'saying again there is a last
even of last times'
Why can't you leave it
alone in its grounds --
a red brick cricket pavilion
in dusk light, late June,
with an aura of linseed,
smeared grass juice, worn kit --
why can't you leave it alone?
Perhaps it's my grandad
obsessed by the test match
commanding a silence
from his son-in-law to watch
England struggle then collapse
at almost close of play...
The misty nymphs in glades!
I'd sneak off to discover
mysteries of female shapes
from grandad's leafed-over
album of art photographs:
all sun-fringed outdoor types
frolicking between the wars --
pudenda, tasteful fades...
At dusk, I watched ships disappear
where a skyline met horizon:
lit portholes in black hulls
gone behind cliffs' greenish stone,
liners with pin-striped funnels
leaving astern the pilot boat
once beyond North Pier, South Pier,
Tynemouth Priory, and setting out
So the homing glimpses come
back one by one or all
at once: that revolving beam
of the lighthouse on South Pier.
It scrutinized rose wallpaper
in what had been grandma's bedroom,
rummaging deeper, deeper
and deeper where you lay
on the night before her funeral.
Thanks to their good memories
for how much worse things were,
we looked back over a thirty-year
gap to that curious series
of house guests at the vicarage:
plump girls in late teenage
or perhaps early twenties,
dropped off by smart parents
until their confinements --
their shame kept out of the way.
At Mother's Union whist drives
and sewing circles of churchy women
was mum suspicious of them --
those interlopers in the form
of unmarried pregnant girls
boarding till their time had come --
or marriage guidance counsels,
dad's familiar, pastoral care
for spinsters and the battered wives?
Tiled kitchen floors were her undoing.
Scrubbed, they would be lain with sheets
of newsprint for our muddy feet
-- and wouldn't we just have to come
flying in the back door?
Inconsiderate, to have landed
on those pages, which would slip
and crumple as I hopped
to end up where no feet should go.
Still I see her stranded
on pieces of slant, mis-read report
screaming a courtesy aunt has stolen
all her children's love.
Impossible, as we would know.
Yet there she's stubbornly stopped.
Just wandering around in that past,
I picture how a church appeared
beyond stale air and the smeared
glass pane of a public phone.
As dusk blushed to provide
changes, but for no one's sake,
grass turned a denser green, I heard:
'You can't live on morality alone!'
Unsold houses run to seed.
Whatever those words meant,
leaf shadow lengthens to a want
of love, and ill-requited need.
On the steep slope of Whiteladies Road
outside a bookshop door,
with the sense of having done this
exactly once too often,
I stood beside her a moment more
saying, 'Please try to appreciate',
empty-handed like the idiot I am,
'that I've other responsibilities...'
-- as it dawned on me Whiteladies Road
was exactly the spot I'd said goodbye
to her rival twenty-odd years before.
'No, you try to appreciate',
she replied, 'that I don't give a damn...'
and turned away, the sense
of having done this once too often
on the steep slope of Whiteladies Road
returning with no less force --
like a rhyme and a form for what was
(just supposing the bare coincidence
of a raised or a choked-off voice
could recompense the loss).
From folds in the bedclothes they rise
at first light, stubborn memories
of a misplaced past.
It's like glimpsing through the glass
of some tour bus on a by-pass
people you have lost.
What do they come back for?
To deepen the morning? Make sure
you're still alive at least?
You're still haunted with guilt
for a thing you didn't do,
like having your collar felt
in a dream some nights ago?
Pulled up at traffic lights,
he proceeded to book us
and I got the policeman's
suspicious, peering look, his
'Didn't you live here once?'
So could it be that red pavilion
by its games field is the emblem
of some key examination
I fail to prepare for, to pass,
or somehow always miss
in nightmares woken from
at summer dawns like this?