Roddy Williams – The Atheist Poet


Preparing for the onset (2014)

I should make a list
of the people I despise
in case I forget;

start being pleasant.
It’s a side effect of this
I never thought of.

But if i forget
where the list is, or that there
was a list. What then?

the chief petty officer (2013)

your anger’s like the water in an argos kettle
battering its fists on a cheap lid.
your mouth can’t help it
lets go of anything
not loose lips so much as careless.
they just don’t care.

those socks do you no favours either.
your moaning; it’s professional.
i’d pay good money for someone like you
to moan on my behalf

with your round flat face
like a platter of fried grouch.

there must be good money in that.
you should look into it.

September 2009

Summer decays like a love unreturned.
Greens will fume to bruises, gaping scars
vexing warm with rage till they crumble, just
something we want to pass away, to die.

Half of September left now, the sun’s heart
still rages red, but waning. It lessens
like pain from a burn or a wound. He drags
his hot feet, gone all awkward to leave us.

I imagine me, holding my back to you.
We can’t set the leaves from their crimson turn
before they bleed into forgetfulness.
‘Oh well,’ they say, ‘That’s life,’ through parchment lips.

I count the leaves like sheep that will not jump,
or even try. Just wait there, shaded. Stained.

the golden age (2009)

half my life is lived in space
between the stars, between the painted covers
of a thousand books
by writers mostly dead.
i never feared, but boldly tread
the paths that sorns and triffids trod.

the golden age of science fiction
is they say when you’re fourteen
if so, i’m still there behind that door
in seventy-four;
my mother’s platitudes about ‘fresh air’
falling on creatures with no ears
who followed me around for years.

the other half is lived down here
between the stars of the apprentice
and my patient human lover,
walking round this planet laughing
at stupidity and strife.
i’m an astronaut with a bag for half a life

Christmas repeats (2008)

Like a dysfunctional clock
you could strike at ten past four
or five past two

Your ghost and you
have no respect for time
just leap into my head as if
a signal bounced
from number nine
had changed the channel
back to you
for the last three minutes of a sitcom
so familiar that I know the words
and mouth them like
a ritual of resurrection

Mostly it was set in my place
though there was that one hotel
and the day I came to your house
like a final Christmas special
full of fire and love and laughter

As you drove me to the station
we could see the credits rolling
up the windscreen at the back to zero

I’m glad you come and visit in my head
it’s only reruns but they’re still sublime

I too have no respect for time

Dress Code Demon (2008)

She wants to implement a dress code now
having slithered in just a week ago,
claimed a desk with a view of the orchard.
She’s started sending e-mail like a friend.

And she sings like the snake from Jungle Book.
Her coils are lithing round my office chair.
They leave pale scales, abraded, on the floor.
She’s squeezing me, constricting me to rage.

We’ve met her before in other gardens;
different faces, different sexes even.
It was her, that dead-behind-the-eyes look
as she hissed out ‘implement the dress code!’

Her name is Legion, or maybe Wardrobe.
‘Trust in me,’ she sighs. Holds out an apple.

Tube Man IX (2006)

He had his trainers’ tongues
poked out, but not at me;
a gesture clean
and dry, pristine
licked flat
against his jeans
turned up, neat pressed
like origami legboats.

I sense it is to do with taste.
That’s what tongues do.
They also flap to scrape a meaning
out of sound, most of the time.

But your feet speak a foreign language
from a city
of young people with fluent toes.

Exercises in Poetry and Memory

Much of my poetry is – as I have discovered – a means to understanding my past, which is sometimes a place of paradox and puzzles. I have, I have to admit, long term memory problems. I think it’s all there but it seems to emerge at random times. I used to think that there was so much stuff in my head that it was overwriting the old stuff, like computer files, but came to realise that someone else would no doubt have pointed this out before and advocated that people stop reading to save their headspace.
As partly a remedy to this and partly a way of finding things in my childhood to write about I started keeping an Evernote record of things I recalled, adding them when I recalled them or else one a day by consciously recalling things that were accessible.
This has had a good result in that I am recalling other things as a result of recalling the things on the list, and having them written down helps to reinforce the connections to these memories, or so I believe. It’s early days but there’s interesting things turning up.
The other day for instance I remembered – for no reason that I could fathom – one summer’s day in the mid Nineteen Sixties. My brother had made me a dalek outfit from a cardboard box with big circles painted on the side to represent the dalek half-spheres. There were two holes in the front from which protruded a plunger and a brass toasting fork. My head was covered with an old bucket into which a Ned Kelly eye panel had been cut. Above that a spoon had been fixed into the bucket to represent the eye module. I was, it has to be said, a bit of a special needs dalek, but my imagination more than made up for the suit’s limitations. I spent at least an hour blasting our rhubarb patch with the ray from my toasting fork before stumbling my way up the steps to the road.
An old man sporting a flat cap and a raincoat that had seen better days was waiting at the nearby bus stop. I attempted a dalek-like glide over the pavement toward him.
‘Exterminate! Exterminate!’ I chanted, waving my toasting fork menacingly in his direction.
‘Bugger Off!’ he shouted, with a surprisingly loud and fearsome voice for a pensioner, and raised his walking stick. I wavered. My toasting fork adroop, I turned and stumbled back, thinking that I’d better stick with the rhubarb.
Never threaten a Welsh pensioner. They will return after decades to wave sticks in your head.

Shadows (2005)

Graffitied by sun onto a wall
one hand waving
– a swan shaking her wet head –
caught your eye, but
meant nothing but goodbye.
Our shadows just combined, divided
on the pavement;
silhouettes of ships in
the negative space night
against our planet.

clouds paint the shapes of thoughts
with a roller on tower blocks
while earth races through vacuum
throwing its umbra onto other worlds
with their own buildings
of many stories.

My hand is part of that shadow
and I shall tell you of this moment
and explain
when our dark sides cross again.

Learning (2014)

I learnt to write to you in happier days
I forgot to write to you in later days
I learnt to forget you in more recent times
I learnt to remember you in the dark
I learnt to love you in earlier days
I meant to tell you some time one day
I meant to write to you to tell you
I learnt to hold you as a memory
I forgot to hold you some time later
I meant to remember to remember
I meant to write this down at the time
I meant to stop forgetting before it was too late