Every Creeping Thing

by Jacob Polley


By leech, by water mite
by the snail on its slick of light
  by the mercury wires
  of the spiders’ lyres
and the great sound-hole of the night

By the wet socket of a levered stone
by a dog-licked ice cream cone
  by spores, mildew
  by the green atchoo
by the yellow split pea and the bacon bone

All the doors must have their way
and every break of day its day
  instead of a soul
  Jackself has a coal
and the High Fireman to pay

By head-lice powder, Paraquat
snapdragon’s snap and rat-tat-tat
  who’s at the door
  of the door of the door
it’s Jackself in his toadskin hat




by Jacob Polley


the names of things and their relations, adding and taking away
  Jackself is taken away
from the rest of the class and added
to a corner most days
  days that stink of cow-gum,
mouldy silence and the screech
of Miss Clout’s chalk stick on the blackboard

  a wall is for staring at
  a desk for sleeping at
  Jackself can do that

  there’s nothing to read and the world’s written
backwards  at lunchtime Mr Workbench, the Headmaster,
moans the Lord’s Prayer and everyone
and Jackself must join in

  Jackself has many trespasses
but no daily bread
is baked in the school’s ovens
  he must ask the dinner-ladies’ forgiveness
for the cartilage stew and spreadable carrots
the flavour of warm steel tins

  a floorboard’s for eating off
  a fart for letting off
  get thee, Jackself, to the trough

for you are pig-slow, a starey calf
and can’t even hold a pencil stub
in your hooves to letter  see,
Miss Clout says to Mugginshere,
see what he’s written all these hours and days
  and she shakes the sugar-paper sheet
of wobbly noughts

  standing over her, Mr Workbench solemnly inclines
his one-thought-
at-a-time head
  but Jackself’s far

and away
  his mind a corner
of beehives
  his fingers a box of matches
  his nose the afternoon rain
  his ears yesterday
  his eyes green eyes
  his tongue an earwig
before it hatches


Issue-08-coverEvery Creeping Thing and Lessons by Jacob Polley first appeared in Issue 8 of Bare Fiction Magazine (August 2016). Jacob’s new collection ‘Jackself’ is out November 2016 from Picador. (UPDATE 16/01/17: ‘Jackself’ has won the  2016 TS Eliot prize.)

The two audio tracks are from Jackself: the Album, coming soon, with sound by John Alder and words by Jacob Polley.


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