Fish n Chips

You’re taller than me now. Six four
and not yet fifteen. A dab hand

at spending your pocket money,
tapping your card on the machine

at the Co-op. On tour I watch you
order fish n chips with a please

and a smile and I’m back
at the yard door of the kindergarten

where I’d stop to pick you out amongst
the other toddlers as you stumble-swaggered

like a pheasant past the steps of the slide
to fill your pot with mud, tongue curled

on your top lip. I loved to watch you
out there in the world on your own

before you’d spot me and tear across
the yard into my arms. Tonight,

in the vinegar air of the chip shop
you scoop up your warm white bundle

and we step into the night,
shoulder to shoulder.



In the scum tide of my bath I still
trace the path we cut through the woods.

The wrong direction, it turns out, but a path
we worked at all the same: spent hours

hacking back the brambles, trampling
the stingers, unfurling fairy lights to hang

from branches. The maps are faded now,
bleached by silence. I can’t recall the views,

the light. I just remember mud, and how
it clung to both of us. Sometimes it brings me

gasping upright from a dream: that was me,
I was there, where was that?



To run the common path through
Jesus Green towards the Cam as first
light flits across the water. To see
your dog breathe before you on dark
March mornings. To hit the river path.
To sweat and pant. To grind the grief
beneath your feet. To get home,
tendons singing, lungs ablaze, the boys
at breakfast: radio, tea, toast,
the four bikes in the hall. Are these
the days? And if they are, how
long? How long at most?


Honeymoon at Weybourne

The cog rattle of the sea sucking
pebbles was so immense we almost

didn’t get in. We floated on a strong
tide which pulled us up the coast, away

from our things. After you’d had
your fill and left me to loll in the waves

I watched you watch me from the ridge,
blue in my towel against the burnt orange cliffs

and though the tide still pulled I didn’t drift.
I kept my eyes on you: marker, anchor, wife.


And I Saw England

In dusty deep July I threw
my sun-scorched body in the Waveney,
cooled my blood against

the streamer weed and pennywort,
then breast-stroked up the river under
alder glades to turtle-bask

on a disused bridge support and gaze
at England in the water’s pickle-green
and in the swan that glided

fifty yards upstream, attended by her
cygnet train, imagine England
in the centuries of blacksmith’s boys

and parlour maids who’d slid
their molten bodies off that once-was
bridge on days like this.

And I saw England in the little
rowing boat and in the loosestrife flowers,
and in the mighty cob that slipped

along the river top beneath the smudge
of butter sun towards me and his pen
and cygnets far beyond beyond my back.

I kept an eye on him, as I splashed off
to reach my clothes, my bit of bank,
but when I veered away he veered as well,

so I veered further still, convinced
that he would see I meant no harm.
I gave that cob the river’s width

but still the beast bore down on me
til he was only inches off and then
his vast wings flapped, the white arm

of his neck rose up, his ancient orange eyes
flashed like fire on Boer farms, like mortars
dropped on Baghdad compounds.

I saw that stately mask slip as it did
on Belfast streets, and flinched
as England’s martial, murderous hiss

shot out at me from its serrated beak.



We don’t touch each other any more
twelve years in a double bed

down to business-like deals
we can’t bring ourselves to shake on,

not even an x at the end
of a text. I’m not saying

that I want to. I just wonder
where we went. But today

you sent a photo of our son.
It stopped me as it flashed

across my palm. We were there.
In his face. In each other’s arms.



Washed up in my bowl
of change like sea glass on
a shingle beach it pulls me back

through time – four dusty years
as I grow younger and unsure. Until
beneath a bridal moon one night

I will it up and onto my right hand.
Bad weeks pass. I switch
it to the left and find us sitting

at our kitchen table. Sad years
roll back: winter into autumn
into summer into spring, we watch

the leaves grow green, the blossom
bloom from mulch. It floats up
to the branches and sews itself

in buds. I wear my ring. Doubts
dissolve. Our children
lose their words and start

to stumble on the flagstone floor,
till pushchairs come from younger
siblings. We understand them less

but somehow love them more.
I pass my tiny, bawling son
to the midwife, admire you

and all your body can do. And when
in a final bout of morning sickness
they’ve gone, we’re ignorant

to what we’ve lost. We fuck
so much we lose our jobs,
spend whole days in bed,

our wedding bands grow strange
and new upon our fingers.
I let mine catch on yours

as we put the awful wallpaper up
and pack our bags for honeymoon.
We walk the city walls in Sousse

and say we’ll always be
together. Back in England
there’s a party, till all our friends

grow sober, smart and slope
back to their seats. I give
my ring a final twist, you take

it off my hand. Tears roll up
our cheeks as we unsay our vows.
Terrified, I watch you back away.

Your Old Photos

That was quick. We’re already at the bit where you
pass your phone and let me swipe the years away.
There you are. In your father’s arms amongst
long grass against a sky of lido-blue; scowling
at your mum who wears a dress you still
have hanging in your wardrobe; lined up
with your siblings Von Trapp-style on some
ice lolly summer years ago; pulling the same faces
that you flash at me today: goofy lip curls, that stare
when some sad thought has pulled you out to sea.
All that Kodak goodness, all that Phenidone and light.
A white door in a garden wall calls me through
to where you stand in a cotton dress, your arm outstretched.


Hungover with Katy

Let’s lie back down and let the pills kick in.
I’ll be big spoon, cup the reassuring weight
of your left breast beneath the warm white
cotton vest I found for you last night
when you were cold. Behind us sunlight
syrups through the French doors illuminating
particles of dust, bits of you and me that dance
then settle. I’ll watch that right-angled triangle
of reflected light form on the picture glass,
see wisps of clouds float by at speed. Somewhere
out there the wind is blowing hard. It can’t
get at us, we’re safe in here, as seconds become
minutes, then hours, then days, then years.


Your Old Photos (2)

You are showing me your strata, the women
that you were: young and pink-cheeked
on a Croatian beach; oioi-ing at the lens
in noughties Brixton. South London’s grumpiest
barmaid, the bruised TA, sozzled sixteen,
caked in Suffolk mud. They lie
compressed, preserved beneath the cliffs
of you. And I am on the shingle far below,
my head tipped back, gazing at the shading.