Little Bits of Harry
The Marmitey smell of a roast.
Harry watched his Grandad crank the table.
June could do with a spot and Here’s to your very good health.
He was raised not far
from a salt-and-vinegar beach.
The wound in his shoulder looked like a slitty eye.
Harry had a friend called Brian.
Brian’s smile was framed by inverted commas (“v”).
Together the boys made poisons,
decanting their grassy sauces
into Aspro bottles shaped like canteens.
Under the house was where
they’d built their Zombie Chair.
And under the house was where they stored their poisons,
smoked cigarettes and cultivated stiffies,
tent-poled their school shorts with stiffies (“v”).
Trust Harry to do a lovely Jesus.
To get himself nailed up
with many a fine contortion and grimace.
(The theme from Exodus played.
Brian’s Roman helmet had been painted
with gold paint from the hardware.)
Harry’s father loathed Mario Lanza.
The cold yellow sky dimmed to mustard.
Rain swept up the valley, crowding it like troops.
Winter seemed to mirror
the sweet rainy gloom
in Harry himself.
Nanna sat in front of the fire,
toasting her shins and listening to the footy.
Harry sprawled beneath her, in the odours of crumbling heels,
mottled calves and droopy puce stockings.
And the wound in his shoulder began to squeak,
squeak and whistle like the fire itself.
Like the fire in which the damned were said to live,
their hot bodies molten orange jellies.
“That’s it,” said Harry, vexed. “I’m setting my face
against it all.”
“What about your passion-plays and poisons?”
his mother asked.
“I’m setting my face against it all. All except swimming and
going to the pictures.”
“Well that sounds mighty fine, but what about the dental
clinic? You won’t get very far setting your face against the
dental clinic, however implacably.”
And when he got to the brilliant, methylated clinic,
he was sent straight home again
for having furry teeth.
“I’ve disgraced us both,” Harry told his mother.
“And how,” said she. “Get in there and polish good,
The wound was like an eye.
Or a slitty, sticky mouth.
Whether eye or mouth or merely perennial gash . . .
Harry’s father managed
a radio shack in Furnace Lane.
And Harry liked the murk,
the smelly alchemy of his old man’s profession.
There were fresh boxed valves in pigeon-holes
and chassis labelled like toes in a mortuary.
And Harry was thrilled by the tinny stink,
the runny splash and flash,
the quicksilver dartings of the solder.
By the bevelled tongue of the iron, so hotly blued
“The secret of good soldering
is to work cleanly with clean surfaces,”
Harry’s father explained.
And handed his son a slimmish book: Radio for Boys.
College. Saint Cuthbert’s was a place of “standards”.
Of lines to be toed and traces
not to be kicked over.
Larking near the milk float merited a flogging.
There was also a mysterious urinal
juniors were discouraged from using.
When Harry ventured into it,
he got what almost amounted to a fright.
The gorgeous prefect Harry encountered within
had long-lashed, Ray Liotta eyes
and a dingy, ancient, ox-felling cock.
A veritable Trojan of a tool, but modelled in accordance
with the slickest principles of modern rocketry.
Each year began with the soapy odour of newly purchased
exercise books. The chaste white leaves of which seemed to
offer scope, to promise better academic results. It was never
long, however, before Harry had begun to fill his books with
circuit diagrams and sketches of inventions. With red stanzas
shaped like expensive bits of advertising copy.
Brass band. Choir. Drama club.
Harry tried them all, only to find himself
underemployed and bored.
And then would come the warm messy business
of withdrawal, disengagement.
The qualified disgrace of having to return
the flugelhorn whose valves had kept sticking.
Firemen pumped Saint Cuthbert’s flooded basement.
In library and classroom, flubby gas burned pinkly.
And the body of a pupil killed in a car crash
was laid out in the chapel.
And the guy looked most peculiar,
bounced sideways into death,
like some rouged harlot lividly contused.
Like some rash pierrot mauled
by the colours rose and mauve.
A morning, yes, in spring.
But Saint Cuthbert’s lay in ruins,
Saint Cuthbert’s had been crunched.
A haze of smoke and dust
hung above a hill
of shattered grey masonry.
Puny yellow fires devoid of any briskness
licked up through the rubble here and there.
I loved it but it didn’t love me back, thought Harry.
It failed to apprehend the qualities in me,
the excellence of me and my lambent wound.
Or were the failures and derelictions mine?
But were they?
Parks and public gardens became his haunts,
a limp oilskin parka his cloak.
In a stately filmed ascension screening backwards,
he was sinking to the bottom.
He’d noticed a dank garage
up near the old tram tunnel.
Seepage and stink and frog-green slimes:
no one had used the place in years.
And Harry took his fish and chips in there,
his library books and cartons of flavoured milk.
And the hip, punchy novels of P. Zanoski
got into his blood like a craze,
a suave new malaria
sexy as ejaculate.
The odour of a sump or an oily grave. But Harry rehabilitated
a manky chair he’d found (so that then he had a seat). And
he stole a couple of P. Zanoski’s books and fashioned a shelf
for them (so that then he had a bookcase). And Harry liked
to imagine P. Zanoski flying in from Chicago. Sending one
of his minders ahead of him. “P. Zanoski will be here in two
minutes. He’ll accept a cigarette, but please don’t offer him
gum.” The white gleaming limo just outside, soon to be
joined by a second and a third.
The telly he salvaged from the skip? The telly he salvaged
from the skip was a small girly number with a plastic cabinet
of cream and lipstick-red. It needed a few modifications,
sure, but Harry worked for hours to convert it into a sun-
lamp, and soon he had his contraption up and running. And
he’d spin the bicycle wheel that juiced the system, strip to
the waist and sit in front of the screen. Certain dormant
circuits would thaw and kindle, and the charcoal screen
would glow invisibly, pumping forth a torrent of black light,
black influence, black medicine. And the wound in Harry’s
shoulder could begin to heal at last. Could begin to shrink
and close—or seem to.
Engagement with the texture of the moment.
For the treatments had their novel side-effects.
A good dose of the sun-lamp
imbued him with an energetic bliss,
a wakeful equilibrium,
a rapturous serenity abiding.
A single hit of darkest radiance
and Harry was pumped for days.
Wired and feeling like
a crystal ping sustained.
Night’s brassy shadows.
The flimsy Chinese carpentry of night.
And Harry out walking all the time,
working off his treatments at all hours.
They stopped him outside the electricity park, that buzzing
necropolis of cottage-sized transformers and giant porcelain
The car drifted in toward the kerb like a flying saucer on its
best behaviour. “What. You couldn’t sleep?”
“Something like that,” said Harry.
A golden-haired forearm. The dashboard’s toxic purple array.
“Hop in,” said the cop, “it’s fun in here.”
“Like Der. Like Let me think.”
“You’re a healthy looking kid. And a smart one too I’m told.”
“So give your folks a ring. They’re worried sick. I speak to
you again I better hear you called.”
Weeks passed. Months.
While slowly the sun-lamp’s dark effulgence
seemed to dwindle in potency,
so that Harry needed more and more of it.
And then, while he was out,
the garage was trashed.
The bicycle wheel wrenched from its cradle.
The telly’s ham-shaped tube bashed in
and its fragrant pastel gasses dissipated.
Slipping his P. Zanoski books
into his khaki bag,
he traipsed across the city.
Cowled and caped in blankets,
he hunkered down beneath the motorway.
A spitty wind blew up.
The sky was a fuzzy orange murk.
And it rained on our dispirited Harry,
on Harry and his army-surplus knapsack.
He took to drinking cough mixture. Sometimes he was asked
to sign for it. “Blaise Cendrars”, he’d put. “Blaise Cendrars”
or “Alexander Trocchi”. And he’d get through several bottles
in a day. Three or four bottles, yes.
He’d often breakfast at the soup kitchen (a statue of the Holy
Family presided. The soup came in stainless-steel jugs) and
there he met a chick who took him aboard a ship.
In a grotty cabin charged with a greeny stench (some sturdy
distillate of marine putrescence?), he gave her the business
well and truly. “Great,” she said, “and you so long and thick!
Do you always keep your shirt on?”
“It’s gelid as, down here.”
“Give us a swig of your syrup, there’s a pet.”
3 a.m. A brilliantly fluorescent service station. Harry had
scored a cappuccino (he craved the milk, the sugar) and was
stirring it with a small wooden stick.
“So how the fuck’s it looking?” asked the stranger.
Harry shrugged. “Like where do I go to sell my blood?”
“You don’t do that. You make another plan.”
“Sure.” The stranger winked and popped his can of Pepsi.
“Stick with me and I’ll get you hung.”
“The word you want is hanged. Stick with me and I’ll get
“Hanged. Hunged. Whatever.”
His name was Rubin.
A little tee-shaped chalice of a tuft
adorned his lower lip,
and he wore a long black leather coat
in which he looked agreeably satanic.
He was staying at the swanky Xanadu. “Temporary riches,”
he explained, “—a winning streak at blackjack.”
Carpet. Tepid musks. An elevator prescient and swift, below
the perspex capsule of which the twinkling city was spread.
And Harry saw the city and the world (a doomed winter
festival of lights) fall away from under the rocket.
Rubin’s suite was warm, its colours peach and beige. Rubin
himself had hired the ecclesiastical jukebox with its rainbow
Harry took off his parka. Unbuttoned the cuffs of his shirt
and sat down on the sofa. “I could get used to this,” he said.
When Harry produced his bottle of cough mixture, Rubin
scoffed. “Say goodbye to that crap. Let me give you a taste of
He tied off Harry’s arm with a rubber tourniquet. And slid
the needle into Harry’s vein adroitly, painlessly.
“You’re being very . . . doctorly.”
“I keep it dark, but I almost qualified.”
“And I won’t need the linctus anymore?”
“You won’t need the linctus. Nor any fucking sun-lamp.”
“How come you know about the sun-lamp?”
“I had a hunch. I’ve read my P. Zanoski.”
The drug in Harry’s system was a liquid clarity.
Was prompting him to level, spill the beans.
“I have a wound.”
“We all have wounds.”
“But mine’s peculiar. Peculiarly mine. It weeps and shines
and sometimes even murmurs.”
“Don’t they all.”
A liquid, improving clarity.
And Rubin was transformed, in Harry’s sight. Transformed
and transfigured. Laundered and sharpened.
The Ray Liotta eyes became apparent; the smile framed by
inverted commas emerged (“v”).
And Rubin unbuttoned Harry’s shirt, gently baring Harry’s
dubious shoulder. And his lips sought Harry’s wound, in
order to kiss it better, in order to seal and heal it with a kiss.
Geoff Cochrane is a Wellingtonian. Victoria University Press is soon to publish Hypnic Jerks, a new collection of his poems.
Cochrane comments: ‘Something about the language of the piece suggests the description “mock-allegorical”. Quite why I should have wanted to write such a poem remains a mystery. It reads like a screenplay or the digest of a novel; it’s like a sort of opiated, Day-Glo 3D comic or storyboard. I hope.’