I lit a candle today, one of those night-lights
it’s difficult to get a flame going on.
Felt a fool but had to do it anyway,
having gone in. January, and the Minster
emptied of chairs, the nave an echoing expanse
where school parties were shepherded
from Rose Window to roof bosses upside down
in a mirrored trolley. The whole of the East end
was a mass of scaffolding, workmen taking out
panes, shouting down to one another as if
they were fitting PVC. And me,
in the middle of it all, thinking of you.
Not praying exactly for how could I in that place?
You might as well try to be alone with God
in Newgate market, or the fruit and veg aisle
in Tesco’s which was where I was standing
when you rang. You said you were not ready
and I said I should hope not, and afterwards
stood with my phone, my list, my half full basket.
A man reached across for bananas
while his wife steered round me and sighed.
Thomas Clarke, Plumber and Glazier
July 4th – 1794, aged 15
I did it for a dare and to win a girl. She said
I never would but I proved her wrong,
chose the horse’s arse, bottom left
on the last panel, the one about the apocalypse.
I’ve a handsome hand but big and this
was the widest expanse of clear glass to write on.
I was proud of my curled initial, though my hand
shook a little when I heard the master coming
and the writing slopes downhill
to the right like on the board at school.
Anyway, after all those back-breaking months
of grozing, of staining my fingers
with lunar caustic and Cousin’s rose,
of straining my eyes repainting chain mail,
an ape’s tooth, the turned-down mouth
of a knight, the way I saw it, I’d a right.
And who was to know? Once the panel
was hoisted into place and the scaffolding
removed no-one would see the details
till dirt and damp and loosening glue
had undone our handiwork and that
wouldn’t be for a century or two.
I like to think of an apprentice
all those years hence, reading my words.
I wish I could tell him about the night,
oh the night, I spent with the girl.
after Diane Arbus
Ever wanted to eat your folks
like icing dolls off a wedding cake?
I could sweep them up like dust,
shake them onto the flower bed.
They keep the curtains closed all day
to stop the carpet fading;
they don’t like my nose, my hair,
my enormous feet.
Mum keeps a roomful of toys
as if I might regress,
looks up at me sometimes
like I’m some kind of ogre,
while dad stands, hands in pockets,
looking at his shoes,
not knowing where to start.
I want to stretch out my arms
and shake the foundations,
stride off in my seven league boots
and find a ten foot woman.
The too bright polyanthus on your step,
the rusting wrought-iron gate,
a chip paper blown along the sand.
In the distance the steel works
a scribble on a grey sky.
A boy picking up sea-coal,
a cricket match through the arch
of your old school, a lad
with red hair, running, running.
And then the pram-faced town,
the boarded-up bookies
like neglected teeth
and the voices familiar, longed-for.
The almost forgotten accent I strain
to hear; a bill-board clattering.