Billy Marshall-Stoneking

Ventriloquist and Other Poems

Ventriloquist

Stoneking gnashing his teeth

I remember that summer
when she’d pull out Charlie –
which was what she affectionately
called my prick –
& being an artist,
she’d draw a face on it.
Then, without moving her lips,
she’d go to work:
„Hello, how’re you?
My name’s Charlie.“

The first time, I laughed.
It was like meeting a stranger.
We stared at each other.
„What do you do?
What’s your name?“
I couldn’t take my eyes off him.

After a while,
Charlie started taking over.
He was the center of attention,
the life of the party.
He’d stay up all night.
Next morning, she’d ring me:
„How’s Charlie?“
„Are you looking after him?“
Sure… sure, I’d say,
giving him a reassuring pat.
He was the picture of confidence.
He gave me a helluva time.

One day, inexplicably,
she added eyelashes, a beauty spot
& bright-red lipstick.
The transformation was remarkable.
Charlie had changed into a woman.
It called me „big boy“ in a squeaky voice;
it pouted & pulled faces.
I blushed.
The rest of me was speechless.

Then it became political.
Overnight I became a total shit;
a chauvinist pig.
It wanted to know
what kind of relationship is this, anyway?
It chastised me for not being able
to see beyond the end of my dick.

Later, the ventriloquist split,
taking her paints, her pens,
her mandolin & clothes.
„You never talk to me anymore,“
she said.
„So long.“

She left Charlie behind.
He slept all day;
the old eloquence was gone.
I couldn’t put words in his mouth.
Then his face disappeared
entirely.
It was a shock at first, but
I survived.

Now, taking a piss, sometimes,
I actually smile, remembering
those days & nights of indelible lust
when love was neither deaf nor dumb
nor altogether blind.

Stoneking gnashing his teeths by Christina Conrad
Acrylic with gel, impasto and paper mache on unstretched canvas, 18″ x 12″

Playland-by-the-Sea
(for Scott)

There is no desire suffering is not heir to.
Every trap the heart makes catches itself in mid-flight.
We fall into each other’s cages so easily;
wingless birds in a gullible principality:
a constituency that understands bread crumbs
but cannot sing.

The arms, the legs, the wizened heads,
the wisps of feather hair gone grey,
flap over collars on a windy day.

The tide goes out,
the tide comes in;
the older we start;
the younger we end.

Pushed from the nest, we learn to fly
then fall to earth.
Memory is no salvation.
Every death begins at birth.
Scavengers with hollow bones
migrate the unmappable.
The vast excursions of summer
must be put to rest
before the humours of winter
are allowed to burn.

Prescription for Long Life

Fat is not
a four-letter word.
Stop terrorising yourself.
Power walking is not the answer
to everything.
If you want to live longer,
don’t want.
Habits are carcinogenic.
Take a leaf out of Walt:
„go freely with uneducated persons…
& with the mothers of families“
Use salt sparingly.
Get up with the sun.
Do the unexpected.
Trees are good. Music helps.
Love mystery.
Be kind to animals.
Talk to the earth.
Be mindful of the dead.
Avoid people who speak
endlessly of God,
and…
oh yeah,
go to the dentist
regularly.

Truncations

It is what we do
We cannot stop
There is nothing else
We will not be contradicted
We have the right
Our faith is unshakeable
When things don’t fit
We are afraid
We seek our box
Crouching in darkness
Holding up small pieces
Of ourselves
Against the light
We have committed
Everything
To memory
So nothing will be lost
So nothing can be found.

The Old Lies
(For Dee)

The Old Lies aren’t going anywhere.
The Old Lies have always lived here.
The Old Lies will not be ignored.
They take everything in their stride
and will never disappear.
The Old Lies we grew up with…
The Old Lies are just like us.
They thrive on affection,
and will not be hurried.
You’d have to be crazy to think
they meant you any harm.
They are visited by their children,
& grandchildren
& great-grandchildren
Yea! Unto the last generation!
They are a force to be reckoned with.
The Old Lies go on forever.
Don’t pretend you don’t know them.
The Old Lies have always worked here.

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