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Dreams of Children

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Walking up the hill to the poetry class,
talking to myself as if a mad man, of how
tonight I will encourage the students
to write vivid and historical verse.

I’m trying to remember the words
to Strange Fruit and also to turn
my willpower over to a god of my
own understanding. It’s hard work.

I note the hope of cheap Christmas lights
that pulse the November houses. The miners
hours long given away to call centres,
the credit peddlers, the dreams of children.

And if Christ is the redeemer, then look down
and hang a Woman’s deeds. The one who
groomed this South Yorkshire town from
pride to prejudice, from hope to heroin.

Hang them in the windows,
the churches and the pit heads.
Hang them for all the atheists, the
heretics, the bad blooded too!

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Leaving Upton Park

Sometimes we’d win and we’d all go berserk.
But the bubbles have burst since we left Upton Park.
Hurst, Peters and Moore, an honest days work.
Sometimes we’d win and we’d all go berserk.

Sometimes we’d lose and we’d all rant and rave.
A tear up on the terraces, give the enemy a shave.
“West Ham until I die, until I’m in the grave.”
Sometimes we’d lose and we’d all rant and rave.

“But we’ll always have the moments”, said the Father to the son.
“Because this is where love was found, where the deal was done.”
“What, beaten claret and blue Dad, where the floodlights never shone?”
“But we’ll always have the moments”, said the Father to the son.

At the Arts Council in Manchester

And to think I was just about to complain
About the weakness of the coffee when
my head turned through the glass to
witness the hearse arguing in traffic.

It was a standoff for sure. I knew this when
death itself gave up its ghost to breathe beside
me awhile, to show patience. There was no rain,
wind or violins. England will never be mine.

A gold coffin the size of a malt loaf, vibrating
with the anxiety of the driver’s peddled footwork,
the cortege behind damming the day to wails.
Grief as performance art said a colleague.

The ghost recounted the story of how I had a sister.
Things would have been better, it whispered.
She had a name, Teresa, she was older than me,
lived three days, it’s all mathematics, apparently.

What would my parents have talked about
on that morning of the funeral? Would they
have held hands, was the radio on? I’ve always
hoped for love on the settee through the tears.

The ghost sipped my coffee, made a face
of disdain. The hearse pulled away to Piccadilly,
a parade to disbelief. I returned to my
meeting, the one about tangible outcomes.

If I Could Take A day

My love and I go fretting
after the late summer sun,
then into the dusk of the
West Yorkshire towns.

Morley, Horbury, Dewsbury.

The night turns,
but the heat sticks, releases
the musk of suburbia’s
dying roses.

The windows are open
and I will once again try
to speak of the years that
take their toll.

Of the boy born from the
slabs of Essex.

The long time ago.

*

I was the middle child
being told of my uselessness
as I bumped into tables,
the sideboard,
the plates of
baked beans.

“You cunt!”
My Dad would say.
“Wipe it up!”

A sleight of hand
to the cheek,
a busted flush
to end the week.

I was,
and I fear, still,
the greatest exponent
of the loneliness of the
short distance runner.

*

Twelve years old
risking my life
for the time trial of
the Sunday papers;
sprinting across
the new town Basildon
roundabouts, dodging
the Ford Capris
to keep him in racing reports,
my Mum in Embassy Number 6,
her racist outrage.

How Cassius Clay was not
really a black man.

I could never run it in less
than five minutes,
and as I returned, breathless,
heaving into the flatulent kitchen,
he’d laugh as he opened his back pages,

“Next week, you flat-footed cunt.”

How he loved that word,
goading me as I’d walk into
the banister in shame,
bruising my name
on the way upstairs
to listen in bed
to god on the radio,
Max Bygraves,
and how to grow
a decent turnip.

*

My love and I park up for coffee,
the M1 services at Wooley Edge.

A different warmth now,
that of exhausts
and florescent tubes.

Good health does not live here,
rats do. Scattering to the bins,
the burger boxes, the hateful cabs of
truck drivers, gassed on fumes.

This is an awful place and all
I want is to discuss
more of my pain,
my condition.

Of how he made me eat a goose’s egg,

‘”Swallow it you cunt!”

Popped my boils with drawing pins,

“Sit still you cunt!”

Pulled my teeth out with his fingers,

“Open wide you cunt!”

And made me stand with a broken leg,

“Get up and walk you cunt!”

But I’m stopped
with a firm tut,
asked about joy,
and do I really want
to eat that muffin,
and how there must
have been something
beautiful in a boyhood.

Anything?
Anything?

I breathe in
the petrol,
glance at the neon lit
truck cabs once
more and

hold on to it,
hold on to it,
hold on to it.

Then exhale,
smiling.

Yes.
It’s there.
I’ve found one.

If I could take a day.

*

Miss Stephens is trying hard
to teach us verbs. We all know it’s too
hot today, too mean to answer back.

The girls have undone their blouses
and Martin Piper’s got the horn, Bjorn
Borg is covering exercise books,
England’s beginning to dream.

The bell will soon ring, we will run
crashing through the corridors
out into the sun of 1976.

David Price, Tony Wright and
myself cycling to Bulphan.
Over the hills,
away from the estates,
away from the numbers
on the road to Ian Duncan’s.

Two Chippers,
a Chopper, a bag of
Gobstoppers and penknives
in our pockets.

Shirts off, wheelies on,
butterfiies, ladybirds,
A Vauxhall Viva,
A screaming geezer,
but we don’t give a fuck.

Tarmac melting and we all sing,
‘I’ve got a brand new combine harvester.’
Our legs are red,
but we are kings.

Trunks on.
Manure stink
electric pylons,
parents gone to
Sainsbury’s who think
We are playing chess.

The heat,
the sky,
the heartbeats.

One day we will be men.

We swim in Duncan’s pool,
eat hot dogs until we choke,
guzzle Warninks until we puke,
laugh as Wrighty follows through.

We lay on the grass, talking of birds
and how Jackie Linzell will be my wife.
Pricey says he’s fingered her,
Duncan’s fucked her. Twice.

My heat turns to ice
and I want to kill, I throw a punch,
fall in hysterics, loving this thrill,
loving life, loving Pricey,
Wrighty, even Duncan

*

My love and I above
the heartlands around Emley Moor.
A yellow moon rises crowning the mast.
The radio is switched off,
and the only sound our breathing now
under these satellites, these histories.

I wonder where they are,
those boys? Did they grow safe?
Did they grow bored?
Did their promise fade under
the weight of adulthood?

Like mine did.

‘Is that all it was?’, I’m asked.
‘Your best day?’, I’m asked.

*

Drunk and
sun stroked,
headached
and bellyached,
we cycle back.

Duncan’s been sent to his room
within an inch of his life.

We are quieter now,
thoughtful, lost,
homework bound.

The heat churns us
as we peddle the hill.
Wrighty begins to cry
his weight a hindrance,
gnats sweet on his thigh.

At the summit we gather our breath
decide to race down into the town.
The last to the garage will be bender
and take it up the arse.

We dip down with the sunset,
shout at prams.
call the girls slags,
Man U shit.

I’m first,
I’m second,
I’m first again.

I win. I win.

A truck door swings open,
a sweating fatman revealed.

“Come in lads, do you fancy a ride?
Come in lads, its cooler inside.”

Wrighty flicks his penkife,
Pricey gobs a spit.
I say the word
under my breath.

We cycle home, tired
to the usual kind of heat.

We call each other fuckers.
Three boys dead on their feet.

*

My love and I, we are boxing clever
outside the steps to my home.
Rain on me, like a memory.
I sleep alone, I sleep alone.

*

I walk in the front door,
my Dad sits at the table.

I’m burnt, tired and angry.

The day played out,
but not yet.

“Hello son”, he says.

“Hello you cunt'”, I say.

Haiku Five O’

Beside the wet kerb,
chips and doner meat sleep deep.
Friday fades away.

Taxis rear homewards,
the ambulance falls silent.
A dead one maybe.

A kiss for a wish
under the railway bridges.
That enough for her?

The town bells ringing
and a rain ceases to fall.
Starlight, moonlight now.

Saturday is here,
a guilty secret laid bare.
Sunday we’ll forget.

Soul Boy

I am fifteen years old,
a wedge haircut before Brideshead,
a forever flicked fringe, soul blue eyes.
It’s 1979, my last summer has gone.

I am the Saturday boy
at Lilley and Skinner. Selling shoes,
pop socks and polish to the pay packeted,
the dolled up girls from the factory.

The manager, a face of a weasel
was friendly, as to be in love. Together
we would stride to the market at lunch,
searching for records from Detroit.

I would be given cake, asked about girls
and had I ever seen London at night?
The manager said he would take me. There
were relentless questions about lads.

Marvin Gaye at the Royal Albert Hall,
I sway from the balcony, two Pale ales
tall, singing along to ‘What’s Going On?’
Confused as he touches my thigh.

“Its a shame the last train has gone.
But they do a nice breakfast, and I’ve got
a bottle. Some cans and fags
right here in my satchel.”

He rises over me and I grip the sheets,
paralysed by bad breath and hate.
Outside the hotel room, the noise of
machines. Inside, the silence of rape.

I’m fifty three years old in the
therapist’s chair. She explains the
conflict between my Dad and I,
but my mind was taken elsewhere.

Rumours of a Hurricane

The sky is a peculiar
shade of mackerel.
Not freshly caught,
but maybe out of date.

A bit like your your
ridiculous rationale,
ill informed and
unacceptably late.