Why do you wear
your guns back to front
in the holsters?
Helen asked me


as we walked
the bomb site
by Meadow Row
I saw this cowboy


in a film
at the cinema
have his like this
and you cross


your hands over
and get your guns
isn't it slower
that way?


she asked
no it's speed that matters
not how
you wear your guns


I said
I showed her
how quick I was
and she stood bemused


clutching her doll
Battered Betty
tightly to her chest
haven't you got


caps in your guns
to make them
sound real?
she asked


no I ran out
and anyway
I can make
the sound myself


by going
she jumped away
holding Battered Betty


to her chest
you could have told me
you were going
to make that loud


banging noise
Betty got frightened
I looked at her
tightly woven plaits


of hair
and thick lens glasses
and her small hands
holding the doll


sorry Betty
I said
patting the doll's head
I put the guns away


and we walked
to the New Kent Road
and along
under the railway bridge


and by the Trocadero cinema
gazing at the billboards
and small pictures
of films


being shown
you can come
with me here
on Saturday


I said
they've got
a good cowboy film


haven't any money
for the cinema
Mum said
she can't afford it


Helen said
my old man'll
cough up some money
if I ask


I said
she looked at me
Mum'll let me go
if you ask her


Helen said
ok let's go
ask her now
I said


so we walked
to Helen's house
and I told her
about how I practised


drawing my guns
she looked at Betty
but whether


she was listening
to me
or not
I couldn't say.

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“how beautiful is the silence of growing things
in a place full of even deader things?
the soft roots of innocent herbs
poke through the rotten flesh
and curl around the dirty bones
of forgotten ancestors
that deserved better than this.” And
all of this underneath the rubber soles
of a young girl’s Sunday shoes,
scuffed white surrounding curled baby toes.
Her world watches as she jumps from rock to rock,
lining the winding road as it leads out.
And she laughs at herself,
dark curls bouncing with her. Again she wonders,
“how blind are the sunken eyes
of those who stopped looking? the flies buzz
and run their tiny feet all over
the stiff, unfeeling organs
of ancient lovers from a different land, different time.
if they could see now, they’d just see rotting wood,
the unsightly view we condemn all our expired kind to-
maybe that’s why they stopped looking, closed their eyes.”
She smiles, and the old breeze
chills her crooked teeth, stirs her Sunday dress,
black and white against her bony knees.
And she tells herself-
“It is just his body that lingers,
falling victim to natural defamation;
his soul floats on to a truer place,
full of grander memories.”
For she cannot afford to think in any other way.


Christina was with friends
schoolgirls like her
and she saw me


coming across
the sports field
she left them


and met me
and I heard them
cackle like hens


I’d turned down
Reynard's game
of football


to be there
what's tickling
their fancy?


I asked
towards the girls


on the field
O you know
what girls are like


any juicy bit
of gossip
to bite on


what gossip is that?
about the gym
and us the other day


she said
and that prefect
turfing us out


O that
I said
looking at her eyes


seeing worlds there
I wish I was in your year
she said


then I
would be leaving school
this year


instead of next
shouldn't wish
your life away


or before you know it
you'll be an old lady
with grey hair


and wrinkles
God forbid
she said smiling


we walked up
the field together
she talked


of her parent's rowing
and her mother's moods
and how her big brother


had  done things
but then she broke off
and talked


of the girl in her class
who thought
she was dying


because she had
started to bleed
during P.E


we got to fence
which separated
the field from the road


where cars and lorries
were going by
she looked back


at the field
we don't get
enough time together


she said
you being
in a village


miles away
and I living
in this boring town


at least we do
see each other
I said


not enough
of each other though
she said


her lips stopped
and parted slightly
I gazed at her


for a few moments
taking in her eyes
and lips


that kiss
in the gym
she said


that could have
led somewhere
could it?


I said
yes it may
she said


someone called my name
across the field


who the heck is that?
she said
my mate Reynard


I said
what's he want?
football game I expect


you're not going
to play football
are you?


she said
I waved away Rolland
indicating I wasn't playing


and he ran off
with other boys
towards the goals


on the other end
of the field
she looked at the boys


kicking a ball around
never understand boys
she said


what do they see
in kicking a ball about?
never mind them


I said
we have limited
time together


she nodded
and she looked back
at the field seeing


who was nearby
and who was who
then she came


close to me
and kissed me
her lips warm


and wet
skin on skin
tongues touched


a fire like sense
raced along
my nerves


I closed my eyes
and so did she
and we were


in places
and positions
in our minds


we wanted
to be.

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Yehudit walked with me
in the woods
and sunlight pushed
through the branches


of trees overhead
birds sang
a rabbit rushed off
through the thick


she wore
the dark green skirt
and white blouse


school had ended
for the holiday
wonder if our swan
is there


she said
reminds me
of the Wagner opera
I liked the way


the sunlight
lit up her hair
as she walked
tints of dark brown


and light brown
a hair grip
held in place
unruly bits


she said
that's it
that's the opera


she had undone
the green school tie
the collar loose
the tie untidily


pulled away
neck showed
last time
we saw it


at the lake
(the name
she called
the pond)


we sat and kissed
and you put
your hand
up my skirt


she said
where the blouse
was stretched
her breasts


pushed out
seeking escape
and there was that bloke
fishing over the way


and we didn't care
a toss
she said
I liked how


her soft
plump hand
held mine
her fingers


gripped mine
preventing their escape
had they wanted to
(which they didn't)


yes I remember that
I said
(we only noticed him
just before we kissed


tucked amongst trees)
is it unusual
for swans
to come to our lake?


she asked
I shouldn't think so
I said
(I hadn't thought


about it at all)
as we walked
I glanced at her profile
the nose


the flushed cheeks
the eyes blue
clear blue
as if


in white dishes
her hair brushed
in her usual
careless way


I hope he's not
there today
she said
it's not the same


in front of others
I doubt he is
I said


yes I had heard
the highlights
of the opera


on the radio
a few times
the swan bit
she had said about


as we came
to the pond
(my word not hers)
we  saw no one


was there
except ducks
and moor hens
and fish swimming


just under
the surface
we sat
on the warm


grassy bank
and she sat
with her chin
on her knees


her hands holding
her legs
she said


a crow sounded nearby
a woodpecker tapped
away at some tree
I could see


the impression
of her bar strap
through the white
cotton blouse


at the back
how do they manage
to undo them?
I thought


my hands each side
of my legs
balancing me
I love it here


she said
I like it anywhere
I said
she turned


and playfully
hit my arm
I meant the place
not that


she said smiling
still no swan
I said
she looked


at the water's skin
a Mallard swam by
do you think of sex
all the time?


she said
pretty much
I said
I thought so


she  replied
there was that heron
landed that time
I said


yes there was
she said
the sun was warm
white clouds


no swan
and us
making love
in my head.

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Ingrid's words
were muffled
when she spoke to me
by Dunn's hat shop


where we said
we'd meet
the day before
her thick lip


(where he father
had backhanded her)
moved slowly
does you dad


wear hats?
she asked
looking in
the shop window


I said
never seen him
ever wear a hat


not even to cover
his balding head
she looked
at the passing traffic


what happened to you?
I asked
pointing to her lip
my dad didn't like


the way I brushed
my hair
he said it was
too tartish


whatever that means
she said
tapping her
recently brushed hair


I tried to get out
of his way
but he caught me
with a backhand


I’m going
to the cinema
this afternoon
I said


there's a cowboy film on
and I want to see
how the good guy
draws out his gun


he does it
by crossing over
his hands
could I come?


she asked
Mum might give me
9d for a ticket
as long as Dad


doesn't know
she added
I said


come to my flat
after lunch
we walked down
the subway


to get
to St George's Road
to walk along
to Bedlam Park


to try out
the swings there
and buy an ice cream
outside the swimming pool


(money I'd been given
by my old man
for polishing
his brown brogues)


I studied her
as we walked along
she talking
of her old man's temper


and how he punched
her mother
for letting
his dinner get cold


I noticed her
faded grey dress
the flowers red
against watery green stems


ankle socks
black scuffed shoes
her thin hands


gesturing as she talked
and the slight smell
of dampness
as I neared her


the bruise
under her left eye
like the morning sun


where her old man
had thumped her
for something
she hadn't done.

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From her bedroom window
Lydia could see
the grass and pigeons


and some boy
with a bow and arrow
she could hear


her mother shouting
at her father
her sister


still asleep
in the big bed behind
the tattooed arm


hanging from the bed
her mouth open
Lydia saw the boy turn


it was Benedict
his quiff of hair
an arrow in his bow


pointing downwards
he was mouthing words
and making gestures


with his free hand
she opened the window
letting in


the morning air
are you coming out?
Benedict asked


Lydia's sister
stirred in the bed
where are you going?


Lydia asked
thought I’d go
to one of the big


train stations
see the steam engines
he said


she looked back
at her sister
the blonde hair


over her face
a breast hanging
out of her nightie


which one?
she asked
he fired an arrow


at a pigeon
but it flew away


he said
I’ve no money
she said


he went
to pick up the arrow
stuck in the grass


he wiped mud
off the end
when are you going?


she asked
after lunch
he said


walking up
to her ground floor
window and peering in


at Lydia's sister
can you call for me?
she asked


he said
will your mother


be ok about it?
last time
she almost


bit my head off
Lydia looked out
at the grass


and dandelions
she'll be all right


she said
uncertain but trying
to convince him


he said
I’ll call for you


he walked off
across the grass
holding his bow


and arrow
shut the blooming window
her sister said


turning over in bed
Lydia pulled down
the window


and watched
as Benedict
climbed the green


metal fence
and disappeared
from view


Lydia picked up
her sister's
dirty washing


for something
(in the meantime)
to do.


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Anne put her crutches
by the table
on the lawn
and sat next to me


how's it going Kid?
I said
what's for breakfast?


porridge or cereal
or toast
I said
no egg and bacon


and sausages?
she said
I said


fuck me
she said
who eats toast
or porridge


or  cereals?
pass me a glass
and pour me
some of that


orange muck
I poured her
a glass of orange juice
and put it


by her hand
she sipped it
I've tasted better
she said


I want you
to push me
down to the beach
later Kid


can't stick
being stuck
with these other kids
they drive me


up the wall
with their
nonsense with the nuns


especially Sister Paul
the stuck up bitch
I looked back
towards the nursing home


other kids
were sitting about
other tables
and here and there


a nun was attending
to them
got any more wine gums
from your mother?


she asked me
no they've gone
Sister Bridget took them
to share


amongst the others
bloody communist
she said
I looked at her


sitting in the chair
her one leg visible
the stump
of the other leg


hidden beneath
her blue dress
the dress had little
anchors and boats


on it
had your look Kid?
she said
you're always trying


to look at my stump
aren't you?
I can't help it
my eyes are drawn


to the missing leg
I said
she lifted her dress
and showed


the stump of leg
have a good look Kid
I looked at the stump
then looked away


towards the windows
of the nursing home
when do you want
to go to the beach?


I asked
as soon as I’ve had breakfast
she said
she pulled down


her dress to cover her stump
and sipped the juice
the red ribbon
in her dark


straight hair
had come loose.

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Inside Burgos Cathedral
Miriam was in shorts
and tee-shirt
and I nearby


and a woman
next to her
said casa de Dios
Miriam said something


back in Spanish
and the woman
scowled at her
and moved away


muttering in Spanish
under her breath
what did she say?
I asked


Miriam said
the old bat
said this
was the house of God


and that I
was not dressed
I looked


at the woman
who was glaring
at Miriam
what did you


say to her?
I asked
I told her
go wash her fanny


I nodded
and looked
at the glaring
Spanish dame


I spoke no Spanish
but whatever
the dame was muttering
didn't sound


like a blessing
I tried to focus
on the mass
the words(now


in Spanish not Latin)
Miriam folded
her arms
her eyes sharp


as pencils
her red hair
tight curls
smelling of sun oil


and scent
a guy in front
had his eyes closed
muttering a prayer


in Spanish
the priest
at the altar
was colourful


like a beetle
arms out stretched
Miriam whispered
I'll need a drink


after this
and something more
later in the tent
she smiled at me


her eyes bright
and alive
and mischievous
I had lost my way


in the mass
but the beetle priest
was lifting the host
Christ was present


and I bet
the old Spanish dame
was giving Him
the low down


on Miriam
but I knew
He'd understand
His love


was wide and deep
and Miriam and her promises
would have to wait
and keep.


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Reynard and I
held back
after biology
while the other kids


had gone
and we walked up
the corridor
I could have scored that goal


if Goldfinch
hadn't got
in my way


he's always
where you don't
want him to be
Reynard said


I saw Jeanette
walking ahead of us
with her blonde friend Angela
Jeanette had class


I thought
her friend
was a short
mouthy girl


but Jeanette
was quite reserved
and looked at you
as if you had stepped


in her sunshine
but I liked her
and that quick kiss
I snatched the other day


still felt stuck

on my lips
Angela had short tight
blonde curls


Jeanette had long
dark hair reaching
her shoulders
I gazed


at her thin figure
her arms by her side
the satchel
over her shoulder


Reynard was still talking
about the football lunchtime
I was looking
at Jeanette’s sway


of hips almost unseen
yet visible
to the trained eye
the way her legs


came down
to her well heeled shoes
the white ankle socks
think we ought


to try get Frazer
on our side
he'd be great in goal
better than Dunton


the prat
he couldn't save a goal
if the ball
was as big as he was


Reynard said
yes we must get Frazer
I said
wondering how I’d get


that kiss
that Jeanette promised
the lips tempting
and her cheek


just visible
the place my lips
the other day


and the kiss
just stayed there
and wouldn't
go away.


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