Two Poems

Hugo Williams

Post-War British Photograph Poetry

Everyone screwing up their eyes
as if they can’t quite make us out –
Jim with his hair fully restored,
Johnny with the Simoniz duster,
polishing the Jowett Javelin to extinction
as long ago as 1951.

There’s no such person as Anne,
but Gar is still there, looking quite like
her old self again, and Mr Burns,
none the worse for New Zealand,
waiting for us to make up our minds:
are we coming with them or not?

The afternoon goes on like that
until we are piling into the car,
trying not to sit in the middle.
Isn’t that the anti-carsick chain
hanging down behind, that was supposed to
earth the static electricity?

It doesn’t even touch the ground!
The children leaning out of the windows
must be waving goodbye to their own
grandchildren by now,
but they think they can smell the sea
just over the next horizon.

And here we all are at last –
our faces coming up tired but satisfied
at the end of a perfect day,
our knitted bathing-trunks falling down.
The cross-hatched anti-invasion groynes
postmark the scene for us

and all the dogs that existed then,
named after Sid Field characters,
leaping to within an inch of the stick
that hovers in the air above the sea,
bring it back to us now
and lay it at our feet.

Self-Portrait in Old Age

I have put on a grotesque mask
to write these lines. I sit
staring at myself
in a mirror propped on my desk.

I hold up my head
like one of those Chinese lanterns
hollowed out of a pumpkin,
swinging from a broom.

I peer through the eye-holes
into that little lighted room
where a candle burns,
making me feel drowsy.

I must try not to spill the flame
wobbling in its pool of wax.
It sheds no light on the scene,
only shadows flickering up the walls.

In the narrow slit of my mouth
my tongue appears,
darting back and forth
behind the bars of my lips.

I have put on a grotesque mask
to write these lines. I sit
staring at myself
in a mirror propped on my desk.