To the Faithful Reader

I am seated comfortably just where the ocean
And the river collide in a high and wide

Commotion and where a large contingent
Of bedraggled coathanger cormorants has gathered

Looking and sounding a bit like The Rolling Stones
Belting out Beggars’ Banquet. If you believe this

You’ll believe anything, and are thereby my ideal reader.
Well, did you believe I was really there

At that pounding estuary with its misting confluence,
With a helicopter flying past trailing a banner

On both sides of which was painted What’s
On the other side of this notice is false?

And with the cormorants getting into a sudden
Dispute, the noise competing with waves

And the helicopter? It’s already too complicated,
Isn’t it, to be convincing? No?

Then if you believe this you’ll believe
Anything, and are thereby God’s Gift to Fabulists.

But of course you are this – and more! And more!
Not the least being your willingness to read on.

But for some time now it cannot – surely –
Have escaped your notice that I am flirting

With the idea that poetry and jokes are alike, both skirting
The hem of things, the indrawn breath of wonder corresponding

To the hush before the punchline, the device
Of enjambment being somehow like the nudge nudge

Of double meaning. Anyway you will not, I hope,
Object if a few old jokes become the subject, nay

The text, in an exercise in exploring this claim;
(For example:) “What do you get when you cross

A sheep and a kangaroo?” You’ll know this one.
The answer is (You knew) “You get a woolly jumper.”

Now you must note the peculiar way the word jumper
Takes on something of the frisson of poetry. Hey?

And the way the whole sentence staggers
Like a cow replete in a meadow after rain. Yes?

Next, “What do you get if you cross a road
With a chicken?” “You get the answer to a question

Which has long occupied us.” This one is a bit
Devious and I beg you to consider whether or not

Your groan may resemble just a little the gasp
At the startlement of poetry? Next

A more extended excursion into charmed narrative
With its familiar Ciceronian reliance on three. A man

Is walking down the street with his girlfriend.
They pause outside a jeweller’s shop where she sees

A diamond bracelet in the window. The man
Takes a brick from his pocket, smashes

The window and gives her the diamonds.
At the next jeweller’s shop she admires

A ruby necklace. He takes a brick from his pocket,
Smashes the window and gives her the rubies.

At the next jeweller’s window she admires pearls.
He says, Do you think I’m made of bricks?

Different? Might the difference here suggest
That between simile and metaphor? Too optimistic?

Consider then, “She was only the antique-dealer’s daughter
But she wouldn’t allow much on the sofa.”

(Superior, you’ll agree, to “She was only
The farrier’s daughter but all of the horse manure.”)

Or “One thing I learnt at school was this –
That double negatives are a definite no-no.”

Or “I went out with a pair of twins last night.”
“Did you have a good time?” “Yes and no.”

Or “Judge: ‘Is this the first time you’ve been up before me?’
Defendant: ‘I don’t know. What time do you get up?’

Or “You’ve got to hand it to the Venus de Milo.”
(Note here the odd resemblance to the poetic

Where the text takes away with one hand
What it seems to be proposing with the other.)

Too much? Well, yes. And yet – and yet –
How prodigal the waves in the estuary of the present.

But after this sustained barrage, no doubt
You have been long enough delighted. And now

The cormorants are diving again. The sandwall
Has fallen into the inward tide,

Falling like one who no longer hopes or wishes
To avoid change but resigns herself

To being carried along by events,
A reader, in fact – patient and considerate – You!


from Occam's Aftershave (2012). By permission of Puncher and Wattmann and John Watson

Sponsor this poem

Would you like to sponsor this poem? Find out how here.

Recordings