November 15th, 2010


The predictable birthday present

What's the present that you give to one person and then share with everyone else?

A poem of course.

I wrote this once I realized that I wasn't going to make it to New Orleans for Neil Gaiman's 50th birthday party - poverty, fecklessness and my own and other people's health were all factors in this. It would have been nice to be there, but it didn't happen and there is an end on't.

And here's the poem I sent instead.


There is an ache when something's not yet come
just like the one when something's gone away.
A rotten tooth perhaps. You may well say
it's better gone, keep sucking at the gum.

It took infection with it, you can taste
no foulness. And when something's not arrived
then does, you wonder just how you survived
without it. All the time before's a waste

you could have been enjoying it. And when
the new thing is a person, is a friend,
you wonder how you ever got to spend
so many years without them. Then, again,

the bliss of knowing something new can start
is bubbles like champagne that jump your heart.


The facts then. My friend Rachel said she'd met
a writer I would like. His name was Neil.
I hadn't yet learned quite how I should feel
when she tweaks destiny. I hadn't yet

learned to expect like some child on the night
before a birthday to anticipate
presents unwrapping. I don't know the date-
some party for Ben Bova. Thought I might

show up, grab drink, and then I saw a nest
of dark hair, and dark glasses and a smile,
thought this is something new. After a while
we chatted and I thought this is the best

first conversation ever. Such things are
proof I'd been pulled in orbit round a star.


This is a praise song. Though I'm sure you'd guessed.
Most of you pretty much know how it goes
to stand around admiring. I suppose
there's nothing he can't do. The man is blessed

with such facility. He's charmed a Muse
perhaps, or several, talks to them all night
walking long streets, and afterwards they might
beg to buy breakfast for him. In his shoes

most would be arrogant, he's really not.
So sweet that his successes cannot sour
his kindness. Anyway, this is the hour
for celebration of him. I cannot

be present, so I must ask all who're here
to celebrate Neil's birthday with a cheer.

More Steampunk


The steam-powered organ played a fugue. The church
was crowded with admirers numb with grief
but also cheered by their devout belief
in heaven. The great airship gave a lurch

as her brass coffin with the triple seal
was dropped over the side into the sea
so far below. 'Nearer my God to thee'
was sung; and then they ate a hearty meal

of pork pie and fried cod. Beneath the waves
out of the coffin fins sprang. In its lid
a porthole. Finally the girl was rid
of all her suitors, the devoted slaves

that kept her prisoner. Beneath the sea
she'd seek Atlantis and her destiny.

(no subject)

Infernal Machines

The anarchists had built their clockwork egg,
it sprouted knives and cut the Tsar in half,
Rasputin's with him in the photograph,
A gout of blood splashed crimson on his leg.

He chose to help the living Tsar, checked skin
for cuts or bruises that would bleed him out
in minutes. From the wall he took a knout,
lashed the automaton to bits. The din

of screaming maids of honour made him turn
and calm them with a gesture. His pale eyes
led him that night between the mourning thighs
of Alexandra, in whose bed he'd earn

the Regency, keep Holy Russia free
of progress and its dark machinery.