All that day, beginning hot, they'd set out
to find Cocteau's grave,
he couldn't help seeing
the tiny bruise on her throat
where her necklace, she said, had got caught.
The weather broke, the grave
turned out to be Braque's,
her shoes were a size too small ...
Home and dry, she peeled off her socks
and showed him the rubbed-red patch,
about the size of a farthing,
where a blister had formed, and expired.
There was so much right on both sides,
Ken said, we could each found a church,
and the people who stuck by whichever holy writ
would be people he wouldn't mind meeting.
At the time, I was kneeling on the floor
with a self-assembly bookshelves kit,
wondering why they'd given me only nine nuts
for ten bolts, and just when he'd said that,
about the two churches, I realised
that the alarm bell on the used-car garage
which had been ringing since Friday night
had stopped. For the first time for years
I felt a shiver run through me
and into the ground. Then Ken was saying,
in his seen-it-all, done-it-all voice,
Have you ever watched a priest, a priest
in full regalia, in tears? Weeping's
the word, not crying, and the snotty grey handkerchief
he keeps up the sleeve of his vestment
can't stem the waters of Babylon.
Towards midnight on my 30th birthday
I was teasing a 5-amp fuse wire
between a pair of recalcitrant screws,
remembering in the dark
April 1961: Yuri Gagarin, first man alive
to see the whole blue ball in space,
and myself aged 10 in the back of a car
being driven east.
A dog came scratching for food.
A bowl of cold chicken curry later,
I half-led, half-pushed it back home
to the gaga lady upstairs –
the Flower Girl, the Millionairess,
former star of the silent screen –
who lived on chocolate and cigarettes.
Sshhh, she whispered, one finger on her lips,
the same sound of the sea
I could hear beyond Flamborough Head.
I'm in Waterstones, where they know about these things,
I'm trying to buy a book with the word Tree
in its title, I forget the author, it's something
I've been told I must read by someone I trust,
over a week ago now, and the girl at the desk,
the cashier, pretty, brunette, is on the phone
to a friend, who is making some difficulty about tonight's
arrangements, nine o’clock in the Yorkshire Grey,
and while nestling the phone to her cheek, between her ear
and left shoulder, a trick I could never manage,
is taking money from the person, woman, in front of me,
giving one pound and five pee change, then dropping the book,
six hundred pages at least, with a palm tree, black
palm tree, not the same tree at all, and embossed
gold letters on its cover, into a purple plastic bag,
adding bookmark, receipt, a smile, a frank
and beautiful smile, still insisting that Stephen and Julia
are leaving tomorrow, it could be their last chance ever.
Send Letters To:
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN
Please include name, address, and a telephone number.