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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
‘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.