I’m lying awake somewhere between
the double yellow light
of the Dimplex thermostat
and the winking eye of the fax,
making the journey across town,
past all the stations in North London,
going over Bishop’s Bridge,
entering the badlands.
I hear your giggles as I hit the bumps
in the curved section
of Westbourne Park Road.
I see the crack of light in your curtains
when I stop at the lights
on the corner of Ladbroke Grove.
If you go past your window now
everything will be all right.
How she fell asleep in her chair
and woke up some time later
and said, ‘It’s hot in here,’
and asked for a glass of water.
How she stretched out her hand for the glass
and a look came into her eye
which might have been laziness
or might have been lechery.
Your hair hacked close to your head
by someone calling herself a friend,
the gap in your teeth, the squint,
the grown-up, own-up evening gown,
the delicate collarbone
you would one day fall and break.
The fracture was serious enough
to require two pins – a crooked line of stitches
where I had kissed you.
Only three days after the operation
you wanted to go to bed
and only cried out once.
Striped light coming through the blinds
and falling on the bed
where the man and woman are kneeling.
I don’t know what they are doing.
I don’t really care.
I said: ‘Hello, what are you doing here?’
I was standing in the middle of the room
trying to make a telephone call.
I kept taking the receiver off the hook
and putting it back again.
My innocent enquiries.
My carefree messages.
‘The phone was ringing when I came in.
I was wondering if you’d got my letter ...’
When nobody answered
I moved forward, to where I would remain,
standing at the foot of the bed.
It was something like a dog and bitch
who craned their necks around,
striped light coming through the blinds.
Not her mouth not her chin not her throat.
Not her smell not her skin not her sweat.
No laughs and no jokes and no thoughts.
No words and no desires – none of that any more.
None of that any more and all of it still.
All of it still and more and more of it every day.
Some R&B and Black Pop
I refused to say anything
when Charlie and Inez Foxx sang ‘Mockingbird’,
or Oscar Wills sang ‘Flat Foot Sam’.
I remained silent throughout Elmore James’s version
of ‘Stormy Monday’. I didn’t give in
to Jerry Allison or Sonny Boy Williamson.
I broke down and admitted everything
when I reached the place on the tape
where Lazy Lestor’s ‘I’m a Lover Not a Fighter’
suddenly gets much louder
and one of us always had to get out of bed
to turn the volume down.
Don’t go over there, Carolyn,
past the nightclub, past the boats, past the rocks,
where the waves come furthest up the beach
in natural swimming-pools.
It’s deserted over there now,
except for one or two fishermen and one or two couples
looking for a place to be alone.
I don’t like to think of you over there.
I don’t like to think of you, Carolyn,
when the tide suddenly turns
and the sun goes down behind the town.
You could get cut off over there, as we should know.
And don’t try to swim for it.
Wait till I get there.
Then we’ll have to spend the night together
in the old Rasta Bar.
They must be looking up our village on the map,
taking leave of their loved ones, asking the way
to our house. They are not in any hurry to get here.
They have a certain schedule to stick to.
They know where we are.
If we try to see them, outlined against the horizon,
they stand completely still, looking innocent.
If we turn our backs on them, they move
forward again, faster this time, more confident.
One evening, when nothing much is going on,
they detach themselves from the surrounding countryside
and begin their advance across no-man’s-land.
They make themselves known to us
in a ripple of ill-wind.