London to Brighton | On a line from ‘Howl’


               …who plunged themselves under meat trucks looking for an egg 

                Allen Ginsberg, Howl, San Francisco, 1955-56.


south from the City in a borrowed shirt
saxophone and book: Selected Poems 1947-95
to visit a friend from mad night’s back home
relish a nonsense language
too dense to explicate, mere mental static
I had to keep looking up
through the black rubber-sealed window
let the bridges splayed around the river’s curve
play on my eyes for an instant:
this slow pull through sprawl

after five the City will explode outwards
into the fields, right until the coastlines
all the trains will cross south to the banker villages
of shuttered lanes, station carparks, bridleways,
estates, footpaths, public and private

and I wonder: are these the meat trucks? is that what he meant?
herded full of bodies too tired to show each other love
was it these they plunged under and why
searching for (of all things) an egg?

the seed of future works, a point of pre-birth
or the shell of it, curved
like a hemisphere, universe over us
or just something to eat, a day of metal
taste in the mouth, treading pavements.

or was this where sense gave out
turned inward, perverse?
on the cover an old man in glasses and beard
stroking himself in half-sentences, remembering
young curves and fumblings

savour them on paper, make great lists, frenzy
of desire in words, sprawling catalogues
days spent talking over the finest points
the most cryptic moments, whole states traversed
everything to be set down

he might reply: why shouldn’t I?
if charisma will carry it, why so suspcious?
what a lark, what a plunge,London now, live in it
unscrew the doors from their hinges, the world as it is
a hundred echoes, adaptations afoot today, infinite

and anyway, it has you thinking
of trains as meat trucks, why someone might
plunge under heavy machinery for brittle ovoid and yolk
and your memories of breakfasts
each one in a different place these weeks
all through the south, eggs beaten with forks
fried in oil, scrambled and sliced with bluegreen bacon
after long nights, hangovers,
visions humble and mighty


the city has come away, finally
an old school of mine, my fathers, grandfathers
flickers away behind the trees
we must be over the viaduct
I can supply its hollowed-out brick arches
from memory, they give illusions of perspective
difficult to explain in words and two dimensions.
an old tutor killed himself here on the tracks
arthritis or cancer, eggs of pain all through his body
unbearable, unsung
plunge silent and terrible

but it was a long time ago
and that man never opened up to us, never a word
not about Hitler, the Cold War, an Empire contracting
saved his madness for the weekends
leather jackets and hookers in Brighton said the rumours
(we’re moving there now) so maybe the plunge was
a mouthful of wind
hangliders, gulls
remote controlled toys on the inland lip of theDowns

the machines were cars on the A27
a lethal hissing chain of them
sealed white vans of squash teams and plague meat
the eggs lying quiet in hutches
the whole valley windblown,
hollowed-out for our minds to work in
free we range and everything separated out
cold fields of chalk and flint
strong cider and bad TV

but like this we will never achieve such a line
with our women keeping us off chemicals and winter moving in
over golf courses the rich man’s towns: October blues
meat truck, egg and plunge would never be combined
life was not that mad and ragged, not now
when millions had ranted and yelled their holy yells
scrawled their stoned ramblings since the 50’s
the revolution started early out there on the western edge
of the western world, on highways, in Mexico and coldwater flats
now we trawl through the fallout, annotated editions
does it make any sense? can it help us? will it last?


scepticism is rife on the island
but from here I can see where it ends
and real despair begins
white cliffs, chalk, straight down
a phone box perched on the lip for the suicidae
numbers, helplines, lifelines…

the trains disgorge to the west
the ramshackle piers burn
the plastic amusements burn
the cottages, the pubs are all falling into the sea
the houses, the ships are all gone under the hill
the sea sucks on eggs of shingle
the bird flocks clench as fists
the sheep and pigs are killed and cut
                  driven in white capsules through the hedgegrows
the forests are protected
the footpaths, clearly demarcated
the poets, businessmen, clinging to their synthetic wings
                   plunge, ride the wind up again

the lonely plunge once

West Sussex 10.03