for Tony, former student
In that shop the things
stuck out their mitts
wanting to strike bargains,
get on with the job.
hearty saws, planes that I’m
chisels with more edge
than I can trust,
that scoff at fumbling,
my kind of muscle.
‘Get yourself a big one, dad!’
Your joke was good, went home:
I could have had a son your age,
been less tentative with things,
had muscle in good stead.
in the glibnesses of whisky we
went staggering back through talk
of loves mistimed, ill-judged,
betrayed, unpicked our histories,
the same backslidings, prodigalities,
made trial of honesties, accused
this hard-faced Liverpool
which gave us all our cockiness
Through my window, surprised
to see it there – Ford’s Assembly Plant,
dreadnought on the riverbank too gross
to launch – you said,
‘My father’s working there ...
this exact moment ... while we booze.’
Something trembled, tautened.
‘You’d like my dad,’ you said.
‘See you on the Christmas tree,’ she said
OK, dear aunt, I will look out
for you among the evergreen,
know you by – what else? –
that squeezebox laughter which
wants us never to grow old.
Just give me time
to rub the glitter from my eyes.
No cause to miss the divilment,
my dad’s old buck in me. I’ll act
the goat for you – that’s if
for some daft reason
he’s not there – and we will jig
the hornpipes he was famous for.
Shameless, cuddling me, you’ll say
‘They got fed up of me,
they threw me off the oilrigs, Matt.’
And we’ll guffaw for years and years.
And he’ll be there, your Ernie, too,
tuned in to Billy Cotton’s Band.
And then when it’s two o’clock he’ll wink
and nudge you up the wooden hill
to do what you did on Sunday afternoons
and I’ll let on you’re dozing off
And I bet I click
with the blond goodlooker
on tiptoe there at the top of the tree,
the one with the flimsy tutu
and magic on her hands.
We were on about miladdo
coughing at the bar and tugboats.
I somehow got it in my skull
that you were twitting someone here.
Tendons tautened, memories nudged.
Something needed sticking up for,
Like what? I said,
an old tugboat? Yes, but solid muscle,
all heart, shaped to strain, to heave
and lug, to see great liners off.
Marvelled at Simmo, remember?
All that dying in a fierce room
bulked about with wardrobes; how
we whispered that his heart
was workhorse, how we knew
he’d let no mercy in, would have
no pity on himself.
of block-and-tackle jobs,
white hoisted sail, canvas with
a bellyful of speed.
wasn’t tense and willowy
fussing the Nature Table’s twigs
like tall Mrs Fairclough,
or tweedy-posh like kind
Miss Bingham with
her copperplate and poetry,
or young and rashly lipsticked
like pretty Miss Taylor
biking homewards over cobbles
to toughen up her tennis thighs:
she was hard as ground
ice grabs hold of,
using the streets’ snide
and whinge against us,
mimicking mother’s tongue
or father’s fist,
making small hands scat
like rabbits over desks,
rapping knuckles with
the rat-bite of her twelve-inch rule.