The Manhattan Review
The Manhattan Review
Established 1980

Archive > Vol. 13 no. 2


Tim Liardet

The Law of Primogeniture


Whatever the planets were doing that second
they stopped, then resumed. The night
of the drop — the night of the touchdown

among the people he had chosen. 
Jupiter and the full moon conjunct
opposing Mars. The void preparing

to match his likeness against the world’s.
Vertigo for the very longest descent
of all, and motion sickness, jet-lag

and homesickness drawn down into one
mix towards the imminent focus of
a yell. The great scarlet hollyhock opened

and opened until it could open no more,
until the pressure ripped it at the rim
and my brother came into the world head first

on a deluge of his own making,
swinging limp bloody fists as if he was inconsolable —
Mother, son, swim forever in that blood.


Later by six hours, though, crouched thoughtfully
over the day’s eighteenth stooping fag-ash
which is held up by a sort of freakish gravity

my father is burning and poking the afterbirth
that crackles in the boiler like fat:
through the scorched glass he watches it burn yellow.

Though he shakes out the thought almost before
it skids beneath his thinning hair, he imagines
the afterbirth might be the sack

from which Rasputin emerged undrowned,
stones tied to his ankles and wrists.
So close, he squints into the flames’ hysteria:

and he thinks his way back through
fag eleven, ten and nine, to where
he is running alongside the midwife’s bicycle;

and he thinks his way further back
into the moment of conception, and imagines it
a single burning point of light;

he thinks his way back to the night he met her,
so overcooked with gesture — on the tilted floor —
so faux with shallow flirtation;

and he thinks his way much further back
through ten, through a dozen years
with giant stumbling, backward strides —

he stumbles back, muttering I must, I must
find a way back in time, in time —
out of the way you frowsty armchair —

you lamp, you flying — fucking — heirloom.
He stumbles backwards, like a man
doing backstroke with a chair in each hand,

a stool kicked out of the way by his right foot,
a pot kicked out of the way by his left.
He stumbles backwards, and just in time

(...against the timer’s whirring) swings
one baggy trouser-leg over the other
and reassembles in the chair, from pieces, as the flash —

catching the lush valley of his parting
and good looks exploding in light —
goes off: Me, he whispers, Me.