The Ofi Press Magazine

International Poetry and Literature from Mexico City

Ducking the Question

By Mark Burnhope 

Published in Issue 23 of The Ofi Press.

 

This wooden stool

sunk into the bank

by hefty chains

heads a cobbled lane

called The Drum: to the touch

like a pew, I imagine.

 

Me and my wife

watched Ashley climb in

for a photograph;

our laughter drowned out

all the drunks in Ye Old George

 

whose own chains rattled

and groaned just seconds ago

like the wax-worked trialled

for London Tower tourists,

 

whose gasps and applause

rose and died with the triumph

over adversity cliché, a feather

blown about in austerity’s cap.

 

*

 

Sarah stood at the stool’s base,

told Ashley to smile, and I did

but they never clocked me.

God, she suddenly beamed.

 

Leaves shone like fists of money,

tree trunks were stakes snuffed out

in the cool stream. Hard patriarchy

lies under fathoms today.

 

She replicates, with wool,

the earth’s patterns. Here is sorcery:

that she should untie her hands,

run on her way. Fuck the naysayers.

 

*

 

An ATOS assessor

was at the helm. I mean

I was in an interview room

with the wall-to-wall scrotes.

 

It is rumoured, the guy began,

you write poems thus can operate

a keyboard with ease: a bandit

cloaked by trees in a quiet verge

 

called Workshire; that you think

yourself something of a bard.

I would not hold your breath,

he said as he unloaded me.

 

*

 

I saw Ash, then,

lowered in the long limb

till some prick saw fit

to raise him; felt

 

myself sat in that seat,

then sunk

to the queer intonation

of a judge’s go;

 

to have to hold

a lungful before being lifted,

the scolding lasting

the time it took to deny my craft.

 

*

 

The centuries churned,

uncovered change; it glinted.

The Mill – for so is the body

of water now named – is shin-shallow.

 

A high street herbalist conjures,

heals his customers content.

My wheelchair couldn’t

cross the grass so I didn’t run

 

my hand over the contraption,

but we all felt it: tried

by the stool, a woman

committed to a cripple

committed to a gay friend

 

whom I remember smiled

and (finding the stool

unable to make

even a penitent creak)

pleaded cheese

to the charges.

 --

Mark Burnhope lives in Bournemouth, UK. His poetry and reviews have appeared in various magazines in print and online, as well as several anthologies. He is the author of The Snowboy (Salt, 2011) and co-editor of Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot (English PEN, 2012). 

Image from: http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/

For background information about Atos: 

 http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/oct/03/work-woman-care?INTCMP=SRCH

http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2012/02/work-capability-atos-test

http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/politics/40m-profit-for-atos-a-slap-1355229