back toJacket2

John Muckle

Speed Dating

Interviewing thirty of these women for the role of the daughter
we men hop from chair to chair between our instant speed-dates;
when the whistle blows, one of the young boys in red tops
runs forward to prod us with an electric stick, any geriatric
dalliers, that is, still trying to fill in flirt cards. Another wrenching goodbye
and it’s on to the next teacher, financial services consultant, software
advisor, physiotherapist, P.A., air hostess; they’re auditioning
us in an industrially safe environment, it’s a giant vaulted
stone-proof greenhouse, they’re in charge, so they think,
of an endless bowl of canapés, peeled pink shrimps.

I’m talking to a lady who runs two employment agencies,
also a pair of kids, she might possibly be interested in a third.
Yes, I understand her needs, her fantasies far more
than I can sympathize with a plumpish Asian girl, her job
blocking appeals for legal aid
who feels she must tell me all about this. I think
I should tell her where to get off, because why
mention your enjoyment of something
you believe at some level to be immoral
if you don’t wish to be chastised? Gloating?
Unless she wants an argument. But I don’t
give her one, only leave her, bong, she’s no more immoral
than I am, my pompous unvoiced aside about The Use of the Young
being to idealistically carry forward the agendas
of the old shits, to be a status quo supporter
on salary, to be or not to be, not to ask too many questions,
and if she did act out: a lifetime’s regret
might ensue, possibly your responsibility
when it’s you who’s disposable, they tell you every day
there’s another billion bastards out there
just like you, ready to step into your scuffed shoes,
ready to cherry-pick your life’s work, bin you.

A long time ago for me, those opportunities
which are never quite what you thought they’d be.
Skipping again though the special features
before the director’s cut ponderously sets out
its baggy admixture of the over-explicit, the obscure,
its non-absorbent passages sorted by irrelevance,
there’s a dull little essay about ’the making of’
stressing the central importance of the anima -
that mildly-admonishing female deity
we are all supposed to fuse with, remaining,
for us, a somewhat over-generous
final court of appeal, even if she is palming us off
with a rather self-serving set of excuses
for her as usual gamely venal behaviour.
All the same, I liked the woman. In a way
she was all of them, a bald necessity for those of us
still trying to deal with practicalities,
but, for me, always still up there, so that
I have to sit down at an empty table
and stare vacantly towards the exit, absently
tearing off my convention sticker and
refusing to make eye-contact with any real women
spilling out of the speed-dating room,
reverting to their previous roles
as over-excited extras in these party scenes.
I need a drink, badly, of nothing, anything,
anything, anyway, this is the sad reality:
more teenagers in red tops are clearing the tables,
whisking night’s last debris into black bin-liners,
smiling as indulgently as any grandmotherly
procuress at the all-too predictable foibles of
desiring everyman. It’s they who manage
to keep it all so good-humoured,
simply by being there. I hope they get well paid
later in life, or lives; they always seem
to know we’re in the same love-boat
before first crow’s-feet start to appear
and you begin harping on about being young
because it so briefly, crucially, matters,
although this is untrue, and it must be slightly perverse to admire
anyone for what they don’t know yet
even as a couple of men of fifty on the unmake.

Mole and I go back a long long way, to the land of prefabs
cowboy outfits, manufacturing weapons of mass destruction
with the double matchbox, the double peg, two rubber bands,
and llive matches to put out the eyes of our enemies
before they could blink; later we were both Hendrix fans
although only he modeled the floppy Lord Byron look.
O where are they now, the flares of yesterday?
Well, at least they flare up between us when we talk.

Now it’s a game of musical chairs, where they keep taking
one of the chairs away, and you have to fight
to get into one of those chairs remaining,
otherwise retiring with good-grace into the wallpaper.
It goes by all too quickly, this speed-dating,
and yet by the end of it you can’t wait for it to end
these last few young women are as exhausted
as you are by the whole business of laughing and smiling,
asking questions, we perform these rituals
as casual slices of earth-wisdom return to us,
they never really went away, because eventually
it’s everyone’s turn to be disconsolately
looking at the last crumbs of Smartie Cake,
flat lemonade revealed as merely saccharine water
to your oh so fine palate that has jaded earlier.

Hurry, hurry on, in search of the ultimate chemistry set
a volatile match that foams up out of the test tube,
no time to lose, you already lost your way, speed
dating your way around the room of a small world
that quickly exhausts your available stocks of
reflexivity, fading out in the mirror as you go
in search of your twin, your lover, your rack and pinion,
steering a course around the main things people want.
You can scarcely claim to be one of them, but you are
definitely not one of the sweet, sensitive ones, she will never
return to this palace of last hopes, feeling cheated, like
a proverbial, actual piece of meat, gone back home.
Apparently you can spot them out in Sainsbury’s
buying their pitiful solitary containers of milk. They
live alone, you bump into them, and they can’t
wait to meet you, to share their everything with you.
Like you, they’re pragmatic people, always right.

Upstairs. Salsa dancing, trying to fit your fabulous gold key
into someone’s lock, cheap vodka at a pound a shot
straight from the urethra of an ice torso,
male or female, promenading galleries of pomaded snapshots,
photos of the disappeared, or suspects for some new outrage,
wondering whether to slip your CUPID number into her slot.
Office politics concentrated to a sharp point, a needle’s-eye
of intention to squeeze through in a few flat seconds,
concentrated essence of failed job interviews, you’re
broken down. Do I sympathise with a man who has everything
except a real woman to love? How about a man
who has nothing? How about never ever doing
anything like this again? How about sleeping it off?
Speed of judgement is the thing, and the quicker it is
the more accurate. People actually think that’s true.
But is it? How about waking up happily alone?
Coffee anyone? Me and my shadow, walking down the avenue.

April 2006  |  Jacket 29  Contents  |  Homepage  |  Catalog  |  Search  |
about Jacket | style guide | bookstores | literary links | 400 book reviews |