Those yellow stones changed colour in the rain.
And what precipitation we would suffer:
the hands of sycamores pressing against
the slate-grey sky in vain, while slabs of butter
dulled to day-old toast. Pigeons and sparrows,
denied the camouflage of wilder species,
reliant on the town's gutters and furrows,
dispersed to copses, nested under eaves:
the bakery, the school, the mill, the church
all unsuspecting bustle. Come the sun
then come the green, the effervescent burn
of earth. Top of the town, the steeple shone,
a suggestion that religion quarries best
where nature reigns and education rests.
With its foreign parts, like vestibule and alcove,
the house enriched my lexicon with names.
Goodness, we were moneyed then. Dad drove
a Volvo, and Mum shopped at C & A.
The cellar housed a games room, we had wicker
furniture in the kitchen and an open
coal fire in the lounge, with tongs and pokers
hanging by the hearth, wrought from iron
and fashioned into figures of medieval
knights. I loved their weight and heft, the coolness
in my hand, the thud and clatter when they fell.
I watched them plunge deep down into the furnace,
the cinerator, the crucible, the grate,
excavating grails of light and heat.
Never a full chorus, not even a verse.
Sometimes a couplet, but mostly just a line,
his sudden, fitful a capella bursts
were lights flicked on and off inside his mind,
Catherine wheels, cocked and knocked askew
firing off their lyrical constellations
at random. Names of girls or towns he once knew,
a distant life, one never forgotten.
He would disappear beneath his soap and brush,
then re-emerge, always naked to the waist,
with all his teeth, pomaded, Old-Spice-splashed,
with tissue Japanese flags on his face
and that map of Ireland birth-mark on his back
as red and huge and permanent as the past.
Almost three decades have passed and still
the same red cheeks, the dryness round the mouth,
relaying how I would drag her up that hill
to make it home in time for Danger Mouse.
And every time she tells it there's a slight
embellishment, a detail lost or gained:
the bus perhaps an extra minute late,
an inside-out umbrella in the rain.
And each time is more difficult than the last
to hear, our whole relationship condensed
to a sugar cube. I urge her to relate
her thirty-something body, her muscles tense
and taut, the burning in her calves and thighs,
the breathlessness, the windows rich with eyes.
We'd climb into our Dad's parked car and rock
it back and forth, imitating with our mouths
the sounds of freedom, declaring our next stop
London, with just an inkling it was South
of Manchester. Sometimes we'd fool our friends
that we were really moving, that we could drive,
perfecting the illusion of a bend,
a three-point turn, the speed of traffic lights.
Our older brother drove a Ford Capri,
with racing stripes, a black metallic finish,
spotlights, spoilers, bucket seats, and a CB
crackling out its alien forms of English:
Breaker, Breaker. Copy, are you reading?
How many candles are you burning?
Appears in Envoi Issue 160 November 2011