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James Byrne: Two poems

From the Sky Parlour / Sanchez de Aldama

From the Sky Parlour

‘Men grow old, pearls grow yellow: there is no cure for it.’
                        Chinese proverb

The jewellery box,
             its cypress-wood exterior
                          lacquered and cracked.

           the recherché
           our filigree of ‘82
                                            the year we dartled above its casket.
I carry it now, as I always have,

                             novice erotologist     schoolboy thief,

he who picked the ring-locks of felt balconies,
who cooped a wreath of corundum  

                                            for months a secret necklace.

In turns, we played MOTHER,  
            pranced for stickpins, tiaras—

                                           our finest burlesques—  

                                           beau monde      grande dame     coquette.  

With a row of button pearls,

                           unknowing        incurable,

I held the clasp around your neck,

                          took grip           fastened.

Sanchez de Aldama

Two Divorces

Stepping onto a train bound for Juarez,  
she fills the carriage with her bitter scent:
Sevillian citrus. Its salacious oil, pungent,
deluxe: the kind that demands attention.
She takes a window seat and stares out:  
her face fully-trained, tanned as a violin.
Fifteen miles away, I drive to meet her,
divorce papers plumping the glove-box
and a wedding stone in my right hand.
Soon she’ll hook herself over my knees
and we’ll lay claim to an honest life
until punished by the logic of the Gods.


With a fifty-kilo barrel load of llello
and pickups crammed with Colt ARs,
we cross at Ahcanul from the gulf port.
Mérida: five-hilled city where the Spanish
autopsied the on-dead during caste war.
Here my grandmother knew her marriage
by counting the red feathers in a quetzal:
seven years quarantined to a muzzy drunk.
Where her house stood a sea hag sings
to the sun priest of Coba: Come is the quetzal.
Come is the bluebird. The sound of her voice
crackles in heat like the skin of a cochinita.

La Blanca Sabana

No doubt Juan Brea’s body still rolls
on the floor of the sea. How cruel life is!
In the chanted spells of the brujas
he returns, beginning with a scream,
only to die out suddenly. Poor criminal,
his life had been hanging by its tail.
But, scoundrel that he was, it stands up
that every man deserves a white sheet,
a good heap of soil and faithful lament.
Juan Brea, the reeds are oxygenic but fail you,
as you failed in life and as I have failed you
with a bullet that stuck at tremendous speed.


What an end: a hole through the pump!
No devil’s dice, no wand or antiseptic;  
just the radio instinct of sirens wailing.
Snitchers? Any card from the pack.
In this job loyalty is a left-handed form
of confidence. The choice is made simple:
rat or be damned and if you haven’t earned
enough time behind doors, or kept schtum  
after a jinx, then you’re a nothing but a crick
in the system. There is no green ending.  
I gave my consent as someone born wicked,
with a nastiness that grows on from itself.

James Byrne

James Byrne

James Byrne was born near London in 1977. He is the editor and co-founder of The Wolf poetry magazine. His second collection, Blood/Sugar, will be published by Arc Publications in November 2009. He has translated the Yemeni national anthem and is currently working on versions of contemporary Burmese poets. In 2008, he won Treci Trg poetry festival prize in Serbia. In 2009 his New and Selected Poems: The Vanishing House was published by Treci Trg (in a bilingual edition) in Belgrade. He is the co-editor of Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century, published by Bloodaxe in September 2009, and is co-editing the Collected Poems of Hope Mirrlees (Carcanet 2011).

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