Photographs by Jane Burn
Poem in which there’s a ghost in the snow
Her name might mean forbearance. She alights
anywhere her parched virginity may want to
suckle. She blows on the backs of their necks.
She blows on the back of his hand like a spoonful
of hot soup. She lifts his hand with a light touch.
The women are drearily gloved. She leaves them
alone, but he, oh he reminds her. She feels her
heart is scraping open like a cement rose. The sky
is a perfect cone of snow. There is a difference,
her gym instructor said, between capacity
and endurance. She can hold an owl in flight
for hours; she cannot make the light blink red.
The house is all closed up. She has hung in
its tary detachment for days: the chalkish glow
at high noon, windows without glass. She picks
at the pigeon shit with her nail, beyond disgust,
and listens to the duty bounding footfall
of the keepers, security, the parks’ patrol.
The house is all closed up, and she has been alone
so long she has forgotten how to speak. She says
his name, teasing her words from the silence
with care, as one would pluck a long stray hair
from off a smart black sleeve. He does not hear.
They do not hear, voluptuously muffled
and smelling of rain. The stone steps closer,
restraining itself. It could swallow them whole,
old buildings are like that. Trees as still as sleeping
dogs, a rich embarrassment of branches. Unsightly
solemnity. She wants to cry. The night is creaking
like a mattress. The medium, with her anecdotal
intuition, presides over an urn, calls out in a reedy
voice, and fancies period costumes gliding,
disembodied, down the stairs.
Souvenirs from unpopular wars
A boy’s broken body, resuming its suitcase. Defaced
facades of Georgian terraces. Scurvy grocer selling
the ripe stink of fruit. A pit bull dog – its ears are native
arrowheads – shakes like a shock victim, taking a shit.
The way in which public enquiry is the slowest known
unit of time. Probation officer in a pioneer coat.
Doctor digging dents from flesh with incurious precision.
Bereavement badinage in coping centres. Ghosts in
their rattling harassment, crowding the streets
like seasonal chuggers. Sleek girl hounded along
an unlit lane to a black cab that swallows her whole
like a shark, like a rip in the fabric of space and time.
A boy, a girl, scenting the smoky air like Bisto kids.
The smell of petrol and brunt polyester. The ponderous
yoghurty drawl of received pronunciation. The way
their newspeak slurs your name. A girl says to a boy
that was the week that was and does a back flip off
a flat block. Scratchy mass of maleness, their chins
in your neck. Dapper valley they school trip you to.
A baby’s coffin like a loaf of bread, and the teacher
who says where are you getting this? The foolhardy
flickering thrall we’re in to history. It bangs on
your bruises like bailiffs. And being part gyp, part
shinner, all white nigger (like the song says), you bear
your grin. Generous severing storm that cuts you off
from everything. I know what you did. And the sea
glass amulets you made for luck. The Italian boys who
bested you at games. Belle, whose sunken cheeks
were like cracked wing mirrors, bringing the world
daggering into sharper focus. Gorged on a lore
of mutual enmity, swayed in a syrupy ozone of fire.
Write peace on your tongue with a nib dipped in honey.
Glut on the functional sweetness of girls. This apparition,
his baggy skin flayed like clown trousers. A boy boiled
down to constituent jigsaw, all small bones for making
soup. These things you put in your gingham pocket.
Lest said soonest mended, dear.
The high street invites you to imagine:
the bygone hysterics of shoppers past,
one hundred and fifty pairs of mid-
Victorian elbows, angled into upper lips
from which droop narrow fuses of hair.
Picture please, green tinsel snagged
on an ankle boot; the wailing, scallop-
faces of the poor. Acceptable meat,
and candied fruit. Our town council has
decided: this is Dickensian. A dream
of handicraft, expedient tyranny. A stall
wafts greased steam, paper bags of
bleachy sweets, and the trundling
manoeuvres of community support,
nodding like daffodils. Candles cough
a scented breath and wag their black
tongues like starlings. Wooden
animals, gift receipts, financial plod.
And, from the corner of our street,
the sound of fucking panpipes. Noise
like a wound being bathed; like a child
forcing a carsick sob on its birthday.
And God, I hate this town. Hate it
like having my stomach pumped,
hate it like Bono, like cocktail menus
and grabbing a hand that isn’t a hand.
That reaches for you, but it isn’t a hand.
The ghost in you
Half asleep my spilling fancy drifts, and thoughts
of you are clothed in primrose smoke. I dreamt
that you were dancing, drunk, I think. Your boggled
logic drawled play it again; capsized with snarling
bonhomie into your dreggy wine. And you were
tumbling, both halcyon and stricken. I often dream
you thus. Bacchus, your fuddle-fisted cup above
your head, and listen to this – some band you
carried back from their indigenous obscurity.
Juss listen, and as the feedback havocs into language
we are stunned and swayed and we salute you.
But you are on to the next, and the next, enthusing
a jewel-eyed wreck of a girl whose cartoon semi-
preciousness is blinding, blind. You know your
stuff. I dreamt this. Maestro, master, king, of misrule
and of fanfare. I dance with you, my spangled
pulse is disco and I dance with you; girl who only
croaks up stones, I dance with you. In dreams.
And you are drunk, I think, and in a lisping
vein. My hair is the brittle and teetering pink
of fairgrounds. I do not recognise myself. I
dance with you. Wind in the chicory light outside,
the baffled mechanics of taxis and stars. I dance
a tempting vertigo. Half asleep and shrugging my
moribund ague, the numbing decorum of hospitals,
bovine with fever, the slow bromide of psychosis,
I dance, go goosed and soused and bonnie. I do
not recognise myself, and hold myself in slender
puzzlement by my own sleeves. You move off,
away, your breath a grazing vapour on my cheek,
and listen to this – beleaguered glow that haunts
a chord like love, accord like love, that empties
me of all my barbarous melancholy. And I’m floating
out of myself, I’m a lush wound in the world’s round
My social media presence
I’m not one of those. I don’t believe
there’s honour in extinction, and only
in extinction, black lipstick not
withstanding. I like the hellbent
hiccupping flight of pigeons, the rag
picked genetics of mongrel dogs;
toast, and the steely shrinking radiance
of city skies. My life is hardly
glamorous: I live in the tell-tale
freckled space between warning signs.
I live between archive and chronical,
with old men decaying in greatcoats;
with unpopular children, whose sense
of shame is a skipping rhyme.
There is no nihilism in me. I shun
women with assets for eyes, the digital
chill of tutorial grace – the makeup,
the teeth, all beautified fluoride.
I am with you, gatecrashed quivering
of your skimpy, unbeautiful towns;
whose hunger has no edge, whose
faces pleat with poverty. I am with you,
whose week is a free school meal
and a kick to your coveting guts.
I am with hobbledeboys, dressed
for shit, their pinkish graffiti on
underwhelmed shutters. And the bear
trap braces of the National Health.
And puberty’s unsigned plaster casts.
By Fran Lock