Roddy Williams – The Atheist Poet


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


Small Worries (2005)

It’s them, the small worries that clutch tightest;
swish swift like mother’s old wasping machines.
The sound of their wingrustle draws panic;
no words exist to shape out the thorax.
I must find new terms of reference to
just describe. So I cannot, I’m sorry, share this.

I can say sorry. That’s the easy part
but this is just throwing sibilance at the noise.
By now they will have lain eggs in my skin.
I’ll carry those cares like a burdenchild.
For you I want it to be otherwise.
I feel I’ll pregnate you with buzzing woes,
skin eggs, the misery hum of despair.
I know the stings. I would not wish to share.

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.

before sleep (2005)

the plane
throws nets of rain-mail knitted from quadratic equations
over my roof and thoughts.
solutions dissolve like chalk as they slide
into wet guttersleep. i resist,
just in case a unified theory
of everything
should come to me uninvited
like a gift of engine-noise and water.

the plane fades into ink still loud on the page
but the rain is tenacious;
scratches formulae on the slate.

it is late.
time conspires with space and gravity
to pull me down into a black hole;
the pen now weighs the same as a
small hatchback
and my lashes
drag my blinds down to the
event horizon.

Where do we keep the faces? (2005)

Where do we keep the faces that we know?
There surely can’t be room
just in our brains
for all those eyes and ears
and teeth; my friends at work,
my cousin Keith and Michael Buerk,
the cast of ‘Friends’,
my Uncle Jack and Cilla Black.

And then i think;
how many brains have got my face
shut up in some
dull dark medulla
place with other
eyes and ears and
teeth, quite apart from
cousin Keith and friends from work
and Uncle Jack? I’m
locked into ten thousand heads
with Michael Buerk and Cilla Black.

Cnut’s Taxi (2005)

Going home again in Cnut’s taxi.
a sea of dreams slow retreats
leaving a childhood stretched out to dry over
the rock exposed.

‘I know a shortcut,’ he says, as he did last year.

In the night
the tide turns back.
Driftwood memories launch at the window, clacking,
rattling like ribs flensed by years
into shells scrimshawed with pin-fine fears.

Cnut’s hand reaches for the fare
as if beckoning the waves
in through the shortcut
between his fingers.

the ghosts of moths (2005)

sirens, pole-dancing on their wicks
splash kohl on our faces.
head shadows chicane to beats imaginary
in a flat menagerie where
out of body furniture
flutter-rumbas worried over the walls.

i tell you they are the ghosts of moths
– summoned by long-dead candles –
warning off their offspring.
you are blind to it
even as they cling at your cheeks
mocking your nose with
jiving conesnout silhouettes.

furred heads merge over the sideboard
when i take your wine glass.
your thoughts moonwalk to me through the black
along a one way wall

carry fragments of light sources, physics,
sharp white with superior angles.

only briefly later does your mind flap
at a bright question.
it dawns upon you with the hatching day
to wonder why the moths all keep away.

long thin arms (2005)

they must have such long thin arms to reach the past
blind grabbing in the clockwork fluffclog dim
tracing out shapes of reasons for
the present they received;

the cogs of cause and effect.
but the gears have shifted strangely;
faint light glints old on the springs and balances
which ticked the small tock.

reconfigured into presentable sentences here
they run smooth with measured swishes,
past tense and pretence.

my arms no longer attempt such extractions.
and the pistons run truly.
the flywheel spins so fast
it looks at rest and at peace with the past.

overheard at the barnardos counter in brixton (2005)

‘can i leave it and pick it up later?’
she said
‘pick it up? pick up what?
this large copper pot?’
‘yes the pot’
‘have you paid for it?’ ‘yes’
‘i’m afraid you cannot.
someone might steal it.
the shop may catch fire,
due to freak faulty wiring
and burn to the ground
and then you could sue us
for thousands of pounds.’

the bell black night (2005)

i’ll make my exit into bell black night
tolling silence with my old heart’s clapper.
trees will join the beat with some percussion
and mexican waves of leaves and leaving.
we’ve met obliquely at goings away.
when the lights dim he shows his shady face
pocked with stars and the moon’s polished goitre
and we’ve talked over drinks. always outside.
so i can say we are acquaintances.
we have an agreement, the night and i
to postpone any cold unpleasantness
until the inevitable moment.

i know he’s waiting, patient as a shroud.
one breath let out at dusk, one in at dawn.