GARY ALLEN has published fourteen collections of poetry, most recently Jackson’s Corner (Greenwich Exchange, London 2016). A new collection, Mapland has been accepted by Clemson University Press, South Carolina. He has also published three novels and a collection of short stories.
SHEILA HAMILTON is a widely published poet. She has a full-length collection Corridors of Babel available from Poetry Salzburg and a pamphlet, One Match, available from Original Plus. Individual poems have appeared in, among other places: Tears in the Fence, THE SHOp, Envoi and The Rialto. She lives in the NW of England where she mentors and writes.
HENRY BELL is a writer from Bristol. He lives on the Southside of Glasgow and edits Gutter Magazine. His work has appeared in Gutter, Type, and Raum and he has written for plays at The Fringe and the Oran Mor. He was a Clydebuilt poet.
High White Clouds
What happened to the dirty little men in Salvation Army second-hand suits
either too short in the legs or with out-sized turn-ups
shiny jackets to wrap around bodies malnourished
from an out-of-date generation
or deformed in proportion to men’s bodies
and the out-of-fashion brogues always highly polished
in caps or soft hats they could be found outside Great Victoria Street Station
billboards with religious slogans or the latest show-band ballroom
round their necks. Who thought it funny to send them out around the city
mechanical pigeons, or like ice-cream or grocery vans to stand guard
to a man, against the second coming or the latest dance craze
and where did they go when the iron railings of the station closed
to B&B’s on the Donegall Road, or boarding-houses
with rubbish in the gardens, or half-way houses for alcoholics
or the simple-minded, or the homeless, jobless, wifeless
a punishment for men who failed to marry
who set themselves outside the norm, like old book stalls
in the Smithfield Market, or smelling of mints
in the Saturday matinee among the children
whooping it up with Hopalong Cassidy, a puffy hand
under the shorts, gripping the thigh, but too afraid to go further
or running messages for the backstreet bookie
or taking summer evening walks along the river
and going off the path to spy on courting couples
or sweating their way over the seaside dunes
with cheap binoculars that sat uneasy on the breast
with the urgent need to come in their man-sized handkerchiefs
yet they always spoke to my mother about the weather
those small white clouds so high up meant only good
and then something was said, lost in a child’s understanding
or hinted at, that made her frown and walk quickly away in disgust
as the bus conductor or the park-keeper approached
and my father came out of the pub wanting to punch him on the nose
where are they now, the other men, the Leopolds
drinking tea alone in railways cafeterias
blind and tapping along the towpaths
when I was a child I thought my world produced men like these
like Sunday school outings, by-rote catechisms
the vinegar and salt from the bottom of the greaseproof chip bag
the watching, the waiting, the twitching leftovers from another page.
Thank you, Dimitri Shostakovich, for Waltz No. 2
both Russian and jazzy.
It makes me think of ballrooms,
snow falling on squares that clatter with hooves.
It makes me think of Anna Karenina
and dachas in the countryside
where people sit on balconies
and drink tea from white cups on soft afternoons.
And I think of young people in the Twenties,
the fresh-faced workers with sickles,
and the flappers elsewhere, Scott Joplin,
ragtime, syncopation in smoky bars,
and I try to picture you as you composed it
in your flat in the Thirties.
Boulders of snow lying grubby on the pavement outside,
glassy patches of ice,
an old woman picks her way between them.
I see you getting up, putting down pen,
stretching. Then making tea in the kitchen,
slicing a lemon. (The war hasn’t come yet,
you can still get lemons.)
All the time, people are disappearing.
In the space between the place, the process, the public,
dovetail joints are a reminder
that things can be fitted without force or glue.
Knuckles that trace a bannister have a grain too.
Soft knots in fingerprints, like pine but even kinder,
can make something that answers
the spaces between the raised voices and the rafters.
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