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Death in the Afternoon

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“Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
John Donne

I
It’s two-thirty and the evening white-washes on the cold Brighton rocks,
Sea-gulls are soaring high; swinging downwards Brighton walks
In and out Palace Pier, the cinema cheers are in their summer blossom,
Teenage girls blushing are bearing ice-cream boyfriends to season
With their shinny red lips, children dig sand-castles with their buckets full,
Dreary veterans are waking from their nap and heading to the pub gloom.

II
It is a clear sky South of London, no spiraling crows linger fluting,
No foggy banks rising with the dead corpse of the tide-slumming,
Under the pier there’s shadows casting were the other lied pale-white,
Hasty messengers pass with nothing but wasted rumors of past nights,
Dark men are beginning to skulk behind the pillars, lighting their cigars,
They talk speedily with hushed sea-roared scared voices and depart.

III The Other
The room is empty, sunlight raids across the filthy windowpanes,
A hollow thump of steps rising up the stairs and out the ledge,
“Three thirty” says the Other “The whole town knows about it”
He kicks the ashes on the floor, his body is cast onto the bed,
“He must be drinking his lowly life now, waiting for the bells,
I’ll see the sparkle leave his eyes when I break his infant shell”

IV Rose
At the restaurant they told Rose to go early if she wanted to,
“No one will come round here now, because of the storm that’s comin’”
“Yeah, but there’s not just this one storm coming, know what I mean?”
“What do you mean?” She was tiding her hair, putting on a nice lace for him,
“You know the Boy, right?” a quiver through her as she hears his name,
“Well, he’s got in trouble with the gang; some say he’s bound for today”

V The Boy
Little kiddo walks through the pier swingin’ in his suit, just cleaned,
He swaggers with a smile to the ladies, he’s only seventeen,
Cigarette-twirl in his lips, he thinks himself the next Rimbaud,
No one there to tell him in his mind that he’s dead wrong,
The Boy says to the bartender “Cool off my brother I’m just bored
So tell me ain’t there a Guinness for me to sleep in?”

VI The Boy
The bartender looks up from the tellie, sees his young face with fright,
But he forces a grin with his skull and says “Hey! How ya ol’ lad?”
“Gimme a pint will ya? And make it quick all right? I have little time!”
The sun shines heavy on the foreheads, laden with smoke-rings the glass,
Old men stare at him duly, playing there with his little toy knife,
Whistling a song, drumming anxiously on his lap, “Poor ol’ chap”
VII
Sea-salt steps and flashing beady hats stroll down Brighton,
The heights of the sun-burned sand-beds they lie upon
Glow across the city, men and women are treading busy here,
Their eyes are shaded, their smiles pretended, they move fast,
Children do not laugh, mothers hush their giggles with fear,
And drag them away from the pier; they know something’s bound to pass.

VIII
Grey clouds linger on the horizon hazing and speeding towards,
The Palace Pier trembles with the wooden quivering of boards,
Lightning-struck waves wade the long pillars of the den,
Shadows with rings at elbow awake and start slumbering like men,
In the pubs the thousand clocks strike three in the afternoon,
They are walking out of the alleys. Gathering are those who were strewn.

IX The Boy
They say in the old houses that the sun never sets on the British Empire,
But sometimes a storm shrouds the dim light darkening it all with dire.
The Boy gave his Guinness a last gulp and stamped o’er his cigarette,
Took out his handkerchief, and neurotically wiped his sweat,
His right leg bouncing up and down, his fingers tattooing on his knee,
His worried eyes blinking, fixed on the ebbing figures of the street.

X The Boy
“Put on the radio for God’s sake, it’s too damn quiet here, too quiet…
Wonder where those two are at, ‘the stylish kids in the riot’,
It’s three and they are not here, I’m gonna set “their” night on fire
If they don’t show up now, it’s too hot, someone put the air higher!”
He pierces the crystal with his sight, his ears filled with the clock’s hum,
“Almost the hour…the hour… they have to come…they must come…”

XI The Other
It is three fifteen now, the clouds have exploded over the ghost coast city,
Windowpanes are being washed and sprayed by the golden colors pretty.
The room is quiet, the smoke dissipated and the cigarette tails thrown,
The radio-watch rings loudly, solemnly almost, a hand drowns the drone,
The Other puts on his leather jacket, grabs his shades and heads outside,
Every step down the dusty staircase is a second the less in someone’s life.

XII
On the esplanade the tide is cavorting lover’s set-sails with responses,
Burning skins are melting and shifting tongues with salt of drizzly roses,
Falling on each other the soft parades of winded rain lure a narrow lone
Entanglement of footsteps, no one is left to break the silence, they all run.
Women in fruitful banana bathing-suits taste the degradation of the light,
Scoping like gallows the measure of frustration in the mother’s eye.
XIII
No one stops, no one halts, they have to hurry, avoid the coming storm,
Cigarettes are disposed, beers toiled, women coiled and boys reformed,
They all know something’s coming, “There’s blood on the rain”,
They’ve tasted it when the other one was murdered by the Palace Pier.
Crowds quickly disappear under the concave hammering of the skies,
Puddles transform, mirrors blur with the treading of a transient cry.

XIV Rose
Her legs were aching in pain as she slammed the flat’s door,
She lost her sweet lace on the road as she rushed to see “the Boy”.
Her cheeks were flushed, her swan frown was crystalline wet,
She shouted for him, she rampaged the basement and the shed ,
The kitchen was still, everything in place under the dust-light cones,
She knew he wasn’t there, she knew she would see him no more.

XV
Black suited salmons come flapping against the maddening current,
Their scarred faces hidden in the dusk, the day’s coming to its end,
The heaven blood’s been spilt, the seven-seas stare drifts away,
They bear their shoulders tackled with knives, heavy with weigh,
Iron fists at the sunset, fish-bowls left untouched by the mariners’
Speeded blind into the void. Only the footsteps of the atoners are heard.

XVI The Boy
The pub elders have stampeded outdoors and up to the borders of the city,
They are now a trace of dark tobacco and a slight smell of dread and pity;
The bartender has locked himself up inside the bathroom, tight to his gun,
The money’s been safely guarded and the door has been carefully shut.
The storm is thundering above, the clouds are breaking all o’er town,
Silence spreads, he’s standing alone in the wind, gripped to his knife.

XVII The Other
“There he is, look at him there in the middle of the bloody rain!
Willing to die now isn’t he? Ba***rd will get what’s his, I’ll blow his brains!”
“Calm down now, before slaughtering the Angel, we gotta pick the slaughterer,
Aye? So bear down ‘ere and tell me, who’s gonna do the job, ha?
Who’s gonna go down there and finish with the kiddos life, ha?
Who’s gonna break the temple of the soul, who’s gonna tear his spirit apart?”

XVIII
A deaden quiet rose in the traceless faces, they all avoided to look
Their knives sweated and sharp, wrapped firmly around their palms,
He was still standing there, frozen under the Southern downpour,
The gang remained in silence, some took off and dropped their stabs,
All the while he waited, his eyes carved on the marble at his feet,
His black hair stuck to his pale cheeks, his bare skin would not retreat.
XIX Rose
She was crouching in the parking lot reading some old magazine,
Her face was hidden behind her knees but tears then rolled thin,
Her rosy body contorting; trembling were the delicate curls of hair
Dropping on her young shoulder, untouched; in abandoned despair
Her breathing was mourned loneliness, her crucifix’s been heaved,
Love letters’ been burned, all that’s left is a bloody razor blade.

XX
Thunder-banged lightning, buildings for a split second quiver to their bones,
Creeping cracked up vacuum of the street slivers across the rain-wet stones.
The wind blows strong from the east, but no hair in town dares to be shaken,
Not one blinking of the eyes is taken; all sound, all movement here is forsaken.
Deserted roads lay expectant, piping across the flowered curtains of a window,
Everyone is sitting quiet, their ears attuned, waiting for a dead man’s bellow.

XXI The Other
The clock strikes at three thirty round, the time scheduled for his death,
Far away on the distant plains comes the tolling of the church bell.
The town has been emptied already, the gang await for His command.
The Other grabs his knife, and tells the boys to stay where they’re at.
He strides ragingly under the storm, stamping with every step taken,
His pace is furious, he raises his brow and stares at him as if just waken.

XXII
The Boy says: “Tell me my old friend, tell me for whom the bell tolls”
Arms spread wide ajar, dropping his knife onto the swirling street-pool,
“Oh! My old friend” grins the Other, meeting him with the traitor’s kiss
“Never send to know for whom the bell tolls” he whispers “it tolls for thee.”
Breathless in the closeness of his body, a flash of silver and blood bend,
With the last smile of the defeated comes the tear of the old friend.





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