Myself Included

Poem By Sam Riviere

Once I thought experience was everything.
I went round saying it - ‘A good experience,
that's the main aim.' It sounded wise
and you could say it in any situation,
in fact a bad one was often best.
After having an experience
I held my breath, searching my reflection
for signs of depth and strengthened character.
It was reasonable proof that I existed
and I once noticed a new line open
at the side of my right eye. My eyes
were very beautiful; sometimes I'd get distracted
and gaze into them all afternoon.

This was before I stopped trusting my opinions,
and went round saying it - ‘I no longer
trust my opinions. They are unsafe.'
Sometimes I also said ‘I am surrounded
by the dead.' But I'd quickly smile and add,
‘Not really . . . !' I began to doubt
my reflection's authenticity -
it didn't blink, and raised a right hand to my left.
Film was an improvement, at least
in terms of accuracy. I filmed my face for hours,
then played it back, filming my face
while watching it. It was hard to read me
as I didn't much react. Also, the silence
of the flat was thickening to fizzy soup,
and I thought I might start hearing voices.
Things were finally getting interesting
but it was time for my trip to America.

It was there I stopped believing
in the value of self-image and experience.
I went round saying it - ‘I have no self-image
and have destroyed all my experience.
Also, I am surrounded by the dead
who speak to me through silences
on tapes.' I know Americans believe such things,
so I'd add, ‘Not really!' very quickly.
On the plane I thought about Tom Cruise,
how easily I could visualise his face.
I wondered if his face was a fair gauge
of where and who he'd been, and to what extent
it was the sack his soul was pushed into.

In America I became preoccupied with style
and came up with a great idea for a website
for people who do not trust their opinions.
In New York, the style was that the sidewalk
was too hot to stand on, and postures of the people
attested this. The style of coffee in Chicago
was ‘stale lake'. All this came naturally
while I was in America, which proves
how important it is, in terms of style.
I went round saying it - ‘America is an important place,
as far as style goes, that is! Now,
would you like me to channel your ancestors?'
I stopped adding the, ‘Not really!' bit
as my sense of humour was becoming more acerbic.
I wondered if this had to do with my loss of opinions
but didn't worry much about it
because I had gone west and now had seen the Pacific Ocean
which looked like an enormous grey car bonnet
bearing down at you. The style of firemen in San Francisco
on Saturdays was to play ping-pong, and the style
of burning houses on Saturdays was to burn with tall red flames
like sheets flying out of windows. By now my forearms
were a beautiful brown colour and I was getting
many admiring looks on the street. I finally convinced myself
of the ocean, closing my eyes and reciting a list of superlatives.

I called Ed about my website. I'd hit on a name, and he'd know if I was onto a winner.
I kept quiet about the dead, however, who I was seeing
more or less constantly, lurching on stairwells
or wading out of subways like someone doing the escalator
party trick, accompanied always by a buzz of flies.
Still, I'd bought ten pairs of shades and was accessorising well
with white sneakers and dark jeans, and the sun glanced often
from the tops of blocks. I watched a girl walk down Polke
with headphones in, like something out of a dance routine.
She cupped her hip as if palming a peach, and I thought,
‘What upmarket dream of herself keeps pace with that saunter?'
Her mind was tight as a fist. I resisted the urge to ask,
or tell her how many corpses were dragging themselves
by the lips behind her. Also, I'd started to wonder about Halloween.

It was time to leave. I slow-waved to citizens
from the yellow taxi, but my sentiments were short lived -
I was frisked at customs by a fat Hawaiian
when I asked to keep a copy of my fingerprints.
I felt sure I'd unlock the mysteries of my experience
from those soft-looking whorls and grains. As it was,
they told me very little. As it was, the guard scowled
as with prejudice he applied his pocket Maglite to the scar
on my brow. I quailed in his Raybans. ‘The scar is a story in itself,'
I reasoned, failing to placate him. Not that it mattered.
As it was, I was leaving the country, and my thick-necked friend
patted my ass with his torch-butt by means of farewell.
Back in England I decided to avoid all mirrors.
I had been to America, so I went round pretending
I had been to America, with my photos, my new clothes
and everything. ‘The States', I sneered. But
I needed more than that to convince me. Ed called.
It was no surprise to hear the website was doing well.
I lost my tan fast. I rotated my shades and held my grin.
I'd seen the dead. I didn't miss my opinions much.
One Wednesday night I met Astrid in a restaurant.
She'd been my girlfriend, but we'd separated
due to her view of relationships as arbitrary constructs
and my inability to counter this. ‘I like the new style!' she said.
‘Thanks,' I responded, ‘I'm going for the Clark Kent at college
look and I'm glad you like it.' The stupid bitch didn't realise
I could have said ‘the exchange student in '89 look,
thanks for noticing' and it wouldn't be less right.
She knew nothing of the dead - this was obvious
from her flushed complexion and air of well-fed-ness.

At the next table, a fireman and a man in a business suit
covered in blood were sharing a can of 7-Up.
I thought of Tom Cruise, and slipped away
when she'd gone to the Ladies'.
It was getting hard to call, and besides
I felt I'd proved my point. As it was,
I wanted to get back to my flat and my film.
As it was, I hadn't tasted my food.
Outside I looked at all the parked-up cars.
I had made a decision, but based on what?
‘This is indicative of a general trend,' I told myself.
I would go around saying it. I wouldn't mention the dead.

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