Père Lachaise revisité

Of course – Jim Morrison’s not the only celebrity / buried in this vicinity / the park is more than 100 acres / with plenty of room for undertakers / even Moliere / is in there / somewhere / Delacroix, Chopin, Piaf, Proust / about every artist France produced / there’s even a spot for Marcel Marceau / (we didn’t find him so / I don’t really know / but I like to think there’s a memorial on his grave / a granite clown miming a granite cage)

It’s difficult when it comes to memorials / you don’t want to be too pictorial / but at the same time it’s nice to have something succinct / to act as an attractive, piquant link / something that you makes you stop and think / yep – that’s definitely the detail / that adds je ne sais quoi to that memorial / although / you’d probably be right to show / a degree of compunction / carving ANY kinda scarf for Isadora Duncan

 

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this is the end, beautiful friend

We scanned the Q code from the board at the entrance / but the phone map turned out to be more of a hindrance / so in the end we decided to wander at will / up and down the crowded hill / of mausoleums and overground plots / where we’d stop for lots / of moody shots / wonderfully, hopelessly lost / in the mossed / and cobbled avenues / between the alabaster urns & sepulchral statues / the mausoleums and family crypts / rusting palm leaves, gothic scripts / the whole place like some village of the damned / with every household neatly planned / grilles on the doors, stained glass for light / and residents who only come out at night

I was starting to get a little worried / we wouldn’t get to see where Jim Morrison was buried /  I mean – we were making progress / more or less / through the necropolis maze / of Pere Lachaise / but there was still no sign of his last resting place

in the end / beautiful friend / it was the sound of a small crowd that led us to it
we joined the end of the queue to view it

a line of metal barriers screened the spot / I guess because the grave’s been damaged a lot / by thousands of visitors laying flowers / underwear, leather trousers / hand drawn dedications / mystical incantations / candles, cards & drug libations / chunks lopped off the original stones / as powerful relics to take back home / so I suppose it makes civic sense / to coral us all behind a fence / but it makes you feel disconnected, too / like we’re visiting a freak in a rock star zoo / and the best you can do / is pause a moment in the  queue / take your selfie & shuffle through

to the side of the plot there’s a maple tree / with a wrap for the trunk protectively / because people have been taking out their gum / and looking for something to stick it on / pressed it there with the other wads / until now the tree is covered in knobs / of multi-coloured, desiccated globs / like a visitors book in the 27 club / if nothing else a metonym / for the numbers of people visiting Jim / a real-life Orpheus y’think? / who famously liked a drink / and drank and drank / till he took a bath and sank / and found himself transformed / into a rider of a whole other storm / tragically reborn / as a rock n’roll deity / hip swivelling into infinity / eyes wild, lips curled / fuck you man, fuck your world / love me two times I’m goin’ away / forty-eight years to the day / and how they come to pere lachaise / through its weirdly other worldly ways / to stand at this spot / and talk about his songs a lot / and maybe death, maybe fame / the brilliance of a candle flame / chewing it over, making their mark / heading back home through the cemetery park

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three postcards from montmartre

1.
art in montmartre
ten euros
a silhouette
peut-être
in the Place du Tertre

2.
madame la guêpe
aerial artiste
cinched waist
sweet tastes
loses her mind
in the miel et citron
of my crepe

3.
le petit train de montmartre
departs for the hill
next stop
la belle epoque
a gauche: van gogh
a droite: renoir
ceci la: degas
près de cette maison: cezanne
en face de la le chateau: picasso
devant: valadon
mais soudain
the ghost of Alfred Jarry
riding the second carriage
unexpectedly throws his puppetsIMG_0962
over the parapet
then follows them
swallowed
by a funnel
of fennel flavoured cloud
the conductor bats his hand
p’ah! he says, aggressively
spitting dismissively
les symbolistes!
la démence de l’absinthe!
et maintenant…
le petit train de montmartre
rattles on

learning about life

when Pete came home from medical school
that first, long summer break
mine was the only bed high enough to take
his anatomical study tool

it’s hard for a twelve year old to get to sleep
was a real-live skeleton underneath
all his skeleton ribs and skeleton teeth
the thought of him gave me the absolute creeps

so I hid a torch under the blankets
and when Pete was off down the pub
I took out the skull and propped him up
and shone a light in his sockets

I said out loud: this was somebody’s HEAD
as I balanced him on the neck of my knees
illuminating all his cavities
trying to imagine him alive instead

watching telly, smoking a fag
eating a bagel, wearing a hat
blowing Christmas tooters, smiling at a cat
but the skull just vacantly grinned at me back

it didn’t help he had brass catches left and right
shining at either temple
to make it really simple
to lift off the top and look inside

like all his dreams and ideas, his sense of style
were just stuff that got locked
in a fancy, bony kind of box
that he carried around for a while

my only experience of death till then
were all the lurid scenes I’d seen
on page and screen
that I acted out with my Action men

death was Eastwood sneering in suits
running down bad guys
then saying his goodbyes
with a sardonic flourish before he shoots

I tried to work up a sense of life’s mystery
the lived past, the lost futures
hidden in the ridges and knotty sutures
that like a god only I could see

but suddenly I heard scuffed keys in the door
heavy feet coming up the stairs
Pete’s drunken airwairs
so I put everything back as it was before

later as I lay there listening to him snoring
I thought about the skull
the strangeness of it all
and life’s great tragedy I’d been ignoring

but then again – maybe the whole thing wasn’t so bad
the skull I’d interrogated
had been willingly donated
and it was helping a drunken undergrad

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I blame the dinosaurs

I read somewhere scientists suspect
the apatosaurus had such a long neck
was it meant it could stay in one position
when taking on board tree nutrition

it makes me think there must be genes
for turning us into eating machines
maybe explains the current scenario
as we strip the earth of its natural material

and when it’s done and we’re left with a rock
and the planet’s the planet that time forgot
we’ll finally shift our pendulous bodies
and lurch into space for new opportunities

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the truth about john

“A guy who loved his family”
says the vicar, smiling amiably
getting through the service as best he can
because really he’d never met the man

“I’m told John was captured in Italy”
(checking notes surreptitiously)
“but demonstrating the bravery for which he was known
escaped the camp and made his way home
after six months fighting with the partisans
living on bread and parmesan”

it was a nice touch
but I didn’t believe it all that much
the accepted family version?
Ollie was told he was killed in action
her grief short but pronounced
until John turns up unannounced
skipping down Marsham Street
with – weirdly – nothing on his feet

it was a miracle
caused quite a spectacle
you see – Ollie had moved on, of course
KIA being a brutal kind of divorce
she was engaged to a GI – one Flight Sargent Ridge
Who climbed on the parapet of Lambeth Bridge
and threatened to throw himself into the Thames
when she kissed him once and hoped they’d be friends

So John and Ollie tied the knot
and over the years moved around quite a lot
but they’d come down to visit us now and again
in a Zephyr Zodiac with a fancy trim
bags of sweets, a dog called Rusty,
Ollie in furs, huggy, busty
John with his laugh and essential tremor
joking about whiskey, racing, the weather

Some years later, when I visited Ollie
I asked her about that partisan story
no she said, that’s a load of old crap
he was shacked up with this fruit farmer chap
John took a fancy to the eldest daughter
so he’d stand there, drunk, holding the ladder
We’ll fight them in the streets? We’ll fight them on the beaches?
Do me a favour! He was harvesting peaches

advance notice

it’s a click of the turnstile, a twist of the head / a hundred years till the end of the bed
it’s a conference of dreamers, a rolex, a ranch / a barrel of monkeys hung from a branch / it’s an empty ward, a vision in scrubs / a snoring senator asleep in the tub

Mr Trump stood on the stump
smile as wide as a gator
took some honey and plenty of money
and was smiling four years later

it’s a dummy diversion, a faker, a squad / a stockpile of bibles, a run on God / it’s the weight of a shadow, the slip of a dream / it’s a rat with a flashlight, the cat with the cream / it’s the luck of the loser, a criminal crouch / it’s the xerox you kept in a ziplocked pouch

Mr Johnson went to Wisconsin
selling his curds and whey
the farmers were charming but prices alarming
and so he bid them good day

it’s a baby in a baby gro, the lady in the lake / it’s a cemetery crow with a cemetery snake / it’s a victim of circumstance, a patsy, a pal / it’s a plastic bag in the old canal / it’s a pixie in a poncho, a garbage patch / a sub on the seabed with an open hatch / a flickering light, a bloated crew / gathering round for the evening news

Mr Jinping started limping
as soon as he tried to run
he ordered his generals to massage his glutials
then shot them with his gun

it’s a frequent crier, a fearsome toad / who sits himself down in the middle of the road / and licks his eyes and clears his throat / and starts his song with a terrible note / that shakes your windows and rattles your walls

with a song that you hope means nothing at all
no, not a thing
not a thing at all

howl howl howl
the old man said
as he carried his favourite
back to bed

and the weeds grew strong
and the hour grew late
and all we could do was

wait
wait
wait