That was my first job, he said, as we gazed
at the insignificant window. Down
the slate steps, and looking from the raised
salt-pitted pavement, where this end of town
gets hammered by the sea, it looked so small.
But sturdy, strongly-made enough to prove
that here his father fitted him with all
the craftsmanship he’d need. It wouldn’t move
or crumble. Each year he’d return, to see
his work enduring. Then brought me, to know
a detail of our family history
and let this shabby mullioned window show
something inherited – that stone and wood,
well-built, can last a lifetime and go on
drawing the clean light in and doing good.
I think about it often now he’s gone.
It was a good story: those early instruments
recycling unused war, lifting music
out of shell casings and scrap artillery,
and all that stuff of slaughter melted down,
cleansed of its guilt, changed
into the shining currency of the New Age.
A story for its time: success, refashioned,
gleaming and wrapped like gold around the notes,
something that re-imagines years of waste, re-makes
brute metal, sparks the furnaces, renews
those elements: a shining singing line
to show where the polish comes from.
Like any story (as though good and true
aren’t slippery as ice) it lets need
play to the legend; if a tune can float –
various and sly and looping – let it lie
loose on the air, lightness and laughter in its breath.
And what else is a story, after all?
hanging wallpaper came from a West End play,
early 70s, title and playwright lost,
even the plot. But two actors he-ing and she-ing –
unrolling, measuring, cutting, pasting, folding,
unpleating each length every night of the run –
they taught me.
My sister sent knitting instructions, second class,
dense blue biro on a postcard I kept for years –
Fountains Abbey in autumn light:
the neatest way to join shoulder seams.
Laying bricks from a novel by Solzhenitsyn
(though I’ve never put that into practice)
unlike sex, from so many novels
the library shelves are exhausted.
There was the man in the laundrette
who could fold a perfect fitted sheet;
and everything I know about the Ramones
I learned from a poem.
Now it’s the only one left in the wardrobe
slanted sideways on the tarnished rail, looking
over its shoulder, swinging
on a padded sateen hanger.
Still not out of fashion, though seasons
of going are always changing – baby,
bridal, through all the shades of fading
into one colour, any colour, the only colour.
It wears itself lightly, this dress – floating
on butterflies, closed wings praying.
Always the perfect fit, ready to slip
so easy from its perch; this year, next year,
sometime. It sighs like silk
inhaling the dust of its own passport.
A dress for departing on a single ticket,
with a bag of bruised apples, half a loaf.
It could be night. Or autumn. Or soon.
Sometimes you can hear its half-creak,
this side of ghostly, straining for the date
of release; the brilliant daylight; away.