Tag Archives: Chris McCabe poems


Chris McCabe was born in Liverpool in 1977. His first collection The Hutton Inquiry was published by Salt in 2005, which The Guardian reviewed as “an impressively inventive survey of the uses of English in the early 21st century”. Zeppelins following in 2008 and his most recent collection, featured here, is THE RESTRUCTURE (Salt Publishing, 2012).
In 2010 he wrote a play called Shad Thames, Broken Wharf about the London Docklands which was performed at the London Word Festival in 2010 and also at the Bluecoat in Liverpool. This has also been published in a limited edition by Penned in the Margins.

THE RESTRUCTURE tells the story, through a series of poems, of the circumstances leading to the conception of a boy and his delivery into a difficult world. Born with a condition that requires long stretches in hospital the author attempts to view the world through the senses of the boy who is yet to learn language. The play of words presents the challenges of the world in a new light. The backdrop of the book is social unrest, but the author and boy – who has 40 different pseudonyms – push back against the monotone order of THE RESTRUCTURE (the all-controlling voice that appears throughout as a public service announcement) through the surreal inventions of words and games. This is a gripping book of contrasts, conjuring a life of extreme polarities that is always striving for a resolution, towards a restructured world.”
“In THE RESTRUCTURE, Chris McCabe’s innovative, dexterous, playful and sinuous poems invite us into a world of fast-moving impressions, of fragmentation and reconstruction, of exuberantly original imagery and a constant willingness to question and experiment. The poems exploring pregnancy, birth and early childhood are both tender and visceral, from a daring poet at the height of his powers. Reading Chris McCabe is like watching an acrobat performing a series of perfectly executed backflips, then land on his feet, barely out of breath.”

– Catherine Smith
Break Of Day
It’s only lights out when you close your eyes,
their amber of yes; eyes
in nakedness still the most part of you,
that you could walk into this room
as dominatrix or lost French maid
and wet, looking behind,
the game would be over –
as the nights draw in the biggest climax ever
you fall asleep in pink across my knees,
I cover you against the cold with no gain to myself,
to my own eyes; the clock like a Barratt crane
builds towards a city decimated, decrowned,
we are forced to leave as another night closes
down. Perfect sexual love was the phrase we found to use,
living too late this does us justice
the crows’ feet ingrained across my face
as evidence that this took place,
I cannot sleep longer than two hours
without speaking across & hearing us,
scents left on your body even as it tires
residues of imagination, desires,
when morning makes this lost & the gales
rotate the dreams we’ve shared to genesis,
across gardens blankets collapse
as interiors after sleep-walked violence,
strange what the sun each day brings to us –
I never believe night past until we enter this.

                    *     *     *

The Pure knows that these are the bliss days.
You say you want this weekend to last forever,
Sundays are endless houses with boards FOR SALE,
your purple poncho drifts the industrial estate
(a crocus we saw in the cracks of the Reichstag),
shredded names form our breath & remain –
Echo, Daphne, Iris / Pavel, Kester, Blaise.
Spring gives the nights less to get lost in,
already on the doorstep a sun of foxing amber
sucks its dogfox offspring into its rays,
a gimpshow of shredded binbags across the street –
a pure pearl bulb & eight dud teabags.

When I thought I’d lost the notebook of these poems
it was like the months had never taken place,
nights of imagined tics scratched off the back
of the year, like Herrick’s vision –
Night to the Record! that was all,
but there it was left under the scanner
open to hear of the pregnancy Yes –
litmus tongue pronged pink in a perfect plus.
When we tested twice does that make twins?
From perfect sexual love our babes are buds,
but The Pure wants you still in silky pinks –
Love give me more such nights as these.
Still unsure if I believe in luck, or ghosts,
I have been unlucky as 13 erotic ghosts.

I started smoking the day before the ban & loved
the cigarette stumps like crushed drummer-boys.

This & other kinds of bitterness pitted a kitsch beauty –
I carried a retro sports bag full of lemons & roses.

Digital zeros at midnight like amphetamine owls –
she says: You can never escape the Taxi Man

(outside two feet crucified by flip-flop
echo & knock against the night black).

At midnight, online, she checks a balance transfer,
I read a book from a dead man’s collection –

her magazine shows the outline of a model in the far flush
of pregnancy, a snail that climbs a salted branch.
Previously published in LIT Journal.
The Midwitches
are sorcerers between science & prophecy,
prick at bone heels to lumin four red moons.
Go door-to-door as sales-people of health
and five portions of frightful vag.
Hands mole over wombs, a search for
armadillos with the shells removed.
Eavesdroppers of heartbeats, a swoosh
of black boots on a poppy tarmac.
So much care taken over sutures to sew
women back together, as if labia
is the label in the pubic sweater.
100% flesh. Keep away from fire.
Grey fusili cord uncoiled & cut with clippers
red-metallic, to be auctioned as keyrings.
Trolley dollies of pethidine & pleaded-for
pain in the hold-up at placenta patisserie.
Then you left the room : came back
to a hijacked child suckling on pork
popsicles of piglets. A midwife called Star
with such advice as : eat pineapple
to make the contractions start. A trade
secret on how to start the woman off –
a hook on a long silver stick. You thought
that was medieval until they unveiled
the weights of sugar-balanced silver scales.
Pessaries inserted with a card dealer’s
confidence, smoke potions up the flesh flue
they chant & turn to face you –
a postnatal door opens a room – a cage of film-noir –
a creel of white hair strung up in the rails.
Previously published in The Manhattan Review.
Pavel’s 1st Art Lesson
[Points at Van Gogh] What’s daaaaa?

That’s a Van Gogh.

A Van Gogh.

with mousetail cobbles.
flapjack bricks.
pancake tables.
anorak waitresses.
fudgecake shadows.
ecstatic suitors.
chesspiece diners.
branch-armed boys.
piefaced horses.
sausagegreen trees.
flowerbed stars.

[Points again at Van Gogh] What’s daaaaa?

That’s a Van Gogh.

A Van Gogh.

with mousetail cobbles.
flapjack bricks.
pancake tables.
anorak waitresses.
fudgecake shadows.
ecstatic suitors.
chesspiece diners.
branch-armed boys.
piefaced horses.
sausagegreen trees.
flowerbed stars.

[Points left of Van Gogh] What’s daaaaa?

Stinging hairs, there, as not there
the light around your mouth in bars –
late ambers play tricks.
Do you know the trouble this could cause?

It fucking hurts for hours afterwards
like mentally, what I do to myself –
are dock leaves apocryphal
or are we talking prescriptions?

The hairs around your mouth & jawline
softer than threads & without essences
or legacies
the danger is in what they could make me do.

The stamen of a tongue
the remembered spoken
lumps under skin for decades.

How do you explain to a boy of three
who’s never been stung
that just to touch green so soft
will rash away his happiness?

Without permission he disbands school shorts
passes water in the triffid shoots
until the cod bone bristles disappear –

to explain how something that isn’t there
can sting
is like his first symposium on the metaphysical heart.

Hairs so feint on a desirous tongue
that went ways outside of easiness
to first furrow for taste – then there
was someone else stood small
in the green-scented room. Someone
who blots up the time it would take us
to kiss. He sings! The words he speaks
in our breath balms the absence

as dock leaves do stings
Previously published in the Herbarium anthology
(Capsule Press, 2011).
from THE RESTRUCTURE (Salt Publishing, 2012).