Sunday 8 May 2022

Five Prose Poems by Oz Hardwick


 

Scenes from an Arthurian Childhood

 

A sea of bright buckets. This is where all summers wash up eventually, with their wooden lolly sticks and makeshift tents of towels. There’s a pier full of machines to predict the future for sixpence, Don Quixote’s donkeys eyeing up plastic windmills, stiff flags of the Home Nations, and cordoned-off mines from a receding war. I dare myself to dive, fully clothed and weighted with loose change for the arcades, into transitory pools in which shrimp dart amongst shipwrecks and dumped nuclear waste; and I dare myself to fall in love like a moonstruck teenager with the glam rock choruses that swell from the Scooby-Doo boardwalk. A pedalo pushes through the bobbing plastic, bearing six queens in dark hoods and modest bathing costumes, each carrying a Middle English-Mandarin phrase book and a disposable camera. Pack all you can carry in your largest suitcase, says one, in contemporary English with a slight Breton accent, the recycling centre is closed.


 

Silent

 

One foot on the first step of a ladder, the other on a departing train, you’re in a scene from Harold Lloyd, your trouser cuffs riding up and your owl-round glasses flashing in surprise. Behind you there’s a pasteboard building tumbling down; in front of you a screaming heroine tied to the track, a flimsy bridge falling like straws, and a sheer edge giving way to sky. You cling to a clock, stopped at 2.45, and smack black lips in hapless concentration. Above you, a bit-part actor in a monkey suit swats planes across a painted city; and below you? There are leaves on the line and nobody notices. No one is fearful lest you fall. You blink and suddenly cinemas are closed; every bridge has been burned. One foot on the first step of a ladder, the other on a departing train, you’re torn in half before you even think to ask what you’re reaching for or where you’re going.


 

Art Will Eat Itself

 

Sheets tacked up as makeshift screens, the gallery is a slideshow of insignificant moments, with Kodak colours and melting ice creams. It’s part art and part suppressed memory, curated from cardboard crates bearing nothing but dates. The mood is retro-kitsch and the buzzwords are nostalgia and liminal, as twig-thin critics humph and snigger with glasses of prosecco and paper plates piled with cheese and pineapple cubes on sticks. There’s a photo of two pale children standing in a tiered fountain, followed by one of an old woman in a dress that looks to be made of Edwardian wallpaper. My dad, cigarette clamped thoughtfully in his patient lips, fiddles with a projector, oblivious to heat and voltage, while Mum makes sure everyone’s comfortable and has all that they need. My aunt from Canada falls asleep on the floral sofa in front of a picture of herself on a boat that appears to be sailing uphill. A blogger takes a selfie with her and someone mentions Lacan. At the far end of the room, a picture flashes up of a teenager mummified in toilet paper while their companion is too blurred to make out any detail. Light beams stumble through thickening fug but the bright and beautiful still step outside to vape. Someone mentions Paik, another Warhol, and someone who could be part of the installation, a freelancer for the local press, or a freeloader off the street, mutters arsehole. Mum carries in a lime jelly moulded like a rabbit as, behind her, there’s a brief flash of a girl and a boy in blue school uniforms, before the room is plunged into darkness. 1973, says a familiar voice that no one can quite place, and Dad starts singing Ghost Riders in the Sky.


 

The Last Weekend

 

I am walking down the line of least resistance between school holidays and a softly crumbling house. It’s cold but sunny and a number of my friends are dead, sharing cigarettes in the park and filling their blazer pockets with horse chestnuts. Through a process of cultural osmosis, they’re quoting catchphrases from shows they’ve never watched, blithely indifferent to their lack of any stake in the future. I call and wave, but they’re laying back beneath the long grass with daisies growing out from their eyes. Leaves crisp and fall. Barely a few minutes later, I arrive home, but it’s just a blue door propped against a sandcastle and when I drop my keys a gull rips them away, out across a sea bobbing with tugboats and destroyers. The holidays are pretty much over. I knock twice and everything falls down.


 

Tricked

 

Tricked into promises, we make rash sacrifices: colleagues, friends, family; total strangers who don’t even realise they’re part of the story, though they should have read Propp, Campbell, or at least the small print. There’s a flip-chart in a warehouse, a spreadsheet calculating deviations, a file left on the Circle Line, a leaked memo; each one stating the facts and bending the truth so far that it spirals back like a shell that carries the voice of an ocean impatient to reclaim everything we assumed was ours. When the stats lie – or when we want them to have lied – we exhume mythographers, table-tappers, Paul the octopus, Achilles the cat; anything to make collateral damage appear noble. Nature or nurture, it’s what we always do, and a promise written on falling snow is still a promise.




Oz Hardwick is a European poet, photographer, occasional musician, and accidental academic, whose work has been published in countless journals worldwide and who has read and held residencies in the UK, Europe, the United States and Australia. He has published nine full collections and chapbooks, including Learning to Have Lost (IPSI/Recent Work, 2018) which won the 2019 Rubery International Book Award for poetry, and most recently the prose poetry sequence Wolf Planet (Hedgehog, 2020). His next full collection, A Census of Preconceptions, will be published by SurVision Books in late 2022. With Anne Caldwell, Oz has edited The Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry (Valley Press, 2019) and Prose Poetry in Theory and Practice (Routledge, 2022). Oz is Professor of Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University and remains at best a rudimentary bass guitarist. www.ozhardwick.co.uk

 

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