Stanley on Mars

I went for a walk with Stanley on Mars
but he didn’t get on with the fancy cars

the first head-turner
was Sojourner
perched on a ridge without a murmur
Stanley barked and went bounding over

then there was Curiosity
its solar arrays in a haze of luminosity
Stanley responded with animosity
went at it with murderous velocity

and Opportunity?
at first they seemed to get along beautifully
but I look back now on the whole thing ruefully
it started well but ended brutally

not adherents
Stanley responded with incoherence
didn’t like its general appearance

what can I say?
I had to tempt him away
with whatever treats I had in my pocket
and drag him back to my dustbin rocket

these Martian walks get stupider and stupider
I guess next week we’ll be trying Jupiter

absolutely not stanley

when you’re safely back indoors
from a wild and muddy walk across the moors
Stanley absolutely DOES NOT sprawl with his paws
and rattle the house with his Baskerville snores

when you’re sitting quietly writing at the laptop
and break to give your cold coffee cup a top up
Stanley definitely WILL NOT howl and unexpectedly leap up
because you didn’t see him very sneakily creep up

when you’re slumped in front of the TV bingeing Sopranos
an hour or more since your last significant sofa pose
Stanley certainly SHALL NOT hold you down with his nose
till your legs are dead and so are your toes

when you’re tiptoeing past a bunch of horses
as slowly and carefully as elderly tortoises
NOT to bark till his voice too hoarse is

McQuaide : Flower Squad

Detective Jimmy ‘The Florist’ McQuaide
sick of the whole, sad city bouquet
flips his signature clip-on shades
ironically salutes the gerberas on display
then steps outside for one last trade

The chief has given him 24hrs
to use his special ikebana powers
to crack the trade in artificial flowers
that’s flooding the city’s glitzy towers
with long-life, wipe-clean plastic bowers

He tracks a guy named Frank O’Hara
to a container ship in the city harbour
recently in from Puerto Vallarta
hotter than a tub of lava
stuffed full of synthetic hibiscus & guava

McQuaide dresses up as the ship’s physician
but immediately arouses the crew’s suspicion
when he wears the steth in the wrong position
and after some gunpoint exposition
gets neatly tied up with raffia and ribbon

Frank saunters cockily onto deck
a Hawaiin lei around his neck
Why – it’s McQuaide! The flower ‘tec!
What brings you out to this old wreck?
Still hanging on for that retirement check?

But McQuaide has worked his right leg free
and kicks O’Hara in the knee
who screams and falls back heavily
and grabs a lever frantically
which starts a self-destruct, luckily

McQuaide has time to dive overboard
and swim off quick to the nearby shore
when the whole ship rips with a terrible roar
and a thousand tonnes of flowers or more
are taken off the market for sure

Back at the precinct the chief’s not impressed
‘I’m sick of your bullshit, McQuaide!’ he says
‘What’s wrong with making a simple arrest?
Why’d’ya gotta make such a goddamn mess?’
‘I dunno,’ says McQuaide. ‘Take a wild guess’

Then he sighs and lays down his secateurs
his gold discount card at the stationers
says : ‘Gladioli to’ve known you, brother!
then as the furious Chief coughs and splutters
tapes a single paper rose to the precinct shutters

the ghost / toast conundrum

you don’t just get ghosts

there’s ghost furniture too
specially adapted for walking through
from the old world to the new

there’s ghost fashion
for ghosts with a ghostly passion
for invisible tailoring with style & compassion

there’s a ghost health & lifestyle business
for ghosts pursing deathlong fitness
with ghost trainers to work them breathless

there’s a ghost hospital with ghost nurses
ghost porters, surgeons, bursars
ghost chaplains for shifting curses

a scary number of ghost politicians
doomed to pursue their worldly ambitions
despite the howling opposition

there are cheering ghosts in an empty stadium
laughing and clapping at the London Palladium
sipping G&Ts in the silent atrium

ghosts on bicycles, ghosts on trains
ghosts on buses, boats and planes
ghosts without feature, number or name

but the thing that bothers me the most
and has me choking on this tasteless toast
is maybe THEY’RE all real and I’M the ghost

the ol’ switcheroo

I saw a monster
out in the dumpster
although rather
the thing saw me
as I walked past whistling insouciantly

it was one big mess
and I must confess
I did my best
to ignore it
monsters aren’t cheap and I can’t afford it

it had headlamp eyes
teeth like old french fries
blunt, oversized
claws in its paws
and a croak that broke all natural laws

psst! you! over here!
I seem quite severe
but let’s be clear
don’t go by looks
you really can’t trust all those films and books

who threw you away?
I said – I must say
I’m pushed today
I can’t talk long
even though I bet what happened was wrong

things seemed pretty tight
it all felt alright
except at night
when I came out
of the shadows waving my arms about

it gave me a look
like a heartfelt hook
everything shook
and suddenly
found the monster in the dumpster was me

I watched as it went
along the pavement
taller, content
full of bluster
while I sat down alone in the dumpster

death gets cute

and death didst come to me as in a dream
and I didst sit bolt upright in bed and scream
and my pajamas verily most heavily didst cream

Jiiiiiimmmmmmmyyyyyy he said
floating sulphurously over the bed

am I dead I said
no don’t worry he said
at least not yet

so what the hell is it
some kinda sick social visit

so…I don’t know… it was just getting boring
he said, yawning
then carefully resetting his jaw in the sling
he had to wear
round his skull instead of hair
to keep his jaw there

what d’ya mean – eternity?
I mean – you’ve got my sympathy
mate, but as far as I can see
that’s nothing to do with me
you’re having a laugh
I’ve got to get up in an hour and a half

somebody’s grumpy he said
maybe you should try going to bed
a weensy bit earlier at night
then maybe you wouldn’t be so clippy, alright?

yeah? well I heard death could be agonising
but I’d rather have that than patronising

don’t be mean, he said
sadly descending to the foot of the bed
where he smouldered with a strange intensity
that lacked discernible heat or density
which I have to admit was all pretty new to me

sorry, I said – you caught me off guard
I try to be understanding but it’s hard
especially when you’re so freakin’ charred
does that mean hell is hot
or not
is there a God?
Jesus Christ I hope not

actually no there isn’t
he sighed
carefully putting his scythe aside
crooking one bony knee over the other
idly picking fluff from my cover

you see – Jimmy – God is just a story you tell
about angels, prophets, heaven and hell
a touching way of making sense
of the fundamental questions of existence
to which the answer is oxygen and carbon
and if I’ve rocked your world I beg your pardon

okay – so – I don’t get it
Death comes to visit
and you want me to forget it?

I’m an allegory, dear
a gorgeous but hokey souvenir
a byproduct of consciousness
he said, clapping his phalanges
you mortals really are such a tease
you ask about God – well…take a look around
there are millions of deities to be found
in any place you care to look
from Weston-super-Mare to Çatalhöyük
I could talk you through the creation myths
but there’s nothing duller than shopping lists

he gaped at me
seemingly quite happily
with what I took to be affection
and I have to admit the conversation
was heading in a wholly unexpected direction

so.. how am I supposed to feel
now that I know that God’s not real?

Who knows? said Death as the clock struck twelve
you’ll just have to figure it out for yourself
and with a hopelessly boney stamp
and an inexplicable but theatrical dimming of the lamp
he flashed me a look that was scary but appealing
then shot straight up through the bedroom ceiling

I sat there wondering what I’d just seen
I mean
for someone supposedly fictional
he was pretty vocal and visual

but just as I lay back on the pillow
there was another booming billow
of fire and smoke
and the very same cloaky bloke
came floating back

Whaaaat? I said
sitting up in bed
Was that all a joke?
Were you toying with me?
Don’t be silly
he said
tip-toeing round the bed
trying to act all cool & blythe
I just came back to fetch my scythe


how he’d cycle off to work on his old Raleigh
clicking through the little gears one two three
the sprung saddle creaking as he worked his knees

how he’d sigh as he slowly sawed through his food
every mouthful methodically chewed
the ketchup bottle tightly screwed

how he took up skipping to lose some weight
and the vibrations made the whole house shake
as he thumped up and down by the bolted gate

how he’d make a strangled, high-pitched cry
and squeeze small tears from the slots of his eyes
in the sitting room on Saturday for Morecambe & Wise

how he’d mutter to himself and say I don’t know
staring at the garden from the kitchen window
sipping warm tea in a Sunday limbo

and now he’s gone but the bike’s still there
the bolted gate, the kitchen chair
the scraps we leave when we disappear

neurosurgery for beginners

I don’t know
what it’ll take
to make
me get up & go

maybe some kinda surgery
where a blurry surgeon
from the pub
struggling to pull his scrubs up
falls backwards through the theatre doors
to the ironic applause
of all the bored nurses
who yawn as he curses
and the instrument tray searches
for the cranial saw
he finally finds by his crocs on the floor
then theatrically sets in a roar
to bloodily buzz and clunk
with a liberal spray and a chippy chunk
till someone taps him on his shoulder
and he turns and gives a sexy smoulder
that really only emphasises how much older
he is than anyone else there
but he’s too drunk to care
and as the anaesthetist gags
he turns back and grabs
my bangs
and flips back my hair
to the horrified screams of everyone there
and pops off the top
of my bony little mop
like the cap
from a bottle of Grolsch

takes a step back

gives his knuckles a crack

has a quick snack
of a baloney sandwich
he snitched
from the bins
on the way in

then with a tuneless hum
pokes my bulging cerebellum
for a bit
with the exploratory tip
of a ripped
then with one last shove
dives elbows in
with a rusty probe one of the nurses throws at him
which he rotates & rattles
in ever growing circles
shouting ‘Is this any good? I don’t know! Fuck it!’
alarming as a farmer with a broom handle in a bucket

I think you’ll find that’s neurosurgery, in essence
you’re better off sticking to antidepressants


I must have been small
but I remember it all

how she made her eyes bigger
plucked her eyebrows
stuck each hair round the compact mirror
patted her cheeks in a peachy cloud

I liked the way she twisted the stick
dragged it slowly over each lip
rolled them evenly shiny and slick
cleaned a tooth with a fingertip

not that mum & dad ever went out
I suppose they could’ve, of course
I wonder what the makeup was about
stayed for the kids, never divorced

the persistence of thumbs

[EXPERIMENT: close your left eye / hold your left arm straight out in front of you, thumb up /
hold your right arm alongside it, also thumb up / staring at your left thumb, slowly move the right thumb to the right / until it disappears / this is your blind spot

when the thumb disappears you don’t see a blank
but a continuation of the high street bank
or the gunky green glass of the goldfish tank
or the motorcycle jacket belonging to Frank
or whatever damned thing that happens to be there
when you suddenly stick both thumbs in the air

you see – the spot where the optic nerve plugs in the retina
lacks sufficient photoreceptor
so you’d always have a patch that was blank
if your brain didn’t step in and clone more bank
(or motorcycle jacket, or gunky tank
depending which way you’re facing
and the thumb-sized hole that needs replacing)

I suppose you’d really have to say
for something that sits in the dark all day
the brain does a lot of heavy lifting
the supersensory sorting and sifting
of an infinite mass of incoming data
from Alan Partridge to Alligator
busily roughing out life’s variation
in one long thumbs up hallucination