STREET & SKY
A verse novella by Michael D. Butler
Michael David Butler was born in 1931. He read English at Oxford, after which he spent fourteen years in a religious order, finishing as a worker-priest. He left the order in 1969, and is now married with two daughters and a son. He worked as a labourer for four years in a factory outside Paris and H.M. Dockyard, Portsmouth, and as a packer for three years in a North Acton factory. More recently he has taught English Literature to adults, and has taught in the Adult Literacy Scheme. He gave up writing short poems in 1969, to concentrate on developing a modern but lucid form of narrative verse, still evolving. A short story in verse ‘Productivity Deal’ has appeared in Voices magazine and he has also worked on a novel-length poem. Street and Sky is his first individual volume.
Harry Chambers writes: ‘Anyone who feels (as I do) that Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads is a still relevant document, or anyone who responds to Robert Frost’s North of Boston, will derive pleasure from Michael David Butler’s verse novella.’
An extract from: Street Sky
Over their egg-and-chips they talked of the day -
a fight among fitters, his mates in the radio works,
and a threat to Stella’s money for working too slow
packing cosmetics, hundreds of jars in cartons.
Then the dishes were washed, and they turned with relief to the telly,
sitting without any light but the flickering ray
from the set, which threw the shadows behind in the corners.
But tonight they couldn’t escape in the glow of the screen.
Some cultured experts sat in a plastic studio,
chatting, then vanished, and a space module appeared,
drifting away from the bright-lit curve of the earth
like a toy rocket had been thrown across the night
to the distant moon. Then blurred figures of astronauts
floated eerily, doing comical turns
with weightless combs and packets of instant food
in their narrow room in the dangerous dark of space.
Stella began to release her fear as she watched:
’Look at them there,’ she said, ‘chatting and playing!
The silly bastards! All this time they’re falling
in the dark. It’s empty, nothing all round to hold them
for thousands of miles. Falling the way you do
in a nightmare, everything flying, nothing below you,
just drifting, drifting. Chucked away from the world
out in the night, and fooling like boys!’
‘They’re all right’, said Eddie, ‘they trust their machines,
millions of dollars-worth of electric gadgets.
They’re locked by radio back to the best computers,
tied to that room like a hangar, with hundreds of experts
sitting in front of rows of tellies in Texas -
instruments counting, circuits comparing, sending
coded orders in space. It’s all a machine.
They’re using the universe. Everything is under control’.
‘Machines can go wrong’, she said. ‘Don’t forget that ship
had it’s side blown off in space on its way back home.
They were lucky to make it to earth. Others have died.
They could miss their aim at the moon, just keep on drifting.
It made me sick, at work, when I thought about it -
if they just went on without stopping in endless space,
they’d choke and starve together. I felt all giddy,
and kept on thinking – tumbling away from earth
with nothing to stop you, nothing to grip all round you
but a shell of a ship, closed on you, rolling over’.
‘Don’t make it out such a nightmare’, said Eddie. ‘Those systems
are foolproof, I tell you, bundles and networks of wire
that keep on checking and counterchecking the lot’.
‘They could all go wrong’.
‘Then all right, if you want it, it’s finished.
But why in hell do you keep on dreaming the worst?
If a machine breaks down, and you find a part
that’s got to be changed, you put a new one in,
throw out the old, the machine runs smoothly again’.
‘But men aren’t broken parts you can throw on a heap’,
said Stella, straining her voice against the set.
’They’ll slowly be choked if one of their clever clocks
starts ticking too fast or slow, or jams or stalls.
Then it’s night, it’s nothing outside them, nothing all round them,
they’re lost, like our baby, fallen away in the dark’.
They were silent a while at the thought of the child who died,
though the screen still blinked and chattered.
‘I can’t forget him’,
Stella went on, looking away to the shadows,
’his flesh was so raw, pushed out in the world too early.
And he looked so small, like a model for something, not finished,
just a promise of what he’d be in years to come,
if he stayed with us. He didn’t – just drifted off
away in the night, like them’.
STREET & SKY
Price £4.95 per copy post free (£3.30 post free to Associate Members)
Cover illustration: Not Credited
Publication: WINTER 1979 (40 pages laminated paperback)