Saturday, 31 October 2009

'Chocolate Che' Sampler

Acknowledgements are due to the editors of the following publications: Aesthetica, City Lighthouse, Dog, Fire River, Flying Post, Headlock, Odyssey, Orbis, Ore, Shearsman, Smith’s Knoll, South, Spectrum, Staple, Tears in the Fence, Terrible Work, Tremblestone.

Versions of some of these poems first appeared in the chapbook The Duchess of Kalighat, published by Tears in the Fence, after winning their pamphlet competition.


Chocolate Che

To celebrate Thanksgiving Day
The Yankees baked a chocolate Che
With buttermilk from Camaguey
And cacao from the factory
He founded in the heady days
When cocoa was revolutionary.

He wore a marzipan beret,
Its insignia that rarity -
A perfect star-shaped strawberry -
To strip the comandante
Who took the I from industry
Of the badge that gave him dignity.

They gagged him with a Cadbury’s flake
Imported by the C.I.A.
And stretched him on a rack of cane
Lashed onto a Chevrolet,
Carved him up at Gitmo Bay
With harvest blunt machetes -

Took his head to the Admiralty
As their cut of the bounty
That is La Isla Grande,
Then toasted him with rum flambé
In memory of Hemingway -
Red flames, like the blues, they fade away

Three Buckets for Love

Welcome to my home. I do not live here.
This is the bathroom, it has no bath.
Three buckets for love, a dripping tap.

Frames without doors, the curtains part -
Mama launders bread in her chamber pot.
Welcome to my home, she does not live here.

Her vest bares a rash of day-glo hearts.
Under the arc of a hung bulb stand
Three buckets for love. A dripping tap

Ticks stage left of our netted bed.
Brothers call cues from the room next door.
Welcome to my home, they do not live here.

Papa stirs the pot, tucks in with his spoon -
A black bean soup with bones, twice stewed -
Three buckets for love. A dripping tap

Salutes the dawn. Stool pigeons perch behind
The moon. Two parrots rap on the washing line.
Welcome to my home. You do not live here.
Three buckets for love. A dripping tap.

Che's Hands

Che's grave is not Che's grave.
And the bones in it are not Che's.
And those cold hands in the jar
tucked away in Fidel's pantry -
they are not the hands of Che,
though they are both human
and Che-like. And that wax mask
that impressed the face of Che
did not impress the face of Che.
And those photos of the dead Che
as Christ, with the generals playing
Romans, display neither Christ,
nor Che, nor Romans. And his wounds
are not wounds as we know them.
And all the tales of Che you've read
are not tales with Che in them.
And all these Che poems are not
Che poems, or even poems at all.
And if you took a lock of the hair
of Che, it is Che's hair no longer.
And if you say that Che was a saint,
you either did not meet that Che
or you have never met a saint.
And any likeness at all between
my Che and your Che is coincidental,
if you believe in coincidence,
which Che did not. And if you say
Che lives, then Che lives, although
he doesn't live, and isn't Che.
And if I say Che never lived, then that
is all I have to say about Che.


If Art Was a Car

If art was a car, I’d take this line for a spin
Round the east fork of Long Island in deep summer
From bar to bar, woman to woman, half a bourbon

Between my thighs, making one curve then another,
Swivelling a circle just because I can -
Now that would be a day, a day worth living.

But art is not a car, and to drive is not to paint
As James Dean or Baby Jayne would surely testify
If their bodies were those of cars that could be fixed.

Or my own uncle, the butcher, chauffeured down the A46
Hand waving out the window, a bleeding finger in its fist,
Then a year later, taking the wall of dawn head on

Like Pollock took on art when the canvas was still empty
As a salt flat in the sun, and the world was young
As my uncle, who didn’t make that corner in his sleep

Bacon Dust

The thrill of sable
Before it’s dipped
Becomes a bottle
That’s launched its ship.
As my last seed
Is sown, I trust
You’ll swallow a dose
Of Bacon dust.

It’s such a con:
Just as I sussed
How an old man
Can deal with lust
Sleep lays down
Its finishing crust -
Label my bag
‘Bacon dust’.

Unframe the windows
Unhinge the doors
Rollup the ceiling
Fold up the walls.
Here stood my body -
This is a bust.
Now hoover up
That Bacon dust.

The art connoisseur
Will say ‘Vintage stuff!’
As he gets a nose
Of this fragrant muff,
Snort it like coke
Or sniff it like snuff,
A line or a pinch –
Pure Bacon dust.

My nerves are jarred,
Racked with paint
Between Cardinal Red
And Crimson Lake -
For a sanguine colour
Sharper than rust
Hand the man down
Some Bacon dust.

Reglaze the windows
Hang up the doors
Rollout the ceiling
Unfold the walls.
Museums are morgues,
Let’s not discuss
The provenance of
My Bacon dust.

The Larkin Lads

Wear wings of jazz
on boots recast in lead:

have one top hat,
a nest for two egg heads

and magic wands
that double up as sticks;

time’s grey magicians
up to their old tricks…

Shuffle with a shrinking pack.
Stuff a rabbit into cats.

Saw young girls until they blur.
Take a hammer. Make it tap

beats out on a pocket watch.
Hear it tick. Hear it tock.

Lend no mind to conjuring
bones out of the magic box

we all end up sleeping in.
Even the Larkin Lads

who’ll close the show in socks
to the hottest licks of jazz.


Grey, Languorous

The old monkey of the mountains
sits in his Bodhi tree
tail plumb as the pendulum
of a cobwebbed grandfather clock.

He’s given up on the world -
all of its comforts, all of its vices -
left his home, abandoned the tribe,
renounced his daughters, rejected those wives,
relinquished his sons. His work is done
and he has done with it.

He seeks the enlightenment
that comes to those who wait.
And wait. And wait alone.

But your passing by has touched him
with an awareness of an awareness -
what if he’s missed out on life’s pleasures
only to retain the sum of its pains?

Face rubbed down with coal,
eyes glowing in their grates,
he hates the world that found him
out while he was searching.

Screech loud as an Eagle Owl’s,
star-shaped as he leaps -
he would surely crush the skull
of any monk who wandered by
on his own path into the mountains.


The old rogue was here an hour ago:
came crashing through the matchwood trees,
stopped our toy train in its tracks,
then forged on through Darjeeling leaves
in search of moonshine and weed.

If he had a mahout, he’d tossed him
as a gumboot buffalo might flick
a tick-picking egret from his hide,
tipped his trunk and bellowed a cry
buoyed up on a full tank of steam.

The elephant men were on his trail
armed with knockout darts and chains -
it takes quite a spike to pierce that hide.
They’d lost their drink, he’d lost his mind,
bloodhound eyes rolling in his head -

A kingdom conquered, then occupied
by the urge to lose, lose it again.
No stash is safe, however contained -
his sense of smell now rice wine primed,
his liver moaning, day and night.

They find him sleeping, vast and grey
as a monument carved from rock.
He dreams of drinking, as drunkards do.
The mountains tremble with his snores.
They cock their guns. Give him a shot.

A Cow Is Dying

Beneath the house of the poet Tulsi
where Ganga mud meets Chunar stone
a cow is dying.

Sheltered under saffron
cosseted beneath a blanket
with fires burning at head and feet
a cow is dying.

Back beaten, legs broken
a cow is dying
and children bring her garlands,
while a sadhu ladles water
onto her lolling tongue.

A cow is dying,
her eyes two balls of crystal
cloudy and mysterious with pain.

A raga is played in mourning
today is the day it speaks of –
a cow is dying

Beside an upturned rowboat
a cow is dying
and when darkness falls
like a great black bird

She will be dipped into the river
tenderly as the bathing of a calf,
a mother swallowing her own milk.

Published April 2nd 2010
Paperback, 96pp, 9x6ins, £8.95 / $15
Shearsman Books
ISBN 9781848611061

The poems in Chocolate Che were written in Cuba in the fiftieth year of the revolution; in India working with dying destitutes and recovering from tuberculosis; travelling up and down the spine of the Americas and into the heart of Europe on the trail of soldiers, artists and monks.

Damian Furniss works images into narratives that are both darkly humorous and strangely moving. Using forms as varied as their subjects, with characteristic verbal intensity and a probing wit, he returns to the fixations of his youth in wry but reflective maturity. Along the way, he encounters the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa; visits the houses of Pablo Picasso and Salvador DalĂ­, only to find no one's at home; and collects the stubs of cigars that might once have been smoked by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, but probably weren't.

Praise for his chapbook, The Duchess of Kalighat, several poems from which are included in this, his first full collection:

"Furniss explores India in many varied and astonishing images . . . no poet of promise but a poet of arrival." — Derrick Woolf, Poetry Quarterly Review

"The fire in the poetry roars. In this book the subject is hot and so is the language." — Tim Allen, Terrible Work

"This has a vitality all of its own." —Brian Hinton, Tears in the Fence

"Has strong convictions and a clearly defined sense of purpose. These are moving, transforming poems." —Emma Neale, Scratch

Damian Furniss was conceived on the night England won the Football World Cup. He was educated at King Edward VI Grammar School, Stratford-Upon-Avon (where he was taught in the same room as Shakespeare) and Keble College, Oxford. He lives in the West Country and works in Health and Social Care. His poetry, prose and reviews have been widely published in magazines and anthologies and he has read at festivals and arts centres around the country and at the Indian High Commission. He is currently working on two novels: Shin Kicking and Life Before Death. He is the co-host of The Blah Blah Blah Show, an arts magazine radio show on Phonic FM.

Chocolate Che is his first full-length poetry colleciton.