Illustration by Arpan Roy

Paternity Suite


Is this a gem-like flame I see before me

or a lucid stone whose echoed sparkles’

fire is cold? The only living crackles

here come from a turning page. It might be

good for kindling, but won’t easily

catch light unless its sluggish particles

are really shaken up. Heat’s articles

of faith are plain: in order to set free

its latent gifts, first rap your chosen match,

then settle back to watch as colours run

and hide. Ephemeral penumbrage casts

a veil around itself as changelings hatch

and fall with every flick. Our trial’s begun:

true fire or false? The verdict never lasts.


True fire or false? The verdict never lasts.

No sooner sworn than challenged, overturned,

dismissed, denounced as glass, all fingers burned.

And yet despite denunciation’s gloom

and want of worth some lustre lives – it casts

out glowing spells like ashes quickly urned.

New juries pan the same old dust. Its churned

haze clots the air. This temporary tomb

has cribbed so many tenants in its time

nobody knows what’s lost and what remains.

Some fragments honoured, others bathed in lime.

The hammer cracks. Who means well and who feigns?

One search yields nothing but the quests resume –

let’s hope we find a good box to exhume.


Let’s hope we’ve found a good box to exhume –

one that carries a tune, weight, directions;

buried pleasure; scores with old connections;

formulae for conjuring lost perfume

or forgotten ghosts inscribed in volume

upon volume of arcane concoctions,

every line the subject of corrections,

riders, marginal delight, a costume-

party rising from the past to gatecrash

this unlikely future that our current

state presents. The casket’s brittle protest

puts its heirs on edge. (If some seem brash

it’s just for show. Their nerves are nearly spent.)

The lid falls back. Let’s hope it’s for the best.


The lid falls back. Let’s hope it’s for the best.

(We don’t want small-pox, Dracula’s Return,

grim fungus or some other undead pest

with time to kill and fantasies to burn.)

Show willing. If it’s clear we’ve come to learn

our measured purpose might appease our guest.

(Yeah right. And worm-holes in the tide will turn

waste into wine and grant the wicked rest.)

So doubters babble and the cynics fret –

too late. The gift is loose. Haul in the net.

Such ponderous dependency: I bet

it’s a full school…class essay on Regret –

the lips untaken and the steps unkissed;

the throat unshaken; the connection missed.


The hand not taken. The connection missed.

Lost words that lacked the legs to last the course.

Bent races where the jockeys shared a horse.

Thin fingers too demure to make a fist.

And now? A dissipated fantasist

who won’t shut up, a show-off growing hoarse,

this failing champion of all things coarse…

the ink turns sluggish in the dreamer’s wrist.

(Oneiric impotence – there’s nothing worse.)

A fug of old-school-timers, misty-eyed

with rage, disrupts the fugue, demanding sense,

and quite right too. So please; withdraw your curse,

rein in your temper and fall out with pride.

In future I’ll contrive to sound less dense.


In future we’ll contrive to sound less dense?

Like hell. Like bowels aspiring to be lungs.

Like narratives relayed without suspense.

Like legless tights or ladders missing rungs.

Like lice without a host or rootless hairs.

Like lies that lack a truth from which to veer.

Like dreams that fail to catch us unawares,

or eyes that shed their scales but not a tear.

Like likenesses whose sitters lose their heads.

Like rain that falls but never touches ground.

Like alphabets with vowels but no zeds,

and lips drawn back to scream that make no sound.

The end depends. Its trumpet’s wheeze lets live.

The air grows thick. A hymn. Our trusty sieve…


The air grows thick – a humid, rusty hive.

An owl rips off the last dry mouse and heads

for shelter under heavy trees. Our beds

have had it. No rest left tonight. Count – five,

six, seven seconds (every one alive

and ticking) separate each gigaped’s

collapsing ball from its connective threads’

luxated spreadsheet, light’s flashy archive.

Sand is glass. Coal ice. Stones merely vacuum-

packed displays of dust. Is this the same old

storm or something worse? (It’s such a bore

when chaos flips the rules – what’s sound, and whom

to trust?) The rubble winks. Rocks? Rubies? Gold?

One flaming gem unlike what’s gone before?


About the Poet

David Houston lives in North Yorkshire.  His poems have appeared in HazMat, California, &  A few paperback copies of his novel England’s Green are available through amazon.