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

Composting

 

Old meat attracts rats. It should be destroyed.
The rest’s good for mulch. Here’s your smile,

its sunburst the day we planted the beans.
Remember the runners, the way they tendrilled

the poles, how they waved at us? Last week
I cut them, scissored their stems

into wiry handfuls, the right size for rotting.
There’s more. Onion skins, courgette stems,

chilli seeds: meals we shared, plum stones
discarded by friends, the aroma of citrus,

a lingering of coffee grounds. Endless teabags,
the finings of silent, companionable breakfasts;

the peel of our Christmas satsumas.
And under the lid, look – celebrations of worms.

 

• This poem first appeared in The Linnet’s Wings.

Stephanie Bottrill’s morning walk

 

it was all so neat
the way she sorted her possessions
into boxes
little labels marking them
for bedroom or for kitchen
she would never use

it was all so neat
the way she packaged up her life
knowing she could not afford to stay
knowing she could not afford
the choice she had been offered

it was all so neat
the way she organised farewells
the notes, the way she wanted to make sure
she would not cause too much trouble
and her cause was too much trouble
uprooted from the garden she had cared for
uprooted from the home she’d made
told that everything would have to end

and everything would have to end
and so she tidied, packaged, organised
uprooted books of memories
uprooted photographs
with a gardener’s tenderness
uprooted every year
drawing a neat line under it all

she’d told her family she was worried
told her doctor she was worried
worried that the tax on her spare room
would uproot her
because she could not afford to stay
it would not be fair to stay
when others were in need

and so she made her mind up
neatly tidied up her place
tidily uprooted
wrote out her little labels
wrote out her little notes
each one of them uprooting
tidily destroying all those little things

and she was such a little person
so insignificant that no-one noticed
no-one noticed when she walked out from her home
no-one noticed her beside the motorway

until a moment of uprooting

 

• This poem first appeared in issue 3 of The Poets’ Republic, and has also been published on I Am Not A Silent Poet.

 

Back from school, 4.30pm

New school, last day of term. He hauls its weight
home in a duffel bag, daydreams clear its spikes
shortcutting through the grey park. The tinselled town
is selling hard. He doodles in its margins.

Same redbrick cul-de-sac, same parked cars,
bedsit lightbulbs, sodium streetlamps where
Salvation Army bands blast lonely hymns.
The laurel by the gatepost holds his arm.

No lights. Outside her room he breathes, eases the door.
Cheering messages line the wall, old prayer books,
her bed for wrestling cancers neat,
and vacant. Handbags sagging from their hooks.

 

This poem has also been published in Clear Poetry.

Leaving Lorgill

On land, the huge sea strikes the senses most.
Its expanse, true. But more the million years
of war against the cliffs. A shattered coast,
caves, detritus, wrack. White-tailed eagles steer
a line above the zig-zags, smooth away
jagged edges. Ahead, a rarity:
a fertile slope, heaps of bleached stones too high
to be natural. This place is empty.

Not empty. Emptied. The day’s forced march, bairns
screeching like buzzards, the cattle left,
the food eked out. The swell and swish of brine
and bilge. Always waves, churn and plunge and lift.
They said we would have land. We only saw
the sea, the sea, the leviathan sea.

Wellington Rocks

A crevice you can only squeeze in
as a six year old: lithe enough
to wriggle free of parents’ gaze,
small enough to vanish in the split.

Castle walls you can only scale
at seven: perpendicular, with one way up,
a view to fortify against adults
hurling thoughts at one other.

Bracken you can jungle in
at eight: lost in summer shade,
a stolen penknife sharper than the words
still puncturing your ears.

At eighteen, all the green and bronze
greyed out by traffic: and you,
lessened by school, too big to fit
into the only bit of growing up you’d keep.

 

This poem has also appeared in Message in a Bottle.