vickers shipyard, barrow-in-furness, 1973
legs swinging and us licking ice creams
on the submarine dock our platform shoes
cool and wonderful and the men whistling
and shouting hey love, gi’e us a lick!
and when we turned and gave them you know a
sidelong look they laughed but me and janine
we knew they didn’t mean anything by it they
were just joshing so anyhow we sat there
with our ice creams trickling down the side
of the cones golden and crisp the flakes falling
onto our mini skirts and we knew we’d have to
go back in soon but the day was warm it was warm
it was summer we were seventeen and we looked good
and we knew it and we loved it when the sailors came –
foreign submariners from argentina israel the middle east
and russia and us listening to their funny accents
and they came here to vickers to board their subs
and our own being built alongside revenge
and resolution and them going on patrol
in the baltic or the pacific and me and janine
dreaming of smuggling ourselves on board
to wake up in a foreign port somewhere –
which was just about when the hooter would go
and we had to go back in to our dusty offices
on the sub dock with the sun blocked out
and snopake and pens and a deep pile of papers
with typos to correct.
It was a night of no moon
a night of fresh earth
it was night
and we just drove.
You pointed out Scotland
under a thin strip of light
we could see Criffel
across the Solway.
We just drove
there was mist
there was silence
there was fruitfulness in the silence
we drove through it all
the sheep, the night of no moon, the grasses
we drove through it
turned the fells into commons of prayer
turned them into our road home
turned the headlights off
bumped over the cattlegrid
over the little white road across the fells.
Sitting here, watching a daddy longlegs spin against the window
from a thin thread of spider twine, I rise, go outside
slip into a white hammock strung between two posts of hickory
in a small backyard, Oklahoma City.
You come out, say, “awhh, you look so pretty lying there!
You just enjoy the song of that old mockingbird”.
And I take your advice,
doze along on the strung-out hammock
white as a new moth cocoon and mockingbird,
he sings from the top of his telegraph post
sings his madfool heart right out his breast
tips his tail, bobs his head
looks around, east and west.
No sign of a mate.
So he changes his tune.
He sings like a robin
sings like a siren
sings like an appletree in spring.
Sang that night when the air-con broke
and we lay looking out our open window
at the bared bones of prairie,
mosquito nets covering our flesh
and that tomfool bird mocking us
in the cocooned dark of Oklahoma night.
You, with your jaunty smile your hat on one side
that wide brimmed smile blowing you over the Hempsteads.
You, with your blackthorn stick and stride
your billowing voice lamenting the parting of seabirds
You with your arms like happy windmills.
waving to the sea, the land, the railroads and soldiers.
You, with your laughing beard, baring your chest
as you make your way round the boundaries of oceans.
You, Walt Whitman, of the long line and tumbling somersaults
of tender poetry with your working man’s hands and mystery
in the digging of graves and gardens, the planting of trees here
on your beloved Paumanok, this fishtailed Long Island
buried deep in your heart of lobsters and clams
the King James bible walking with each step you make
as you mark the bounds, smiling as you see someone
you resemble: a woman cradling a child, an old man, a prophet
a hobo, a wanderer. You Walt, pray to the sea and the air as I do
bending your knees to better understand the blades of grass.