Masks upon masks

“… and the mask was a thing on its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness.” – William Golding, The Lord of the Flies









The Bird King is a mask.
Mr Punch is a mask.
The snowman is a mask.
The nameless narrator is a mask.
@badbadpoet is a mask.
James Knight is a mask.
This text is a mask.

There are other masks.

The masks aren’t unreal.
The masks are me.


Ape Clown: four snapshots


Ape Clown mashes acrobats and slurps them up. The crowd applauds in horror. Bums on seats, my friend. Bums on seats.



The cage is empty. Ape Clown must be out on the tiles. In doorways: drowned women, dredged from neon dreams.



Even Ape Clown has moments of nakedness. The mask comes off, then the greasepaint, then the skin. The hours wilt.



Ape Clown dreams of immortality. But we barely remember what he looks like. A devil? A man? Not that it matters.

Chimerical biography


The ancestral spirits inhabited his socks. No one believed him. His mother was from Vienna. Every Wednesday he bathed his neighbour’s fish. He wrote stories. Days came and went without asking permission. The dial on his foot said “EMPTY”. He lived for the dead moments. He enjoyed haranguing sofas. Their placidity enraged him. That day you unblocked his toilet a monarch died. Stars don’t even go with stripes. Above all, he tried to be expensive. Ladders and snakes made no sense to him, so he burned his bridges. Sometimes the moon got wedged in him. Evening made his eyes sweat, morning gave him the shits. Nothing was ever straightforward. Plug sockets persecuted his toaster. His brothers were four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in Pi. They had unpleasant names like Jim and Jasper. At Christmas he laced their drinkies with bleach. His arms were sausages, his chin the Devil’s cock. All very inauspicious. Calendars oppressed him, especially on rainy days. He felt his neighbours’ ears pressing against the partition walls. He once got lost in a picture of a cat holding a baby. He still has the suction marks on the back of his eyes. The last time he allowed his feet out they came home drunk. The hair growing from his nostrils suffered from Rapunzel Syndrome. He rarely ate swans. Plates made eyes at him. Every seven years he fell in love with your auntie. His eyelids smelt of kerosene. Doctors puzzled over his hairy heart. Women distrusted his taste in plimsoles. He made windows for a living. Unable to afford glass, he used frozen vampires’ tears. Those unlucky enough to notice disappeared. Televisions disliked him. They eyed him suspiciously as he sat blankly on the sofa. He sat on the bus, thinking of nothing. On another bus, in another town, nothing sat on the bus, thinking of him. He often confused art galleries for brothels. Fleshy nudes winked at him. The bored attendant was their pimp. He ate slices of moon and wiped his mouth on clouds. He stored an arsenal of AK47s, bazookas, muskets, halberds and spud guns in his capacious nostrils. Whenever he saw a tree he thought of Sweeney Tod. He didn’t believe in Thor, so Thursdays proved problematic. Catfish haunted him. He gave birth to his dad and took every opportunity to scold the scraggy, bearded baby. Happy days. He kept a mound of ripe manure in his kitchen. Cows knocked politely, asking for it back. Children scuffled on the ceiling. Biscuits fell in love with his shins. Armpits danced a tango in his shoes. Everyone was too busy beating their chests, bellowing and swinging their penises around to notice that he had electrocuted their pets. Golden syrup made him feel like God. His arms embraced Eternity, which had manifested in the form of his nan. His trousers researched the lives of the Roman emperors, but took little interest in the task. His hair caught fire with irritating regularity. The local fire brigade turned a blind eye; there were catty women waiting to be rescued from tree houses. He embalmed his boss, by way of experiment. His colleagues, chained to their desks, scowled behind their Halloween masks. A fly laughed. The writing didn’t go well: he tried tropes but turned out tripe.

The Bird King’s employees


The Bird King’s advisors and ministers are a range of rusty kitchen utensils. They all observe a respectful silence in his presence.


Contrary to popular belief, the Bird King is not an atheist. His meathook priests do their rounds at twilight.


The Bird King’s suits sit in a windowless office, operating the free market through a system of levers, sewers, testosterone and windup toys.


The Bird King’s secret police are mosquitos. When you’re asleep they suck dreams from your veins, for analysis at the Ministry of Desire.


The Bird King considers the dangers associated with conflagrations grossly exaggerated by those with a vested interest in spreading fear. Consequently, his fire brigade comprises a blind old man, two goldfish and a gadfly.


Although he lacks the patience required to tolerate most entertainment, the Bird King is nevertheless a fan of the Carnival of Monkeys, whose shrieking parade is commissioned to process through his palace every Christmas Day.


New ideas terrify the Bird King. He deploys an army of postmodernists to tame them and remove the stings from their tails.


The Bird King employs chimps, scarecrows, effigies of Christ, lobsters, armadillos, sausages and rocking chairs as his domestic staff. They don’t perform their duties well; the Lord High Executioner (a faulty toaster) is frequently called upon to remove them from the payroll.


The Bird King hires mannequins only as librarians, bar staff and assassins. He doesn’t trust them sufficiently to employ them in his home.


As for the most coveted posts, the Bird King usually grants them to Shakespearean characters. His Prime Minister is Macbeth. His head chef: Titus Andronicus. His Lord of Misrule, meanwhile, is King Lear. Ophelia is his gardener. Malvolio has the honour of running the Bird King’s private playground, a reconstructed Bedlam.