A SMUDGE OF CINDERS
My teacher looked at me as if breezeblock
wasn't a word she knew.
I had pushed my sock down.
It was itching the scabs on my leg.
A breezeblock had fallen
from the stack in the yard.
I splashed cold water on my scraped skin.
My mother said to leave it.
My teacher asked if I'd seen a doctor.
I frowned. We weren't to bother him.
My teacher held her pendant
and ran it back and forth along its chain.
I wanted to wet a paper towel
and dab it to cool the cuts,
but I'd been taught not
to interrupt an adult's thinking.
I pushed the other sock down so it matched.
My teacher seemed to have forgotten me.
I crossed my fingers that she wouldn't
speak to my mother.
I was supposed to keep my cuts hidden
by pulling my socks up.
A SMALL HALO OF CONSISTENCY
Yellow was the colour Van Gogh
wanted to drink so happiness
would radiate inside him.
These primroses have waited out
a long winter before emerging.
Drops of sunshine not strong
enough to melt March snow.
They were buried when flakes fell,
each a small bite of cold, something
that might be shrugged off, but
they carried on falling, barb on barb,
leaving small wounds, an invisible
tracery of white scars on pale skin,
a blank layer that smothered.
The primroses stayed in the dark.
The nutrient-grabbing narcissi flowered,
expecting rain to shower praise
but were greeted by damp indifference,
a cold shoulder of crystals.
Once their trumpets had fallen silent,
their attention-seeking frills had faded,
the primroses time their assent.
THE COLOURS OF A PANTHER
"I saw a black panther," a voice on the radio.
A so-called expert repeats it. I change stations.
What other colour would a panther be?
Harborough's countryside is hedged green fields.
The shadows merge into significance.
The radio is now off. I wanted the throb
of a cello undercut with yearning, not commercial pop.
Cats are adaptable and secretive,
content in their own company and a patch of sun.
Easy to let my imagination run with the suggestion.
I pull into town, run errands, until I'm caught.
It should be a simple decision: a pizza.
There's your favourite, but I want my choice
if only I knew what that was. A man, who doesn't
look like you, stares. I'm his way. I grab,
stumble to the checkout and pay, slump into my car,
hands, clumsy with keys, paw at the wheel.
Black is never just black. I don't remember
my drive home, only that I was alone.
I discover the pizza I snatched wasn't
your favourite as I put it in the oven.
There's a shadow where you used to stand.
A smear like silky fur on my cheek.
My heart feels as if it's been clawed.
Maybe panthers don't just come in black.
(i.m. GWJ 22/10/1954 – 09/09/14)
Hold your head up; you’ve got a pretty face
Yours: reddened by alcohol in your belly.
You’ve just jolted me from my memory
of a novelist telling me I shouldn’t hide trace
of a published poem just because the period
was for stories. He thought evil lacked lustre,
wanted to look at the person who saw ogres,
even if told in the form of a ballad.
I thought he could see my ghosts, the crippling
self-doubt. His gruff impatience was saved
for those who were lazy, unimpeded.
He knew some writers needed nurturing.
I’m weighed with the loss of a talent
you will not stain by your ugly intent.