The Cigarette Crows – Poetry & Ephemera

The crow is here.

And I will soon enough be gone.

Though I reach!

It is escaping.

Reach . . .

and strip the stillness of his mask. Yes:

reach the stillness of the mask.

 I will speak of this.

 Across the room,

                         it is never further than the eye,

the severed roots hang

They are HERE.

They have never served the flower         you glance in necessary obliquity and realize you have always known . . .

 Across the room, across the living distance,         Death operates its logic with everything they have touched.

their names, sacred and efficient, reverent and profane, are –

Outrance, Almandine, Pannage, Corrosion, St. Salmagundi, Temperest, Misgivings, Lady Gin, Black-as-Hearts, Scunyard, Amble Man, Tattogey and, with no feathers to shed, The Dominance . . .

You live because you must.  You are here         and cannot escape being


 The Thief

he is here (TATTOGEY)

Believes he is hidden and lifts my kidneys as though they were gold . . .

It is, to him

He lifts the dead animal to his eye.

It winks.

It winks at him.

He winks.

It is gold.

It has always been his.

He throws it out before him.

It is lost.

It is not his.

The Thief returns to the scene of the crime.

Dead animal.

His own scent.

It is his.

It is gold.

        The Thief returns         believes he is hidden         and lifts the watch to his eye         dead animal.

        It is his again.

        We see across the distance.         We are         here.

        If you care to see across the room,

        We are


        It is not enough.

        Stone, the Stones.


        Across the room.         You are and cannot escape         being Love.

You are here.

We are here.

We are,

The severed roots hang



The Thief is hidden.

Life unfolds its winged likeness the Fury and the Fire.

Quo Jure?

Quo Modo?

Quo Jure?

We will soon enough be gone.




There are thirteen Cigarette Crows and it used to be said that only twice in a life do you see and know the Cigarette Crows, their names revealed to you . . .

The First –

At the moment of birth, when all first principles are unknown to you –


what am I?

what is a Crow?

what is Cigarettes?

what is ‘is’?

what is language. . ?

– the Cigarette Crows are there, the shadows in your mind: you feel them and know them, their names curled around your tongue like a lace fastened leather purse.

But the midwife slaps your back, your grapeseed lungs fill with first air, and you cry out in shock at the World; an alarmed gust-forthing of sweet new breath; a zephyr tight bound, resounding anger and pain, it scatters your genning of the Cigarette Crows, dispelling and dispersing all that you knew whilst parcelled within your mother, and in those bless’d first moments, glistening and still tethered, before Life banished the Crows to lifelong exile.

The Second –

At the moment of death,

whether it be by nature or by agency . . . in those seconds between a lifespan unspun and your final fraught clutch for the nourishment of breath . . . before your heart stops beating and all behind your ribs is as still as an empty glass of water . . . when eternal oblivion, that profound potent opiate, tugs petulant at your subsistence, unwrapping your days, your months and your years; you remember again the Cigarette Crows, and you know they have ALWAYS been there.  You see them again, recall how they were present at your birth and now, The Cigarette Crows are there as you die. Had you the language to describe them, were you in possession of the breath to make carry the words to those, if any, who are with you at the end, you would shout, you would rage, at a lifetime of information stolen, denied and lost to you . . .

. . . the dying of the light and the loss of continuance is not what the almost-dead would give furious cavil or violent grievance against – assailed by such a resentment, an injustice, their ‘crow to pluck’ is of a more vivid pith, spiked with a substance much stauncher in its noxious and baneful strain . . . yes; this is a truth revealed too late.  Worse: a truth revealed, then forgotten, the almost-dead are always angry, a lifetime of thwarted revelation where, as breath thins-out to a glib pastiche of  shallow eupnoea, and their memories kaleidoscope and shimmer, they remember then The Cigarette Crows and all the times –

when blinking . . .

when looking left instead of right . . .

when looking right instead of left . . .

when waking, and scattering a dream or a nightmare (when, in fact, it was neither) and losing forever the shape and the sounds and the names and the deeds of each of The Cigarette Crows . . .

when mistaking the fallen leaves on the path for the work of Autumn . . .

when believing that all the bone aches and stiff knees and raw burgeons of sharp clustered nerves in the low of the back to be symptoms of age or illness . . .

when praying to god (all those wasted words) and begging help or forgiveness, acts and interventions, (a good harvest, a child, someone to help make the sadness go away) when, instead, all they needed to do was ask The Cigarette Crows.  For they were always there and always listening, and they can open doors to worlds where everything can be moulded and shaped and made work in your favour . . .  

when looking in the mirror and seeing what you think is your own face reflected and not realising,  never truly seeing, the shape and the texture of the creature you truly are (and knowing too that every photo, portrait or piece of moving footage is a lie and a slander; this is the reason why glass is transparent and why water never stays still)   

So it is, as you die you learn the truth and its anger you feel, the core of your anger splitting open, a radix breaking like an egg and letting flow a torrent of pernicious bile and bitterness.  And as your years unspool from the wheel, you see now, so clear, their presence throughout your life, be it long or short, and with no breath left – your tongue inert, a slice of flesh that hangs like a flag on a breezeless day – and The Cigarette Crows balm you, sooth you, covering you with their wings and, in a cloud of tobacco, give death to you, making a nest from all you were, are, or could ever be.

If comparisons to the life quotidian are to be made; if explanations of contrast and attempts to associate this acquaintance we all possess – an awareness, however deeply buried, of The Cigarette Crows – to the mundane and the mortal, to experience and the world perceived, then such attempts of equivalence can only be impoverished and anaemic.  However, I shall try:

Like a by-chance encounter with a friend from your youth, neither seen nor thought of in the years since you parted, and discovering that, for as long as you have lived there, his home is situated in the apartment upstairs . . . 

Like finding the timepiece presented to you by your father (long dead now) a bequest bestowed on the day you left the family home for foreign shores; this timepiece received with gratitude, humbled and touched, it was engraved with sentiments wealthy in significance, weighted in profundity, this parting gift, a convention rich in ritual and portent, a totem of time-honoured ceremony you thought it mislaid, lost or dropped, carelessly left or stolen at some point during the subsequent years of folly when you, in your autonomy and far from home, indulged with abandon in your independence. Perhaps it was during those heady days (themselves now long past) of hot intimacies and asinine altercations, where you found the timepiece missing and, with resignation, you gave it up for lost, much time passing, then until you discover it (ticking down the seconds, tocking the minutes, the diminishing arithmetic of days and months and years) nestled, still functioning, in the pocket of an old jacket hung in the wardrobe by your bed.  The same place it has always been throughout the period of interim


Their names are known by The World in the Common Tongue that every man possesses. 

And their names, sacred and efficient, reverent and profane, are –

Outrance, Almandine, Pannage, Corrosion, St. Salmagundi, Temperest, Misgivings, Lady Gin, Black-as-Hearts, Scunyard, Amble Man, Tattogey and, with no feathers to shed, The Dominance . . .

W/D #1

On the grim and grey Belfast Sundays when I take to my bed, scarce moving, even to eat, beguiled by the four small walls speckled by drawing pin holes; the magnolia flesh peeled away in cellotape scars to reveal grey bones of mortar and blockwork and the sinewy claggs and fractures in the masonry. Upon these walls, I superimpose the faces of pharmacists, the bullsblood eyes of my GP; projecting too –crouched, cringing like pissturtles in the riven interstice, the clefts and chinks that run along those sharp-angled fringes where the districts  of horizontal and vertical  the places where wall meets floor . . . I picture the pinched intransigence of the surgery staff and, in the rain pattering grimly along the gutter, I count out the minutes  the hours until Monday morning , nine o’clock, when the striplit chemists facing the park rolls-up its shutters and, with no decent period of interval, I’ll cross the threshold with inelegant ingress and collect my weekly dose.

There is, I know, a small, flattened pearl of Tesco’s shopbrand blu-tac, the jilted culprit affixed high-up on the  eastern wall. I dare not let my gaze loiter too long (or at all if I can) for it is the exact size and shape of an Oxycontin 40


                                                            November 2016

* * *

Deux mille cinq

Where were we?

We were –

Somewhere between Blois and Chambord. By the banks of the Loire, a narrow pathway – on one side the weadly parcus scough of dense forest; the other, the wide silver slugline, the Verdigris flush of the Loire.

Breathe in,

she says,

breathe in . . .

And so I close my eyes, her hand softly parcelled around mine, standing so close I can smell her Smirnoff.

(Breathe in, she says. So I do)

Afterwards, later, when we’re back in the room and she is asleep, this is what I have to record in my Moroccan leather, hand stitched notebook:

Broad meadows, sprouting outcrops, sprouting like reconceived high, living springs . . .

The blown gloss of bluebell in a bark-brown wilderness livid with garlic . . .

Burgeoning bolsters of buttercups laying in a russet bed of hawthorn; shuddering laburnum, shrivelling lilacs,

tumbling wallflowers . . .

From the hotel window the motorway’s broken white lines blur, my eyes rejecting the dark illusory lumps that chew up the particles of headlight. This world, ill-digested by my senses, diminishes in thickness and the insulation of all this –




Unemcumbered by phones and screens and beeps and bells and whistles and chimes and

that I have used as a cocoon, a covering these past days

. . . ,

. . . ,


For my sweetheart, the activist, to bid her farewell (deceptively couched in words regretful and kind, my flight purposely missed)

Paris, 2001


Empty. Emptiness and silence.

The apartment as the city.

The building as the district.

It barely affects me when, outside, a car threads its petrol grumble down the street, down Avenue Général-Leclerc towards Avenue Maine.

I’m in these rooms, overlooking the courtyard, which serve as my workshop. My eye falls on the chrome and white tractor stool-

where once you sat and watched my time pass . . .

. . . where, with the primer wet and the brushes ready, I would conjure lands of shadow and skies of blended ultramarine, caress the canvas to tease-out your reluvtant smile

-I now deposit random paintings and sketches; poems and projects, drawings and bank demands upon this empty stool.

It is a little after four in the morning. I couldn’t sleep. I’ve ordered a taxi for six, to take me to the airport and the first plane to you. I have almost two hours to get myself together, but I already know that I’ll cancel the car.

Another week without you or, rather a new week of your absence.

I find myself thinking – more and more often these days I don’t know why . . . of tough coarsened men in fields leaning into the wind, their thick tattooed arms crossed in fierce and evangelical control on the ends of their shovels, their rakes and their hoes; dirt and blood and greenstain  (their fingers smell of semen) imperceptible on their black un-ornamented tunics rippling in the easterly breeze, a lightly spiced gustful oscillation which round their strong, motionless bodies, husks of steroidal testosterone’d meat . . .

Whether in heat or cold they stand and stare off beyond the boundaries of their land–

to each man shall be given a wife and an equal patch. To each man a slave and a pasture, calculated in catholic mathematics, ordained by Les Saintes Écritures affixed to the oak and gunmetal doors of THE HANGMANS SYNDICAT”


–judging the clouds and the sun; in each season they were wise over the earth.  Trapping a bird for food with a wire or stones, stripping mushrooms from dead bark with the vast patience that the righteous possess . . .

And a generation has been carried off into to the night in unmarked vans and cattletrucks. My generation . . . Where once we lived in cosmopolite urbanalia we now get kept in barns and slaughtered with the chickens. It’s the grandchildren now who work in banks and silicon carrefours and design studios and tax offices (washed clean of our trace) their weekends given over to murder and rape. Because of war, because of our past, a catastrophe has occurred which no single man, though he may endure it, can ever solve. Oh yes, chatty, puffy ministers, over the past century, have committed the greatest crime of all; the crimeof expediency, self-interest and indifference. But what can I, can you, can we, do about it now?

I loved you because you were able to listen to Janis Joplin, playing Mercedes Benz over and over again . . .

I loved you because I knew, when you went into music, becoming the tango singer, depicting some obscure Jewish song of the 1920’s, always teaching me something I didn’t know but that I was going to love;

because in those nights, we laughed the same laughter, and shook trembling the same fears, waiting for the reds of dawn with the same desire;

I loved you because you were able to eat yogurt, grapefruit, eggs and cured salmon every meal for weeks, changing only the brand of white wine.


I sit now on a corner of the wall in the courtyard at the foot of the building. A night without sleep and I dont cancel the taxi

(The public telephones that didn’t work)

(These were the years before mobiles)

The taxi comes. And I must have fallen asleep, for when we brake suddenly, I woke and was almost there.

At the door, already, the airport terminal. More concrete, Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle, this looming city shrouded in mist.

These two huge Cedars;

Lebanon Cedars. Lebanon-Munich. Paris-Saigon

the people clinging to the helicopter on the roof of the US Embassy . . .

“Hey, hey, L.B.J., how many kids did you kill today?”

Boat people, gouged and napalmed, dying in Indochina. Their sons and daughters now selling noodles and spiced beef in brightly-lit commercial units that line the streets of the cities and towns throughout Europe.

Lebanon again with these two Cedars. And then Israel again, and a six hour wait for the Israel flight. Glue, paint and charcoal on my hands.

I want to laugh and puke. The old activist of anti-imperialist struggles, and the Lebanon. Here, in the morning, I dont need the Lebanon. No. You might be there or, more likely in Palestine (which was your name for Israel) and Israel’s the obvious choice.

I used to say to myself, to you, to myself:

“I will never care to politics. Never. I will not read the first pages of the newspapers. I’ll never watch the television news.” And then, you went into music, becoming the tango singer, depicting some obscure Jewish song of the 1920’s, always teaching me something I didn’t know but that I was going to love;


Alone in the empty airport. Pen, paper, pencil, notebook. These sentences for you who always tears the pages.

I walked into departures and its glass and ice and concrete. I saw a Concorde happen, disappear and take off.

Beautiful, this concrete, these planes, this grey morning, my sick head . . .

Beautiful, these colonnades. (You never believed in these false Modernisms, in these postmodernists)

We are all of us the Premodern, you said.

No, we are modern, if we are anything. And progress isn’t just barbed wire. No: it’s also freedom, change and penicillin


A few years ago I said that if one day I had money, I would live at the hotel, near an airport, with a workshop and sudio in one of these large hangars.

Almost ten years have passed since I arrived in this city. And now, if I could choose, I would stay in the districts where the bus-staions and train stations are.  Or maybe I’d go to Montparnasse. But not elsewhere: I shan’t betray my ideals for you or anyone. True, choices are broken by the habit. Maybe that’s what is meant by getting old.

In this letter, I realise now, dragged through the Imperfect, dipped in the Present Tense, all barely a few hours old. “I loved you”, for example . . . No: “I love you”

I still love you. But something is broken. This is normal: writing, painting, music and architecture, None of it built to last. Especially not love stories.

And you’ll learn that one day, I hope. Learn that it is better to leave, vaguely knowing why, than to spend a lifetime together, without real reason, as others are doing.

I’ll hurt and you’ll hurt too, maybe.

For a few days, a few weeks . . . If I knew that there was another man, then I might feel less guilty (which is not the same as Innocent)

But the day will come when we’ll laugh about it.

There will come a day when, in a restaurant, or even in a Museum, we’ll pretend not to see each other. Without rancor or anger, but because we’ll have nothing to say.

We are still not really there yet, though;

The evidence: I am writing to you.

Because I need to.

Because I’m sick of this world, of this time and I’m scared, and I wont take that plane to the Lebanon or Israel. Because I know, also, that you can still understand and share it all, these random empty moments when I’m overwhelmed with desire and have a million ideas nearly ready to burst from me.

Then, I’ll have paper to talk to you again, in bulk, awkwardly spilling words in the Imperfect and the Present Tense . . .

While your voice, in my memory, and the severity of your requirements, your need to change me, to take me into your world of activism, will, to me, be only your face on a white page and a memory of the chrome and white tractor stool where once you sat and watched my time pass . . .