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Digital Poetics #1 Ventolin: Luke Roberts

What they like is direct sunlight

song like glue

and how much things

cost if you want them

to stay still

and understand

defeat this time less euphoric

the disaster too diffuse

to just step into

racing to wake up

before the market

admire the morning air

and wolf it down,

watch them coughing up

holding history by the hand

with one hand

acute and unacknowledged

and with the other hand touching

my face.

Did you hear the one about

the epidemic?

Or the one about the epidemic

and the state?

I heard the one about

the epidemic

a kind of ache

the same as always

lost to the weather and vague

to still want it like this

the parts of the language

you do mouth-to-mouth to

most of you,

and all the time

sticky on lookout

for the gist.

It never gets old.

The prisoners in Modena

and Brixton.

The prisoners at Rikers.

The debris,

the missing

and the message,

what the messengers leave

this time this year

this time this month

this time this week

catching the difference

you tell it to a friend

complete and unretrievable

you patent the question

and give it away.

It gets old,

cut bleeding on the knuckle


piling up rewrites

what you find on the floor

just falls in

to your lap

like the head of a lover

floating downstream

you spring the day back faultless

break off the brocade

and taste of salt

and aloe vera

taste of salt

and aloe vera

taste of salt

and aloe vera

and alcohol.

Lyric poetry and sobriety.

It’s okay.

I wouldn’t always recommend it.

But it’s okay.

It took years

it took forever

it took all day

and now it’s done

keeping vigil

at the end

of the weird 2010s

spent a decade off my legs

and necking aspirin

while the sun

played aspirin

to the sky

said someone you don’t know

in some other blunt decade

also thinking

of defeat

and have I been here


did we meet somewhere once

did I say something terrible

and brilliant

the glory in shame

the memory of sweat

and who is it

déjà vu

will belong to?

The thing is you get older.

Your friends die.

You lose your sense of humour.

You move away.

And they also

come back

weathered surface

rocky outcrop

tie a ribbon

to the one

you want to cut down

tie a ribbon

to the one

you want to leave.

We were outside the British Museum

as unhappy

as it’s possible

to be

we were drinking lime and soda

changing places in the world

what we wanted was the total break

but not like that

and not like this

hard to give a fuck about Etruscans

day colour

of pigeons

more gloomy

than blueish

keeping vigil’s what I said

to the damage

and fuck a Virgil

and all the filled-in wish fulfilment

of camaraderie

and camaraderie’s paranoid afterparty

who heard a rumour of voting

and a rumour of death

and a rumour of choosing

every time you check the news

you lose a life

and who the life belongs to

on the island sinking into floorboards

more than what we asked for less

or less than nothing less than that

locked in song for chewed-up evening

the mildest winter I remember

getting whiplash

had to learn it

had to sit through

a thousand odes to debt and business

a thousand more to inattention

ill-advised attempts at imitation

fawning under ruthless supervision

tasked with brilliance

in the fairest of the seasons

and the season’s fairest failures

to transform.


hand me my airhorn.

Hand me the phonebook.


to the beautiful world :

you smell like sleep

and nothing else

getting fainter all the time

what passes for midnight

moon clipped on the left

dark blue and familiar

windows open

where I live

in retribution

was the shadow

for my friend

all broken up

before you


slipped off

drew a line

between the dying

I tried to tell you.

And now the light is dirty

the light

is dirty now

and now you turn a corner

in your head

and in the street

counting days lost to sickness

days lost to strikes

backwards from ten

and miss the target

March 14 2020

Luke Roberts is the author of Rosa (2019), Sorbet (2018), To My Contemporaries (2015) and other works of poetry. He is the editor of Desire Lines: Unselected Poems, 1966-2000 by Barry MacSweeney (2018), and the author of Barry MacSweeney and the Politics of Post-War British Poetry: Seditious Things (2017). He lives in London.


This publication is in Copyright. Luke Roberts, 2020.

The moral right of the author has been asserted. However, the Hythe is an open-access journal and we welcome the use of all materials on it for educational and creative workshop purposes.

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