Stride Magazine -



They are so confident, so together. Sharing
an apple so deeply red you’d think a wicked-
witch of a stepmother had presented it,.
they nibble reverently, in turns, certain there’s
no evil there. Now she is scrutinising his hands,
length of his fingers, condition of his cuticles,
searching not his eyes but mouth, as lovers will,
for confirmation there’s really no occasion to...

It’s a game. She understands its rules enough
to make this play of publicly ignoring them.
She knows I’m looking, tucks her head, as if
behaving normally, into his shoulder. A rebuke.
I am required to look away, out of the window:
houses, hedges, cattle, fences, fields, hurtling past.

for John Farrell

The first day of the war, I’m travelling the Northern Line,
out through Liverpool, Bootle, towards the sand-duned shores
of Formsby, Freshfield and the long flatness of the Lancashire Plain.

Elders crowd the carriage with rucksacks, lunch-packs, bonhomie,
as once a week they do, joshing each other above the clamour of the rails,
prattling of rambles, hedgerows, lanes, and timbered pubs, as if
only the past’s worth visiting and nothing’s happening anywhere else.

This journey does the same to me, compels me into history.

Once through the grumbling tunnel under central Liverpool,
daylight lunges back with dull-as-pewter glimpses of
the river, gaunt Victorian warehouses, gull-infested docks
where my father worked and I stuck out vacation jobs
among outlandish hard-knock men... and now it’s rare
to find a funnel or catch the movement of a crane.

Then birthplace Bootle, with soot-blackened grim town hall,
where once we ran a pair of bloomers up the flagpole and I
heard music for the first time live ...Dvorak’s brave New World
, it was
under the baton of Reginald Jacques (there’s a symphony
of bombs conducted in Iraq today, a ripping down of flags,
the stringing of others up). Now here’s the Wyndham Hotel
Joe Ellis drank at lunchtime in before he’d face another class;
and now the shopping centre called The Strand, from where
Jamie Bulger, coaxed away to another run of railway lines,
went with other boys to an elaborate game of pain and death.

Next Seaforth Sands nearest our house in bombed-out Bulwer Street;
(another half-forgotten war) and the redbrick workhouse walls
of Gray Street School where poetry began with Banks and Braes
and then the Cinder Path to the Coliseum picture-house, to bang-bang
Hollywood and back-row fumblings; and now that blue-brick bridge
where another murder scared our childhoods soft.

Then posher Crosby where I trained to be a pharmacist
before I got the message of ‘good books’

At length the dunes, the svelte gold-course of the middle-class I used to hate.

The Elders now on their feet ­ their stop at last ­ swinging back-packs on,
dying to invade the country, occupy and liberate some territory of the mind.

A day-out couple opposite remain ­ she points to daffodils
in garden-backs; he’s nodding quietly, confirming everything she says...
as if days are luxuries they have agreed to share.

Next stop is mine. It is the first day of a war and I am visiting a friend
to share some CD music with: the explosive sadness of Tchaikovsky,
Holst’s Mars the
relentless Bringer of War, Venus the blighted Bringer of Peace.

            © Matt Simpson 2003