The Friday Poem on 30/07/21
We chose Helen Ivory’s surreal and entertaining poem ‘The End of the Pier Show’ for its sheer bravado and lavish spectacle. Ivory is the ring master, the mistress of ceremonies, the tour guide who escorts us along the pier from booth to booth, from kiosk to kiosk. It’s a roller coaster ride through dreams and games and freak show exhibits in this otherworldly circus, and we love the vibrant imagery, luscious language and the inevitable dingy anticlimax of the morning after.
The End of the Pier Show
Roll up roll up ladies and gentlemen
for this once in a lifetime, once in a deathtime experience
coming to your town for one night only
this five-ring circus of mythic proportions!
Take off your shoes, peel back your eyes,
remove your epidermis ladies and gentlemen —
open yourselves up to the whole grand menagerie —
let snaggletoothed twilight rummage your ole bag o’ bones!
This is the dream
where you are a tightrope walker
suspended over a crucible
of molten glass.
You know in your heart
you shouldn’t look down.
When your mother calls
from the basement
you let your glance fall
and it’s done.
Everyone leans in
to see the educated fleas
harnessed by gold thread
to carriages and Ferris wheels.
A two-bit accordionist
tries a creaky accompaniment —
the music of the spheres
between smoke breaks.
Test your skill and your chutzpah
on the eye-popping hoopla game!
Hear the circles of hell
whistle about your ears!
Stare slap-bang into the abyss,
ladies and gentlemen!
Mind your step on your way in —
leave your pusillanimity at the gate!
The sea bridles beneath the splintered boards
but everyone is wrapped in their own heedlessness —
clothing thick with the scent of burnt sugar
candy floss cleaved to the crags of their teeth.
The speedball rush of sweetness to the brain
and the hall of mirrors transcribes you
as a side-splitting freakshow mask
delirium bridling in your shell-likes.
It’s hard to look away
when a spectacle dances itself free
from the dark crescent
of the hippocampus.
A contortionist, tattooed
with all seven continents
is suspended over a circle of lions
by the rope of her hair.
And you feel a tightening
in the collar of sinews at your neck
and the slow creep of centuries
up the ladder of your spine.
You console yourself
with the fact
that you are chow for no beast,
and somehow, fall asleep.
This is no ordinary act
of two-bit trickery —
this is Mephistopheles
The Great Magician!
Witness him speak
with the voice
of a hundred spirits —
see beyond the veil!
your drowned daughters
and all your dark fathers!
And when the secrets
of the universe
have been revealed to you entire
and your skin a ghastly sheen
take your dead
back home with you again —
let them wild your dim parlour
with their graveside flowers.
These nights the voices
test you with seductions
from the otherworld
as lightning rips through the sky
to unearth you.
And it’s clearer than day when it does —
that look on your face —
as if you have been expecting
to be found so incontrovertibly
You hold your soul, that threadbare shroud
to the light
and utter the beats
between thunder and lightning
as if this tallying might lead to deliverance.
The magpies are gathering apace this morning,
and the tempest that cartwheeled the sea
has smoothed down its skirts
and put on its blithe morning face.
The pier is dog tired. Its baptism
has washed away the human debris
but its legs appear to lurch
as it tries to maintain its own bulk.
One by one the birds are called away
and the clairvoyant, the palmist,
the dog-headed man and the princess of the sea
open up their shutters for another day’s grind.