Poetry for Scientists

(after Lavinia Greenlaw, mutatis mutandis)

We take a cab to your flat
on a Saturday afternoon. Those cultured brain-cells
have spawned an idea, and you must feed them.

Your wife makes us welcome.
With its comfortable air, kids' toys, and flowers,
I'm surprised by your room. Sure, there are

books on shelves
and enough scattered papers to make me
nervous of sitting down, but on the table

sits the latest cellular telephone,
and next to the word processor
a fax stutters a sonnet.

You open the door of an ordinary fridge,
offer me a beer, but say
you drink nothing stronger than Perrier yourself.

I want a draughty garret,
tousled hair and Byronic eyes,
the threat of death by opium or razored vein.

I want an empty whisky
bottle, several mistresses, the grubby remains
of a week-old dinner on the draining board,

to catch sight of poetry
in the forceful crossing out of a half-completed
manuscript, to discuss the uselessness

of your contemporaries -
how x is over-rated
and y never fulfilled her early promise.

I miss the Thursday afternoons:
"honour rooted in dishonour," synecdoche
and zeugma with its odd initial letter.

Now, I watch you
turn on your dictation machine to record
each new idea, in search of a rhyme

or at least a word that fits,
or else in hope of some wild inspiration
that without your eye for an image, I'd certainly miss.

© Peter Howard

First published in Poetry Review