Original Cliches by Simon R Gladdish

60 NEW POEMS BY

 

SIMON  R. GLADDISH


 

INTRODUCTION

 

Original Cliches was mainly written in Istanbul and contains an

abundance of interesting, well-written poems about a vast range of different subjects. Several of the poems examine the poet’s art

itself and attempt to explain why poetry is so close to the human heart.

 

 

BIOGRAPHY

Simon R Gladdish  was born in Kampala, Uganda in 1957.

His family returned to Britain in 1961, to Reading where he grew up.

Educated at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, he trained as an English Language Teacher, a profession which enabled him to live in Spain, Turkey, Tunisia and Kuwait for many years. He now lives near Swansea, Wales.

His poetry has been warmly acclaimed by other poets including Andrew Motion, the present British Poet Laureate.

He has published seven volumes of poetry so far: Victorian Values, Back to Basics, Images of Istanbul, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Original Cliches,

Torn Tickets and Routine Returns and The Tiny Hunchbacked Horse and

The Poisoned Tunic  jointly translated from Russian with Vladimir and Elena Grounine.

Incidentally I am still looking for a publisher for my poetry and would welcome any serious offers.


DEDICATION

 

For my much-missed mother Enid

And my father Kenneth (fellow author),

my brother Matthew and his family,

my sister Sarah and her family and

last but never least my wife Rusty

without whom there would have been nothing.

 

 

 

We can all coin original cliches

But even if accepted as legal tender,

They soon become devalued.


SEA-HORSE

 

I’d never really seen

A sea-horse before

Until I sat another’s house

And saw one hanging in a glassy tomb,

Hovering in vitreous eternity.

At my leisure

I could delineate and measure

Its amiable proportions.

Small, fragile and frail

And handsomely symmetrical:

Its head a mirror-image of its tail.

Its ribbed and panelled surface

And soft spines, the happy outcome

Of an origamist’s skillful conjuring.

Its skin so papery thin

It reminded me of the dusty

Crumbling wings of dying moths.

Its tail as tightly curled and scrolled

As a jester’s slipper.

The orbit where the eye had been

As empty as the dark side of the moon.

Does it resemble a horse?

Well, not exactly,

But I can see exactly what they mean.


SUNFLOWERS

 

The flowers sprawled in the broken vase,

The vase slumped on the shelf.

I wondered if the painting was

A portrait of myself.

 

The sun burst through the window

Hurling bars of burnished gold.

I wondered if I’d understood

The stories I’d been told.

 

The curtains hung like criminals

Suspended from a noose.

I wondered if my life had been

Of any earthly use.

 

The bathroom slowly filled with steam;

I seized hold of the mirror.

I watched my features fade away

And I felt a sense of terror.


THE ARTIST’S ROOM IN ARLES

 

The room is small, the crooked walls

Converge around the bed.

The counterpane, though badly stained

Retains its brilliant red.

 

The table in the corner boasts

A porcelain jug of blue

Contained within a matching bowl

Though both are hardly new.

 

A towel hangs from a rusty nail

Forgotten as a kiss.

Beneath the bed a creaking pail

Collects the artist’s piss.

 

The sunlight paws the frosted panes

Which seem about to break;

The mountains, plains and country lanes

Are obstructed and opaque.

 

The furnishings are minimal,

The messages, subliminal;

The faces in the paintings stare

Towards the absent criminal.

 

The chairs rock like autistic children

Chained to a timber floor.

Vincent, you were a prisoner

Without guilt or guarantor.

Your sins were few, your failings two:

You were anonymous and poor.


LE CHAPEAU DE PAILLE

 

The black felt hat is tilted rakishly,

The ostrich feathers almost sliding off.

Wisps of mousy hair peep shyly out

From underneath the broadly sloping brim.

The almond eyes are intelligent and amused,

Watchful and sensuous.

The coral mouth

Pursed with upturned corners

Is surprisingly lascivious.

The creamy neck plunges

Towards the high voluptuous bosom

Made shapely by the tight black bodice.

Red velvet sleeves trimmed with artificial lace

Conceal the thoughtfully folded arms

But reveal the delicate slender hands

Cradling an emerald engagement ring.

To paraphrase my old friend Schopenhauer:

Beauty is an open letter of recommendation

And universal wedding invitation.


DONA ISABEL DE PORCEL

 

Superb senora, decked out in widows’ weeds,

A black mantilla perched upon your head,

Its ornamental lace sweeping down across your shoulders.

Arms akimbo; hands on hips;

Gracefully tapering finger-tips.

Blonde kiss curls worship at your hidden temples.

Your wide-open hazel eyes

Survey the vacant air of the middle distance.

Your posture is upright, proud, superior,

Effortlessly aristocratic

And mildly contemptuous.

Your creamy complexion and ruddy cheeks

Make of you a perfect Spanish rose.


SIREN

 

You are so beautiful

That I don’t want to photograph you,

Draw, sketch, trace or paint you

Or even write a poem about you.

I simply want to gawp

Becoming ever drunker with desire

Until your perfect form recedes from focus.

Your long dark hair dances round your naked shoulders

Like an ebony waterfall debouching onto virgin snow.

Your fleshy damson lips

Are so perfectly proportioned,

They hamper my own breathing.

Your nose is fairly ordinary

But your eyes are limpid, liquid crystal pools

Filled with intelligence and longing.

When I leave my wife and squealing children

To follow you to the ends of the earth,

God knows as well as I

That I am merely an iron filing

Marching towards a magnet,

A selfish martyr

Inching towards the inevitable.


LIFE

 

Simply by being born

We take on a host of other obligations.

We are obliged to work like dogs

At jobs we hate

In order to support ourselves,

Our fat nagging wives

And myriad ungrateful children.

As I sit in my crumbling terrace

(Depressed as usual)

Facing redundancy, repossession and remorse,

The thought I cannot get out of my head is

I didn’t vote for any of it;

I never wanted to play this lousy game

Which I always, inevitably, lose.


WALES ON SUNDAY

 

Six o’clock and it’s pissing with rain again.

It always rains in Wales and when it doesn’t

It hails.

Nothing to drink, nothing to think

Except for a vague depression

Tugging at my entrails.

Bills coming in thicker and faster

Than junk mail and infinitely

More frightening.

The monotony is momentarily stunned

By a flash of lightning

And dramatic roll of thunder.

Nobody cares a cowboy’s cuss

About the stress I’m under.

Is it any wonder

I feel depressed, obsessed, unblessed, compressed,

Tempted to get up, get dressed, head out west,

Play the uninvited guest and pay (if necessary)

To be amorously caressed

By a beautiful dumb blonde

(If only I can find one.)


AUTUMN DAY

 

It’s a bleak autumn day.

The atmosphere is so heavy you could weigh it.

The clouds are crouching low and mournful

Keeping a weather eye on us.

The monotonous tapping of the rain

Is broken only by the drone and swish

Of passing cars.

The rotting grass is yellower than hay,

Indifferent and ungrateful for the downpour

Which has arrived too late to save it.

The stones resemble bathing elephants:

Massive, wet and grey.

The sky is the colour of cigarette ash

And the chill wind whispers

Through the cracks in the living-room windows.

Some poor old soul is out delivering leaflets.

I ease another bulky black coal

Onto the cackling fire

And join in its contagious laughter.


MILLENNIUM BLUES

 

It’s the fag-end of the twentieth century

And things are surprisingly bad.

The world’s population is approaching six billion

And the crowding is driving us mad.

 

The pope is still kindly reminding us

Cotraception is always a sin.

Lord, please have mercy upon us –

We don’t realise the mess that we’re in.

 

We crawl through contaminated cities,

Panting polluted air,

Drinking from filthy rivers

Refracting the neon glare.

 

What is our long-term prognosis?

Can we get through just by clowning?

Or are we caught right in the eye of the storm,

Shrieking, choking and drowning.

 

We want to dance round the millenium dome;

We’re collectively holding our breath.

We’re hoping and praying the millennium comes

Before our own personal death.


DOG DAYS

 

Most dogs dwell in desirable residences,

Are fed, walked and watered every day,

Cradled in the loving arms of their owners

And petted, pampered and caressed

By the rest of the family;

Get more uninhibited sex in a week

Than we do in the whole of our lives

And don’t have to pay a single bill

From the day they’re born till the day they die.

People say that humans are the superior species

But I’m not convinced.

If we were really clever

We’d send the dogs out to work

While we stayed at home and put our paws up.


CAPTAIN

 

Captain is a Jack Russell.

He has endured fifteen winters

Which makes him over a hundred

In human terms.

He has the usual canine afflictions:

Worms, fleas and dribbling incontinence

Yet retains that deep-rooted dignity and decency

Common to most dogs.

These days he has to helped

Onto beds and sofas

Where he can wipe his muddy paws

And leave lavish layers of filthy hair

On the pristine pillows.

Captain’s idea of an idyllic day

Is to perch on the upstairs window-sill

For hours on end

Staring idly out

At the passing show.

I often feel that Captain’s life

Is remarkably like my own.


CIDER WITH ROSE

 

These days wine tastes sour to me;

It’s less of a flower than it used to be.

Perhaps it’s the Hungarian

Or watered-down Bulgarian

Or maybe it’s just me

Turning inexorably

Into a demented vulgarian.

 

Nowadays, cider tastes sweet to me

And wider and deeper and stronger and steeper

Than any grubby grape-juice

(No matter how fermented!)

Am I becoming ironic, sardonic, Platonic, moronic

Or simply melancholic and semi-alcoholic.


WHINE

 

I passed a bunch of purple fruits

All spherical in shape.

A stranger bid me taste of them;

I did and ‘twas the grape!

 

The grape that can with logic absolute

Make wine (along with any other fruit.)

I noticed not the vinter who appeared

With musket, ready to take aim and shoot!

 

The grapes were sweet and sticky

(Although reaching them was tricky.)

The vintner seemed to take the view

I was trying to take the mickey!

 

Indeed they were far superior

To anything in Iberia

But I’m still unsure whether they were worth

The lead in my posterior!


TOFFEE ROCK

 

We bought a cube of toffee rock

From an itinerant stone seller in Tunisia.

He assumed we were rich Germans.

No, we quickly contradicted,

Just poor English.

Anyway we ended up buying an assortment:

Amethysts, amonites, agates, thunder-eggs

Und so weiter.

But the toffee rock was easily my favourite.

I shall attempt to describe it

Knowing almost anybody else

Could do a better job.

Dug out from underneath the Atlas mountains,

It is about an inch cubed

And staggeringly stratified.

It has a biscuit base beneath a vein of chocolate

Supporting a much thicker layer of butterscotch

Topped by a ribbed and fretted coating

Of crumbly vanilla icing

(The still adhering rock crystal.)

All in all it looks

Like an elaborate caramel

Or small ungenerous portion

Of luxurious coffee cake.


LIVERPOOL POEM

 

My girl asked for a poem

So I gave her a yellow rose.

That’s not a poem, she said.

I said it all depends

How you look at it.

Some people would claim

It was the apotheosis of poetry.

No, she said, I want a real poem

So I gave her a green leaf.

That’s not a poem, she said.

I said it all depends

How you look at it.

Some would assert that verdant leaves

Are the tiny waving hands of plants and trees.

No, she said, I want a genuine poem

So I gave her an orange stone.

That’s not a poem, she said.

I said it all depends

How you look at it.

Some would state that simple stones

Are the rugged rudimentary bones

Of mother earth.

She said, you’re not very bright are you?

If you can’t be bothered

To write me a proper poem

You can sod off.

So I did.


STREET SWEEPER

 

I used to be a road sweeper

In Golders Green.

It was my job

To keep the streets clean,

Chat to old ladies

And chuck babbling babies under the chin.

I had a bunch of black plastic bags

To put the rubbish in.

I pushed a squeaky yellow barrow

With a shovel and a brush.

(Being so encumbered

Made it difficult to rush.)

I had to pick up the litter

And kick the dog-shit into the gutter

Where it appeared less extensive

And therefore marginally less offensive.

It was great while it lasted

But one day I got plastered

And was given the proverbial tin-tack.

I begged to be allowed back

But it was no use,

The boss was adamant.

(Actually I think that was just his nickname.)


PEN AND INK

 

I wonder how much ink has dripped

Off the gilded quill of the pamphleteer

In his promiscuous efforts

To excoriate and jeer.

 

It’s no use crying over spilt ink

My mother used to say.

Too much has flowed under the cartridge

From Nigeria to Norway.

 

Like bees exuding honey

In their hexagonal hives,

We writers scratch and scribble away

Our uneventful lives.

 

What sustains these outpourings

Of nonsensical guff

Is the sad belief someone out there

Would like to read our stuff.


DOORS

 

Doors are very practical;

They allow us into rooms

And occasionally into labyrinths

In old Egyptian tombs.

 

Patio-doors communicate

Between the garden and the house

So we can trample mud indoors

And antagonise our spouse.

 

Privacy is necessary

And doors ensure we get it.

Those who opt for open-plan

Invariably regret it.

 

‘The Doors’ were justly famous

(Doormice and jackdaws too.)

Only an ignoramus

Would leave one off the loo.


HITCH-HIKER

 

Hello, my name’s Fred

And this is my wife Rosemary.

Where did you say, Worcester?

No problem, we only live in Gloucester.

Rose will look after you

Won’t you Rose?

Yes, she’s a motherly sort.

We’re quite well known in Gloucester;

I’m a builder

And Rose runs a boarding house,

Don’t you love?

I play darts for my local

And Rose has a few sidelines too

Don’t you love?

We’ll sort you out in no time

Won’t we Rose?

Student are you?

I thought you were, you look brainy,

It must be them glasses.

I don’t have no time for book-learning meself,

I’m a practical man.

If I can’t touch it, it don’t exist,

That’s my philosophy.

I’m good with me ‘ands though.

Rose will tell you.

Rose, aren’t I good with me ‘ands?

I don’t suppose you want to come back

For a few drinks do you love?

We’ve got some great videos ain’t we Rose?

Keep yer ‘ands to yerself Rose

Can’t you see she’s a lady?

Cheer up gal, no ‘arm done.

We’ll ‘ave you ‘ome in no time.


MURDERER

 

Formed by nature

To drink the blood of others,

You ignore the rich range

Of alternative moistures

At your disposal:

Mucus, dew, rainwater, sweat, urine, liquid excrement.

You fixate on human blood

And gulp it to your heart’s content.

Like a greedy, ungrateful, parasitic guest

You keep returning to your host-victims

For longer and larger helpings.

Steeped in the crimson colours of your trade

You swallow yellow plasma through a stripy straw,

Your sweaty cheeks scarlet with the strain

Of sucking a steady stream into your stomach.

We could always hatch a plan

To breed you out

But corrupt politicians

And craven public opinion

Would never allow it

Through the Mother of  Parliaments.


STANZA IN SEARCH OF A POEM

 

Nettles sting; roses grow thorns

Without ever knowing why.

We cannot choose the day we’re born –

Much less, the day we die.


TIGHT-ROPE ARTIST

 

A poet is like a tight-rope walker

Nervously inching his way along

The threadbare rope of his insipid imagination.

If he can reach the final full-stop

Without breaking his neck

Or embarrassing the audience,

He experiences a profound sense of relief

And solemnly promises never to be so silly again.


ARS POETICA

 

How can I compete with Shelley and Keats,

Shakespeare and Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott?

How can I compare with these giants of the past?

Well, I’m not entirely sure but I’m going to have a shot.

 

How can I write ballads like ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’

Or scribe delicious elegies like ‘The Lady of Shallot’?

Well, times have changed since then and when I pick up my pen,

It’s less with thoughts of Tennyson than T.S. Eliot.

 

Every writer has a tale to tell; each poet has a song to sell.

They might be quite exceptional or complete and utter rot.

We can’t all write ‘The Daffodils’

Or ‘England’s green and pleasant hills’

But we can pay our pound and have a share of Camelot.


PERMUTATIONS

 

When we do the lottery

There are around fourteen million

Possible permutations.

When we write a poem

The combinations are more elastic

But not, alas, infinite.

There must be at least one poem

For every person on the planet and

The poetry population is still multiplying exponentially.

One day there’s going to be a poetry roll-over!

It often worries me that my perfectly proportioned pieces

Have already been produced by somebody else.

An irrational fear

Or is it?

No more so than that one day

I will meet my Australian doppelganger

And disappear in a cloud of prose.

As for this concatenation of words,

Is it a poem?

I suppose so.

It is too long for an aphorism

And too short for a dissertation

So it has to be a poem (or a postcard.)


SONNET

 

I thought I’d settle down and write a sonnet

To compete with Shakespeare, the eternal bard;

But after days my page had nothing on it.

I hadn’t realised that it would be so flipping hard!

 

Yet Shakespeare wrote seemingly without effort;

His pen ran almost faster than his mind.

I’ve a feeling mine will be a trifle short –

I’m tired and I’ve a pain in my behind.

 

So as my minutes hasten to their end

(I’ve borrowed one of Willy’s finest jewels)

I think of all the letters still to send

And of the fact the world’s composed of fools.

 

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

I’ll give up poetry before it gives up me!


SHAKESPEARE

 

Shaw often said that comparisons

Between himself and Shakespeare

Were unfair since he, Shaw,

Wrote all his greatest plays

At an age that Shakespeare

Never lived to attain.

Shakespeare’s plays are so monumental

That they seem always to have been with us

Like the moon, the stars and the sun

But in 1580 he had written nothing

Except a handful of thank-you letters

To elderly relatives.

If the plague had carried him off then

(Like so many of his generation)

There would have been no Hamlet,

Macbeth, Merchant of Venice, Romeo & Juliet,

Richard the Third, Henry the Fifth, Julius Caesar,

King Lear or Coriolanus.

No Swan of Avon,

Universal Genius

Or Eternal Bard.

No Disproportionate Diamond

In England’s Literary Crown.

It’s a sobering thought

When you think of it.


WHY

 

Why do we poets

Write acres of verse?

Some like it rich

Others prefer terse.

Some say it’s a gift,

Others claim it’s a curse.

Some say it does nothing

To fatten our purse

While others point out

There are pastimes far worse.


TRADE SECRETS

 

Each poet is unique.

Some use rhyme, others don’t.

Some enjoy rhythm, many don’t.

Some employ rhetoric, more don’t.

Some like similes, most prefer metaphors.

Some assert alliteratively;

Others declaim dogmatically.

Some have talent; the majority don’t

And one or two are geniuses

But that’s very very rare.

One of them (Oscar Wilde) observed

There are really only two types of poetry:

Good and bad.

Discuss in groups of no more than three

Which category this damp squib falls into.


GINSBERG

 

Ginsberg had the right idea.

He would copy out

A passage of prose

Then cut it up

Into short

Staccato

Sections

And stripe them

Down the page

Like toothpaste

A barber’s pole

A rope ladder

A regimental tie

Or railway sleepers

Thereby turning

A square into

A stalactite.

He wrote over

Forty books

Like this

And many

Acclaimed

Him a

Great

Poet.


LANGUAGE

 

We all use language well or ill

Like glass above a window-sill.

With luck, our meaning’s crystal clear,

Transparent as a virgin’s tear.

More often though, we miss the mark

And then we’re scrying in the dark

Until our poor intelligence

Is labyrinthed by lack of sense

And ultimately condescension

Plays sibling to incomprehension.

We all use language well or ill

Like foot-prints on a window-sill.

We mean exactly what we say

Till burglars steal our wits away.


FRIENDS, ROMANS, COUNTRYMEN

 

Does lack of law occasion war?

I recall the Roman senator who said:

‘Once we had few laws and few criminals;

Now we have many laws and many criminals.

The more laws you enact, the more criminals you create

And that, my friends, Romans and countrymen

Is a fact as brute as fate.’


NUN

 

Have you ever seen

A saintly-looking nun

Launch a lime-green spitball

Against an unsuspecting pavement?

I have and believe me

It’s not something you easily

Forget.


WENDY

 

She fed her cats before herself

And at the age of thirty

Leaped down from the shelf.

Gave up a well-paid position in the city

Saying earning all that money

Simply made her feel guilty.

Tried to give up smoking,

Found she couldn’t kick it –

Flew to Istanbul on a one-way ticket,

(Discovered that she’d landed on a rather sticky wicket.)

Drowning in debt, depressed and alone

With nowhere and nobody to label her own.

Brooded on her failures, felt like a fool,

Found herself employment at a tenth-rate school.

Gradually triumphed over terrible odds,

Proved once again she was the darling of the gods.

Got herself married to a plausible man

Began to treat fate as a viable plan.

Put on a little weight, became a little fatter,

Got herself divorced, claimed it didn’t matter.

Still feeling quite small, unaware of the dangers

Of being loved by all, especially strangers.

I only met her the other night

But I feel that I’ve known her

For the whole of my life.

She is a beautiful, dutiful Pisces

And her life, like mine, is in permanent crisis.


OVERHEARD

 

The old girl shuffles up and down.

We’ve moved into a flat

(Let’s at least be clear on that)

Upstairs the old girl

Shuffles up and down.

Hoovering, manoeuvering,

Not exactly dancing, prancing

But certainly backing and advancing;

Switching her radio on and off,

Dismembering the silence

With a cough.

The ceiling’s thin,

She’s always in.

We hear her treading in and out

Our thoughts;

And all around us

On the ground floor

Her muffled sound

Our selfish equanimity distorts.

She’s old; she’s sad,

The life she had

Is nothing but a worn-out memory.

No longer young,

She clangs the rungs

Towards eternity.


RUSTY

 

To walk along beside you

Is to breathe a sweeter air

And since the gods denied you

Little, I am bound to state that there

Is no sensation fonder

Than to hold you in my arms,

My thoughts quite free to wander

Through the chorus of your charms.

Your beauty is immeasurable,

Your intellect immense,

And few things are more pleasurable

Than simply tarrying in your presence.

You are a child of Heaven

And emit ethereal light

Pulsating like the Pleiades

Against the blackest night.

I’d like to thank almighty God

When I was sad and poor

For guiding you that fateful day

Towards my open door.

There’s really not much more to say

Except reiterate

That you were the one welcome gift

Delivered me by fate.


THE NAMING OF THE RAIN

 

I love the humming of the billowing rain,

The drowsy drumming on the window pane,

The lazy way it spells out your name:

Pamela Tabitha Trollope-Tremain.

 

Pamela Tabitha Trollope-Tremaine,

Why did your parents christen you so?

Was it from the music of the glistening rain

Or was it for a reason that we’ll never ever know.

 

Didn’t they realize you’d be bullied and teased,

Tormented by insults and driven insane?

Didn’t they care or were they just too pleased

With the way they had captured the scattering rain?


WAITING

 

No longer drones the honey bee.

The wind moans in the winter trees.

Tall ships are blown across the seas.

I sit alone and think of thee

And scribble lines of poetry.

 

Too long have we been forced apart.

The sinews of my broken heart

Are scrolled up like a sailor’s chart

And surreptitious saline tears

Start welling uncontrollably.

 

I re-read your letters every day,

(The paper crumpled, old and grey)

I know not why you went away

And always to the fates I pray

That one day you’ll return to me.

 

I cannot bear the thought that I

Will be unwanted till I die,

Will be as unloved as a fly

That settles on an apple pie

And dies in lonely agony.

 

Although some days I cannot cope,

I have not yet abandoned hope,

Nor cut a length of hempen rope

And felt my flailing fingers grope

The satin-surfaced masonry.

 

I never thought I’d feel such pain

And have so little hope remain

Nor see my dreams wash down the drain

And hear the ricocheting rain

Promise one day you’ll return to me.

 

No longer drones the honey bee.

The wind moans in the winter trees.

Tall ships are blown across the seas.

I sit alone and think of thee

And scribble lines of poetry.


LIKE

 

Like a ship upon the ocean

Moving with a mazy motion;

Like a soft and soothing lotion

Suspended in solution;

Like the hazy, crazy notion

Of a patent on a potion

Or the sudden strong emotion

Of a riot and commotion

Are a few of the things

You mean to me.


FELLOW FEELING

 

A cat sat on a purple pillow

Sobbing like a weeping willow.

His eyes were red, his cheeks were hollow,

His tale of woe I could not follow.

I questioned him about Apollo

And found his answers vague and shallow.

He was a most pathetic fellow

And worst of all, his teeth were yellow.

I seized him gently by the collar

And squashed him like a pink marshmallow.

Let those who in self-pity wallow

Be used for candle-wax and tallow

And make the God who feeds the sparrow

Burnt offerings of their bones and marrow.


JUDGEMENT

 

You were warned, says the Bible,

You’ve had seventy years

To sue us for libel

Or open your ears.

There’s only one judgement

Then it’s upstairs or down,

Plucking a harp

Or playing the clown,

Sharing a smile

Or displaying a frown,

Resplendant in white

Or smothered in brown,

Supporting a millstone

Or wearing a crown,

Walking on water

Or abandoned to drown.

The mess that you’re in’s

The result of your sin.

Nobody else gives a damn

How you feel;

You’re aboard the express

Or you’re under the wheels.

(Buddhists and Hindus

Grant us more chances,

Claiming reincarnation’s

How mankind advances.)

Do you think if I became

A Buddhist tomorrow,

I’d be free of these threats

Of damnation and sorrow?


CITY

 

Cats howl,

Killers prowl

The foul pavements.

Babies cry, parents die, people lie.

Why did I ever return to the city?

A pall of black smoke hangs over the river

Destined to choke the most arrogant driver,

I’m running on empty and nursing a fever.

Why did I ever return to the city?

Time disappears in a suicide burn,

Milk turns to grease in a gun-metal churn,

Everything’s wrong but it’s not my concern.

Why did I ever return to the city?

I’ve never been so foolish

Nor thought myself so clever,

I came here to make money

But I’m poorer than ever,

The night life is drilling holes in my liver

And I’m tempted to throw myself in the river.

Why did I ever return to the city?


SEA OF MARMARA

 

I’ve seen the million points of light

On Istanbul’s alternate side.

I’ve watched the harassed people hurry home.

I’ve felt the ferry swiftly glide

To Istanbul’s alternate side

Across the Bosphorus, once blue,

Now greyer than the dullest shade of chrome.

 

I’ve seen the lightning hurl its spears

Around the peoples’ frightened ears

And heard the thunder peal across the sky.

I’ve sensed the music of the spheres

And added my own salty tears

To the oceans global warming will burn dry.


BUYUK ADA  (THE BIG ISLAND)

 

First the ferry.

The reassuring hum and thrum

Of the motor.

The propeller flirting outrageously

With the water,

Loving it and leaving it,

Loving it and leaving it.

The seascape constantly shifting

Like flicking through a pack

Of picture postcards.

The glancing, dancing sunlight shining

Forever altering and realigning.

The passengers drinking and smoking,

Laughing and joking.

A businessman arranging his newspaper,

An American mother changing a diaper.

We duly dock and sober up,

The euphoria vanishing

Along with the frothy wake,

Tense our shoulders and recommence

Life aboard terra firma.

We arrive around four (footsore and poor)

Determined to escape the chaos and pollution of Istanbul,

But first we have to dodge the rapacious restaurateurs

Desperate to drag us into their cafes

For an expensive celebration.

Away from the front the charm begins:


 

Old Ottoman wooden houses

In a perfect state of preservation and paintwork

Smothered with bougainvillea and climbing roses.

Secluded gardens with white picket fences,

Vineyards, olive trees, orange and lemon groves.

Children playing tag on the lawns

While gardeners lazily trim bushes and hedgerows.

(It reminds me of Yalta

Which is extraordinary

Since I’ve never been there.)

Attractive young schoolgirls

Promenade in their tartan skirts.

Kamikaze cyclists

Free-wheel down the main street.

Radiant young mothers push their prams,

Towing their toddlers with their free hands.

Behind us the clip-clop of a drozhky trotting past

With a couple of indolent, overfed passengers

Lolling in the back.

(Indeed the whole experience is strangely reminiscent

Of a nineteenth century Russian novel:

Dead Souls perhaps, or Anna Karenina.)

Lean and hungry ownerless ponies

Mournfully mount the hill

Whilst tubby tabbies tumble in the sunshine.

Like waking from a dream

It is time to return to the dust and grime

Of Istanbul.

(Work tomorrow.)

Still, for an enchanted afternoon

We have strolled untroubled in the gardens of delight

Absorbing every detail of a scene from paradise.


A PLACE IN THE SUN

 

I spent today mooching

Around the main square in Bakirkoy.

Had lunch at MacDonalds,

(I know, I felt guilty

But at least they display

Their prices which radically

Reduces the Turks’ room

For rip-off manoeuvers.

Even so the assistant

Contrived to sell me

A large Fanta when I’d

Unequivocally ordered

A small one.)

On my travels I encountered

An ambulent flag flogger,

A persuasive fellow who almost

Conned me into acquiring

An expensive Turkish flag

The size of a family tablecloth.

This set me musing on the Union Jack

And feeling perhaps a tad homesick and nostalgic

I resolved to purchase an English newspaper

To remind myself of occurences

In the old country.

I finally found a news-stand

(After a frantic search)

My attention sharply focussed

By the Sun’s banner headline screaming

‘Sign for Sex with Emma!’

Repocketing my million lira note

I rapidly recalled why

I had come to Istanbul

In the first place.


BIG MAC BLUES

 

I’m sitting in MacDonalds, Bakirkoy, Istanbul,

Mournfully munching my way through my American fries

(French fries is a misnomer –

They’re more like toothpicks than chips)

When suddenly the speakers burst into life

With Michael ‘Matchstick’ Jackson squealing out

‘Billy Jean I’m not your lover.’

I can’t believe my luck:

My least favourite male singer,

My least favourite female tennis player

And my least favourite form of sustenance

All rolled into one unforgettably naff experience.

American mass-market imperialism

May not be everybody’s Coca-Cola

But they certainly deserve full marks

For effort.


EMPIRE

 

I’m rich, I’m strong, I’m white, I’m free.

America’s been good to me.

All those whose lives are living hell

Have not been treated quite so well.

 

With Vietnam we came of age;

A clumsy giant on the stage.

Home of the brave and land of the free

From sea to shining silver sea.

 

Throughout the world we know our worth;

The greenback yokes the verdant earth.

The greenback chokes the yellow soil

And siphons up its treasure – oil.

 

We’ve got Tom Cruise; we’ve got Tom Hanks.

Why wouldn’t we give Jesus thanks?

And just to even up the score

We’ve Sharon Stone and Demi Moore.

 

Our movie stars will make you swoon.

We’ve put a man upon the moon.

The universe will soon be ours

When Coca-Cola moves to Mars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PREPARATION

 

It was one of those many melancholy

Turkish afternoons.

The radio was grinding out a medley

Of mournful, doleful tunes

And the rain was slackly beating

A drunken drumroll on the flat windows.

It’s supposed to be a National Holiday

But most of the shops seem to be open

Glowing guiltily in the milky illicit light.

‘What do you think of the new Director of Studies?’

I ask my companion, casually reclining

On the ottoman like a beached dolphin.

‘I think she’s a hammer-headed shark

Cunningly disguised as a doe-eyed maiden.’

I had to agree as I carried on

Preparing my lessons for the coming semester,

Sipping my dry white wine at regular intervals.


TEACHING

 

She told me about her ex-husband

Who used to bang his head

Against the apartment wall

And throw up before every lesson.

(He later committed suicide.)

It would be nice

If we could all find some job satisfaction

But with over three million unemployed

I suppose that’s just a pipe dream.


SWEARING AND SHOPPING

 

I hate Istanbul on days like these.

The traffic is thicker than molasses.

Motorists with purple bulging eyes

Are manipulating their horns

Like adolescent schoolboys.

The muganda in the local bakkal

Wilfully misinterprets

My carefully rehearsed Turkish order

For a few elementary groceries

And slaps me with a bill

A pelican would be proud of.

On my way home, a pot-hole

Maliciously reaches out to

Grab my right ankle and give it

A vicious anti-clockwise twist.

I limp up four painful flights of steps,

Spitting feathers and gagging

For a well-earned glass of tea

Only to discover

That the matches are damp

And not one of them is gracious enough

To give me a light.

I replace my coat and boots

And hobble back along the Bosphorus

For another bloody box of fickle phosphorous

Thinking there are far worse places than Britain.


SHOE SHINER

 

I’m perched on the cold stone steps of the Yeni Cami

(New Mosque to you mate)

Waiting for the ferry

And watching the pigeons imitate Mrs Thatcher

(The whole scene monitored by

The myopic eye of a watery, wintry sun)

When suddenly this geezer appears

And attempts to engage me in conversation.

I know enough to avoid eye contact

With itinerant vendors

So I deliberately avert my gaze.

However his face is very close to mine

And I can’t help noticing

His alcoholic breath and heavy-lidded bloodshot eyes.

Without warning he grabs one of my feet

And holds it in a vice-like grip.

Then I realise he’s a shoe-shiner

Who is vigorously buffing my scuffed old boot

With a filthy brown rag.

This is profoundly embarrassing.

I’m flat broke and cannot afford to reward him.

I withdraw my scruffy boot with such vehemence

That it is more like a kick

And he topples down a couple of steps.

When he recovers his composure

He starts cursing me in Turkish

And making vigorous, unambiguous hand gestures.

I won’t relate what happened next –

It’s too painful.

Suffice to say

I have never felt such a heel

In my entire life.

In Istanbul you need a fat wallet

Or a bloody thick skin.


RUSSIAN  TWILIGHT

 

When you’re thousands of miles from home

And you don’t have a kopek to bless yourself with,

You know what depression is.

When the clouds sail past like super-tankers

And the rain falls like sulphuric acid

Gate-crashing the pores of your skin

You feel the melancholy of centuries,

The aeons of useless effort

Against the forces of oppression.

Most human activity

Is a futile attempt

To combat the misery

Inseparable from

The human condition.

Euphemisms are so universal

That we call disasters, challenges

And catastrophes, opportunities.

Even Voltaire’s advice is valueless

When we have no jardin to cultiver.

We stare out at the sallow murk

Attending the approaching dark,

Waiting for the night to fall

And let the silence say it all.


BACK IN THE C.I.S

 

When it costs you the earth for a meal in town

And you turn on the tap and the water’s brown

And each passer-by wears a furrowed frown

You know you’re back in the C.I.S.

 

The Russians look great in their furry hats.

It’s so cold it’s broken the thermostats

But we keep pretty warm in our crowded flats

Now we’re back in the C.I.S.

 

Hey, I dig your new leather coat, Ivan.

It must have cost more than a five-year plan.

I could have got you one cheaper if you’d asked me, man

On my way to the C.I.S.

 

I’m knocking back the vodka in a fancy bar

And chatting up a woman in a wonder-bra

Who tells me ‘raiding the larder’ means ‘to steal a car’

When you’re back in the C.I.S.

 

I tell my friend Natasha that I’m having fun.

She reaches for her handbag and pulls out a gun.

I say I’ll be back shortly but I’ve got to run

Somewhere else in the C.I.S.

 

She relieves me of my dollars and fake Rolex watch,

My last packet of Marlboro and demands a match

And says ‘Now look here honey, what you can’t afford, don’t touch

Over here in the C.I.S.’

 

I think I’ve learnt my lesson and I’m going home.

I’ve got some dirty photos for the family album.

If I ever go abroad again, it’s Tokyo or Rome,

Never back to the C.I.S.


CRIPPLE ON A BRIDGE

 

I passed a cripple on a bridge.

His sunburnt legs were buckled, bowed

Bent and battered as a pair

Of sat-upon padded coat-hangers.

When he saw me

He thrust his claw-like hand towards me

Although his mute mask of resignation

Didn’t alter.

I dug in my trouser pockets

And suddenly remembered

I had given the last of my loose change

To a sturdy well-fed beggar

Brooding on a street corner

Half an hour before.

Unlike the cripple

I could have kicked myself.


BEGGARS

 

They tear at your heartstrings

And empty your pockets,

Make you feel guilty

For being alive.

Although you feel broke

For most of the time,

In comparison with them

You are loaded.

Although your electricity bills

Keep you awake at nights,

They don’t need electricity,

They sleep under traffic lights.

Although you can no longer afford

Your privatised water,

They drink their stinking water

Out of drains.

Although you have trouble

Repairing your house,

They have no home

To repair to.

Like an animal or an insect

They live in an eternal present:

(Day to day, hour to hour,

Minute to minute, second to second)

The only problem is

That their eternal present

Is profoundly unpleasant.

What really hurts though

Is when the News of the World

Produces an exclusive expose

Proving beyond any shadow of suspicion

That they are all, without exception

Out-of-work actors and actresses

Daily delivering Oscar-deserving performances.


BANKS

 

As high as the eye can see

And as far as the mind can reach.

Millions of miles of tubercular steel

And green acres of translucent toughened glass.

Lifts like caterpillars

Crawling up external walls

And humans like ants

Swarming all over the interior surfaces.

For now we see through a glass darkly

But then face to face.

We’re not building churches any more

Although we’re still constructing cathedrals

To capitalism.


OBSERVE

 

Observe the shadows on the meadow

Non-committal, cold and grey.

The ease with which they grew and fled –

The way they came and went away.

 

Observe the chaffinch in the fountain,

Chattering now his work is done.

Observe the black sheep on the mountain

Shivering in the winter sun.

 

Observe the clouds that run for cover

From the pale sun’s pointed rays.

Observe the coin-bright autumn colours

Painted on our darkening days.


THE WEIR

 

High up in the slowly budding

Branches of the trees,

Swaying stiffly to the rhythm

Of an early morning breeze,

Trying out their twigs and

Stretching for the coming April bloom,

The noisy nuthatch trills

His shrill insistent tune

Competing with the blackbird’s

Sweet melodious song.

 

And far below, snow-swollen rivers

Swiftly flow,

Gathering momentum furiously as they go

Downstream to the waiting weir,

Boiling like a witches cauldron,

Frothing like a mad dog,

Flecks of yellow foam

Trapped in the river’s angry maw,

Roaring like an injured lion,

Growling like a wounded wolf

Mad with pain and fear

And finally plunging down the sheer

Drop to the tranquil shallows

Where the willful waters

Meander on their way

Hugging every curve

And caressing every hollow.


SNOWDROPS AND DRAGONFLIES

 

The simple snowdrops herald yet another spring,

Another yearly celebration of your birth.

Their sprightly fragile blooms gleam whitely

In the gloomy gradual-greening earth.

 

Nature’s little symbols of hope and innocence;

Their reassuring presence the very essence

Of purity and promise the evanescence

Of your dismal dampened spirits

And optimistic reassessment of the whole new year.

 

When warm May breezes blow

The winter cobwebs from your eyes,

The balmy air hum-thrumming

With iridescent dragonflies

Hovering in the shimmering heat-filled haze,

Your restless mind returns again

To sacred snowdrop days.


OVUM

 

For the embryonic bird,

The egg is its entire world;

The yellow yolk, the sinking setting sun

And the sticky albumen, the balaclava cosmos

Bursting with glittering, golden stars.

When the brittle shell shatters

And the flimsy beak appears,

It is an earthquake,

A violent volcano menstruating lava

As one universe bleeds into another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The right of Simon R. Gladdish to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

One Response to “Original Cliches by Simon R Gladdish”

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