Storying Sheffield

Michael Spike (and the putrid spew)

A poem by Will Mason.

“Like many of us, I’ve been doing what I can to adjust to lockdown. Throughout that period I found myself doing a lot more creative writing of this kind, and using rhyme schemes for the first time as a way to open up some new avenues for narrative poetry (I find using a rhyme scheme limits my options and makes writing a bit quicker, easier and more fun). I wrote a number of poems like this over the past 8 weeks or so.

Michael Spike is a character I came up with based on some personal characteristics and other bits and pieces. The Putrid Spew was written throughout a particularly difficult period. You will remember that before the sun came out we had a protracted period of rain. This was pretty bleak, particularly when paired with the isolation of working from home and the obvious weight of the current moment. I think that constituted the first part of the narrative – Michael, in the hut, fixing leaks and staring at the fog. The ‘hollow place’ that Michael slips into represents a deeper depressive episode. A very disorienting and troubling experience. In the story, Michael loses himself, but then comes back around quite quickly. He’s able to climb out of the hollow, but he’s shaken and affected by the experience.”


Teeming rain had poured for months

Down from the misted sodden skies

So dark and pregnant with the damp

There was no sign it would subside


The kind that hammers on the roof

And stings you sideways in the wind

A rain that writes off stepping out

And cancels all plans but staying in


For several weeks Michael had stayed

Slumped in the shadows of his hut

Fixing leaks springing from the roof

With smears of glob plugging them shut


Each noon he squinted at the fog

Hoping the dreary glum might lift

But Gloomy Island was a place that 

Seemed to hold on to the mist


This strange but settled summer space

Turned to a quagmire in the rains

And with no company on the island

Michael was stuck with his own brains


He muttered to amuse himself 

Staying as switched on as he could

You might think that he’d clean his hut

But there you’d be misunderstood


The place was cluttered claustrophobic

Bursting with a thousand finds

Sprockets, old springs and rusty nails

Piled up the walls and round the sides


And with no relief on the horizon

From isolation or the rain

He emptied out his bags of things

Counting them, time and time again


– Four hundred and six rusty nails 

– Sixty eight old sprockets (different sizes)  

– Seven boxes of broken springs

– Three and a half tubs of glob


All of this stuff he had to hand

But none of it would do for food

And those two shrivelled sprouting spuds

Wouldn’t go far, even when stewed


Itching his damp flea bitten feet 

He thought What grows out in the mud?

Perhaps a flat toadstool would do?

Or some squirming brown bark bugs?


Either way, there was no doubt

That just to make it through the rains

Michael would have to venture out

Before he starved or went insane 


To find some food out in the bog

That had progressed beyond his door

After eight weeks of stewing spuds

He couldn’t face spuds, anymore! 


So with some rags draped on his back

And an old sack for a hood 

He grabbed his pack to fill with grubs

And slumped outside into the crud


Eeeerk, SMACK …

Eeeerk, SMACK … 


The front door swung open and shut

Agitated by the wind

Creaking as Michael disappeared 

Into a fog that swallowed him


This was a fog so thick and dense

That Michael couldn’t see at all

The kind that clinged to what it could

Like flailing hands before a fall


The wind howled …

The rain pounded …


Though his progress wasn’t fast

He pushed on one step at a time

Pulling his soiled and sodden boots

Through sticky pools of mud and grime


And in (who knows how long it took)

After the worst parts of the bog

A jagged line of the forest trees 

Appeared beyond the thickened fog … 


The forest edge was looming weary damp and darkened by fatigue 

Six Oaks had gathered there in mourning of an old uprooted tree


The fall had torn an earthy hole where roots had once helped it to stand

Thick roots that now splayed up and outwards like a giant open hand …


Right in Michael’s line of sight 

He saw that hollow in the ground

And thought it seemed like just the place 

That giant toadstools could be found


It was a bleak and damp but murky

Empty muddied hollow space

Intrigued, he peered over the edge

Then slipped into that shadow place


Clusters of toadstools filled the floor

And grew from crevices in rows

But he was not alone down there

Michael had joined a stinking toad


The thing was fat bloated and greasy

Like a Roman at a feast

Gorging on toadstools ‘till it wretched

And once it belched it would repeat


The smell completely filled the hollow

Which was pooled with putrid spew

But it was from these steaming pools

That all the biggest toadstools grew


Now, Michael had a choice …

Knowing how these things had grown

Did he hold his nose and eat?

Or stay hungry and head back home?


Drenched and weary from the rains 

Poor Michael wasn’t thinking straight 

He took a breath and closed his eyes

Then pinched his nose and stuffed his face 


Michael binged on the toadstools tearing them from the putrid ground

Chewing them down to greyish slop and making greedy slurping sounds


The more he ate the more he felt a lightness building in his head 

That lightness turned to dizziness and then to nausea and dread


Slumping down against the earth, Michael was drugged, or so it seemed 

He crawled into a spinning ball and slipped into an awful dream

The hollow’s seeping walls collapsed and started sinking into stew

Michael looked down at his limbs to see that they were sinking too  


The darkness crept heavy and fast as Michael’s mind began to twist

He felt a madness in his head one that he feared might never lift 


And falling deeper in the depths Michael’s whole world began to throb

Just as a message came to him – “Michael, wake up! The rain has stopped” 



Not quite sure where he was at first

Grasping his arms and legs to check

They hadn’t melted into dirt


A beam of sunlight warmed his face

Just breaking through the splaying the roots

Scratching his eyes now with his palms

He looked around dazed and confused


There was no sign of any toad …

Perhaps the thing had crawled away?

In fact the whole hollow looked different

In the clearer light of day


Grabbing the earth he clambered 

Up now to the level of the bog

Which had been baking in the sunlight

Burning through the lifting fog


Uncertain quite what had occurred 

Or if it had, the way it seemed

He took a cautious look around

Michael was changed by what he’d seen


Impressions from that hollow place 

Had pressed a mark upon his self

The thoughts he’d thought

The depths he’d crept

The place he’d been

The things he’d felt


The rains had passed but Michael knew

Down in the marrow of his bones

That they’d come back, they always do

He couldn’t face that all alone


Something was clear there in the sun

His lonesome habits had to end

Leaving the hollow place behind 

He stumbled off to find a friend