‘Asmodeus/Lumpenhund’ by Ian Duhig

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Side A: Asmodeus

When I drank New Jersey champagne
with Edgar Allan Poe, I’d tell the boys
to lace his heavy with the turnip juice
and it was Edgar A Poe not Allan
to his face – I knew he could be touchy
as a flayed man (folk called him Tomahawk
from the edge on his tongue – even Eddy
‘d do when he came down the bowery,
as he liked to, for our dancing music.
Now the Daybreak Boys liked the Irish stuff
but Lee-Annabel’s stood on Roach Guard turf
and they called  the tunes when they were in
which either meant ‘The Ethiopian Delineators’
or ‘The Dixie Melodeers’, but when they’d split,
the tambourine, bones, banjo and the fiddle
could play a blackface Irish just as well –
Eddy’d dance with a twelve year old mab
and yatter on about the Throne of Solomon.
He’d say this jammed down some Beelzebub
under pillars set with rubies and diamonds,
how on its six gold steps sat twelve gold lions
and how eagles shielded the eyes of Solomon,
that seven doors opened onto his throne-room…
Now Eddy’s people all came from Virginia
and he’d a wife die who was called Virginia
so be sure he did not hold with Abolition:
he would suddenly cry out “The Black Man
has to be kept down as the fiend Asmodeus
was kept down under Solomon’s throne!
In the English use of our English tongue
the very term ‘Black Man’ means the Devil!”
He never seemed to notice that I was black,
if not like a Southern negro man was black,
or that his morals undermined his logic.
We knew the sap was wrong in his head
but he was someone we could understand.
Us resurrection men can’t waste a friend.
We knew the value of the truly dead.

Side B: Lumpenhund

My torturer’s hair smells of fallen leaves,
the times my family gathered acorns
for coffee. Evenings, I’d stalk the wharves
so my paper clothes could smell of copra,
my wooden shoes not sound like poverty.

One night I saw a shooting star
fall between the coamings on a steamer,
like a knot of kerosene-soaked oakum
falling from the hand of a saboteur.
To be on the safe side I joined them both.

My torturer’s eyes are blank as the eggs
(which must be a fresh clutch of wild hens’ eggs)
that transfer visa-stamps from one passport
to the next perfectly, if newly-boiled
and rolled warm on the feathery pages.

One night I saw a shooting star
tumble between the bars of a gutter,
like some crumpled poem with name on name
written in lemon juice between its lines.
Finally, my left hand denounced my right.

My torturer’s hands are suppler
than the leather he soaks in egg-water
like a folk-cure, so he won’t catch my warts.
Sparks are falling from my hair. I’ve confessed
to everything but the hunger.

Sleevenotes:

Ian Duhig was born in London. He has won the National Poetry Competition twice. His most recent book is ‘Pandorama’ (Picador, 2010).

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