When Dame-O heard the wail
of a wounded bird one morning
and I hesitated, we both knew
we'd be shaking hands. For wandering men
there are no overland mermaids;
no perfect women above the waist,
a backpack below to seduce us, squeeze,
drown us, on the pretence of a rescue.
What we cling too, all we have left, really:
the song of our inner papermache albatross,
stuffed fat, secretly decorated
with Lonely Planet lists.
He was a brawler and I was a womaniser.
We met in a pub in Rwanda: " Kiwi Dave "
he called me. We bussed down; down
like an unrestrained hose to Lake Malawi
for the summer. He talked the talk
with Aussies in the hostel bar, I did the same
with their girlfriends on those boozy,
stainy nights, uncoiling like melting
veins. My brain clunking, watching
the speed of his fists; as lucid
and jagged as fidgety sleep.
On reflection, I guess all we wanted
from Africa was hip-flask closure –
a bragging, frivolous death. Convinced
when our necks snapped the quest
for something bigger would froth
onto the soil, the bird would come to life.
Soaring back above London July 2008,
playing that pin stripe sky like
guitar strings. Every middle manager cowering,
tarred and feathered in copies of my CV.
Here, in this hut, my demons have
possessed mosquitoes. Like American truckies
they call in when the night road snores
to gossip and chat. I envy how they leave
with the same bloated fulfilment in their eyes
as those middle-managers, I use to watch
marching their families back to 3 to 4 star hotels
after observing that the Eiffel Tower
looks exactly like the Eiffel Tower.
On reflection, I guess if one of us
had died (ideally him), the other could have left
behind all these pot holes, chewed mud, this
thrashed Christmas tree of a land. Gone back with
straw between our teeth to knit suburban nests.
My only condition (my first wife never understood):
all demons wait until dawn before waking me –
gargling the shoe polish in their throats –
for one can, of course, endure roosters. I argue,
I always argue there is nothing cowardly
in a middle-class 6am where you walk
to a corner for newspaper and coffee,
greet those who go to bed early with a nod.
It is on this wooden bunk where thoughts, lovers and filament
blur, become too wordy. And yes, Gap-Year Girl, there
are no modern explorers, merely zany vacations –
usually cross-continent cycling for charity.
Even as a child, I knew travel surfeit in the way I'd collect
then deface my father’s navy postcards. " Recreant
fuck-wit ", my mother would add
watching me scribble out the grin of righteous
ghosts smirking back from European churches.
I understand Damien was stabbed to death in Johannesburg;
that his parents blew their pension
flying the corpse back to Oxfordshire.
No children ran behind the hearse, dancing.
He was buried on an afternoon as raw as a fingernail
cut to close. Buried in mud so fertile
his compass eyes were replaced with balls of maggots.
I guess it is only in my mind
where they heard the garden birds.