William Stephenson

Billy Downsize & Henry Kissinger Auditions for the Monkees

William Stephenson

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Billy Downsize

His ukulele glowed, I swear, blue as an LED screen

displaying late night trades in a darkened office. 

USB cables served as strings.  The machine heads? 

Cannibalized memory sticks, black plastic cuboids

bonded to the ratchets with solder. Hi, he drawled.

I’m here to sing of hard times: meetings, admin, open plan.

He didn’t play, exactly, just strummed the blue uke

till the cables clacked in rhythm, dry as a washboard.

He pedalled a PowerPoint presentation with his boot,

tapping a new slide on the first beat of every bar.

The wall behind him filled with pie charts, graphs,

ghosts wearing photos of themselves on lanyards.

The cooler in the corridor was almost running dry.

He rasped ballads of the wired times, the boom,

the days when fluorescent bulbs, hot cores bent

like bicycle locks, lit lobbies where chocolate bars

sat in glass-fronted vending machines like fetishes

in museums till spiral wires dropped them into slots.

We cheered every song, waved empty iPhone cases

like revolutionary flags.  Candles lit the cellar bar.

Billy’s tapping treadle fed the only dynamo.

The wine came in Styrofoam cups printed Take

the Pepsi Challenge.  We bawled each chorus,

our wrists still red with Fitbit weals.

Henry Kissinger Auditions for the Monkees

Three mannequins recline in Acapulco chairs. 

Two watch me sing.  One thumbs last month’s

Popular Mechanics.  Wires dangle from their necks.

Their eyes are pool balls with numbered pupils.

I croon Teen Angel in a baritone sweet as gasoline.

The mannequins clap without moving their hands. 

As one clears his throat, tape revolves on plastic reels.

White-coated technicians nudge faders, watch dials.

Under the mannequin’s voice I hear ambient hiss.

Noise behind the signal.  Echo of the infinite.

We dig your image, Henry.  Can you come back

Sunday, with a bombing pattern, B-52s and napalm?

They understand proportionate response,

I see.  Escalation.  Sure, I say.  No problem.

Mike, the tallest, stands up to show me out.

Tape the colour of wholewheat tagliatelle

unspools from his mouth.  We dig wheeoorr . . .

His voice drops an octave, slurries to a blur.

The technicians scurry to adjust their machines.

Lights flash.  The needles on the meters shudder.

Mike falls to his knees, drooling.  Guys, this project

genuinely excites me, I say, stood in the doorway. 

The room smells of freshly printed dollar bills.

My guitar’s scratch-plate flashes like a missile.

William Stephenson

William Stephenson’s first full collection is Travellers and Avatars (Live Canon, 2018). His pamphlets are Rain Dancers in the Data Cloud (Templar, 2012) and Source Code (Ravenglass, 2013). His second collection The Lotus Bunker is due from Live Canon in 2021. https://williamstephenson.co.uk

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