“It’s about embracing change,” says Penelope, HR’s hired gun.
Gull grey eyes look at me, just another improbable Ulysses.
A tongue tip quick across a sea of lip-gloss,
her gaze drops to the paper between us.
The pen — not I — did write of its own volition.
Deal done, she stands hand extended
The floor lurches
but she leans way way
away and I’m slip sliding,
tumbling out the corridor,
bumbling down the stairs
a collapsing clown in fat pants
rolling all the way to The Lounge.
(Later I discovered she’d spun the same line to all us poor mutts.)
In The Lounge
Two weeks gone and I’m getting better,
progress in deprogramming.
‘As well as can be expected,’ says Tony
(been here the longest, thinks
the clearest, our guide for these
uncertain times). Fledglings
on the edge, distrust the sprouts
on our shoulders we hop about fractious,
shit-scared of the next big step.
Tony was a father to us,
notching us down a peg when needed.
Arrived Tuesday, around ten.
His tainted fate the grease spot
on his sharp blue tie. A tarot of toys
fanned on the desk. He pokes, prods at:
the Nokia 55709,
the Psion Seetronic organiser.
We hid and snickered.
He’d already been cancelled
(They do it while you’re in with Penelope)
no more SMS, no more voicemail, vidmail, blogspot. Nada.
Derek’s in a lather, has me look at his hair.
‘Something’s going on up there.’
‘Cancer or thinning just like my father’s?
I’m non-committal. Scales, fur, feathers.
Who knows? Realization of self,
Tony says, is driven by self.
We had a sweep on Derek’s crack-up day
with an extra twenty for guessing his final form.
‘Ya bunch of jackals,’ Tony barks. ‘Shame on you.
‘Forgotten your first days?’
He tries embarrassing us but office politics
is a blood sport and tenacious as onion weed.
Tony goes up to Derek, a hand gentle on his shoulder.
“Mate,” a long vowel of concern.
“Can it wait til ten? I’ve got a deadline on this Priest account,”
Hunching over his keyboard.
Tony tries again, “Maate. Let’s same page.”
“Busting a gut. Cut me some slack.”
And there it was.
A thing of beauty.
screaming, “My balls are on the line.”
A sight unfolding. Enormous. Hideous. Penguinaceous
Brad is ear-to-ear, he picked the trifecta,
holds fistfuls of currency while Tony talks soothingly
about Notre Dame, the cathedral and Esmeralda.
Derek begs him to stop with hands no longer.
What was happening to us?
Were we being punished?
Tony says it’s our bestial nature
Makes a Marxist analysis, encourages collectivist thinking and a centrally managed economy,
heartens our little community.
But Derek turned in four days
And on Wednesday afternoon a tour bus stops
outside The Lounge. Ten, twenty and now fifty arrived
pushing through the door, gabbling loud
on their pretend mobile phones scrabbling,
elbowing for a workstation, maybe one
with a pot plant, or a window — even better.
We watch the bus unload. Derek waddles over, “The neo-cons
from Mansfield’s group”. Up close he stank
of fish guts and I wished him back on his nest.
Tony tried something but
our father figure fallen
rendered dumb, mouth become
some twisted offset beak two days gone.
Now he slurs and spits inadvertently.
And we stay away, guiltily.
So has Brad, Derek, me, all of us.
We’re heading somewhere unknown, like our destiny.
Olive isn’t having any of it.
‘What the?’ she says.
‘Work is work and home is—’
Bedraggled in the hall trying
to untangle my briefcase from the stupid
Husband no more.
‘And in front of the kids.’
I shrug, ‘Can’t be helped.’
Since I started at The Lounge
she’s become contemptuous of my masculinity.
‘Maisy has a slumber party tonight. So it’s the garage for you bird boy.’
Vole. Marsupial rat,
My darling Olive’s nose stretches and lengthens,
unkindly pointed teeth, white whiskers
an insectivore’s glint in those beady eyes.
… She’s right of course: can’t go upsetting the neighbours’ kids,
creating a scene, have them run tearfully home.
So I plump the pillow and settle
look at all that hung stuff, a spidery
ladder, a cocky’s cage door rusted
open, through the window the moon
dips behind the cumulo-nimbus
over indigo plains,
And here’s my father returned: shorts and singlet,
still tired, bent over. ‘Dad,’
I say stroking his fly-away hair, ‘Dad.’ He makes no reply.
On his shoulder a tattoo I’ve never seen,
on the swell of his arm. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’
although that’s not what I meant to say.
It’s a beauty. Look closer. A bird. Not
a bird but a bird-man, standing tall and
erect, eyes aflame. Rendered
so finely I can see – it’s my grandfather drawn
as a bird-man. And there,
on his shoulder, on the swell
of his arm, a tattoo. Drawn finely. I make out:
another figure, another bird-man
standing tall and erect eyes blazing
on the shoulder…drawn finely…
I’m shocked awake by a clatter,
a crash. A paint tray, a tin of ceiling white.
The roller extender, across the fallen heap,
twirls to the floor with a final jangle –
the bells of suburbia, the dream thinning
away. Hold the image
allusive, the man
behind the man
drawn in flesh. Like me.
Something to be found
A scratch on timber.
Above, there it is again.
Scamper the rafters.
‘Who,’ I say. Another run
of scrape and padded across.
‘Olive is that you?’
I stand, take a can by the handle ready,
Nothing. Ah well.
Gruesome brute restacks cans — the comfort of a task
And by the rake, our rods. Mine
and my brother’s. Our passports ready
on any weekend. I remember.
With rod and tackle-box packed
I start the car and drive.
The golden pool
arrived as the sun was coming up,
bees early about in the mist. First
flick cast a perfect parabola and before
it ever touched, as if there waiting,
a big black cod kicked and heaved
flew and lay mouthing
on the sackcloth. And as he peered
at the expiring fish there it was — No.
Impossible even in this improbable dream-like—
Again—it winked at him.
‘Closer,’ the gasping cod says.
The fish whispers, “Kiss me.”
He stumbles back bruising against a rock. “Wha?”
“Go on. ” And he thinks (irrationally) about
being faithful to sharp-toothed Olive and Penelope from HR.
‘Just a little peck.’
And the closer he came, the larger the fish grew
Until it was the whole world and he was just another in the line of bird men
Swallowed, gone convulsed back through the air
Passed through the pool’s surface which bows and bends
And becomes still again, a mirror of God’s good sky.