He’s trying to make big plans –
project a narrative that starts with him
and ends with him.
But the sky keeps changing,
the clouds are too near,
even the air changes from one moment to the next: hot-dry, wet-cold, damp-warm.
Attempts at compromise get him nowhere,
the spiked gorse blocks his path.
The sun is low and bright –
a peculiarity of the light makes
the underside of oak leafs
in the next field long-lense crisp.
Conclusions elude him,
his thoughts are too linear, too starched.
All is green but not lush –
green, muted green, grey green,
yellow green, black green, white green,
green rusted to red brown.
Even the white-pricked pink purple
thistle flowers belong to the green,
exist only in relation to it.
Near a roll of discarded barbed wire fence,
rusted and confused with grass and thistle
are some branches, cut to a length.
Each is bearded with white green moss,
jolie laide, these are as close as he gets to an answer.
He’s angry, angry in an obvious, unreachable way –
shirtless, sunglasses, headphones,
with a blue plastic bag full of beer (double bagged)
and a beer in his hand.
He spits, spits with a force of a punch,
it slaps the floor wetly – he’s made his position clear.
Across the road in the off-license,
fifteen feet from the spit,
a man is buying four Stella.
His face is red, red from sunburn and drink.
He’s thirty-five and angry.
‘Not much of a deal, is it, four for five-fifty?’
The man behind the counter starts to explain
it would be six-seventy otherwise –
it doesn’t placate him, it doesn’t touch him.
Inside a plumber’s flat, stuck to the walls with Blu Tack,
are two dozen red and white flags, plastic and small.
He was once handsome but is now four to six stone overweight.
His wife too is fat.
Their washing, mostly his underwear, dries on a rack
out the front, in the car park.
Later they’ll watch the game with their two daughters,
Maybe her brother will come round, with his girls.
Yes, the days of our lives are like candles,
At once golden and warm then sallow and extinguished,
But not all candles stay snuffed,
Some reignite like dormant volcanoes
That unapologetically have become active,
Erupting in legacy –
Your achievements and mistakes,
Your days of pleasure or pain will fade.
As your mind dims, becoming dull with cataracts.
But the bright flame, though lost to you
Will be rediscovered by someone else
In words – translated words –
Which recall a furtive meeting or a closed room…
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,
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.
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.
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
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.
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.