Intrigued to read that a film crew said he was
a total arsehole
when they filmed his Grand Tour,
I sat schtum, thankful for ex art students
who asked intelligent questions.
Clearly, my mild enthusiasm for
Frida Kahlo or Paula Rego would
produce a withering one liner.
He dealt briefly with Damian and Tracy
in that notorious drawl, those pistol consonants,
said too little about how the friendship with Blunt
had stopped him working in America.
Mesmerized by the passion on his elderly features
as he talked of Titian’s brushwork,
he showed me what I’d missed.
He answered too many questions
and we filed out, exhausted.
For some reason I looked back.
In his tweed overcoat at
the door to the Green Room,
he watched us quizzically,
white eyebrows twitching
with whatever he made of us.
In the photo a soldier embroiders,
his one leg outstretched in a wooden wheelchair.
Therapy for splintered synapses,
eyes and ears and nostrils
unblessed by amnesia.
In jolting hospital footage
men salute, march compulsively.
Agitated past torment, they groan and curse,
sing ‘Pack up your troubles… ’
hoot endlessly with unamused laughter.
Were you made to embroider, Wilfred,
by soft-voiced nurses who knew nothing of your poems?
Were you numb, compliant, or did you rage?
Did you think it pointless doing satin stitch and daisy chains
to reproduce flowers in quiet fields?
Wilfred Owen spent some time at Netley Hospital, Hampshire
While Twiggy wore Mary Quant
I was rattling the rails at C&A.
While the Beatles had a joint at the Palace
I was being sniffy about smokers.
While hippies were hitching to Goa
I was having a week in Jersey.
While Marianne unwrapped that Mars bar
I was squirting ketchup in a Wimpy.
While there was a lock-in at the LSE
I was learning something to fall back on.
While dolly birds were taking The Pill
I was saying no in the back of a Mini.
While Janis choked on her vomit
I was sipping warm Babycham.
While Tariq stormed the Embassy
I was wondering whether to join NALGO.
Dressed up as Queen all day,
I toss fivestones, play hopscotch.
Elvis vibrates from the open doors of railway houses.
Aproned, arms folded, women scowl and mutter
Out with a different sailor each night
and her girl dead of diphtheria
only a fortnight since.
Girls in Start-rites push bald dolls in prams.
The grocer pours sugar into cones of folded paper,
cuts a shilling piece of Cheddar.
An Austin Seven turns a corner.
I see Calliper Boy stumble, born too early for
the school nurse with Mr Salk’s vaccine
on a sugar cube,
the thin girl with bruises
and nine pale brothers and sisters
who live on bread and syrup.
She wears a frilly ringworm cap,
a candle drip of snot
as she endlessly bounces
a rubber ball against our wall,
going back for tea.