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?

Bottle

There are two small groups
of sixth formers being taken around the museum.
One group, all girls, perhaps from Channing,
are lectured about the lives of Caesarion and Cleopatra-
‘The one we know as Cleopatra was Cleopatra VII.
She was probably responsible for the deaths of
several family members.’
The other group- mixed- ask questions-
‘I’ve been told to know my set texts,
Which d’you think I should focus on?’

(In a side case is a small
glass bottle. Glass is eggshell thin,
cracked and incomplete.
The bottle’s neck is lopsided and
stained with traces of ancient rose madder.)

Behind thick, healthy glass
is a dress made of beads.
Strung on line after line of netting,
each bead the colour of a beautiful and troubled sea…
Small turquoise breasts…
Shells laced near the base of each beadline.
A story next to it of an ancient king,
Who, bored on a trip by sea, ordered
Twenty women be given nets in place of their clothes.
Then they had to dance…
The shells rattled.

(In a side case is a small
glass bottle. Glass is eggshell thin,
cracked and incomplete.
The bottle’s neck is lopsided and
stained with traces of ancient rose madder.
The glass is opalescent.
A part of the lip hangs perilously,
Catching the light’s intensity.)

Rituals

The water is flowing
and even in the sunlight which decorates it
with patches of blinding gold
it appears cooling, shade made liquid.
A pigeon bathes in it,
Bobbing his beak to drink from it.
He is alone-
There are no other pigeons nearby.

A market trader is laying out his goods.
He sells gold jewellery,
Rings, bracelets, necklaces.
He arranges them carefully on black cloth,
The bracelets and necklaces lengthwise,
Losing their circular nature.
The sun catches these golden lines
Making them solid fire.
The cloth is only half covered,
He has work to do before the market busies

The poet stares at a tree,
Blushing with pink blossom,
The multitude of pink petals offset
By olive green leafs
and grey-brown branches,
All backlit by the sun.

The pigeon, the trader, the poet
All engaged in necessary rituals
Made pleasant by bright sun.

The Bathers

Stripped to the waist,
Three men stand expressionless,
Coated with greying hair
Which catches the toilet’s lights
In pretty flecks liked panned silver.
Are they here every night, these bathers?
Their human vinegar barbs
The air like thin bile.
One scrubs his arm from shoulder to wrist,
Coating it with thin soap gel, lathering,
Rinsing it messily, leaving water and soap bilge
In messy puddles on the Formica around the sink.
Another presses the hot tap with his elbow,
Drowning his vest with its yellow stains like limescale.
The third dries his sodden socks
Between the grey and yellow plastic of a Dyson Airblade.

There is little talk-
What there is is maybe Romanian.
These bathers, these men of fifty
Must have families,
In Bucharest, in Hunedoara, in Dolhasca
Who sleep at home
Who wash at home
Thanks to this quiet, hidden, public indignity.

The Fabric is Thin

‘I saugh today a cors yborn to chirche
That now, on Monday last, I saugh hym wirche’
Chaucer, ‘The Miller’s Tale’

The woman is waiting,
Leaning against a brick wall.
Her dress is green and
made of cheap, thin fabric.
It flutters around her knees and
though stretched tight
across her heavily pregnant stomach
still finds enough slack to ripple in the breeze.

He walks on the pavement
wearing a tweed jacket, herringbone stitched.
His boots are old but were expensive when he bought them.
He walks past a notorious mosque,
young Muslims spill out onto the street.
He is unintimidated…blasé.

An old instinct makes him aware of
the two men moving parallel to him, on the road.
One walks, the other rides a bike,
The wheels turn slowly.
They stay level for fifty, a hundred, two hundred yards.
Then they split-
The cyclist bursts ahead, onto the pavement.
The other man slows, ghosting behind him.
He stops, kneels down and unties and reties his boots,
cursing his choice of clothes… so ostentatious!
The ghost passes by him and says nothing,
He rejoins the cyclist and they disappear around a corner.

The booted man turns back,
He walks and walks, trying to find asafer road.

Candles

The candles, pushed firmly into dark green bottles
already coated with drips from other candles before,
Are lit. They glow, flame roses,
Partially illuminating the room.
They also heat the room, very slightly.

They stand, in their bottles, on the windowsill.
The single-paned window is shut but
cold air still leaks in.
Outside, a ragged lawn
And a black tree, silhouetted against
Oblongs of light from Georgian townhouses.
The tree is all but bare-
A heavy scrap of fabric is caught on a branch.
It has been there for months.

A couple sit on their bed, pinkcheeked,
Flame roses glowing beside them.
Their eyes are fixed on the scene outside-
The tree, the scrap, the night.