The Rules of the Kitchen

Vol XLIII, Holograms of Rotten Roses

Part 1

for the drug dealers who
never gave me a chance





This out of tune
relationship makes me deaf
snowflakes in my ears
the shadow of a monster
like a wild river between us.

It is the wrong kind of love
that keeps me calling.


Sunrise and traffic
miniature balloons in
the dilated pupil.

It smiles and I can’t breathe.

It touches my chest and a million
shivers break the world.

Is this what you meant when
you told me to believe?


A kind of truth serum –
we drag secrets out of the cellar
examine their novelty hats
strip them under hot lamps
pass them around like pictures
of twentieth century freaks –
do you really want to know why
my childhood was such a puddle?

I have a clear plastic bag
full of nostril scabs.

She has a life half-empty
like a new house waiting for
our stuff to silence the echoes.

If God will make you disappear,
you and your super bike
you and your black book,

I will cut the devil out of my poems
and fill these rooms with flowers. 


The URGE: nothing else
only a promise like a pendulum
swinging through the sad brain.

Nothing else, only heartbeat
tingle-skin, that feeling you get when
you know she’s going to come.

No, nothing, nothing, only
dreaming white against
the black screen of boredom.

She explodes in the makeshift  
happy home and we jettison
everything but the lie.


Between the lines there’s a life trying
to clear more space. It reminds me
of my grandfather raking leaves.
When I close my eyes to the sun it’s
as if he’s still here teaching me to count.
Showing me how to make a penny disappear.


Learning to slow down is
cold soup, night terrors,
a wife who wants to stay in
for the talent show.

It is a man sat on a hot stove
trying to picture all the beautiful
girls he went to school with.

It is throwing
imaginary stones
into a calm sea


Take this man
I mean this bad man
put him in a box
shove him under the bed
don’t say his name.

Take this other man
I mean this good man
brush him off
prop him on the pillows
tell him he is wonderful.  

As for the other thing
I mean the thing that made him bad
pretend it doesn’t exist
like a ghost (ridiculous!)
like the end of the world (bollocks!)

listen carefully
he is about to begin.




Part 2

Talking to myself instead of
that nightmare sky



The Shut Away Man 

Relief in fingers
disconnecting the phone.

Blinds turned
against a town full of
demonic tempers.

A happy red light means
OFF on the intercom –

you’re in love with
things that reject the world
on your behalf.


Blurred neighbours 
inside spy hole
on front door

plot murder in
chit-chat code: you
are certain that

‘Beautiful day, isn’t it?’ 
means ‘When it’s dark
we’ll make our move.’ 


Cleaning ladies fill
corridors with poison gas
using evil Henry hoovers. 

And if, IF, you make it outside,
there are kids with knives for fingers;
there are a dozen dealers who
will offer you deadly candies;
there are car accidents, girls with
bad breath, germs in public telephones,
crooked policemen, bald murderers, 
out of tune whistlers, buildings
that might fall on your head…

No! Better stay inside
listening from behind a locked
door as the cleaning ladies talk
about blowjobs and lottery tickets.


When she leaves you
home alone
a strange force
closes all the doors
makes the lamps
flicker with your heartbeat
as you talk
to her black hairbrush
balanced on the arm
of a chair, daring it to fall off. 


Passing lorries block
sunlight as traffic
halts outside your
ground floor roadside flat.

Every day is
gloom and engine-growl
for The Shut Away Man
on a blue armchair
spitting fingernails
into the dirty
swimming pool of the past. 


If you haven’t dropped
the toilet seat, flicked off
the light and closed
the door before the toilet
finishes flushing
then ghosts will come for you
holding bad dreams in their teeth
like holograms of rotten roses.

If you haven’t tossed a teabag
into the cup, spooned in
two sugars and put the jars
back in the cupboard
before the kettle clicks 
then demons will come for you
cradling horrors in their arms
like croaking Eraserhead babies.

And if you’re not asleep before
Rutger Hauer’s Tears in the Rain
then you’ll be lost in television static
running with static people
drowning in grainy fizz
for eight hours until she
rattles your arm and squeals
that she’s pregnant.


The rooms lied to you,
they said there was no magic.

They ripped out your
memories and painted
the walls a sickly yellow.

She didn’t notice.
She rubbed her belly and sighed,
asking you to talk to it.

Every morning your anxieties 
promise to stop playing pinball
with your frightened pulse

as they shrink around your
life like a hand squeezing
a broken harmonica.


A new face is
hurrying to smile.

Its gathering shadow
peeks at you
around peripheral doorways
when you’re thinking about
the future in terms of three people
fighting over the last
bottle of red.

Its voice is beginning to
form under the sounds
of traffic, breathing, distant
music, the things she says when
she’s not thinking –
and it
is the most powerful voice
in the world
and it
will tell you everything
about everything.


Four cans of beer.
Shot of brandy.
Crave a cigarette.

Argue about money.
Hate her face for a moment.
Crave a cigarette.

Stare into mirror.
Notice grey hairs at temples.
Crave a cigarette.

She says you can’t shut yourself away.   
She tells you to be a man now, a father. 

Crave a cigarette!
Crave a cigarette!

It’s been six months since you quit
but you are still a smoker in dreams.

Outside, people are smoking and they
look so happy coughing into the sky.
They look very cool and very dead.


Daylight changed.
It moves quicker now, a white
gunshot dragging midnight

like a wasted buddy
into sleepyheads’ 
troubled bedroom 
where two big kids are caught
in its drunken flashbulb  
holding on to their toys    

for a split second
before darkness claims
the colours of their eyes. 


Swap places with your reflection.
Let the bath overflow.

Leave that heavy body behind.

Walk out of that mirror door
out of the mirror flat, into
the mirror street.

Tell the mirror people you are going
to be a parent, despite their misery.

Shatter their eyes with
your victory song
then gather the shards, bring them home
put them in a bowl by the bed.

swap back,
consider going out for real –

visualize the door closing behind you
hold your breath until
it seems possible

then wink and nod
at your terrified
mirror self and jump
into the hot water.