Sunrise or shortly after –
Sky is painted purple pink
Tintoretto operatic pretty.
What a sight it makes
over Edwardian roofs and repointed chimneys!
What a sight…
Empty, obvious, a stage set.
Week later, after sunset –
Bare trees, mud, 90s buildings,
Rain. A greyblack evening
Streaked at its edges by white headlights.
Manmade stream overfull
Overspills its banks.
Beyond, allotments stretch
low, patient, untidy,
Life in them waiting
for faded men and women,
for more water, for Spring.
The artist prefers the latter,
Slattern. He sits barefoot
in ripped jeans and holey jumper, with
full beard, writing in a kitchen
that smells of yesterday’s onions.
So what makes him so superior?
He’s waiting outside
for the dog’s output to arrive.
He’s bleary eyed
it’s three or half-five
in the AM.
The sky is a diseased yellow-grey
pragmatic and starless.
A giant pine leans over the yard intrusively.
It scatters dead brown pine needles
which block the shed’s plastic guttering.
Wind gets high –
God’s breath animates tree
Ever-so, ever-so prettily
Unprosing our scene completely
Unprosing our scene completely.
He can’t – won’t – write
not because he’s empty
but because he’s too full.
He’s afraid a drop
will become a cascade,
afraid of the liquid’s hue,
of its make up.
What will it leave stained?
Worse, what will it wash clean?
What bones will it leave
gleaming white and ugly,
Obvious to all eyes?
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.