Four Poems (from ‘The Magnetic Mountain’)


The Firewalkers.

“The night is the devil’s black book, wherein he recordeth all our transgressions.”
– Thomas Nashe, The Terrors of the Night.

The first time we ever drank was in the woods
down by the boarded up gatehouse
at the Bishop’s Corner
on the way to Thornhill,
Kevin was the first to try it,
we watched as he downed the potion,
giddy as scientists round the Demon Core,
as he proceeded
to slowly
Before long he was trying to fire-walk
across the spitting embers
of the bonfire we’d started
to keep the cold
lurking out at the perimeter.
We were impressed
by his findings.

The next night we drank
until ravaged we lay
singing and cursing and laughing,
all of us scattered around
cut adrift and amazed that, like sex,
the adults had conspired
to keep this alchemy, this biblical miracle
of transubstantiation,
a secret from us
for so long.

Maybe the bishop in the big house
felt a chill wind under the doors
through the draughts and the keyholes,
and said a prayer in his study
for the lost souls of the fenian rabble,
drinking paintstripper cider
staggering in circles
howling Summertime Rolls to the stars
in this the briar depths of winter,
in our coven down by the cattlegrid.
But it was too late,
the devil had already appeared,
leaping out of the fire
to make our acquaintance.
And soon we were turning ourselves
inside out, in the grip of the dry heaves,
finding ourselves somewhere else suddenly,
wrenched out of Eden for crimes unknown,
staining a stainless steel sink
with bile and tears and sobs
of ‘never again,
never never again’

The next time
we drank a toast to amnesia
giddy at the prospect of returning,
full moon or no, into jekylls.
The deluge stole upon us
and it cut through the canopy
and we retreated to concrete tunnels
that we had to crawl into
and woke to screams, fumbling
and sparking the flint of the lighter
to find generations of insects
lodging in our hair and mouths and clothes.

We fled as deserters,
to the roof of a building site
propped up on thin wooden beams,
sleeping on high wire
to escape guard dogs
that were made of teeth and silver
and surely had us
cornered in their scents.

Amelia Earhart
crash-landed on the other
face of this hill,
having just flown the Atlantic
and were the sky not closing in
and the seventh seal broken
you could almost see the very spot from here.
Alas my friend was already snoring.

It was the longest of nights.
A black devil’s sun that took an infinity
to wheel across the shima, the taiga and the steppes
to cast god’s coroner’s light on this ruined corner
of this rusting old earth.
Nothing but thoughts and the piss of the rain.
Nothing but thoughts of when next?


“You slept through the earthquake.”
Who told us? The barrel-chested Greek
with that great leather welt of a scar
running down one arm like a rift
in the seams of tectonic plates,
formed when he took a tumble from the roof
fixing an aerial? Or the Swede we got drunk
and convinced to smoke
through the hole in his throat
and was last saw crawling the corridors
on his hands and knees?
It doesn’t matter.

It knocked down a few of those houses
that were Cezanne bleached in the sun,
caused the sea to thrash
at the boats in the harbour,
the statues in the depths
start to move, start to blink.
“Killed anyone?”

Why think of that now,
the width of a continent away
even further – a decade,
on a bus on a flyover
passing the steam wraiths and pistons
of the breweries?
Memory retrieves it,
out of the blue,
like a cat bringing
a dead bird to the door.

Terra Incognita.

Those old maps
with unexplored spaces,
that was the Glen,
Here be dragons.
We were banned from it of course
which only underlined its appeal.
Rough thicketed scrubland
welded to the crag of Rosemount
like a crooked spine.
My mother said there were paedophiles there
but offered no further explanation.
I thought they were some lost tribe.

Sometimes we’d shadow men
who were badgering
or spend long days constructing fires
arguing and haggling
over what was the most flammable thing we could find.
I specialised in effigies.

There was always a charred mattress in the thicket
and porno mags with strange biro ciphers
and instructions scrawled on them
hanging in the briar rooms
like some pagan shrine.
Debris was scattered
in the copses and undergrowth
but you never saw anyone dump it,
it was like it had just fallen to earth
and we were savages
of some strange cargo cult
and the junk we kicked through
took on sacred significance,
like the bones of apostles.

I thought of that place as the Russian steppes
with Cossack cavalry charges
and us heaving forward over the White Spider of the Alps,
and the wreckage of civilisation post-apocalypse
at the trudge of our heel,
if I closed my eyes hard enough
there existed the possibility of meeting
Allan Breck Stewart and all this
would turn to Highland burn
and we would be Jacobites
with government forces
closing in on our scent.

We spent a day underground,
having found a way into the drains,
thinking we could navigate the whole city,
periscopes into every home.
I was nine years old.
All the kids in the neighbourhood were going crazy
‘cause they’d seen a Siamese dog.
I knew there and then
that I had to get out of this town.

For C.B.

You were taking photographs in infra-red
turning Calton into Sergio Leone,
a Western on another planet.
The grass was warm in the sun.
Whatever happened to us?
The devil offered Jesus
all the kingdoms of the world
on a hill like this.
In every direction, a city
nestling the backbones
of fossilised dragons.
‘A black box inside my mind
records the time we spent together.’

You took me for the fool I am
and took me anyway
staggering around
crazed on whiskey
on the roof of a disused planetarium
trying to see the stars.
How many times returning to the scene
of some drunken lunacy to check,
in cold-sweats, for CCTV?
There has never been anyone like you,
part piratess, part penitent.
We’d have had the world kiddo
but for the thirst
and that simple ludicrous truth of the heart,
that love and love only
will tear us apart.

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