A Magpie on a Downpipe
I sweep white blossoms from the path, hard bristles unbending on each stroke; it is not till months later, when the owner of the house returns, that I learn the tree overhanging the fence is an apple tree. We sit outside in the sun, get to know one another, both wary of a stray cat, the bare streets; we keep sewn. I pull the door shut to the shed, turn the key, snap the padlock on. The sky is afloat. I listen to her stories, about her childhood bicycle, how her mother dragged her home; then the time comes when she says, It’s those Asians in Hyde, or, Another plane from Pakistan. A smudge on the lens of my glasses, I watch bees carry sacks of pollen, flower to flower. I cannot open my mouth, or insist on torn petals, the evening light fading over roofs. She sits in her stifling conservatory, watches news; some countries are starting to reopen their borders. At dinner, we eat at a small table, spill salt on placemats; she asks when I think I’ll be leaving. The blossoms fade in stubbled rain, sodden and unresistant, no shutting eyes. I wash dishes, then go upstairs to my bedroom; I do not let myself imagine not being here. No date has been set. She cannot face a solitary magpie, calls me in the night to confirm if it is a bird on a downpipe. It is not enough to unentangle the familiar; soon, all that is left is moss and worn snail shells. Still, the strawberries grow ripe. I sweep the path, water the garden, find a way to be with her. I live carefully, stay in my room; there is enough through the wind-etched window.
The Thought of Snow
after Philip Larkin’s 'High Windows'
When I see a young couple and he’s pushing a pram while she’s on the phone, arms gesticulating at him as he lights a cigarette, I know this is not what they had in mind, fucking one drunken night. Not everyone dreams of this. Hey, baby, hey you, oh yeah – that’s what they wanted most of all. Then it all goes, an explosion in a busy marketplace on a Saturday morning, and all the young slide down the hill, endlessly. I wonder if anyone looked at me thirty years ago, and thought, that’s the life, on another protest march against nuclear war, in a pub later drinking beer, no God, playing ‘Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards’ on the jukebox, again, and why not have another beer – silly idiot. The priest has gone, and so have all the bloody birds; what a marvellous life you have – you’re on the right side of bombs and books. And immediately, rather than words, comes the thought of snow, white flakes on pine trees, stones in a shallow river, how night will reap the flurry for itself, and beyond it, the silence of mountains, and of parting.