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Poems by John Atkins




Let us be fashionable!
Let us find windows where
Despised men find platitudes
And others bags filled with air.


Let us teach our cousins
How to sin in harmony.
Let us get the top thrill
From the mitigation of a snob’s alimony.

Let us cut throats!
Let us urge mayors and important people
To build another empire
And find another man to climb a steeple.


Let us skilfully
Fornicate, but make
It appear an act of contrition,
A smiling virgin, floating on a lake.


Let us quote philosophers
And crib satires from one another.
Take down your woman’s stocking,
Learn the best way to smother.


Let us praise the honest cat!
She sells calamities to all pretenders.
In our stinkpot of Thor and Christ
She makes nonsense of claims and genders.



a line


Discussion on Murder


When there was murder in our town
Considerable interviewing by detectives
Followed: Interviewing of prostitutes,
Of old and poor, those with nothing to lose,
Victims of life, victims of thoughtless acts,
Toothless, vicious and dissatisfied.
One, Sally, a woman of thirty,
With false breast and a beat on Park Street,
Was deeply involved; but a satin handbag
Eliminated her from the chase.
It held her card, her compact, her protection
Against vocational danger.
When all was done, all clues examined,
It was found to be a young man
With too much money and imagination,
Boredom and a capacity for action.
Sally was acquitted
He got a custodial.
And so were the other twenty girls.



a line


Advice to a Young Girl Found Pining on a Beach Near Naples


There is not any fancy sign
Of racy tarts with greatest noise
Who sing in jerks of passion’s heat
Or mesmerise their fancy boys.


O how may excellence impart
Or painted lips exude their charm
Save by the foremost lilt of eye,
The snap of mouth, the squeeze of arm.


Then follow us and wean your love
Of anxious leers and gutsy smirks
For no-one knows the address of God
And no-one knows how virtue works.


Left-handed crimes are slow to tease
The goodness out of routine pain.
So change the sheets and crucify
Your urgent wish to entertain.



a line


Letter to a Lost Mistress


Here, in my tomb, I write my farewell message.
The whitewashed walls are harsh, they sear my eyes.
But when I dream of you my pencil sings
Like an urging piston, urging death from my veins.


Perhaps the memory of our time together, a rough graving
In the errant stone of calamity ad mischief, will cast a doubt
Upon our synthesis – a joint creation, bound by fear,
A footstep on the landing, a dull cry in our ears.


Are you yourself only, or are you partly me?
Does your heart single out its own resting-place,
Or does it curl like a foetus in my friendship’s womb?
But now I see the shroud, and your hand is cold.


There is a grave curiosity that strips my courage
Of its trappings. I'm a creature without colour,
I fawn before magnificence, lap up its crude wash
Of aspiration, the darkened form that irritates my fancy.


The light is sick and fades. What once was gold
In a mackintosh fawn, a compromise between hope and absurdity.
Take this palimpsest, my dearest artery, erase the characters,
Inscribe it fresh with your own blood and someone else’s muscle.



a line


Forest Heraldry


Lion, unicorn, antelope, puma –
Perfect company of heraldic fellows
Bound in obedience to the law
Proclaimed in jungle, heart and fen:
Live on the chance of offering, accept
The hospitality of hunting men.


Cowed, fierce, lithe, brutal –
Suckle your whelps in no awareness
Of special future. Link your ways
With those of hostile men. Persist
In fabled life, now photographed, in jungles,
Books of history, heart and fen.



a line


Cabaret Chant


So much like an Academy picture,
my empty friend, with your eye alight
for the weaker moment. Surely you don’t
imagine that my wits are less bright


Than the artificial pearls around your throat
or the diamond hoax laughing in your hair!
oh yes! A year ago I would have cried,
but now I know and I do not care.


So much like an Academy picture –
even your teeth are false and your round breast
is more an unnerving hint of nobler friends
than a soft pillow for my head to rest.


a line


The Defendant: a Contemporary Sonnet


Mercury in name and brimstone in temperament
this aged charioteer parades his grace
before the assembled eyes of the packed jury,
charged with intention to forfeit his stupid life.
See how he pleads, how wit can soothe predicament,
how fashions pass across his pampered face
and turn his jaded whine to supple fury
and elevate his messy burning strife .
but trickery cannot save him, cannot alter
the granite semblance of immutability
or re-direct his previous syllogism.
he is a prey to fate: the swaying halter
will freeze his moment of sublime futility
into remembered squibs, a defendant’s aphorism.


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