Issue 21 – Winter 2011 – Alex Houen

Alex Houen

soiled tu

as if your name meant once / for all / as if a breast were 
smoking Vesuvial background in oil paintings / some gallery 
in a drizzle so long ago / so sick of all involuntary flashbacks 
of you / as cobblestones fold into a field a walk in the Peaks / 
baroque / a crow in a cage crowing bait for a fox of other  
crows / bidden not by madeleines but accidence / you woke 
in a choke asking if you’d spoken your sleep / our cupid 
called ‘none of the above’ / 
                                                  it’s only next day i realise / no / 
you’d already gone and i was reading always sheets of news to 
block the views / i call this composure for getting ahead / as 
if your name meant once 
                                                  to hell with it let’s name this 
place a trip to Pompeii / our face stuffed with carciofi penne 
 / Macedonia / as a guide appears and forges ahead / 
now here is bloodstone pigment on plaster / here where wool 
was softened communal in urine / here a local plastered 
skeleton in glass-casing facing perpetual a hunting fresco / 
there a girl kneeling and begging for face with no nose / light
islands a calf back / second nature / obliquer baroque / your 
smile a simile / and a blush is an allergy of others you have to 
feeling on the face of them /
                                                      see this wall macaronic of plaster 
and lava begging for some marble facing / a marble face 
applied in bleak Peaks, say / stumbling on / immaculate 
conception of rain-picked lamb-skull in grass / organs flesh 
and the rest to come / holding the glass case of your hand / 
let me view you then / as if your name meant once / your 
benedictation / lets go my hand to 
                                                           please let go my hand in 
this / a composture / as attention is plucked sudden by lucky 
graffito of winged phallus flying static on plaster but then it’s 
back to sleep / now we’re in a crowd of botanical gardens 
watching a pitch-black creature / looks like a moth / no, crow 
that billows itself an aerial oil slick of one worried eye before 
oozing down for the lushest valley / 
                                                              what vow is broken 
there? / those times we snuck into knick-knack shops to snap 
off heads of the porcelain figures / I’m still not composed / 
but maybe after the ferry to Naples for there in the Royal 
Palace ‘Psyche’ is a baroque sideboard of ormolu bearing a 
mirror in which your face is what you damn well have to see


At Sergent with Sea Exhibition

Slick light flicks thick from oil laying
it on no land in sight but a text
telling me she didn’t get the work for us
to work to gain no land in sight
but a window-checked suit I bought
in a sale betting light lilac light
on squids of cloud next stormy graphite
sea the aft deck spuming then
            ‘where are you?’ – 
                                              drifting Nilotic’s 
where she is now I imagine
trusting her hands on
Abu Simbel’s temples ‘bring a tear’ 
to her eyes as for me
she promises a souvenir
                                              this sea we’re at 
is there oil deep seeping into it
and can it be capped
and is there a point to playing
oyster or should we rig faith to caudal
peduncles of bioluminescent lantern-
fish that bask so bathypelagic they avoid all
oil as much as their own lantern?
                                              No; they’re so ugly 
it can’t be right to feed off your own enlightenment –
better to be ‘frightfully bitten’ like Sargent
not only by insects from Capri’s rocks
but perhaps by an urchin rolling up
                                              his trouser leg of sand
                                     his burnished face 
                            a sail oblivious to buying time
– or could be slicks of water pooling looks
                                 segmenting signatures
– or could be a deepest well well
                                 the navy of your shadow
                                 fast encircling to show 
that what you scratched out
                                 no land in sight 
is indeed how you scored the wrong time
                                 as right fate
                                 so rigged it was
so there we are
                                 shot silk hanging


Alex Houen is co-editor of the online poetry journal Blackbox Manifold <> and has published poems in various journals, including Horizon ReviewPN Review, CleavesStrideGreat WorksShadowtrain, and past simple. His book Powers of Possibility: Experimental American Writing since the 1960swas published by Oxford University Press in December 2011.