Two creeping canal boats
inch towards each other
in a morning mist.
One carries old women, celebrating silence
and tranquility, dabbed in sun cream,
nestled in white, plastic chairs
tucked to a table garnished
with a spotty teapot and ginger snaps.
No one has spoken since sunrise.
The other chugs Mad Lads in fluorescent t-shirts,
wacky head pieces, synchronised in an alcohol
sway, belching as they go. Their new faces
bright and clean and taut, badly burnt
on broad shoulders. Smoke billows
from their lips, trailing a wealthy
blend of lager and cannabis.
The boats meet each other at a reptilian pace.
The bows approach, the hulls close to a kiss.
The boys pour inside for breakfast
but an elderly gaze captures one.
He stares back, traces the wrinkly contours
of her pallid face, her bundled grey hair
thinned to the scalp.
The music and motor dissipate
in the moment they’re closest.
She clutches the tiller with a frail hand,
her finger weighed by a golden band,
and she shouts as loud as she can
with her sunken eyes
Hold onto it.
Hold onto it for dear life.
Don’t let it go.
Bless the boy who flees the house
with a leash and nameless collar
to catch the raining cats and dogs.
Excuse the boy who retaliates
with a thump when told to break a leg
as he worries and sweats in the wing.
Pardon the boy who shouts to horses,
spooking them back to stables,
because he heard it came from their mouth.
Forgive the boy who wondered the magic
when the girl down the road disappeared
on her way home and was never seen again.
Need advice on how
to handle those days?
Take note from
the great city umbrellas.
Despite being angrily
stuffed into bins, the torn
canopy webs, split stretchers,
and rusted ribs elbowed out,
each is an act of mighty
they deny the fit, and resist
an end not made for it.
Do you remember our fires?
The days we set fields alight,
fed embers to forests,
sent cities to smoulder,
how sweet kindling whispered
to each hungry blaze,
bloomed to flames of fervour?
Do you remember those days?
It’s February. Powdered snow
settles to thickness overnight,
sedates country, suburbs, all alike.
Time is young, ruthless,
and before you know it,
you’re snowed in,
digging for the ashes beneath.
Your smarting hands against the cold.
It’s as if it’s their first time.
Coupled in the house lights,
centre stage, stood in view of all,
dwarfed by the sweating Belgian beer
advertised behind, the rise of music
drowning their hushed voices further.
Which row is theirs? Which seats?
They look to the screen, to their tickets,
but can’t place themselves amongst
the young, their phone-lit faces,
who cross their feet on the seats
in front and give them no notice.
There’s tender nervousness, caution.
She takes a step to the row before
and he stops her, confused, unsure.
Suddenly they’re the feature: a lost pair,
timidly holding their salted popcorn,
their melting milk chocolates,
who’ve nowhere to sit,
who can’t find their place
amid the sea of certainty
of kids, of teens, of adolescence.
They know all of life –
– and at the same time, none of it.
I know whitecaps,
night skies splintered
white with lightning.
Imagine: amongst the thrash
a keel splitting waves,
the full-bellied sail.
These woods are quiet now,
holding only memories of youth.
We searched for Liberty Bells,
tested our knuckles on redwoods,
tried our stomachs with granddad’s
Irish whiskey until we were singing,
smitten and sick, when days were golden
and nights were long and longed for.
“Nothing lasts forever,”
said once some drunk old chap,
strong and august, and we listened.
Who could blame us? What values
aren’t drawn from the slumped
broken man outside the pub
who sits in the gutter and tells you
how things never get better?