poems

ten minutes

I watched the fire die out this morning

and thought of those mornings of waking early

to clean the shoes for those who slept in the house

blowing on my fingers to warm the knuckles.

I walked out of the house into the sharp cold to watch a train

move slowly

along silver frozen tracks.

It moved like steam in the mists of snow,

slowly, slowly but unstoppable.

That night, years ago, when we went to hear him sing

and he sang so well.

I’m going back to hear him sing now,

with his tired, choked throat that can never be cleared.

Ten minutes!

she called

I turned partly, nodded and turned back.

Ten minutes, ten sixty second periods.

no time at all.

How many sixty second periods in a life?

No time at all.

 

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Movie Stars

She was beautiful and innocent,

She would wear plain, shapeless dresses, but on her

They looked like summer rain on the canna lilies.

She turned 18 in 1997.

Back then,

On a rainy day, when I was even younger than her,

We went to a bookstore.

Timber trestle tables were set up, and cheap books were spread across them

All in a jumbled pile.

She picked up a book on actors of the 20th century

And took it to the old man at the cash register and bought it.

At nights, she would read the book to me

Telling me the life stories of these actors and the movies they were in.

These people were so far removed from our lives

But they seemed so glamorous.

She would tell me one day she’d go to Hollywood and see where these people live,

See their mansions.

Sometimes, she would take me to the movies

And we’d see films,

Cartoons and whatever was playing.

Over the years that old book,

With its heavy hard cover,

 would come out and we’d go over the names and photos.

Every time an actor would die, she would carefully, neatly

Write in the date of their death next to their name.

Years past

And many of those old actors died.

Beautiful women with long blonde hair,

Men with burning eyes and large chins.

I would listen to the news and when an actor died,

I would rush to her room so I would be the first to tell her the news.

It was a morbid connection.

The movie stars of the 20th century

The old world stars slowly fading and disappearing.

She never made it to Hollywood

Instead she met a man

And she married him.

Still, when a celebrity dies, I think of her

And I’ll text her

Hoping I’ll be the first to tell her the news.

work tomorrow.

The first day on the job,

I wait in the meeting room reading Anna Karenina.

The tour happens painfully,

miserable people look up from their desks and smile.

This is

(I can’t remember names)

she found her son dead in their bathroom three years ago.

This is – and her husband left her for her best friend

This is- and he has a drinking problem, and he takes a lot of holidays to Indonesia.

I look around the office and smile back at them.

 

The night feels like a hot bath

the people are ugly now. Twenty years ago many were beautiful.

Everyone is angry.

Nothing is true.

The fear is to be felt most keenly

As the years pass and begin to pass quicker still,

A fear of opening the front door one day

And stepping into a quiet hall

And thinking

‘I am alone.’

 

Standing outside my old house on that beautiful street,

too late in the evening,

being watched by every dog and old woman.

I run my hand along the fence and remember I did this 30 years ago.

The broken sidewalk has been fixed,

the streetlights are brighter,

but that is all that has changed.

I think about the legs as they cross themselves in late night cafes

I watch the waitress as she wipes down tables.

She has a blue-black eagle tattooed on her bicep.

She looks around blindly

And occasionally laughs at something the cook says to her as she passes him.

 

I have heard the words of beauty,

And I too have had to get up from my stool

And catch the bus,

It arrives at 2 am

And leaves at 2.03.

Kitchen

The small kitchen only had room for a fridge and a bench,

But it had a window that overlooked the city.

I remember visiting her for the first time, finding her

cutting vegetables next to the stove. She grinned when she saw me and

opened the fridge door,

it banged against the cupboard.

The radio was on, a song she remembered from high school played,

She sang along.

The next time I came to see her she had a guitar in the kitchen

She played it and sang a sad tune.

We watched the lights come up in the city and the old clock chime eleven.

All the other windows in the place faced onto brick walls.

She would have friends over and they would all sing

Their voices melting into one another until it got late

And they started to sound like tomcats, howling at the moon.

The place had a dark dining room with antique furniture,

The bathroom was small and damp,

her bedroom was tidy and filled with books.

But the tiny kitchen was the heart of that apartment.

The pier

 

At night the lights on the pier come on,

and this cheap part of the city becomes a carnival.

The darkness sits on the water,

waves dance with white caps.

The pier looks to be a mile long

all made of timber-

it stretches out forever.

The sea sings its careless scratchy song.

White lights hang above the balustrade

giving the appearance of the path to heaven

or some great party where everyone is late.

 

A cold wind blows from the islands,

something swims underneath,

an old man stands to one side with a fishing rod.

I stand near him and look down to the black water.

The line disappears as if it is tied to some point on the ocean floor.

He doesn’t look at me. He hides in his huge woollen jacket,

his hat is pulled down around his ears.

I have seen babies wear hats like this

so their ears are kept warm.

But his skin is brown and wrinkled like sand.

He looks as old as this pier.

 

On a birthday

Running the hot water in the shower,

Waiting until boiling,

The steam rises toward the ceiling.

Early morning, the lights flicker,

Still dark outside.

Heading to hospital

For a birth. A new day,

Yesterday a setback, a failure.

Sadness, anger.

Today is unknown.

The cold air, red faced

Scream as the air enters your lungs

An air that kills.

The world is cruel.

Mothers have done this forever.

Empty seat on the bus,

As school children eye me from the windows.

I walk along the street and recall

Being screamed at from buses after school.

Buses don’t have windows that open now.

They stared at you silently.

One day soon, my child will go to school.

May that day be gentle,

May the future be sweet.

 

 

School book room

They took down the war memorial today.

It stood in the park near the river

And the workmen removed it stone by stone.

A few people stood on the bridge and watched it come down,

I watched too. I watched an old man come out of the library

And cross the road.
He spoke to a workman in a red
hard hat

Until the workman shook his head and walked away.

I wondered what the old man said.

He wouldn’t leave,

He stood in front of the memorial and watched.

Even as I went into the library and found a seat near the front window,

He just stood in the park watching.

It reminded me of the book room at my old high school.

I used to love going in there.

It had piles of books.

All Quiet on the Western Front, the Great Gatsby,

The Red Badge of Courage, Poetry of Robert Frost,

Poetry of Wordsworth. To Kill a Mockingbird.

The books filled the shelves.
The smell of paper, the look of different covers.

There was no racism, ignorance, fear or loneliness in that room,

Those feelings were for the playground.

I took a book once because the cover had come off and

I thought they would throw it away.

I wanted it, it was The Red Badge of Courage.

A year after I left that school, someone lit a fire in that room

And burned half the school down.

That someone could set fire to that room

Shocked me.

That room where God lived.

A few years later

The school closed down.

I could take you there and show you where it stood

If you would meet me in my home town.

 

Bookham Bridge

Standing in a group near Bookham

Touring the history of the town

The tour guide spoke of the men that were hanged from the bridge.

We walked slowly up the timber planks and listened to the creaking of the old structure.

They were stood along here for taking cattle

And stealing supplies from a farmer’s hut.

A rope was tied to their necks

And then they were kicked over the edge.

I looked at the bridge closely; the timber was dry and full of holes,

The steel thick with red crust,

But the view was beautiful.

A small river wound its way through the rocks and trees below,

then disappeared Into a blue haze.

 The country opened up like a jeweled book.

I wondered if the beauty around them

Played on the men’s minds.

The terror that took place in a landscape of marvel,

A universe that captivates and kills.

 

She could fit a whole egg

She could fit a whole egg,

Shell and all, in her mouth.

She bent over, leaped, kicked and danced across the stage.

The red and green lights shone across her face

And her blonde hair danced in the smokey air.

The egg stayed in her mouth,

When she smiled, her red lips pulled back over that white strangeness.

The music was too loud, I was too close to the stage.

I watched as she danced and jerked, kicked her legs high.

My mind travelled away from this dark room

To the coast, on holiday when we spent the afternoon

Walking on the sand and watching the baby climb the stones.

A drunk bumps into me and wakes me up.

He swears at me and then spits on his own shoe.

The girl, dancing, held the egg in her mouth still.

I looked around at the strange crowd, men mostly, some drunk.  

An old man and a woman were dancing in the corner to the music

The woman looked like she could do better than here.

It was a room of rejects.

A midget stood by the cigarette machine,

He wore a rubber Donald Trump mask and smoked a cigarette.

I laughed.

The woman on stage climbed a metal pole and slipped,

The egg shot from her mouth

And bounced off the stage.

The egg was made of rubber. It rolled around the ground

And knocked against my boot.

No one seemed to notice.

A thin man, who smelled like sweat

Ran up to me and whispered

Where is the egg?

I pointed to the ground.

The thin man bent down, picked it up and threw it back to the woman,

Who put it back in her mouth.

I left that sad room and stood on the street,

The keen neon lights burned red like fires,

One neon light was the image of a naked woman

And the traffic shot along the road, in a city cold and without compassion for life.

To a brother, now gone.

Adopted by wolves,

The baby was.

Taken on a heavy moon night

When the wet grass turns to ice, and the wind investigates what the day left behind.

The gray mother-wolf carried the tiny boy

Through the hollow and into the forest.

Brushing his tiny face against soft leaves

And supple branches, until turning twice she curled up with the babe

And fell asleep.

The baby lay for a while in the heavenly fur,

Snuggled with the warm animal, smelled

The dog smell,

Framed by the damp forest scent

and looked out past the fur and leaves,

glimpsing the silver apples of the moon.

This baby, raised on bitter wolf milk

Grew stronger and dog-wise

Until one day, in a clearing, when the boy was older,

The pack saw humans on a brown leaf path.

They froze, and turned, fleeing into the thick trees

Of that autumn palace.