Sunday, 5 March 2017

'Juniors'



Juniors 
(from my forthcoming collection)

1
Jacqueline Burdett

We were in the same class
at primary school.  Shared
the same birthday.  One year
were told to stand up
so the room could sing
and toast the nothing we’d done.

Slight, she was, freckled:
tawny keeps coming to mind.
Already bringing on a bit of a stoop
to oblige the afterwards.

You’d glimpse her
slipping out to play,
edging the shadows
of the manager’s son
and the town-clerk’s daughter.

She answered each question perfectly
then retrieved her stillness,
putting the world away from her
till called upon again.

She rarely smiled,
perhaps never,
certainly not the day she and I
held an end apiece of coincidence,
like a pageant-flag
golden from a brush of sun
fluttered in a pocket of wind.


2
John Mulligan

John Mulligan was first light,
always.  He filled your eyes
with pan face, turret hair.

His voice was hornets
fighting in a pot,
a Sewanee whistle
when he was carpeted—

which happened as often
as footballs popped
or Tuesday’s beef
was fat over flesh.

His dad would goof away
the Mulligan summer
on any stage going:
Pontins, Barafundle strand,
Palma once, an incredulous busload—

was our class’s Santa Claus,
flushed and belt-looped,
speaking Laplandish
with a Skibbereen tic.

When we walked
through the morning gates,
it was a given that we be
demolished, cobbled up again
from bits and bobs of hygiene
and attentiveness.

But John had Skibbereen
in his shoulders, which would quiver
before the next joke took—

hence the dig of teacher’s fingers
in his back, at which his dad
would decamp from shoulders to heart
and in that little fortress
call showtime,

and on the ceiling
of Holy Trinity Church next door,
the cherubim would get it,
let go their swags of radiance
and howl. 


3
Ian Sanders
 
A wraith,
Ian Sanders was.
When he spoke he’d tilt away
as if meaning to tiptoe
round the outside of harm.

At eight he looked
years after, perhaps
a husband with a thin smile
who provided but walked alone,
who frowned when asked
his children’s ages.  Sometimes
the corner of his mouth would drop
and the day would drop with it.

How to explain then
the twinkle that led him everywhere,
past over-piled coats locking arms
to break their fall,
paintings of home with all the windows
urged to the edges, pots of cress
bred to hang down its hair?

It was because he got adults,
had seen round the back of their world.
He was the boy
who hides in a theatre at night
and tours the magician’s room,
noting how cabinets falsify,
how a hanky begets a dove.

So when teacher’s glare
grew aim and ruler
or Father came puttering in
to remind us how our fingerprints
were all over the apple of Eden
or we were told we’d be getting a day off
because someone who’d never know us
was being important
in a church near the Palladium,
I’d see the twinkle brighten
on the oldest face in the room,
watch as it burned into all the feints,
the sleights, the doings.  



Susan Reilly

There was only the one world
and it was Susan Reilly’s.
Fifty yards from her front door
to the school and each day
she made priceless work of it.
Hers was a nose for the good air high above,
a hand to summon in the shields and lions,
put a fan through its witching play.
She couldn’t meet your gaze dead on—
her eyes would drift up to the blue lands
where Tony Curtis lived, where Diana Dors waited
to gift her a sample of Knight’s Castile.
Royalty, Susan.  Mum was the school’s
chief cleaner, carpenter dad popped in to fettle
on his way to or from the big life.
To those of us who came out of the mists
a mile or more away, whose parents
worked on remote stars with vague orbits,
hers was a country of certain bounds
and charters.  Once she turned up
in her slippers.  When she realised,
she led our mirth, our handclaps to the brow,
let us into her Rubovia to play among its oaks.
You’d think that, for a few cloakroom minutes,
we’d tumbled a trunk of silks
in a place the colour of nothing.

A Rubovian Legend was a BBC children’s television series which ran from the mid-50s to the early 60s, using marionettes for the characters.

Holy Trinity RC Junior [Mixed] and Infants School, Bilston, South Staffordshire, 
1958-1965.






 







Monday, 13 February 2017

'Jacqueline Burdett'



Jacqueline Burdett  (from a forthcoming anthology).

We were in the same class
at primary school.  Shared
the same birthday.  One year
were told to stand up
so the room could sing
and toast the nothing we’d done.

Slight, she was, freckled:
tawny keeps coming to mind.
Already bringing on a bit of a stoop
to oblige the afterwards.

You’d glimpse her
slipping out to play,
edging the shadows
of the manager’s son
and the town-clerk’s daughter.

She answered each question perfectly
then retrieved her stillness,
putting the world away from her
till called upon again.

She rarely smiled,
perhaps never,
certainly not the day she and I
held an end apiece of coincidence,
like a pageant-flag
golden from a brush of sun
fluttered in a pocket of wind.

 

Saturday, 21 January 2017

'Stuffage'

(Appearing in my new collection, 2017.)


Stuffage
Stuffage, n.  a jokey term for stuff, things; material with which something is stuffed; figuratively, details added to a scene to aid its realism: eg, in a painting, television series, film.
1.
That’s you on the far left
or at least your arm and shoulder
plus a smudge that might be
your head turning
you were toe-to-toe
with immortality
all the others foursquare in shot
went on to rule the world
or anyway hammer its bones
till the birds fled
to the passes of the moon
a shame then
that on the cry of hold it
you heard your name
wobbled your place
finding out after
that the name was only almost yours
and anyway belonged
to someone the photograph
hadn’t planned to know.

2.
You were fourth anxious customer
tumbling out of the shop
when the coaching-inn next door was surrounded
and the fleshy absconder
lying low as a potman
in the Tudor-village-cum-petting-zoo nearby
was brought to book
you could have stolen all the moment’s light
but the chap tumbling out before you
saw fit to pause
and adjust the lie of his trousers

*
so all the hereafter will chance upon
is a flap of your cagoule
next to a window poster
of rebates and teeth for the aged

*
series two episode seven it was
with that young South African actress
who during a break stepped into the space
where your shy hello was dying
and balanced her laughter on it
at her puppyish co-star
mimicking a tree.

3.
Big do
summer in heels and sweaty humour
Bride’s lot or groom’s?
demanded a face
made for sputtering pastry
neither
you said and said again—
just trailing a featureless day
through the grounds
so you could watch it being much the same
against a fresh run of houses
the look in his eye seemed to make you
not there
till Ah he said they’re on the move
as organdie and money and tails
massed at a distant lych-gate
Oh he said there’s…damn I should have
…look could you just hold this?
and he was gone to not listen elsewhere
*
you still hold this
sometimes it lounges
by the hall telephone
sometimes it scares the shelves
you searched and searched
but he and the rest
had long thrown the dust-sheet
over the church
and all was left again for the likes of you—
coat-backs disappearing
sketches of numbness on upper decks of buses
but this
this will always mesmerise
whether you move it or it moves itself
like a god strayed
from an unknown faith
speaking of those
who have the trick of sunlight
and whistle it to unveil them
wherever they choose to be.