Robert Peake – poems
1. Postcards from the War Hospital (with audio by author)
…. – Still image remix by Nic Sebastian
2. Despot’s Progress (with audio by author)
…. – Video remix by Othniel Smith
…. – Video remix by Marc Neys
3. Martyrs’ Cross (with audio by author)
4. The Argument (with audio by author)
5. The Last Train from Sienna to Florence (with audio by author)
Postcards from the War Hospital
(Read by Robert Peake)
The leaves are silvering
in a patch of sun,
the grey leaves, catching light.
I have run out of topics
for dreaming, so I make them up:
each morning, a new lie.
The sister of Patience
is Suffering. Grey wool skirts,
a nurse’s cap. The end of ends.
Nothing more prismatic than
a pirate film at the matinee:
dust in a shaft of light.
Under the dragon’s tongue,
a tiny pebble of black saliva.
Each of us, our ignominies.
The leaves are sleeping
in a patch of darkness.
Let them. They have earned it.
The war. Always the war.
We will run out of morphine soon.
The radio flickers indifferently.
Cold morning. Cold night.
In between: the radiator
groaning like a sore old man.
If I lose the leg, another
will sprout in its place.
I will walk upon the air.
The leaves are decomposing.
Unseen creatures eat away.
The gangrene has come back.
– First published in Boston Poetry Magazine
Robert blogs here about the remix of ‘Postcards’ below.
Still image remix by Nic Sebastian
I can be nice. Some have even called me “fun”.
Coincidentally, those people were all found dead
in an unrelated series of what my good friend
the police chief called, “most unfortunate accidents.”
I dictate in all weathers, including the warm ones, at
a cock-eyed angle, at a balmy degree, with latitude
stretching like a sock across toes, I am writing
a new first-person historic account of my greatness.
Do not frown, my downcast daffodil, we will educate
the appalling masses out of their brawn and head-banging,
forcing the miners to march in light, mincing steps
and eat the thinnest pancakes dusted in icing sugar.
We will drag them into the buoyant train stations
of tomorrow, letter by letter and note by note,
coercing the birds to sing from our national songbook
and shit on the fallen statues of lesser men.
Only the most beautiful women from the most beautiful
villages will be allowed near my coffin to mourn, to shed
tears on demand with an approved mineral content, pageant
veterans turning the good side of their anguish to camera.
– First published in Orbis 162
Robert blogs here about the two remixes of ‘Despot’s Progress’ below.
back to top
Video remix by Othniel Smith
Old St. Paul’s Church, Edinburgh
(Read by Robert Peake)
Here is an icon to brand in the brain,
flat-hammered iron, irregular, dark—
A rail spike for the journey ahead,
foetus uncurled, shackles bent open.
Here is the flat blade that dubbed,
helmet’s nosepiece, a horseshoe for luck.
With this you could bolt a door, wedge
out a draft, scrape a dust like dried blood.
Recall the arms now tied behind you
flung wide to gather up your child.
Some die curled, some splayed, some dance.
And when you drop, this image ascends.
Here is a symbol to singe in the eyes,
spiking the track, hinging the door.
– First published in The Galway Review
(Read by Robert Peake)
The bees make a mask, rippling like sauce,
covering the beekeeper’s eyelids. He shaves
them off with a credit card, the stench
of pollen clotting his nostrils, the logic
of terror unable to win its case, though
tiny legs tap their reasons across his pores.
The argument to remain placid is as soft
as the fur-covered thoraces, as clear
and as light as the transparent wings.
Do nothing. Breathe through your teeth.
Apis mellifera, small honey-bearing beast.
In swarm, a cloud of electric current,
but here, on the contours of his face,
they seem to wander tip-toe, sleepy,
navigating over each other with compound
vision, kaleidoscopic-sighted pilgrims
oblivious to each other on their quest,
casual, purposeful, plodding over flesh
and hair, brushing the tips of their long
fore-wings against the keeper’s eyelashes,
as close to kissing as they will come,
bound together but without intimacy,
curling under each other like a slow-
motion rioting mob, a water ballet
where the music is stillness, is tapping,
the brush of abdomen, antennae, and legs.
– First published in Magma 52
runs a single carriage
of boys in leather jackets
playing cards, a four-year-old
shouting nursery rhymes in Italian,
and German students
sleeping in the aisles.
The interior is mint green
and grey, the curtains and seats are
It is not electric.
It humps along the track,
hissing at every start and stop.
At one station, we hover before
an alcove where the Holy Virgin
extends her thin white arms
to bless us, and the plastic flowers
arranged on the platform edge.
We enter the tunnel.
The pram full of coats and shopping bags
inches down the aisle
with every jolt.
The boys are laughing and slapping
each other’s backs.
Older people shield their eyes
from the overhead light
and the man with the huge metal watch
wears a mask of preoccupation.
Most of the shoes are lace-up canvas,
some moccasins, some leather heels
shaped like the severe curve
of the peninsula’s boot.
The sand-haired German girl
has a pink fabric carnation
stitched to her purse.
She frowns up from the floor,
and tiny pearls poke through
her blonde waterfall of hair.
The sign above the door proclaims,
2de Classe, and beside the glass-
cased emergency hammer, there is
a sign with the exact silhouette
of the hammer inside. The woman
in the flamingo pink
anorak is swiping the light
from her mobile phone across
her face. The tunnel is
no darker than the night.
The engine and the voices fill the train
like crème in a pastry roll, a thickness
of sound. I cannot tell if it is
too hot, or simply too bright.
The man beside me doesn’t apologize,
in fright and bemusement,
like an Englishman might,
when his leg brushes up against mine.
A breeze cuts through the body-warm air.
Someone strokes initials—theirs? another’s?
into the moist window pane.
Sometimes there are headlights, street lamps.
Mostly, the trees obscure them.
Mostly, people get on. But sometimes,
they leave, saying “Buona…” and “Ciao!”
to the friends they just met.
The girl with the pink-rimmed glasses
cuddles her rucksack. She wears
tights and a coat and an antique-
pink ribbon pins back her thick hair.
Mostly, we either accelerate or
as appropriate toward or away. Sometimes,
we shuffle side-to-side as if riding
a giant millipede on the march.
It is dangerous to lean out, or so
the sign says. But isn’t loneliness
dangerous also? The four-year-old
paints lipstick on her mother’s lips,
who is beautiful, not unlike a skeleton,
her perfect nose rising in slits.
The girl zips and un-zips her white
plastic purse. The man in the lavender
V-neck pullover blinks
while his daughter chats to her mum.
The woman in grey wool wears the cracks
in her face like a renaissance statue.
Everything I see I want to touch.
– First published in Urban Harvest, Highgate Poets 2012
Robert Peake is an American poet living in England. His newest short collection is The Silence Teacher (Poetry Salzburg, 2013). His previous short collection was Human Shade (Lost Horse Press, 2011). His full-length collection The Knowledge is expected in early 2015 from Nine Arches Press.