Fruits and Suites

We washed in an avocado-coloured bath –
we had never tasted that foreign fruit
back in nineteen-seventy-two – or three –
we were lucky to get to peel tangerines

It was a plastic suite – uneasily creaking
with our scales of weights of our pre-teen
occasional visits – each darkly recorded
by layered rings of both dirt and soap –

but warm with the water – no cold steel
or enamel suck – a discomfort favoured
by our TV-fashioned homemakers –
but – one hears – green baths are back

Competitors

Our house complains
of his heavy feet overhead –

quick as excited heartbeats
but then still-stopped

to my gone voice in our play
of Grandmother’s Footsteps

once commanding my son
to fix and freeze under

my quick look – that thrill
in his lost childhood – testing

his parents by such stealth
was an unplanned rehearsal

for these sometimes-days
of eggshell steps around us

We players of an adult game
without a joyous winner

First Year, 1970

Aged five to school – an unplanned addition
M. Bell – born into a monochrome 1964 –
just after real sex was bargained by Larkin –

Miss Green – my teacher – wore the latest
fashions – miniskirts and roll-neck tops
with cropped hair and big jewellery –

all co-ordinated above calf-fixed trends
of highly-shined high heel boots
and her daily sprayed halo scent –

Aged fifteen – my recall of Miss Green
was fixed again – seeing her once more –
she was still wearing 1970 well

when we passed in my dentist’s alleyway –
that red brick shortcut to the High Street –
but she did not recognise me – now fifteen –

A decade earlier she was my cool mother
on school days – she had set me to new words
and easy metrication – before my release

to longer grass and longed-for summerings –
She is now – by my calculations – locked
into her last few years – and still wearing
nineteen seventy


In Earshot

I stopped – I heard the playful howls –
the breaktime hollers from a school –
but my ear-to-the-past
was then frittered by the wind’s shift

which rudely imposed on my
awareness the speeding hum
of rubber treads on the sunken bypass
and flat warnings of vehicle reversing
further dulling the innocent revels –

I lent on a wall – A much-needed breather
I would explain to anyone asking of
my unsteady condition –
To lift the cramps from my legs

and still – the shouts were blocked –
now by a car’s revs over rumbling humps –
but – as quick – the wind dropped
and I turned my head to the past –
once more -with closed eyes –

the blind man’s map – which had shaken
itself as if it were a sail unhitched
from eyelets –
was now doldrum-flat for me
and my sensed route
returned – I do not need to see the road

to know the course for me to rove –
in reverse – over five decades
without this shortened gait of illness – of mine –
I was never – then – one of those sick kids –

The schoolyard was set silent by the whistle –
then to giggled-at-desks – it was penny plain
as I took to learning and then to believe
that our futures were guaranteed to be huge –

I looked up at the vast blackboard and was lost
to calculations and big new words
that succour has been ignored for too long –
my concocted life has left me without
a belief in learning –

And if my first school was heaven – my chance
gone – then I know now – just by listening
that I can find the gates
and find my desk – again –
with my name etched by a held compass
till kingdom come

The Orbital Road

The bastard Surrey countryside
was our dawn-to-dusk playground
of rust-stained ditches – of new paths
set down through welly-trod crops

out to where the horizon was lost
to woodlands – and to buildings
that had not been let to trespass –
not since the fitting of the green belt

to this part of the arse of England
but all that was dug up by navvies
sat in high cabs – forcing wide roads
across our churned playing fields

with their lurched one ton buckets –
set to feed on the tide-laid gravels
under the stripped-back veil of top soil –
We took to the clay and sand – until

in the channelled land – lunar places –
we found it to be a foolish choice
when they had to bring a donkey in
to pull a fool from the suck-quick sand


Insect Hunting

There was that microcosm
fixing my dawdled childhood
in which I centred myself
in a kneeled-to wondering

as unidentified insects
routed in and out – between
bent blades of variegated grass –
and in that airtight stillness

nervy sparrows let me forage
alongside their skits and hops –
until we were all fed enough
by the microscopic wonders

and then I unhinged
my tight focus – pulled back –
unhooking from nature
as Concorde halved the sky –

that white flechette – fustian –
slapping pigeons from the trees –
it was another sudden brutality
in my sub-sonic childhood

The Christmas Call

..We know nothing of man .. far too little..’ CG Jung

It is over two decades since we last spoke –
you offered no responses – not when I ‘phoned
or when I cheerily arrived at the family home

with – or without – a disquieted companion –
then I’d try to engage you in light conversation –
but that was your silent-met cue to exit the room

And our mother never gave me a full explanation –
except that – He goes upstairs and paints ..
pictures .. from his imagination .. It’s his escape ..

He doesn’t get out much .. nearly an old man – You –
a temporary loss in her thinning line of sons –
each boy sets her wondering – What went wrong?

I watched her fight her eldest – a patio-battering –
from behind the Crittall windows of my bedroom –
I saw her ill-faste fists set upon her eldest child

That is what she made – Us in her ugly likeness
of turned cheeks and of emotional tightness –
that son she striked – he died too early for her liking

And now – on the ‘phone – She is too ill to talk to you
your first line in this garrulous time of your remove –
then a snapped order – not to try again – It upsets her!

You don’t speak to me for years then bark commands –
Do they count – along with your hardened demands
against my ragged ripostes at your loss of voice?

No – do not speak to me –
Please leave it twenty more

The Blinded

The olfactory hit kicks in –
smelling at a filed return
of youthful tree climbing –
of guns-made-from-sticks
and of our lumpen crashing
among swallowing bracken

I am now drawing so deeply
on this propel of perfumes –
of the under-tree rotten scents –
and also taking the shaded chill –
which seems to feed the smell –
which was the first suggestion

My childhood – found in the kernels
of peeled sweet chestnuts –
was so open-ended that nothing
was going to set a conclusion –
Then on to the unexpected
cinder path – where it ends – again