Soft-Serve Staircase – Jalal El-Kadali



In the park discussing intellectual property law

As it pertains to fashion, spied on

From behind an arrow slit in a castle ruin


Ah! Go back in time to instruct yourself 

In being just yourself

The independent candidate

In the Sunday clothes of the irreligious


And, mother, go back to hospital

With your baby with the massive hands

Balled up like twin heads, they were, coming out

And have him again, only this time normal



Simply Unsustainable


One hundred head of cattle to make a single steak

Warehouses full of grain regenerated 

In phoenix fire

To be sold back to the people who grew it 

In time of famine, at an exorbitant profit

To cover the cost of industrialisation

Cars and jets knowingly sold that would catch fire

As if purposively in a lethal firework display


So I hitched a ride on that phoenix’s wing


Superfluous to list all the things in my new surroundings

That did not comport with the maxims whereby 

I choose to live my life

In a record breaking winter

Myriad spokes of an umbrella 

Providing shelter under a single point

At least for a while

My finger froze to an ashtray 

And came away smoking


Though I enjoyed no amorous success

I at least grew more confident with the food

Too confident, it turned out, given

My rudimentary acquaintance with the language


“O,” or something like it, was coincidentally

For octopus: a terrestrial species found

In certain specialised wet markets

Where the custom was to do battle hand-to-tentacle

And if victorious, to eat the vanquished

The vendor getting paid from ticket sales

I survived the encounter somehow, but was withdrawn

As ambassador and abandoned there



The Integral Accident


The wings are not part of the bird

You cut them off and where is the bird

There, next to its wings and all the more a bird

For being separated from their accident and yet


By accepting the necessity of transportation

We accept the necessity of accidents

A yearly road toll, a freak mid-air collision

Between two aircraft when the controller falls asleep


And because it is not time for this tragedy

According to those stars wrapped up in obscurity

The wings of themselves adjust the plane’s course

Its destiny that of a perverse space rocket


Atmospherically diminished as meteorically

It redounds back upon the planet that launched it

Dwindling to the size of a crushed cigarette

To be scavenged in some city park


Derisory fate for the breath of life with which

It was invested, folding and dipping or soaring 

At the final moment, so that a bemused pair of pilots 

Are afterwards feted


The religious one kissing his St Christopher medal



Belated Fire Warning


The furnace under the furniture

The tiers of potted plants

A change table for the unbaptised infants

Washed up on the far shore of a house

The bathroom that succumbs to moisture

That is another kind of fire

Is fitted with a gantry

For hefting survivors stiff as pylons



Congratulations! You Have Won


I woke up beside your mother

One morning when the postman brought her a cheque 

For a million dollars, and watched while she did

Her makeup, put on her Sunday dress

And phoned a cab to take her to the bank

But she was on the company’s blacklist


And kept pace with her on the way back home, on foot

The day heating up and causing a tardy dew 

To condense between the fine painted hairs 

On her scarlet upper lip


That philtrum the cutting from which your face 

Is always wont to sprout for me

Expostulating in Hungarian


And before I could stop her, by way of consolation

And because she was hungry, your mother snatched

A croissant from a delivery tray 

To be chased off like a seagull

Cultured pearls flapping

Against the bosom that had suckled you


And that yet suckles my memory of you, so that

Beside your mother in your absence

Invisible, for the time being, to her 

We were once more together, you and I



I Went to the Library


And signed my name in a book by the desk

It was in a school from which no escape was possible

And where the children, fully grown, show the teachers around

The whole thing one great spiral staircase 

In the form of a soft-serve cone 

Melting in the heat from ubiquitous windows

Then down a corridor of glass where the books 

Were about things one could do for oneself

Like restarting an art movement that stalled

A century ago

                         Still beneath 

Sallow laminate the passage held

Some meaning; on one side of the mezzanine

Below lay a food court at the foot 

Of a tireless escalator, an illuminated fountain

At its centre, while three elevators 

Gave access to the departments of higher learning

With mathematics, inaccessible to most, up top

And over the small balcony outside the dean’s door 

An oval was set up for track and field

But the long jump in which I competed with myself 

Was the main event, as I leapt from the balcony 

Into the green that turned out to be wet 

And forgiving

                         Then everything I’d learned 

In that library was inverted, as a new up

A new north made itself known

The deeper I swam, letting out the final air 

From my lungs, blood fizzing 

As I struck the ocean’s unyielding bed



This Bed of People


You had little interest in landscapes 

And anyway the ones surrounding you

Were all cityscapes upon which ruinous rent

Was charged by the glance


You tried still lives but all of them had

Headache-inducing connotations

And people, moreover, kept getting in your way

The slogans on their T-shirts often

Uncomfortably similar in content 

To your own intimate thoughts


You had to cut some of them down to fit

But that was no more horrific than the way

Their brows would collapse in an avalanche 

Whenever you forgot yourself enough 

To speak to them in earnest


Then one of their number 

Revealed herself by signs 

As unmistakable as ineffable to be

None other than that spectral compagnonne 

Beside you always in her own absence


Whereupon she grew to human size 

And shared your bed until through the pair of you

Some little people germinated, soon 

Assuming the size of trees