When the ice-shelf shifts.
What’s going to happen to
all the ornaments?
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.
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.
When I was a kid
they returned with sombreros.
Sangria and castanets;
lacquered lace fans.
Now it’s a villa.
A Timeshare apartment.
Booze and cheap fags.
I made my money that day, on the Penny Falls,
when my carefully slotted penny brought
down the whole row: momentarily fused,
it crashed hard; like a lump of solid bronze.
Half a pound heavier, and feeling rich,
I made my way up to the Marina,
where a rather sad looking dolphin, waved,
chattered and leapt through hoops, for our amusement.
From there, the Reptile House and its star attraction;
two alligators – in touching distance
through the railings. Bored and uninspired,
they lay motionless by the shallow pool,
every inch of their backs covered in coins,
thrown by frustrated punters wanting action.
Sequined alligators – Now that’s showbiz!
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
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.
Bowling with Sausage Kevin
In order to distinguish ourselves
from the inevitable collectives
of Marks, Pauls and Johns; we gave
each other nicknames, epithets.
I see those friends still – down at the local:
Scratch – formally Steven Itchin, talking
with Sky, the window fitter.
Flour-face the plasterer, Flash, the welder.
Dangerous Dave trying to drop his false teeth
in your pint – for a laugh.
Nuclear Dave sits quietly with a crossword,
his red face glowing by the window.
And there’s Gibby, the horse whisperer: gypsy trader,
out on the green with his pint and talking horse;
trampling the crown, where Sausage Kevin
the local butcher, had just completed a round.
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.
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
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
There was the inevitable criticism.
She’s done it this time! They said.
Margo’s overstretched herself!
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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…