England, My England
The resting actor meets his stooge
in the new coffee shop
decked with abstract photographs –
two flapjacks, latte and soy cappuccino –
to run through the canine pageant
in the local park.
Six months in the coastal village
and his face has made its mark;
some remain suspicious
(he played brutal killers
in so many television thrillers)
but, as he hoists his briefcase
packed with bills and posters,
tethers his Rottweiller
and takes a presidential pose,
his companion, briefly heedless
of his carpal tunnel syndrome,
strokes his Dachsund with a touch of awe,
sure the desultory windswept farce
he organised last year will not recur.
Expertly assembled images of hounds
with keenly pointed snouts and upright tails
set against the croquet lawn
emblazoned with fluorescent font
pass smoothly through his hands;
he sees himself in lightweight suit
spinning risqué joke and anecdote
as he comperes proceedings with aplomb.
And so he misses the main moment
when an inner storm, like petit mal,
fills the actor’s eyes with black.
If he was questioned by police
he could state he had no clue
the man had been so crudely struck;
or he was locked
in his own daydream now,
turned to Andreas Baader
in a Berlin teahaus forty years ago;
his coloured flyers to be plastered
around trees and lamp-posts
with appeals for violent disorder;
his dry palm, under his jacket,
pressed against a Walther automatic;
they had met together,
not to plan the annual menagerie
but the brutal execution
of a super-rich tycoon
in the lock-up by the meeting-hall.
As the villager at last looks up
he sees only the well-practised smile
his partner uses as a key
to any needed explanation:
too much method acting in his youth
has left him prey to moments
of strange disassociation,
inconvenient and stressful,
yet they bear a kind of truth;
for, though he is, at rest,
a safely grounded citizen,
they offer some expression
to the otherness he has to let
engulf him when he works.
No need to fret.
Breed shows, races,
They shoot through
the carefully prepared programme,
pray the weather holds;
while in the actor’s inner space
all visions of heroic comrades
to arouse the proletariat,
and smash the capitalist system
vanish with a whiff
of honeysuckle from
the hanging bush outside.
Nick Burbridge is an Anglo-Irish poet, playwright, novelist, documentary, short story and song writer. His plays include Dirty Tricks (Soho Theatre Company), Vermin (Finborough), Cock Robin (Verity Bargate Award Runner-up/Brighton Festival), Scrap (South East Arts commission/Regional Tour), and double bills Neck/Cutting Room (Bright Red Theatre) and Acts Of Violence (Brighton Actors’ Theatre). For many years he ran his own fringe company, Tommy McDermott’s Theatre. BBC Radio Drama productions feature Grosse Fugue (Monday Play), Rites Of Passage (Afternoon Play), and several short stories. As a novelist, he had Operation Emerald (Pluto) published under the pseudonym Dominic McCartan. He collaborated with Captain Fred Holroyd on War Without Honour (Harrap/Medium), a non-fiction work launched at the House of Commons. His short stories have been printed in literary magazines, and Arts Council anthologies. He has written three collections of poetry: On Call (Envoi Poets), All Kinds Of Disorder, and The Unicycle Set (Waterloo Press), and a fourth, Undercover Work, is scheduled; while poems have appeared in major periodicals, including Acumen, Agenda, Ambit, The Rialto, Stand etc. As a singer/songwriter, he has made seven albums with his band McDermott’s Two Hours -The Enemy Within, Live At Ferneham Hall, World Turned Upside Down, Claws And Wings, Disorder, Goodbye to the Madhouse, and Anticlockwise. - recorded in collaboration with The Levellers, who also covered his song 'Dirty Davey' on their eponymous number one-selling album, and who feature him on their live DVD, Chaos Theory. An acoustic album, Gathered, made with multi-instrumentalist, Tim Cotterell, won him the Spiral Earth Best Songwriter Award, 2013.
Only he knows,
since he’s found a new disguise,
how he will be called to act,
though, God forbid,
dog pageant should transform to massacre
or village green to feature set.
He turns away, muttering
a mantra learned by heart:
I’m good. I have identity.
Disintegration is a feature of the past.
We are safe in the lap
of the local bourgeoisie.
There will be no revolution
in the neighbourhood.
(Dispatches from The Royal Earlswood)
Simple to explore the snow-filled compound
where naked forms were put as punishment,
or follow shuffled tracks along bleak corridors
until your hidden camera fixes
on the blue-blood imbeciles you search for,
stationed in frayed armchairs,
victims of sensational neglect,
so righteous fingers point at all of us
who left their broken ones in limbo
when there seemed no other course;
for we were taught this to expect.
Visions of enlightenment. Take two.
Pious voice recites hushed platitudes
across excited shouts from a suburban house,
one of thousands cheaply poached
by health-care traders, bidding
for new-liberated stock like lots.
Home in on a lame circle, gathered
in a neatly furnished space
for tea and cakes, French windows open
on a garden filled with unheard birdsong.
Follow their bent figures to the seaside.
Crowd shots to highlight how the touched
are readily absorbed – or not.
Leave no lens live one winter night
on a lone worker at a long week’s shift
slumbering across the kitchen table
by the swirl and tumble of soiled sheets.
Or mount the stairs and hesitate
as a fire-door opens from within,
to fix on a still figure, wedged
between flower-papered wall and bed,
in the aftermath of a fierce fit –
though falls observed on those reviled wards
had only ever left him scars that slowly healed.
Pan out instead on the apartments
the asylum has become.
Cut back to the house
and a new circle of pioneers.
Lay over quotes from earnest privateers,
family equipped with joyful tales;
testaments from model clients
with the brain cells to articulate.
Fade down to a neat commissioned score.
On no account explore unravelled figures,
interview a single witness who might tell what is
from what it seems, or follow trails to littered fields.
Please don’t catch me at my brother’s grave.
thistles stretch their prickly arms afar