My American Life

This is a poem i read in the Town Hall at Festival Number 6 on Saturday. A lot of people have asked me for the text for it – Here it is.

I began writing it on the beautiful Greek Island of Kos in early september 2002 and finished it on September 11th.

It will take around 5 minutes to read – can people concentrate for that long any more? Test yourself.

My American Life

They say that moments before you die your whole life flashes before your eyes.
It doesn’t, it’s just those thing half-remembered and those things half-forgot.

It seems like the whole world is swollen from the heat
And the souls of my shoes are beginning to bubble and burst
Bubble and burst
The electric fans still flicker purr and pirouette noisily
And one by one monitor screens spark
Then go black
Spark – then go black
Spark – then go black
And people are beginning to shout things out of the window

And the sun winked knowingly
With heartfelt sincerity at weather men predicting clear skies and sunshine
Not a black cloud
And deep down in the soul
Dried out cellars and drains hot cough
Lift shafts buckle and stairwells burn
And the only sounds to be heard
Are soft murmurations & whispered lost firemen stories
About how they watch as the air disappears and the heat rose
And how death, like madness can sometimes be quite beautiful.
And people are beginning to throw themselves out of the window

Boom!
Hot air rises
One thermal carries me a papal message
Soft sound bites insinuating payback for all my unpunished crimes.
Pissing in the cabbage patch
Nicking crab apples from the presbytery
Half hearted genuflection’s and laughing in Mass
I’m surrounded by the innocent phoning loved ones
Just one last call
Crying and flying in one breath

From the corner of my eye
I notice Xavier, the Mexican Janitor
Doing the morning post
Smiling at passers by
And telling everyone to “have a nice day”.

And Charlie is stood in the corner
Chewing his fist and sobbing
Wishing he hadn’t done half the things he’d done
And whispering between sobs
I’m not guilty
And he did love his wife he just never knew how to show it
And all those tawdry nights in strip clubs
With all the Go Go girls Go Going
Was because she never understood him
Hand in hand now, they’re throwing themselves out of the window.

And I remember one time in the swimming baths
With my summer free pass and my sugar sandwiches
And macho men called Dave or Tony
Checking my fingers for wrinkles
Asking me why my head was shaved and if I had veroucas
Then smiling and waving at all the pretty girls
Whose mothers would have killed them if they knew half the things I knew

Yeah, I remember that time in Sharston Baths
Top diving board
Our Chris on one side saying
“Don’t do it you’ll kill yourself”
And our Hughie on the other saying
“Do it”
So, I did it
I caught my piece of the sky
But there was no running, no ducking, no bombing, no acrobatics, no petting
No smoking and definitely definitely no ball games

And all those sacks of books you could only ever flick through
Cos if you read them all you’d know too much
Missing the bus to the library that stinks of piss in the entrance hall
With dusty flakings of old men’s skin
Which is carried by solider ants to cracks in marble skirting boards

And soon the cemetery will all have to be closed down
Cos the birds won’t fly over them anymore
As I smoke my dads last stolen fag
And wonder what all the fuss is about
Trying to blow smoke rings
But coughing and crying about what happens when my ma dies
And if I’ll see our kids again
And if we’d have to change school

“Have a nice day,” shouts Xavier above the boom of the Hoover
And my colleagues are running round screaming for Jesus
And the dogs don’t bark anymore
They just call my name and look away the moment I catch their eyes
And the cats are plotting
And the spiders are after me for the hot water trick I learned last summer
But the flies are on my side
They live off my soul
Buzzing from thought to thought
Then hopping from intention to intention
And regurgitating everything into my innocent mothers diary
Which is full of appointments and dates
Important messages in red
Personal thoughts in purple
Hand in hand now, they’re throwing themselves out of the window

And the office joker isn’t joking anymore
He’s trying to keep the smoke out with a ragmag
And the office joker isn’t joking anymore
He’s trying to keep the smoke out with a ragmag

And Xaviers emptying small bins into bigger bins
Then smiling at the window queue
It reminds me of the sound the Rag and Bone man used to make
To let people know he was coming
“Bones”
And he’s telling Mr Singh the Coal man not to talk to Muslims cos they dance like footballers
Then he starts bollocking me for all my so-called Horse whispering
Saying I have singed the main of his favourite mare
And blackened the fetlocks of his favourite filly

I am just stood here trying to make a decision
Window or door
Window or door
Window or door
Then, I notice Xavier, walking towards me
And he hands me a post it note with a question on it

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