Grainy Memory

Grainy memory
Kodachrome slide boxes in boxes
Envelopes bulging with black and whites
Albums of slipped photographs askew
Letters bundled and elastic banded
Locked in a black metal box in the wardrobe
Disguised by the wedding suit that’s too small
That your son or daughter will one day dispose of
After your coffin has been lowered into the ground
And memories turned to grain

 

Larkin’s Hedgehog

The garden is such a sad place to be
Where once a creature dared to cough
Like a cancer patient impatient for tea
Scoffing down worms and shuffling off
Sloughing soil from his house of fleas

The business of mowing too is ghastly
Dust and pollen irritating oesophagus
Sneezing and wheezing under bay tree
From my attic window I hear him cuss
The hedgehog wedged. An amputee.

 

(Philip Larkin was born on this day in 1922. From 1956 to 1974 he rented a second floor flat in Hull, England. He died in 1985 of oesophageal cancer. My poem is a reimagination of these basic facts and two of his poems – ‘Home is so Sad’ and ‘The Mower’. Hope you like it)

An Amble Through An Afternoon

Today I attended the funeral of a friend. By friend I mean he was someone I knew a little. I guess you might call him an acquaintance. And by funeral I mean the wake, or after service send-off. I didn’t feel connected enough to join family and close friends at the main event but I am sure I would have been made welcome. So it was to the pub that I went and an hour late I arrived, not wishing to be seen devouring the sandwiches that others deserved more than me. Hungry work burying the dead. The quiet solemnity of the formal proceedings inevitably gives way to a sense of relief and a desire to speak loudly once more. And eat. It’s okay to eat now. And talk.

For this was no ordinary send-off. This was a farewell to a much loved local poet whose involvement with spoken word open mic events was well known and it was now the turn of his friends and family to toast with words his memory and our loss. For he will be greatly missed. There’s no doubt about that. I stood amongst the crowds and watched and listened as one after another his friends and family took turns at the mic to read something by him or something by themselves or something by someone who couldn’t be there in person.

Every once in a while a special person will enter our lives and spark a connection and we wonder how on earth that was possible. But when we begin to look around us we see the number of people that individual had touched and always in such a positive way. Such enthusiasm and encouragement also. On June 1st I had messaged him simply to say how much I had enjoyed his readings that night. Always courteous, his reply: ‘I assure you the feeling is mutual. I await your novel with interest’. If that novel ever reaches a printing press then his name will be in the list of acknowledgements at the end.

A few hours after the news of his sudden death reached me via social media I was compelled to write down some lines. The way bad news travels and creeps up on us unexpectedly, unawares and unwelcome can be unnerving too. I had been staring at the one centimetre gap between the door and the floor as if that was the route it had taken to find me. It also led me to think about the mental issues our friend had suffered with for so long and how difficult it must have been at times to have left open that one centimetre gap in which to communicate with the outside world when all inside was in such turmoil and disarray.

After the initial round of recitals an interval was called by our host. I found a seat and waited for the second half for I had come to hear the tributes, my own poem tucked in my back pocket. I had no plan to read it and I was not on the list of readers. My intention before ducking away was to pass it to the host and close friend of the deceased to read in private some time later. But as the last on the list had been up and spoken their words our host asked if anyone else, those who had arrived a little later, would like to come and say something. He looked at me and I couldn’t refuse that look. He is an exemplary host and compère and it felt an honour to be asked by name.

So here is the poem I wrote the day our friend died and which I read today amongst the good company of his family and friends. In some ways it is meant to be a celebration of all the good things that can be achieved when we share a common love of words. Rest in peace and know that you touched the hearts of so many, in big ways and in little ways. And thank you, gentle man.

A Cold Breath of Wind

A cold breath of wind blew down the street
Turned the corner, found its way below your door
That one centimetre gap was just enough
For scraps of paper with poetry and notes
To be let in, to be let out, to be I know not what

For although I knew you not at all that well, that is
Not much beyond a few polite conversations, nods
Of getting past the getting to know you awkwardness
When those around you knew you so much better than me
Past histories shared but the future not, turns out

You were, it seems, a masker of darkness, a fidget
A smoker, a kindly soul much loved and now much missed
I will rue the chance of getting to know you better
Slowly, through your eyes and mine and others
And the strange, uncommon bonds that often attract

When, when the news of your death came suddenly
It came blowing in on cold blasts of condolence wishes
As if your notebooks had been torn to shreds and tossed
Upon the gentle breath of your once spoken words, those
Which now, are merely echoes of your soft, fragile voice

current mood

current mood? not in the mood. today. to be honest. I’m sprinting out the blocks. turning anger into energy. into actions. struggling to keep within the speed limits. myself. the parts of me that are on fire. in flames. pumped like a bodybuilder on steroids. yeah it’s manly. sweaty. not very pretty. but needs must. if must you need to know. reason? well it’s not important. not really. not in the scheme of things. the bigger picture. widescreen surround sound. biopic. you know. sometimes. you have to put your foot down. speed past other people’s crash sites. or simply take the alternative route. it might be much longer. more picturesque. but wind back through the back roads. where. despite the twists and turns. occasional blind corners. peace and solitude parks itself up in lay-bys. yep. next to the don’t dump rubbish here signs. that’s where I am right now. stationary. thinking. pausing for a sweet jesus moment. then. opening up the door I step out and start to dance in the middle of this single lane country road. bend it bend it just a little bit. oh yes that’s good. bend it bend it just a little more. FUCK ‘EM I shout. volume full up. I’m at the top of my voice. FUCK ‘EM All. this feels good. a man in Lycra on impossibly thin wheels cycles past at speed. faster than necessary. i hear the sound of twisting metal. breaking bones. skin scraped from cheekbones. elbows. knees. i can’t stop laughing. i can’t stop myself dissolving into a puddle of oily water. the colourful kind. a rain shower will wash me away. down the road. into the soft verge. beware. be one with nature.

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(bend it lyrics by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich)

Dissociation Symphony

It’s been such a pleasure
Such a bellyful of smiles
To unlike every like
And delete every comment
Every word I ever shared
Every email cut and slashed

I’ve binned and burnt them
On the bonfire of your vanities
That funeral pyre of false allegations
Every lie and misrepresentation
Warped and twisted and
Bent to your needy wishes

If background music had been played
It would surely have been a symphony
Four Movements of Dissociation
The opening Unliking Sonata
The slow Deleting Adagio
The Cut and Slash Minuet

The Big Bonfire Finale Rondo
Followed by a concert hall of clapping
Shouts of Encore! Encore!
Laughter and hats thrown in the air
And when the lights came on you found
Everyone had left via the exit doors

Two Toothbrushes in the Toothbrush Holder

Asda breaded fish in packs of two
One for her and one for the freezer
Erm, she wished she could say ‘you’
Likewise with the two fingers of Twix
Or the Kit-Kat orange, her preferred flavour

A pair of Yankee candles upon the table
She lit just one which would ultimately need replacing
Unlike the two glasses of wine, red and rosé
Plates and cutlery both clean and dirty
All in the dishwasher when the meal was over

His and hers matching bathrobes
His was pristine white, hers tinged yellow
She would replace them both together
His to Oxfam to feed the poor
Hers cut up to clean the floor

Two toothbrushes in the toothbrush holder
For as long as she could remember
There had always been a pink for her, a blue for him
Bought from Superdrug or B&M Bargains
She searched the shelves for her favoured colours

A new one of both each and every month
Her used in the bin, his unused in the cupboard
With all the rest, just in case, she told herself
Because a confident smile would attract a man
Well that’s what her Mam had said all those years ago

Now it’s mirror, mirror on the wall
You will only get to see this one sad face
With crow’s feet revealed beneath the day’s make-up
And eyes that avoid making eye contact
Goodnight sweet prince, goodnight my life

Cicadas

she steps outside
thru the broken screen door
straight into humid heat
southern Louisiana
high pitched cicada noise
all around unnoticed
unsteady on hard bare feet
on weathered wooden boards
railings for support
t-shirt stained with sweat
daily chores
children dribbles
a Bud Light in hand
her drunken heady poise
she exhales smoke spirals
takes two steps down and
sways to the swing seat
thru scattered yard toys
thrift store bargains
Walmart remnants
church offerings

map6d3

he follows her scented trail
bare but for baggy gray shorts
his hand inside
full of himself
manly desires begging
night threats releasing
his time to entreat
demand
dehumanise
dark neighborhood streets
sound of shouts
tired air con units whining
yet more background noise
add it to the cicadas
the voices in his head
volatile cocktails
street corner dealings
no work just more heat
deep south swamp heat
dripping sweat summers

map6d2

her mouth full of cold beer
holding it back to enjoy
then sliding down throat
draws another
he calls her his
lips tits and bum whore
she takes his hot lusting
sticky as candy sweets
abandoned in sweating cars
this token moment of love
dirty and indiscreet
a pleasure for her Sonny Boy
distracting for a moment
defence methods deployed
it uncripples her from the past
childhood horrors
recurrent nightmares
he wanders sated back indoors
cicadas scream from trees
hands over bursting ears
heart beating like a drum

map6c2

and later
for absolution
she showers off the guilt
the smell of him
the taste of him
the all and every
last stinking piss of him
with the water running
she can’t hear the cicadas
the air con and the children
or the cripple next door
wheelchair bound and blind
who shouts foul obscenities
to anyone who will listen
and this is her life
of welfare benefits
food stamp grocery shops
and of course she loves him
his lips tits and bum whore
who beats her now and then
but still she prays to her god

deep south2small

Shallow

I took a shallow dive
To make me feel alive
But the bottom broke my nose
My arm, my leg, my toes

I took a shallow swim
On a careless whim
But the current was too strong
And something went quite wrong

I took a shallow bath
To wash away my wrath
But the water was too low
So my wrath it wouldn’t go

I took a shallow thought
That in my mind was caught
Tossed it in the air
And said that’s only fair

I took a shallow breath
To say hello to death
Who was knocking at my door
And now there’s nothing more

Dormant

Distant memories
They are mouse runs under corrugated sheets
Lifted to expose secrets that would otherwise
Have lain dormant under crumbling skies

Like the patch of downland we called the field
A folded and forgotten handkerchief meadow
Tucked away behind the haunted house
And the dovecote with the waffle walls

We filled its cubby holes with hide and seek treasures
The rust red leaves of autumn’s arms
Blue broken eggshells tossed from spring’s nests
All arranged with feathers found

The light of the passing moons
Cast long shadows on those our dancing days
And months made years made men of boys
Made laughter peel like church hung bells

Now dormant in silent repose
Having placed our pasts in hibernation
We sleepwalked into the adult world
To find our hunger lost