Spring/Fall 2020

OUTWARD WATCHING

by Joshua Clayton

Kindness is non-negotiable, I think, somewhat
excellently, walking out for coffee with somebody I am sure

will think much of me if I find a way of slipping this
into conversation, might look at me with that same arrested

curiosity you have in storage for, I don’t know, a fox
that meets your gaze at dusk and almost makes as if

to bound over and greet you like a friend she never thought
she’d see again, or a pigeon you contemplate from a park bench

whose colouring’s unusual enough to wonder at—and you look
around for anyone who might have been admiring

how long you were held in rapt attention
by nothing more than the mottled manifesting

of one bird’s soul. I am interested in seeing
my eyes only when they look at you
, but yours

I’d take a look at anytime. It is good to be kind and so,
so easy for somebody like me. It is true I have worked at it

like I have worked at chopping vegetables with such lazy speed
that people stop and say, You’re very good at that, and I shrug,

thinking sadly of the hours I’ve spent holding my knuckles in place
alone and thinking of absolutely nothing else. It’s not kindness

from others I crave but unprompted, unrestricted affirmation
of my own: something to smile about when my ear, hot and soft

against the door, hears, so hushed, so reverent, almost
unbelieving, My god, isn’t he just so fucking kind.

Note: ‘I am interested in seeing my eyes only when they look at you’ is a verbatim quotation from Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, trans. Richard Howard (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1994), no page number [but estimated to be p. 36].

Go From Me, Without Loss of Time

I’ll overnight your bags and they can wait
for you on the shores of a new city violet
with promise—there the stars glaze

the windowglass, the riveted bridges,
the birds all shelter-starved, the guesthouse
where breakfast’s bagged and dropped

outside your door like a duck quacking
to feed but not be fed, where you lie up
half the night wishing you’d said yes

to a morning Guardian. You can collect
your tickets from the station. All’s prepaid.
I’m sad to see you go but the thing is

for you not to know that. I did once hear
a solution to the prison of self-interest.
Imagine this impossible choice: implant

your loves with happiness but forever
believe them to be sad—or ruin them inside
but think them always happy. I’d choose

the first for you, whoever you are. I’ll eat
your memories of me: stuff me, burst me,
gather me, knead me, can me, cupboard me.

What honour! That you might reach
for me and spread me on your toast
and never have to know my name.

I Love Other People’s Kitchens

I like to burst
in on them as if I
were stepping aboard
the Mary Celeste
the occupants lately
vanished their lives still
humming and steaming
still warm to the touch

Sometimes I stand
strange and alone
in my own kitchen
holding out for time
trying to smell
the peaches and
the stardust spices
through their squat
unshifting jars and tins
while the bananas
blacken and mould
blacken and mould


Joshua Clayton is a PhD candidate in English at Jesus College, Cambridge. Poems of his have recently appeared in, among other places, Gigantic Sequins, Barren Magazine, semicolon, The Cardiff Review, and The Journal.

Spring/Fall 2020