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.

When You Were

When you were here

I did not hear you

I did not listen to you

You were just you

When you were gone

I could not miss you

I could not think of you

You were past you

When you were dead

I could not look at you

I did not want to

You were not you

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.