James McGovern: ‘North of Cairo’

The odour of sweet living death
rushes out when I break
open your tomb, unseal the cheap reliquaries. Lilies.

Death in life. ‘Error overtakes the unteachable.’
And littered all around the flat
the things you found a laugh, signs in

the bathroom, magnets on the fridge:
‘I’m on a gin diet. So far I’ve lost
two days!’ ‘Cubicle Sweet Cubicle’

‘If you obey all the rules, you miss
all of the fun.’ In that you were
the greatest expert, with four

divorces and one bankruptcy to
prove it. Titters. Lighten up. You found
them a laugh. I do not, but I brush them down,

playing amateur archaeologist,
and store them away, as one might
store the bones of shrews, bottles

shaped like shells, oddities like that.
Some deep enquiries
made by us are empty wells: the sound of one

hand clapping; what the hell are dream beacons?
Yet there remain some questions which
despite appearing shallow

are loaded with importance: do moths
feel pain? Will those who hurt their
loved ones in this world do so heedlessly again

in the next? Is there not some
infinite sentence for petty sinners, perhaps
fitting the sin: an eternity of listening

soberly to drunks, of being thrashed gently and told
you are never good enough?
As I excavate your flat, I put on music that

I know you loathed: Mancini, the idiom of jazz.
May such honeyed tones echo round your bones
forever and ever. Saxophone Gehenna.


James McGovern



James is an emerging writer whose work has appeared in Boulevard (forthcoming), Litro, the Oxford Review of Books and the Oxonian Review. In 2019, he was selected as one of The Best New British and Irish Poets 2019–20 and longlisted for the Calibre Essay Prize.

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