Andrew Duncan

Swanning with the Bishop

Sordid in slurred light
the bins and kitchen outlet grilles
down a curving side-street in Soho.
The cravings reverberate
off a frame of odours,
pinpoint the dealer,
red crow eye
blinking but never skidding
a hundred discs in three minutes –
he knows who's going to buy it,
pricing up the lost bands
to weary craving gourmets.
£100 on the nail
for 'Meet a New God', 45, 1976, Australian.
Yes! to surf heavy metal, Yes! to high-tone political modernism, yes!

Skidding over the schemes
we gate-keep for the paper paradise:
fishing talent
for the temporary ego-tank.
I bring a lilt
to the Bishop's attention.
His skin is thin,
to light,
aubergine-coloured with rage.
He sneers.
Three feet of foul sheets
to flatter the failing
of the wayworn pining amateurs.

Carrying out the learning and forgetting
we fall through a martial artist monk,
an intriguing housemaid, Bohemund King of Antioch,
an impersonal but self-entrained structure,
Harlequin stealing sausages, a designer of tanks,
the mannequin of Paul Poiret dressed as a scarlet Tatar,
the grey thirsty eye of the security camera;
dissolving the members of memory
to dive in the
                                  urban sluices.
Let one setting harden
let another pale and blow away.
Is it over soon? did you bring any biscuits?
Don't you have anything faster?

We are sharp and scattered and glassy
in the 1950s café
then we drink a lot
and admit our failings are each other.
Cognoscente quaffing ignorance,
the Bishop is malcontent. Empty pages,
a case of malefic possession
by the spirit of a deceased dormouse
But Bishop, we have
to deal the fixes to the transfixed
pour the doses of the Holy Ghost,
soothe and sharpen the craving. Roll it out.

What if one of these
got inside the national projection room,
froze the curve of distortion, to
start and stop and start the shared illusions,
the suppressed breaching beneath our feet?

Fetch me some silence, bag up
these svelte folios of academic modernism
waving the world away, such
wincing signifying Marxist milksops
questioning everything they don't own
sick and faint with fineness
devouring prestige with greed and discretion.

But what if the next script
came from some outlaw prince
– conceptual, psychedelic, deconditioned –
come back from some Western isle
for a new game of life
– a new childhood, played with our selves as pieces?

This one's an offer of parts as extras
in some Rimbaud's biofilm,
the third this week
reading the words on his leather jacket
COW. We are to line his streets and bay,
Escapee! swallower of flies! short-order stupor!
Put a wiggle in your walk!

Maybe we'll find oh, some melancholic kitsch
we can all get drunk to?
Joan, don't do it!

Another Nature Book bound in bat leather,
decelerated maunderings from the master of the monochrome nuance,
ten thousand lines each on nine rural ritual walks on one leg
hand-crafted in a hare-brained hush:
it goes down at each end and sinks in the middle.

The Bishop stops reading Small Arms Monthly
sets fire to my drink.
But Bishop, if it was
a Constructivist whose symbolic machines
set social space on edge
like tiles?

I order nettle soup with rude peasant bread,
he shouts for scorched offal, runs it down:
step one, we void and impale
the stuffed, scented cadaver of Gripweed
on the boundary as our banner. Two,
my new series
of Ming Dynasty opera texts, wholesale
wrought bronze hats and reclining
duets on duck-embroidered pillows.

Our red-eyed shepherd
rips another typescript up, recalls:
He who shares stupid ideas
knows one actual, shocking, fleeting moment
of being an idiot.

This opulent opacity – Take off those silver spurs
and let's pass some time

so forthright and full of textiles,
the Bishop pale as snow
fumbling the classic typescript
– what's her name? Agalma? –
we fret over with hardened picks,
it rings, each flake –
fastidious, frothy, spirally symmetrical.

the café college advances to three
with the new seraph, distant and feral in a dress,
serene and terrifying and Bacchic
fetching the drinks. She even spoke to me
and she said
Benign old parsnips! casseroled
with fish caught in drains, agog
at the chic of the suburban bars,
take an edge. Get a pledge. Burn it all.