It might have been the word for sulking in animals,
Juliette Lewis, Joan of Arc, the smell
of television lingering in the morning like a quarrel.
It might have been an airedale scratching at your door,
papier-mâché heads, a cloud no bigger than ...
It might have been blue satin, Peter Stuyvesant Gold,
Deep Heat, umbrella pines, familiar two-note calls
repeated at intervals, a lifeguard’s upraised hand.
It didn’t matter what it was, almost anything would do
to bring it all back to you, then take it away again.
How I laughed at your orders.
I shall obey them to the letter,
not forgetting the short-back-and-sides
and the shirt that isn’t button-down.
I agree with you about the car.
Why suffer when we can travel in comfort?
Just let the weather be fine,
but it doesn’t matter what it’s like
so long as we can walk around together
and make fun of everything,
the way we did last time.
Among the Combs
Among the combs and face-creams
of her childhood sponge-bag,
tangled with her hair –
the green and silver blister pack
marked with the days of the week.
We follow the arrows printed on the pack
and move around clockwise.
The days fly past in an endless stream,
leaving only a rip in the tinfoil
and nothing in the world to fear.
I ring up in the usual way,
but something’s not quite right.
Instead of saying ‘Hello, how are you?
Can you come out to play?’
she suggests ‘meeting up’ some time,
which makes my blood run cold.
I’m on my way round there now
with flowers and other apologies.
For a moment the doorbell excites me
with scenes out of the past,
but the kiss on both cheeks
and the cheerful look on her face
as she takes my coat for me
are pointers to a brand new future
she ushers me into now
and asks me to sit down.
And then there’s the one you write
that makes even you laugh.
You never want to see her again.
You don’t want to see her handwriting
on a letter. You don’t want to come home
and see the little yellow light
flashing messages of regret.
You don’t want to pick up the phone
and hear how much she’s been missing you.
Couldn’t you meet for a drink?
Not any more. Maybe in a year or two.
All you want to do now
is draw a line under your life
and get on with the past.
Do you make yourself perfectly clear?
You sign with just your name,
a businesslike touch
which makes even you laugh.
Each dawn might be peacetime again –
white empty skies, the glow of battle
turned to ash-coloured light.
For a little while longer
opposing forces sleep.
The linings of curtains look like flags of surrender.
A cry of pleasure is followed by a baby’s cry.
Without this truce each day
God knows where we would be.
I phone from time to time, to see if she’s
changed the music on her answerphone.
‘Tell me in two words,’ goes the recording,
‘what you were going to tell me in a thousand.’
I peer into that thought, like peering out
to sea at night, hearing the sound of waves
breaking on rocks. What can I do, knowing she is there,
listening, waiting for me to speak?
Once in a while she’ll pick up the phone
and her voice sings to me out of the past.
The hair on the back of my neck stands up
as I catch her smell for a second.