Howard Wright

Slumber, Betaville & Perfect Stranger

Howard Wright

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From the rivers and hills, the road stumbles and sinks

through rain and the core of a streetscape down

to this universal hotel – grey, warm, unremittingly upbeat –

with corridor sensors and speaking lift, a standard room

holding an opinion of the uncontrollable suburbs

and taxis with freedom of the city. The carpet hates us.

Looking for his signature, we find the Klee upside-down

and a squat black arrow showing us the door,

the wallpaper aligned like a fence under the dado rail.

You get what you pay for, sex accepted and the day-job

put to bed. But everyone is in the same boat, fearless away

from home and none too keen to return. Then the night

is with us, the curtains overlapped, and at full stretch

we lie in Freudian doldrums with the death rattle of crates,

a dance-floor’s bump and grind below us, and you snoring,

twitching, then talking, amazed how easy it is to get lost

when we should be more like a new road taking nothing

for granted except to end up somewhere for good reason.


The wind changes direction and you are lost

in the furthest hills. More fields, and in the one town,

one light on a wet street, an empty figure shaking

its empty head at what it must do to save face.


A beautiful woman, her mouth a glorious sewer.

In vino veritas. In her head she excuses herself

as we try to marry the voice to the face. Forget

the blouse, she says, it's someone else's blood.


The ventriloquist doll is a child to be controlled.

That is the greatest fear. The face fights back,

the eyes rolling over white inside the head.

The scariest monster always takes human form.


Giving head, and a life pissed up the wall.

A fall from grace. The way dreams are dispelled.

The veritable shambles she has to face

now she is really awake in an unfriendly bed.


A creature with clean nails is ahead of the game,

prowling for schoolgirls with faces like painted dolls.

No poetry in this, but you would be wrong:

the set homework is a four-line epic of their day.


Thrash, post-nuclear, industrial metal, thought-death,

finger on the pulse, Starlighter, The Pheromones,

doubtless bands that chop and slice. A Prussian sun,

angled low and straight, gilds windows and spires,

and slams dissipating contrail chromosomes

strung out against the stonewashed blue ripped

by the ice-sharp dazzle of jets. Eyeliner takes away

the pain. Beauty is sanguine youth. Earphones

the size of hearing-aids drop free as the screen

yells for you to speak into a sliver of metal and dust,

a lover, a gaggle of super-dooper hormones

stretching the expense of the call to over the usual.

You listen and argue, your interest only rising

when you hear the treble of her voice, its overtones

of grudge and spite: now is everything, not the past,

cancel the muffled world of easy listeners

and connect delirious nerves, blood and bones,

to these sounds of heaven-sent fury and breath.

Howard Wright

Howard Wright lectures in Art History at the Belfast School of Art. Blackstaff Press published King of Country in 2010. Blue Murder published by Templar Press/ Iota shots followed in 2011. He won the 2012 Bedford Open Poetry prize, and has won the Frogmore Prize twice. New poems have recently appeared in Cyphers and The Fiddlehead, and a few are up and coming in Stand and The Frogmore Papers. In July last year he read at the John Hewitt Summer School in Armagh City.

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