More updates on the progress of my old school as it slowly returns to nature. All photos by Caroline Toomey.
Impression of a Man
He never saw it coming, never moved.
A JCB reversed right over him,
But the ground was soft and gave way
So he was pressed down,
Survived with minor bruising
And a sore back for weeks.
Some joker filled the hollow with concrete, let it set,
Lifted out a spread-eagled statue like a thief,
Painted on a smile for a bet,
Then stood it in the bar
For when he arrived,
Still shaking like a leaf.
It was a laugh.
A slap on the back
For those who saw it,
Those who wept.
Behind the same JCB,
Someone pushed in its way,
The driver finding this unfunny.
First published Yellow Crane 4, Winter 1995/6
Think Nothing Of It
My first job
Was to clear away
A mountain of concrete
I chipped with a pick
With the tip
Of the sharp, pointed prong.
After two days
A bird could have made
A greater impression.
But somehow, someone noticed my struggle,
Coming over to lever
The lot off the ground,
And into a barrow.
I should have started at the base.
I shouldn’t have blunted the pick.
They said: Think nothing of it.
First published in Iota 45, Autumn 1999
Photograph reproduced by kind permission John Darwell.com
Tacoma Narrows Syndrome
A price was put
On every word.
He went away
And saved a fortune.
He used the pipe
To cross the river,
Slipped one day
And never recovered.
They built a bridge
That thousands came
To have a go on it.
He came to say
The bridge was deadly,
But they’d already
Reached the other side.
Yellow Crane 8, Winter 1996/7
The building was decaying.
A room full of coffee-grinder calculators
Was destined for museums
Doing the twentieth century.
The man who kept
The toilet stocked with toilet rolls
Was tipping people off
About the coming computers.
I laboured on with the old system
As gardener after gardener
Whose invoices had been ditched,
Rang to complain.
The boss figured in December nothing grows,
So no one got a penny,
Except for the small guys—
A couple of grand
One Christmas eve
To a weed-trimmer in Neasden.
No questions asked and no PCs,
Just gravity taking the big guns
To the bottom of the in-tray.
Lateral Moves 24, 1999
Photograph reproduced by kind permission John Darwell.com.
Knuckleised by alopecia
And growing hard to employ,
All roads led south for him.
Lo-and-behold, a pot of gold
At the end of the A34
Running on Cheltenham turf-
You can grow a lovely asparagus there.
He chose it for luck, stretching out
Before him like a vapour trail, the A34,
Magic-markered on his old map
But splattered with short-lived cities.
The ancient route south, hard
To follow in places and tough
Keeping sheep together-thirsty work.
Works Unit Only, Relief Road blues.
Tiredness Can Kill. Take a Break!,
Takes a leak in a Little Chef, glad
To be back inside before the engine cools,
Glowing in a lay-by for sandwiches
Leaving a tin-foil nugget.
“Her hair was thick with many a curl
That cluster’d round her head.
She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad.”
Proposed by-pass Newbury-a flash
In the woods and Wordsworth’s children
Wave from a tree-branch
Laughing, cooking under a bender.
He joins them for kidney bean curry,
Returns to his bastardised rattler
That won’t start.
“Tell us Johnny, do,
Where all this long night you have been,
What you have heard, what you have seen.”
Sink estate. South shore.
He’s grimly learning permanence from the sea
In the seat of a Cortina
Reading the cross-channel ferry
Yellow Crane 4, Winter 1995/6
Photographs reproduced by kind permission John Darwell.com.
How They Looked at the Sun
Back at the apartment he watched her looking down on the square where the good-looking men peddled lighters as though they were keeping some ancient tradition going. Those lighters wouldn’t last a day and they never sold any. He thought they ought to try selling something useful once in a while but the tourist board paid them to be there to give the old town character and they hadn’t the motivation. It was all faked for the tourists. He told her it was all faked but she watched all the same.
He shook his head. He’d had a great holiday. He’d had a great time all round but his head hurt. A long time ago, the same jabbing headache came on after flying a kite for the children so he knew that staring at the sun caused it.
But the children were no longer children. All the same, he’d had a good run for his money. He’d worked hard all his life. They both had.
She closed the shutters to make the place dark for him. He needed plenty of sleep. They both did.
“Looking at the sun burns the eyes permanently. If it keeps on hurting, see a doctor.”
He’d fallen asleep with his mouth open, his head tilted back like she’d told him not to. He’d enjoyed baking until his head felt like bursting and his eyes hurt. He’d been thinking how long it took the sun to travel there.
She scraped a dining room chair across the tiled floor. The noise of the chair went right through him like a kebab stick. He was sure she did it on purpose. She said she’d talked to the man who worked on the beach. The man’s eyes had been burned by the sun. She said his pupils were jammed shut and they wouldn’t open in the dark. He couldn’t go indoors because he couldn’t see in the dim light.
“He’s no good for anything except finding deckchairs on a beach.”
She sat down. She’d been pretty good about it, the way they were going to do what they had to do. He was amazed how resigned she was as though the sense of futility had been under the surface waiting to claim her. He remembered how dying soldiers turned to stare at the sun.
First published Eclectica Jan/Feb 2006
Photographs reproduced by kind permission John Darwell.com
I found myself
At the site
Of the house
They were building.
They wanted me to say that the odds they’d succeed
Were immense. And sure enough,
Flying buttresses, iron girders, wild horses
Couldn’t have stood on that lot.
I took a look at the quaking ground,
And dug a heel
Which made a hole
That filled with water.
I said: “You’d be better off on a raft”,
And they thanked me for that vision,
And set about building a house
On a concrete base as big as an ocean.
I watched the concrete arrive.
They poured it in the hole,
And while it set I had
Umpteen cups of tea.
Points to note:
Concrete is nine parts air and floats,
But the house stands still-
A sort of very slow boat.
Yellow Crane 7, Autumn 96
Photographs reproduced by kind permission John Darwell.com