extract from The Migraine Hotel by Luke Kennard
Luke Kennard is a poet, critic, dramatist and pugilist. He is compassionate, but prone to anxiety and bleak introspection. Many have called him polite and quite funny, but add that he suffers from a tendency towards constant nervous laughter and an apparently involuntary rictus of disdain. His poetry and criticism have appeared in Stride Magazine, Sentence, Echo:Location, The Tall Lighthouse Review, Reactions 4, Orbis, 14 Magazine, The Flying Post, Exultations & Difficulties. He won an Eric Gregory Award in 2005 and was shortlisted for Best Collection in the 2007 Forward Poetry Prizes. He is quite tall.
Computer Club, a new, previously unpublished work of short fiction by Luke Kennard may be read in issue 3 of the print edition of Plectrum.
The Migraine Hotel is published by Salt Publishing
My friend, your irresponsibility and your unhappiness delight
me. Your financial problems and your expanding waist-line are a
constant source of relief. I am so happy you drink more than I do
and that you don’t seem to enjoy it as much. When I hear you
being arrogant and argumentative, my heart leaps. Your nihilism
is fast becoming the richest source of meaning in my life and it is
my pleasure to watch you speaking harshly to others. When you
gossip about our mutual acquaintances I sigh with satisfaction.
Your childish impatience delights me. The day you threw a
tantrum in the middle of the supermarket was the happiest day
of my life. Sometimes you say something which reveals you to be
rather stupid – and I love you then, but not as much as I love you
when you are callously manipulative. Your promiscuity is like a
faithful dog at my side. When you talk about your petty affairs,
you try to make them sound grand and important – I cherish
your gaucheness and your flippancy. At times it seems your are
actually without a sense of humour : I bless the day I met you.
You bully people younger and weaker than you – and when others
tell me about this, I am pleased. Sometimes I think you are
incapable of love – and I am filled with the contentment of waking
on a Saturday morning to realise I don’t have to go to work. I
often suspect that you do not even like me and my laughter
overflows like water from a blocked cistern.
The Dusty Era
One day he was walking behind her with several colleagues
from the Embassy when the hairgrip fell out of her hair
(bronze, decorated with three parrots) and clattered to the
pavement. It was Stockholm, and high winter. She was deep
in conversation with a girlfriend and didn’t hear. His colleagues
chuckled and continued to admire her legs.
They walked five blocks before she noticed her hair around her
shoulders, patted the back of her head and stopped walking.
She turned and looked first at the pavement and then up,
where she caught his eye. She looked hurt, as if something in
his face had apologised for conspiring against her with lesser
men (he responded with an apologetic grimace) then she
took her girlfriend’s arm and walked on, hurriedly.
Two summers later, looking for cufflinks for the reception, he
found the hairgrip in a pawn shop in Östersund. An event
Grabes describes as, ‘One of those overdetermined little
moments that gradually conspired to snap his reason like a
chicken bone and force him into organised religion, more
credulous than even the altar boy.’ (ibid, p. 136) It should be
noted that Grabes was one of the men walking with him that
winter evening in 1956, and that he was, in all probability,
quite attracted to E. himself – a fact that throws Grabes’s
more spiteful observations into relief.
He stood with a hip-flask, complaining in the port, a parcel of
Christmas presents under one arm. Each day contains a hundred
subtle chasms. You can betray someone by not smiling,
murder them by not saying ‘Mm,’ at the appropriate points
in the conversation.
Years later he sat on the swingset in the playpark, an unopened
letter from his daughter in his inside pocket. He was throwing
pine-cones at the rusty ice-cream van. ‘You should be
banned from describing anyone,’ he said out loud in the condensation.
Two of his would-be future biographers crashed
into each other on the autobahn and were killed instantly.
One of them was me, hence my omniscience.
The Embassy was dustier after that – it came to be known as the
Age of Dust or the Dusty Era. A fault on the line made the
intercom pop sporadically like a man about to say something
Variations On Tears
I realise you never cry because the last of your tears have been
anthologised as a Collected and you can’t stand the idea of appendices.
But what am I to make of the demonstrators playing cards
with your daughters ? Have they betrayed your estate ? Go tell
the children to gather their strength for the inevitable backlash.
I realise you never cry because each one of your tears contains a
tiny stage on which a gorgeous, life-affirming comedy is always
playing and it cheers you up the minute you begin. But what am
I to make of the bare interior of your house ? You’re waiting for
inspiration, right ? Go tell the children to gather dust on the
shelves of archive halls.
I realise you never cry because to do so would be to admit defeat
to your harlequin tormentors – wringing their hands at the sides
of their eyes and making bleating sounds – and you don’t want
to give them the satisfaction. But what am I to make of the Make
Your Own Make Your Own ______ Kit, the first instruction of which
is ‘Have a good idea for something’ ? Could I have not worked
that out for myself ? Go tell the children to gather followers for
our new religion.
I realise you never cry because you are a total arsehole who cannot
even muster enough compassion to feel sorry for himself. But
what am I to make of your red, blotchy eyes when, as your pharmacist,
I know for a fact you are not allergic to anything ? Have
you, after all, been crying ? Go tell the children to gather my
remains from the ditch and look out for the white bull who, I’m
told, is still at large.
I realise you never cry because the last time you cried four separate
murders were reported on the evening news, each one more
grisly and inexplicable than the last, and you incorrectly assume
there was a correlation. But what am I to make of this terrifying
breakfast ? Are you trying to get rid of me ? Go tell the children
to gather the farmers from their taverns to gather the new crop
I realise you never cry because when you do, you are beset by
birds with long tails and brightly coloured plumage and sharp,
hook-like beaks who are uncontrollably drawn towards salt. But
what am I to make of your statement, ‘The world is not built on
metaphors’ ? What exactly do you think the statement ‘The
world is not built on metaphors’ is ? Go tell the children to
gather in the clearing and await further instruction.
And I Saw
A false prophet slapped in the face by a wave ;
A woman screaming at her clarinet,
‘What would you have me do, then, drown you, too ?’
Remaindered novels washed up on the shore.
A cat, baffled by a drowsy lobster, jogged
Over the pebbles towing a little carriage.
And the cat didn’t say anything – because
It was a cat. And the carriage was not full
Of tiny men, a watermelon or an
Assembly of diplomatic mice
Because the carriage was an example
Of man’s cruelty in the name of research.
The cat belonged to a behaviourist
And had been raised in an environment
Of only black horizontal lines. So
It saw my sprinting across the beach
To dismantle its harness as a whirl
Of fenceposts and orange rubber balls
And was gone faster than the better idea
You had a moment ago. Leaving me
Only the seagull’s dreadful anthem :
‘I just want to tell you how sad we all feel.’
The airplane trail made the cloud a wick –
I thought I saw it starting to burn down
And I knew we had been lucky to avoid
Disaster so far. I shared a bench with
A man who wanted to redefine us
As victims of one kind or another
Instead of whatever names we’d chosen :
Steven Victim, Jenny Victim, Franklin
Victim. I disagreed but couldn’t speak.
He ate raw mushrooms from a paper bag.
In fact it was a computer game called
The Enormous Pointlessness of it All III.
When you are raised on computer games
You grow accustomed to saying ‘I’m dead,’
Several times a day. Which is not to say
We are the first generation to feel
So comfortable with our mortality.
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