Roddy Williams – The Atheist Poet


first world problems (2016)

our unruly pupils keep magnetting
like those of unmet neighbours on the street
in the awkward area
the hinterland
between acquaintance and strangership

had we been alone on an empty road
we might have docked our vision
separate sets of rules would slide in place
out of range of the embarrassers
those other eyes
that would convert video
to tongue
to tell of this
precipitating rain and shame


apparition (2011)

white city tube station
that’s where I started from.
greenford by central line
a bus down to southall
I smoked a small spliff in
the park and drank cider,
watched the young indians
cricketing fiercely and
then an old lover called.


suddenly there he was
like he walked out of
a pantomime smoke bomb,
turbaned, good-looking and
stroking his beard.

life’s weird.

i heart you (2010)

the awful power of the internet
is that you can fall in love with people
you have never met, and they don’t just go,
they hang like half-developed polaroids
from freaky washing lines inside your head.

you can give them love, via a website.
three hearts a day. it’s rationed, like the war,
love is. there just may be black market hearts
available from some organ hacker
but I’ll stick with my meagre allowance.

I can spread my love around like butter
on different sorts of man-shaped bread slices
and people send love back, but then they go,
fade like pictures bleached away by sunlight.

before the harvest (2005)

You drum me like a spring mattress
trailing your riffs stiff over stems while
my eyes sweat dew of anthers

I receive your slow solo
Nerve endings rumba in waves
sharper than bells
silent as the promise of harrowing

you trace out my name in summer salt
curious at the lack of taste
as if my letters
shunning the rape of the tongue
were a sign
like the song before the encore
heralding that froth
the blossom of endings
till I am dry as a bloom pressed into a diary

You watch the stamens
still life now
trembled by beats of dead seasons
your face a fixed moon

Curious Rays (2013)

He was explaining
to the subject
while tyrannosaurs grumbled by
in nudging grudging pairs
that the device
employing curious rays
was designed to
focus on love remembered.

This head it appeared
could recall
if at all
only petrified love
and following the examination left,
along with its body
to board a train for Virginia Waters.

Tyrannosaurs grumped about there too
displaying tags announcing
they’d been named after famous
past or present local residents.

One was called Elton John.

Sister Anthony took his arm then,
navigating tetchy reptiles
to an arbour
to recover
from the tyrannous ordeal.

The Pharaoh’s Hat (2013)


Now will I surrender myself to your memory

Dream of workers thrum droning
me toward abandon’s edge

Your crest swept back
like the grass yearning
from its flat crush

like a Pharaoh’s hat

A white noise swarm
arranged and orchestrated by bees
turns to words
from a hive tongue
in which we are both quite fluent

I hesitate to honeycomb that hair
with these sticky fingers
as a wax syntax evolves
for melting us together

doing those things
that come naturally

I will make you happy (2008)

I will fry you hope for breakfast
the smell of which will
rouse you from your slumber of a hundred years.
This will last you through to lunch.
I’ve packed you joy wrapped in Warburtons.
You must eat the filling
but may throw the bread to the ducks
who don’t need joy or hope.
They have tourists and office workers.
Then, in the evening, before you begin to flag
I shall transport us to another universe where
monkeys rule the earth and carve
intricate lovespoons from
the wood of jilted trees;
homes long abandoned
by the planet’s fickle bees.
You may take one and scoop ice-cream
from a conch that the monkeys scrubbed clean
because they owe me from an incident
long ago that
you don’t need to worry yourself about
and which was resolved
to everyone’s satisfaction.

the four stars hotel (2016)

has no stars
no lift
no room
to heft the cat before the swing

yet it was first class
filled me right up to the hilton
with satisfaction

no satisfaction card

you can smoke out the window
while someone stands naked
behind you

that’s where the stars come from

i fell in love with a newsagent (2008)

quite by chance
in the act of purchasing a snickers
in the pivotal seconds between lifting it
from the wire rack
and handing over sixty-five pence.

this is what smitten is. i was smitted
in the blinking of a darklashed eye
as i held the bar like a cheap torch.
the world slowed for me to live the seconds;
cars slid headlong down the streets.
a cyclist was catapulted into the grounds
of the baptist church.
the building shook and half the remaining
snickers shuddered to the floor.
‘sixty-five pence please… thank you.’
there was no way to say… anything,
not in the midst of such desolation.

and i left
to face the accusing car-alarms
the rubble, the angry cyclist
the chaos
the distant mocking sirens whooping
‘unrequited! unrequited! unrequited!’

The Last Two Nine Five (2006)

As I begin this
the last Two Nine Five slips by like an opportunity,
marking its passing with a diesel sigh.
My guilty windows shudder a reply,
a morse goodbye which the bus ferries
off as an extra passenger
all the way to the terminus.

I recall my last trip to the stop
before the river, clutching clanking beers.
Your windows on the left like mine
their triffid-rattled welcomes to a strange wind,
the motor rolling away like the end
of a seventies single
into the general hiss of the world.

If you ever read this
the engine’s farewell may not ring a bell.
A thousand journeys have rattled your windows
with cargoes of stories since then.
I am melted into the white noise
of the end of the cassette tape
that braked the wheels to a stop.