Playing for time
Thrown together for a weary Sunday
We dug out flute and fiddle,
Coaxed the stand from its collapsed-umbrella tangle
And played dance music
Nine times older than her ten
And my forty-something years combined.
Splitting first and second parts unselfishly,
Spinning the simple, timeless tunes
From breath and horsehair,
Varnished wood and tarnished silver,
Our thoughts as closely mingled
As our blood.
All too soon
To be in the same room
As me may be
More than she can bear.
But in all the discord
Of our crescendos, fortissimos
And silences where no one’s sure
If they should clap
Or dare to cough
The neutral notes and impartial time
Will be our arbiters;
A shared and secret language for us, free
Of should and shan’t and
A separate space outside of life
Where all is sweet,
And we can stay in tune.
Riding for a fall
Months, years go by
Without a sign
Or a look between us.
Then you appear
Out of nowhere;
Same as you ever were,
Still knowing just how
To flip me inside-out:
I’m enjoying my eight hours
Content with tea
And pulling my own notes
Warm from the hole-in-the-wall,
You wait till
I’m clawing at heaven
Biting down on every thought
Wearing each day like a shirt of mail
And mapping my ceiling in the dark.
You burst back in
Dressed up as The Answer,
All soothing words and familiar touch.
But I’m still me
And you’re still you.
And, as usual, I’m left wondering
Which one of us can’t quit the other.
Chapter and verse
Everything I had to know
I learned from country music:
‘bout Love and Life, man-and-wife.
Broken hearts, brand-new starts;
Getting in fights, lonely nights,
Smoke-filled bars, steel guitars;
Untamed broncs, honky-tonks,
Pickup trucks, last few bucks;
Missing you, dreams come true,
Endless highways, long hot dry days,
Tall tequilas, eighteen-wheelers,
Rivers of tears, ice-cold beers;
Cheatin’, lyin’, laughin’, cryin’,
Wantin’, choosin’, winnin’, losin’.
Long slow dances, lost romances,
Slamming doors, forever yours.
Words unspoken, promises broken,
Bridges burned, lessons learned.
Seemed everyone I heard was giving
Three–minute manuals for living.
And the only thing that I done wrong
Was thinking life was like a song.
Apologies for the radio silence: I’ve been working on a long-stalled novel for the past couple of weeks, and the blog’s taken a back seat. I wrote this silly poem this morning just as a bit of a loosener, but decided to post it to reassure my much-loved readers that I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth. Thank you for sticking with me; I’ll catch up with all your work during the week.
I’m wearing it
In a picture
Taken by a stranger
Far from home.
Beneath my feet
Washed gravel and smooth grey stones;
Behind me, a river that was snow
Less than an hour before
Falling in foam over stacked black rocks.
Dark pines. Distant peaks.
That summer, it was new,
The bargain canny student eyes
Spot at a hundred paces.
I’ve lived another lifetime
And many lives. Without the photograph
I’d never believe the farmhand’s hands
Muscles built in harvest fields
Sun-bleached hair and unworn, unlined face
Were ever mine.
And I’m still wearing it
(Time’s been that kind to me at least)
Afraid to let it go –
And with it, the smiling boy
Standing on the river’s edge
Still free to dip a toe or jump right in
Surrender to the roar and flow
Or wander on again.
In her beautiful song ‘This Shirt’, Mary-Chapin Carpenter recalls the events and memories caught up in ‘an old faded piece of cotton’. I have a shirt just like that; it’s 21 years old this summer, but I just can’t bring myself to throw it out. Partly, it’s because I’m thrilled at still being able to get into an item of clothing I had as a student; partly because it’s so darned comfortable; and partly because it appears in all my holiday photos – including the one I’ve described here, taken in Banff National Park, Canada, on a trip that changed my life.
In a tight black dress and nipped-in jacket
(But not for her)
Calls a contact overseas
So stridently she scarcely needs
Her smartphone in its pink leather case;
A long-range artillery exchange
With names as targets,
Dates and times as ordnance.
She signs off, looks round
To make certain
She’s been overheard
Giving out her full plus-four-four dialling code.
Consults the papers
Tucked under one plump arm,
Makes firm, important pencillings,
Snaps the folder shut.
Leaves a message for a minion,
Swirls her power and grip on things
Around her like a villain’s cape.
Consults her watch:
Flips the phone cover open
And gazes, rapt
Like a miser at his money-chest.
Then thumbs great secrets
Into the keypad:
Revealing more than she intends
In the moving of her lips.
It seems slightly unfair to single out this one person; you could fire a cannon down any street in London and be sure of hitting at least a dozen just like her.
Glassy pleasure cruiser on its voyage through history
Under London Bridge and past St Paul’s great dome
With a cargo of tourists
Toting Nikon cameras,
Souvenirs and presents for the folks back home.
Streamlined Clipper ferry flagged with corporate logos
Surging down from Westminster towards the Tower
With a cargo of bankers
Braying into smartphones
Making reservations for the long lunch hour.
Solid blunt-nosed tugboat churning up from Docklands
Dragging rusty barges tied in pairs astern
With a cargo of refuse
Packed in containers:
Some to be buried, and some to burn.
John Masefield is among my favourite poets: having his narrative epic Reynard the Fox read aloud to me is one of my most cherished memories of school (RIP Tom Hoare) and really showed me how poetry can paint pictures and tell stories. I was reminded of one of his most famous poems, Cargoes, when I was in London yesterday, watching the boats on the Thames, and decided to write my own version. Sadly there were no ‘quinquiremes of Nineveh’ passing Bankside Pier at the time, so I’ve had to make do with the somewhat more prosaic material available.