Issue 13: Steve Sawyer
After my life I find myself in Dagenham
and Redbridge, forcing entry into Marks
and Spencer’s: this is a giant slice
of cooked ham I said, recreating myself,
making trousers, curing bacon,
translating black smoke rising in circles,
comparing ox-hearts to full-lips,
language to the song of a missal thrush,
the smell of a coffee pot. That’s a bit
of thread bare carpet; this, the smell
of vinegarred fish; here’s some
Sailing Bye before the shipping forecast.
After my life I find myself ascending
on the assisted chin-dip to a bass line
that mangle the brain endings, a blurr
of birdseed lyrics: ‘you are, you are
reachin’… there’s a fire, a fire catchin…’
Hear Joan of Arc say all bad metaphors
are immortal; the soft roar of swift air,
silence in the buildings, sobbing
of the man inside the burning woman
as if we’re never, merely, who we are.
What do you think of that Mr Death?
Is the one who was once me
The Singing Molecatcher of Pig Island?
I’m spending my death in Large Print
Romance: spines of silent talking books,
the click of a purse clasp, a faint scent
of urine, laughter and voices
that must have a source. This, the room
where souls seek the bodies they crave:
a librarian’s gypsum fingers, shelving
Love in Stormcrow Castle; Mrs Green
of Fishamble Street, retaining water
and an albino vampire on a vinyl sofa.
Don’t take me completely: don’t leave me!
After my life I returned to the woman
who used to serve but now she drinks
in the Sheaf View Inn; lives with a cocker
spaniel, a bichon frisé and a man.
I find myself noticing small details:
the earth accelerates, passes onions, oranges,
scaffolding; meets oncoming streaks
of pale-blue gold in the surface water.
I’m in love with movement: greens, ambers,
Love and Sandwiches, Cakes and Steel,
bridge walls that sweat oil and ochres,
people whose stare returns to itself through
bus-lit reflections of a stranger; cantaloupes,
betting shops, baths on the side walk;
the woman beside me, smiling as she talks
for the unseen fox and neighbourhood stars,
living for a second time.
Draft for the Contemporary Love Poem
after Tadeusz Różewicz
You’ve got to be quick
to describe a horse,
it becomes another horse
or an unknown painter’s horse
and then its human face appears;
it finds time for sarcasm,
places a rose at your feet.
A hand can be described
through a palm and fingers
that becomes a fist, a mouth
you have kissed by a tree
that has no final shape,
in it are twisting distances,
a trust in water
and the sun’s first ray.
In the past, love poems
a rector’s existential doubt,
a dove-keeper’s eternal pant,
or the other way round.
Eyelids are described
through tree roots. Whiteness
by a gable end silhouette
jacketed in scaffolding,
a minor chord of roosting birds
on the telegraph wires.
A spring like description of love
is a bud of green thought
that questions the meaning
of flowering trees.
The ankles and thighs
of Juliet Ms Muse, surrender
an upside-down hold.
Her shoulder folding
on stage, bearing the weight
of her arcing spine
as if she’s tilting out
of the Horsehead Nebula
of her own mind’s fire:
an apt description
of a crucified passion
if you know nothing
about dancing pole.
A practical description of love
is the discernible hands
of an ancestor, under-coating
white shutters, high ceilings
and sash windows.
A telling description
of the swelling breast
includes the solid planting
of the forward hooves.
I wheel him away:
he bears me full circle
head jerking, neck a tower
of exalted salt.
I who am alive, begin again
stuck on the pin of a word,
wanting to embrace the dark
like a mouth in a wound,
inhale the fetid vapours
till my cheeks swell, nostrils
dilate and lips compress.
I hardly know how to undress.
Some things take you closer
to your life. The talent
and luck to describe a horse
that leaps out of a poem
to bear you on. Eyes that fill
underwater worlds, raise you
to the surface, resuscitate
your soul. The gap between
teeth and tongue, a hand
in the dark, shadow without
shadow, light without light.
A body describing the desire
of a body in a thousand forests
of sleep. Juliet Ms Muse,
more than herself and the illness
of hope, in each shift
of emphasis and feat of strength.
You have to be quick
to describe a cloud,
it becomes bread, a sky without
sky; nuzzling elephants
drunk on sweet marula fruit,
collapsed in a heap.
A crackle of rain, a voice
down the line…
telling you to buy birdseed,
asking you if you’re eating.
The black bird in my cypress
who listens, sings to an echo
that questions an echo
of the contemporary love poem.
Orgreave Mass Picnic
for the 30-year anniversary of the Battle of Orgreave
I’m walking with friends
between acoustic tent and main stage,
in lush fields, where the battle
of Orgreave took place.
Remember who’s drawing warships
at the back of the class
while the ‘A’ kids learn maths;
cast as the turnspit ‘jailer’
of Antonio, wearing sackcloth
in the service of Shylock;
a metallic silver-painted sword
for a part without a word.
You could confuse Zulu drum
-beats of truncheons on shields
with the echo of speakers
in these fields: a Sex Pistols’
tribute band, scissor-kicking
in drainpipe black, a bearded man
in a red t-shirt: Keep Calm
and Read Marx.
Sitting with miners in Beighton Welfare
waiting for the picket call
then hands are braced
against van roofs as we hurtle
in convoy across barrens
like a mace dented breastplate
under a faint rind of moon.
A light floats to the surface - blinks,
a string-vested man sings
at a frosted bathroom window:
I left my heart in San Francisco.
Kiveton Park our destination,
where a gas explosion kills nine men,
miners build the listed baths
and the pit yard sings to the village
over the diverted tannoy:
San Quentin, you've been livin' hell
to me…Goodnight Sweetie…at 58,
Nettleham Road... Goodnight Sweetie
A nacreous arc bisects our route,
down to third, a bandaged tree,
second, Laundry Works,
missing letters & Sons,
Butchers Entrance, time
out of joint, back up to third -
and a backward glance:
child ghosts, a grim reaper,
painted on boarded up windows;
a cooker lit by its own irony
on forecourt ruins
and we’re flying again
in the lung-dust darkness.
The colliery’s beaming eyes clock
you like a head wound, frame
versions of winding towers,
and pit baths, silhouette coppers
with dogs, patrolling the grounds
like hired guns from out of town.
Kettled and pushing back, a flask
flying: a single scorpion shadow
in the marsh window light
of a colliery bus as it crosses the line.
This is a reconstruction:
A cattle baron refused the free run
of ploughed land, hires a gunfighter
as mean as a scabbard with eyes
to clear the homesteaders off.
A beleaguered farmer slogs
through the wagon-rutted mud,
reaches the saloon porch where
the assassin, Frank Wilson, smile
drawn tight as a vulture’s talons,
closes the angle on higher ground.
One Arthur Scargill
There’s only One Arthur Scargill
A shirtless kid leaps over flowers
in neighbourhood gardens,
mounted police galloping full-tilt
tearing them up, behead the sun.
People I haven’t seen since the strike
greeting me on the battle site
where the miners fought to stop
the flow of coal in and out
of the now absent coking plants.
rises above a failed microphone,
leaps off-stage into the crowd to bray
and snort his narrative poem
of class lore home. A man, naked
from the waist up, lying face down
and left for dead. A woman sitting
in a deck chair picking up a stitch.
Women of the communal kitchen
insist I eat a free dinner
though I’m not a miner on strike.
Mums, Dads and kids, playing
with tennis ball and dustbin lid
on summer evenings. You know
she sold her wedding ring to pay
the lecky bill? Can you hear
the pit yard sing: Ol’ Man River?
Pensioners legless on elderflower
falling over sequestered pews
along the candlelit terraces
at the anti-Princess Di festivities.
Can you hear the pit yard sing?
And did those feet in ancient times…
Three hours baby-sitting
for a sack of beetroot. Eight pints
of homebrew for fixing an engine.
Sheer weight of numbers
beating off bailiffs. Can you hear
the pit yard sing: The miners united,
will never be defeated?
I return to myself as the feet
of this kid, the hands of that kid,
others who are myself, running
for the ball in a shell suit of fog.
A bear chases the Avon Lady
Wanna buy a chamois leather?
The Avon Lady chases a bear
laughter in the cage ascending
at 25 feet per second, stomachs
leaping as the sun sets fire
to the tongues of those who harvest
the hard fruit of the deep earth,
inseparable from saltpetre, water,
and forebears, who are themselves.
Can you hear the pit yard sing?
We’re sold, solid as a rock.
That way of hanging out, power
of the untamed thought
between chimney pots, chinks
of curtain light, bits of motor bike,
a mother’s valium lips, thinking
without banister rails. A first love,
a mirage’s sister, receding
as I approach her Bacall-glam eyes,
and braced front teeth, who
always got a speaking part.
Her mind I knew like the Sea
of Tranquillity, tried to find
one Sunday, amidst verandas
of blue hydrangeas; the absences
of abstract sculptures, a Pekinese
cradled in arms, garden walls
of slab-cut lumber; a Union Jack;
the Spion Kop chanting of a train,
calling me back, calling me back.
Pears and carnation milk for tea
Harry Secombe’s flaccid grin
on Songs of Praise
but my dad said he could sing –
Love is a Many-Splendored Thing –
streets you enter your life in, meet
Shane, the kid who loves
the eponymous western, starring
Alan Ladd; goes to his surface job
at the colliery in his Stetson hat
with spurs strapped on his boots –
shepherded and supported
by the miners. Tea breaks, you
find him perfecting his quick draw,
six-gun hanging from his holster,
girlfriend with flask and snap.
A foreman told to address the problem
suggests ‘the lass’ take herself off –
Cook for yah man at ’ome.
Shane centres his balance,
draws on his irons, squeezes
the trigger, releasing the hammer
on a roll of percussion caps:
Git yah hands off a ma’ woman –
a perfect Missouri drawl.
Children release balloons
in front of the main stage.
All the time of light
and a hiss of anger remain
in the green apple I bite into.
Pit-boot flush in stirrup-cup, Shane
hoists himself up. A sparrow hawk
circles the listed baths. His woman
holding and held, swinging aboard
to laughter and applause of admin
and canteen. I canter on my heart.
Steve Sawyer completed an M.A. in Creative Writing at Manchester University in 2009 and has had poems published in a number of magazines.