1976

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standpipe

what if
in the unforgiving glare
of that harsh and endless summer
of standpipes and hosepipe bans,
his crimes in stark relief,
throwing long shadows
of she should have known better,
she folds up her forever afters,
disappointedly, reprovingly
and packs all her tomorrows
in an ancient case of faded tartan?

even at dawn
the house would thrum
with argument,
a plucked bowstring
of tension,
holding its breath
while the combatants
mustered grievances
for the fray.
the red checked rectangle
she grips and heaves,
a burden of guilt,
an unwieldy catalogue
of wrong decisions.

and she slips
the bolt on the safety chain
on the solid 30s front door,
unlocks the chubb
and then the yale,
silently,
as the milk float
glides into view
around the corner
of the cul de sac.

she exits
the hall of mirrors domain
of the man who’s
in thrall to his temper,
who can turn on a dime
into someone she fears.
essays the first few steps,
unsure as if across
an untried lake,
frozen overnight
into the freedom of away.

her marriage –
like a heap of unwashed clothes
in their broken washing machine –
behind her, a jumble of soiled
and mismatched items.
an endless list of chores
that will never now be done.

impossible to escape
the wreckage unscathed.
but the girls to be,
curled together
inside her
like seahorses,
can still be saved.

 

Photo from BBC.

 

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on fire

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fire

every night at 4.14
she is woken
by the fire within her.
a fierce interior furnace
belting out heat to
all her apartments.
bedclothes thrown off
in a frenzy of fever.
her system malfunctions,
neglects to regulate itself,
her body consumes her
in the ultimate betrayal.

make hay …

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I would have done so much better to have followed the life advice in one of my favourite stanzas from Shakespeare’s oeuvre:

What is love? ’tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What’s to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet-and-twenty!
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

And the same message recurs in W.H. Auden’s ‘The Moment’, already referenced in another poem this month.

If you see a fair form, chase it
And if possible embrace it,
Be it a girl or boy.
Don’t be bashful: be brash, be fresh.
Life is short, so enjoy
Whatever contact your flesh
May at the moment crave:
There’s no sex life in the grave.

There’s no two ways about it, I should have taken more chances.

make-believe

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peter pan

freshly bathed
sleepy eyelidded
bedtime children
navigate their coracles
through choppy seas
of azure, pearl
and storybook
towards the edge
of the fairytale world.
we only wish
we could follow them
into the wonderlands,
down the rabbit holes
beyond the rainbows.
oh to fly straight on
till morning.

short shift*

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cutty sark

the clipper
a grand lady of the seas
weather-beaten but unbowed,
her decks scrubbed clean
by seamen all bone, sinew
and misfortune.


around the indies she went,
blithe and bonny,
impervious
to scurvy and dysentery,
empire a storm in her teacup,
the crown her anchor
and passe partout.


the fastest
and the nation’s last,
the mould shattered
in the silver froth of her wake.
her sails unfurled
round half the world.


once mistress of the ocean
and heir to the horizon,
now she languishes,
forever becalmed,
a tourist trap in dry dock.


dreaming of the open waves,
men clinging death-defyingly
to her treacherous trellis of rigging,
the cape, the equator,
the trade winds and the doldrums.
all the hectic romance
of far away and long gone,
the other country of the past.

*Cutty Sark is 18th-century Scots for ‘short chemise’ or ‘short undergarment’. Cutty Sark was built on the River Clyde in 1869 for the Jock Willis Shipping Line, one of the last tea clippers and one of the fastest, coming at the end of a long period of design development, which halted as sailing ships gave way to steam propulsion. (From Wikipedia) Illustration is The Great Wave by D. Swan © Cutty Sark Trust from this site

yellow wallpaper

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IMG_0392

I touch
with reverent fingertips
my sister’s bedroom walls.
once a brilliant crocus yellow,
vibrant and aflame,
a fresh coat of paint
testament to a new home,
a new freedom,
a new start.

now the sunshine emulsion
is faded to the dusty golden
of a cherished old teddy
in the airing cupboard,
held together by patches and repairs.

beneath the paint
the anaglypta is like
stalks of wheat
waving in the breeze.
but we are a ruined crop,
ungathered, turning
to dust in the wind.

double summertime

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underground

old people,
propped up,
a little wonkily,
in bath chairs on hospital verandas,
remember ‘double summertime’
when the battling british sun
lingered longer in the sky,
a lovelorn boy outside
his sweetheart’s house.

it loitered till almost midnight,
shortening the darkness,
the vulnerable defenceless hours,
when incendiaries fell,
giant hailstones on
metropolis rooftops,
pursued by schoolboys
with shovels and buckets,
after tailfins as souvenirs,
a daytrip to the seaside game
played in deadly earnest
in the bright exploding night,
while time bombs plumbed
the depths of their own craters.

the extended day outlasted
the hostilities, grew into
their necessary normal,
as they toiled
to rebuild after the blitz,
their bloodstained city
in smithereens around them,
empty seats at the dining table
and vacancies in their hearts.

and now,
when twilight descends
and they shiver slightly
in threadbare cardigans,
their legs twitching under crochet,
they are wheeled silently away
from the falling dusk,
into the bland parlours of nursing homes,
all neutral shades and easy chairs,
and pacified with hot chocolate.

they reconstructed
a nation almost from scratch.
trauma, hardship,
homelessness,
bereavement and grief
shrugged from their shoulders,
young and strong then, victorious,
tensile as saplings,
recoiling to upright,
enduring as oaks.

they just got on with it –
relieved to be alive,
determined to survive.
brexit
is something that
holds no fear for them.
they recall an island tribe,
a carefully kept distance,
and want the country
that they fought for back.

Photo of folk sheltering in tube station during the Blitz from University of Sheffield project.

journey ennui

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memory blends all
those long-haul flights into one;
quells at the dispiriting brightness
of airport terminals,
all mouth and trousers,
the bleak unwelcome of them
each time I emerge into another land.


where no one ever held up
a rough and ragged corrugated
cardboard sign with my name
marker-penned across it.
no one ever watched for me.


weary to my soul
with sleeplessness
and the prospect of framing questions,
asking directions, in a foreign tongue,
or wrangling with the car hire firm
for the deal they swore to on the phone,
before half-forgetting to drive
on the wrong side of the road.


arriving where time is different
and you can’t just adjust your watch
in order to fit into it.
I wonder always why I’ve come
and why I always have to go.