Boulevard de Magenta

Cheap wedding dresses,
Sharp white with plastic jewelled bodices,
Look like children’s dressing up clothes.
They gleam under the shop’s harsh lights,
Their newness unmistakable.
The brides excited by these dresses
Must be young.

Small groups of teenagers wait in
The doorways of rundown apartment blocks,
The buildings blotchy with soot.
There are forty or so groups on either side of the boulevard,
Their spacing even and deliberate.
All are wearing hooded winter coats,
Play-acting gangster,
They peck at passers-by.

Sinister at a distance,
It is their youth which disturbs most when close-
Some are as young as twelve.
It is the school holidays-
Next week many will be back in class.

Dancers, Books

Several teenage boys stand at the tops of the stairs at
A Further Education college.
They dance, serious faced,
People must walk around them-
They feign indifference to their own rudeness.
Their movement is near constant,
When not moving, they talk.
An inner light animates them,
It is faith that their lives
Will be good, that something significant
Is ahead of them.

An old man’s books sit in his grandson’s flat.
As the books are opened,
Old correspondence tumbles out-
To the TLS: ‘As a pedant…’
Another from a poet on the removal of his kidney.
More than the books that the old man wrote,
These books, that he read and re-read,
Were his life,
His faith illuminated each,
In return they kept his soul hopeful that
There was something significant yet to be gleaned.

Our Day Will Come

He must have been eleven or twelve,
all shoulders and collarbone,
torso fleshless and stretched –
One morning, he had lifted an arm,
casually, and found a thicket of hair
which had sprung up overnight.

He had caught glimpses for a while…
in the convex mirrors of corner shops,
in the restless surveillance footage
broadcast on buses,
his scalp, pink, emerging through his hair,
his hair, regressing to the fine softness of a baby’s.

He goes through the stages they all do:
Wear it long (avoid the barber),
Spike it up (at the front),
Wear a hat.
Then, when the mirror offers irrefutable proof,
when the top of his head looks like
the lawn of a rented house in late summer
– patchy and unconvincing –
he shaves it,
leaving him only longing dreams of hair.

Summer, Autumn

White light prods through blinds
From five or even earlier.
It is light all day and dusk settles at half-nine.
In Highgate Wood
Horse-chestnuts and oaks,
Their trunks bare for fifty feet then branch-antlered,
Are dense with far-away leafs,
Each leaf of the canopy is gilded and
The sky beyond is blanched indigo-
They combine in almost floral design.
Unblocked rays warm the earth
And paint in streaks the wooden fences
That create the wood’s perimeter.
Light exposes spiderwebs briefly-
Elusive, they shimmer then disappear.

Dense mist hangs around late into the morning,
It clings to the skin in beads of cold and foreign sweat.
The mist exposes spiderwebs that
Hang everywhere-
A privet hedge that looked so neatly clipped
Is everywhere rheumed with spidersilk.
Like leafless deadfalls these traps
Are now useless- their covert nature was everything.
When did it get so cold?
The summer was warm and long,
Its prolonged heat left us unprepared.

Bricks

It’s the fifth one he’s watched this month,
from the car, mouth dry from too much coffee.
‘Dollhouses’ they call them in the papers,
with their sides pulled off,
Exposing upstairs and down,
peeling wallpaper, chipped door-frames,
tired toilets and sinks.
He feels the indignity of it,
the unsought intimacy.

This one’s pretty crude –
the old boy’s working on the mortar with a screwdriver,
once he’s got six or seven loose they’ll
stick a pipe, decorated with chains, and pull.
The truck’s already running, waiting to snatch that whole wall out.
Even now, at grey sunrise,
with the light weak,
the bricks’ beauty whistles,
faded mottled orange and purple,
beige and black, mottled and cracked.

It’d been a mystery to him
These brickless, sagging jaw buildings.
At first he thought it was the weeds,
patient and insidious,
but then somebody told him that
the bricks went for $200 a pallet downtown.

He used to confront them,
but it was pointless, like chasing off pigeons,
their retreats were only tactical and
their need greater than his.
So now, he watches,
he watches and sometimes takes pictures,
as they carry off blocks,
pecked brick by brick, leaving
(at his last count)
one thousand and fifty vacant lots,
pockmarked concrete, crabgrass…

When he’s not watching, he dreams of a farm.
He’d dig up the lot over on Labadie
and plant it with collard greens, beets, sweet potato,
encourage the dandelions and nettles.
And the orchard!
Row after row of apple trees,
even spaced and smooth trunked,
their fruit heavy and sharp, red and green
against the brick backdrop of a new building,
made out of old brick,
where he’d farm catfish in big metal pools,
the water laced with dirt.

Ciaran’s Hands

Your pink little hands
Delight in the sensory offerings of each page of your favourite book-
The owl’s rough claws, feathery wings, soft stomach.
They have been trained diligently to turn the pages
But are impatient, possessed by the promise
of the same pages and pictures, textures and words.
So hurriedly you turn each page
Or all of them at once,
To get from the beginning back to the beginning.
Your little nerves fire haywire
Like those of a heavy smoker who lights a second cigarette
When the first still ashes.
When we hide the book your hands delight in
Two bobbins, one large, one small
You roll them and one fits inside the other.
Your hands are now so watched, so protected
That little harm can come to them.
But beware of the mundane enemies ahead!
The hot cough of oil from an unwatched pan,
The catastrophe of broken glass,
Seditious wasps and mosquitoes- will their bites swell up in angry hillocks?
There are a thousand other textures that your palms and fingers will
Collide into/tap/ crumble /stroke
Sharp grains of rice/ The surprise of a snake’s smooth skin
And a thousand more, unknown to you
While old hands grow calloused.

In the rain

What rain does to light!
Droplets that individually would be transparent
Become in swarms opaque,
Creating diffuse halos around street lamps.
Under the railway bridge
Reflected indigo light gathers
In shaky neon pools pitted with ancient gum.
The shallow pools’ beauty foreign
To their soiled surroundings.

There is too much water-
Men and women cloister themselves
Under the ground-floor walkways of council flats.
They are too close to the windows and doors,
They crane their upper bodies away from the rain
Yet still it permeates.

On a dry night I saw a muscular man
Appear from one of these flats, to smoke.
He was too wide for his tiny, cell-like flat,
Too puckered with muscles.
Was it keeping the ceiling and walls at bay
That so strengthened him?
Is he waiting, now, sinews coiled,
For the rain to cease
For sanctuary-seekerless peace
To return outside to smoke?