Six Poems by Peter Adair

London, 1983

O I had a future. 

Patrick Kavanagh

Once there was a bedsit the size of a coffin.
Once there was a man pounding out on his typewriter
short stories that never made the classic Irish canon.
The inmates twist and turn on their celibate beds.
Each avoids the other, scuttling up and down the stairs,
apprentices in loneliness. Once, at midnight, the Irish labourer
yells ‘I too am a human.’ The rest is silence.
Black-clad Hasidic Jews pass by, inscrutable, aloof.
On summer nights a chanted prayer wails from a nearby house:
a lament for the ghettoes, the pogroms, the gas chambers.
The IRA is blowing up Harrods, troopers and horses,
dividing heads and limbs from bodies to unite an island.
The dole queues groan across the country.
The city boys flaunt their jags and bling,
for this is Thatcher’s champagne paradise.
With grandiloquent futility Michael Foot orates
(MPs can still orate) and waves his stick at evil
Tories. He’s sure to be the next PM, wild-haired
outside No 10, inaugurator of world peace.
Once there was a bedsit on Forberg Road, Hackney.
Once there was a man, existing on the dole as writers
and artists do. O he had a future, a future,
though Ted Hughes never did call round for tea.

The Non-Activist

lies in his bed
on the roof
while the rain
soaks his sheets 
and bones,
too dozy
to wave a hand,
going with 
the non-flow
as shouters,
mouthers of prayers
strut past
with white flags,
black flags,
a bash of Lambeg
drums, Kalashnikovs,
a million pounding 
feet and, at the back,
with a last 
puzzled look,
the severed heads.

Dear Editors

Thanks so much. I was delighted to get
the rejection slip, you so-called editors
of The Poetry Rag with its – how many? – 
twenty readers. I miss not sharing a page
with Zara, Geoff, that squiggle of Creative 
Writing MAs, verse-from-prose begetters.

I was gripped by all those poems about poems,
paintings, films, Jim’s trip through Crete.
A standout, a classic, was Simon’s ludic
Ode to Nietzsche and His ipod. 
Ah, John Donne on speed. Or has old Simon
gone right up his cyber bum?

I loved the cover – that daub of vomit
splashed on by a five-year-old Pollock.
As for the print, still using toilet paper
to absorb the bardic flow of words?
NB erratum, page 13, where Amanda
dondels her bairn. Was she throttling it?

I was thrilled to catch up with Zowie’s
biog, still puffing her piddling pamphlet
from the Self Love Press. Her mum, her dad,
her friends will treasure the hallowed copies
she thrust upon them (oh ye happy captive readers).
Well, Zowie, who needs the sales of Bowie?

The Makers are unmade. The Muse has fired
her hordes of scribblers, but wreathed her few,
her precious few. Who needs your filthy rag? 
On finest vellum, in a deluxe edition,
I’ll publish myself. So thanks, dear editors. 
You tend your cabbages. I’ll grow my roses.


if I bit if I ate				
					her face would taste sour
at aisle seven			
					she bends lifts
stacks shelves	
					Bono is power-cycling
in Central Park		
					Sunblest Hovis leaves
flutter from trees
					philanthropic crumbs swirl
through Tesco’s granary	
					I sniff multi-seeded swill

she throws her bread		
					on water hurls it
at Osbert and Orca
					stuffs the mealy-mouthed
her sole companion	
					a shaky girl
labelled ‘Dunce’
					marched out
in front of the class
					a BA (Hons) graduate
stoops and stacks	
					he’s read the classics bends to Fate

her woe knows no best-by date
					her hands no rest
she sweats at the oven
					bakes a feast
she’ll never eat		
					tin soldiers brass bands
lick the Leader’s arse	
					her watch is running fast
to paradise
					the silver wheaten falls about me
Ceres God bless thee
					fills my trolley

I reach for the soft rolls
					she raises
a pyramid of loaves
					crashing through girders
the overseer sees off
					his catch of slaves
a peasant slips and flies
					a loose cathedral rafter
the first will be last
					the losers will win
I place a tin of tuna
					in the food bank bin

Unfinished, at a Day Centre

This morning I am all fingers and thumbs
gripping the saw, pressing the wood
tight on the block. Steadying my arm,
I cut as straight as I can – once I was
skelped for hacking the lawn’s edge
with a hoe. You silly eejit, she said.
But you pat me on the back when I fumble
to shape the base of this bird box I must
make. You’re on a roll. You’ll get the knack.

When I rest, you chunter on about the news.
They say it came from a bat…I hardly hear you,
for my robin – my slip of a robin – flits to a twig 
and sings, sings to the sun, a feathery glint 
in my eye. And though my muscles ache
I scrape steel notes on rusty strings
till, breathless, I snip the last sliver and the wood
dunts on the ground: on one day, at least, one thing
falls into place. It will be easier next time.

Finished for now, I slump into the chair, settle
like the sawdust that someone will unsettle
and sweep away while my robin – my poor robin –
warms her eggs that will never crack open. 

Best Before 

He hardly sees 
the shelves,
lifts cans,
instant meals.

burnt toast.
Cries stick 
in his throat.

He swallows
An old tin
rusted on a shelf.

He would spill
tight-lipped words
like the slop
he’s slipping on.

Doesn’t fret
at the sluggish checkout.
The click of the till
flames hymns.

Fumbling, he forgets
to lift his change.
Aged ten years,

he sucks dry
this bittersweet.

Peter Adair’s poems have appeared in The Honest Ulsterman, PN Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Boyne Berries, A New Ulster and other journals.  He has been shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing. A poem is included in Eyewear’s The Best New British and Irish Poets 2019–2021. An e-pamphlet Calling Card is available from Rancid Idol Productions and Amazon. He worked at a number of jobs, from labouring to bookselling. He lives in Bangor, Co Down.

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