Peter Clive Poetry

A whisky grace

I raise a glass to you, Lord: there is no fountain,
no breath-taking conceit of ornamental marble
spouting perfectly orchestrated jets and arcs of water
that does not find its source without rolling up its sleeves
and reaching down through the sewers, stretching, fumbling
and squeezing dry the booze-swollen bladders of drunks at bar urinals
through which the water has passed on its way from Adam’s lips to mine
since you first sent your spirit forth upon the undefiled firmament,
and yet the liquid in my glass is clear, its bite precise,
its burning taste a purification, and I celebrate
the parting of these waters.

But this is a grace: a prayer, not a toast;
I offer you my humble prayer,
rolling pious words out over my tongue
and catching them in my clasped hands,
but I fold each dismal word over and over in my hands,
pressing them together in front of me as I kneel. I press tight
to squeeze out any pretence of meaning from these rude words,
trying to silence the centuries of blasphemy
that culminate in the insincere applause
all hands ever joined in prayer have become in my hands now,
each word just like a bag of piss
carried from Adam’s lips to mine by religion,
history’s tedious relay of the righteous,

and I can’t do it anymore.
I prove and disprove your existence as a sport, Lord,
as a performance of my cleverness to amuse myself and others.
My head is a desperate warren of white corridors
that I pace alone, through echoes of mockery.
I have tutored my tongue only in rebuke,
pious falsehood, casual delusion, and habitual disparagement.

So it is up to you, Lord: grant me grace.
Distil the substance I aspire to be from me,
as clearly as this spirit has escaped
the world that recycles it through sewers,
and leave whatever must remain to fall,
or stand as soiled testament that this spirit
does not distil itself.


You show me a photograph of your wife.
I show you one of my children.

Everything is surface. Matt finish. Gloss.
We walk upon a world unfurled
like stiff starched table linen,
and raise our glasses,
and raise our open hands up in praise,
and lose our contact lenses on the floor,
and press our retinas flat against the sky
collapsing all illusions of distance
in our doppelgänger dance
folding the world as we link arms, join hands,
putting the world away in our fatal glance,
like a memento of a wedding feast
tucked into a waistcoat pocket,
putting it away like a thief
after that pocket is picked.

The world is a series of rooms,
each door leading from one
opening onto the next.
inferred from perspective,
rather than real,
are exhibited, hanging on walls
as we walk from gallery to gallery,
praising the beauties
that can be captured by a camera:
prisoners discussing the merits
of their well-appointed gaol.

We are not alarmed:
we are not dogs, after all,
barking at our own reflection.

It was not always this way.

I opened my door once,
long ago,
further back than I can remember,
to see you there
wearing my face

– wearing my face! –

I stood,
rigid with terror.
I summoned the effort
to overcome my paralysis,
and held out my open hand
in a reflex gesture of welcome,
and reluctantly received from you notification
of the life you wanted me to lead for you.
I opened, unfolded, read, and became
the man I am now, became you,
the words on the page
replacing the ones in my mind,

and I forgot everything I was before,
forgot the benign world I had charted
in eager childhood voyages of exploration
discovering worlds that were new to me,
conspiring with renegade, secret nature
on the wasteground that was its reservation,
luxuriating in our mutual abandonment,
living truths before speaking them,
before even knowing there was such a thing,
as truth: friendly, understanding worlds
that met me like a grandfather’s tall tale,
full of love told with honest lies,
back when myth was real
and God was a boy you met once in a dump,
back before I could comprehend malice,
before the blight of self-loathing,
back when to be alone was not to be lonely,
and socialising was not an act of endurance,

and stepped out into this new world
of unyielding reality and binary opposition,
the fold’s crease a distant horizon,

and now,
even if I tiptoe to that horizon,
that world’s edge,
even if I were to step straight off,
not to fall to the pavement, of course,
not to swoon in abject cowardice,
but to be swept away by the updraft
like a suicide note suddenly seized
and made irrelavant by the wind,
a suicide note made into a paper plane,
to fly up delirious in sky-high suicide,
upward through clouds, abhorring gravity,
lost at last forever
in the limitless ecstasy
of the eternal present,
the fathomless depths
into which I plunge

have I not just opened one more door
and stepped into one more room
and your heart remains as much a mystery
as when I first held you in my arms?

if I meticulously sharpen the world’s edge
and make of its shell a spade
and try to break the earth with it,
seeking depths
through which to dig an escape tunnel,
or make of it a blade
with which to search through my own flesh
and swim in underground rivers
rust red with ferrous subterranean ores,
giddy, drunk to exultation with my own blood,

have I not just opened one more door
to deliver a neatly folded note to you,
standing, waiting, wearing my face once again,
and by your expression, not expecting
to receive this visit today?


Rain falls, so heavy
it seems the air is water,
and when you breathe,
drenching your numb lungs
with an inhalation heaved back
over the threshold of surrender
you overcome once more
the tedious impossibility
of being you in the light
and in the air that you inherit
from another life you lived.

Black clouds consume
the sun’s attempt at day
leaving you in a darkness
you know already, inside,
and there, a forbidden love
steps from the shadows
finally safe to speak its name
where no-one else can hear it,
its words lost under the water,
in the sub-aquatic silence
while those watching you
synchronise their fantasies
to the movement of your lips.

About the contributor

Peter Clive lives on the southside of Glasgow, Scotland with his wife and three children. He is a scientist working in the renewable energy sector. As well as poetry, he enjoys composing music for piano and spending time in the Isle of Lewis.

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