Poems in Iota (91)

The following poems appeared in Iota 91 (Summer 2012) which came out in the autumn.

The Gas Fridge                             

What else in 1980s bedsit land
but 1960s furniture? Earlier even.
Items I had not seen since pre-fab
parlours, great aunts' kitchens.
Then, unexpectedly,
where I prepared for finals
and for unemployment, a gas fridge.

Half the height of ours at home,
it fed, like cooker and gas fire,
on the 50p coins I pressed and turned
into the meter every second day.
It showed its life by a pilot-light,
blue and awkward behind its back.

To ignite it I would stoop and drop
match after lighted match
down its fissured tube, hope
that they would reach and catch
before they fizzled out.
I could waste half a precious box
before I found the knack.

Who would have thought
that Einstein patented the spell
that drove ammonia around
those cooling pipes without a sound?
A pity then no patent way
to keep the pilot light from going out
in Mrs Hossey's redbrick bedsits.
'No blacks, lovey, no coloureds.'

Just two pints of Stones
in The Little Park on my 21st
birthday. The Sheffield drifting
in the South Atlantic, charred
and stricken. Boys my own age
between her decks, burning.

Love nor money

Buggered if I’d do it. The wet patrol
behind the Ice Rink with cans, glass
and last night’s condoms. The meters
forced and jammed, the aggro, appeals
and the associated guilt from fly-by-nights
and cowboy-clampers.

He takes a pride, winds times and regulations
to trigger-point for rapid response
on his slow, meticulous rounds.
He knows where the regulars park,
how they will fake passes or squeeze
and hide behind a transit. He’ll lie in wait
or set a trap, vary the rhythm of his rounds,
watch for our return, then funnel
into our wing mirrors as we pull away.

At last, his coup-de-grace, the prize he boasts
of at our Christmas truce, less wary now
with sherry in his pencil-free and steady hand –
the time he booked the Lord Mayor’s car,
half-a-foot beyond the line. He’d warned
the chauffeur more than once, so peeled
the notice from its backing strip, like wadding
for a gun-shot wound, smoothed the packet
livid on the polished glass, and despite
all head-office threats and calls to cancel,
made it stick.

The Awning

His wife and daughter arrive too late
for the lunchtime rush. Traffic held them up.
They set-to with knives and aprons
as he juggles Cheshire brie in ciabatta,
the coffee, the cash, the change. 
The guy in the suit with the Chinese partner
pays for their cappuccinos and commends
them. A gaggle of older women wait
as another examines the crafts, mugs, cards.

Outside, couples sit and sip their drinks,
as the awning, striped and bright, sifts
the sunlight, stirs in the breeze.
At day’s end it will refuse to retract
into its case and he’ll refuse to pay
the fitters their final instalment.
But now, striped and bright and filtering
sunshine, it flaps and buckles and stirs,
casts colours onto faces in the shade.

Mercy Cadby, her mark

i.m. of my maternal ancestor, Mercy Cadby 1751 – 1812, her five sons and her daughter who died in infancy.

‘The Examination of Mercy Cadby, Rogue and Vagabond ...’
Parish Relief record, July 1783

There, in facsimile, the scratch Mercy Cadby made
to fix a future for herself and children from each parish
they passed through, hand-to-mouth, on their wet trek
from Westminster to The Devize.

Mercy Cadby, destitute.

Shared blood and sentiment
make the resonance more acute,
her ragged cross more eloquent.

Across the sea, a flint flashing in a steel pan,
draws a volley in return.
The world turns upside down,
and in its revolution pulls Mercy’s sons around.

Such that one can plant his Peninsula pension
into an Australian inn, turning in for sovereigns
the highwaymen he overhears plotting in their cups.

That another can abscond on active service
and from Canandaigua County write one last letter home.
Pleased with the price of corn, praising all there is to praise
about Old England – save for its government –

making his own way, making his own name,
no bishop, no king, no mark of Cain.


I wipe the world clear
with my orange, lint-free cloth,
snap it back into a box embossed
with the name of my optician
to remind me of his single source of light.

I’ll reach for the hem of my shirt,
for tissue or collar to wipe away
the grease or dab each speck
until all is bright, true and vari-focussed.

No myopia among the Inuit
until Europeans brought them books and pens
and fewer words for snow.

How much we owe
each wonder lens,
each hinge and tiny screw.

Without them we are like Hubble scratched –
or scream stranded on the Odessa Steps,
as helpless as Piggy before Beelzebub,
abandoned to the razored night.

Fluellen, taken
In an alternative history, Henry V loses Agincourt and Shakespeare’s Fluellen is taken prisoner

You’re a Welshman? What kind of plea is that, Monsieur?
We have some of our own, flown here when Glyndwr
melted like a wisp. Same thick-set brow, same stoop,
their fat tongues coiled around loose vowels,
and clashing consonants. Their nostrils flare like yours
at the scent of toasted cheese.

We know what poison nestles in your pack –
quills, twine, a pound of goose-grease.
You wear a Monmouth cap like all the rest.
We must dock two digits from your right-hand
so you may not draw your string against us,
nor raise them splayed behind your Prince’s back.

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