In Line

Weird kids never came out –
not back then –
that’s why they were not in
our rushed pack
of loosely herded imaginations
running under the command of
Up to the ruins!

Us from identical houses
yet each uneasily unique –
being found guilty
of English differences –
set by the age of cars on drives –
which kept us in our place –
forever fixing our sub-classifications

The weird kids only went outside
to be the last-in-lines –
to retreat to bedroom isolation
which was still a viable option –
back then

County Lines

There – incongruous in khaki
among the lurid colours of youth –
two sallow lads sat by the tunnel
at the love-etched bench

as if recovering from a hundred years
of trench warfare with their coughs
whilst the younger troops are bound
to school desks and repeated tasks

The soldiers’ drugs are sweet perfume
above the sour rot and kicked mud
of the early hints of a winter campaign
across county lines with bunched fists

Into the Trees

Under the trees we find the path –
that one we missed last time –
and climb above the flood plain
on which – five miles downstream –
fools build fifty-four homes

We are now in nature’s green skin
where branches and hand-propped boughs
form unfinished rough shelters –
these experiments and adventures
decay to an undesigned usefulness

Further on the slunked gully runs –
here kids built mud and stick dams
until a wire fence was erected
and that sucking and silting stream
was blocked from the apprentices

The track is beaten and heat-cracked
which encourages youngsters on bikes
to take the risks we also under took –
but we hadn’t the engineered machines
on which they hurtle as fearless riders

The trees reverberate with monkey calls
and the shrill complaint of a lost child –
it is as if the internet doesn’t exist
as the off stage scramble of children
escalates – not quite Lord of the Flies.

After a Party

The wisest of the kids
had reset our house –
so that my scratch-forced
early morning ritual
of back-door-and-dog
was quite normal

The unexpected waft
of an outside chill
was the only thing
I found misplaced –
that and a small bowl
of rolled fag butts

which I’d suggested
be left outside
when I had patrolled
their dying party –
consciously sniffing
at the air for drugs –
only tasting
the boyfriends’ sprays

Earlier in the evening
I had bolted myself
in my dark study
as the various volumes
of the engineered event
were subject to
the same social forces
we adults endure –
but at a different pitch

The dog had scratched
at my side of the door
as I sank even lower
on displaced cushions
and kid-shifted furniture

My brief entombment
was almost equal
to Egyptian disarrays –
alas for me there was
no mass of splendour
or promise of some
sort of waking heaven

Autumn Term

They make the slow haul uphill
with their shop-branded bags
of untried school uniforms

The boy bears his boxed Clarks shoes
as the girl lugs her sweatshop shirts –
freshly picked off Primark shelves –

Still with plenty of growing in ’em
was her mother’s observation
as she calculated the cost of it all

These slack summer holidays
will end not soon enough
for the parents – but not the kids

The hour-numbed regiments
will reform and take the school gates
in their battle colours of navy blue.

Above the Weir

The kayak wobbled
on the tamed river
as we paddled –
but out of time –
past bikini-strapped girls
and kids your age
whom we sat above
in our inflated craft

Within ten minutes
we had found
the quiet normality
of an unbroken tension
where water boatmen
skated in spurts –
here dragonflies dipped
to a secret dance
above our bright bow

We kept time for a while
and then you gave up
to let me drag routes
around low branches
and through narrowings –
I briefly quit with pain
so we were set adrift
against the nothing current
below the next weir

You held the ropes
as I tried to lift my weight
from the muddy berth –
but my legs could not do
what legs should do
so I dragged myself
up the herd-worn bank –
gripping grass clumps
to bring me ashore

I hold the memory
of that recent evening
as fondly as those of my youth
when I lived for the Thames
and her sly currents –
when I could cross
the tops of weirs –
but now I am reduced
to the sloth of the Ouse.

Pompey Love

Always third in line –
never really intended
such was my birth –
I am long disinherited

Time is our slipway –
greased for each build
It is a steep incline
for those low on love’s skills

Champagne in ribbons
burst on the bow
and then a spunked wave
to please the crowd

‘How long will it float?’
is not to be whispered –
‘Don’t curse the crew
an’ all who sail on er’

Their shouldered terrace –
my parents’ first home
still waiting to slip
into the port’s lapped foam

Across that hinterland
a tide of just-weds –
the wives of submariners –
a choice none understood

One night of holding
before his boat steamed –
it was sweated and lugged
til he heard her scream

The rude gulls returned
when ships broke the Atlantic –
they pull from tipped bins
a seamen’s tossed prophylactic.

Eighteen. Yesterday

You will hear bird song in Brighton
as you walk the mile home on Eastern Road
with a belly of beer as your low ballast

There will be winking cabs but your gut
will steer you and your mate a slower route
because the clean up bill would be too much

And your ears will be thick with shouts and
laugh-rubbished conversations in places
which were loud and sticky underfoot

The bingo hall will be dark because the old
are too clever to stay up this late –
all except your mother who will wait

Science Block

Surface tension
gives water droplets
that almost
spherical shape
A sphere – I was told –
has the least
possible surface area
to volume ratio

My science lessons
were not elliptic –
the strains on the class
were uneven –
instead we received
rough instruction
from miserable teachers
on secondary pay

Biology lessons had a tang
of flesh
and chemistry
was a measured stench