Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Nick Ascroft’s ‘The Plotz’

 

The Plotz

 

Phlegmatic, I’m not one to plotz or wax

nostalgic for a life that could’ve been.

I bumble forward, shuffling in my tracks

to work and back again. The kitchen’s clean.

I use Excel to calculate Kate’s tax.

I had once dreamt I’d be a libertine,

admired for simile and malaprop.

The 90s raised me up then let me drop.

 

Back then, each anecdote would cost you corkage,

my poems swigged on flasks, were furious

and hot with psychedelic flash and squawkage.

I blazed, affectedly bi-curious.

These days I just complain about the mortgage,

all other matters somehow spurious

and flat. I spend the evening sudsing plates

and pots, in fear of rising interest rates.

 

Not one to plotz, I’m private, careful, flaccid.

How did I change? One moment I wear blouses,

vinyl shoes, I’m pulverised on acid,

the next I’m at the bank discussing houses

or circling with a whiteboard marker ‘hazard

class’, a tucked-in shirt with belted trousers.

I want to understand, to tweeze this tuft.

Did I grow up? Or was my brightness snuffed?

 

Before I went under a nom de plume,

before the bank had made a covenant

with me to slavishly add commas to

abhorrent documents for subsequent

emolument, I lived in Oamaru.

(I still took money from the government,

the dole.) And from that opposite of Eden,

I drag the band with me down to Dunedin.

 

I trip the halls like velvet under

my beret, a lip-stuck elf with pointed toes.

I study language, thought, but wonder

why, in chief, so few enjoy my gigs, or prose.

A typically blind-spotted blunder:

I’m unchanged it seems. Less fresh of gill, less rosy

eyed, perhaps, but so alike in fact

of taste and dreams. My foibles are intact

 

at least. The years gallumph like this. I shake

songwriting off and go for verse. They’re kinder,

literary types. I’d tried to break

our demo to a label not inclined to

it. Pete from Snapper said we’re a mistake.

I graduate, am single (dumped), and find a

bookshop gig. It’s 1998.

I chase a girl, and demonstrate I’m straight

 

by kissing boys just to ensure we will

avoid the sin of overegging hetero.

My gender freedom is sartorial.

Free too from time, I dress embracing retro.

London is more dictatorial.

It frowns. And though years pass before I let go,

it schools me how to look more apropos,

to come across more man than man-mango.

 

The movie I’d self-finance of my life

(the casting option either Aquaman

or Jesse Eisenberg – and here my wife

can roll her eyeballs) would compact a span

of years into a weekend on a knife-

edge. Sleeping at a bus stop backward, fanned

around my bag, cold in PVC,

I doze, am homeless, terrified, but free.

 

Above, the stars are smothered by the smog.

I’m outside Heathrow, stuck until the Tubes

resume. They treat a person like a dog.

To bed, they say, till six. Go to your rooms,

you Londoners. The pubs lock up the grog.

But airports, they’re all hours, one presumes?

Two coppers sweeping shake their heads, say no.

I make it through the night outside, then go.

 

I stay with Andy’s friends near Glastonbury.

I have no job and live on money sponged

from Kim, back home, who’d said if drastically

required I could use her card – I lunged –

and cash from Mum as well, left spastically

behind in Wimbledon. Their flat’s implunged

in odour, but they offer me a niche

to kip in, and tobacco with hashish.

 

The two are always smoked together, all

day long and every day by him in whom

I see a British doppelgänger, tall

and slim, long hair. It’s not the constant fume

emitted from his lips that splits us, or will

once I partake. It’s that he bears a gloom.

That’s Britain, and its thrashing underclass.

He takes a kicking in an underpass.

 

The nights unfold with dramas of the poor.

A day’s work picking peas from yellow turf.

We mark the solstice drumming on the Tor.

At Argos, blag a tent, intending to return

it after camping in the mud before

the policy – ‘no questions’ – comes to term.

The festival itself is glad, we’re gladder

still we stole in with a home-made ladder.

 

Returning back to Wimbledon, I claw

my horde of traveller’s cheques in glee

then crash out in the sticks, a room, well, floor

some kid – the dealer of whose ecstasy

I’d met – extends an open offer for.

This stranger’s kind. I rest my neck rent-free.

One sleeps more, if turns less, when in a bed,

but cushions brace my hip and ease my head.

 

The weeks rotate. I get a ten-hour job,

but till I’m paid, possessing no per diem,

I can’t examine ethics like a snob.

I think, ‘They’re not as hungry’, when I see them.

‘These tourists shouldn’t miss a couple bob,’

and fleece them as they ramble the museum.

That is, the cashier does, when she miscounts

their change. I simply balance the amounts.

 

Asleep, the kid I stay with moans and keens.

Still dossing every evening in the sticks,

the tube and bus is just within my means

but only once perfecting certain tricks

to keep the Travelcard inside my jeans.

I search under his bed, there’s porn, the pix

are strange to me: in each the women flick

their eyes to where above there hangs a dick.

 

Two times I sleep at Jon’s. His place is bleaker:

Paddington, guests not allowed, and stinking.

My presence irks his girlfriend, one Tameka.

I was naive to leave New Zealand thinking

that I’d just stay with Jon, the pleasure seeker.

The cops raid our speakeasy. But a winking

dealer passing sells us . . . oregano!?

‘Race traitor!’ chirrups T like a soprano.

 

The lowest point before I get a proper

bedsit of my own in Saint John’s Wood,

is when I beg Tameka for a Whopper,

and she assents, annoyed to feel she should.

This is the seed. I never want to cop the

look again. And so ends childhood.

The film returns. I’m at the bus stop, cold,

inhaling in short draughts. The credits roll.

 

I grow I think from this. I learn the scaled

threat of non-conformance. It’s no shame

and easier to navigate regaled

as others, smart, domesticated, tame.

Another view is that in fact I’ve failed

to change a jot. That I remain the same

pretentious fool and cautious pragmatist,

and always was a dry protagonist.

 

 

Nick Ascroft, from Moral Sloth, Victoria University Press, 2019

 

 

Nick Ascroft has released four collections of poetry through Victoria University Press. The latest, Moral Sloth, appeared in November. Kapka Kassabova once said of his face that ‘it shines through the obscurity of life like / fake gold’. Burn.

 

Victoria University Press author page

 

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