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.
Stacker 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. Lunch: burnt toast. Cries stick in his throat. He swallows anything. 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, gentler, 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.