1. Disfigurement, in Three Parts
Sit in the close room. Roll up your shirtsleeve.
Your forearm is corded by blue veins. Eased
to the surface by another heavy August day,
in this, your new city of subways and white noise.
Your arm has an abrupt topography. Lashes
put down by a metal object. Something came
and gave you a sign: mark yourself thus, and
you’ll again be able to eat in the company
of others. Mark yourself and let your currency
haemorrhage, let it pool in the strange basin.
Swallow a cup of water. Wash yourself, walk.
Pass your fingertips over the scars. They are
raised, parallel. Like the railroad sleepers in
the backwoods of the back town, where tall
trees in narrow silver suits let light perforate
your ignorant face. Before cities. Before
their incoherent premises, which echo and quake
and cause the body to mutilate, then bloom.
2. Don’t Touch Anything
White rooms repeat themselves
Across the former warehouse districts
They proliferate as divisions proliferate
Are your devices in order, current
Is the line of your garment suitably clean
Can you suggest affluence by omission
White rooms contain singular audiences
And mutely occlude confluences:
The ecstatic intersections of the city exterior
Are you immaculately iced, impervious
Did you quit your hayseed accent
And cut your blemishes off, whet your jaw
Inside white rooms men repeat themselves
Via gross presence, via platforms
(That man is a fraud, as that man is a fraud)
Will you let them pillage your ethics
For pure transit, dazzling ingress
Out of the margins into aseptic white
3. Waves, Penultimately
This month you grow out
your beard, and I self-medicate
with a thorough love of you,
which is neither
brotherly nor obtuse,
but like a stone jar
into which I pour
everything molten and rash.
In the hills our eyes
are stung gold, like florins,
as we watch two rich English boys
capture their likenesses
in crystal screens. Dosed,
they stalk across blue sward,
through the cypresses,
as though hunting wild boar.
When at last we leave
to pursue the sea, my appetite
gives out. I become wet linen
strung on sticks; you grow bigger.
Like a galleon you risk the water
and win, while I unravel
on ashy rocks, and lick
baked salt from my bicep.
Now you crest, now you dip
beneath hot waves, and search
for precious things
on the living floor. There is
no cure: words have ceased
to have currency between us.
It will be a long time
before I see you again.
Ralf Webb’s poetry has appeared in the London Review of Books, Test Centre, Oxford Poetry, and elsewhere.