Umbrella
A Journal of poetry and kindred prose


Rob A. Mackenzie

was born in Glasgow in 1964 and has lived in Edinburgh for 18 months after several years in the North of Italy. He has published poems in many UK literary magazines.

His chapbook, The Clown of Natural Sorrow, was published by Happenstance Press in 2005. One of his poems was commended in the UK National Poetry Competition 2005.  His blog is Surroundings.

Read Katy Evans Bush's Interview with Rob

< Back to Poetry Contents>

 

 

Temptations

If you are the Son of God, find a desert
where breezes seethe like oven—fans
and rocks bake themselves
into loaves,

and sit parched before the blurred oasis
where mermaids swallow champagne
and giant cacti pump the pools
with fresh water.

If jackals yowl behind the dunes
and scorpions scrape the dust
at your heels, these pass
like hunger, thirst;

the hardest test is not the little devil
with his kingdoms, but the sand
cooling your head each night
you think of home.

 

Nothing Sacred

Windows shut and curtains close.
Cars pull up outside with roses,
sausage rolls and whisky casks.

Priests are turned away, their curses
blocked. The church bells lurch off-key,
hymn the body’s slow decay.

Kiss and coin chafe fousty skin,
swiftly sealed in. Guests spill wine,
snuff the votive candle stack,

paint an X where Jesus snacks
on stale loaves above the bed,
drive in pins to draw his blood.

With one voice they mumble out
their psalm, Praise the human spirit,
praise for motion, praise the drone,

send us homeward,
no amen;
but men genuflect in corners,
cross their fingers undercover.

Duty done, now time to mourn;
they hoist drams to severed moon
and dark, trip over legs of chairs,

light the wicks in search of doors.

 

Evolution loosely after Auden

The floors are buried under piles.
Papers, clothes and children’s toys
claim each space and redeploy
themselves as guardians of the files.

The desks creak under mounds of food
boarders thread their way around.
One says, I can’t abide the sound
of vacant spaces on good wood.

Empires fall like distant rain,
clutter up the shelves with tomes
and ruins. Hear the tombs and bombs
rattle loaded drawers again.

In testing zones and wastelands, great
insect swarms engage the flowers,
empty out the early hours
and fill the skies before it’s late.

 

Room

Don’t mistake intimacy
for confession. There isn’t much time
and the facts are like this room—
later you’ll deny
ever being here, you’ll remember only
I gave you a cigarette, although
I didn’t.

Only this matters –
the meal, the cobweb dripping
from the ornate border, the charge
that snaps the room awake
in a bullet of light,
and your face when I say,
“Take, eat. This is
my body.”

 

Stoning

The lawyers print portentous scraps
and fragments by the ton. The rain
of words on broken flesh falls heavy;
and heavier still, those carved on stone.

But can a stone take human form?
And can a word wear flesh? In silence,
in solid hallways of a rock,
the lawyers cage the evidence.

 

Stairway

The stairs curve upward endlessly,
although some travellers have heard rumours
that a bottomless chasm
waits for all who step too far.

It is dark. We toggle our duffle coats
ignite our useless lamps. We are guided
only by sound. We tell ourselves,
This is faith.

We hear trumpets, more Dizzy Gillespie
than military brass, and we dance
carelessly up the slippery slope.

This is only hope dreaming—
the rising heartbeat of music.

The opposite of faith
is not faithlessness or doubt,
but despair. In that, faith is similar to hope
except it cannot be dreamed further
than the next footfall into darkness.

 

Your Soul

Your soul has three names;
the mirror, the holdall, the word
you dare not read.

You blame your father for your glare.
You groom your son to fill your shadow.
You press your ghost into a page.
Your soul has three names
                                                        for you.

 

An Excavation

The angel chops his wings and contacts heaven
with the news. “God,” he prays. “Deep in the earth,
there lies a secret. I would give my soul
to sing its power.” He buys a spade and sheds
his white gown for a boilersuit, his halo
for a helmet, and digs for metaphysics.

He whistles as he digs. The metaphysics,
he’s heard, lies warped in dust, small scraps of heaven
trapped in earth. He strikes a plastic halo
from an old Nativity set. The earth
offloads its treasures easily; it sheds
its Christmas bells and pipes as if its soul

were light, just as chicken-soup-for-the-soul
philosophies dress up as metaphysics
to fool the freshly recondite. He sheds
the helmet, wipes his brow, digs deep where heaven
curves against the tangled roots of earth
and helps them grow, imperfectly; where halos

wait to find their role. The plastic halo,
flung off like a Frisbee, sends a soul
bulleting back, a boomerang the earth
lifts and turns until the metaphysics
explains the path it takes. It’s not a shedding
of plastic for angelic. More that heaven

stirs such harmonies. More that heaven
scores a hole in all there is. Even a halo’s
fiery ring has emptiness to shed.
Its centre sparks, just as a solid soul
might open cracks to conjure metaphysics
out of nothingness. Although on earth,

some hymn Messiahs to return, to earth
great psalmodies as proof, an abstract heaven
reveals itself in gaps. The metaphysics
the angel digs for hangs its truths on halos
in dust, or empty cribs, down where a soul
twists inside-out, filled by the soil it sheds.

A song spins the earth like a hula-halo
till it sheds its being, till its soul
fragments, with metaphysics, into heaven.

 

The Tall Seats James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and asked, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory”… Jesus replied, “Can you drink the cup I drink?” (Mark 10:35, 38)

They booked the tall seats by his side
without thinking. “I won’t provide
much home comfort,” he said. “A soul
in heaven needs no glory-hole
or golden terrace.” They qualified

their fervour. “Just for wine and bread
on earth then?” But he shook his head.
“I’ve chosen Judas for the meal.
He booked the tall seat

next to me weeks ago. He’ll slide
off to Sheol, leave me for dead,
and taste my body on the hill
nevertheless. Two others will
find enthronement, crucified.
They booked the tall seats.”