St John of the Railway Tracks

The needle is in the process of resurrection, conjuring the lazarene voices of the long departed from a dusty pile of old 45s, Leadbelly, Skip James, Sketches of Spain until it reaches the run out groove, the hiss and crackle of all things circular and mathematical and another song begins, except you’re no longer at the party, you’re not even in the house, or any house, or even a street, but you’re somehow in a train, as if you just grew, or fell from the womb or woke from an unsettling dream that just happened to be your actual life, and the song is coming from outside, the other side of the glass, like looking into an aquarium, or looking out of one, a busker playing the Waltzing Matilda, all slow and mournful on an accordion for the jingles in pockets and you’re praying to St John of the Railway Tracks for an unclouded head

and memories of the previous days come like furies to torment you, like priests gathering round a sickbed, but all cubist, a jigsaw with pieces missing put together by a child who is exhibiting signs of being criminally insane, memories of barfly jeremiahs watching the lights dance right angles, lost in the mad fog of drink predicting the apocalypse in the dregs of the kegs as you drank yourself down down down through the barroom floor, down in the hollow earth, down where they baptise the hurricanes,

and you know it’s not St John you should be praying to at all, it’s St Monica – patron saint of drunks, patron saint of verbal abuse, patron saint of disappointing children.

above you, ravens unfold their wings and sail over the telephone wires that cut up the acres of sky into countries, districts, geometric shapes and cargo cults pray for jet-trail Boeings to plummet and suicide pacts are being made and someone somewhere is inventing a new religion,

and you cling to memories of saner simpler times, when we were stranded in the country town, the end of the line, with children in skull masks writing their names onto the night with sparklers, hypnotised by the drink and the sea and the logfire, singing the songs Nero played as Rome burned,

and you with your Eskimo boots and your red hair, you a world of things, chased together ten miles over the mountains for being ‘cosmopolitan scum’, past abandoned quarries, scrapyard dogs and brothers grimm forests, ending up at what was once the edge of the world, where the salt-water and ships would pour full steam ahead off the edge of the flat earth and into space

and we sat on a wooden pier in a place as quiet as the world before man, quiet as the uninhabited earth and polished off the last of the drink and sent the bottle off into the ocean with a message inside and watched as it floated towards the horizon, bobbing to Tonga, Big Sur, the Cape of Storms,

before Catalonia and me sick and strung out on rum, taking shelter on cathedral steps from the downpour and on the beach under vast archipelagos of stars, watching lightning storms out at sea, lighting up hidden cloud-continents and the night-ships and the eternal lullaby of the waves ebb and flow and the ghosts by the mooring rigs and the steam from the subway minotaurs and tightrope-walking the walls and the side-streets of the Jewish quarter and the train charging to Barcelona and the harbour at the magic hour and the simple explosive elation of being alive,

Except you’re not there. That time and place are gone forever. Instead you’re here, on a train going god knows where, you haven’t checked, reading Howl thinking you’re not alone, Ginsberg went mad too, pleading in the confines of your skull for the cursed train to start, convinced everyone knows from the smallest child to the man in the suit with the stasi eyes reading this morning’s penny dreadful,

convinced all the birds in all the trees are clockwork and in the employment of the state and knowing even if by some miracle you approached the border of sleep, the customs guards would be bastards and send you back, documents or no documents,

and yet somewhere you think, wild girls are singing by the halo of a saintly floodlight and the drunken night sonata has begun again with each tide of shouts and sirens like calls to prayer and the faint Constantinople drift of music and an armada of fuckups will fill the streets seeking temporary oblivion, glammed up like Hindu gods and the lights of satellites and planes coming into land will be Magi stars, marking out this wretched glorious city on the plains, your hometown, Sodom, Gomorrah, the night before god decides to act…

(St John of the Railway Tracks is an ongoing Ginsberg-inspired poem that changes according to the time and location of it’s reading – last version Neu Reekie 5, Edinburgh)

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