It was a time of velvet love,
revolution and Snakebite.
My mother gave me beige
polo necks and warned
of the dangers of touching.
My summer job yielded
a red dress from Bus Stop
with a plunging neckline
and a scalloped hem that swirled
when I twirled to Bowie and Bolan
alone in my room, rehearsing
my poses with a feather boa.
I met him on the landing of a cold
terraced in Queensbury, queuing
for the loo and giddy with homebrew.
He pretended to take my picture
with an imaginary camera, squinting
and clicking his tongue. You look like
what’s her name from Pan’s People,
he said as he kissed my neck. He wore
a peacock feather in his blonde locks
and a guitar with a tartan strap. His lips
were curvaceous like Bryan Ferry’s.
He called himself Fritz and a pacifist.
My mother was ironing father’s
socks, underpants and cotton shirts
when I got in, the steam clouding
the kitchen with a choking mist.
She didn’t look up when I gave her
the peacock feather. It’s pretty, I said. Some call it the evil eye, she replied.
Next day it was tucked behind her
gilded wedding photo on the shelf
with the candles and the broken clock.
We drift in the wind, nomadic, elusive,
mercurial as scraps of tinsel, we hunt
human gatherings, crossing forests, seas
and cities, passing from home to home
we reap your memories, your secrets
that doze like fish in a torpid pool.
Small, almost invisible, you mistake
us for sunbeams, for insects floating
in the sultry night, for snow melting
on your child’s face or candle light
glinting in your lover’s eyes. We are
constant as the air you breathe, entering
your nasal passages, your mouth, seeping
into your skin and every private cavity.
We grub deep into the coils of grey
where you hide. Without you we are empty
as a church without the presence of God.
We can’t love. We can’t hate. We can’t sing.
So when you reach the top of the stairs
and forget why you are there, when you fail
to recall your mother’s voice or the taste
of beer, when you forget the meal you ate
ten minutes before and your own name,
please don’t mind too much.
The boy in the next bed was dying
of a disease with a fine French name.
No fruit, no flowers, no cards
wishing at his side. He had freckles,
curly hair the colour of coal tar soap
and Dr Barnardo’s for a home.
We strayed, whenever nurses looked away,
used Fagin skills to pry Fry’s Chocolate Cream
from the vending machine in Admissions.
The boy leaning on the push
handles of my wheelchair, dragging
numbed feet, sometimes losing a slipper.
At night the pain came stealing.
The boy, a brittle whisper
crept into my bed and I held him
close, close as skin,
nose to nose, forbidden
mint breath clinging.
Wild as an easterly gale,
on a yellow April day,
you swirled around the grey coast.
Always causing a commotion,
fresh with a smile, a banter
and a sunshine wave.
The first time I saw you was in The Com,
dancing with a chicken leg between your teeth,
see-through as your sparkly top.
You liked Robbie Williams and a beer,
a fag in the sun with your mates,
leaning against the wall, chewing up the day.
The last time I saw you was at the Chippie Van.
Thinner, hair cut short and night in your eyes,
laughing too much, teasing all the guys.
You never got that coffee at mine
or the Spanish holiday, only brief escape
to Witherspoons for one final, sweet latte.
I wish I’d known you better,
the granite girl with a sherbet heart.
I brought daffodils a day too late,
a sudden gust had taken you away.
So wherever you are Loopy Linda,
fly free and blow a hurricane.
This poem was written in memory of Linda P, died March 21st, 2013.