Chris McCabe

Letter to Bez

Bez, post-Victorian Boz, Viz incarnate

and Viceroy of the sinew, what is the name
for light that detracts from the stars?
Urban pollutants de-lux distant galaxies
as we walk after parties through school fields,
via car parks, past vacant vats & waste lots.
Is the body toxic or is it the body politic
that flexes our muscles for stimulant & toxin?
Bez, flexible wicker man of Manchester,
you would know, your hands in semaphore
over a crowd off their box on whizz & Budvar.
Did you watch Von Trier’s Melancholia
and dance the planet’s Dance of Death

with ‘I’ve got a brand new fridge & a microwave’?
Sun-splashed with lollipops & Haribos,
where did those days go, star-roving

across the umber fortress of the Midland Hotel?
Your thirsty scholars earned major honours
despite lack of internet & mobiles; landlines, hearsay
and the March of Converse was all it took
to make a Movement.
O Black Mountain of Didsbury, Beats of Whalley Range,
it was a Grand National of ketamine each Saturday
and now the horses are all dead
who will stop the ringing whinny in each ear?
Spiral-eyed Bez of Oxford Road is it just me
or does the year try to move to chaff & bran,
chaff & bran, when our pulmonaries are primed
for so much more; SUVs won’t always start,
but the passionate of our time dance in more ways
than the maracas of cash can snatch from a moment.
If I started a band tomorrow would you dance for free
or would a funding grant be necessary?
Would you move sans cash for a flex-wedge of grass?
Governments took such joy
dismantling the gazebo of your visions
and reassembling them as feelgood Brittania,
never to realise that the players exist for the listeners,
but the dancers also dance for the listeners,
dancing only for those that love the music,
making of the good broken chords a kind of tent
pitched in the VIP field of the moment
where all cuts are treated with liquid LSD,
dispensed like droplets to liquefy a cicatrix –
and all of them mere acts for oblivion.
Bez, I overspeak, vexed by your erasure from the textbooks.
Bez Maserati, M. Bezzler, whoreson zed
heard on everyone’s tongue but rarely seen in dictionaries,
did you rip across the Heath on a quad bike
as the privileged ripped out their eyes to prove they felt something?
There are parts of you ripped to shreds of felt
out on the heath which was drained, then blazed,
‘Chill not let go, zir, without further ‘casion’ –
the first sign of desperation is getting leery,
then leaking, then taking a group poesis up the wrong tree.
Bez, vex not your ghost, let the old world pass,
dispense kinetic energy like slush down the penny falls,
grind past the arthritic & synthetic until the realist you,
the cackling grocer & underhand dealer,
burst all blackheads into red shift & nova,
and still the body asks: Is the Kronenbourg vegan?
Are the eggs alcoholic? Are the springs in the bunkbeds
made from asparagus? Does anyone eat deep fried textblocks?
Your dreams turn to green & the days go blue.
Bez, the non-prandial trips to the Czech Republic
are passed, cheeks are pinched & the elastic
is starched at point of party trick.
Is that dust that blows across antique time,
as Coriolanus blistered, or is it the real us
reflected back, at last, without regret?
Our time is this, our colour fuschia,
our advances left in the green room riders of the Capitol.
Where do the words all go to, sweated & toxinated,
drowned out & forgotten,
all the ‘loves’ of the endorphin rush spoken
and sent upwards like pink vowels to heaven.
You talked more ‘to the buttock of night than with the forehead
of the morning’ & now the buttock talks back
and it’s called opportunity.
Here, take these maracas, take these & show me how one
without a musical sense can be part of something
that helps us live. You shook them & bodies moved,
learned just this one trick, four bars, kept to it,
and we moved sideways to it.
How many times do we go down on our prayer-bones
to make peace with this raft of flesh?
Which Pinkie worked as the cosmic yardstick?
Bez, you made the sun dance in spangle shapes,
pulled it down into a flashpan with the wheel of a cymbal,
can it be, after all, that hedonism is the only activism,
that to shut out the daylight hours is to box austerity
like a sloth kept alive in a lead-lined coffin?
Bezman, Bismark of Salford, Byzantium light of the Hacienda,
it’s over & out, except it’s not & never was, because
you never died at twenty-eight as the warranty expects,
you went on into the marketplace & the comebacks
in rekindled auditoriums musty with Victoriana.
Bez, I’m snowed with nothing burning,
have heard nothing new about your eyes,
I’m delayed ahead of the clearing,
at the door of the darkroom of hedonism
which is be conscious but not to think
to just be
to be …
the pharmacy is above the brewery,
the app-types in red suits and Justi Bieber t-shirts
walk like they’ve shit two pounds of tomatoes –
I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes.
Have I been presumptuous? Are you staying in this joint?
The drinks aren’t cheap, sure, but how palatial
are the walls? First there was God, then was
gossip, then was the almighty godliness
Of Erdinger Dunkel.
And Bez, what sounds are to be heard in an ocean
of wax? After so many years cited as a clinger-on
did you make the best of those who clung to you,
faux-friend, acolyte & woman? You see fame
creates a ruse-like force that makes us victims
of its glare, as if to be under its lumens for seconds
transfers its flame into the flue of our house.
Like you, no Sir has come before my name,
only Sir Real, and how you shone like Quint on the Orca,
if only for a moment, then gone.
Like Timon you gave everything away,
but having nothing from the start made it easy
to dig at roots & let the bullion ring the stars.
You were right that to party all night made the day
take care of itself, out in a cave of your own sub class,
sliding to the centre from the depths of nowhere,
you saw real poverty & wanted to know what life could be,
wrote out your name in BIG FUCKIN CAPITAL LETTTERS
and defined it in self-declared layman’s politics
and soap-box orations. You docked your shed
to a ramshackle band that shifted like filtered
Beelzebubs, metamorphosed from knarled histories
into a radiant oak, your maracas were golden apples,
that swung, were plucked & seem to swing still,
in memory at least, orbed portals to a culture
where you filed away blackouts like cinema slides
left out overnight in the Deansgate rain.


                                                        Chris McCabe’s work crosses artforms and genres including poetry, fiction, non-fiction, drama and visual art. He was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award in 2013 and his five collections of poetry include Speculatrix (2014) and The Triumph of Cancer (2018), which is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. His first novel, Dedalus, which is a sequel to Ulysses, was published by Henningham Family Press in 2018 and was shortlisted for the 2019 Republic of Consciousness Prize. His latest novel is Mud, a version of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, set beneath Hampstead Heath. His non-fiction work includes an ongoing series of books including In the Catacombs (2014), Cenotaph South (2016) and the forthcoming The East Edge, which document his search to discover a great forgotten poet in one of London’s Magnificent Seven cemeteries. With Victoria Bean he is the co-editor of The New Concrete: Visual Poetry in the 21st Century (2015) and he is the editor of Poems from the Edge of Extinction: An Anthology of Poetry in Endangered Languages (2019). He is the Head Librarian at the National Poetry Library, Southbank Centre.

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