No 6 - Winter 1999
In the beginning
It is a big decision. The gloved hand
that grasps mine so tightly takes me beyond
small-town Boots and Woolworths. Round the corner
and through the door leads me away from her.
She brings me to myself. I become shelf,
bracket and wall. I learn the art of stealth,
discover shadows, the cat's underworld
of tables and chairs -
Go and play outside!
I grow fat on torchlight feasts, an expert
on under-blanket research.
Go on out.
I don't notice her ribs or the sharp points
of her elbows, the swollen scrubbing joints
Get some colour in those cheeks.
Sometimes I can be gone from her for weeks.
I love the easy creak of new wicker,
her fat basket on wheels. We bend over
to move oranges and spring greens aside,
to make room for six well chosen books, hard
books in greasy see-through plastic jackets.
Later, over tea and ginger biscuits,
I decode stains - the pustular remains
of a prized vesuvius, small hair-lines
of blood, encrusted scabs, sly black footnotes
that pose as asterixes. So discreet,
those snot blobs at the bottoms of pages,
those tiny acts of boredom. Teenagers,
boys mostly, have a grooming ritual
when a plot gets mired in too much detail.
But acne and bogeys don't quite compete
with that other thing they do late at night.
All that furtive business with handkerchiefs
can fund the imagination for weeks.
How do they hide it from their Mums?
Put that book down now. Come and help me.
Six buff cards with my name and home address,
passports giving unlimited access
to different worlds. It never occurs
to me what Chaucer did when he got bored.
But if Emily Bronte had dandruff,
she wouldn't have unpinned her bun for scurf
to blizzard Wuthering Heights with. No more
would William Shakespeare, if he'd had hair.
And Homer leave a coffee ring to gape
at us like the lonely eye of Cyclops?
He would never have entertained the thought.
Only Joe Orton might behave like that.
And Philip Larkin, of course. I spend hours
straightening out triangular corners,
but I always leave the pencilled comments
and observations. Words are sacrosanct,
whoever writes them.
Now we are thirteen
I move to Adults,
do the moonlight flit from flat to bedsit.
The rooms are strange, partitioned, L shaped, eaved.
Others are airy, large penthouse suites carved
by the slow track of the sun; elegant.
Sometimes there are neat privets in the front,
roses, trees. I am more the blocked drains sort -
cabbagey sinks and sweaty football shorts,
Victory gin, cheap cigarettes, a cough
like cracking timber, lincrusta walls, moths,
mice, mould, God knows what; rows on the landing
and banging on the ceiling, ironing,
shopping, babies, prams. I have sex - bad sex -
and abortions in crumbling back to backs.
I board trains and buses, I sit in pubs
all day long, sing songs, get pissed in the snug,
fall in love, wake up and fall out of it.
I get married and divorced in one night.
I even commit murder and incest.
I top myself in a lighthouse - swing east,
southeast, south, south-west - a clone on a rope.
When Jimmy's trumpet brays all the lost hope
in the world, I am barely eighteen,
but I know what I've seen in the cold sheen
of pock-marked kettles and leaking taps -
lives as normal as chipped and broken cups.
(Our crockery is under lock and key.
I haven't learnt to raid that yet. One day.)
What are you doing?
She grows suspicious.
She was bound to.
You're much too serious.
Look at your face. You frown all the time.
There's a V above your nose.
and a new threat - inky fingers.
Selfish. You're preoccupied.
Over hill, over dale,
thorough bush, thorough brier. Up and down
the people go. One afternoon, late June,
the steam hissed. No one left and no one came.
You've gone away. You're not the same.
Listen to me.
It'll come to grief.
Into the valley
of death rode the -
You're like a closed book.
Open it. Share it with me. Let me look.
What are you doing?
lying on bellies, no food, no water.
I'm murdering kings and washing my hands.
I'm trying on crowns and measuring lands.
Hollow Harold has lost his eye and I
am wading through miry bogs, blade held high.
Wet leather is thonging my wrists and shins.
My skin is hairy and coarse. I'm a man
astride a horse. My cohorts are weary.
See how the tide plucks and knocks. See how we
must live behind bookshelves. Twenty-three months
hiding from windows - so many of us! -
all pale as mushrooms in the Prinsengracht.
And the sword blade dives into Becket's back,
poor Catherine's hand catches the glass, Magwitch
asks for files and wittles, two sticks are clutched
between gown and flesh, a soldier's rough cross,
the fire is lit. She calls Rouen, Jesus,
her boy's head turns, her body burns, her heart
is cut out and thrown in the Seine, intact.
There's more. Listen. Slow black crow black -
Moles creep -
It's a shipwreck
ship-shape night -
I said -
There's never enough.
Oh, what a face, what blue-grey eyes, what loss,
what fear, what never-had-in-the-first-place.
She gives me the key and in the short time
between unlocking and finding, I'm
grappling hooks, rope and kit bag. I'm a thief,
an acrobat, a steal-by-night. No leaf
unturned. I am not hers. I am my own.
Separate. It is a big decision
to take your daughter's hand and lead her out,
to watch her go through your personal gates
of terror. She sees me eat privilege
as though it were simple bread, draw knowledge
like well water. There is a border post,
she says, and the sentries are childhood ghosts.
She cannot or will not cross. To this day
we wave from either side and walk away.
- 10th Muse
- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
- Tolling Elves
- Ugly Tree, The
- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The