Wild Court

An international poetry journal based in the English Department of King’s College London

Three poems by Philip Hancock


    Back End


of February and the drifts are up
to the eaves. On the old folks' bungalows,
startled faces at the glass
shrink behind their curtains. Crazy!

And we know it, painting in this,
but it’s all the firm’s got on. We forearm
snow from around the windows,
haul the propane cylinder close as we can.

Water from our flasks poured
over the brass regulator
opens the diaphragm,
releases the gas. Gloves are useless:

our fingertips frozen numb
adjust the pressure, set the flame
of the blowtorch to melt ice off the sills,
rag them dry for glossing.

Only two buses per day detour this way
and the corner shop with a bell
has the same pie on the white tray
as yesterday, but we’ll keep at it

as long as we’ve got gas. In our Portakabin
even the bin’s too cold to stink,
the torch set between three bricks
thaws the kettle to boil.


    Man on the Fire Escape


Approaching the T junction,
you can’t miss him: white overalls,
one boot on a handrail
five stages up the fire escape jutting
from Tunstall library.

Next time you’re passing,
his arm’s locked round a stanchion,
leaning out, full stretch.
One slip
and he’s through your windscreen.

Edging up one evening in traffic,
it’s not the mullion windows
with pediment gable and arms,
nor the terracotta lettering,
just how far he’s got.

Weeks after, the top coat
of lickable red blinds you
to that leaking-radiator brown
and you notice the way he breaks off
at the angle of strut and beam.

Today, stuck at the lights
between trucks, you can’t help
but crane your neck, checking
the skeletal metalwork for him
even after all these years.


    Set in


Thirty-five years in the trade
and you believed you could read the sky.
Now the job’s almost done,
it’s as though you’ve worried it on.

In the passenger seat for a change,
at odds with the roomy footwell,
you can’t relax into your book.
The laptops and handbags long gone.

From guttering to downspouts
to drains, how noisy it is.
God’s way – your mother used
to say – of making you rest.