Pawpaw and Paprika, two great bears of the Egyptians
of Lancashire, Chohawniskey Tem, the Witches’ County,
who, when our camp plucked its tents and pulled out its maps,
walked steadily with the wagons, ambling, always ambling,
all across the open pages of wet England, footing
as far as Pappin-eskey Tem, the flat Duck County;
crossing to Curo-mengreskey Gav, the Boxers’ Town;
padded on to Paub-pawnugo Tem, Apple-Water County
as good for bears as for their gypsy masters, although
who is master is moot after much apple-water;
then to bide by Bokra-mengreskey Tem, Shepherds’ County,
for their collies are trained not to bark at bears, but slyly, gently,
slink, big-eyed as children behind their shepherd’s greeting.
Ambling, bears, always ambling … mooching to Mi-develeskey Tem,
My God’s Town, and the God for all bears too,
God of paws and padding, of Polar, Kodiak and Koala;
sniffing superiorly through Dinelo Tem, the Fools’ County;
circling with our circus to Shammin-engreskey Gav, Chairmaker’s Town,
nosing north through Lil-engreskey Gav, a Town Made of Readers,
then paws over eyes for Kaulo Gav, the Black Town;
joy at Jinney-mengreskey Gav, the Sharpers’ Town;
to Lancashire as it was then, wider county of white witches,
to the clean camps, to the great brown bears of the Egyptians.
To Pawpaw and Paprika, backwards in time they go, pad pad. Goodbye.
Widowed, one-breasted, Penny’s world had shrunk to Blackpool.
Seventh child of seventh child, she could count on so, so little
except second sight, closed her curtains as though for a passing hearse,
dealt her Tarot cards at neighbours, and sat there, weather-wise.
Picture how a claw hammer angles under a settled nail,
grinds against the top grain, then slides out the clean metal
fresh from first hammering. Penny works her audience,
and with her claw for grief, she plies her darkened séance.
An unknown sound is ground for a gnomic reading.
Ghosts arrive on time. Her sister’s upstairs frapping
the floor: one tap for ‘no’, twice for ‘yes’, with three
slow bumps for some spiritualistic ambiguity.
Her son hangs about the back, wanting to beat their lights out,
break wide the curtains, reverse the sham night,
drive out the wake of widowers preening in their desire,
mouthing their childish pleas for another wife and mother.
For Penny in fact. She squats in her power, plays gypsy,
terraces a track the family goes up from loyalty to lie:
home as vardo, road as drom, life as one big bengipè.
Her suitors simper. They nose their dregs of tea.
Levering against one man’s memories, Penny overhears the singing
of his dead wife. lt’s as if Penny were leaning against air, listening;
as if she were finding the proper angles for that slip soul
fresh from its first making. She draws out its clean metal.
The bears’ route: Lancashire to Lincolnshire to Nottingham to Herefordshire to Sussex to Canterbury through Suffolk to Windsor through Oxford to Birmingham to Manchester and Lancashire.
vardo: a gypsy’s cart or caravan; drom: a road; bengipè: a trick or a quirk.