Sweet Spirit
of Vitriol

F. E. Lapin



F. E. Lapin

Sweet Spirit of Vitriol



Dressed in smoke and sparkling wine
Trident knifes through the sequined water.
More ghoulish dick than spear-of-god,
It topples — beat — comedy drunk,
Lights, and charges the lines of heaven,
To bring them down.

Men who dare not speak of childhood tell
Of paperback musts like baking bread
Of rockets, moons, and zoos of Eden,
Vague Madonnas, Cherenkov blue.
See! I can be trade-paperback Eve,
Trade-paperback Adam, too! If
Arid mouth and pounding heart forebear. Oh!
Arid mouth and pounding heart forebear.

Deep in the rosewood belly.

In heat of summer, and London stench
Divinity is covered by genocide.

And flowers bloom,
In the wrong place.


Let her speak who, courting the night, finds comfort
Not in nature, slumbering wild, but voices
Which, conspiring, haul from the shore those treasures
Tarnished by daylight!

Autumn storms came early the year that I, drugged,
Saw, through bars, the travelling fair in ruin,
Ropes of light — a shambles of coloured glass — writhe
Hopeless with fury

Less than half remembered through fog which quenches
Rides and riot; fifteen years lost to senseless
Growth and blooming, laundering fresh the fairground
Never quite bleaching

Pure my boy, that apple I squeezed for sunlight
Dodgem spark and chrome to his unforgiving
Eyes which, cheating air from poised lips, spoke “Sleep here,
Absent yet living”.

Pills, too, crush — with heavenly force — a body
Pressed and trained, then driven from earth at sunset
Pretty under rags cut for lust but, fuck yöu,
Thirsty for sweetness.


Daddy, who could slake me with juice on moist lips
After blood in oceans had washed these calcined
Bones? You fell and, falling, destroyed this temple,
Numbered our heartbeats

Leaving Mass undone to the world left living:
Bread is bread, blood blood. Disentangled, stitch-picked
Fate fills rotten sacks with old rope. My embrace,
Rigid as marble

Warmed in shallow seas by vague currents, tonguing
Hope, forgiveness, sacrifice. Give me Old Nick
Beating salt red wine through my chest and trembling
Lovers will cower

Glimpse their awkward frame by my incandescence;
Candle, furnace, queen. Let them sweat, as horses,
Yoked in mines to haul carted ore to garnish
Flesh, this great altar.

Stop! Now, hollow oceans that buoy this flare-light
Spirit, swallow deep. We meet God in absence.
Hollows raise and harvest us; metal blood lines;
Shudder and silence.


Time was, these lanes had guards,
To run your plates, to check your cards,
Men who watched from distant towers,
To separate the bones from flowers,
Men who crowned me Queen of May,
And planted others far away,
My buttered, ruddy mouth of lust,
A sealed curse in land of dust.

Time comes, an awkward truce,
Pardoned shadows roaming loose,
Fear and hope come riffled close,
Desire and dread, a single dose,
Deeply hewn his chiselled cheek,
My Easter flesh come pale and weak,
A hidden fear I dare not chart
The worm which crawled into my heart.

Time will be, a resurrection,
Nursed and bleached, and blank perfection,
When all aloft shall fall and sit
And, strewn on idle ground, emit
Fortune's sigh in fortune's reign
And blinded, vipered rivers drain
Soft marrow from inhuman life;
Narcissus rot beside his knife.

Ten Prayers

1. When I am dead and gone.
2. Another standing here.
3. Alike, at least, in love.
4. Will watch you quietly sleep.
5. Free, as now, from pain.
6. Your life a brim-full cup.
7. Freely adjoined to earth.
8. Will see you breathe this way.
9. As effortless as the breaking wave.
10. And toast you, at the threshold.

Inshallah. Inshallah. Inshallah.
Inshallah. Inshallah. Inshallah.
Inshallah. Inshallah. Inshallah.



A man, at least, Larkin's bowler,
Caught, mid-century, in solid, amber light.
Taller than me, more prone to power,
Flannelled close to virtue in garden cities
But, planting his toes in suburban turf,
Sebum, blood, and chyme rear on their haunches
Pressed hard against visceral walls, in a formal
Correspondence with the moon about the earth.
I know him.

It does not dazzle by night, as the lamps of guards,
As the boxed white dress, or the welder's spark,
Surely as nothing as darkness is nothing,
But white.

Turbines now shine on whetted ridge
Where the road climbs from valley floor,
Blades rehearsing the delivery of angels,
Perfect in action,
Free of fluid and humour,
So congruent to salvation that we can only
Wish them well in superior progress and,
In fear of wrath, reach instead for tunnelled sleep
Which, alone, can ferry the rotten body's weight
On poison Doe Lea, loveless child of Rother,
Train, or shawl, of diamond; unmuddied by life,


Drunk, rather, on those deep, reducing liquors
That stoke the unrenewing hearth within.

Who are these people, mine, who walk
So proud away to darkness, as if darkness
Were mere absence of light,
Sharp and white as the blades on the hillside?
These people, mine, are strangers.

Draped we came, like wintered chandeliers,
Sequined and shifting, tangled by thread, spider-digested,
Sheer under lace, lace under satin, talking as ships
Talk with a strengthening breeze and, crisp as slalom snow,
Haunted, withdrew, walked through walls and, when angels
Arrived, in turn, to take their place to the sound of trumpets,
Floated, vegetal, into the loamy night.

Iron wrapped in scalding tulle fired through the valley,
Inhumanly sustained in condensing night
As, arranged on the terrace like a problem in chess,
We caught fragments of voices still within, concerning
Issues of the day, projected under port or ether
Deep into the formal garden beyond.

We snapped, you and I, from that Austen fantasy,
Crossed the outfield to the permanent way


Demanded of solemn, moon-greased rails, judgement
From darkness to darkness, feather to butchered heart,
Summoning Anna, Zola, Turner's hare, in oils
Muddled from moonlight on sleepers braced
Between mannered garden and the field of reeds beyond,
Demanded of steel the judgement of Paris as,
Thin as tobacco and tall as the bastards of heaven,
We had danced dripped in oil, smeared in candied light
To the rattle of loose-chained wagons, and fancied it was love.

It was love.

With each step up the down I am falling
Deeper into flowers known to the blessed
In regal Latin, flecks less considered than the lily,
I become among them, ascended to earthly degree,
Smoking against by-laws in labyrinth night, staring
On the embered city where, lost within,
Cars are being taught to drive, alone.

Little more than a winding sheet, light in a breeze,
Printed with drifts of May suffices to watch
Such intelligence at work. They will purge me from this city
And fire stop burning the back of my hand,
The dazzle caged and the humours settled,
As the great, abyssal rain falls to the ocean floor;


Belly-stone and puppet rope, hidden within,
Stagnate and fray, for only then can I be taken,
Slow-march May Queen, slabbed and borne
On wipe-clean surfaces, in a driverless car,
Down the broad streets of chaste desire,
At last cleaved firm to the love of strangers
And this, my walled and peeling spirit,


π, on earth, is less than 6,
But these are hard, uncertain times,
When rumours of chaos rattle at windows.
We must be humble.

Let us write, instead, that
“Somewhat less than 7”
Is as close to π as we might comfortably get
While Plato is tending the fire.

If a pumpkin is good for a ball,
An apple for a falling moon,
Then we cannot rightly deny
The rhythm of breath, and cessation.

This matches that (in places),
Atoms, thoughts, and life in-between
Circulate like glanders, or the 5 pound note,
We tumble like the air, from wing tips.

But to say no life is too short or overdrawn,
Too empty, too filled with heartache,
Is no great act of geometric fealty
But a dark cloth around our eyes.

A circle, I admit. (You press me),
As some word must, surely, be found


For the involute curl of living,
For the sparrows who fly through the hall.

Yes, The Circle of Life I give you,
As an image, “essentially fine”.
But leave to the gods and to angels


Who stands at the gaping river mouth
And stares upstream at those distant shapes
Deep upon romantic trade —
At the rolling of barrels, or the sewing of sail —
Strung along shrinking, uncertain waters
As they rise, withdrawing,
To fount and nursery, to that upland mire,
But in nervous backward glances?

Instead, we gaze seaward,
Where nothing cleaves a name
But the sudden glances of white horses
In candle, plate, and crucifix,
Rising from the altar-cloth,
Leaping over those charted reefs; at river mud
Lost within a stone's throw of headland
So that flint-headed jets embrace, unseen,
The rise and fall of the throes of England,
Gone and lost to the haze of Europe
When glancing blow and spiny shudder
Of animal roar hits home.

Tied, laced, and wired; in full civilian pomp;
In borrowed suits and shoes that pinch;


They turn their heads from the altar,
They writhe like the compass on Arctic ice,
They twist as the old dog rose.

For this casket.
For this bride.

O, stage behind those awkward stalls,
What theatre we make!

See me now,
What I am become!
What backs I break!


Behind sweet peas and runner beans
The tarry eye of a pig
Pressed hard against the stockyard gate —
Bubble of black, viscous oil,
sluggishly churning
North Atlantic tears,
sharp as a whetted knife,
the guttering lamp behind
more soot than light, writhing,
self-extinguishing —
Pricks spyholes through the flowerbeds.
Nurse wheels oxygen,
quickens her pace as eyes meet,
White rubber wheels bouncing on concrete
Smashed into tectonic plates
by eruptions of ragwort.

Great pig — counts bottles in;
Great pig — counts bottles out;
Nurse, priest, Canadian nephew
in order …
Carelessly rosy
Under stern measure of the mantel clock.
Pictures, cards, on the thickset sideboard
In field and range of our petrified gunner,
man in the silicone mask,
Slumped in an ancient seat,
gurgling, foaming, syrup of air.


Nuzzling piglets to great pink teats,
Horsemen midwife at the old sow's ear.
There is not breath enough
over the great Pacific
That these not be treated
With that special care
that flows, in spate, from hope.

“Hello”, the echoing shout, “Hello”
discharging the electric adultery
of the release of a stranger's lock.
Bottle trolley set on the red rag rug
A rank of dead marines
Dumb, sex-doll mouths gaping
Deposed by new recruits, hissing,
straining with life
pressed into thick iron tube.
“You should have that pig seen to”,
Staring through heavy, greying net.
Gaze returned.

Sisyphus shifting air
The milky sideboard faces
cold, retreating, polaroid
C. F. his god-daughter,
The disappointment a world to her
reflecting patinate love


Her lungs a brazier of dreck,
The salt in her final kiss.

He knows her as only God could know her,
But stands alone at a white steel rail,
Four hours on, four hours off,
here to Archangel.
Dreadnoughts might die in an instant,
Their light and constant thunder
torn from Fighting Ships,
Great steel plate crumpling, concussed
to the surface of the deep,
But only in a second movement of
tilting, adagio, on the slab of the wave
Do her guts spill out.
The rattle not the breath I know,
final whisper of the mote, wren,
dead in the cup of my palm
in the summer heat by the railway,
But a heave and retch of lungs,
Jack Tar Specials
Fouled, by habit, at the office of the hours.
Thick as La Brae and twice as deadly, this

Heavy Bunker.
Neither kitchen nor forecourt
Nor the dull thrum of
wheels as I glide to theatre
But a creeping, desperate mass,


Levitating by conjurer's trick
over pall of ocean:
Embalming, Cloaking, Drowning,
Fuse to the magazine.

Six school test tubes hang
like the great sow's udder,
From a crude, wooden rack.
A bright iron nail in each —
air, water
(salty, fresh),
painted, oiled,
top bunged shut —
Awaiting decay.
A bottle of India ink,
comically vast
Topples at a careless gesture.
The old, wooden desk:
A lamp black tattoo.


I spool the ink-red ribbon in,
Excite some ratchet deep inside,
Then taut, straight, at the anvil-place,
Bring each finger rightly home.
And breathe.

There's joy to be had (or so I'm told,
In whispers mother cannot hear),
From writing “He stood,” where David stood,
In boots and hat, and nothing else,
His arse perhaps in ampersands,
And commas for muscle
To scurry inside.

The logs which will not split take mother
Blow after blow of the axe to break;
Blunder of swab-and-bandage sky,
The stand of winter trees,
Bleached as coral, beneath,
Beyond, behind the glass,
I type.

In red, we should move like Fred and Ginger,
Kiss like James, and his gun-oiled love:
Sane; measured; of reasonable scent;
Teal preferred to olive;
6′3″ to 5′9″.

Around me are those who write, in red,


Such things with easy, steady grace.
So why, on twisting scarlet out:

Magic; Monkey; Old Testament Rant;
Buzzing; Whisper; Underground Light;
Temple; Sigil; Ripple through Darkness;
Acid; Witchcraft; Dressage;

In ribbons, black, I clearly write,
With enviable poise,
Of matters.

Wound back in,
And in my hair,
In mourning.


It's pride demands you sailors speak
Of potent draught and secret rhyme,
So caked with brine on riven lip
You'd bolt a glass of wormwood wine
To slake the salt-crazed trench inside.

You'd have me flee, a frightened child,
In dappled light to nose the ground
To find the single, potent root
To scale the dizzy height of man?
A thousand times I water drugs!
Till none abides, yet shambling comes
Each transformation in its time.
(What missed delight the gobbled peach,
The scalpel breach with sudden flight.
A flame is best, for dreams, let die,
The final, scalding tongue to fade
And utter gentle songs by night
Of what was gained, and otherwise).

No! Ordinary guile and art
Will do, will do —
will drive you down
To lap with cats, to fawn and sigh,
To dine on nuts and fallen fruit
And, though in stature at my thigh,
Desire a buried sepulchre.


For all are beauties, poets find
To keep their place before the fire.
My ordinary face and frame
Will do, will do —
will bind the man
Who sits entranced in dancing light
His muscle, tight, like ropes of glass,
By tender strokes, to dust refined.
Such simple acts can be no crime
When lives entire are brought to trial,
It's courage, rather, rivals lack
To pluck the flower which brings delight.

You ache to have some curse, malign,
The rotting wound of man excise,
And I will take such gardening on,
To cloven bliss your body guide.

So! Tell me, Pig! You see the knife,
And know the trade the butcher plies
(Your mind divided, beast and man,
Outpace your reason's fading light).
When sacrifice the gods demand, —
If fortune grant you keep your life
And verse reprieve your piracy —
That yearling calf be bound and tied
(With burnished horns and handsome hide


As like as you to win the prize)
With flux of blood and smudge of thyme,
His puddled gait, his ended tide,
The moon he spied through verdant hedge,
The same you glimpse through slatted sty,
By night the dewy, perfumed grass
Of palace land your joint delight —
Your gods are buoyed by such design?
Athena grey by shining blade?
Apollo warmed by temple pyre?

For, as you lie in wormy fruit
And “witch” your stoppered mouth would cry,
To every scent and sight alive
As summer sunlight plays your spine;
Outwith my brightly gilded isle,
As farmers drive their cattle on,
So meat-blind scions of Zeus drive man
In quiet, hopeless, plodding rage,
To ode and trumpet.
Pig, write mine!

Off Season

The ships which pass the painted horses,
Pale sunlight's cavalcade reduced
To skeleton crew in silken gown with string
Of pearl, and heirloom broach, who scrape their heels
At Triton and lifeboat, at Bar-Lemon-Bell,
Anchored firm to a sandbank
By inner, starboard light, as children
Scupper fortunes in lines, on rocks,
Sinking at pool, at Mummy's Revenge,
The console driving the great screw beneath,
Club-footed wanderer, compass rose,
Flower of Babylon, skin-sloughed snake;
By GPS, from Jakarta to Rotterdam; hulk
Of comedian working his sentence on the rotting pier;
Grouse shot inland at the great estate,
Nouveau artillery echoing at the front,
“A ball!”, where Downy Peach fucks Cardinal Red,
Who fall at noon with a shot of cannon
From the clifftop to scare old Boney away,
By order of the admiralty, the Royal Marines
Parade buttons to bandstands where songs from the shows,
Where themes from TV, where sickening mayhem,
Where screams in the eye, all challenge the ether
Of the great, wild beasts who pad through town,
Hunter-trussed glories of upright creation,
Their doses titrated by contracting nurses,
Each battened shut from September to March,
As, hair-by-hair, they worry fur naked,
As Jovian oceans boil inside.


A great slump, or subsidence of earth, attains
When weeks or months before the fire
What plays upon the great, internal stage
Is infant stuff, so simply wrought,
So unadorned with clasp and seam,
That it proudly sits without admission,
A gateless city, puzzle box.

Surely the great passage of work
Which separates me from my infancy
Should have left some human mark
On this grave and silent form?

A leaping horse or garish rose
May ask too much of a common life
But forensic sheen of sweat and grease,
Dull and vital, offending taste,
Such is expected of lives entire?

For there is work, too, in ecstasy,
Demanding a body's full weight,
Bent at the knee, at the waist, and elbow;
Thigh, shoulder, back alive,
Though yielding nothing,
A pose in the image of dignity.

I cannot hold that stories die
With comb and clasp which, laid below,


Intermix with fragile bone,
A finding in the catalogue of finding,
Of time, of place, of the action of bodies,

To feel, for a moment, a music,
As the new bride of earth to dance
With marble body of liquid stone,
In ribbon, oil, beaten bronze,
Lights and guts, by alchemy, absolved
As, on the young earth, Egypt
Prepared its queens,
With ministries acute, and skillful,
The small, sufficient fire of rampage


Better than the best
Of all possible worlds
our love.
A ship, drowning in treasure,
Sunk into mud at the slipway end.
We stank like foxes
As the factories of my childhood stank,
Rubberworks, refinery, scrapyard, pit,
Stank like foxes
In the pub's broad horse-ginnel.
New Year's Eve
Held fast on pink, dusty brick,
Penned by your bridling thigh,
As the ram in his square
Of five-bar gates,
A grim chorus of patrician hills
Proud, planted, huddled in rain,
Veins uncovered and worked away
In storeys, over centuries.
As stuffed with pills
As the Christmas goose,
Sigils smudged into the dust,
We lived as marble lives
Until the circus entered town.

Better than the best
Of all possible worlds


A ship, drowning in treasure,
sunk into mud at the slipway end.
We stank like foxes
As the Soviets of my childhood stank,
Rocket-venom pooling into silo stumps
in camera with Lieutenants
Dressed in green polyester;
Stank like foxes
In billowing canvas camps
By the bypass, by the airbase,
Unlaced and gentle
As cellophane over chocolate.
We pixied with bricks,
Bruising glass like smoke
When the doors fly open
On a brisk spring day while,
To the dull chant of dialysis,
Andropov in his sickbed dreams
Of Hungary,
The electric dead,
His men flapping on lampposts
As wind-spilled sails who whisper:
“Nations, too, shall pass, this
Warm-butter motherland,
Shame and honour,
Corrode and rust”.
Until the circus entered town.


Better than the best
Of all possible worlds
your sleep.
A ship, drowning in treasure,
Sunk into mud at the slipway end.
We stank like foxes
In our crumpled, summer beds,
The old, grey clock minuting the night
As you clutched
From your cot's menagerie
A soft, dome-backed turtle,
Embraced as the earth courts the moon;
Stank like foxes
As you turned,
Uttered a moment's cry
And descended again, deep
Into pure lands which I shall know again
Only in defeat.
Our library bullying the house,
Its frozen cuts silently demanding
Necessity of necessity
Where letters twist like maggots
Pressed, in protest, into living flesh.
Doors slam in the wind
And I crow: “I know you”,
Cock three glasses of rocket venom,
And dissolve into sunlight
Until the circus enters town.


With old, grey smoke
We blow bubbles
Which stink like the factories of my childhood;
The ram in his square on the hillside;
Penned by bridling thigh;
The valley a doll-house fortress
of paper-rotting mist;
A child hugs a turtle's soft-domed back;
The president, marooned in his hospital bed
Anchored to his nation by needlecraft.

Better than the best
Of all possible worlds
Bide our time and
Fox-stink out that new-car smell
Until the circus enters town.


Do not deny me, for marshal flame,
Sweetness, down, fainting streak
Of bluebell at the clearing edge. No less
Do I ache for the tilt of butterfly wing
For being entire.

As piered bridges drive
Deep below, into clay under water,
So I run from toe to hip;
Only above sit refined and fashioned works.
Pay such gilded toys no heed.
Let the sounding box resound,
Pendulum, I-Beam,
Groove-sunk diamond,
Gliding planchette.

Do not deny me fair deal of love;
Let this pretty, glitter, leap-case form
Close the ashes here confessed,
Flowered, flamed, apple-orchard red;
Nor brand this fairy craft insane.
By roll of die my father cast me


Of tallowed iron. — Go! — Ask for me
In silence bordered by tumult:
Père Lachaise.

You will find, within,
Love, Will, Power,
And the breaking of horses.
And surely I shall bury you
in sweetness.

Combined Heat and Power

A vague sense of flame under glass
By smudge of powder, insufficient
Licence to juggle
Kiln-hot words which,
Incandescent, comet the night;
I have nothing else.

To glimpse a life, at the scale of life,
I put my eye to the furnace O;
And wish it were my tongue.

Unmoved, that penny trinket sits —
Blushing coin of glass — prevents
Adoption, by fire, of a body of fire,
Brinking for change.