Poems from Thunder Alley

A Question

When the ice-shelf shifts.

What’s going to happen to

all the ornaments?

Junction 31

Airport Taxis

There may be a no smoking policy

but these Asian guys are usually ok?

All right if I smoke mate? Been a hell of a flight.

‘No problem: been anywhere interesting?’

Kashmir, I tell him. He ponders a moment.

‘Indian or Pakistan?’ Indian.

‘Aah…’ We both fall silent and return.

I to the campfires, the saffron pickers;

and the Floating Gardens of Srinagar,

he to the daily shelling, the terror,

confusion, loss and enforced separation.

On the road, always moving: even now,

each long mile, taking him further away.

It’s Junction 31 mate. Almost home.

Mr Mercer leaves his Wife.

The mealy-mouthed Mercer flies his kite,

when summer’s luscious sparkling rain abates.

And the tarmac and the red brick and the slates,

are swilled and spilled with gold and silver light,

which shines on Mrs Mercer’s polished face.

All buffed and waxed and plucked and pinched and preened.

She scowls and says, “The sun should know his place,

to shine so uninvited, on One he should esteem!”

Her husband, cowed, replied he couldn’t say.

His soaring kite, whorled, wheeled and dipped and spun.

As she loathed him with a look and turned away,

Mr Mercer and the kite became as One.

He sees the sunlight liquefy his spouse,

and altitude reduce her, ‘til at last:

she was a resin-coated insect – with his house

a lump of amber, set in a silver clasp.

 

 

Cycles

Unprompted, he can casually dispense

a razor to the cheek of innocence,

carving his problems in his victim’s face:

a white-bone pelmet; a sagging crimson drape.

Whenever he gets troubled, bored or stressed,

a gasbag brings him temporary oblivion.

The girl he meets is suitably impressed,

and he fucks her in the park by the pavilion.

At fifteen, she’s pregnant with his child.

He gifts her a bracelet and some trainers: 

ignores her when his hooded mates are round,

and kicks her for the slightest misdemeanor.

‘Things will improve when the baby arrives,’

she tells herself, tasting his boot in her mouth

 

 

The Mansion of Aching Hearts

At the former Union Workhouse on the hill,

they’d sit in soporific bliss and stare,

as slanted latticed sunbeams sloped, and spilling 

through the windows, split the melancholy air.

Wayne Ruben squints, adjusts his stool,

lines the light-shaft with the table and bench.

Jane will dip her toes, then skirt the pool

of sun: dark shadows more familiar, less intense.

Now the restraining cells are silent, and the halls

where the sectioned were sedated, and observed,

echo no more with disillusioned souls,

the corridors no longer the preserve

of aching hearts, the dormitories now still;

at the former Union Workhouse on the hill.

 

Shadows

He seemed quite normal – unlike the perverts

we’d normally see wandering round the park.

They were easy to spot – bit grubby; bit twitchy.

 

‘Come over here I’ve got something for you?’

Leaving my friends I followed him into the bushes.

‘Now close your eyes and open your mouth.’

I did, but cheated – just as his dick was coming out!

At which I took off like a greyhound, across

the grass verge and back to the playground.

I wised-up pretty quickly after that.

Avoided shadows; was always ready to run;

and kept his face imprinted on my mind.

 

He’s there still…? Mid thirties with short dark hair:

About 5’9”; wearing jeans and a checked shirt.

 

Poems from The Visitor’s Book

Coleridge Street

Mick was getting nostalgic. ‘You’d go down 

the afternoon match and get your head kicked in, 

then go down town at night and get filled in again.’

Mick Picup, darling of the secondary

picket: doyen of the Blackburn Trades Club.

Dissenter in a hotbed of dissent.

It was here the Beat poet Dave Cunliffe

urinated at the lectern, mid-stanza, 

in protest at the local magistrates – 

the masons and landowners who’d shut down

his small magazine for obscenities. 

He’d published the word cunt, so they fucked him.

Mick got me thinking… We lived for the weekend. 

Finish work Friday, put on your best gear,  

then head down the Brow to the town centre, 

where everyone was catered for: gays at 

the Merchants, disco queens The Golden Palms:

at the Kings they held collections for 

the I.R.A; while just around the corner 

on the Barbary Coast punters could get 

a knee-trembler by St Peter’s steeple 

from the street girls. Fighters to the Dun Horse,

pot smokers The Peel, bikers The Vulcan, 

where one night I saw Viking Bill swing from 

the curtains after winning thirty grand 

on The Evening Telegraph’s Cross the Ball.

Often we’d end up at seedy Cyril’s

Top Hat Club, where hard men, hookers and general

misfits hung out for a late night session.

Its reputation made it exclusive;

in reality it was one of the safest

places to be – people put aside their 

differences: everyone needed a drink;

there was usually a truce at the watering hole. 

We were always on the lookout for girls. 

For the most part the success rate wasn’t great,

and we’d make our way back through the labyrinth

of terraces to Tim’s place on Coleridge Street. 

Occasionally we’d detour via

the Khyber Cafe; Blackburn’s first curry house, 

where our soft pink, delicate mouths were 

seared by bhunas, madras and vindaloos 

we’d select at random from a spattered menu. 

Ring stingers we called them – burns you twice.

Back home we’d put on music and open 

our wraps of hash – Lebanese red, Moroccan 

black, Afghan gold: the names sounded exotic

and we’d ritually pass joints between us 

with a reverential solemnity

that in itself betrayed our ignorance. 

Come autumn we’d forage the magic mushrooms,

that rose on wet moorland above the town.

The trip house was on Lancaster Street.

Pale blue walls, a large rainbow adorning 

the chimney breast, bean bags, lava lamps and 

suspended speakers; we’d drink mushroom tea,

sit back, and settle in for the light show.

We were experimenting, pushing back 

boundaries, opening up – we felt enlightened.

Off-season, we’d try acid in the form 

of blotters or micro-dots. The effects 

were similar, but the comedowns horrendous.

Desolation, emptiness a yearning, 

as the trip wore off and we would head 

back to Tim’s through the iron grey morning.

Lying shivering in an upstairs room, 

burnt out, yet wide awake: hurtling 

along on a teeth grinding velodrome, 

unable to get off – exhausted, sallow, 

emaciated; hands seeming to shrivel and crawl;

strychnine screeching through our heads, through peak

and slow decay, we shook, desperate for sleep. 

The pains of sleep.                             

                               ‘How was it for you?’ 

Eight hours later with a cup of tea

in the vacuous wasteland of Tim’s kitchen, 

we put on a brave face. ‘Great, how about yourself?’

Our drug taking was sporadic: experimental.

Our drinking was prolific and established:

part of the culture. Blackburn was known

as the beeriest town in Britain, with a pub, 

club or off-licence on nearly every street. 

On my sixteenth birthday with my apprenticeship

looming dad took me to The Sportsmans 

for a man to man, coming of age drink. 

He put two pints on the table. ‘Watch me, 

it’s not about getting drunk.’ He lifted

his glass and took a slow, deliberate mouthful.

‘Now your turn.’ I’d been out drinking

the night before but this was different.

A ritual, which was about acceptance

and respect: from now on I’d be making 

my own way. The farewell to adolescence 

in the form of two pints of mild was profound. 

‘It’s not the same anymore’ Mick continued, 

‘there isn’t the same sense of community 

and solidarity we used to have, 

where we felt we were all in it together.’

Typical trade union man: we may have 

been doing similar things, but we weren’t

cohesive: weren’t ‘all in it together.’

As kids we were territorial, 

had our own areas and were always wary

when venturing alone into other parts 

of the town: even as young adults we

tended to live within these areas. 

It was only the town centre with its

pubs and shops; its hostels, bed-sits and 

back-to-back terraces that remained neutral.

Over the next three decades, streets were bulldozed 

and levelled, replaced with open greens, 

pedestrian walkways, car parks, offices,

leisure centres and new road systems.

It’s a brighter town now: greener, more airy.

No longer hemmed in by walls of houses

the intersection wind alters its pitch

as it funnels through and up into the valley

remembering…the Somewhat that had been

 imaginative lies, like a Cold Snuff

 on the Circular Rim of the Candle-

stick, without even a stink of Tallow

to remind you that it was once cloathed

and mitred with Flame.

The Storm of October 2011

 

When the storm has passed,

copper birch leaves lie like loose

change on the pavement.

Bright offerings that deceive.

Money doesn’t grow on trees.

Poems from Portrait in Black

Come, let us build a city with a tower that reaches to the heavens, 

so that we may make a name for ourselves.

                                                                     Genesis II

With the chimneys gone, there’s

no height in this town anymore.

Neighbouring Darwen retained

the India Mill stack in homage

to its industrial gods.

We’ve levelled ours.

You can’t stand in the way of progress

around here.

Or even lie, it would seem – 

the town centre burial grounds

having been built on, paved over or re-located.

The cathedral spire and municipal block

now hold, and vie for prominence on the skyline.

Church vs State – the traditionalist will find comfort!

There is my own tower – the Octagon.

Modest by comparison, yet prominent all the same.

Gatekeeper of the western quarter.

Night watchman over the Barbary Coast.

Guardian of the infernal road system that

takes people away as they arrive. 

A triumph of urban architecture? a folly?

Time will tell.

For many years it stood empty.

It’s only lodgers:

the broken promises and friendships,     

that unraveled and came apart

in bitterness and litigation as the recession

took hold.

 

There was the inevitable criticism.

She’s done it this time! They said.

Margo’s overstretched herself!

Perhaps?

But then – I always did.

And the LORD said behold the people are one and they have one language and this they begin to do.

Now nothing will be restrained from them which they imagine to do.

                                                                                                                            Genesis II

It’s the thing with me and the sky.

Too much expanse and my mind wanders.

The narrow letterbox strip of blue

contained high above fifth avenue,

succeeded in keeping me focused.

New York: pride, opulence, beauty, ambition.

No city better expressed the limitless capacity

of human thought and endeavour. No city

so brash, self-absorbed and shamelessly confident.

The force of will driving this colossus was driving me.

Venus atop the Empire State: a silver sixpence

for Coney Island; the gilded firmament mirrored

nightly on the Hudson. The heavens, almost in reach. 

A place for dreamers and chancers.

An expression of individual and collective will.

Its impression on me would be profound.

The impossible had been realised. My place

in society was going to be just that – My place.

Liberty is after all – a woman

 

 

Crows

 

They don’t come here by crow;

yet they wear the night well.

The inky shadows of the hedgerows:

the unlit lane.

They don’t come here by crow;

but the scattered crumbs of pleasure – 

throbbing beats: a ‘Come fuck me’ look

from a stranger, sustain.

They don’t come here by crow;

though the black-tied doorman leaves

carrion in the carpark. The unlucky,

the unwise. Mind your step.

 

 

O death, where is thy sting?

O grave, where is thy victory?

                          Corinthians 15:55

Magic Lantern

 

Streaks of silver sunlight on the frosted field.

Silver flecks on the dormant blackthorn.

A flash of white light on the window-pane, and I’m back;

walking with my mother along the row of fish stalls,

glistening brilliantine against the soot-black gable

of the old town hall.

Blown inland each market day. Bonneted and shawled:

otherworldly; the wide-eyed john dorys, hooded monkfish,

flat-faced flounder and gnarled, crusted oysters 

peddled their wares. ‘Us ‘usbands ‘ave catched ‘em!’

They shout.  I’m holding tight to my mother’s hand

as we move down the row.

Then they’re gone: back to the sea; back to another time.

My mother too slips her grip, and I’m alone once more. 

It’s like that with memory. The seemingly random triggers

that turn the magic lantern; taking you back, drawing you in.

They leave, but they don’t go far.

My boy Adam. Gold in his hands, and heart.

Dorothy, who showed me glamour then died as her child was born.

John, Tom, Dad. Anchors, rocks and pillars. My metaphors.

And towers – 

Not reaching the heavens. 

Just trying to see that little bit further down the road.

To another place: a better place.

 

Portrait in Black

It’s in these, the quiet months;

the winter months:

that the stooped form of my mother

appears on the chimney-breast

above the hearth,

when I rise from the chair.

Slightly hesitant,

she steadies herself,

before edging her way along the wall

and disappearing behind the drapes,

as I leave the room.

She’ll be there when I re-enter.

Peering out,

a little tentative at first;

then stepping clear and easing

her way back along

the wall, before

tucking herself in behind the armchair

as I take my seat beside the fire.

I’ll be chaperoned this way

until early spring, when she’ll depart.

Returning in late autumn.

A little more hunched.

A little more hesitant.

Easy does it…

 

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