1940, but they feel safe here,
between the ping-pong table
and the bottled fruit.
Light from a tiny barred window
spills down dust-motes.
There’s a birdcage
he always knocks his head on,
a cupboard that creaks.
Today it’s hot.
They remove more clothes than usual.
Her buttons roll into mouse-holes.
His braces, hurriedly unsnapped,
fly into a corner where they stay
for fifty years.
Upstairs, pans clatter.
Where’s Lizzy? Someone shouts
but with his tongue in her ear,
Lizzy doesn’t cotton on.
Not knowing the way war will turn,
all their arrangements,
sweat from their bodies,
moons from their fingers,
lie in scuffs on the floor.
I like the story-teller’s ‘they’ that demands you have to find out who ‘they’ are, between the deliberately comic ping-pong table and the bottled fruit, lit dimly by what comes through a window that’s ‘barred’. Which should make you think twice. Whoever they are, they come often because ‘there’s a birdcage / he always knocks his head on’. And yes, it’s comic, until it’s unsettling. Because they take off more clothes ‘than usual’ in a fumble of snapped-off buttons and unsnapped braces. A poem of desperate love in a time of war that’s not comic at all but as serious as salt and moons and semen. I love it.
This poem is one of a sequence, Songs from West Cumbria,which is woven into her collection Crowd sensations.You’ll see what I mean by the poet as ‘dark watcher’
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There was a goat outside the window of my Classic Double,
working a bald strip of tilted earth behind wire.
Between us laya five-foot-deep concrete alley
through glass; my admiration at its brown head and neck
on a white body, like two beasts severed and sewn;
and some prison dreams neither of us would divulge.
In the bar, low sun glimmed off the sea. I couldn’t
get a seat near it. The men from the power station who could,
as a squadron, turned their headsfrom the window
to watch the TV above mine. For me too, it was hard
to believe in the beach that stretched for miles each side
like an adhesive strip ripped off something useful.
Breakfast was an open bag of Kingsmill White,
some soft croissants pouched in cellophane, plus
one bruised pear which I took out of fellow feeling.
I had to get us out of here: away from the owners
talking business in their sagging tracksuits, away
from this disowned ground, its hand-hot rain.
From ‘Crowd Sensations’ (Seren Books, 2016)
It’s the moment that matters, says Clive James. Sometimes the moment is also an image. The beach like a a strip of parcel tape ‘ripped off something useful’.Lovely. Desperate.