I haled me a woman from the street,
Shameless, but oh so fair!
I bade her sit in the model’s seat
And I painted her sitting there.

I hid all trace of her heart unclean;
I painted a babe at her breast;
I painted her as she might have been
If the Worst had been the Best.

She laughed at my picture and went away.
Then came, with a knowing nod,
A connoisseur, and I heard him say,
“‘Tis Mary, the Mother of God.”

So I painted a halo round her hair,
And I sold her and took my fee,
And she hangs in the church of Saint Hillaire,
Where you and all may see.

Paradise Mislaid

To Claudia (a French girl who had once been a boy – I met her when she was dancing professionally at a bar in Casablanca back in the 70s)

I had known and loved him when I was a man –
not macho-hairy, no, (and I had lovely eyes)
but the testosterone
still flirted with my bonny cheeks and chin –
and for him, for love of him, jumped ship on Paradise,
this ½G heaven for connoisseurs of the erotic,
of moulded flesh, and laughter, passion and pain;
and xillionaires.

At Immigration, I was tried and not found wanting –
there’s a certain something
only the soon-to-be-ex-male can bring to musilove –
and sent on through with a list of specialist clinics,
all on the house – SUN BANK Glinc (Solar United) –
and in thirty-one hours (our day here)
was out and wandering, crotch no longer cluttered,
and no-longer-wistfully wondering what outfits to buy,
what angel-hair, sundals, lotions and lucians,
atomic cosmetics and nuclear luminants,
mascellulages and …

with golden hair and lowered melanin
(I’d nearly gone for a silver aphro and dark blue
eyes and raised my melanin – would tomorrow – WOW!)
I floated and flowed on a cloud of Spartan Miss
with astrophire toe-rings and spinning-gold anklets
into a floating – gravitfree – palace
that caught my eye in second sunset.

Musilove’s fun
and I like it all, singing and dancing, laughing,
entrancing, regaling and loving them, some in the gardens,
some in the sun, some at night in the cool and the dark,
grok the silence of rooms
with their own pools and bars
and rollers and beds, some
the black stabbing light-beams and sound-beams and crowds
of the musilove caverns midday and midnight …

Liked it all.
Till he came. On leave from the ship.
He couldn’t afford very much – not ten minutes of me –
but he didn’t know it was me and after an hour or two
he didn’t know it was him any more, either,
or that I was doing the paying as well. He’s so old-fashioned
he’s earthly.

The only way I could get his attention –
back on the ship, that is, in the good old days –
was to sing – but not just for him! – to sob out
the old polite-ical songs of my home planet,
La Dorada, the songs of the mine-men,
little white mine-men (“voters” they called themselves),
all Sky and Sigh and Fly,
and Die,
and Sky again,
and if they were brought up and saw the sky, these voters,
they cowered and hid their faces and eyes, and it wasn’t
the sun they feared, it was night sky, feared it
and loved it, it comes up in all their songs … and so
do I, but the fear is awe, and I sing in the night
with my skin softly lit and the tips of my nails
aglow as I dance. Now. Then
I sat and sang with my guitar for him alone …

Most men, all the Bosses, the clients, all
the Besses that go for girls too, all the connoisseurs,
they all like the idea that we used to be boys, say boys
make the best girls, and the Besses
get the besst of both worlds as always (there is
no more conquered, broken male than one of us, ha ha)
though I’m so feminine they say they don’t believe me:
my voice – I mean it’s still hardly soprano – these big
fat Bosses say “Hi there” in piping electro-bird tones
and I say “Hi-eye” like an intergalactic cruiser’s
hydrogen-fog horn and they say they’ve had wives
with deeper voices than that, and it’s true, but … not him.
He thinks we’re all women, and that I especially am
all woman, and I wasn’t about to disillusion him.

He said that after me
he’d never be able to look at another woman.
And I heard later he’d meant it, palled up with
a ship-mate, sharing – his-and-his, not hers –
the same tiny cabin we had shared, but sharing it –
sharing and daring and caring at last. Ah well,
if I get too sick of love I can always have another op,
and join the mers.

LES MURRAY: A Deployment of Fashion

In Australia, a lone woman
is being crucified by the Press
at any given moment.

With no unedited right
of reply, she is cast out
into Aboriginal space.

It’s always for a defect in weeping:
she hasn’t wept on cue
or she won’t weep correctly.

There’s a moment when the sharks are
still butting her, testing her protection,
when the Labor Party, or influence,

can still save her. Not the Church,
not other parties. Even at that stage
few men can rescue her.

Then she goes down, overwhelmed
in the feasting grins of pressmen,
and Press women who’ve moved

from being owned by men
to being owned by fashion,
these are more deeply merciless.

She is rogue property,
she must be taught her weeping.
It is done for the millions.

Sometimes the millions join in
with jokes: how to get a baby
in the Northern Territory? Just stick

your fingers down a dingo’s throat.
Most times, though, the millions
stay money, and the jokes

are snobbish media jokes:
Chemidenko. The Oxleymoron.
Spittle, like the flies on Black Mary.

After the feeding frenzy
sometimes a ruefully balanced last lick
precedes the next selection.

Why is this poem of special significance to me? Because, like the Aboriginal woman, a boy on the game – indeed anyone on the game, but especially a rent-boy – is rogue property. A little of their blood will always provoke a feeding frenzy.


(translated from the French of Jacques Prévert)

I am what I am
I’m made like that
When I want to laugh
I burst out laughing
I love him who loves me
Am I to blame
If it’s not the same man
I love each time
I am what I am
I’m made like that
What more do you want
What do you want of me

I am made to please
That nothing can change
My heels are too high
My figure too curvy
My breasts far too firm
My eye-makeup too heavy
And afterwards
What has that to do with you
I am what I am
I please who I please
What has that to do with you

What happened to me
I loved someone
Yes someone loved me
As children who love one another
Simply know how to love
Love love…
Why question me
I am here for your pleasure
That nothing can change

“Nana” by Edouard Manet

JOHN BURNSIDE: Lady in the Snow

A prostitute, in fact.
We know this
by the rush mat under her arm and by the way
her sash is tied.

The snow has been falling all day
in thick
slow waves
filling the gaps between the young bamboos
blurring the lantern light behind her with a scuffed
white fur.

She must be cold:
she is shielding her face from the wind
and her feet are naked in the high
wood sandals
which leave a trail
of blue-black chevrons on the narrow path
like crows’ feet
or the worn calligraphy
that hides the artist’s name and printer’s mark
amongst the grey-green spikes of winter leaves.

À propos

I wonder whether perhaps there might be some small measure of truth in this apparently absurd caption (and widespread belief). Out one night in the snow, my companion who, unlike me, was fully dressed in thick clothes, turned blue and would have died if I hadn’t managed somehow to get him to the nearest transport café (he weighed nearly twice what I did) and out of the cold.

Me, of course, I hated transport caffs and the drivers who frequented them, and only ever entered one when the situation was desperate – as, to be quite honest, it often was when I was with Corin, though not life-and-death desperate like on that particular night.

 * * *

Here’s another I found that is very much to the point. I love this woman, but is she just posing for the pic? Or has she been standing there a while smiling at the drivers of all the cars that pass, and this was taken en passant by some wanker who very likely didn’t stop, didn’t even bother to throw her some money? 



Queen of Pentacles

Holy to some,
harlot to others;
revered by poets,
reviled by mothers.

You have your God-given talents
and attributes. She has hers.
Do not mock or belittle them.
She does not mock yours.
What men will pay, and pay well, for
is not to be mocked or belittled,
especially when the rent must be paid,
the wolf kept from the door.

Close the poets.
Hang up on your mothers.
Mammon is lord of this world
and no doubt all others.

(from) Better Than Sleep: Bruised Petals (1) – Samara

une des fleurs du Jardin
peut-être pas la plus jolie
mais la plus gentille
et jolie, jolie, jolie comme une rose
in autumn
tired, overblown
but soft, and sweet
so soft so tired-sweet
I felt for her
thought I would pluck her
take her home with me,
love her

aime les hommes riches
peut-être pas élégants
mais riches, et libres
et liberaux:
je t’aime (elle dit), je t’aime, je t’aime, je t’aime
(elle n’a que ces trois mots de français)
fuck me!
(et deux en anglais) – Je t’adore
I murmur, neither variety
nor verity
being the spice –
Love me –

Real poverty is a sea –
it drinks and drinks
unaffected by the finite.
Infinitely poor
till I had no more
and she
as poor
as viced by poverty
as she had been before –
she laughed
love her

They took and sold
or kept
my everything
Le Jardin,
gave me a torn old djellaba
(Samara begged) let
me stay around
as long as I swept
and washed
and polished the leaves
slept in the cold
and didn’t try
to love her

(from) Better Than Sleep: Sebah again, and Little Jim

Sebah in a velvet cloak
Comes out to take a look.

Out of the mainstream lifted
(she thinks)
And forever lost: better
Never to have left
The river of life
Best not for him, oh
Why he plucked from the pod
Spotted in the womb
By the finger of God?

Or (more likely) Look
At the silly sod.

Sebah in a velvet cloak
Out for a breath of air …

Reared in squalid rooms
In the New Medina slums
Without the taste of wealth
She doesn’t mind the filth
Knows well wealth now
In conscious contrast sits
Cloak open on a box, tits
Tipped with spangles shiny
In the bare bulb and oh those

Glossy knees and thighs
Doesn’t mind the flies
Looks at the night sky
Sighs a little sigh, smiles
Smoking a cigarette.

Rouses a tortoise with a toe
Throws me the end of the cigarette
Wet tip red
Playing with the tortoise’s head
Till it rears up hard
Nose nudging at the gold
Ankle chain hard and cold.
I chew the dead fag end
Extracting tongue, lips, hand
Taste till she gets up to go.

Sebah in a velvet cloak
A tortoise taking a look
At a star and flat dead
A crunchy mush, Little Jim. Sad
I scrape it all up and eat
Cafard à la sole of her foot
With the filter and – why not? –
Swallow it.

(from) Better Than Sleep: Claudia

Claudia (a transexual dancer I met in a night-club in Casablanca)

It is only in loneliness
that we write, write –
sheep bleating,
fleeing the unknown hole
blank page, open soul
dark at the edge of the stage

There is nothing you can do
for you, for me
I heard one punter say to her
but time in the slight red light of the bar till –

Welcome, I thought
One day we shall be
mermaids, mermen –

The smilers of the right
their world a cage with bars of blinding light
peer nervously into the gloom
exchanging pleasantries

O Child of the Night
dancer, laugher

Prayer is not in the swimming pool
prayer is having no hold
is the fool plunging down fighting and drowning

Is better than sleep

(from) Better Than Sleep: Sebah

It’s very hot out here
in the little walled-in yard
behind the bar
in the afternoon
Will be cooler
when the call to prayer
floats down
Allāhu Akbar
in the distance
Allāhu Akbar
Ash hadu Anna lā
Ilāhā Illa ‘Llāh …

The tortoises, troglodite
burrow in under me
squirm in deserting
chicken-bone-strewn caves
between the dustbins
eager for company

“Un de ces jours,” she said when we kissed. Ah oui,
un de ces jours …

A square of sky
a throbbing sun
a humming dustbin
bottle and still life yard

If it weren’t for the tortoises
I’d sleep
them and the flies

Would talk to the trees,
were there any trees

Un de ces jours …

A cockroach on a dustbin rim
a cucaracha was to her
a dirty cafard, nothing more
my Little Jim