Monday 27 February 2023

Four Poems by Ian Mullins

Taking Control


When I quit that job I thought

I'd quit you too: but you moved

into my head and set up

home there, so every time

I try to play it cool you start

screaming and shouting,

just like the good old days;

and I can no more evict you now

than I could back then,

when you wiped your mouth

all over my face. Your spit

was a mask I hoped would harden

and protect me from you:


but instead it jails us both

into a dance neither of us

know the steps to. Even you,

nimble as you were,

had to report to the next bully

up the line, work with the mask

he worked into your face. I wonder

if all the bosses who beat you

into shape still live behind your mask,

the way you live behind mine?

Still yelling the shortening odds

of either of us making it out alive.

All At Sea


The harder I tug against the tide

the harder you pull on the tow-rope,

anchoring me to a shore I claim

no allegiance to, though it lays just claim

to me. You don’t see how thin the rope is,

how we’ve worn it down to nothing

by mooring you to a land

without dreaming, me to the ocean bed;

knowing this little cut I cross

is a narrow channel disguised

as the parted red sea, only waiting

for sinners to cross.


Soon the rope will snap of its

own accord and you will be left behind,

fuming and raging and wearing

my face; no eyes will turn the tide

turning me. Neither of us will survive,

but only you quail at the prospect,

confusing ego with the soul afloat,

already lost to dreaming.

Is it too late to throw down the rope,

swim hard for open water?




 A chipped nail pecks at the screen.

‘Cancel that one,’ the big boss says;

‘book this one instead.’

I look at the hand-written note

she hands me and check where

he is on the list. Two hundred

and thirty-fifth, should wait

a year or more. But won’t.


‘Who is he?’ I ask an audiologist

after the big boss has gone.

She glances at the note.

‘Next door neighbour, probably.’

‘Can we do that?’ I ask.

She shrugs. ‘What would you do

If you lived next door to a plumber

and your toilet wouldn’t flush?’


I printed the ‘sorry’ letter,

made the cancelled man

wait another month. Four weeks

with the tv on loud and neighbours

banging the walls. Four weeks

nodding to everything that’s said

when you’re standing at the bar.

Four weeks smiling at the doctor’s lips,

hoping he’s saying don’t worry,

your test results are fine.


Four years folded foursquare

in my back pocket,

hoping they’ll use it as excuse

to get rid of me

and I’ll pull out the note

and unroll it on the table.


And the big boss will say

she’s sacked dozens

in her time, but I’m

the first one that smiled.


Get Lucky


There never is,

and never was,

such a simple thing

as the simple truth.


Sometimes liars

get lucky.

Or the real man

rolls out wide

and you cross the street

in time to miss the Ford.


Either way

you are not enchanted.

Maybe next Tuesday

you’ll be hit

by a tile

ripped from

the space shuttle.


No-one knows;

but no-one cares

that no-one knows.


The body of death

is simple. But you can

no more know

what it means to die

than understand

what it means to live.


You may as well

try to remember

what goes on in your head

in the nightly intervals

between dreaming,

when you brain de-frags

all the useless crap

you’ve hidden away

in the drives

designated ‘truth’.

All those little dreams

you dreamt one day

you’d wake to, flushed

out and replaced

by all the useful crap

you wished you didn’t know

even while you know it.


How the job works;

how little you love.

All the stuff you promised

to put right

but were once relieved

to know you never would.


Until at last

you are only content to look death

in the eye

and be glad

she doesn’t look back.

Ian Mullins ships out from Liverpool, England.

Back Catalogue:

The music-themed poetry collection Laughter In The Shape Of A Guitar (UB) struck few chords in 2015. The chapbook Almost Human (Original Plus), concerning his ongoing battle with Asperger Syndrome, was released into the care of the community in 2017. The novel Number 1 Red, a tale of pro-wrestling and property wars, was self-published the same year. The superhero-themed collection Masks and Shadows (Wordcatcher) took to the skies in 2019 and refuses to come down to earth. Take A Deep Breath (Dempsey & Windle) took its first gasp in November 2020. The haiku and photo collection White Masques (Secret House) came out in 2022 and is available for free download online. 

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