Matchstick man


I used live matches once. Bismarck and Scharnhorst,
grey as Atlantic waves. It took forever,
the glue nearly made me faint. The shed
was bitter, January gales and all.
The missus wouldn’t let me do it
indoors, and to tell the truth
that hut was a boiler-room to me.

I don’t mind cold, not much.
Light was more my problem,
the windows spidered till you couldn’t see
owt but cobwebs. I had a lantern,
old style, like a big tin with a wick
and paraffin. Not a good combination
with those boxes of Swan Vestas.

It had to be Swans, it paid respects
to Mum. She wouldn’t use another,
even for her last cig. I thought of her
the day the Bismarck blew. The shed, too
– that’s what finished me. Now
there’s just that model on the mantelpiece.
Recognise it? It’s Victory. Look, there’s Nelson.


• First published in The High Window, issue 4