Litmus Test (2021)


The Suicide Club
The Birthday Season
That Normally does the Trick
Crave New World
John the Dodge
Home Bleat Home
Too Close
Land Lubber
Cut-Out Cardboard People
Introversion Station
Peacock Mantis Shrimp
Give ‘em a Chance
Elvis Aaron Presley v ELVIS
Play it to Death
Angelic Voiceover
Scared Crow
Wonderfully World-Weary Afternoon
Litmus Test


The suicide club tried to top themselves
with a note to top the others
like ‘I probably gave up talking to you lot
before I could even speak in my cot.’

There were a lot of dark little lines in the archives
Some that died a death and some that came alive.

Every week they met to put off the inevitable.
Every each one seemed like the last.
Though their pain seemed so indelible
Every last second went so fast.


The Birthday Season is upon us.
One more birthday suit on the washing line.
With a happy return ticket, hop on the bus
where double decker friends pour on like wine.

Mums going into labour.
You’re our heroines for bringing us here.
When you leave us, we miss you forever
and with our dads lift a glass of beer.

It’s another day purring at the window
waiting to be let in to lie on a parchment blanket.
Lay your birth certificate on the pillow
as rain through the roof blots the ink drying wet.


Mostly live in their head.
Have very little sense there
let alone killer instinct
on how to get anywhere.

To be fair,
luck not often on their side.
Try so hard with fingers crossed
their index knuckle is thread bare
and all feeling in their middle finger is lost.

It’s a sad fact of life,
some just don’t get the breaks.
Wasting time timing it wrong.
Their lot gets on their wick.

So much so,
they make themselves sick.

That normally does the trick.


I come alive on Facebook.
Post a few posts so the others can look
and all the better if I get a few likes in.
Gives my life meaning.

Wish I’d been born in the social media age.
Could have been a sharp glossy baby on Instagram
but I belong to an age when it got no quicker than a call or telegram
and black ’n’ white photos with a faded crinkly face in a pram.

There’s a future I might not see
when the world will go even more viral and it makes me sorry.
Everyone feeling so socially happy
without seeing anyone but on their virtual settee.

Tomorrow looks rosy.
Bring on the rest of the century.
If you’ve got a comment to make, make it.
Make it nice or I might not be able to take it.


Ducking, diving, bobbing, weaving
every day is a slalom course.
Wakes up and jumps out the window without leaving
as his alarm clock goes off in secret morse.

There’s no flies on him as he rots.
He peers out in fear from flower pots.
Picks a few positive no’s from his nose
and plants them wearing bogie green clothes.

Love, love, love, hate, hate, hate.
He sits on the fence and crashes though a gate.
Crawls though the garden in camouflage.
Keeps his head down while at large.

Injects himself with his latest meds.
Zigzags around ambulances and hospital beds.
Has a giant car exhaust pipe breathing down his neck.
Dreams of killing it with a massive woodpecker peck.


This is home.
This is the heart of your hearts
with all the railway lines rusted up
and all the buildings falling apart.

My darling silent one
nobody ignores us like we do each other.
Families have an unwritten law and unspoken
that there are no grudges, just the same polite fudges.


I do as you say.
I bend to your will.
I keep it at bay.
I swallow the pill.

I lie about my dreams.
I avoid talking out of turn.
I’m alone in teams.
I hide skeletons.


I wait for my world to go round
after ages being flat.
With people far away, nature has a field day.
Seagulls raid empty squares vying with rubbish-rummaging rats.

I wonder if the after-world will catch
my last words.
Whether seeing ‘They’re after you’ being graffitied on my four walls
is a sign of paranoia or just a tendency to talk to birds.


Flat as a pancake
They wear a sandwich board to fatten themselves up.
They write on it to give themselves depth
because they’d never win the cup
for being treated as a whole human being

They try to change those in power’s perception.
Fight against the injustice of being 2-dimensional.
Walk the streets shouting.
Get knocked down like dominoes.
End up in a house of cards prison if they fall down fleeing.

Cardboard cut-out people
have nobody on their side.
There’s no flesh on the bone.
Can hardly see them if you look sideways.
They have to turn away if they want to hide.


People get a ticket
to a journey inwards
Look for the right platform
and get on board.

It’s the quietest train
with the quietest carriages.
No one says a word
to raise personal insight averages.

Such introspection
comes natural to the silent type
but those talking the hind legs
off a donkey call it a hype.

The locomotive’s location anywhere,
the mystery of its destination is heightened.
Some reach it, some hop off before.
There’s no fare or price on being enlightened.


Perceives colour faster than any other creature.
Fastest punch in the animal kingdom.
Sounds like a cross between Picasso and Ali
and Michael Parkinson should invite it on as a guest on prime time TV.


Give pigs a chance
to live out their days.
Give cows a chance
to die where they graze.

Give tigers a chance
to not become extinct this century.
Give foxes a chance
to not resort to the city.

Give polar bears a chance
to have ice and snow.
Give fish a chance
to swim with the flow.

Give ’em a chance
to be left alone.
Give dumb animals like me a chance
to watch uplifting nature docs at home.

Elvis Aaron Presley v ELVIS

Nobody could be ELVIS, not even Elvis Aaron Presley.
There’s a desire to make flesh’n’bones great
when all around is rubble and debris.

How are you?’ is the question that gets me most.
It makes me jumpy or annoyed or just numb.
I was watching a documentary about ELVIS and his life and songs.
Songs Elvis Aaron Presley, in private moments, would probably have just hummed.


Happy to see you!
Great to hear from you!
Loves of my life on aural canvas
with little details on mass.

I’d love to remember all of my memories
but I’ve only got a few of them preserved in my freezer on freeze.
Ask me about yesterday and I’ll probably tell you something
but most of it will probably already be down my brain-drain sink.

What’s left is a hell of a lot and not.
While waiting for my death bed, everything from my cot is all I’ve got.
So, with a very selective favourite selection of greatest hits
I play it to death to remind myself of the best bits.


She’s in sync
even when her eyes blink.
Got pop on my mind
but not my mind on pop.

All I want is to sell out
and outsell everyone on the market.
Be a sophisticated ticket tout
darting round the doors with a mod target.

Pretty baby, keep your youth and beauty
though it fades outwardly.
Keep it going till it goes.
Everyone will love you if you keep on your toes.

Takes that took days on track 10.
Looking for that little glimpse of heaven.
She’s in sync
even when her eyes blink.


It was Franco’s remembrance service today
with about twenty or so at it.
A murmuring church of obvious believers
and me there to do my non-believer’s bit.

I went with the blacksmith.
The gap-toothed joiner soon joined us.
The few who were there were there for Franco.
Or Il Maestro as he’d been coined here.

All because, as one of them, back in the 70s,
he had ventured off to a far-off land called Holland
to get a diploma in Music and to come back feted,
eventually to play guitar in this church’s band.

I’d first met him through the blacksmith:
Frank was a short, stocky man with a pleasant and distant, determined look on his face.
He was a smoker with a second-hand car spluttering cough
and wore the same jacket and trousers walking with his guitar in its case.

Both he and the blacksmith lit up when talking of music
and soon I was playing drums in the blacksmith’s workshop to their impromptu sessions.
Locals and passers-by would stop. Sometimes join in
to a set of religious stuff and random rock’n’roll digressions.

The blacksmith can’t play to save his life
but plays like his life depends on it.
I love his enthusiasm to death, and can’t speak ill of the dead for Franco:
He played much better, smiled a lot, and earnestly directed the music.

Last time I saw Il Maestro
he was carrying an oxygen bag type thing.
Next thing I heard he was not at home but in hospital.
And then there we were in church today, singing a hymn.

A lighter moment was when the priest fondly joked
how it had been ‘an uphill struggle’ for Il Maestro to teach guitar to the blacksmith.
They were a double act.
Of musical mayhem and feudal philosophy forthwith.

Franco died alone in hospital last Wednesday
and had already been buried before word broke.
That very Wednesday, I was with the blacksmith
and the last fragmented phone call with Franco of ‘How are you?’
Yes, I can hear you! Can you hear me?
Stuff to make anyone choke now.

I remember Il Maestro with great affection.
Others in this area he walked through, like shopkeepers, do too.
Strange how someone that doesn’t seem to mean that much to you does.
Underworld underdog characters that just die and go.
Why, why, why? Because, because, because.


We beg on the street.
We roam the roads as puppet mongrels on a string.
We are roughened up. We are weak as can be.
We put you at risk and we are ready to risk anything.

There’s a longing in every astronaut-dog’s face.
A survival lottery in every litter’s birth.
As whistles go whistling off to space
bones come hurtling back down to Earth.

Would we run after them and bring them back?
Might we pick at the leftovers with the pack?
Would we wag our tail at any kind of kindness
or bark ’n’ snap out of fear of being defenceless?

We follow our noses.
We track down what we’re after.
We stray. We sleep.
We dream of having a master.


Wanting to break out from reality,
it’s unable to get its fledgling crow feet off the ground.
Flung out of (or fallen from) its nest into the human world
it’s as far away as feasibly possible from ‘safe and sound’.

Poor little wild and vicious thing
It looks lost and abandoned.
As the humans surround it drinking their toasts
it looks like toast, and forlornly stunned.

I’ll save you my alibis. I didn’t get to save it.
Next day it was nowhere to be seen.
Maybe it’s been taken away to be properly looked after and fed?
I hope so. Know what I mean?
If you don’t, I have more empathy for my cat that would have ripped it to shreds.


Hanging the ‘Back Soon’ sign on my eyes
and shutting up shop for a while
I’ve posted ‘Gone Fishing’ online and gone offline
and laid myself like a stone on my sofa as far away as a mile.

Blissfully resigned to the fact that there’s no point to anything,
leaves on the trees outside rustle ripple clap
in a standing ovation
to my apathetic but admirable decision to stop struggling
and cat-nap paw-wrap the human condition.

My only goal is to do nothing but listen to music
as musical notes in my living room laze, lull and glow.
They yawn and stretch and give me the thumbs up
while some of us say ‘whatever’ to whatever the world has to throw at us.


Forty effing four days!
A litmus test of sorts but not nearly.
What really adds up as a result
is when someone gets justice really.

Acidic stays, turning red under 7
Alkaline never abandons its blue heaven.
Fancy my chances now with chemistry
since those red rash days with a CSE grade 3.

Reading something always adds gravitas to a cough
but ignoramuses like me just skim, scan and shoot their mouth off.
You see, thankfully, reading those litmus papers
gets me quickly into predictive capers:

I feel ready to take my chemistry GCSE now at 57.
I can see what litmus tests do.
They give you a sign, an idea:
And the only proof I ever wanted was it might be true.

All poems and collages by John Di Girolamo
January – June 2021

Litmus Test 2021

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