Three poems by Tom Norton


Atomic Jam, Birmingham, October 2001


following a crocodile of blokes dressed as neon nuns with habits

shining orange and fluorescent blue we scale the stairs, kick drum

rumbling through double doors, inside the giant nave stained

glass saints bow to glow sticks and boiler suits, seats slope in

galleries toward the packed and bouncing floor, green lasers from

the rafters cutting smoke and strobe with Hawtin on the altar

spinning missives of enfolding sound


thighs jitter full decks of camels and sock-smuggled pills as we

ready in wooden pews to ascend, for the swell from stomach to

fingers to brain, for the leaping and grinning, the wringing of

hands and the strutting, the blur, warped faces and sweat-palmed

embraces, sour cigarettes in chill-out rooms, gurning reconciliations

to head massages from a dreadlocked girl – the world outside has

shifted, office workers fall to flee the acrid smoke as steel towers

crash into the dust, our leaders tensing vengeance, in here we beat,

molecules vibrating to a common technic heart, laying claim to

our millennium, though we know what is to come


foetal shiverings as slideshow scenes unravel under eyelids,

snapshots of a shuffling dawn, glances on buses from african

mothers in sunday best, their pinks and oranges blanching

colour from our pallid faces as we hold the rails, eyes darting

anywhere but back




New Marigny


Flip-flopped feet splash the coloured

shotguns of Dauphine, in darkness

cross the tracks at Press, frogs call

from storm puddles. Candy plays blind

inside Big Daddy’s, ban forcing crowds

onto the corner, neighbours earplugged

through the night. In the Spotted Cat

I spin with green-haired Emily, between

Sazerac and Makers Mark, Bruno blasting

blues on alto sax, down Frenchmen

lights and sirens stop illicit jazz with jeers

from jocks and lawyers, who cling to neon

hand grenades and stagger the Big Easy.

Above St Claude no whites walk,

bass lines rattle wooden shutters,

grandmothers resigned on peeling

porches, storm-strength windows

smashed at St Roch Market,

‘Fuck yuppies’ painted on the wall,

while a new Marigny builds.



Dropping Coins


In a tequila sweat I wake to rows of drivers baking in tin boxes and

leaning on their horns, Mixtec mother screaming ‘giant balloons!’

beneath my window while the old boy hawking scratch cards is

straining to be heard and the organ grinder who once under his

breath called me a fucking gringo has begun his day’s rotation of

the handle – I listen to this bees’ nest, watch the colours in the

furry morning heat and then I’m with them, sweating on my way

for heuvos and frijoles. By the high wall of Santísima Trinidad my

man exits a taxi on his hands, gorilla shoulders heaving him across

the pavement where he rolls his blanket out onto the dust.

‘Buenos días, joven,’ his large face creases recognition because

I am the sore thumb, particularly tall and pink, that passes every

day, often dropping coins into his hat. And, spooning salsa onto

eggs, I wonder where he sleeps, who drops him off and picks him

up each day, how in six months I haven’t seen him angry or upset,

give any sign of irritation at the chaos of the city, nor of pain

though his bones are buckled, not even in his eyes which speak,

saying ‘no, I never long for crisp spring mornings, for grass still

wet with dew, for bitter beer and car rides through quiet Surrey

hills,’ and he will hunch on his brown blanket long after I’m gone,

nodding up at passers-by, an island in the clamour of the street.




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