Robert Harper’s poems have appeared in The Interpreter’s House, Prole, Acumen, Ink Sweat & Tears, And Other Poems and elsewhere. He's also had work featured in anthologies such as Fathers and What Must Be Said, A New Manchester Alphabet, The Every Day Poet, An Anthology to Seamus Heaney and The Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry. Robert founded and edited the magazine Bare Fiction, and has recently launched online poetry magazine Disjointed.
After Michael Hoffman
At 1pm you sit and look at the poem. Among the
other things you should be doing, you drink water
to allay the sweat and read, squint at, your midnight
endeavours, a tower of books leering like an old
professor. You, compelled, or just desperate to let
the thoughts flow, lay on your side unable to sleep.
She, right there, like the painting you love and for
which a light is always on. A thought enters your
head. You tried too hard, yet held back and,
subsequently, pushed too far forward. You wonder
if the sleeping, the loss of it, curled like a cat in an
empty box of paper, is what is up. You read it again.
Embarrassment comes and you thank the gods for
your humility, ask of the page – How dare I look at
you and think of poverty?
A boy sits alone (a roundabout)
watching cars oblige as they
dutifully trust an indirect
route around the obstacle. He
considers himself ‘obstacle’,
traces his eyes via entrance
to exit and nods his head. Half
yes, half whatever appears on
the road around him—obstacle.
JCC 428H, Bangor 1970, Cortina
Mk III, yellow and chrome trim.
HFK 015E, Dudley 1967, the lost
Ford Zephyr, abandoned, a yard
monster. Dreams plagued with
red trucks, green buses, black
Austins to remind boy of time
before his own existence. Dad,
car, ahead, his birth. Obstacle.
What is he looking for behind
the seven inch sealed beam of
a Hillman Imp? A connection to
his beginning—an accidental
merging where 2 people, going
past obstacles, become stuck.
How do others make such
Forked tongues. Unsure how to proceed, I detach
my arm, look inside the open flesh for morsels hiding
beneath the skin, quivering before the opportunity
to be plucked or nurtured in the between state of
draughty window by a slavish boy who wishes for nothing
but new worlds and the road right in front of him.
The road, full of signs, made up symbols to delay
the choosing of the path, the leaving of one, one side
which will not be taken, will take time. So I remove
my leg and look beneath the skin; surely hidden
there is knowledge of the groove, how one hops
in and out needling the unsung sound — like a shellac 78
left in the heat of the sun to warp and throw you off
the scent of music long lost; the jive and the rock,
hard places rolling beneath your single step,
out of reach of your one arm. I cannot see anyway
so I pop out an eye, peel back the layers for clues —
something observed but missed, known yet forgotten.
It conjures nothing new, but I begin to understand the little boy
whose appetite is itself ready to be swallowed whole.
All poems: exclusive first publication by iamb