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.

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.

The Little People

Raking leaves, the little man

hums hymns to him, alone.

His little wife, washing pans,

watches what she owns.

They can speak by sense of touch,

their kisses make no spittle.

Neither needs or wants too much,

what they have is little.

Two lives made of little things,

made smaller by themselves.

Thursday morning shopping runs,

on Friday fish and chips.

Saturday night wine for fun,

the Sunday call from kids.

A week in Filey in spring,

two in Norfolk later.

Christmas do the shopping thing,

New Year do the neighbours.

Young fun days are long gone now,

working life is over.

After earning life, somehow

they think they live in clover.

Though bloody veins still harden,

they feel no pain or or strife.

Two magpies share their garden,

a pair mated for life.

All they need is food and drink,

and to be together.

One pair lived a little life.

One pair hardly ever.

A Walk In The Park

A walk in the park. Municipal green space, there for all

to share. Somewhere to rest, to play,

a grassy mattress on which to lay and daydream,

or just to sit, not think of it, whatever it might be.

Somewhere out of the house, away from the cares

that are there everywhere, somewhere open,

somewhere you can feel free and fresh and human.

Council workers come to manage it, to mow and trim

and make it fit for people who just want to go for

a walk in the park.

Broke my heart today.

I saw it all from yards away, the stuff they’d dumped:

the plastic bottles, paper bags, tossed off wraps

of fish and chips, empty cans, all the crap

they drop and leave for someone else to hump away.

‘Keeps them in a job,’ I’ve heard them say,

the little knobs. I’ve seen them do it everywhere,

littering without a care, dropping crisp bags, dirty rags,

cast-off shoes and old school bags, crumpled six-packs,

shattered wine and cider glass, with not a wrack

of concern on their slack faces. None of this

concerns them. Life is shit, and they believe that

for them it always will be, so they shit on it in return,

depositing the excrement of their existence wherever they go.

They go everywhere, leaving their droppings all over the world.

It comes out in the world, too, in the living things,

the growing things, the things we eat and drink.

They should think again, these future fathers and mothers.

Some day in the future, with others, with their own issue,

their own children and grandchildren, their own little lambs, by god,

by then polluted with the shit and bits which these here now

see fit to litter this green, unpleasant land,

some day they, too, will want

a walk in the park.

The Downbeats

They make a fine day dull, a good day bad,

the downbeats,

the joysuckers, the miserable fuckers,

the ones who moan and groan all day,

who will not go away and bore the arse off others, pray,

than me.

These selfish shits get on my tits, the way they whinge

about the things they cannot change, the way they gripe

about their lives, the normal, everyday, the stuff that we do anyway,

the stuff that we all have to bear, the stuff that isn’t bloody fair.

They wake and curse the morning sun.

Too bright, it is, or not enough, they ask someone to turn it off.

Just think of that! The sun! The twats.

Don’t let them near, don’t hear their words,

don’t listen to these malformed turds.

The downbeat mind is not the kind you want to enter into.

The mind you want is good and bright and lets you know you can do.

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.

A Vignette

What have you been doing?

Oh nothing much.

What does that mean?

Nothing much. This and that. Pottering.

Pottering?

Yes. Feeding the plants. Weeding. Bit of pruning. Bits and bats. Pottering.

Is that all? It’s pathetic.

No, it’s not all, actually. The main thing I’ve been doing is avoiding you.

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.

The Coughing Dodgers

They always were the dying breed,

these older souls, they’ve always been

here just for now but not for long,

and very soon they will be gone,

though sooner now for some old codgers,

the sickly ones, the coughing dodgers,

the ones whose race is almost run,

whose final song will soon be sung.

They’re dying now in herds and droves

in helpless homes with caring folks

who sit with them and let them know

how loved they were, who let them go,

then wonder if that final kiss

has left them, too, a dying gift.

We saw them all, our old grand farters

together with our great gross mutters,

we saw their crimped-up pastry faces,

the saggy bums held up with braces,

the runny eyes and dewdrop noses,

the accidental fly exposures,

the legs held in parentheses,

the martyrs to their chuffin’ knees,

the orificial sproutifoliage,

the clothes that wore the morning porridge;

we heard their shaky, cackled words

and could not make out what they were,

we smelled that ancient trailing stench

that followed everywhere they went,

we tasted bleach in every kiss,

these are the things you’re going to miss.

I miss them now, I miss them still.

I always have. I always will.

This Old Man

This old man, he played on

until all his mind had gone.

With a tip-tap, slip-slap,

where’s the dog and bone,

send him to the old folks home.

In her pearls, his old girl

watched him as he lost this world.

With a tip-tap, slip-slap,

on the dog and bone,

asking for some care at home.

All alone, on her own

his old girl went daft also.

With a tip-tap, slip-slap,

get the dog and bone,

take her to a different home.

On their own, separate zones,

each went down the slippery slope.

With a tip-tap, slip-slap,

lost the dog and bone,

each one died but did not know.

This old pair, past all cares,

burned and scattered, no one there.

With a tip-tap, slip-slap,

buried dog and bone,

everybody dies alone.

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.