What We Kept

I kept one blue checked shirt,

his favourite; and a grey jumper,

too saggy over the belly;

a shiny, black leather wallet

for my Jack’s first bankers card;

and two grimy Gunners badges,

enamel, with the old Arsenal logo.

I left a solid gold tie clip

for my brother that probably

he’d not wear. Mum, you kept

his dressing gown, blue towelling—

still hanging in the wardrobe—

and all his pyjamas, nearly new,

M and S. You said if any of us

had to go into hospital,

we’d look really handsome.


(All Saints’ Field)

The road glows like tin. I take each corner

delicately, rear-view mirror jammed

with our red sledge you once could buy

for a tenner from any local garage.

All week we’ve had our noses in the news,

snow fronts bulging out of Siberia,

sweeping through climate talks in Copenhagen,

white cargo riding the North Sea.

Our steps mess us about. We kit up.

A distant, fuzzy copse. A robin scrapping

with beech leaves, its fire well-stoked.

The devil’s dog-leg right-hander.

We stack the sledge, oldest and heaviest

at the back. More arms and legs than a beetle.

The fuel of weight, gravity and incline

grabs us. Slush and mud and grass

spatter our faces. Screams when a dip

throws our stomachs in the air. Of course

it ends in carnage: bodies and hats

strewn, mangled. We are never cold.

Our finishing line, two stone gateposts

and, beyond, a field of untrodden softness.

We swap techniques, point out the route

to quench our craving for the madness of speed.

We go again and again and fill the afternoon.

Sometimes we abort: a dozy man

with a dozy dog, a toddler spinning

around, a jogger in next to nothing.

But we never go sailing through

into a perfect kingdom of whiteness:

the farmer tipped a trailer of hardcore

in the mud at the field’s entrance.

Like the Grand Old Duke of York,

we march up to the top of the hill,

snow icing over, sounding like polystyrene.

Christmas card groups drift away.

The sun’s wrapped in bandages, a train

floats across fields, the petrol station

turns into a space ship and there

the snowball of the moon stuck on the sky.

Chips off the old block, we wedge ourselves in,

eye up the gateposts. Feet up, our laughter’s

our slipstream. Within touching distance,

we scrape our sledge along the rocks.

Beached on rubble, we fall out sideways,

panting. Our hair’s wet with snow.

We pull each other up and turn together

to give the impossible just one more go.

Our First Time Camping

I chuck the tent on the grass—

stand well back, it’ll self-inflate

like a rescue dinghy.

Three goes later, you climb a tree

keeping an eye on me

laying out the skeleton of poles.

I let you tell me reds go with reds,

blue with blue. I’m sorry

we’ve no spares for arrows.

You parachute off a branch into

a forward roll to break your fall—

end up tangled in the guy ropes.

It takes us hours for you

to peg out the groundsheet,

wrestling the flapping thing down.

We’re both needed to bend the poles

into holes, the eyelets, popping up

our igloo like a story book.

You fling our sleeping bags in

to sort themselves out, you say,

it’s bigger than a sports hall.

Four step-overs later,

you drive your ball into the tent,

turning to the trees’ applause.

Middle Age

Ah those catalogues of Christmas gifts:

shoehorns, ear hair trimmers, luxury

tweezers, periscopes for looking at your back.

You doze off at 4 a.m. to the History Channel,

the siege of Stalingrad, dreaming your children

have nothing to eat except wallpaper paste.

They leave home to live far away. Always

you cook too much for tea. That’s you

standing in their rooms dusting their photos.

You dare not calculate when you’ll retire:

it’s jam tomorrow or jam tomorrow.

In the Sunday papers, you can sail the Aegean.

You’d drop out if there was somewhere to drop to.

The Youth Hostels are packed with students

and the greys. At least you still hate golf.

You take up jogging, running, marathons,

could recite Personal Bests if anyone

would listen. Your lycra is top of the range.

Varnished with sweat, you shout at dogs.

Blondie’s on your iPod. Lit from behind,

she’s ahead at the pouting fork in the road.

You’ve rehearsed excuses for dinner parties,

not tempted by wine cellars, swingers

or their bubbly daughter just back from Oz.

You love your wife and not out of habit:

she’s stood a lifetime of winters on the touchline

cheering on your sons and doing the teas.

You don’t fancy your secretary but notice

what she’s wearing. Sex gnaws away.

Missionaries try more positions. You eye

the kitchen table, stairs, the back

of the Skoda but the upholstery’s beige.

Your wrists ache more than a teenager’s.