Daybreak; Snakes


Marsyas howled: “Why do you tear me from myself?”
—Ovid, Metamorphoses


As you rip my skin from me,

smile, as Apollo did, & know

that when you see my stripped muscles

burning in the sun & my veins gently

collapsing, you will soon see, also,

my entrails fall from my abdomen.

Then you will have seen all of me,

& will know that as you are less than a god,

I am more than animal.


& when you see my bladder drop,

burst on the kerb, & see my piss

flood to the drains, know that these sewers

lead to the Abbey Mills Pumping Station

in Stratford, near where I was born.


Watch my steam rise from it as it hits

the asphalt, & remember that I made coffee

on the stove in the house next to this cherry tree

(notice its roots bursting through the pavement)

just as the sky was ripening this morning.

If you tear off the sheet of fat on my back,

you will find my kidneys, tightening,

but still rich & black.


If I scream & you consider carving out

my throat, know that my mum lives

in Spain, in the Marina Alta near the Jalon Valley,

in a bungalow with other British retirees.

Know that there, in January, when the orange

groves are mature, the sheared grape-

vines look like gnarled baobabs.

When my displaced stomach spills

the last of its bile over my pelvic bone,

remember that a deep crevice has been cut

into the hillside in my mother’s town,

among the white stone dwellings

& terracotta-tiled roofs, & it has collected

rotting limbs of palms, & pools

of stagnant water that reflect the sky.


When the cartilage on my rib cage melts

in the heat & drips like candle wax,

think of the tracks that run from Gatwick

to Blackfriars, & know that I have rolled

along those rails a hundred times

on well-oiled wheels, through the escarpments

lined with buddleias in summer, & across

the frost-hardened fields in winter.


& when you remove my deflated lungs,

my flailing liver, & the heart that you

consider worthless, peer through my carcass

—propped up on the roots of the cherry tree—

and see how my spine divides your outlook.

Pick out my lower vertebra & watch

my skeleton collapse into the road.

My neighbour drives a Volkswagen Eos,

whose tyres will turn over my bones.




after Alberto Ríos


A split column of smoke rises from the lit tip of the cigarette.

Johan has a migration of antelope where his eyes should be.


He lifts the cigarette from the shallow groove at the ashtray’s edge

and the column curls like a mamba climbing a bushwillow.


Outside, the slugs on Mile End Road embrace in idle ecstasy.


Johan tells me that I am beautiful—he tells me that his family

owns ten thousand hectares—he tells me things he tells me

he has never said out loud before—


A common European viper coils in the creases of my ears.

Johan’s aeroplane ticket lies in wait on my kitchen table.


He sets down the cigarette and the column returns.

Two strands of silky smoke diverge

until their kinetic drive is exhausted. They billow and sink.


Our affair is a bush baby in the belly of a python.