THE REUNION AND OTHER POEMS

THE REUNION

I travelled two hundred miles to be here.
I’m early, find a chair in the corner
where the piano used to be.
I remember the night Annie played
a wild, marauding, off-key,
twenty-minute approximation of
For The Benefit Of Mister Kite.
I shrink into my heavy coat, shelter
behind my pint of warm beer.
I watch them arrive.
There are shrieks. Hugs.
One or two even shake hands.
Old times, old faces.
One face I still want to punch
fifty years on, even if he is
wearing a dog-collar now.
Nobody recognises me.
I keep my name tag in my pocket.
Some things are best kept in the dark.
If you repeat your name often enough
it loses all meaning. It’s about
what’s missing, what never was.
I hear someone say: We tried
to trace Annie but no luck.

I think of Annie’s kindness,
her ability to trust, how
she lay her head in my lap
as we sat for hours listening
to that double LP by The Doors,
Weird Scenes Inside The Goldmine,
ignoring poor stoned Paul,
who said over and again, Set Your
Controls For The Heart Of The Sun
.
Your mistakes won’t forgive you.
You can’t climb up to the precipice
on the sheer cliff face where once
you slept without guilt or pain.
You can’t re-cross the love-line
each of us scrawled in the earth
when we were almost children.
I finish my beer, squeeze
between them, go.

PIGEONS

My father waits at the door to his pigeon loft.
The first bird back brings him a degree in ornithology from the Open University and a dead grey wagtail.
The second bird back brings him wild samphire from the muddy banks of the Solway estuary and a kipper from a market stall in Arbroath.
The third bird back brings him a confused nun with a watering can (she had been gardening).
The rest of the birds bring him darkness.
He counts them all in and closes the coop.
Inside his cottage, the nun is warming her feet by the log fire.
She has already eaten the kipper, the samphire and the grey wagtail.
She has scraped the bones and feathers into the bin under the sink.
The Open University degree scroll is on the table.
My father finds a frame and tacks it on to the wall.
As he can’t read, it’s upside down.
He’s not sure what to do about the nun.
She looks at him as if it’s him who’s kidnapped her, not the bird.
Eventually she gets up and washes her plate, knife and fork.
It’s late, says my father. You can sleep in the spare room.
I’d rather not, says the nun. Where’s the nearest nunnery?
Of course, my father doesn’t know.
He sits by the fire and rolls a cigarette.
What happened to my watering can? says the nun.
My father doesn’t know that either.
The nun mutters something under her breath.
She wrenches open the front door and leaves without a goodbye.
My father draws on his roll-up, says to himself:
I’ll get rid of the pigeons in the morning.
I can’t be doing with this every time there’s a race.

THE TIME OF RAIN, OF FALLEN TREES (A POEM WRITTEN TO BE ABANDONED)

As the sun rises and we walk on the hill, you say
When you’re young you try to find who you are.
When you’re old you try to lose who you are.

Now it’s the season of rain, of fallen trees, of branches
lying over smashed fences.

We meet a man who can’t go on.
His chest hurts. His legs shake.
Too steep for me, he says.

We find the jaw-bone of a sheep as the red sun
comes through the mist.

I think of the man in the pub who walked away
from a girl fifty years ago without saying goodbye or why.

He found her profile on Facebook or Instagram or some kind of App.
She had moved away, married, had children.
He wondered if she remembered him with any sense of loss, or even at all.

A psychologist unearthed the memory for him and called it grief.
Now he sits in the pub every afternoon.
He can’t work out what to do.
He thinks about indirect contact but can’t remember the names
of her two best friends.
Barbara something, he says to the wall (magnolia, should you be wondering).
And Maureen.
Maybe it was Mary.

We cross the hill, walk down it hand-in-hand, stand by the lake.
The water rippling, a coot busy at the edge. High up, a buzzard circling.

Birds sense even the slightest change in air pressure.

An old man watches from a cottage door.
He’s smoking a pipe.
According to my great-grandfather, none
of our ancestors smoked a pipe, so
he’s not one of ours.
He straightens his back, looks up
at the heavy clouds, takes a deep breath
to check for rain.
Tomorrow he will mend a chair
until his friend comes and together
they will kill the pig.
They will smoke the meat
in their oven in the ground.

It’s the time of war again. Always is, somewhere.
Four million displaced in eight years in Yemen.
Then add Afghanistan, now Ukraine.
We stand on the long bridge over the white water,
watch a wagtail flit from rock to rock.

The man who loathes himself seeks no forgiveness.
This volcano chain of madness.
Young conscripts in the wrong place, obeying orders.
There will be talks about peace.
Delegates will arrive in limousines.
Fragments and lumps of red and black gristle.
The chemical stink of charred metal.
An eye here, an ear there.
A badge from a uniform.
We imagine them floating, flowing under the bridge.
Here or there, what’s it matter?

A woman is killed as she tries to feed starving dogs.
I try to shake myself free but the image
and my imagination growl and tighten their jaws.
This is not about me, I say, it’s about the dead woman.
The woman is dead, says the image.
You can do nothing for her now.
Her death has invaded your life.
You must live with it.

We pass the cottage where the old couple lived.
In winter they came out one at a time
for they shared the same pair of shoes.

Now it’s home to a woman with winter-coloured skin
who paints a poem called Still Life With Anger.

In the distance we see the towers of the city.
Government buildings, grey as rain-clouds
where people stand in line in the hope of leaving.

Please would all those with a Z in their name go to Atrium B immediately.
Mandatory visas may be applied for in due course.
An announcement is expected in a few weeks concerning the exact location of the application centre.
Each person must have a sponsor before an application is made to enter another country.
Please would all those with a Z in their name go to Atrium B immediately. I repeat Atrium B. People attempting to take memories out of the country will have them confiscated.
Last call for all those with a Z in their name. Please go to Atrium B immediately.
Failure to do will lead to your application to apply for an application being denied.
Atrium B can be found on the ninety-third floor.
Please be advised there are no elevators in operation today.
The application centre in Atrium B closes at five p.m. sharp.
The time is now four fifty-six and twenty seconds… twenty-six seconds… thirty-two seconds.

A young girl offers seeds to invading soldiers to commemorate their dead.
Her friend offers cakes. Poisonous cakes.
Behind them, a shell smashes into their apartment block.

You are talking to me. You hold my hand again.
It’s time we turned back, you say.
We’d do anything for each other.

A song would spring from the earth
were it not for the dead leaves
piled high by the wind.

You say how life is not a whole
but millions of unforgiving parts.

On the way back down the hill
we meet a pale young man who
fears sleep and the time of night
that can’t be counted.
Cloud, rain, winter’s long noises.
No one for him to talk to
as his terror rises.

I won’t last long, he says.
If you find somebody to hold,
he says, hold them.







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