Eyewear is pleased to offer its readers a poem by the very worthwhile younger British poet and critic, Andrew McMillan, who just a few days ago gave us such a good review of the debut from Emily Berry.  Now here he is with a cento poem for Thom Gunn, incidentally one of the most under-rated British poets of his time and one of Eyewear's favourites.

saturday night

a broke Cento for Thom Gunn

bedless and hungry   the nights pull drags me
to a street it seems I only half knew
and now paid up   stripped off   and towelled
I prowl the labyrinthine corridors

and think that everything I read in Gunn
or watched in porn was true   bodies of men
line the walls and I feel the ceiling drip
and have a sense of being underground

no air that doesn’t smell of someone on
the breath of someone else   and when I call
your name to slow you it comes out strangled
as in a mine… dim light   the many floors

the private cell we visit first   the man
who keeps on shouting that we shouldn’t fall
asleep   then on to the TV benches
the bays   the heat   the tape’s explosive sound

reminders of the club that we climbed up from
and then heard in the distance as we walked
and you said we should try here where we could see
people still entering   though it’s 3.a.m

and wound up here   sitting on an L shaped bench
watching a film that could have been of us   except
I lacked the guts of the two boys flashed up to us
stripping at lockers and   with a towel tied round

leading each other into each other
into the hair and the fold of stomach
and the wet smells of underneath and then
stepping out hot for love or stratagem

I sit and watch another man approach
you and then start to kiss you and blow you
and I realise I am forever
pausing at thresholds (wonder never ends)

looking without wanting to join or help
and I ignore a denimrough advance
from my right and I don’t want any or
all here   of any looks   of any age

I want my bed    given over for use
by someone else’s love    what’s mine tonight
to be just mine and a world where not all
will get whatever they are looking for

I remember   once    waking and looking
over to the window of my lover
from a room that wasn’t his or mine       lost
or something close      the rapture they engage

in   the tipping over
inside and spilling out
lacks happy longing    it’s
renewable each night

I go soft from overthinking   we go
back to the cell to have another try
and   hand to your throat   I slowly begin
to build a city never dared before

playing someone else I throw you down   kiss
from where my hand is gripped to where yours is
I try to be what’s expected    but it
dies without reaching to its full extent

and I slump back against the wall   rolled
shoulders    and I don’t know if the success
I hear through the wall is real   you stumble
at least in the endeavour we translate

our tongues to speak for us and we just stay there
chest to risen chest like two beaten wrestlers
who failed their potential   Gunn was right
their skin turns numb, they dress and will depart

this was only ever for a night
there is nothing but the chemical smell
of trying to get clean   the awkward look
the perfect body   lingering on goodbyes

I leave   walk back into early streets
I let the play go on beneath my feet
the night’s been drank   the sun is low   the sun
cannot find strength now for another start

poem by Andrew McMillan; copyright 2013


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