Monday, November 10, 2008

"The Barman's Fantasy"

Gay bar in England

by John McCullough

4 am and the big mouths are scrapping
with spluttered innuendoes.

My best reply’s deadpan: a thrust scoop,
the rattle of ice in the bucket –

scant relief for tongues made sour
by thoughts of desolate flats.

But the black tranny with her constellation
of diamante hasn’t finished,

stares into a Carling’s brassy depths
and finds, she announces, two ghosts

both rent, in fifties leather, jerking off
to the bleeps of the fruit machine.

All gas. She’s no more psychic
than sober but, locking up, it’s a vision

I can’t escape when on the nudge buttons
there’s a glimmer from something

that’s not quite soap, that can’t be
but for one long second is,

the two of them achingly real,
lording it up as they cuddle,

slower now, through stale smoke
and airborne specks of crisps

while I turn the key
and quietly enter moonlight.

© 2008, John McCullough
From the lives of ghosts
published by tall-lighthouse, London, 2008

The poet here, John McCullough, is writing about the fantasy(?) of a barman. Not knowing who this particular poet is, you’d only realise this barman works in a gay bar when you read and trip upon “ the black tranny with her constellation/of diamante” .

The barman, we can guess, has worked in that bar for so long that he’s jaded, he’s seen it all, and he’s looking forward to “turn the key/ and quietly enter moonlight”, to go back home, probably back to a place much like some of his customers’ “desolate flats”.

This is not any “scant relief” after the bar clientele he has to put up with. He’s so fagged out by all of them that he doesn’t even bother to see or remember faces. He visualises only their “big mouths”, as they disagree over something (“scrapping”) and make drunken bitchy connotations (“with spluttered innuendoes”).

Talking about “innuendoes”, there are some sexual ones here, like “big mouths”,” thrust”, “scant relief”, “tongues”, ”nudge buttons”. Can one even include “brassy depths”, if one pictures you-know-what rings and other metallic paraphernalia. The most obvious is, of course, “jerking off”. Instead of counting all the rest, one by one, suffice it to say that every stanza has one. The “fruit” in “fruit machine” is obviously deprecative of gays, from a straight point of view, and taken with the noun it’s qualifying, it can imply the mechanical or ephemeral quality of gay sexual encounters, also from a straight’s view.

The barman probably gets harried nightly, for advice, for responses, so much so that he doesn’t feel anything now for his customers or their “thoughts of desolate flats”. He replies “deadpan” and just does his job (“a thrust scoop,/the rattle of ice in the bucket”) – dead cold, that.

These customers find relief, however “scant”, in drunkenness, in bad behaviour, in proud, exhibitionist, public display of intimacy (“lording it up as they cuddle”); and, like the black transvestite, in a bit of Judy Garland-ish glamour (“her constellation/of diamante”).

There is another fantasy here which is not the barman’s. The tranny fantasises over rough trade (“two ghosts/ both rent, in fifties leather, jerking off/ to the bleeps of the fruit machine.”).

Our barman dismisses all this as “All gas”. But, really, it’s he who is dreaming about something like the tranny’s fantasy.

But what is the “vision” he sees in stanza seven, that he can’t escape, when in stanzas eight and nine, he catches “a glimmer from something/ that’s not quite soap, that can’t be/ but for one long second is”? He thinks, no, but it, finally, is. Well, I let you figure out how something wet and gleaming on a “nudge button” could look like foam from soap.

Stanza ten, with “the two of them achingly real”, is the vision. He yearns for something “achingly real”, like two people, men, obviously, cuddling; not something insubstantial (“slower now, through stale smoke/ and airborne specks of crisps”).

Something, say, romantic? : “and quietly enter moonlight.”

About the poet:
John McCullough is an up and coming young poet, born in 1978 in Watford, England, educated in University of East Anglia in English and Creative Writing, and in the University of Sussex with an MA in Sexual Dissidence. He even has a PHD on Shakespeare and friendship. He has written for The Rialto, The Guardian, London Magazine, Ambit,Magma, Staple and Chroma. He’s actively involved in the Brighton literary scene. His latest collection the lives of ghosts is published by tall-lighthouse, London, in 2008.

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Blogger bibliobibuli said...

there's something slightly sad and grotesque about the characters who end up in this bar at 4 a.m. (as they most probably have for all those fifty or so years since the rent boys made out by the fruit machine). they'll probably all be there tomorrow, and next year, and into the future ... maybe not exactly the same folks but folks like them doing exactly the same things.

(i also reflect on my own ghosts when i revisit places ... eerie feeling)

thanks for finding this!

2:07 PM, November 13, 2008  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Yes, I agree with Sharon too, especially about the people at the bar, and the tinge of sadnes in this piece... and the jadedness of the barman, as Leon said, which is why the 'fantasy' or dream has an aching feel to it... which is why for me, this piece is not just/wholly a gay poem.

I was quite taken with the word "soap" and how it suggests watching soap TV programmes, which in their drama, signify little and feel a bit empty; and on the other, soap also draws on the fragility of the 'bubble' hopes (fantasy) as well. So, when it's "not quite soap", there is that bit of wistful hopefulness, a sense that there might be something 'real' and 'genuine' here or out there.

3:49 PM, November 13, 2008  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

i wash my hands of the soap business haha.

9:45 PM, November 13, 2008  
Blogger Leon Wing said...

Er, I better not go there, to the soap thing, as well. Else it gets too close to the bone.

All I say now is, at first, like DI I thought it was about soap TV operas or such.

Perhaps, DI, you missed out reading this?: "... something wet and gleaming on a “nudge button” could look like foam from soap."

1:14 PM, November 14, 2008  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Oh no...That. It's THAT. Aaarrr... I didn't see it all. I declare my ignorance to that reference.

9:03 PM, November 14, 2008  

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