We sit playing in his room,
this is how it always goes,
he shakes stars out of a tune
I just puff along
He is a saturnine fellow
like Pan on bad a day or like the devil,
he doesn’t give that much away
while I pour secrets from a severed vessel.
All the songs are sad romances
suffering so much in deliverance
that I think I’d like to be that dame
who goes blind on the bridge and topples in.
Into the river, into the flood,
umbrellas of Cherbourg splattered in mud.
Too much singing in the rain
you’ll never be fit for the sun again.
The sky cast its five o clock shadow of rain through the hotel blinds as Margaret floated to the surface of her doze. The man was sitting on the bed, half dressed, clinking keys from dressing table to pocket. Its OK love, he said, the room’s paid for all till morning, enjoy it, I can’t, and he was off, seventy quid on the side table.
It was a posh hotel. When they’d come in at lunchtime the woman at the desk had looked right through her. She could tell her type, she supposed, just from the thin weather- inappropriate white cross over dress she was wearing, quick enough to get in and out of, now damp and clinging, and the plastic rain hat bought hastily from Boots. She was polite enough to the man. She’d seen it all before.
The room had a kettle, tea, nice biscuits, a minibar but that was extra. Margaret flicked through the hotel information folder, menu, notes in case of a fire, facilities, a picture of the swimming pool in the basement. In the wardrobe Margaret found a navy blue one- sized ladies swimming costume in a sealed bag, a pair of terry towelling dressing gowns for Him and Her, and slippers.
She cleaned off all her make-up, put on the swimming costume, the dressing gown, the slippers, took a towel and walked down to reception. The receptionist ignored her. Where’s the pool? Margaret asked.
It’s not really for you. Said the receptionist.
Room’s paid for, said Margaret, and she began to cry.
Aren’t I like everyone else in my swimsuit and naked face?
The woman called the manager, but he nodded, had words with the receptionist, whispered, urgent, instructive.
There was no one else in the silent basement pool. Margaret floated on her back, like everyone else in her swimsuit and her naked face, like she’d been before.
She closed her eyes, sank beneath the surface and came up gasping. She was lying on the bed in the darkening hotel room. The man had gone. There was thirty quid on the bedside table.
A knock on the door and the manager entered. Time to clear out, he said, if you want to stay a bit longer maybe there’s something you can do for me.
I wrote this 41 years ago as an anxsty 19 year old. A week ago Britain voted to leave Europe. Just sayin’.
The dead parachutist, prostrate on my skylight,
his helmet face flat against the glass-
he cannot be real.
And the aeroplanes that will pick me out
like anyone else, and shatter my house
and shatter me; they cannot be.
Brussels, kind Brussels, the softest name
in print, has gathered arms.
She takes her spite in aeroplanes,
in aeroplanes anonymous, that glaze
the sky indifferent, inscribe my house and me
with pilots swollen on suicide
and the endless cups of tea.
The parachute man above my room,
the dead Tom-peep, his aeroplane
has crashed outside the park-
he has been thrown all this way
to torture my dark, to worry my sleep.
I wake in my sleep- it was only a dream,
but he is still lying there,
and nothing has come to claim his soul
and no one will take him away;
his wounds breath like whales,
like whales they delight
in splashing the glass,
in drowning the world.
No one can touch him, that metal man,
he has dropped from the sky.
He has dropped so he is inaccessible
to all but the eye.
It must be November, the sky is so smokey
cowering in the trees.
It could be October, the sky is still pale
or studded with leprosy.
But this is an August night
and it is bright, bright, bright,
and why will the phantoms not disperse
with the dull dawn and the sun’s hearse?
I am not asleep, and his wounds breathe like whales,
I am not asleep and Brussels, Brussels, Brussels,
the softest word in print
is at war with the world.
Here is the furious woman.
Her spite the sharp berry on a sweet tree,
her rage the looming spire of a witch’s hat.
She is wringing me out, she is holding me under.
She is furious with the man who spat me
and furious with the woman who spun me.
She is the furious woman.
She is all the black skeletal trees on the bare windy hill
cartoon as shadow puppets, dead as wood.
She is the spinning dame with the poison thread
flat as evil in its single dimension.
Her fury is a sharp high shriek up in the branches,
the flap of a bat, tarred feather of crows.
I am a mouse flit over forest floor.
She is blind with her fury as she sharpens it.
I am the brown leaf rolling over brown leaves,
a crackle of dried out green on the grave of leaves
and then the wind rises, her voice high on the wind.
I float before it like a discordant bridesmaid.
Her name was Susan, I read on her stone,
a wife and a mother of three,
all orphaned in nineteen sixty six
when she stepped onto the A303.
My brother’s soft-top too fast, too sleek,
the Give Way sign veiled in leaves,
so his grave lies next to Susan’s.
He shot over the A303.
the highway through the barrows,
by Stonehenge, on to Glastonbury,
becomes something else, but everyone knows
it is still the A303.
It’s the old straight road down to the west
and it glides past the cemetery
where side by side its children rest
who died for the A303.
I wrote this poem earlier this century about something that happened half way through the last century, ( the same subject matter as ‘The Hardest Day’ written and posted yesterday) but posting it today, 27th January 2016.
50 years ago today, when i was 9, my brother Hamish died in a car crash aged 23. Where does the time go? I remember the morning so clearly and the effects on my mother, the journey to Salisbury Plain, time off school and the end of being bullied when i went back again, as my status was elevated to The Girl With The Dead Brother. But of him only i have one clear memory: a couple of years before, my parents still married and me attending Avondale, a school for army children on bleak Salisbury Plain, i missed the school bus (again) and Hamish drove me to school in his open topped MG wearing just his pyjamas. So he saved me twice. I gave my son Hamish his name. RIP glamorous brother. I know a lot of people will be thinking of you today
Getting ready for school:
Beware harsh green hall carpet concealing large spiders
The phone on its throne by its telephone chair
A confessional box for wind-ups and hopes
And occasional penny-watching long distances
In the labyrinth basement
in a dark lake of green carpet.
It’s January- mild or cold-
My school uniform on for school
My battledress for dread and bafflement,
Each day a new strategy flies and fails.
The phone rings, my mother talks in screams
We hang on the stairs listening.
Deidre (the lodger) and me
Re-order her strangled words into sense,
Think something must have happened to the dog,
Whose great yellow ears would flow behind him like comical banners
Whenever my brother drove his open top sports car too fast,
Like a yellow flicker over a disappearing stripe of racing green.
26th January 2016
The night Elvis died,
flat on my back
looking at this chap
(beautiful and cold)
light his French fag,
(the one he didn’t want)
take a superfluous drag,
I didn’t know then
while the radio played
This Time, This Time,
Elvis was cooler than he’d ever been.
When I’d got up-
thinking, Boy that was clean,
sweat-free and guiltless
like baby-love, frighteningly simple,
as a novel when you’ve finished it,
nothing in it, nothing to it-
I walked home through the rain
while the world wept
‘Sing it again, El.’
27th April 1978
‘Why do you cry
When your pop-stars die?’
So asks the angel at the tomb
In his Daily Mail readers’ guise.
Because I heard a whistle blow,
Bring in your boat and
Tidy up, pack away,
And shut up shop.
The party’s dwindled
To a fainter soundtrack
And everyone you loved while listening
Is lost again and disappearing,
Because we held each other
through Lady Grinning Soul
On habitat sofas
Soundproofed by books
Because when it was over
I cooled my overwhelmed heart
In Heroes, with its warrior truth
That everything must be separated
13th January 2016
First they came for the people in the café
Laughing and drinking wine
But they did not laugh or drink wine
And so they shot them
Then they came for the young people at the rock concert
The girls in jeans and t-shirts
But though they were young, they did not listen to rock music
Their girls did not wear jeans and t-shirts
So they shot them
And one replied to the other
But what was the question
Breaking from its frown of hesitation
In a lost second of human recognition?
16th November 2015
In Nunhead cemetery
saplings smoke out of the organic dead
in trances, webs of spider branches
creep out crackling, dripping into sunshine,
bulletins in stone tell you everything succinctly.
This Victorian woman outlived her seven children
by sixty years. The little space of life between
each birth and death suggests her growing hope
that this dear child, surviving longer than the last,
might make it, but year by year they died,
the oldest six- they must have thought
she’d cleared the post, she hadn’t.
Imagine all that time alone
side by side with the empty space
where your babies should have grown.
The dog flourishes in between the stones
chasing the pungent odours of life,
rabbits, foxes, badgers, voles.
Crashing through the branches we startle
visitors who’d heard our whistle.
Next time we should dress up in long white nighties
and jump out-
and here are the Weightmans!
Harold twenty four, Marjorie twenty three,
Olive three, David seven months,
killed by enemy action in 1944.
A little family bombed out
in a South East London terrace just like mine.
I like to visit the Weightmans.
Their grave’s only recently been uncovered
by the cemetery restoration works, hidden all these years
under a reign of thorns like Sleeping Beauty.
No one to come and remember them.
Every possible descendent evaporated by that bomb,
So I read their stone and make them mine.
Harold, sleeves rolled up, mending his bike.
Marjorie making pastry in the scullery.
Olive tottering by her brother’s cot.
Sirens, thunder, darkness, black horse carriage,
then this place,
the creeping blackberries and birdsong,
sun between the smoke, me walking.