Michael Lawrence : Poems and Song Lyrics            Email: wordybug@me.com    

NUDES & VICTIMS

45 Years of Covert Writings

1967-2012

I was writing poems for over twenty years before I first had a book accepted. A number of them were published in magazines, newspapers and so on, but my 'published-poet' period didn't last long. I ended it myself, the summer of 1975, on receiving a letter from the editor of one of the two poetry magazines that had printed a fairly lengthy poem of mine about a ruined house in the Orkneys, asking if I would read it at a poetry festival he was organising. I gulped in horror at the thought of stammering all those quietly-produced lines in front of a visible audience, made my excuses, and never again submitted a poem anywhere, for fear of other such requests.


However, I continued to write poems for my eyes alone until the impulse (or ability) began to fade in the late 1990s and deserted me entirely shortly after the turn of the century. In the years that followed I grew used to talking about my other writings to large groups of people at various venues, including literary festivals, so by then I wouldn't have been nearly as shy of reading the odd poem, but I only did so on two or three occasions (once from a pulpit at Winchester College to a mainly female audience, my favourite kind) and it never became an ambition.

Coincidentally, the year I stopped sending poems out I began writing song lyrics for a musician friend to set to music. By 2012 I had written forty or so lyrics, most of them attached to my own melodies. Thirty of these appear in this volume, and two of them are shown below.


IN FLAT COUNTRY

(One of my earliest published poems.

I was about thirty at the time.)


My passport, curled at the edges,

Lies in a drawer seven years out of date

Bearing a picture of me with different eyes.


From the window the sky

Is an enormous barrel of wasting apples –

Tip over the barrel and cider rains.


From the door the high corn in August

Bows before the great green harvester.


From the loft you hear the steady scrape

Of a tired man's feet on hard earth,

His throaty cough in the twilight.


Some nights I hear my name called,

But this is such flat country.

In flat country echoes run riot.


Mornings I listen to the news

And count the people on my plate.




THE KEY

(Flashback: St George's Square, Pimlico, 1964)



We were friends till I gave her my key.

We had always joked, shared confidences,

flirted a little, but the act of giving her my key

signified Intent, and, out on the town,

aware that she might have let herself in,

I found that I didn't want to go home.

I didn't want to sit across from a friend

at breakfast, watch a friend get dressed,

wait for a friend to come out of the bathroom.

I didn't want to fuck a friend.


Returning at last in the grey firstlight,

fresh milk bottles jostling on the step,

I saw my first-floor shutters still fixed, went in,

passed the angry dentist's flat,

climbed the stairs, opened my door. Inside,

a once tall candle, stunted now, sputtered.

    'I've been here all night.'

Her eyes outshone the candle.

Well, I smooth-talked for a while like any

old philanderer, soothed her suavely,

and when we went to bed I tried not to let it show

that I wished I'd stayed out longer.


Afterwards I opened the shutters. Stepped out

onto the balcony. The square was waking up,

the day unfurling, birds singing, cars whizzing.

A woman in black walked a dog around the railings.

Arms around me from behind.

     'Shall I make some coffee?'

I pulled away – 'It's all right, I'll do it' – and spun

back into the shadows of my lofty room,

with its black floorboards, rush mats, books

along the marble mantel, Scandinavian mirror,

thirty-six empty wine bottles arranged like skittles

in a corner, its picture-covered walls.


My domain.


Later, another day, she returned my key,

very graciously, and we were friends again,

but wary of one another's memory of that night:

an isolated patch of half-imagined reality,

like a small once-shared window in the attic,

which must never be opened again.




A POLICE CELL IN BEER-SHEV'A


(While working in Israel, 1967)



The offer of accommodation was unexpected,

but it was late, we'd been driving all day,

out of Jerusalem, through Bethlehem, Hebron,

and south into the desert for the sunset,

too weary now to care that there were no beds,

just a bundle of grey blankets tossed

on a cold stone floor.


All through the long night,

while the unshaded light glared down,

heavy-eyed men in uniform wandered in

to look at us, me and my four girl companions,

two Americans, one Filipino, one English,

and I got twitchy – well, it had happened before,

would happen again, endlessly.

The girls slept through all these appraisals,

and my paranoia, and in the very early morn,

cell bars slithering across our tangled blankets on the floor,

more swarthy men with sidearms came in

    (it felt like the day of execution,

    from which there could be no reprieve)

and handed round hot tea in enamel mugs,

and halva, before waving us back into the Negev,

where camels loped like gormless marionettes

out of the golden dunes, into the morning sun.




BEACHED


Bad coffee at the ramshackle shack

that smells of crabs and seaweed,

distant sound of kids' voices, white ribbon

of foam hemming the tide for miles.

I sigh and close my paperback.

     Work calls, the bastard work.

I head back up the beach,

turning for a last sight of the sun-spattered sea –

     and see her,

barefooting my tracks one after the other,

head bent to watch her progress in them,

so bronzed, so fair, so perfect

in her dazzling white bikini that I stop,

rooted to the sand.

Her head comes up, our eyes meet,

any moment we'll be face to face –

     but then:

out of the dunes behind her

leaps a medallioned Neanderthal,

adjusting his baggy shorts.

Mouth like a porpoise, voice like a dog,

he drapes himself about her

(like a tarpaulin), walks her past me, past me.

Now she's making footprints of her own,

beside his. But just before

she disappears she glances back,

one bronze glance, that's all,

just enough to tell me that she felt it too.

Still I can't move, not yet, though I know

there could never have been anything in it,

me with my Penguin Modern Classic,

she her Neanderthal.

BACK HOME

(This inspiration for this was Donald McCullin, who was just

making his name as a photojournalist working primarily in

battle zones when I was starting out in the much safer fields of

industrial and commercial photography in London in the first

half of the 1960s. The poem refers to McCullin's forsaking

war photography for English landscape work in the 1990s.)



Back from the wars, a veteran

of ten thousand images of massacre,

rape, disease, despair, every horror

known to and devised by man dutifully

recorded in every dung-heap, shit-hole,

rat-infested pocket of the world:

the fly-pestered faces of wide-eyed orphans,

naked screaming babes,

gaunt cadavers in shallow graves

uncovered by the rains, soldiers

pirouetting over trenches for posterity,

women in rags, the old, the middle-aged,

the young – some, in these perfect compositions,

as beautiful as fashion models for other cameras,

back home.


Back home,

an old stone house, darkroom down the path,

a different kind of perfect composition:

moody studies of tumbling English skies,

the rain and sun on English oaks, sane,

controlled, serene – yet haunted, scarred,

smeared by all those gritty, grainy years,

the stench of burning flesh,

the empty eyes that never knew tomorrow,

the tortured, the savaged, the sundered;

that other world,

shoved aside but never quite forgotten,

of innocents ground down into this bloody earth,

blood-saturated earth, that we call civilised.


The photographer has come home.

But he rarely smiles.




FIESOLE


On its hill above Firenze,

old Faesulum tumbles slowly in the sun,

guarded by cypresses and olive groves.


How we've dreamed of olive groves!


We pick our way across the scattered stones

in white trousers and flamboyant hats.

Percy Bysshe liked it here.

We like it well enough ourselves,

the cypresses, the sun, the ruins.


Ruined, Fiesole is perfect.


_______________________________________


A COUPLE OF SONG LYRICS


EVANGELINA BUTTERFLY DUPREE


You were a force of nature

A force for good and bad

You provided everything

That I never had

You even waited at my table

Purring like an alley cat


Give me back my peace of mind

Not a piece of your mind

Evangelina Butterfly Dupree


Take away all your rainfall

Give me back my shine

Show me all your pictures

Recite all your rhymes

But keep your darkness to yourself

It's your life of crime


Give me back my peace of mind

Not a piece of your mind

Evangelina Butterfly Dupree


You are on a broken limb

Of your family tree

Hung with all the ancestors

That you long to be

You call them up on Sundays

To discuss your pedigree


Give me back my peace of mind

Not a piece of your mind

Evangelina Butterfly Dupree


     


AND NOW IT'S MORNING


I dreamed last night a dream of most incredible destruction

A dream of international numerical reduction

I was a tyrant on a ladder, I was holding up my arm

Giving children political instruction


I was walking in a field of artificial gravitation

I was listening to a man who had forbidden information

The sun he said was rising like a shadow from a grave

And a cloud hung over each and every nation


And now it's morning and I'm shivering

In my cold morning bed

I don't know what to believe in

And I'm walking in a dream world

Where I'm a madman with a gun

And there's a symbol for good luck upon my sleeve


I was the boss, I was the master of the universe

I was the leader of the chorus, I was writing the last verse

I threw my head back and I laughed, I pulled my boots up high

And guaranteed that things would only get worse


And now it's morning and I'm shivering

In my cold dreaming bed

And I don't know what to believe in

And I'm walking in a dream world

Where I'm a madman with a gun

And there's a symbol for good luck upon my sleeve


I turned the laws around and then I made new regulations

Turned saints into sinners who denied their own relations

Well hungry fires need feeding, they had reason for alarm

It was the dawn of a new civilisation


And now it's morning and I'm shivering

In my cold dreaming bed

And I don't know what to believe in

And I'm walking in a dream world

Where I'm a madman with a gun

And there's a symbol for good luck upon my sleeve