By the corner forecourt of the Shell station
the man eating ribs from a paper bag
lets a crutch dangle on one elbow,
as he picks his way through want
and circumstance, under the gloaming,
the overpass, beyond the river’s abstract mass.
A light like fine quartz inside concrete
ghosts our day. Low rise houses
shelter amongst apartment blocks
hunkering from the bomb blasts
which preserved them –Bang!–
like a camera flash. Here’s your landscape.
Late spring but winter has returned,
freakish and grey, an old friend talking
about jobs and money, a scavenge for work.
Boys aim bikes down pavements
with thin-eyed accuracy. Or else they strut
hands pushed into undershorts
or they walk, shout and fumble
eat sweets and pledge their eternities
to the craziest of quests. Two young girls
play in the dust blown across plane trees
and scrambled time, the pollen filaments
mixed with the erosion of knowing graffiti.
Why have we allowed ourselves
to hit this age without security,
what dream are we trying to satisfy?
A silence yawns like a heart’s flutter,
like the spaces between houses, like
a shrug’s dumb mime. What else could we do?
A Late Storm, West Street
The breeze outside the takeaway
simmers with aniseed and sweet basil
laces itself with a shot of sour time.
It drifts in from years back:
that storm spending over the Channel
scrambling air traffic calculations
with its great exhale
wobbling the electrics
of the out-of-town technical parks
pumping impotent mercury
through barometer glasswork
setting rust to seep into the paint
of children’s playgrounds
and the black balustrades of the wharf.
I emerged onto the tail of it
went sluicing through puddles
on my bike, habitual visitor to the grey
and green of that summer, the season
held in absolute balance
the colours soaked through, heightened.
What draws me back to that day
whenever I walk this street?
That I missed the storm
and thought myself lucky?
That its aftermath brought a sense of scale
to this shabby route out of town?
Our hearts are smeared over places
like pate or roadkill,
and those days have tumbled away,
a plastic wrapped package
skittering into the backstreets
scraping corners on wet stone.
In the pantheon of unspoken wonders
I would acclaim an apple tree
grown from a pip
far beyond its natural fact.
To coax a pliant trunk
from the white marrow, this
is an achievement worthy of regard.
To prime the heart of tear.
Once, we invested in plants:
a fir brought from the city, herbs,
ceanothus, a cherry tree
from a supermarket. The garden
had suffered through the summer
and I demanded that time
expanded roots and leaves, a great wet
quickening of fecundity.
Now, when I visit, the tree
is taller than me: whip slender,
and strong having survived
winter, all those storms.
And each time I leave
it will wave me on my way,
patient and victorious,
sinking its roots beneath that home.
Actually, it’s the minor distractions:
sunlight on Venetian blinds,
lime pollen fraying onto the taxi
as it waited for you outside,
the crime novel you left behind
splayed like the corpse of bird. It’s that
I put your departure in its place
like a jigsaw piece put to one side,
to secure the pleasure of completing it.
The shadows from the glass
pool like oil on the dining table,
all across the expanse of morning. That voice
from New York calls. I answer
in soft tones, I move through rooms
on tiptoes to blend into the quiet.
Sad days have a blankness to them
like that blurred point between autumn
and late summer. We got used to wondering
when it would decide. It already has, silly,
we’re fooling you with our talk
of ultramarine and cut flowers.
A page fell out of the book
and I recognised the writing,
but not the script. We crossed that road
hand in hand, caught between
traffic lanes, our opinions, old lives,
the host of that summer. After that,
it was only a question of losing oneself
in the minor tasks. Watering the plants.
Grinding coffee. The walk to work.
You warned me not to fall asleep
on the balcony, how to gauge storms,
from the rim of purple on cumulus,
when to watch the skies
for drifting aeroplanes. I count the days
lining up spent cigarette ends
on the ledge of the kitchen window
but by morning each of them has gone.
Sappho On the Hill
These long summer shadows
tick imperceptibly by. Freckled light
beats through London planes,
a horse and cart appears
from some distant incongruity,
while our white wine mixes sweetly
with cubes of pomegranate
something perfectly ancient.
These red seeds always return you
to days under Mediterranean light,
the bright seas and white dust
of childhood, the beaded fruit
ripening in high trees. And we talk
of Sappho, those papyrus scraps
woven together over centuries,
and the loss of countless lines,
one of the world’s prolonged sadnesses.
You still find yourself marked
by those days in that island house
the long heat withering vines,
family and friends caught up
in war, far-flung, vanished. Slowly
turning jets linger on the periphery
of sight, and for a second mimic
the antic flicker of swifts,
but that would be disastrous
and we’ll have none of that.
Not now. Not with such a day.
Things last. Thrive. Even in pieces.
Let’s stay here, for a while yet.
March. Vines on sleepers,
chrysanthemums in the cuttings,
lazy trains describing the edges
of a working coast.
The world always busy
with its transactions and exchanges.
Cargo lined up like bricks.
A ferry bound for somewhere.
Hitchhikers. Station daydreams.
(Was it really last year
that you returned
late in the morning?)
Water sleek as polished tin.
A river barge slumps into ruins,
its windows blurred with algae.
Prurient curlews pick along
the revealed sand. It’s all
a question of refining a life
to its necessary patience:
not how you use time
but how you can reflect on it.
Someone glances from a window,
waiting for my call. This spring
will open for everyone.
Daniel Bennett was born in Shropshire and lives and works in London. His poems have been published in a variety of places, including Structo, The High Window and Under the Radar. He is also the author of the novel, All the Dogs. You can read more of his work online at http://absenceclub.tumblr.com/.