A poem about a box that I’m building with off-cuts of floorboards, and the sense of satisfaction it brings when it fits together like a jigsaw. Although the jigsaw simile seems a little obvious here, which is why it didn’t make the cut.
I’m building a box.
Not flat-packed with a language-less diagram,
Not put together with a freebie Allen key,
But a pirate chest, an oak trunk,
With walnut grains that I’ve brought out with oil,
That runs and sets as if it were alive
Into the furrows and gullies of the wood
And my fingerprints.
Six slats of laser cut wood
Click together in clockwork alignment,
A beaming sense of satisfaction,
From a perfectly calculated tessellation.
Nails are driven below the surface;
Countersunk, hidden from sight,
As if the box were one piece
Moulded like putty.
The lid closes with a dull thunk,
Ensuring forgotten things
Seeing anyone you know in a hospital bed is a traumatic experience, especially when you visit them for the first time and aren’t quite sure what to expect. It wasn’t this that made me upset, however, nor the other ‘typical’ things, such as hearing someone you love telling you they are ‘ready to die’, or seeing them being fed through a straw, or the bag of bright red blood which sat on the bed. As I left the hospital a charity choir sang carols and it was this that made me think these were sounds my relative might never hear again.
It wasn’t the sight of you in a hospital bed,
Seeing the loose skin of your inner arm, for the first time,
Hanging like the neck of a goose,
Or my dad, feeding you with tea through a straw
That made my heart finally break.
It wasn’t the sound of your voice cracking with effort,
Not the bag of blood slowly draining from your brain
Neither hearing that you were ‘ready to go’
Or the knowing look on the nurse’s face
That made my head finally know.
But the community choir on the way out,
As I walked up the corridor and back to the car.
Singing Silent Night for the patients who could make it there
Two steps from the exit door,
Two steps that you’ll never take.
Last Remembrance Sunday I cycled from Tooting to Highbury to watch a football game with a friend, in a pub. I passed through Trafalgar Square and watched the war veteran’s parade for a while. In football games, the players always have a minute’s silence before the match as a sign of respect. As this started, the pub went slowly quiet, which created an awkward, almost forced silence, with everybody looking around to see if they should be quiet or not, even though they hadn’t been ‘told’ to do so. Some people just couldn’t handle it, faked coughs, checked a pretend text message or looked down at the floor. So I wrote a poem about it, there and then.
Impromptu 1-minute silence
On Armistice day
I cycled past the cenotaph,
Stopped for a second and looked, then rode on
To meet you, in an Arsenal pub.
Keeping my head down, and my mouth shut,
As the signal for silence begins.
400 people watching silent TV,
Heads look around; wondering what to do,
Checking they’re doing the right thing.
Conversations drift off, volume down.
As a barman gets caught mid-service,
You mouth ‘thanks’ as you pick up your pint,
And sip to yourself, turn around and stay put.
You fake a cough, too embarrassed to admit
That you want to be quiet, and think.