Like a rolling stone

How does it feel to be on your own?
The question floats above my right shoulder, midnight on Willesden High Road
and I’m hurrying home, hoping to shake off this complete unknown,

past the restaurant where I queue for take-away Masala Dosas,
past the deli where chatting women load up with baklava and okra,
How does it feel, how does it feel, to be on your own?

Footsteps slap the pavement behind me, voice is Irish but I know the line,
glance, nod, Dylan?, then suddenly he’s hunched in front of my gas fire,
holed socks planted on the patterned carpet, a mystery, a complete unknown,

smoking my cigarettes, drinking my wine, telling me how his family
couldn’t fit round the dinner table, laughter, talk and more talk… and me?
How does it feel to be on your own

night after night watching the mice play on the record deck,
smoking your cigarettes, drinking your wine, stuck
in this room you now call home, a street where you’re a complete unknown?

And me… I’m silenced by fear of the contagion of isolation,
of making the wrong moves, of not making it in this cold town,
of giving up and crawling home, of staying forever a complete unknown,
of never escaping how it feels, how it feels, to be on your own.


Margate, 2010

St Michael and all Angels descend from the bus,
heralded by the boom of carnival drum and bass,
to a sweep of sea and a golden curl of sand
where pink bikinis dance round tumbledown castles,
shaking down fried noodles and ice-cream, and
Polish teens call the score for volleyball
alongside swingboats where tattooed dads
look on as sticky toddlers rise and fall.
Girls in swimsuits and hijabs hunt for treasures
and a flock of nuns dares the incoming tide
while wrinkled hands unwrap blintzes and pittas,
watching as the twirl of sequins and boas creeps
towards the Turner, backs to Dreamland
where the wreck of the rollercoaster sleeps.


Visiting Grimes Graves

I don’t remember what it was that set us off,
exploding in the silent space, bent double with laughter,
ignoring the attendant with the missing button who watched
as mother and daughter squealed and shook, told us there was no
accounting for taste. I do remember it looked like a field.
I remember not thinking of what might lie beneath the surface.

And then the puzzled frown on my father’s face
turned to hurt as my mother and I continued to scoff
at his choice of outing, drowned his talk of felled
forests and prehistoric graves with our laughter,
gasping and heaving and spluttering, then watching
as he walked away, seeking but finding no

trace of the expected remains. Did he know
our sobs and snorts were less a slap in the face
than a desire to claim a rare shared ground? Each of us always watching
for a chance to destabilise the family triangle, to see off
the weakest side, using mockery and laughter
to rock confidence, to unlevel the field.

Or were we just laughing at a man in a field
searching for the meaning of life among the dead? I know
it comforted him to think that four thousand years after
graves were dug and bodies buried, bones stripped bare, faces
long forgotten, angry gods appeased by offerings,
here we stood, survivors of the human race. Watching

the birds flying from tree to ancient tree, watching
the wind still stirring the branches, in this field
we endured. It was his offer
of hope, a hymn to human resilience. No
need to think of individual loss, to face
the emptiness. So why our laughter?

I think now that our sobs and snorts of laughter
were our bid to hold the future at bay: the night-long watch,
the silent waiting room, the blank faces
of strangers, the almost field
studded with neat stones stretching into a no
man’s land, the slow walk away, the wake, the send-off…

I wish I saw no need to mine this surface, to question this laughter.
But I can’t back off – even though no
one else is left to watch. Why can’t a field be just a field?

Grimes Graves: despite its name, the Neolithic site is not a burial ground but an ancient flint mine


After the workshop

We’ve hardly spoken, yet I know the spot where your father
set down his briefcase each night when he came home.
I’ve heard the clatter of his Underwood,
smelled the anger of your mother’s Sunday roast.
I remember when you saw your aunt kiss
the girl from the post office on the neck
of the stairs. I’ve felt the sun warm the oak
of your writing desk, caressed your Chinese figurine.
I’ve told you about how my sister died.

We’ve hardly spoken, yet I know how you love the drone
of manly, Friday-evening mowers, how you long
for the hot breath of a leopard on your cheek.
Lust, you say, is the scrape of a shark’s tooth,
yet the strings of your cello vibrate lonely
in their case. I know how music entered your soul
like a child’s first smile, how happiness
is the clatter of your mother making breakfast.
I think I mentioned I have trouble with my pond.

We’ve hardly spoken, yet I know that in your future
people shrink to the size of mice, dream of poetry
in the ultra-violet nights, wander through cineramas
under the gaze of watchful eyes. I’ve met your inner
warrior, your inner will o’ the wisp, the wild talker
who pops out of your bottle of Smirnoff. It’s May,
and I’ve seen you gather up blossom like confetti, heard
the keening of the plates flying past your ex’s ear.
A dripping tap’s what drives me to distraction, as I said.

I know what you do with Spray Mount in the ladies’ loo.
But did I ever show you my Indian rope trick?


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