Two poems by Jack Houston


Self-interest does not work to bring about human happiness
on a global scale any more efficiently than it achieves it for people
on the small interpersonal level where we all live our lives.

— Darryl Cunningham, Supercrash, Myriad Editions, 2014, p.152

Let me sit on my own and watch my friends
in real time living lives better than mine,
the echoing of it loud, the smiling
photos of the beach huts and heaped pistachio
ice creams meaning they are grasping
everything our brutal but created environment
has to offer them so much more effectively
than I can manage to. As easy as this is to see, it can’t
be poured into the screw-top of my sacred self-image
without me spilling some onto the floor.
I will then spend a portion of my morning finding the mop.
A mop that will be filthy with the detritus of my guilt
at having this opportunity while others do not.

So is it any wonder that our phones wiggle
when these messages arrive? I need to consider
myself first, as I was told to if and when the oxygen
masks fall from the ceiling. No good suffocating
to save my children. Are you going to eat that?
Can you fit it in? Even if we all move away
from the doors, these tunnels are already too full.
See the man in the suit holding his briefcase
between his legs shake his head. The young parents,
already worried that someone might squish
their enpramelled and precious one, grimace
as you try to force your way on at this,
the stop I’ve just made the brakes scream for.
Don’t worry, I’ll make them make room for you.

For you I’d do anything.
Separate Towers

By the shopping centre,
on the manicured patch of grass
where the benches are,
we’ll be turning three hundred and twenty-two lollipop sticks
into a reconstruction
of St Edmundsbury Cathedral.

I shall spend the time that it takes
with a wet tongue poked through dry lips
in utter concentration,
trying to perfect the angles
of apses and rises of vaults,
the exact way it extends from the floor
with the studied permanence of a mountain.

Worms may well turn in the earth but we’ll be adhered
to this task until this entire tube of UHU’s been used.

The fact the bells are housed in a separate tower
should not push us too far beyond what I’ve given ourselves
permission to accomplish. It may, however, lead
to a re-estimation of a shared historical commonality.

There is a rational toward significant monolith.
Hurry up. Crunch that Chupa Chup.
And don’t forget to chew it clean this time.
We must achieve an artful symmetry:
you scoff the sugary and I,
I’ll turn it into a scale model of the glory of God.

And in this situ sat like brickwork, we’ll find ourselves
productive as sweaty oxen grinding corn,
yoked to our millstones’ turnings. Perhaps
this is just an attempt at getting you to cuddle me.

Has it worked? Do you have the sudden urge
to comfort me? See, I do want you to be happy.
But not before I’ve finished the north nave.
It’s the trickiest bit.
(Separate Towers was previously published in Brittle Star, Issue 40)
Jack Houston lives in London with his wife and two young sons. He works in Hackney’s libraries where he also holds free poetry workshops. He recently won second prize in the Poetry London competition. @jackmmmhouston