What’re ya in for, punk? he said, when the cell door slammed behind me and the locks all turning, turning, echoed in my soundholes. Wanking, I said. I’m a right wanker. Yer in America, he said. Speak English right. Yer a jagoff? No, I said, I’m a wanker. I wanked on the landscape. I spewed the seeds of the psychogeoconsciousness on the hares and goshawks and vixens and willows and socialist meeting halls and Saxon burial mounds. I wanked from rookery to rose-red Hackney to raging river bottom, from Jarrow to barrow to Battersea to Brixton all o’er this green and pleasant land. Yer in America, he said. We ain’t got no socialists here, and no Saxon mounds. All our mounds is Indian and you ain’t got no call to get mystic over those, yer great-grandpappy and mine killed ’em all. Not all, I said, just most. Don’t get technical, he said. You got some nerve gettin’ technical breakin’ into my cell what I finally got fixed up how I like it, stompin’ around the floor every which way, flingin’ yer toothbrush with yer damn spit in my sink. Yer a mug and a mope and you wank in here I’ll kill ya.
I must work, I said. Iron bars cannot contain my modes of space. Step aside.
Pacin’ already, he said, shaking his head, and not even in here a day. It’s not pacing, I said, it’s a dérive. These ten square penitentiary feet are a palimpsest of abandoned possibility, shuddering with the echoes of history, the specters of our Edenic alienation. I am positioning myself on a new schizocartographical axis. I am tearing away the veils over suppressed and accreted meaning. I don’t know what yer talkin’ about, he said, walkin’ is walkin’. Use yer feet. Quiet, you, I said. What is my spatial field? Where will the détournement situate itself? I must know! I celebrate it! I sing it!
Yer from Ohio, he said, so quit throwin’ around the French. Buddy, I said, I’ll throw the French around all I like, they colonized my mother tongue and conquested my past. Even my poor détournement is deracinated. De-race-in-what? he said. You gettin’ all triple-kay like that gang in the next cell block, you gonna whip the white hoodie out? It’s not a hoodie, I said. I’m no asocial. It’s a capuchin. Kid, he said, fer Chrissake, capuchon, not capuchin, capuchin’s a goddamned monkey and you ain’t no ape, you’re a wanker. I am so an ape, I said. Why can’t I be an ape? They are native and primeval and so am I. The truth of me like the truth of the land is buried far beyond the reach of your proto-chrono-fascist camera eye, and inside my deepest soul I am a true ape. Y’are not, he said. Am too, I said. I’m a great ape, the greatest ape of all. I am Apeneck Sweeney among the babbling burbling brand-hawking City nightingales. I have true Saxon dignity. I am erect. Yeah well, you keep that thing away from me, he said, I got enough problems as it is. You don’t understand, I said. This cell is lucent sirop, tinct with the subterranean homesick spices of my grit-flecked guerrilla culture-jams. These so-called iron bars, they are the psychic shrapnel of the great unconscious, our last collective folk resistance to the onslaught of the modern world! Hoo hoo hoo, he laughed, that’s one goddamned joke. Yer real goddamned funny. Yer so funny yer gonna get yer goddamned head nailed to the floor if you keep this up. I done it before, I ain’t lost no sleep.
And yet, I said, yet you’re right, the hard market hell-cell sucks all souls dry. Oh, I cried, the agony of loss lighting up all inside me, for a field in England! Oh for one kiss in apple-blossom! Just one! Let just one apple tree lean down! I am a suburban monstrosity, an uprooted stub of dying meadowsweet, a spinning heart terminally haunted on every axis. I am a filthy shred of the Wessex king’s tunic, the petal of a remembrance poppy rotting in the bog. I am Pearl’s scarlet dress made a rag to shield the eyes of the blind. England, my England, is rolling in the deep and lost out to sea—kid, he said, you ain’t no Englishman. You ain’t even England half-English. Yer a chump from the cornfields, another plastic-fantastic flyover fool. Banished! I cried. Banished! Eternal exile from that rose-red empire! It shines before me like the crowns des grantz geanz, forever and ever lost! Look, he said. I got yer birthday papers right here. Yer from Ohio. Ohio ain’t nothing but whinin’ burghers and yer whinin’ like the best. There ain’t no Geats or Guinevere in a damn thing outta yer mouth.
You, I said, you simply don’t get my drift. Where is my folklore, my chestnut tree, my oak and ash and thorn and yew and yellowhammer’s song? My Ballardian floodscape, my Brutalist council flat, my Vauxhall, my Clangers, my Eusa tale, my play for today, my red shifts my Roman digs my radio witch-cults my boneyards my borderlands my wicker men my Marxist miners my Mars Bars my jelly babies my exotic pylons? Gopher Prairie and Spoon River may have my body but my soul, my soul is true Saxon inside! Oh let me whistle, and see it come to me! Kid, he said, yer lily-livered. Yer yellow. Yer a king in yellow who ain’t driven nobody crazy but yourself. Go back to your Carcosa. Go to your pretty how town with all the pretty little horses and ring them bells down. You got enough ghosts in your Ohio life. Look around this cell block. Look-see to shinin’ sea. Diggers, we got diggers, all the civil-war graves dug up. Blood-fruit like breadfruit on every poplar tree. Bodies shot down in every damn street. Fingers, teeth, genitals sliced off and stuck in jars, sittin’ on countertops in the county general store. Look on them old postcards, you’ll see it. We got more loss than bullets, more loss than lead. We’re the loss leaders. Bonewood forests. Bitter lakes. Blank signs made for you and me. Can’t you be happy with all that, with everything we conquered? Ain’t you already imposed enough everywhere? Why you gotta pretend you ain’t the biggest Norman of all?
I am an ape, I cried. I am a broken shard of Sussex pottery, reflecting a thousand facets of the forgotten– you ain’t no Picasso, he said. You ain’t no Saxon. You’re a Norman. I’m a Norman. All of us is Normans after 1491. You ain’t indigenous, yer just indignant. Vinland, I cried, Vinland! What about Vinland? he said. They didn’t stick around neither. You may be a Norman but you ain’t no Viking, and you sure ain’t no Thule. Though you coulda Thuled me, hoo hoo hoo. Cool the talk and fly right. Fly? I said? Fly? I don’t fly, I drift, and if you want to drift you have to do it right. You need theory. Jargon. Technique. Credentials. Access to old sewer pipes. Internships help. And I’ve got ’em, see here in my pocket? See this whole lexicon long as your arm? They’re the only credentials I’ll ever have and oh God they’re written on toilet paper. But I got ’em. I am a fully qualified, paid-up, academically accredited drifter. I’m here on scholarship. My feet are fleeter. My ears are keener. I am the emperor of the edgelands, the Lud of the liminal, and no matter how far I drift my steps are strictly tenure-track and my eyes on the prize. And hey-ho the Noddy-oh my eyes see more than yours.
He stared at me, and he said, kid, I’m gonna nail yer head to the floor. And why would you do that, I said? Because, he said, yer a wanker and a filthy appropriator and prison’s too damned good for you, you’re foulin’ up the landscape, you rotten elitist theorizing little art-wankin’ punk. I’m nailin’ yer head to the floor and good riddance. You wouldn’t dare, I said, for you know my feet traverse what your ignorant shoes cannot. I am Kin-Seer, Soul-Seer, Over-Seer of every imperceptible mutability. I am a Saxon dissident in the hodological Norman hellscape. I’m the voice on the Stone Tape, the queen of Penda’s fen, I’m the only news from Nowhere you’ll ever be fit to hear and you are not, you are positively not gonna nail me ‘ead to the floor. You watch me, he said, and reached under his bunk for a hammer long as my arm. I’ll hammer you all over this land. Guards, guards! I shouted. Will no one rid me of this sorry spectator? How can I dérive crucified in place? Let time take me o’er the yardarm, let me be pecked to pieces by a murder of retromaniacs, skin me if you like Br’er Fox but please, oh please don’t pin me to the Bottomless Present! Fine then, he said, I won’t nail yer head to the floor. So instead he cut it off and stuck it on a pike.
So there I was. A pike. Erect, not fish-flopping, my sightholes fixed on everything unseen. I am the hanged man! I exulted. The hidden reverse! I am the wisdom of the conquered! I am the little shining man split in two, folleree, folleroo! But he wasn’t listening, his context-deaf ear hugged the wall, the floor. You hear that? he said. Hear that noise? There’s dancin’ in the whole cell block. There’s a riot goin’ on. We’re bustin’ out.
And he hoisted me over his shoulder, and past the guns and brickbats and out the front gates we walked. So where the hell are we goin’? he said. We can’t go to England, I can’t swim. Wander, I said. I wander as I wanker and I come not for to die, but to witness! To record! To explain it to all of you who also have eyes and ears, but adding oh, so many prolix subordinate clauses! Kid, he said, I can’t take yer talk, I’m just gonna pick a place and walk there and see where that takes us. Exactly! cried I. Drift! Let us swing on the perambulatory hinge! The land is ours! All health to the barley mow! Ain’t no room for barley with all this Ohio corn, he said, —I am reclaiming and re-coding public spaces, I said, for God’s sake would you please be quiet.
Well, he said, ‘least now you’re just a bust you can’t wank no more, not without your Lilla Jesu. Lilla Jesu? I cried. Lilla Jesu? You keep your Lilla Jesu, I’m the One Big One. I am every treasure you take for pop detritus, Whitehall jackals, Christmas wraiths, schoolboy-drowning PSAs, furnace gods burning up miners a-strike and oh, technology, ye shall ne’er materialize my memories! He said, you make me miss the clink. Three hots and a cot and the screws ain’t half so screwy as you. What is wrong with you? I demanded. Am I only theorizing to myself? Listen, he said, I knew a man once did a girl in—yes, I cried, her bones, her bones on Epsom Heath! I saw them! Riding red and triumphant, my arms her hearse, speckled and spotted with earth covering earth! The hangman’s beautiful daughter, come for to be my queen!
I give up, he said. But I was past hearing. Oh my folkland, I cried, my Albion! My lost landscape, my liege and lief, my magick lanterns, my heady heritage, my fish suppers on News of the World! What is Ohio, that fruit of a crocodile isle, what is any strange fruit to me? I am Britain. I am the outlaw’s forest. The widow’s leg. The scratching quill of the glovemaker’s son, Orlando turned and turned again, Guy Fawkes’ shattered hand trembling in confession. I am the wolf in the neoliberal hall. I have sabotaged every last machine of loving grace—KID, he said, YER FROM OHIO. I’ve had it. I’ve had it with you. I’m de-turnin’ this thing right around. O, turn, I cried, and turn again! For I shall keep my silence. I will sleep with the fishes until my own true countrymen come to call. I will be king and sovereign, I will détourne and distort all I touch and ne’er approach a rational reply! The flapping branding nightingales shall herald my return, here and there all o’er Berkeley Square! Theory is fact and earth covers earth and the future, the future is cancelled and no more!
Kid, he said, when the cell door slammed behind me, I hope they keep you inside forever. Us murderers is all safer that way.