Red brick on red brick.
A boiled eye in a greenhouse.
Lilac smoking in sere gutters and crevices.
A pigtailed head on lamp-post after lamp-post.
We had taken my mother’s estate
and driven into the blue –
she was in hospital then,
and didn’t care.
Out of nowhere, nowhere else to go,
stuck in the parched afternoon, collapsed,
the mushroom hush of the lounge bar oozing up
through threadbare carpet into our bed,
while men in the country nearby poked long rods
in voluptuous hedgerows, streams, rush-clumps,
fidgeting over the cracked hillsides shouting
Nothing here, flinching at shadows, cursing.
We’d zigzagged over the map
seeing cathedral cities –
any excuse had done
to get us a week alone
That morning under Southwell’s
swarthy, prolific leaves
an imp in a fissure of oak
might have been Robin Hood.
It was not for us. It was death, for sure,
though the men came back empty-handed,
grinning, and stacked their long poles in the yard.
They understood when we packed and paid.
There were other towns under the sun, plenty,
if we could hurry – our last hour of day squeezed
by a storm fuming from Leicester way:
pitch, lemon-yellow, beech-green,
champing till ready, flighting a few big blobs
as the dusty country we drove into
braced and opened – leaf-hands splayed and grasping,
frogs tensing under leaves, tight ponds not blinking.
We’d kitted out the car
with a mattress in the back,
and a sort of gyppo curtain
exactly for nights like this.
(This was the time of life
when it never occurred to us
we would want to be apart
five minutes, still less for ever.)
Before we left the outskirts
we posted my mother a card,
knowing my father would read it
stooping above her bed:
Fantastic carving at Southwell!
The car’s going a bomb!
And not one accident yet!
The back’s really comfy!
The thing we did – the thing anyone like us did –
was find ourselves lost and glad of it,
chittering to and fro in a lane-labyrinth
with its centre a stubble bank at fifty degrees.
Therefore we went no further. Therefore we hung our curtain
and watched the storm come on – elephant clouds at first,
with their distant wobble and bulge like ink underwater,
then splits of thunder, then a sour flash as if light
were glancing off metal, then clouds with their hair slicked back,
edgy, crouching to sprint, and when sprinting at last
fanned flat, guttering, flicking out ochre tongues
before losing their heads altogether, boiled down
to a spanish skirt cartwheeling through woods,
and a heavy boot squelching out squall after squall
of brickdust, nail, hair and God knows what
shrieks and implorings we never caught even a word of.
We burrowed against each other
after the storm had gone,
and saw between our curtains
lightning over the valley
on its nimble silver legs –
one minute round our car,
the next high up in heaven
kicking splinters off stars –
then skipping away to somewhere
with the thunder-dog behind it
growling but exhausted,
and leaving us such silence
I’d swear I heard the moon
creak as it entered the sky,
and the stubble field around us
breathing earth-smell through its bristles.
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