Celluloid Angel

Patrick Chapman
All December long, you built the thing up
Out of papier-mâché, and film you had got
From your job at the print works in town.
You ribbed its wings with coat-hanger wire,
Taped over and painted. It was a purple
And silver construction that would never fly
So you made its body frame of wire too,
Plugged into a thick wedge of wood, its feet
Flat like the broken feet of a messenger.
Its head, with hollows for eyes, pointed
At whoever looked into them, seemed
To ask: ‘What class of devil are you?’
Those winter nights, as you layered paper
Skin on your growing creation, the telephone
Would ring, a fat black Bakelite box. It would
Bleat and there’d be a voice, breathing, just
Breathing, and it made me afraid that the angel
Was calling the house as you brought it alive.
One night you were ready with a keyboard
You’d set up on your bench by the phone.
When the breathing came, you put the handset
To the speaker, fingered some tusky chord
That must have penetrated, burst the angel’s
Drum, for it didn’t call once after that.
By the time the creature was complete,
Your paper and wire and celluloid angel,
You left with the others in your band.
I handled the landlord alone and found
The angel abandoned in the empty house.
I took it with me; felt like I’d raided a tomb.
Through two decades it has stood on high
Shelves or low stools, recording every disaster,
Its wings swept back, hoping for a draught
Of secret fire to lift it heavenwards,
But eyeless like the rest of us
And heading for zero, the old wall that waits.


'The Celluloid Angel' appeared in A Promiscuity of Spines: New & Selected Poems (2012), published by Salmon Poetry, County Clare.
The Celluloid Angel
Patrick Chapman
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