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I have often composed poems while travelling,

particularly by train. These were written while
stationary. Yet, curiously, I find myself thinking
about what they represent in terms of navigating
in the world.
The five sequences represent the questions of
poetics I happened to explore in the intervals
between trips to China in March, Venice in
August and London in November.
Almost naked? captures imagined moments with
the minimum of fuss; as close as I come to
‘honest, primitive and real thoughts.’ With
allegiance to the dead uses a version of Burroughs’
cut up technique to qualify incipient ambition
and optimism. Fatal tendency positions
attachments to things as nascent myths. If you are
reading this... was inspired by the title of a BBC
Radio 4 programme about the letters soldiers
write in case they die. Facts at last and more
questions returns to the quest for wit and wisdom,
economy of means, and contact.
I have no use for distinctions between one art
and another. I try to remain open to the quality
of the materials to hand and make what I can of
them. That is all.
Geoff Matthews
November 2008
Dead Reckoning
a collection of poems
Geoffrey Mark Matthews

First published 2009 by
Sunk Island Publishing
7 Lee Avenue, Heighington, Lincoln, LN4 1RD, UK

Dead Reckoning
©2008 Geoffrey Mark Matthews
photographs and cover design
©2008 Geoffrey Mark Matthews

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be

reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording or otherwise,
without the prior permission of the publishers.

paperback edition
ISBN 978-1-874778-56-1

printed and bound by Lulu


Almost naked? 5
Make a fist 6
Tumuli 7
To make it home from home 8
Cross word 9
Parfum and pain 10
July 11
Space 12
Sense making 13
Youth aged 14
Horrors unarticulated 15
Tools for daily use 16
Restaurant hunt 17
Death bed 18

With allegiance to the dead 21

Dreams of Being 22
The truth about humans 26
Invention 31
Get Weaving 32
Revolution 33

Fatal tendency 35
Egg slicer 36
Comb 37
Mug 38
Pencil sharpener 39
‘If only I could remember
tomorrow’ 40

Cartridge case 41
Bedside alarm 42
Briefcase 43
Paperweight 44
Camera 45
Ballpoint 46
Torch battery 47

If you are reading this 49

Funerals: Father, Son, Mother 50
Pilot lights 51
Busy busy busy 52
Bereft 53
One hundred and
twenty-eight thousand
(minimum) 54
Excellent gentleman indeed 55
Message from the bottle 56
Because I am not brave 57
Electrician 58
Retired 59
Taken away 60
Seaside view 61
Migration 62

Facts at last and more questions 65

Sun 66
Shower 67
Murder 68
Perception 69
Recession 70
Short days 71
No accident 72
Looking on 73
Work 74
Allegiance 75
Not feeling myself 76
No rules 77
Life or art 78

Appendix: Sources for With allegiance

to the dead 81

Colophon 85
Author notes 87

For Ma
Almost Naked?

Hank: To re-think a flow and a rhythm, a tumbling out of the

words, is a betrayal. That’s a sin Martin ...
Martin: I don’t accept your catholic interpretation of my compulsive
necessity to rewrite every single word at least a hundred
times. Guilt is the key. …Guilt re not considering
everything from every possible angle…
Hank: Well how about guilt re censoring your best thoughts, your
most honest, primitive, real thoughts?

William Burroughs, The Naked Lunch

(David Cronenberg, dir. 1993)

Make a fist

is the only way

if there is blood
swab it

simply level things out
ready for the next
bath time

one day
you’ll fall
all the way

served up for the sun so
blisters and scabs form
in the quick

smog compressed
on ferns that
blacken and bubble
and spread tumescence
through the forest

deep in the bowels
of the temple
turn wall slime into
a blockage

and up in the hills

buried rocks into quarries

with ease
the organism consumes

To make it home from home

take what I touch every day

other constraints
finer points here

thigh to table rail
bottom step to sofa
wall to gate swing

mature blankets folded back
loose sultanas in the hand
damp cardboard by the sink

punctuating sounds
junk mail arriving
flush and pipe shudder
porridge erupting in the pan

any indecisions that pass

all of those things

or none
Cross word

five across
six letters


‘yawn’ only has four letters

don’t be ridiculous

I get it

if you say so

Parfum and pain

in the midst of indescribable violence

a solitary flower
is bleeding its scent
into the light

not as promiscuous as clover

but similarly foliate and infinitesimal
it sings of ‘living on borderlines’

no translation is possible
so Jacques was saying

between labour and Sabbath

battle and abstraction
we are meant to remember

mother wading through wheat

holding a basket above the ears

comrades crossing a river

rifles raised

for years and years

grandma wore violet

a growl
a rip of vertical water
earthy air and silence

lattice fence scintillating

steaming tarmac
a hum

distant siren
clammy neck
a blackbird


blood is black
bark is green
the sea
has no colour
is all colours

across the sky

a blade scrapes the clouds away
skin from the eyes
to reveal
the higher
the deeper
one cannot breathe
Sense making

turning pages
for a blind pianist
why would you do it?

to argue
an ear is an eye?

of course
of course it is

and this is a cadence

Youth aged

portfolio careers
rococo plaster
each is excessive and ugly

perfectly pitched pure tone

and hard-won wisdom
two beauties indeed

but superior

cool and poised

Horrors unarticulated

doubled up and at rest

listening to radio voices
that drift into liminality
my favourite space
is a releasing

the trouble with this

is the words that float by
they lull
slice through a translucency of thought

only where they touch does it become clear

descend too near the deep

and without words
tendons tense in wrist and knee

Tools for daily use

lifting the pen is

a cry in battle

may be used to extract
finger nails
on the other hand

after thirteen years

found standing still in a surgery
and what Endo doesn’t know about pain
can’t be tended to

there was a scar

it ran through the eyes
to the tip of the iceberg brain

at fifty
collapsed on the pavement
a living stretch of sinew
shocked with ancient power
dropped at the hospital door
at Endo’s convenience
Restaurant hunt

a distant siren in the ear

head like a gripped testicle
sweat and hair tickle
flies barrage
cobbles ripple with heat
toes pop with pain
walking for a meal
a damned meal

Death bed

the livery of life

a sallow skin
etched and foxed
rides up the bed clothes

a smile
watery eyed and deeply cynical
glides like a moonlit owl

in at the kill
just a few words
to grasp the throat
rip the heart
impress guilt

this is weary love

With allegiance to the dead

‘I wanted to be a writer, not popular, but

with allegiance to the dead.’
Leonard Cohen

Dreams of Being

at King Arthur’s court

I nibbled away at folkways
as a night watchman
I kept vigil by my sword
a sense of the uncanny
that was exactly the spirit of it
it was kind of cold and
not merely happy
I became a citizen of the world


infertile couples buying
the troubles
of child rearing

mothers fret and worry
and forget to enjoy
their young children

gratification from frustration and yearning

figure against ground
and flip
figure against ground
there is happiness
but no absence of pain

between aspirations
and animal limitations

fear and anxiety drive

the neurotic on
to be so human

ideals and standards of perfection

will intrude
will take the blood out of it

let things and people happen

be ecstatic


you’re about to die
about to be executed

how vivid everything looks
how precious everyone seems

saying goodbye

what would you say?
what would you do?
what would you feel?

communication suspicion
understanding paranoid expectation
inclusiveness fear
intimacy enmity
trust defensiveness
open-ness contemptuousness
honesty condescension
self-exposure polarization
feedback splitting
identification alienation
closeness foreign-ness
compassion separation
tolerance exclusion
acceptance hatred


a blissful retirement
fishing or listening to Beethoven
it may be mystical
we may see visions
and make resolutions
but after the ecstasy comes misery
for we are not gods
we have humour and paranoia
we sweat
and we die


material things are good

in the hands of good people

the fact is
good clothes
fine houses
beautiful gardens
big cars
they are contaminating
and useful

with intimacy destroyed

I think it comes down
to necessity
a perpetual yearning
a searching for the cultural

The truth about humans

Scott with ‘Nobby’

Oates with ‘Punch’
Bowers with ‘Uncle Bill’
Gran with ‘Weary Willie’
Cherry-Garrard with ‘Guts’

if you march your Winter Journeys

you will have your reward
so long as all you want
is a penguin’s egg


well organized
admirably so
food supplies for a city

delivery vans

you meet
on the streets of Moscow
now and again
and see the truth about humans

it is a topographical error
there is an hysterical laugh
and this man tells me
in a well-remembered and familiar accent

the inquisition
is in the hands of its enemies
of many thousand departed friends


I was cured all right

lying prone and vanquished
in the embrace of the season
of rain and death

the waves of music

dissolving into the dying brasses
and still to come
there was the slow movement
and the lovely last singing movement
and on into the sky

those fields again

with black ploughed patches
drenched crows and jackdaws
without one ray of sunlight

it’s a depressing world



he seems to reach
a state ‘above the battle’
we also know
that no man
ever knew more bitterly
what the battle is

this may mean

that there is
no hope for the human race
but there is hope


they craved
not for mere reason
but for signs and miracles
marvellously new or absolutely archaic
they have constituted the dark
but firm web of our experience

make no mistake about it

I’m doing this for me


despite the frosts and storms to come

the harsh days and bitter nights
maybe the drink-induced chant
of the football fans
‘we’re here because we’re here’
has the answer
after all

a faint glow of colour on the topmost twigs

signs of life
signs of integration
those who follow them will prevail


the magic wand

makes water come out of the rock
the faulty yardstick
turns everything it touches
into dust


what it was
that enabled ordinary men
young and old
to bear life’s burden

that hand
whose waverings in the gloom
are watched by ages immemorial

the space of men’s free deeds

and living words
is vibrant


eternal simplicities
generate the enrichment of art
from their own bosoms

if the fountain dwindles away

if we lose ourselves in past or future
if we are rent and wasted in sterile conflict
we are remiss

only in apprehending time

can we attain to that sphere
where all time is extinguished

all’s over
all begins again
the mighty are properly dismayed


suicide is not worth the trouble

no moment can know
what the next will bring

one day the children we share

will use whale power
to travel faster in the mind

life is worth living

for the sake of rubble
not the way leading through it

an activity between deed and thought

new endeavours
of the kind humans combine

traditions and cultures live between

the difference of difference
a state of balance without unification

finally hope raises concepts

for all kinds of openness

its disastrous
would-be process
unfolds second by second
there are those that show us first

Get weaving

the omission is deliberate

and its logical character

evaluate and dominate

that much is unavoidable

it will be observed that
the subject said nothing

this ‘someone’
might exclaim
are identical with and not identical with
the intricate

play is a natural activity

and work an ideal attitude
thus art remains
in its unfolding form

Fatal Tendency

‘Only for a moment: everything that man has

handled has the fatal tendency to secret
Octavio Paz Marcel Duchamp:
Appearance Stripped Bare

Egg slicer

I found an egg slicer

a regular thing in the kitchen
but not in the nursery

it sounds glorious
a peal of cathedral bells
three miles away

it remains cold
under-utilised and a little red in the crevasses

without considerable violence

subjecting the egg to a solidifying heat
and shelling it
it’s a useless utensil

but love
love chimes
love spews
love bubbles up through the fields

on autopilot
from the pub
fumbling for keys or change
something falls
in the dark

in the grit
quickly assimilated
between yellow line and curb

someone’s curls went cross-wired

in daylight
Tony plucks it for his torture

the surreal moment

I saw it perform in Greenwich Theatre


a particular stain
year after year

I don’t know if it was the way you washed up

or something inherent in the glaze

no-one drinks out of it now

months go by

I prefer my cup
Pencil sharpener

puckered like a cat’s arse

an unattractive place to push a pencil
it comes out
crap for drawing with

‘If only I could remember tomorrow’

That’s what the jazz musician said

readiness is all
the rest is silence

left thumb ache

teeth on edge
peculiar dizziness
a conversation of gestures
knowing only the moment
it disappears

daytime delirium
retirement of a sort

it came with a case

lined in green velvet
in the creases
traces of sticky agony
gone black
Cartridge case

a paper coffin
they say
can play no part
framing death
too flimsy

not true
to touch each cartouche
is to find an ancestor
less than in the flesh
or flush

but the last flourish of remembrance

preserves something
the ephemeral

Bedside alarm

the stars turned

the moon went by
your skin stuck to mine
my arm died and
prickled back to life
the window crackled with rain
milk bottles tinkled
an airliner roared like distant surf

inside my head
a tedious moralizing discourse
on the likelihood of breakfast in bed
did we earn it?

it is as if
there were no higher point
only a pause is possible
before descent into
the noise
the smoke
the madness

it is as if
the finishing touch
was yours
just before you drew breath
and left

it is as if
the summit
of our achievement
is this chase
this stupid competition


the air moves slowly past the keyboard

more quickly through the room
blows a gale at height

the pages are turned virtually

only near the window
never over the world

there is a way to hold them down

by force of memory
physical isolation
under a stone weight

of which history is the lightest


tolerable light penetrates

excites electrochemically
leaves a binary trace

it completely lacks emotion

polyester pulling a single leg hair

a dog barking in the next street
the smell of chips and vinegar

it captures none of these

I wish it could
with such pictures I would feel something

‘not at home’ perhaps

what I captured was

a glint on her cheek
a slightly blurred hand
her Chinese teeth

I showed the soles of my shoes

offered cash with one hand
blew snot into fine white cotton

at the time
I did not see
the condemnation of her manners


types of bleeding
that drain the day and
destroy one’s sense of
fairness in the world
are too numerous to mention

it occurred to me that
the worst had nothing to do with
physiological excesses
self loathing
nothing to do with blood at all

I have a heavy silk jacket

I wore it once
over my lowest rib
is a nebula of fixed ink
Torch battery

it is not that it gives

little heat and even less light

extending invisibly
inviting ions
to play
like high harmonics
to dance before the imagination
and on a day like this to connect
with giant machine gyrations
in a gymnasium of anxiety and love

I am
transported for a moment
that the journey
is from bliss to ignorance

If you are reading this...

‘And when I come round it was dark... It turned out

there was a blanket over the top of me and I’d been
left for dead.’
Fusilier Joseph Pickard
1/5th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers
Forgotten Voices of The Great War


I remember shorelines filled with amber notes
maybe the camber of a tarmac road
ending suddenly in a drop
the eroding coast
drowning steel and concrete
as easily as timber stakes
and brick

there is only yesterday
the lad existed and then
drafted, detailed, deleted
he was on his way
to a destination he will never reach
poor bastard
he got his
you got yours

the batteries are finally dead
the towel is back on the towel rail
there will be no more cars in the drive way
stones will gradually migrate
and amongst them
you will find
Pilot lights

undeservedly lost
how did the trail become so flimsy
the flight so straight
so shear?

there is a bruise
to suit each turn
fades more slowly than vapour
but signals the same vanishing

time’s banishment into amnesia

neither bounds any reading

if the path looks clean

the hunter is behind you

Busy busy busy

don’t look back

feel a warmth in your heart
accept it
it will be my respect
exiting the wound

feel cold

you will see neither

my eyes
nor the knife

did I promise anything?

if I did
I apologise
it was unwise of me
I thought of the wrong things
imagination failed me

when these little stabbing words

are finished
forget them
forget me
after all
it’s physics
remembering always fails
more completely than forethought

One hundred and twenty eight thousand

is it a sickness
or slapstick?

frames snap
one after another
mantraps set by a visionary idiot

hoping to tell us something interesting

he scripts
bends and chops up time

then admits
it’s a madness
Excellent gentleman indeed

in China
phonetics work for alien names

two warring characters

may join in harmony

shoulder, arm, wrist and fingers

attack without pause
discipline the brush
to dance

art is on every street

its name
excellent gentleman
is yours

Message from the bottle

I am on a beach
permanently dazed
in a paradise of birds, turtles and coconuts
the air is crystalline by night and
opal mornings dissolve into liquid bleach

death white detritus

sand, feather, shell, frond
all aspire to
the condition of driftwood
travelling, deteriorating
unlikely to be saved

hair and teeth gone

eye sockets empty
my feet are green
Because I am not brave

my gestures may have betrayed me

but not my face
not my voice

there were unfamiliar odours on your clothes

suspending sensibilities
washing froze on the line

one by one
fish disappeared from the pond

night after night

a dog barking

it became too much


there is a limit to the length of a waiting

I realize this
but I cannot be there to tell you

pick up the razor I left in the bathroom

it is safe
it is the only memento I can see you needing

everything else needs earthing


what colour?
I could never decide
something more eccentric?

one day a desk

the next a workbench
occasionally a boardroom
or unpredictably all three in one day

and then
style and colour actually mattered then

so much easier now

Taken away

a great invention
the wing nut

wrist and fingers

making things

it represents
the illusion of control
Seaside view

common sense insists

that we stay inside
and look out

was Freud an idiot
and Marx
a genius?

homunculus in the passenger seat

the passage of time
marked by windscreen wipers
and rivulets

distant waves
lost in their own backwash
never close enough to speak

and we are
losing ourselves


you doubted me
felt me drift
then drifted yourself
into numbness

stopped travelling
sat at a window
unfurled a melancholic smile
substituted cold recall for care

weary of the weariness


lift your eyes

your body
follow the birds
Facts at last and more

‘Nothing is left absolute by modern physics but

equations – and these are thoughts.’
Chistopher Caudwell Illusion and Reality.


day after day

irradiating white mountains of condensation
fierce in its brilliance
it purifies and dissolves

the ground emerges in crevices

then caverns open to reveal greys
green greys and charcoal greys
pocked with blue greys

silvery spines become visible

then grids
lines of pastel dots
and dark broken webs

these human traces

resolved in light
mean so much
yet matter so little

down there
too small to see
a man is covered
so as not to burn

that man is me

waiting on silence
to know that rain comes
entranced by small movements
bones chill

a spider
fast and vicious

a bird
aerates its feathers
in near darkness

a leaf
turns its pale side
in a shimmer

like acrylic peeling from polythene

or PVC cracking between thieving fingers
all this natural stuff
seems contrived
inhumanly alive
never consumed

the slow-motion crackle
momentary cheek splash
darkening tarmac sheen
and grass sparkle
as the cloud passes


trouble shifts its weight

hip to the toes opposite
ready to sprint
ready to threaten

on the road’s lit side

couples ignorantly pass
through glass

different gazes dissect the dark

a naked crab
a slug
laden with venom enough to deafen

a call out
diagrammatic violence
furiously automatic and animal

metres away
as saliva returns to grease the mind
traces are suppressed

but memory curses

the murder victim lives

and around him
the dying die

the colour of slate soaked in oil

its texture and taste
stretch miles
from my fallen face

a blood rivulet
joins the white water
whole trees churn
sending tremors to my skull

nature is the accident

not the flood


nothing is given
when a leaf falls
autumn is not the cause
it is simply a story

are most aptly named
unlike the stalks
from which they fall
and as for twigs
maybe they have moments
of knowing and becoming
but that would be

‘root and branch’

the elders say
when what they mean is
look at the litter
how it swirls in the wind
dampens down
and smells like cannabis
Short days

the swan disappears

its down sinks into
constantly wet
herbal grass which
twitches with frogs

a feather lands
next to a stone
snow only delineates
the latter

ducks approaching the

invisible edge of ice

so little movement

at night
mink pock the lawn

a feint green haze
in the skeletal trees

the swan reappears

No accident

desperate for the moment to pass

a perception translates into electricity
and hits the coccyx

I say
pinch the skin together
hold it there

I felt the blade

touch your bone

there’s no proof
that distance effects are real
but in some way
we are connected
Looking on

the edge is indistinct

frisson positions it
not the physical

we feel it when
rock splits liquid rage
or a fist hits the table
when we leap into a pile of leaves
or dream inside a dandelion head
when parents kiss
or enemies smile
when mountains slide
when concrete collapses
or glass cracks and stays in place
when idols shatter
and fall to the floor

the consequences arise

in singing the solitude of it all


a circle like every other

piled high with words


the sole reason

his own space pure


some programmed conveyor

until it starts to blow

violence is constant
for the conscript
it’s simply a question
of time and place

what unconventional origins

may decide
is beside the point

whenever he’s called upon

the pattern will repeat
for real
and eventually
as subtle meditation
until haunted

and once haunted

in guilt and
say to him

play yourself

Not feeling myself

eating cake
tasting fish
and ketchup

dreaming a dog
a soprano
and a burning tower

I have green glands

sticky arms
seeds in my tear ducts and teeth
a vice on my spine

tortoise sounds
drown the world
through an immoveable snowflake
it’s hot

and your hand

is cool
No rules

if I scratch and search

each word appears
struck through
by the feint

if I navigate the lines

words flow and drape
and hang and die

if I take indelible ink

strike out on virgin paper
like a drunk
I sink or sing

Life or art

sex and death

that is it
why so many words?
why so many acts of indecent banality?
why so many attachments?
why so many emotions?
why so many molecules arranged so many ways?
why so many people?
why so many questions?

crossing some threshold

between complexity and eternity
we messed up
Appendix - With allegiance to the dead

Sources for ‘Dreams of Being’

Material is taken from the following papers in
Future Visions: the Unpublished Papers of Abraham
Maslow edited by Edward Hoffman:
I – ‘My Early Revelations about Culture and
II – ‘The Psychology of Happiness’.
III – ‘Acceptance of the Beloved in Being-Love’,
‘The Jonah Complex’ and ‘The Psychology of
IV – ‘Regaining our Sense of Gratitude’.
V – ‘Higher Motivation and the New
Psychology’, ‘Laughter and Tears’ and ‘Science,
Psychology, and the Existential Outlook’.
VI – ‘Building Community Through T-Groups’.
VII – ‘Fostering Friendship, Intimacy and
Community’ and ‘Defining the American

Sources for ‘The truth about humans’

I – The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley
Cherry-Garrard (1886-1959), first-hand account
of Scott’s last Antarctic expedition 1910-13,
published in 1922.
II – The First Circle by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
translated by Michael Guybon.

III – ‘Shadow’, ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ and
‘The Oblong Box’ in Tales of Mystery and
Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe.
IV – A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess,
Sanctuary by William Faulkner, and ‘How Ivan
Ivanovich Quarrelled with Ivan Nikiforovich’ by
Nikoláy Vasilévich Gogol translated by Ronald
V – Beethoven: His Spiritual Development by J W N
Sullivan and Games People Play by Eric Berne.
VI – ‘Rabindranath Tagore and the
Consciousness of Nationality’ in The Sense of
Reality by Isaiah Berlin, The Birth of the Clinic by
Michel Foucault translated by A M Sheridan,
and Body and Soul by Anita Roddick.
VII – The Conduct of Life by Lewis Mumford and
The Artful Designer by James Gardner
VIII – The Act of Creation by Arthur Koestler.
IX – On Revolution by Hannah Arendt and The
Voices of Silence by André Malraux translated by
Stuart Gilbert.
X – Way to Wisdom by Karl Jaspers translated by
Ralph Manhein, Berlin: Coming in from the Cold by
Ken Smith, and Illusion and Reality by
Christopher Caudwell.
XI – ‘The Destructive Character’ in One-Way
Street by Walter Benjamin translated by Edmund
Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter, and GAIA by
James Lovelock.
Other sources:
‘Invention’ – Physics and Philosophy by Werner
‘Get weaving’ – Art and its Objects by Richard
‘Revolution’ – Education Through Art by Herbert
Read and ...


None of these poems has been published before.

I have neither sought nor received any financial
assistance towards the writing. I did my own
photography and page layouts. As the quotes I
have used are very short, no specific copyright
clearances have been sought. The sources for
With allegiance to the dead have been exploited
in ways that preserve nothing of the original
authors’ texts, so, again, no specific copyright
clearances have been sought. It may seem,
therefore, that I have no debts or favours or
permissions to acknowledge. Not so. Without
certain provocations these poems would never
have been written – thank you Mike.

Set in 12pt Garamond.

Printed and bound by Lulu – print on demand –

Geoffrey Mark Matthews is an artist,
writer and university academic and lives in
Lincolnshire. He was born in 1954 and
grew up in North Yorkshire. He attended
Richmond School, Scarborough Technical
College, Leeds Polytechnic and the
University of Hull. He worked as a
designer and curatorial assistant at the
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
before becoming a lecturer in 1986.
His first collection of poems, pausing at
Anger, was published in 1985 and his
second, The Familiar Reaches, in 2004.


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