ALISTAIR NOON‘s publications include two collections from Nine Arches Press (The Kerosene Singing, 2015, and Earth Records, 2012, shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize), a collaboration with Giles Goodland (Surveryors’ Riddles, 2015, Sidekick Books), and chapbooks of poetry and translations from German and Russian from various small presses. He lives in Berlin. For more on Alistair’s work, see his page on Archive of the Now.
The Callaghan Pilot Light
The blue signal
kept its watch
till the gas field lit
in the boiler window –
a thump of ignition,
then the background hiss
of the fuel at work.
My sandalled feet
would dangle over
PVC flowers, patterned
like a big brother’s shirt
to flaunt in the Lantern,
as I scooped the ocean’s
the Industrial Revolution
now all at sea.
The tall food hall’s
North Sea catch,
the blue-striped aprons
the guileless swimmers –
silver-scaled, goggle-eyed –
onto smashed ice
behind slanted glass.
My trio of siblings
was watching the water:
one in the kitchens
frying his fingers,
one en route
to West African ports
bringing back carvings
and raw beans;
one on the Nimrods
patrolling the approaches
for the Socialist frigates.
Two-thirds would vote blue.
First School. First day, first week, first term
of crayon, pencil, chalk and paint.
Each end of year’s the sudden turn
of the mower strewing the field;
the projects, pictures, trips and tales
are a harvest basket bought and filled,
the low grass rise our playtime hill.
Nicola Gordon nicks my coat,
and in the parquet-floored high hall
the rough black plimsolls’ rubber scent
runs round. I have my lines to learn,
towel round my head. The four years end.
Then Middle. Now the moulded chairs
grow up a size. Homework as well.
The year recedes with thirty cheers.
I lose the egg and spoon. On slides,
the lower body. They fail to choose me
for the panto. Voici Marie Claude.
One morning Mrs. Sydenham
crashes and dies. And Mr. Jones
explains Cambodia and Vietnam.
The tests creep up, we fail or pass,
and keep on rolling down the bank,
our jumpers raking mown-up grass.
Quiet. This morning your specialism starts
as we rate and grade your thousand nouns
bussed from hamlets, dawdling from estates.
Following the bell, you will settle into classes,
break down imperatives, burn phosphor for profit,
put primary friends in the column for losses.
While you acquire the adult parts of speech,
keep on your blazer. Remove those bangles.
Choirs and sports should report to stage and pitch.
Graffiti is banned, bar on sixteenth century plays
and typed-up handouts. Quartets and quadratics
have swapped rooms. Do not give jokes applause.
Those who have options in the Language Block
are asked not to shout on the stairs or career
round the corners, but stop and look
out at the redbrick rubble of the printing works.
Watch out especially for the future forms
while you’re revising for your final weeks.
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