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.

The Intrepid

A man sits on a single-decker bus-
His gratitude for the mundane,
Even the unpleasant, surprizes him.
What is that cheap aftershave?
Behind it is the odour of a fattish man.
A black woman’s long braided hair-
Where do the extensions begin?
The plastic handrails swing softly…
He is even grafteful for the travel sickness.

He leaves the bus, the sky is thickly blue,
A new denim blue scratched at
By whisps of cloud.
Sun brilliantines the upper floors
Of the buildings opposite him.
Careful!
Anxiety begins to gnaw at the man’s gratitude.
He checks his breathing-
Is it clear? Is it?
While he flicks through second hand books,
A woman begins to hoover,
The dust scares him,
The hoover scares him.
He worries about his breathing, hesitates,
Then leaves.

He turns the keys quickly in the lock
They sway, ringing unprettily…
Back at home, the gratitude reappears.
He has seen heat shimmer above the railway bridge,
Making liquid the view of houses beyond it,
Like the lines that distort his view
Of the dried flowers on the windowsill above the heater,
Like these lines, like this distortion
But not hopelessly familiar.

Too Sweet

His father had recently complained
That the Polish beer that
His other son liked to drink
Was too sweet.

In Richmond station, on a Thursday evening,
A look from another man of sixty,
Marks & Spencer’s African security guard,
Was exactly right-
Weary, resigned but genuine acknowledgement
‘Yes,’ his face said. ‘You are here and so am I,
But let’s not make too much of it,
We’d both rather be at home,
Or really anywhere else.’

Bicycles

We did not start well with the neighbours.
When we moved in
We bought them a bottle of Prosecco
To try to make up for any inconvenience we might have caused-
Or at least that’s what we said on the card,
Really we meant:
‘Please like us, and be quiet at night so that we can sleep.’
But the gesture wasn’t reciprocated (as we’d hoped)
Or acknowledged (as we’d expected).
Instead, the offered hand hangs between us,
An embarassment to all parties.

*

The neighbours are both overweight,
He moreso than her.
She sometimes acknowledges us,
He never does, although once
When I was walking out of the front door
He prompted her to hold the door open for me
And another time,
When I was trying to work out where our fuse box was,
I knocked on their door,
And he answered…
He was shirtless and his huge naked torso
Sagged between us, utterly hairless.
He told me that theirs was above their door
And I said thanks and that I’d try there.

*

I thought at first that they were our age
But looking closer they are probably only
Twenty five or twenty six.
They have a daughter who is four or five
And a new baby.
Their old car, a small car, is
Filled up with rubbish,
Food packaging, mainly.
I can see how it happens-
‘Leave it, I’ll sort it tomorrow…’

They’ve got a new car, it’s much bigger
And it was clean for a while
But now it’s going the same way.
We were walking on the path once
And he reversed powerfully only inches
From our feet.
I am nearly sure he didn’t see us.

*

Our flats share a small hallway
Which is entered through a heavy fire door,
The door is self-closing.
When it slams shut it is loud and it makes
The plasterboard walls shudder.
Between them, they must go in and out
Fifteen or twenty times a day.
Mainly, I think, it’s her going outside to smoke.
She stands just outside the front door,
Under the shallow porch
And stares down at her mobile phone,
Smoking, seemingly without relish.
He comes back late, usually
Around eleven, often with the five year old.
I guess they spend the evenings at his mother’s house.

*

In our shared hallway are their bikes,
Both fairly new. They look unridden.
They don’t dominate the space
But they are impossible to ignore.
They haven’t moved during the two years we’ve lived here,
But last week we heard him pumping up the tires.
I imagine them riding in opposite directions
Until they’re thin and as far apart as possible.

The Cheese Shop and the Rose, Muswell Hill

Consider the cheese shop and the rose-
One, taking a half shop on Fortis Green Road,
Is in everything calculated to please a certain set of eyes-
The blue green shade of the paint outside,
The Victorian glazing restored to its
Opaque and red chequerboard former glory,
The quality of their waxed cheese paper.
The girls behind the counter know the right thing to say,
If you have enough to spend
(Otherwise they can ease back into bickering).

Underneath a lime tree
The rose emerges from a near bare stem,
The flower like a delicate cabbage head,
In soft layers, off white with yellow staining,
The scent sweet like figs,
Not sharp, powerful-
The power deriving from its fugitive beauty.

Consider the cheese shop and the rose-
One is not the other.