Sunday afternoon we walked on Crickley Hill.
Every day the light is different
evening encroaching on afternoon.
Today I remembered Dad’s story –
playing by the canal as a child
he fell into a lock
someone dived in and pulled him out.
When he got home they smacked him.
He could have drowned.
This happened in Birmingham
a hundred years ago.
I think they smacked him,
I might not have remembered it right;
if he was around I’d ask him.
He died when he was ten years older
than I am now.
I imagine this in black and white
and the canal water sump oil black.
Sometimes I dream in colour.
A hundred years. Birmingham.
Stand on the library roof
look out over the city.
Dad would know the names of those hills.
from Birmingham Canal Navigation (Knives Forks & Spoons, 2020)
ALT ST JOHANN
The children hide in the tree;
they whisper and laugh, the branches move.
These are the mountains, the trees
on the mountains, the rocks.
You walk and you walk
and forget that you walk.
The child climbs out of the hedge, clutching
a fistful of wheat, its roots thick with soil.
Chew the husks, taste the sweetness.
The cat sits on the cooker, gazes out on the valley,
closes her eyes and opens them.
You see only half of the moon
and mist comes out of the ground.
The cherries are finished on the tree,
the redcurrants ripe on the bush.
We sleep at the top of the house in the room
full of musical instruments. The music
enters our dreams and leaves by the gate
leaving it open.
This, I decide, is paradise
where they lend you their shoes and they fit.
It’s easy to laugh, and the children walk forever,
sleep through the night in the valley of stars,
wake with the light and remember.
from Jam (Smith/Doorstop, 2016)
ON THE DIFFICULTY OF LEARNING CHINESE
My father met my horse when he was 21.
She was 16, but you only had to see them together.
He was handsome and she was incomparably beautiful.
She also had the most wonderful singing voice.
Father said she could sing the stars out of the sky.
My friends would come round just to be with her.
She was like a second horse to them.
When I was eleven she gave me my horse scarf.
Such a wonderful texture; cool in summer, warm in winter.
She made it from an old shirt belonging to my father.
He would never throw anything away.
But he was so angry. It was the first and last time
that I ever heard him use the word linen.
TONIGHT IN KIDDERMINSTER
begins under streetlights and their word is speed.
Two of them, chewing gum with their mouths open,
thumbs in their pockets and feet tapping.
The tall one sees me first, sees the hat. This hat
goes with the hair, the desert boots and jeans,
the shabby raincoat and ripped gold lining.
It goes with the sky before rain and just after,
and with one unforgettable night on Kinver Edge,
eight of us in the back of a mini van.
This hat is my dad’s and I wouldn’t sell it for fifty pounds.
They chased me for it and lost, turned left
into another story. Fiction.
It begins up an entry, shaking hands
full of someone’s prescription.
Eyes that are needles
sewing the hem on tomorrow’s shroud…
Or gramophone needles. The first record
is Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale.
The devil’s guest, Private Faust,
has forgotten The Silent Princess.
He hums along to the drum solo
and dreams only of the fiddle
he traded for a book; words
he could not read, words he can’t remember.
Next it’s 4’ 33” (for any instrument),
a bootleg of David Tudor
live in Woodstock, New York 1952.
The duff tape missed the rain
on the roof, traffic in the distance,
people angrily rising and leaving,
but detected the silence, four years
in the making. Listen: no
sound but the lid of the piano.
Tonight in Kidderminster our audience
is the night. The agitated stars cough less
and less discreetly, by the third movement
programmes flutter like moths. Barely visible
to the naked eye, the devil jigs
to the soldier’s fiddle while The Silent Princess
wheels the plough across the night sky
and the pole star stays where it is.
I could make him, possibly
but I’m tired of arguing, and besides
there are worse places to be
than on the back step in the sunshine
ten o’clock Sunday morning.
I grieve for them on he long winter evenings
First the hard brush for the mud. Let
the dust settle, then a dishcloth
dipped in the galvanised bucket
of rain water. So cold my fingers
would ache if I let them.
Jenkins with his clear blue eyes
They’ll dry smeared so I drag
the brush through the blacking
like Dad showed me, not dab it
so it dries out, and brush into the leather
between the sole and the upper.
Smith with his indomitable spirit
Next the soft brush. Skim
lightly across till they shine. Like new
but not like new: Luke’s shoes, size twelve.
An old towel to finish off.
See – he won’t recognise them.
Jones with his laugh like a horse.
from Frank Freeman’s Dancing School (Knives Forks and Spoons, 2015)
There are links to some online poems here.