What Am I?

My hair is dirty.

Dirty, greasy hair.

Dirty with me,

with the sweat of me,

with what comes out of me,

with what makes me, me.

Am I dirty?

Is that what I am?

Is that all that I am?

What am I?

I’ve often thought about that,

what I’m made of,

what I am.

I am a man, and man

spoils everything.

Man is dirty.

Unclean.

Bring on the virus,

bring on the plagues,

the pestilence, the wars

to the death.

Man must be cleansed.

In Her Place

It’s not much, but it is home,

the place she lives

with the man she chose.

He keeps her in her place

with the weight of his thumb.

Her place is wherever

he wants it to be.

She wriggles and writhes

but never really tries

to escape. She knows her place.

She shows her daughter

so that she will understand

her own place.

She does not know

she is preaching to the subverted.

One day the stains tell her

that someone has taken her place,

someone bloody, young.

Her husband laughs in her face.

That night, she widens his smile,

from ear to ear, sees him dying,

lying in the bed she made,

staining the place they sleep.

She weeps at what it cost.

She has lost her place.

What would you do

in her place?

Teenage Daydreams

Face like a moonscape, pale, pitted, pocked, and pretty

ugly, the teenager sees with their own mind’s eye.

They see what they think others see. The petty mirror lies

on the wall, telling them tales of what they are not.

They are not perfect, the mirror shows, eyes too small,

a crooked nose, ears that stick out through the hair,

grown so long to hide what’s there. They are not

what they want to be, they are not bold or bright

or strong or sweet, they are not like their own best

friends, those others who they want to be, so easy, light

and free of worries over acne spots and greasy hair.

They daydream all the day and night, believing that

they never will be right enough for anyone to care.

Their little faults, made huge by inspection,

become so big they can’t see beyond them.

No teenager sees that these are their best years,

that they are in the blessed years,

that soon they will be at their finest,

their most glorious and shiniest,

tight and taut and fit and strong,

and, looking back, forever young.

View From A Window

The world looked different back then.

Our house stood at the top of a hill, one of the

supposed seven on which the city stood. From my bedroom

I could see all its lights shining in the night, stretched out

like a dream of sparks and embers.

The house backed on to a municipal park. In the summer,

in full leaf, trees blocked the view of the city.

Through autumn, winter and spring, though,

I could see these lights, this lit carpet of life

spread before me like a tribute.

The daytime views were of bright miles of hills

and buildings, distances as vague as the future;

or, on wet days, of looking down on rain clouds

rolling slowly in the valleys.

Thunder and lightning were an unspeakable thrill

that almost made me believe in God,

but not quite. I was young then.

I didn’t know the value of that kind of thing,

a view,

being able to see for miles,

not having someone looking back at you.

I just liked the quiet of it, my bedroom,

looking out at the night, the lights of my room

switched off, cosseting myself in darkness.

Somewhere else in the house, my mother

was realising that her children would

all be leaving home soon

and that she couldn’t afford to live there alone.

I didn’t see that coming.

The house was sold soon after the last of us left.

My view now is of someone else’s house,

someone I don’t like, who doesn’t like me back.

The old house isn’t far away. I could go back,

see what it’s like now, but I never have.

The world looks too different now.

Season’s Eatings

Here they come, a-slithering,

to start their nightly winnowing,

the slugs and snails, the worms and lice,

all seeking out what once was nice,

was beautiful, but now is not,

now slowly sinking into rot

to feed these little manure makers,

these busy, slimy undertakers,

creatures of the damp and dark,

eaters of the leaf and bark.

They have another purpose, too.

I think it might discomfort you,

but you must know it plain and clear,

it is not something you should fear,

it comes to each and every one,

eventually, when life is done:

those of us who are not burned

are by them to the earth returned.

Obscure Glass

What is it for, obscure glass?

Is it to stop the world from seeing me?

Or to stop me from seeing it?

Perhaps it is that it is both.

Perhaps it lets me see enough.

Perhaps it lets me see too much.

Perhaps it keeps me out of touch.

Perhaps it makes life indistinct.

Perhaps it gives me space to think.

I think

the purpose of this glass

is obscure.

The Note Taker

He was an ordinary man,

Ernest.

He had an ordinary name. He looked

ordinary in almost every way. He lived

at my grandmother’s boarding house,

a place for the down-on-their-luck

and the damaged.

He must have been sixty-something,

skinny-thin and almost hairless,

apart from the missed bristles. He wore

spectacles with bottle-bottom lenses,

made his eyes huge, though he never

seemed to see you.

I can’t remember him ever speaking.

He had this habit that made us laugh.

When he was drunk, which was most nights,

he’d stop somewhere, the pub, the street,

anywhere, random places, and he’d take out

an invisible notebook, and matching pen

and he’d write down notes about the things

he was looking at: walls, lampposts,

pictures, sometimes nothing. Often, nothing.

Full of beer from the same pub,

me and my mate, we’d stand and watch

and take the piss out of him.

Silly old Ernest.

Barmy old Ernest.

The barmaid caught us one night,

gave us a vicious gobful.

Ernest had been in the war, she said.

He’d seen and done things

we could never even imagine.

Had a plate in his head where

some of his brain used to be.

He’d done these things for us,

people like me and my mate,

who had been standing there,

belittling him,

like we were better than him.

I have never felt so small

or mean.

Stand easy, Ernest.

Summer Into Autumn

Autumn.

Strings of shining spider webs;

dew-drop sprinklings on sparkling grass;

curling leaves, turning brown;

burning dead and broken branches,

twigs and sprigs of withered shrubs;

digging borders, mulching soil, cutting back

and tidying the dead and dying things.

Morning chills in crystal air, carrying mist

from mouths and snouts of breathing creatures,

all lively now, not lazing or crazed

in the season of heat, of lingering days.

The nights are winning, now, the days

are winding slowly down. The seasons,

like man’s illusions, like earth,

sky, thunder, all come and go.

Renewal is never ending.

Nothing stays the same.

All things pass.

Old English

We had a pet dog when I was a boy. A great,

stupid, soft, shaggy Old English sheepdog. I think

my mother bought him to make up for the regular

lack of husband. I can still remember the smell

of his fur, even now, so many years later, a wet,

sweaty, slightly dirty smell. It’s a long-haired breed,

the Old English. Picks up muck and bits and crap

in its fur like a magnet collects filings. Dopey dog

hated having all the twigs and things combed out,

or maybe he didn’t have the patience to sit around

while we did it. Had the attention span of a small child,

that dog, and the same silly grin, come to think of it.

My mother would come through the door at the end

of the day and the dog would gallop from the back

of the house to the front door like a mad thing

in a dog suit. It bounded down the hall and landed

its brown stained paws on her shoulders and licked

her face with a tongue that smelled of dog food

and slaver and bumlick. She was five foot nowt,

my mother. A pocket venus, that’s what she said.

The dog was a foot taller on its hind legs.

They stood there, both of them grinning

like silly kids. She had a great smile.

She loved that dog.

We loved it too, of course.

You had to love something that wagged

it’s stumpy tail so hard it sometimes fell over,

just because you were you.

It died of a heart attack in the back garden

one day in summer. I came out and found it,

lying there, on the toy-cluttered, unmown grass,

cooling down dead.

Broke my heart.

Never had one since,

dog, or heart.

Never will.