Roddy Williams – The Atheist Poet


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

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.

percy pigs (2008)

he bought me percy pigs
but i don’t like percy pigs.
they’re pink and taste of vile intentions
smell like the seat of a pervert’s car.

he knows i don’t like percy pigs
and yet he bought me percy pigs.
they’re sweet as liar’s lips and
he should know i’ve had enough of those.

i’ve said i don’t like percy pigs
so why’s he bought me percy pigs?
he’ll have to eat them cold himself
like humble pie, words or revenge.

The Flying Cabman (2008)

I don’t know why I let you drive me mad.
The meter started ticking when I flagged
your cab that night and it’s still running.
I’m in that seat beside you, cruising
neon days, weeks months of nightshift bonus.
Crankshaft oil and water, yearning fusion
by some absurd alchemical process.
Every time I slide into that old seat
we grate the spark to clutch, to rev, to go.
I hear the slamming of passenger doors
on a summer night but i’m here alone
waiting, road and streetlights, trees and I.

You are The Flying Cabman coming back
cursed every hundred days. There is no brake.

the lesser spotted hardback (2008)

nestled in his hands, trembled
like a fresh mischief
hatched narrow into his head.
eyes tiptoed trepid
across the plumage, lying
perfect. wings outstretched.
but he had to release it
back to the shelf roost.
he has no real headspace for
pinions of that size
flapping words about the house.
one strong beat of a
cover could shatter his arm
or his perfect shell;
something might be introduced
that he’s not used to.
he might learn to fly himself.
then where would he be?

two streets (2008)

under the window there’s a car
with the noise trying to get out.
it has to be a man.
women don’t need to be loud to be noticed
and the music wouldn’t want to get away.
we’re watching corrie,
old enough not to need the theme tune
to rattle the panes.

david’s pushed his mam down the stairs
and he’s making his girlfriend lie.
he plays his mother like a blonde-stringed ukelele.

the car’s gone now
i turn back to the other street
but hear music escaping, sounds of pursuit
as the beat wah-wahs past like a
speed garage squad car
– but without the car-
during the adverts.

there’s an ‘oi!’ carried down the road by slapping trainers.
he stops to pick up random notes that
squeak and fade.

hang on! familiar brass. part two.
diedre’s been drenched by a passing vanman
vernon’s mates are jamming in the yard
with binlids.

overlaying that’s a tiny bass
beating like a ferret’s heart
‘where are ya? just you get back here!’

it’s behind our tv.
footsteps dissolve into the sound
of rita telling sally
that everything will be all right
‘you can always stay with me, chook
for as long as you need to.’

the rhythm slows to the beat of the credits,
nestles into the warm curves of a trumpet