The Tennis Match

Saying no

in chorus;

no to the dead weight of duty,

no to the particulate poisons,

no to the hidden fissures of failure.

Heads shaking,

we sit shoulder to shoulder

with innocence,

looking on.

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The Broken Hammer

Alone, in the crowded train, face composed
against the breeze of casual glances,
he could watch unseen, listen unnoticed.
He’d travelled, wrapped up in smooth completion,
for years, gazing through the streaks of rain stained
windows, grey eyed and securely cocooned
in his unscarred watchfulness. Around him,
the disorder of the spectacular
stamped its non­presence, its blinkers, besides
which he could sit out of sight in silence.
A tear dropped, a sob shook him, his disguise
cracked, and all the eyes turned his way in shock,
to see him, to see his bruised truth, to see
damage, the flesh and blood, shaking, present.
“A broken hammer is more of a hammer than an unbroken one” (Terry Eagleton) though this proposition is dubious as applied to an object in part defined by its function! The point is that an unbroken hammer is more taken for granted and therefore unnoticed than a broken one, …. or is this explanation taking a hammer to crack a nut?

Becoming (Part 3 Staincross)

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A short drive to the north

And suburbs gave way to a kind

Of centre, a place where power

Still paced the steps, arguments

And choices coloured the days.

Here edginess was in the centre,

Set in a pastoral wrapping

As the pits faded into landscape.

 

The coal was the heart beat

Of the town; its memory

For now was enough to fill

The open air with fresh cod,

Cascades of plates dancing

To the rap rhythms of selling,

Buoyed up by the whip

Of canvas, the blunt chatter

And the scrapping traffic.

The mighty handlebars

Of the traffic policeman

Greeted the newcomers, defying

Mockery and time’s assaults.

The chapel stood imperious

Sure of its place at the centre,

Oblivious to the failing structure

That would bring it to rubble

Even as the last coal warmth

Faded to a gloomy stillness.

 

I forged a new life in a dying

Street, caressing the romance

Of gas lit history, carving

A tune from the town’s death rattle.

This was where a boy could learn

To love, to hate, to dream.

But not to belong.

Always apart, watching,

Seeking something grander

Something painted with less hang dog

Colours, something lifted clear

Of good manners and modest expectations

Something beyond logic;

Images, stories with guts

And the smell of history.

 

It occurs to me that there is a companion trilogy to be written entitled:

The end of corduroy

The end of steel

The end of coal

Becoming (Part 2 Hallam)

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Then to a modern world,

Stepping from the romance of steam

To the electrifying journeys

Crashing through Nature

Into the city. The music here

Is firm, work a day, functional.

This suburban land was the future –

Community life was a fine thing,

Something to do at the weekend,

An optional extra outside the garden gate.

Boredom no longer populated

Chapel anniversaries and faith teas;

We learned to mind our own business,

To wrap myth in old text books

left in dusty attic shelves.

To subject the exuberance of curves

To the invisible ink of tidiness.

All was structure, order

Carefully timetabled,

Always under surveillance.

 

The woods were wilderness

With their pointless paths

Meandering bramble clad to imagination’s edge.

Modernity could not tolerate

Meandering; to be pointless

Was to be dispensable.

The woods now house the comfortable,

Happy, all in order in their

Tree shaded compartments.

 

To extract the poetry from here

Is to wrestle with suet pudding,

To burrow into eiderdowns

To cry out in the curtained shades.

But the wildness clung to this life’s

Edges – the quarry in the wood;

The crumbling bomb shelters

In the wasteland beyond the gate;

The exposed moors swept by fires,

By Winter, by unforgiving winds.

We had words for none of these places.

Becoming (part 1 Elmet)

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The land sings with strange echoes,

The prophet bent against the wind

Stiffened and dumb, pointless fingers

Crooked beyond pain; the whispers

Of forgotten graves, the echoes

Scattered across nameless fields.

 

My own echoes –

That speck of rust in the eye

Blinding me to summer’s absences;

The discovery of otherness

And of my own presence, cradled

Fuzzy headed in a teacher’s arms;

The texture of mud in the rain

And the tang of sherbet.

Something undiscovered – Shirley –

Important only in a retained name

And a sense of something missed;

A world wrapped around my father,

Everywhere leading the way,

Gowned like a raven.

History sprang free from books,

Tasted in cod liver oil and orange juice,

Serenaded by war sirens,

Painted on the terraced stone walls

Echoes muffled with no home key.

 

Soft focussed myths hid

The brutalities – the killing

Asbestos mills, our dog

Put down by an angry farmer,

The grave plot waiting across the dale

For dying congregations.

 

But there were clues to the elemental –

The water crashing down from the moor,

The snow drifts against bedroom

Windows, the shiver of cold winds

Through the bones.

 

Some years ago, interested in the connection between my childhood and place, I wrote a three part musing of which this is the first.

Going Back

Somewhere, behind some cupboard,
tattoo’d with dead skin and orphaned hair
lies a memory’s shadow.
Its voice has evaporated long ago
and all that remains is stillness
and decay. The spider scuttles past.
The wood louse pauses, confused
by something nameless, a recalled scent
or a ridge where the memory once made its mark?

But I only have to stand there,
senses attentive, to feel
the murmur of history bouncing off the polished wood, rustling in the carpet fibres,
breathing in the dusts’ drift through the sunlight

The Deliverer of News

I was passing in the blue misty chill
Of morning, intent upon my errand,
When I glanced up and caught his eyes until,
Nods exchanged, we moved on, each in a land
Of our own making, but now with a new
Citizen. A long face; the plump softness
Of infancy forgotten as bones grew
Visible through sunken cheeks; a face less
Given to laughter, stoic, set, all speech
Silenced; he trudged his solitary way
To earn a few pounds and a place to hide
Beyond the reach of hope or memory,
Where he can sit and dream, rocked by life’s tide.