Roddy Williams – The Atheist Poet


the magician’s table (2008)

filtered brita water, this is first, displacing
any air that’s in the chamber, measured
quite precisely by the levels printed clearly
on the window on the side of the machine.

my automated hands take down the airtight
white container and i count out three round
spoonfuls of the coffee, ground, like earth
into the filter. i’m not there, i’m in

the air, transported by the ritual i ride
along the syllables inside my head
while moving through the stations of the process
metered by my breath. i flick the switch

then fire is cabled to a hotplate and the
water sings of time and transmutation.


it would have been turquoise (2008)

if i’d got the lid off.
the sky in the background is now cobalt blue.
van gogh would have had none of that.
he’d have chopped the tube’s head off
then strangled the cat.
i don’t know what’s going on in front of the sky
i’ll paint in the foreground and then
see what comes by.
last time i painted a nun with a rifle
standing astride the stiff corpse of a priest.
i decided to call it ‘remains of the day’
their clothes were a mixture of red
and payne’s grey.
but anyway,
imagine a century passing by
and someone saying
‘see that sky…
it would have been turquoise if
he’d got the lid off.’

monotonitheic rituals (2008)

colours lie like tarantino bad men.
black and white films are carved from truth.
they are the books of a lost bible
the light of god is in the white bits
his voice is score, soundtrack and dialogue
and most of the prophets are dead
which is usually the case
and maybe just as well.
living prophets tend to get sectioned.

we could turn the churches into cinemas
‘now voyager’ on sunday,
‘blossoms in the dust’ the next.
‘the bride of frankenstein’ and ‘eraserhead’
at midnight mass.
jonathan ross could become
archbishop of canterbury and arbitrate
on obscure matters of theology
and all issues would be seen
as black and white.
what a difference it would make.

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!’

viral transmission (2008)

reality shows
are just another disease
spread wordborne at work
through phones and water coolers.
i’m susceptible.

i’ve caught catchphrases
through the briefest exposure
to a transmission.
it’s a meme form of herpes,
always there, lurking.

‘i ‘ate you, butler!’
i whisper at the tv.
the phrase is dragged out
of dormancy at peak time.
i’m feeling dumbed down.

if i were stupid
i would not know all those things
and would be immune
to the shame of it. i’d just
be a carrier.

Delores (2008)

I was watching television
though my mind was looking elsewhere
when a voice said ‘Yes, Delores’
and a face was dredged from under
all the scree of things forgotten.
I had worked with a Delores
and had buried her at some point
with her corkscrew mop of ginger,
crazy shoes and bright green jacket
under a patio of years.
Now she’s resurrected with her
baggage and her sister’s phone calls,
arguments that raged relentless
days on end while she sat typing
multitasking rage and wages.
This is clawing to the surface,
bits of her in different bin bags.

I’ll have to have her round for tea
to ask how quick she buried me.

Oh Look! Jesus! (2008)

Oh Look! Jesus!
No, I mean, it is
in the next carriage.
I knew he wasn’t white like in the Bible pictures.
No, don’t take a picture. That’s so tacky
And I bet it won’t register the halo.

He’s getting off at Vauxhall
Why would he do that?
I’m sure he’s needed more in Stockwell.

Oh Look! Morton Harkett!

perseus’ camera (2008)

i shot her on the third floor landing,
‘look to the sky and see angels’ i said.
i can only work with sounds
i hear music in a fan motor.
my ears have knives
that carve sense out of white noise,
shape something
that could be jazz from the next flat
or a badly tuned radio station
playing big band music
into the voice of a ghost poet

she once said
‘clouds are a kind of white vision;
the rorschach test of the gods.’
some turn them into faces or giraffes.
i snap at eyelids raising like a curtain,
hoping i’ve trapped it
along with the reflection of the skies.

like perseus i cannot see it directly.
gorgons or angels
reflect from other people’s eyes.

The Drowning Man (2008)

You remind me of that bible story about the drowning man
who expects God to save him.
He dies and asks why God didn’t save him
and God says ‘I sent you a motor boat and
a helicopter.’

You’re quite right
There were no helicopters in the bible…
Or motor boats.

It must have been made up later,
after helicopters were invented,
but that’s not the point.
The man did not see that God was
trying to save him.

Well, yes, the man was dead
when he found that out.

I don’t know how we know
what God said, but that’s not the point.

It’s a story.

I don’t see what’s funny about that!
You should be drowning, not laughing.

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