All the Cowboys’ Horses

I was trying to remember
who shouted out ‘Wakey Wakey!’
Was it Arthur Askey?
I couldn’t understand
how Kay Kendall and Denholm Elliot
slipped through my fingers.
Even my favourite biscuits
melted on the tip of my tongue.
A prayer went missing,
as if I wouldn’t be needing it again.

A head full of memorabilia
and I couldn’t remember the name
of the man who wrote ‘Stardust’,
the woman who played ‘The Poor People of Paris’
on her ‘Other Piano’.
I lost hundreds of film stars, flowers,
the bird, not a magpie,
that steals brightly coloured things,
the catlike animal
with a perfume sack on its neck.

I forgot who it was
who took me up in a fighter plane
and gave me a medal for something.
I was best friends with one of his sons,
who had a racing bike
that wasn’t a Raleigh.
We went to see Shane together,
starring someone like James Stewart.
We could reel off the names
of all the cowboys’ horses.

The Time of Our Lives

The future can go and be
bloody terrifying on its own
for all I care. Me and my girl
are stepping out for the past.
We’re putting our best foot
backwards, heading for home.
What we’ll do when we get there
we haven’t decided yet.
For the time being at least
we’re having the time of our lives
all over again.

Gossamer Green

I see the house we didn’t buy
is up for sale again.
Antique White has replaced
the London and Manchester’s
trademark Gossamer Green.
The basement area has been given
a continental look,
with palm trees in earthenware pots.
A gingko guards the street.

The house we nearly bought
looks bigger now
with its roof extension and dinky balcony.
The end-of-terrace foundry
is a double garage.
The clothworkers’ almshouses
are luxury maisonettes.
The house we nearly bought
has gone up in the world.

We turned our backs for a moment
and the house we didn’t buy
is cashing in its chips.
What was it about the place
that made us choose the other one
round the corner,
where the school laps our front doorstep
is scratched across a wall?

Sunlight Visible

Whenever I bring to mind
the folding of sheets,
the standing apart
in the morning bedroom,
the folding in two, then four –
a couple of tugs
to get all the wrinkles out –
then the bringing together
of the gathered corners,
the handing over of the sheet
to the one who must put it away,
the smell of fresh linen
rises like a benediction –
sunlight visible
in the kicked up dust.
Please Come Late
Please come late,
so that I have almost given you up
and have started glancing round the room,
thinking everyone is you.

Please don’t come

until I have started missing you,
thinking I will never see you again,
praying you are lost.
Come too late for me not to notice.
Make me suffer,
wondering what you are doing
on the other side of town,
still in your dressing gown.
Make me beg for mercy
when you pick up a magazine.

Are you looking in your mirror,
suddenly remembering me?
I’m on my second coffee by now,
eating the little bits of sugar in my cup.
Haven’t you even set out yet?
I decide I don’t want to see you after all.
I don’t really like you.
I’d rather be on my own.
I know it is all over between us,
but I go on sitting here,
reading a newspaper,
not understanding a word.
If you came in now, I wouldn’t recognise you.
Don’t come anywhere near me
until I have gone slightly mad for love of you.

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The Editor
London Review of Books,
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Vol. 26 No. 14 · 22 July 2004

Arthur Askey did not shout ‘Wakey Wakey’, as Hugo Williams suggests (LRB, 15 April). He used to kick off his act with ‘Hello, playmates, how do you do?’ The Wakey Wakey man was the bandleader Billy Cotton, who might have come in useful at a line’s end somewhere in a poem about memory loss.

Ross Hibbert

Vol. 26 No. 15 · 5 August 2004

Ross Hibbert is quite right that it was Billy Cotton, not Arthur Askey, who shouted out ‘Wakey Wakey!’ (Letters, 22 July). Silly me. Hibbert might have picked up another howler in the same poem, ‘All the Cowboys’ Horses’. It was, of course, Alan Ladd and not James Stewart who starred in Shane.

Hugo Williams
London N1

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London Review of Books
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London, WC1A 2HN

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