Their child is doing voices
‘All of us have a primitive prompter or commentator within, who from earliest years has been advising us, telling us what the real world is’ – Saul Bellow.
It is hot. Outside on the landing his parents
are in readiness, hushed for the show.
Hear him now, stirring.
The whiteness of his mind, at peace, a planet,
is studio enough
where, ice-still in echoes like a deepfreeze mariner,
he inhales to begin.
To preacher-perfect O’s mimicking the next doors.
And now the imperatives to weepy Olive Oyl,
hot talk, transmissions, dogfights and now,
waspish, with accent, lisping Daffy Duck,
scolding her charges in squeaky ’78.
The window isn’t dark. There’s a weight outside
of goal calls, tyre yelps, airplays and voices
and, further off, spotlights, flashes, removals
then thunder-heavy hooves drumming to Santa Fé.
So what should we suppose? Whose mind ─ if anyone’s ─
keeps him fired up like the all-night swallow
or otherworld explorer pictured on his headboard?
Does he play them, with his dramas, for effect?
And is this a fragment, unintended,
of an endgame still to come?
For him it’s just talk. Call signs, signals,
soundings in water. Fragments from the studio
carried in his head. Or deep space sweats
as, enclosed in twilight, he drips out soul.
Those tingling eternals and big bang loops
unwinding through him in long slow burns,
with darkness as backdrop,
squeezed and expectant as a cordial.
One last broadcast and now, in grumbling
double bass, his man’s voice, rallying the troops,
ordering to sleep. Then scene change, flashlights,
endplay and whiteness moving closer,
thunder striding floorboards, sparkings, ignitions
and scatterings of applause.
And now just the ghosts, hushed out and tidal,
the air vents sighing, the heartbeat on low, overheard faintly
or suspended to judgement by a long-held breath,
as, sheeted into darkness, his mind runs on forever
to a Mobius strip, with no one there listening
to the first few drops of rain.
The bikes they have are clean.
Spit-polished metal, they ride beyond the shops
to freewheel the current,
downhill switchback to tame the 1 in 4.
Unclean, their talk of acts that follow,
Wheel words, bad words and back alley lewdness
as they pedal around rumours,
sporting knee cuts, bruises and oil slick smiles.
And the rough summer cuts,
mud-caked, blotchy, through nettle patch and dip
to breast flesh and curve
and the dirt track that’s not shown.
Or moments ducking thought
as wheel spokes spin
glinting as they hum
to blur out what’s below
in a series of amnesias.
Moving with care among his concealments
he trawled to the bottom
beneath pure white cotton and folded linens
to draw out his pictures
of carnival winners
and unaware beauties displaying on the beach.
Struck breathless by their gaze, he wondered if they knew.
What would they say if, like Pygmalion,
they could step from the pedestal
and, smiling encouragement, lead him quietly
to somewhere out of sight?
Would they offer all: finger-guide, capture
and simple explanation, the light in the window
and envelope unsealed?
Or were they embarrassed, like parents caught kissing,
to have him looking in?
And did they, as angels, do this with intention,
to flesh themselves out
or simply because they could?
See them now in life, smiling and composed,
all day with him: their gaze, their reach,
and passions blown large (put there to test him),
great ache in cotton
for bits tucked under and goodness that awaits,
and things he’d never touch
folded to his heart
beneath pure white linen in an unmarked drawer.
Fingering the dial of a small transistor
while he maps out the new on wall tile and plaster
he listens low-volume
as he stretches in the bath.
Pop charts in chorus, uh-huh-huhs,
the hey girl calls, yeah-yeah-yeah
and this week’s climber would, if heard,
set off imperatives
with stops and starts and explanation sought,
then big-bodied sighs and my house grumbles
threatening from below.
Best kept low. Sky-dish-listening,
hoarse and whispering and out there to the stars.
Or fierce at a distance ─ night-voiced, sweaty,
the singer steaming want ─ the latest,
the greatest with passion beating up.
Now loud. Now louder.
And then came Hendrix.
After rollups, substances and all-electric storms
at term-time parties he’d returned all innocence
to the hot-tongued, thick-pile silence
of vintage-motor placemats and roses behind glass.
No dead routine could hold him.
Now at last he’d be heard.
Persuaded, they sat back with coffee cups
and smiles, gazing towards the patterns
just above his head. “The blues,” he’d warned them,
absorbed it seemed as actor or hero
in big-leap calculations of cliff drops between waves.
But at least, though doubtful, they’d pushed themselves
One world to another, he listened on a high.
Steel sounds, thunder, darkness, drums.
A long shot? Maybe. Or deep-breath gesture
to win them round by art.
Three tribal dances, then off.
Then nothing. Then stares.
Like that moment between acts
when doubt blocks applause,
or first time meeting on a far-distant shore
between proud-eyed painted warrior
and surprised explorer
both halted, empty-handed, wondering what to say.
Leslie Tate studied Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and has been shortlisted for the Bridport, Geoff Stevens and Wivenhoe Poetry Prizes. Leslie is the author of the trilogy of novels about modern love – ‘Purple’, ‘Blue’ and ‘Violet’ – as well as a non-binary memoir ‘Heaven’s Rage’, which has been turned into a film. https://leslietate.com/ @LSTateAuthor
Banner Image by Robert Frede Kenter @frede_kenter