Roddy Williams – The Atheist Poet


Cocoa Beach – Nov 2007

Today I took a walk up to the beach
all by myself, to face the Atlantic,
not like the surfers do, all challenging
in-your-wave-face canuteys

but like a supplicant, with reverence.
This if anything is our creator
breaking like a wet heart upon the sand
oblivious to its driftwood offspring.

The exciting thing is knowing all this,
not bothering to share it with the world.
Let them keep their dry bibles and baked words.
I will hold this secret for their children

and the vision of their joyful fathers
skimmed like flat stones over the thoughts of God.


helen (2007)

helen is terrified of anaphylactic shock
to the extent that she screams when
people mention peanuts

latex, she claims, can bring it on,
defence turned to lethal attack;
deadly condoms waiting in packets
for that special moment
to send her into spasms

she runs from wasps and bees
through potential trees
though she’s never been stung

or been shocked by anything
apart from that scene in ‘game of thrones’
and the price at which they sell fridges
in selfridges

she may not be suffering at all
apart from a condition
of imaginallergy

a substantial proportion of sufferers
have no cause found
despite all efforts
even in the most expert clinics

doctors call such unexplained
symptoms ‘idiopathic phantom anaphylaxis’
the word ‘idiopathic’
in practice means
we just don’t know why she does it

Fox (2007)

As I savoured the day’s last cigarette
a fox appeared, brazen, from Nando’s yard,
too cocky for one so ill-proportioned,
tongue proffered with a wet invitation
as he turned to gaze at me, appraising
my place in the general pecking order.

He swaggered from the car park then, slunk off
into the darkness like a one-night stand
who’d not even stayed for the entire night
but left while the streetlights were still burning.

I’d seen those eyes before, on a cool prowl
for something uncomplicated, easy,
sweeping languidly around a packed bar,
sometimes from the mirror, bounced back to me.

The Old Places (2007)

Come with me. We’ll look for the old places
from the dawn of Amstrad when the net was
just a twinkle nesting in the eyes of geeks,
when you and I had hair and typewriters.

Unwind me from this, spool me back to the
super-eight clattering magic of light
and the night Nick Cave first appeared like god
from a vinyl circle, pointing to the sites.

I’ve sifted through the strata of t-shirts,
found no remains of our conversations
long drowned by buses rumbling away
like the passing of a saurian race.

Look! There’s a fossilised Olivetti
half-buried. Its blunt teeth may spell… something.

message found in a richmond menthols packet (2007)

as i smoke my last cigarette
i see the shapes of men
through the net curtains in the park-keeper’s hut
engaged in arcane park-keeper’s duties
that may involve tea
and rough council biscuits.
their hanging jackets tease a wink through the netting.

they’ve aroused the curious beast in me
that i exercise in the park.
his paws are on the window
but the doylie curtain baffles him.

meanwhile i am drowning out here, alone
in a tide of russet leaves
which has rushed in vertically as i’ve watched.

they’re watching me i know
over rims of grim cracked mugs
through the net that secrets their games
as i sink into the waves

if you find this poem
then it means i did not make it.
take it,
and present it to the town hall.
tell them
they knew i was drowning, not waving.

the black bee (2007)

we found like a gift
pristine, unblemished
stilled on the stairs, perfect
as frozen mink
placed there by a shadow
furtively nameless.

i was awed enough
to lay it out in state,
this preserved velvet silence,
on a white plate for viewing.
something this magnificent
deserves attention.

odd things just happen
sometimes. we may question why.
why is there a why?
i stroke the cold pelt
then lean in to whisper
‘poems start like this’

Barberstalking (2007)

He told me he’s stalking a barber today.
He hangs round outside when the boss is away,
round about closing time
hoping he’ll speak to him,
spark up some chat about clippers or foam.
Then he’ll invent an excuse and go home.

He’s the girl in that song, what’s her name? Delta Dawn.
‘Prettiest woman you’ve ever laid eyes on’
It’s all in his head.
He’s the Lady in Red
and Chris de Burgh’s in there, doing a trim,
maybe singing a song, but it’s not about him.

lost bus stop (2007)

there’s a kind of grave
where our bus stop used to be.
people stand there, out of habit.
countdown screens in their heads read
and when the thought arrives they disgregate
still stunned by a shared loss.

derek acorah’s been here
in his ghost van.
he says there’s the spirit of a queue
and that it’s been there a long time.
all that residual impatience
soaked into the york stone paving.

and i stand here sometimes
free of the milling of prams, smokers
and tv psychics
haunted by the timetable of our waiting
trying to resurrect the conversations
we conceived
to kill time.

we never expected time to fight back.

The Racing Driver (2007)

I found an Indian lorry driver
or maybe he found me,
flotsam and jetsam,
racing the waves of a wet summer
washed up by the day’s tide
onto flock wallpaper,
perched at the same bar,
dried refugees from a lost race
cut off by seas of change.

He told me his life was full of pigeons,
started to race at the age of ten
when he was known as the kid from the wog shop.

Yet he laughs now, above that sort of thing,
eyes wide as wings.
His children sing the distances
between borders and win.
They glint glory in his bright bead gaze,
free to beat its own flightpath home
without crossing water.

I want to be a businessman (2007)

I want to be a businessman and dress up every day
tied and booted, shirted, suited in a soaring building,
one that gleams like a mound of burning termites at sunset;
thrusts its luminance into the river’s shattered belly.

I want to be a businessman with a mirror topped desk
and a view facing out across twenty-four towers,
shadowfingering the sun over the city’s timeface.
suits ping-pong like photons around the dial.

I want to be a businessman with a bluetoothed ear
and a browntongue mat for genuflexion.
I will slot neatly into the grind of the great machine
which sparks and hums across the pratosphere

with an esoteric logic of levels and worship.
There will be order, on demand. I will demand and order it.