped from heads to tails. Now I’ve one hundred
spells and tics and checks to keep you safe,
but – let’s be clear – I didn’t make the rules –
why don’t you tell me, one more time, how
none of this is real.
They love that one. They find you very droll.
9 Emma, you’re a gamer
12 The Lemures
13 J ♥
14 The Man Who
16 The Knife Game
19 The Wolf Man
22 The Oracle
24 The fuss you made about your wedding veil
26 You Know Who
28 Girl to Snake
34 Good morning, Captain
35 Black Lagoon
36 The Stone Girls
39 Magpie as Gambler
40 The Fossils in the Square and Compass
42 Follow the Lady
43 52 Card Pickup
44 Love song for a Minotaur
46 The Lesson from the Snake
50 All along, the ivy
53 Spook and the Jewel Thief
59 (Don’t they know it’s) The End of the World?
60 The Negative
62 Pasodoble with Lizards
64 Pepper’s Ghost
65 The Amazing Geraldine
67 MAYDAY has been cancelled
68 The Courtesan Jigoku Dayū sees herself as a skeleton in the mirror of Hell
69 Turn the Blue Iris
70 Requiem Shark
71 The nine lives you might have lived, were it not for
the nine thin spells through your heart
76 Olly olly oxen free
78 The Quilt
84 The Great Escape
87 Scraps for the Goatman
91 Very small, this warm thing
92 Spook and the Sunset
93 The Pocket Diminishing Glass
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