Roddy Williams – The Atheist Poet


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.

The Wee Small Hours (2007)

This is the hour
you hear ink, the scraping out of couplets;
the muffle of tv passion
oozed through walls like mumbled toothpaste;
the rustle of the duvet
and the crackle of your phlegm in HD.

As a test you drop some pins.
They chime like a tiny choir of screams
so you return them to their box
whose lidsnap wakes the books
They ruffle their covers
and mutter fragments of blurb
to each other.

This is the hour
you hear the geiger
clicks of switches detecting light
as the world beds down
to the occasional beat of headboard rhythm
as it creaks to a crescendo and
the traffic roars its gaussian applause.

But sometimes there’s a moment, there’s a pause
when everything stops.
Real silence
hits you like a fist.

under the same storm (2007)

thunder opened with a drumroll.
rain came thrashing in on the window-snare
like unwelcome buskers to the half-empty train
who always sing ‘baker street’
– even on the district line –
with the voices of dripping crows.

i leapt to you, conductor of thoughts
under the same storm
watching the sky snapping with his flashclouds,
waiting for the drums,
the dry ice and the spectacle.
no baker street for you
– even on the district line –
small orchestras flock to your carriage
like tidy petrels
and organise themselves.

you get a night on a bare mountain.
you get a half-full philip glass.
you get orff,

sunday (2007)

sunday has escaped again.
it was there this morning
toddling around the ktchen
while i was washing up
and after i had my bath.
i locked the door to make sure
it could not get out.
it knew i needed it.
it was there when i got back from the shops
but had been lessened
and i slept with my hand on its collar.
but when i awoke it had shrunk to the point
where it just slipped out
of my clutched noose.
we spotted it sitting under the TV,
which we watched while preparing
our plans for what was left
– the accusing eyes, the sagging folds –
and then…

it was gone.