What We Kept
kept one blue checked shirt,
favourite; and a grey jumper,
saggy over the belly;
shiny, black leather wallet
my Jack’s first bankers card;
two grimy Gunners badges,
with the old Arsenal logo.
left a solid gold tie clip
my brother that probably
not wear. Mum, you kept
dressing gown, blue towelling—
hanging in the wardrobe—
all his pyjamas, nearly new,
and S. You said if any of us
to go into hospital,
look really handsome.
road glows like tin. I take each corner
rear-view mirror jammed
our red sledge you once could buy
a tenner from any local garage.
week we’ve had our noses in the news,
fronts bulging out of Siberia,
through climate talks in Copenhagen,
cargo riding the North Sea.
steps mess us about. We kit up.
distant, fuzzy copse. A robin scrapping
beech leaves, its fire well-stoked.
devil’s dog-leg right-hander.
stack the sledge, oldest and heaviest
the back. More arms and legs than a beetle.
fuel of weight, gravity and incline
us. Slush and mud and grass
our faces. Screams when a dip
our stomachs in the air. Of course
ends in carnage: bodies and hats
mangled. We are never cold.
finishing line, two stone gateposts
beyond, a field of untrodden softness.
swap techniques, point out the route
quench our craving for the madness of speed.
go again and again and fill the afternoon.
we abort: a dozy man
a dozy dog, a toddler spinning
a jogger in next to nothing.
we never go sailing through
a perfect kingdom of whiteness:
farmer tipped a trailer of hardcore
the mud at the field’s entrance.
the Grand Old Duke of York,
march up to the top of the hill,
icing over, sounding like polystyrene.
card groups drift away.
sun’s wrapped in bandages, a train
across fields, the petrol station
into a space ship and there
snowball of the moon stuck on the sky.
off the old block, we wedge ourselves in,
up the gateposts. Feet up, our laughter’s
slipstream. Within touching distance,
scrape our sledge along the rocks.
on rubble, we fall out sideways,
Our hair’s wet with snow.
pull each other up and turn together
give the impossible just one more go.
First Time Camping
chuck the tent on the grass—
well back, it’ll self-inflate
a rescue dinghy.
goes later, you climb a tree
an eye on me
out the skeleton of poles.
let you tell me reds go with reds,
with blue. I’m sorry
no spares for arrows.
parachute off a branch into
forward roll to break your fall—
up tangled in the guy ropes.
takes us hours for you
peg out the groundsheet,
the flapping thing down.
both needed to bend the poles
holes, the eyelets, popping up
igloo like a story book.
fling our sleeping bags in
sort themselves out, you say,
bigger than a sports hall.
drive your ball into the tent,
to the trees’ applause.
those catalogues of Christmas gifts:
ear hair trimmers, luxury
periscopes for looking at your back.
doze off at 4 a.m. to the History Channel,
siege of Stalingrad, dreaming your children
nothing to eat except wallpaper paste.
leave home to live far away. Always
cook too much for tea. That’s you
in their rooms dusting their photos.
dare not calculate when you’ll retire:
jam tomorrow or jam tomorrow.
the Sunday papers, you can sail the Aegean.
drop out if there was somewhere to drop to.
Youth Hostels are packed with students
the greys. At least you still hate golf.
take up jogging, running, marathons,
recite Personal Bests if anyone
listen. Your lycra is top of the range.
with sweat, you shout at dogs.
on your iPod. Lit from behind,
ahead at the pouting fork in the road.
rehearsed excuses for dinner parties,
tempted by wine cellars, swingers
their bubbly daughter just back from Oz.
love your wife and not out of habit:
stood a lifetime of winters on the touchline
on your sons and doing the teas.
don’t fancy your secretary but notice
she’s wearing. Sex gnaws away.
try more positions. You eye
kitchen table, stairs, the back
the Skoda but the upholstery’s beige.
wrists ache more than a teenager’s.