The Moon Underwater

Vol IV: The Moon Underwater

‘if anyone knows of a pub that has draught
stout, open fires, cheap meals, a garden,
motherly barmaids and no radio, I should be
glad to hear of it, even though its name were
something prosaic as the Red Lion or the
Railway Arms.’

-George Orwell

‘the pleasures of the damned
are limited to brief moments
of happiness’

- Charles Bukowski

I was living in a devil town,
I didn’t know it was a devil town,
oh Lord, it really brings me down
about the devil town.

-Daniel Johnston



I didn’t really see it until I took Emily there
(you’d like her, she’s a poet too)
She told them all her name was Scarlet
(I think she feels prettier with her fake names)
and as though I’d only then stopped squinting
(as I have always done in the mirror)
I saw how the year had eaten me
(chewed me until the flavour drained)

at the bar’s balcony I exposited the dramatis personae
(who was on what, with who, when, etc.)
all the while getting us drunk
(my one transferable skill)
in the hope of
I don’t remember
(well try)

I remember that it was March
(and that you’d eaten nothing but pub-food for a month)
That’s right, I’d eaten nothing but
(pub-food for a month, yes. And what else?)
Just that it was… shameful sharing that world
(with someone nice? You should be ashamed)
they all seemed to like her though
(they all liked Scarlet)

the wry smile of accomplices
(the wet smell of outside places)
I think she feels prettier with her fake names
(think of a churchyard, think of the stars)
(you know exactly what)
I don’t remember
(well try).




The evenings seep
into night-sores.
Men’s eyes always scan
for admiring eyes and
the projector’s magenta is faded
making the players look like antiques.

Sip your fifth coke and snatch snippets
of an argument between a fat white man
and an incorrigible mobile phone.
A bubblegum barnacle limpets
from the table’s belly to your knee
as the stuffed pub shouts at a botched penalty.

Five minutes never seems to harden
the yoke properly, so the chef gives it ten
before plopping it into a cold cup.
Will you ever get a tattoo? You never
seem to settle on a design, you never
seem to settle, you never seem.


Full Moon


A man named Adam

It starts with a man named Adam,
bald at twenty, good looking;
it’s the eyes that do it,
he had the eyes of a little girl.

It starts in what was once
a retirement home. Converted, rented
by twenty strangers. Same décor
and sense of the terminal though.

It starts in the ‘smoking-lounge’
(two chairs in a cellar)
and Adam needing a light
which I had.

It starts when I mention I’m broke
and those little-girl eyes of his
widen like a wine-stain
asking if I’d like a bit of work.

It starts a long time before any of that
but we have to start somewhere.



Broken In

New recruits are broken in on Tuesdays
being an easy shift to be shown the ropes.

During this time, you will be told how to:
give change, push promotions, bag ice

bottle-up, wipe surfaces, pour Guinness,
check ID, work a till, be bought a drink.

You will be informally tested on these criteria:
a) do you smoke? b) are you a thief?

c) will you let the bouncers touch you?
d) do you smile? e) are you poor?

f) are you funny?
g) will you have sex with the management?

If the other girls have already begun to hate you
then you are pretty enough to work here.

I had none of these qualities
but Adam put in a word.




Two squirts of detergent and the rest water:
aim for a lapis lazuli hue in dilution.
Before we open, spray on every surface
one could conceivably sniff from or,
if you are of a vindictive temperament.
sprinkle salt around the sinks.

If the condom machine eats a man’s money
act with utter discretion, there is a key
underneath the second till.
The man selling soaps and scents
is paid to report any ‘goings on’
but do not rely on that.

Check the crisps once a week
you can eat the ones that have gone off.
The rule for birthdays is
you may put twenty pounds’ worth
in a pint glass to be drunk in one.
Aim for a lapis lazuli hue.



The Sincerest Hug

Four months in I was a mess:
I had the whiskey-ripened pimples
the lost journeys home
and a belly to rival my father’s.

It was the shaking that really upset me though.
On a night when the rain meant business
I sheltered under the cinema’s canopy
and rolled my second cigarette.

A man, I make no judgements but he stank,
asked for a roll-up. Usually I wouldn’t,
but this guy looked terrible. When I’d rolled
it for him and lit his tip, he insisted

on the sincerest hug I ever received.
After a few seconds of embracing,
the stranger pulled back
looked at me concerned.

You drink too much boy
you shaking like the devil got you.



Emergency Meeting

It was the first time we’d seen each other in sunlight.
About a dozen drowsy nocturnals
mellowed from afternoon-beer.

Last night, about three in the morning,
some money was taken from the safe
but somebody who knew the code.

I sat back smarmy, not-guilty
wondering which of my colleagues
had the deepest drug-debts.

I got good and drunk with the boss that night,
I was cocky, unlikeable and unaware
that money’d gone walking for weeks (ever since I got there.)

With each passing drink I grew louder,
he was charming, quietly
listening closely for a pissed slip

or for me to produce a marked note at the bar.
He must have been livid on catching on
he’d spent the night trying to trap an innocent idiot.


Bogart Clouds

One perk is the line-cleans -
once a month the scum’s flushed
out of the dusty rubber tubing
that leads to the basement
producing around five pints a pipe
siphoned for staff after-hours.

When the smoking ban came along
we were smug gods at lock-up,
filling the bar with Bogart clouds
as the cash was counted downstairs.
Every night around one he’d emerge
and tell us who’d sold the most.

Whoever won that night was invited
down to the manager’s office,
where they’d modified the desk
to include a pull-out mirror.
As the blizzard passed the Queen’s
curved face, he’d squeeze your shoulder.



Dashing Dave

The karaoke mafia arrives early
to secure their table.

They have all come straight from work
as they do every Wednesday.

They sing the same songs as last week
and return to their huddled half dozen

sipping cordials, swapping sneers
regarding which ever of them happens to be up.

My favourite is always ‘Dashing Dave’
who always removes his hearing aid

before air-guitaring through
any song, even the piano ballads.

They lost his slip once and didn’t call him up,
and he told us he’d burn this place to the floor.

The next week they let him go first,
he picked something with a nice long solo.


Pint Glass Half Moon


The Wrong Side

Tuesday’s poker night since we got sent
the free set from Southern Comfort.
It started with a fiver-in when it was friends
then the turn it took made it ten.
Adam won’t tell me my tell
but it’s given him my chips many times.

At the table my wife becomes
as many women as I have stories about her –
There was this other bird I was with once
No-one seems bothered as long I don’t
win while I lie. I cleared out Tommy once
and there was a crotchet-rest as I thought

he’d reach for what we knew was in his bag.
Better by far to lose a few,
I’m funnier as the underdog.
The one time I won big I made sure to
(accidentally) light the wrong side of my cigarette,
let them laugh as they empty their pockets.



Serenade 13 in G

Eddie’s toruettes has him hiccup ‘ow are ya?
on a loop until he can’t talk.
His other tick is the word sam-boo-kah
which poses a difficulty for a barman,
not certain if he’s ordering or just nervous
although the former usually negates the latter.

His wife’s the clarinet to his oboe
each ‘ow are ya? is met with a weighty
Fuck up, Eddie!

Their clashes are unequalled in the Western World,
yet they always readily and politely pay for pint glasses,
pool cues, even a table was once smashed in action.

When they kick off I’ve taken to playing Mozart over the PA.
It does not have the calming effect I’d first intended
but gives them something to hate together.

As Eine Kleine Nachtmusik awkwardly wafts over us
I begin to sweep up the smashed glass before a tap
on my back and an earnest request, Sam-boo-kah.



Tom Waits

We called it ‘The Sunday Speakeasy’ –
one of the first things brought in
with the new boss – who unaccountably
had a soft spot for Tom Waits.

Some punters stuck around after the footy
still drunk from the extra-time run-over

and I’d take my place at the cheap piano.
We had a dozen people in attendance once,
one even made a request, and luckily
I know all the words to ‘The Irish Rover’.

The worse business got as I ambled through my music,
the stronger his resolve to keep Sundays
as they were: a day of unspeakable takings
and the occasional drunken singalong.

I was always hoarse by midnight
just as he’d shout from his chair

Come on. Fuck sake. You know what I wanna hear.

and we laughed at that old bloodshot moon in that burgundy sky.




Wayne’s the fattest man I’ve met in the flesh
I mean he can’t wipe his own arse.

We gave him a few shifts as a token
for his custom while he was hard-up

he was sat crying into his fifteenth
apple alcopop – burping and sobbing.

Shift with Wayne were a gauntlet
with his heavy breath waddling

obstructing whatever fridge you needed
and skipping every song halfway through

shouting hold up, this is a bad-boy tune!
We had no idea he’d worked out a system

of keeping coins in the side-pot in the till
as he pressed his fat thumb on ‘No Sale’.

We lost about a hundred before we caught on
and, after that, with a phone-call Wayne was gone.

They won’t tell me how they got their money back,
but his glasses still sit in the basement, cracked.



‘Any phone-calls… I’m out.’
and phone-calls there were,
all with that lilt of aggression,
that black-country twang.

Chef’s a guy called Rob,
has a thing about ‘serial killers’.
Says he has a friend
with a Nazi skin-lamp.

‘It’s all about Bundy mate,
he was the original
Dahmer was alright though.’
As there’s not been a customer

since I opened, I suggest
poker. I lose the day’s wages
but gain an education in how
Rob would’ve hidden the women.

‘No I’m sorry he’s out, but shall I
tell him who called?’ Helpful.
‘Don’t bother mate. I’m just
calling about the cameras.’




To the pure all things are pure.
But it’s unusual for him to be physically behind the bar.
First time I’ve actually seen him serve a customer.
Just spent an hour tinkering with the CCTV -
am I mistaken, or is he staying specifically where the cameras are?

To the pure all things are pure.
Honestly, I doubt it really was the police on the phone
but rather his way of testing me.
I reckon I did OK. Gave nothing away really,
‘I think he may have gone to his flat for about 45 minutes, no more.’

To the pure all things are pure.
Because their bedrooms are all at the back of the house
the risk of life-loss is lower. I suppose that was some comfort.
Having never seen a real explosion, I couldn’t comment on the sound
only that he told me it left a lot of glass on the ground.

To the pure all things are pure.
It was a lock-in to end all lock-ins.
We even invented a cocktail called ‘the alibi’, containing mainly midori.
I woke up wheezing from the pub’s dog.
“Can you call everyone and let them know I’m settling tabs today.”




At Rosie’s arrival we were all quentstruck
all her orders ended in whatever you’re having.

She had the numbers of Leamington’s chemists too,
kept the bouncers in powder

and was despised by the manager’s pregnant wife.
After-hours were a tense time with her,

impeccably mannered she’d rest her legs on the lap
of whoever lucked in to her chosen sofa.

We acquired regulars at a rate we’d never seen
all lingering at the sticky wood certain they understood

Rosie more than the others ever could.
On one of many nights her mother kicked her out

I offered her my bedroom and I took the couch.
I wasn’t even put off when she snuck in a boy,

even turned down the sound on the television
so I could hear an angel being fucked.




The way he chops it up you will always end up with a

slightly but definitely noticeably shorter line than his.

When he has to change a bulb, or adjust the projector,

I look up his nose to remind myself how bridges can

thin to a paper-breadth. He keeps a box of nasal inhalers

in the office for what I am told is called a ‘Columbian Cold’.

He is nicest in the afternoons when he has been alone.

In Thailand after a particularly potent bag he visited

a tattoo parlour and aggressively demanded the word

‘Daughter!’ whilst pointing at his left leg, ‘Daughter!’

Two hours later and a few pain-provoked threats under

the needle and the hieroglyph was etched into his shin.

He has since found out the symbol in fact translates as


Arriving at work once he was positively beaming –

My dad’s got a brain tumour the size of a fucking egg!

he boasted.

Won’t have to work in this shit hole much longer.




Having some semblance of graphic-design training
I was called upon to design the cocktail menu
and having some semblance of writing experience
I was called upon to name the drinks.

The order of the day, as I’m sure you can guess,
was postcard humour.

My ideas got a little fine-tuning from the boss
who, after all, knew the business.
‘Dirty Screw’, for example, was modified
to become ‘The Filthy Fanny’.

That sort of thing.
I tried not to be too precious.

I went for a sans-serif typeface
not wanting to look pretentious.
The drinks were divided into ‘fruity’
and ‘creamy’. My boss seemed

impressed with the final product, merely requesting On the ‘Fruity’ section,
can you get a banana and a couple of apples and well, you know…’




A search engine remembers
old curiosities.

a couple of innocent letters
on a co-worker’s computer

and the betrayal of algorithms
is absolute.

I’d got as far as pe-
before the unwanted arrival of a word.

It must have been hidden
under bath suds

or snuck into a tea-cup
but I know it worked

as your shirts are always damp at the chest now
blotched by mother’s love.


Last Orders



It ends with a man named Adam
in a room no larger than a double bed,
red-eyed from online poker.

It ends with Adam,
whose screen-name was ‘Th3Boys’
going all in on whim.

It ends with Adam in handcuffs
first time I’d seen a real pair -
(try to remember).

It ends with
(has it ended?)
a man named