This Is Modern Love

It begins with a barbecue. It often does.

Out on the front lawn, with fold-up chairs

and a puffed-up paddling pool,

on a manky stand that is never cleaned,

they cremate creatures and eat them.

The lighter fuel stink and the great swirls of smoke

they freely share with neighbours,

who stare and tut through laced-up or blinded

windows, from where they see but are not seen.

The food is lubricated with lager, cans in hands

all day, from early until too late.

Today there is some issue. You can see it in his walk.

He moves cocksure most days, straight back, pimp sway,

but today he is hunched, head low, arms just that bit akimbo.

His voice is raised beyond caring.

You can hear the fucks and twats and bastards

from two streets away. The children watch in silence.

She sits and smokes.

She has been here before.

Soon, after he begins to throw things, cans, food,

chairs, she stands and walks slowly into the house

and says goodbye to the father

and drives away, his voice enlarged by rage behind her.

Two days later the car is back.

The passenger door opens and he gets out.

He walks to the driver’s door and opens it to let her out.

The children emerge, skipping out of the car

and following them into the house.

There is no distance between them.

This love is a disease.

This is modern love.

Our Joyce

Walking into a city centre shop

a year or two back, or perhaps longer,

I did a double take and stopped in the doorway.

I turned and called out her name.

She turned and looked around.

It took a moment for her to see me

but no time at all to know me.

She saw me but said nothing.

She walked up and wrapped her arms around me

tight, like a bond,

squeezed with a strength I hadn’t expected

from this woman so much smaller

than the one in my memory.

She squeezed hard and then kissed me

harder, full face, on the lips,

in the doorway of a busy shop in the city centre.

I glowed. I burned, but not with embarrassment.

“Oh, love,” she said.

That was what burned me,

the heat of her love, pure, simple, and unashamed,

standing there in a stream of sniffy shoppers.

“Oh, love,” she said, again, “oh, it’s lovely to see you.”

That voice. Deep, broad, still powerful, still warm,

overflowing with feeling, her father’s voice,

loud and tuneless and wonderful,

speaking to me from when I was a child,

when I thought as a child.

The voice of Joyce, our Joyce.

We spoke and kissed again.

I can’t remember anything that she said.

That wave of love washed them out of my mind,

the words of Joyce who was born Kay.

My sister called the other day.

She told me Joyce has got that evil thing

that steals your marbles one by one.

More proof, as if we needed it,

that there is no God.

We Don’t Understand Us

You don’t get it.

I can’t get it right.

We don’t understand us.

Nothing of us is understandable. We are complex,

complicated, completely normal

in our abnormal ways. This is how it goes,

how life unfolds for us, for all of us, for always,

forever, ’til death us do part, our carved hearts

entwined in the bloody accident of our meeting,

of our simple act of simply being,

of the living of our ordinary lives.

Husbands and wives.

Neither knows the other, and never will, anyway.

I know you little enough to be able to say

I do not know you, too.

You will always be a mystery to me,

as I will be to you.

And this is true,

love.

In Bangalore

Once upon a time in Bangalore

I lived in a Palace, and from there

I could see a world I would

never know. The rules of the road

we’re indicative. The lives of

the herd were imperative.

A greeting was a meeting

of hearts and minds and souls,

of simplicity and complicity

in the life and love we all share.

There is no brighter beauty

than the darkness of their hair,

or the brown-eyed brilliance

of the faces I saw there.

Outside in, I saw the thing

that makes me love them still.

It is the will to be a friend

until the end of time.

I have never known

a sweeter people

in all my life.

A Mystery

When I kissed you as you left

today, we were as close as we could get

and yet we were still indistinct

to each other, from one another, thinking

different things together, separating.

We had been so close that what was on you

was now on me. I took your scent, tasted it,

carried it on my lips, the essence of you

with me still, in your absence. We had

been so close but still I could not know

what was in your mind, or in your heart.

We believe we know, we coupled folk, we

long-time lovers and lifers together, but

it isn’t true. We never do. I don’t know you,

you don’t know me.

Perhaps that is as it should be.

This may be true for all the others,

for all the unknown, untouched,

untold lovers.

What we all know, if nothing else:

we are a mystery to ourselves.

No Other

Loving you

Is hard to do

I’m not an easy lover

But loving you

Is easy too

For me there is

No other

The Orphans

A man I met on holiday

told me once the story

of how he never met his mother.

She was blown to blitz

in the same old war that

his father fell for.

Their only child, he’d been

sent away to stay in a place

full of strangers, with dangers

of its own. He had known

no relative love or tenderness,

just the kindness of strangers.

He smiled unceasingly.

The woman he’d wed, an orphan

like him, said they were paired,

that they cared for each other,

sister and brother as much

as lovers. She grinned without end

at her partner, her friend.

I thought of them today when

I heard the distaste in the bray

of your voice. The orphans had

found each other, each chosen

the other and chosen to be happy

together. You and I came together,

we were never the chosen.

We do not like the same,

we are unlike each other

and like one another now and then.

If we too were orphans, I wonder

often if you would be better

widowed.