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.
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.