A Year in North Hackney
Brauer and Spitzer was the shop above which
our hours were filled and our patience was drained
by a shower that trickled like a chinchilla’s penis,
towers of china chores, a backfiring toilet
and cowering mice behind the toaster.
Outside lay a hive whose bees all wore black.
With fuzzy boxes on their heads
they buzzed between baker and butcher and synagogue,
fixed-eyed, long-jacketed, beards of every hue,
but the door to that shop stood bolted and shuttered.
You saw its keeper once, shifting and yearning
to withdraw to his mystery-shrouded cocoon
as he mumbled “cash and carry” and shuffled off.
Our crumbled abode with its cakelike window-frames
had languished unpaid-for for a coke-dealer’s sentence.
No grumble-gobbed lint-pocketed landlord
brandished eviction orders on our front porch
or tumbled from Canary Wharf clutching summonses
to vanquish his vassals into London-smacked lives
of anguish and eating baked beans from a trilby.
Just the jumbled receipts of a fishy subletter,
an outlandish gay Northern Irish pianist.
“Come back home!” you’d beckoned, my new
best chum and the worthiest man I had met
in the basin of puke that is mankind,
trumpeting the temptations of London,
“Slum it with me! Everything’ll be kosher!”
Jason, you electric-quiffed, torn-trousered,
rum-soaked, guitar-torturing pigeon-hater
emblazoned with crucifixes, you sofa-surfing
bum who smokes like an industrial estate,
Asian Cockney, Tamil Ian Dury
whose drummer deserted you for Jesus
on the occasion of your record contract.
The Wombats hit the red carpet instead of you.
Ho-hum, old boy. Jazz drummers aren’t pigeons.
Tomcats don’t chase them. The church does, it seems.
You succumbed to a lemming-race vegan café
to combat the cash-squeeze of moderniocrity,
serving fake bacon in a pinafore
to fervent believers in cosmic energy,
swerving from table to table round and round
like a dervish with a tray full of carrot-juice.
Your ex, who hosted a histrionic disorder
and poured chilli sauce in her flatmate’s thrush ointment,
had sex these days with women in their fifties
and adored the lusty craft of taxidermy.
Perplexing every wanderer into your bedroom,
an embalmed badger stood guard by your sock drawer,
Madame’s birthday present she still had no space for,
stuffed as a transvestite’s brassiere
and suffocated in a translucent sarcophagus
like Lenin’s pet, his nights of uprooting
truffles buried in a moustache-rich century,
his den today a jumble of jumpers and gin bottles,
tufts of fading fur along a snout
whose snuffling breath was shortened by a shotgun.
This penned-in monochrome bassist-startler
followed you every uprooting occasion
you shuffled from sofa to mattress to garret
with sorrow lapping at your heart
and hollow employment needling your brain
in borrowed underwear and time,
tomorrow a forking question mark.
One afternoon I was jolted awake
by a shaft of megaphoned syllables gargled
like mouthwash and sounding something like
“Der baumfrosch frass die zwiebelkuchen
und straft mich mit dem eisenspachtel!”
but couldn’t have been, beaming out of
a craft marked with a strange alphabet
and staffed by a man with a hedge for a hat.
The good-natured rabbi was doing his rounds,
grafting away like a carpenter with
a wooden leg, through the summer blaze.
In Clissold Park, tanned boys in shorts poured
laughter and bottles of water over
glistening barefoot moist-breasted girls
while, scarfed in fur and Russian cloth,
their distant eyes on another realm,
our neighbours trudged in leather boots
through history’s burger-grilling end.
No way back home was beckoning them
and Abraham smiled down from heaven.
Here we scrabbled through our lives,
two steppenwolves on society’s prairie.
Careering down onto it landed a third,
peppered with pills and scissor-scars.
They sneered at Bobbie as though she were
a leper, your lesser friends. But I
had sat with her outside King’s Cross station
as fat skateboarders, Portuguese tourists
and cravatted stock-exchange oligarchs
had splattered signatures, doodles and slogans
over the blank canvas she’d propped by the wall and,
as Jehovah is my witness, the tears
had clattered down her befuddled face for
the tatty-trousered Tamil she’d sliced
when November’s creeping, slinking darkness
had battered her into the random arms
of a concert-goer she’d met on a coach,
ensconced in her room and assented to marry, what
response can one give to that? She was sick
in the bonce, dear Jason. Poor kitten. She was sick!
During one of your and Bobbie’s
incurably opulent shouting-banquets,
as fury hit its gin-washed zenith,
the badger’s coffin was shattered, his stripy-nosed
majesty exposed to the elements,
his furred posterior open to attack.
A pile of shards lay on the carpet.
Silence hung in the air like the smell of
curdled milk in a student’s sink.
After that came the landlord. He washed up
out of the black, in the red, a castaway
on a raft, at the door he’d not sighted for years,
a stout, rent-thirsty, pinstriped goy.
The holes in my T-shirts were wider than the sleeves,
the soles of my trainers hung like mongrels’ tongues,
I fished cigarette butts out of the ashtray,
stole ketchup from discount pubs and often
wished I hadn’t studied English Literature,
I hardly had a sock to wank in
or a pair of pants to keep my head warm.
But there he stood like Doctor Livingstone,
our tardy landlord, waving a contract with
a blank space where the rent price should’ve been.
Outflanked, just one option was left, old boy.
Escape! Escape! Abandon ship!
We scraped together Doc Marten boots,
papers with lyrics octopussed over them,
Morrissey albums, Prince, The Cure,
the Prophecies of Nostradamus,
Orwell, Huxley and David Icke,
drawerfuls of jeans and daft-sloganed T-shirts,
the clay piglet ornament Bobbie had bought you,
sombreros and a Soviet general’s hat
all draped in cigarette-burnt quilts,
glared in the face of gentrification’s
turfing out of London’s non-millionaires
and surfed, afloat, to our next harbouring sofas.