Back to 'Poems by Peter Brooke'


'Those two boys', and other poems


A Night in Paris







Where we were blotted
one fine night on the grey
concrete we awaited
under the scrap yard, day.

An early morning of bricks and Jon
shuffling up there like a red
Indian, his overcoat on
and over his shuddering head.

We threw our wastepaper over a fence
and, clutching a suitcase, hitched
on the curbstone, cold and tense,
watching the stubble land stretch,

heavy in olive green and flat
and, out of the soot-eaten town, the steam,
silently whisping, cut
out the path of a stream.







At the intersection
is a moving point
whose fevered operation
puts the structure out of joint -

and when the crazy bride
suddenly comes unstuck
it swings from side to side
like an iron clock.

Over and under each
of her great black bells,
out upon the beach
where the sea swells

the foundations of
the house become
in their crazy love
a pendulum.






Portrait of Pharoah Sanders


A black box spilt
skies all over the sand.
A child moved over to look.
He opened up his hand.

Rock in the sea
light opening out,
as all the particles
spun about.

The Red Sea rose
up to his lips.
The skies like sheep
played about his fingertips.







Insanity jam,
we like to dig into you,
like to print you,
like to make a mint of you.
we love to cram
little red mouthfuls
of insanity jam.
We love to spread
all over the bed,
all over the sheets,
all over the television,
tasty bits
of our condition -
love to be spread
all together,
all over each other.
If you are hungry
alone in your room
and need to consume,
just open a tin,
spread it on paper
and fill yourself up
with all the jam
you possibly can.







Hi! I'm Miss Smart!
I hope you like my patent leather boots.
They go well with my silky-smoothe blue suede suit.
You can lie on the sand beside me in Greece.
You can hand me a Martini in a penthouse over Nice.
I'm as wet as a Pepsi Cola bottle sheathed
in a bucket of ice. I've perfect teeth.
You might find me stretched across the clean,
shiny surface of a white machine,
or running lightly through a glade,
clutching a bottle of lemonade.
The promo-men and agents say
I'm a good lay on display,
standing in the bathroom with a spray,
chasing my body odours on their way,
floating by the Thames Embankment,
smiling over a bottle of ointment,
energetic in a trouser suit,
smart and relaxed and well turned out,
I make my living just by letting
people see me in a lovely setting,
filling spaces, smiling, scattering
after shave and toothpaste, chocolate bars, any old thing
millions of me at once on television screens
all over Britain, brightly flickering.







Wonderful Clodagh Rogers!
The way your eyes open
opens up my heart
to let you through
to sit on a throne
floating in red
velvet folds,
wonderful Queen
of my very soul!
Everybody's troubles
gambol at your feet.
The sea swings
within its shores,
backwards and forwards,
forwards and back,
but you are bigger than the sea.
You move in the air
and turn up anywhere,
carrying your brightness
like a suitcase
through the streets
twisting out of shape,
going for a walk in the country
and, full of flowers,
the stage is full
of swirling red and gold
in every broken pub,
and you are shining
on a cold night
everywhere at once.







You were made for being made.
You used to play around with a switchblade.
You like to wear a black leather bracelet on your wrist.
You have 'love' and 'hate' written on your fists.
Sweet white wine
runs through your brain,
wipes you clean
like a cinema screen.
When you were just fifteen,
you loved the flickering,
you were a prodigy,
your mind was thickening.
You just sat there staring.
You could have made money.
You could have done anything,
but you were full of smoke.
Now you can't even talk.
You don't even go to the movies any more, it seems.
Too much happens too slowly to be interesting.
All you really seem to like is shuddering
like a catatonic hindu.
Studded belt and washed-out jeans,
crouched on top of a fast machine,
sweet cream
Flows in your dreams.
What you really want is for something very hard
to go into you.







outside it is Christmastide
here it is the same
here it is a moving tide
outside is the same
outside it is snowing
here it is the snow
the snow is always flowing
always on the go
always closing up
outside is the rain
here it is a going up
Christmas in the brain
Christmas in the snowing up
here it is outside
and everywhere is going up
moving with the tide
the snowing is the Christmastide
and everywhere the same
outside is the moving tide
here it is the rain







Outside the canvas curtains,
the city is asleep.
The wash-hand basin's nodding.
The dirty lamp is off.
The walls are made of felt. The blue dulls off into grey.
Me, I'm looking out
over a blotted eiderdown.
I can hear two people arguing,
see them through a television screen,
standing where a limousine had been,
while on a black wall, listening in,
a white cat is glistening.
I'm thinking of the British and Irish Communist Organisation
and all my old friends living
camped inside their heads.
I turn over in the bed.
Somewhere in the house,
the waterpipes spring into action.
The water, gas and electricity
connect me to the city.
I climb out of bed, turn on the tap and brush my teeth.
The blue dulls off into black
while, in the world outside,
millions of people lie,
in the dark, asleep.







Quite coherent here I sit,
smoking another cigarette.
Everything that I want is within reach -
my pen, my glass of water, ashtray, matches.
I'm sitting, looking at my feet
floating away from me on the settee,
dancing in the lines of the T.V..
A band is playing out in the street.
People are coming out to look at me,
warm and cosy, through the window.
They're behind me, looking in.
I'm wrapped up in a television screen.
The street is full of Christmas trees.
I'm blinking on and off with them.
There are coloured lights under my skin.
A man in a peaked cap comes to the door.
Behind him it is blowing up a breeze.
The house is swaying like a tree.
I'm falling backwards into the sea.
This cigarette has shanghaied me.
I roll over sideways into bed.
There I can sail away in peace
and think wonderful thoughts, this Christmas Eve.







In Ormeau Park with the 'flu
on a bright cold day with a satchel
full of plaster cast B-
Men, King Billy badges,
brooches and ear-rings,
Georgie Best rings and flimsy,
glossy-backed books of Orange songs.
The red, white and blue,
the orange and purple,
play in the air above a
long, grey city.
Streets are bright with hopes
of heaven and kids taking turns
riding on a dragon.
The sky is full
of curious animals
and London floats uneasily by,
a smoky room, slowly sinking
into the wide vista
of the Cave Hill lying flat by the
stretching city, and the grey
Lagan opening out to a silver sea is clear
and shiny in immaculate sunlight.







Just your face,
spread across the page,
the bits and pieces
that came together,
a dusty red and yellow, cream, purplish blue, burnt umber, white.

Your eyes half shut, your nostrils wide, your lips, wet gums, wet teeth, your chin, your neck squeezed up, your collar-bone, chest puffed out, the lines of your ribs, your shoulders bulbous, hollow armpits, arms stuck out, pressed back, your elbows bent, your hands, the one behind your head, the other resting back, half closed, against the sheets,

Your hair in a fringe and curling over your ears,
Your grin, spread across my pillow, wipes me out.







Boys in the street,
cut out of sunlight,
baggy trousers,
just above the ankles,
close-cropped hair,
hearts, stomachs and shoulder-blades tearing at
tight-fitting cheesecloth shirts,
soft factories,
manufacturing and shining with
red corpuscles, white corpuscles, heat, electricity, a silent
telegraphic system and white,
milky semen, exploding nightly, secretly - hands
that can carry, hold, throw, push, pull, fashion, write, draw, punch, slap, rub - legs
that can stand, walk, run, kick, swim, jump, dance
and bullet heads, waiting to be set on fire, filled with bright landscapes, drink, ether, sexual shuddering,
knocking dustbins over where they go and smashing
bottles, just to get even
with the hugeness pushing out of them in all directions,
to bring the street up to their level.
Boys beyond the street, infinitely variable
relations of heads to shoulders to chest to swinging arms to belly to thighs to crotch to knees to feet -
How can the little flats and two floor
terrace houses (bricks and plaster, wood,
concrete, wires, doors, floors, walls,
ceilings, stairs, carpets, curtains, flowers and
knickknacks) ever hope to hold the movement there?
How can the mind,
trying to arrange everything neatly together, to follow
a sensible course of action, ever hope,
looking at you, not to fall apart?







In the heat wave in Notting Hill Gate,
the white houses whiter in the heat,
the cafés spilling out into the street,
the Showcase closed, and Paul,
slow and gentle like an animal
in his small red spectacles,
sat sunning himself by a sun-ray lamp,
in a room, 10 x 14,
listening to Radio Caroline.
Paul took so much care
to look nice and his skin
melted at the touch,
though he pretended to be cynical
as he tidied his room
or washed his hair,
smiling to himself, knowingly aloof,
waiting for the telephone to ring.
Everything was blurred
in the heat haze.
The grass was dry.
Strong legs were strokes
of colour; the walls
of Kensington Park Gardens shone,
pale blue, green and white, and Paul
was ever more golden, lazily becoming
ever more perfect, day by day.







In The Beat Goes On,
a tall boy in pullover and jeans
I recognised from a concert -
skin tight black plastic pants and chains
and ripped up vest, but very clean
and cared for - was listening to
People Are Strange, apparently
not much interested
in rainswept walking through a long night,
days spent in darkened rooms,
lying in a dirty anorak, looking
hopelessly at Graham,
cultivating mood, dreaming of other lives.
But to be that decorative
at the age of, say, fifteen,
to pick and choose and keep
your hair neatly brushed,
using only the slightest touch
of eyeliner, shows him to be
something new, and argues at least
a precise and thought about good taste.







My badge is white with a red V, a
tasteful splash of colour on my off-white
wind-sheeter, clean, assertive.
I couldn't wear a badge with a message.

A badge with a message would be too clear.
The faces of people who wear badges with messages blur.
They recede. They sag. I need a badge
which will complement my face, will match
my short hair. A badge with a message is an apology for
a brooch. The difference between badges and brooches is obscure
but definite. A badge is information
posing as decoration, decoration
posing as information. The balance
is important.

All over London, young men wearing badges
want to, walking the streets, signify.
Your other self, walking beside you
gives you depth, yourself as you are
in other moments, young men, lonely,
wanting to be known, to be seen through.

People who have to be
a hundred things at once
need to be roughly classified,
to keep their individuality
indefinite but precise,
like poetry.
Badges are an art form of the city.







They say that life in the country
is so much more healthy.
That's because everything is soft.
It folds at the fingertips.
When you're living in the city,
then all you've got is people.
There are always so many,
and all of them acting tough.
That's why people go to the pictures
and look - the way they can't in the street,
and why they buy magazines
and why they're always so nervous,
and why the city is better,
because there's something to come up against.
The country carries you away.
It makes you very big.
You fill up the landscape.
You become just the one thing.
The ecstasies of the city
that you snatch in
staring at a boy sitting at the far side of a crowded café
are only sideshows
that accompany you while you
are up to something else.
The city is going places.
The countryside, love and poetry
are the living dead.







The most sensitive kids are
sucked out of schoolrooms,
street gangs, discos,
families round the TV,
up to small bedrooms
to sit staring emptily
out of the window
into back alleyways,
tight terrace houses,
well-kept lawns,
broad, tree-lined avenues
or over the beach,
watching the sea
coldly from out of a
bungalow in hard Prod
country near Bangor.







Dancing away
though dangerous streets,
hoping to be picked up
and put between sheets,

he aspires to transparency,
his body is glass,
a breakable thing
that strains at its shape

and longs to be broken,
turned over in bed
and fashioned again

in the dead of the night
under the hands
of a quiet succession
of strange men.







Those two boys
with amazed smiles,
identical size
and grey jackets
in the same style,
delighted eyes,
come through the dark
centre of town
to dance in a precise
manner to disco-
music under red,
gold and white
flashing lights.







A drunk on the bus.
The drunk makes himself weak,
wants to be vulnerable,
like a voluntary influenza.
The bus becomes nebulous
and, out of the corner of his eye,
forces of darkness
glow in a painted street,
seen through a screen.

There are young men on the bus
and a couple of blacks.
They are in cahoots,
sitting behind him,
saying nothing, waiting.
They are a silent area
like the steady light
which deepens.

His flesh (as I,
sitting among the young men,
trying to be inconspicuous,
look at him) is dull,
in tatters.
He doesn't like his face
and avoids looking at himself in the window.

Snug in a red-gold room
for a few hours of noise,
warmth, and a growing haze,
one with humanity, then alone,
going home,
facing forward,
all of us have
a sense of direction.







The boys walking aimless in the streets at night,
the dark, glistening streets,
dress up in black that looked
so hopeful on the clothesrack.
Black too can uncover,
as the night holds what we see in the light.

The soft, coloured lights and the muzack
set off a circulation of blood,
of excited eyes and green,
crumpled up paper rectangles.
As they hang about the all-night petrol station,
shops, factories, families,
seated round their video-sets,
play about their finger-tips.

Circling and spiralling and dancing,
even through the dark,
the dark that is without angles,
strung between red rooms,
the prancing and ever hopeful animal
plays with the bright office-blocks,
themselves sinuously weaving
a dance, ever-expanding.







In the bright hamburger place,
teenagers leaning up against the counter,
talking to the girl with the white starched cube on her head,
graceless, unco-ordinated shapes,
time on their hands, directionless.

Outside, the road
moves in a straight line
through the dark night
cut by the head lights,
joined to every other road,
returning on itself, a line
of openness to every chance encounter.
Balanced on a tightrope,
surrounded by infinity,
cars sweep by and time
is merely linear.

These things, comfortable, familiar,
move in a predictable circle.
Warm flesh, light and darkness,
full of unspeakable promise,
spiralling, opening, questioning,
boys making eyes at the girls
or burning up the motorway,
infinite spirit longing
for infinite space.







A pillar of words
in curved air,
dazzled by the sun,
begins to sway
The stone becomes
fleshly, elastic.
The sentence breaks,
lifting the heart.
The words fly.
They dance in the sunlight.
Holding together,
the poet speaks.
Falling apart,
the worm turns.