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.

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.

A Sketch At The Shops

When he hit me

The first thing I thought was this:

‘Don’t break the bottle’.

He was young, stocky, perhaps a boxer,

wearing one of those godawful snapback

baseball caps and a padded jacket. Someone had

spat at my feet, and I grabbed him, and then someone

grabbed me, a good strong lock around my head.

Then he hit me.

He must’ve hit me five or six times, all fair belts,

all bang on my right ear. I didn’t feel too much pain,

not then. And I didn’t fight back.

I was worried about the bottle, you see.

Maybe that’s what made him stop,

me doing nothing.

He stood there, after he’d hit me and let me go,

his back against the plate glass window of the shop,

watching me, turning the gemstone ring

on the finger of his hitting hand

back round the right way, and I’m thinking,

‘I really want to hit you, boy,’

but there’s the bottle in my inside jacket pocket,

and I know that if I hit him, we’ll tussle,

and the bottle, it’ll get broken, and I won’t

get that drink that I’ve been looking forward to

all day.

So I leave it.

I walk away and get in the car. His crew, some

boys like him, and a couple of girls with their bits

and spots and face shrapnel on show,

they yarp at me as I get in the car.

‘Silly old man,’ says one.

Sitting at the wheel, I boil up a little.

I think seriously about it. Running them over.

Seriously.

I get even hotter, realising that

I have that capacity,

That I’m actually thinking

of doing it.

I drive away.

At home, my ear looks like mashed red cabbage

and regret sets in. Regret mainly

for being a silly old man.

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 Working Day

His day starts before light.

He wakes early, moves quietly,

eats quickly and leaves the house,

belly full but feeling empty,

body still aching from the day before.

Two buses to get there, dirty bright

vehicles filled with silent hopeless people

just like him. Clocking in, proving

that he is here, now, that he exists,

he changes into his overalls, pristine,

clean and white. They will be smeared

in shite by the end of the day.

He lifts things, because that is what he does,

what he is good for. All day, every day,

twenty times his own body weight

he picks up and carries and puts down.

Ten hours later he goes home,

two buses filled with chattering people

talking about their lives, laughing.

He cannot speak their language.

In the house, fed, rested, he smokes alone

in the garden, looking up at the dark sky

filled with stars.

All I Need To See

The view from the window:

dirty mean streets, brick and concrete,

blocks of buildings, filled with people

as mean and dirty as the streets.

This urban profanity of a place,

untidy and unkempt and uncared for,

unloved by many, but most of all by me,

I hate it more than I can say.

Give me the fields of my youth,

golden rolling wheat as tall as my eyes.

Give me muddy streams and untrod paths,

hedges for hiding and trees for climbing.

Give me space away from other people,

give me sanctuary.

Oh, my only god,

the god of only me,

alone, in peace, and free,

all I want, all I need to see,

are trees and green and thee.

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.

No End To Time

We were boys back then, when days were longer.

We were stronger, too, in body and in mind. In time

perhaps we would weaken and soften, but in the now of then,

no end was in our mind, not yours, not mine,

there was no end to time.

We were hard and proud, eager, loud,

happy, stupid, drunk on beer and being young,

though we did not know then

just what that meant.

It meant being more alive

than ever we would be again.

Moving on from booze and song,

we fell apart and into what was yet to come.

The moment we began to think of others

our youth began to leave us.

Our selfish armour pierced by the lance of love

and the prick of its thorny crown, we found

there was more than just our self to centre on.

From the moment after being young,

little leavings of ourselves fell all around us,

dribbles and trickles of what had been

invincible lay in mortal ruins at our feet.

We die in increments.

What you had been was gone too soon,

crashed out in a welter of steel

and a sixteen-wheeler that you never passed

on a road coming back from your future.

Your mortality ruined me, my friend.

I had not yet learned to live.