Out West
The sign had only just been erected, and the smoke was a signal nobody could make sense of even in the film version. But the horses knew where they were going and around sunup we found ourselves lying in a bed of cactus. Elk Head said he'd seen it all before and that we should hold out for a better offer. I should tell you something about Elk Head. He'd once been a warrior but was now reduced to hawking encyclopaedias door-to-door. His face, scarred by many near-death adventures, was enough to scare his own dogs. Business was slow. His memoir of those former times, a kind of Socratic dialogue with a stallion who remains nameless, enjoyed a brief notoriety for a while. He put it all down in an old cashbook with illustrations in the margins. The stallion is bright blue. But the dialogue was all one way, as far as the sheriff was concerned, 'a pile of horse shit'. The sheriff likes things quiet. He's aiming to re-invent himself as an actor, and has had an eye on the mountains ever since the mail came through. Cripple Creek is no place for women. 'Put your pants back on boys, we don't want no horse play around here,' he says, to no one in particular.

Lives of the Great Explorers
Those blue foxes have stolen the bedding again. They're incorrigible.
No matter how many we kill and stack up they keep coming back.
It must be the novelty, or perhaps they've yet to learn fear.
                           At least we have pyjamas, and of course
fox pelts, and sleeping under the stars is a kind of prophylactic.
We might even dream.
                           But where are we exactly? That easy chair
washed up on the beach looks like a Mies van der Rohe
the arm rests gone, though the plastic sandals were mass produced
so we're none the wiser.
                           We have the consolation of delicate mosses,
there's salad, and the first half of Genet's Querelle de Brest
we take turns reading. Evening classes start next week. The natives,
if there are any, keep their distance.

Slow boat to China
Who'd want to give it up having got this far?
There's going to be a fresh push next week
and we all have to get behind the wheel
one way or another, that's the theory at least,
eyes peeled in case of a no show,
a race to the bottom, and back up again.
As for me, I'm still trying out the last version
the accessories still in the box. The small print
was all over the place, last time I looked,
like an anthill in a sandstorm. Ask the receptionist
or that fellow by the water cooler checking his tie.
We'll have to start again from the end
of the previous page if that's how
the numbers pan out. It won't be the first time.
But how far have we come? Didn't we
start out from here yesterday? And the road ahead
is a story we read months ago.  
I'd slip off early if we weren't moving, circling
like a reminder of something
lost in the middle of nowhere in particular.
It's too late now to admit we hid the instructions.
Sew it up at the back. No one will notice
provided we stand here long enough.

Over the hills and far away
Life had become a bed of thistles, for most of us
sooner or later, a park bench cordoned off
with a large sign announcing: 'danger',
our frailties broadcast to every passing ship
in the bay. That's how it goes. It's natural
and comes around like autumn leaves,
predictable as an old song, then someone
sweeps them up and makes mulch out of them.
Nothing is wasted, as our grandmothers
liked to affirm, the samplers their
gave them still hanging above the bed,
the simple texts a daily source of succour:
'Happy the man that trusteth not to the morrow.'
Sooner or later we'll get there and it might
even be spring again, in one form
or another, though it's more than we dare
hope for, a path heading up through the pines.

     Simon Collings 2015