After climbing the long
and winding stone staircase
eighty-seven steps that leads
from Compton’s Priory Road
To Hartley’s Hartley Avenue
you take a seat in the park
try to catch your late sixties breath
but your late sixties hands are too slow
your breath slips away
like a line of poetry
that never quiet seems
to make the transition
from the mind to the page.
As you take a deep shot of air
from the lips of a hurricane
talking in its sleep
you ask yourself
and you ask the wind
how much of your breath is Katrina?
How much of it is Imogen?
but the wind isn’t talkative
or the wind is secretive
or the wind doesn’t know.
You take a landline out of your pocket
with the longest extension lead in the world
call the Katrina line to ask
if they’re going to call the next hurricane
after the girlfriend who blew you away
with her beautiful smile
while waiting patiently
a hand at the other end
of the rainbow hangs up
a hand covered in red Sellotape
a hand covered in raindrops.
Disappointed, you call the switchboard
down at the Tumbleweed Hotel
for a mythological alternative
an indigenous fairy tale
the name the wind gave itself
gave its invisible siblings.
A magpie calls out a suggestion
from the other side of the park
calls a name with too many syllables
a name longer than a freight train
a name which even
the invisible troubadours of Hartley
the chatter-boxing sparrows can’t pronounce.
The name of the wind
is a lovely long jazz-like solo
playing in the park in the key of crow
a name augmented
by the feather bands of winter.
Yet again you ask the wind
how much of your breath
is the breath of Imogen?
How much of your breath
is the breath of Katrina?
How much the name
a mother gives a child.
Blowing out a little smoke-scented breath
you begin to write a long letter
to the poetic heart of Compton
to the crows flying
from tree to tree
like woodland inspectors
to the ghost of a dog called Rufus
barking peacefully in the quiet rooms
of the house at night.
In homage to Rufus
a tennis ball drops out of your sleeve
another drops into your hand
after dropping out of a bohemian pocket.
You throw them experimentally
until they vanish
like half remembered dreams
gone with the dark
gone with the moon
running at tennis ball altitude
through the long grass.
Its peaceful sitting here with Rufus
the silence only broken every now and then
by the voices of strangers greeting each other
on the other side of the hedge.
Birds sing in the park
trees stir slowly out of winter’s slumber
nothing moves in the air
not a butterfly breaking out of sleep
nothing big enough for the eye to catch
or Rufus to chase.
The sky is jam-packed with clouds
they only sing when it rains
white as primary school chalk
they drift over the distant rooftops
of Crownhill and Efford.
The sun moves in and out of cover
passes over Hartley Avenue
shines down over the stone staircase
that leads back to Priory Road.
The sun brings out
the dark shadows of your lifeline
as it moves across the page
you read the words you’ve written
but predict nothing
cross the palm of your hand
with a strand of silver hair
you call landlines
call Katrina and Imogen
call Rufus through the dog flap
in the kitchen wall.
A pair of sleep-drifting nightingales
pass through this peaceful room of a day
are they friends of Rufus?
Moving in and out of the blue
or mirages in the sky?
You would drift off with them
but your wings are wishes
that wouldn’t make it as far
as a tennis ball rolling across the grass
to meet Venus in Flashing Meadow
to meet Katrina in New Orleans.
Summer moves closer
sunrays run fingers through long silver hair
a shadow stretches out
under a log fire sky
a family of scarecrows
remove hats and coats
creating a charity shop
installation on the grass.
The sun warms
the stone-cold doorsteps
of Compton and Hartley
melts the polar ice caps on your fingers.
Sparrows insert musical chatter
into the soundtrack of the day.
As you wish
you wish you could
read these words to them
in the key of a songbird
or sing like Rufus
barking in dog decibels
resting here in this garden
until spring comes out of the ground
wish a million wishes were enough
to inherit a key that opens a door
to a three bedroom house
a place to drop your name on a doormat
to write love poems in every room
to immortalise its architecture
to write as crows fly home over Hender’s Corner
to write love letters to the dogs of peace
to let Rufus run free
to haunt the leafy lanes
to lay your head down when night comes
to fall asleep on the wild slopes of Compton.
The voices of dog walkers
bring you back down to seaside level
they slip over the hedge
slip over your shoulder
over the ghostly bark of Rufus
then the quiet returns
as does the sun
yet still you linger
you don’t want to leave
the magic of this place
but know you must.
You wave an orchestral wand in a flourish
to summon a house out of the ground
then remind yourself, you’re not a tree
waiting for birds to migrate
back home to England
waiting for leaves to return
waiting to wear them like gloves
hundreds of green pairs
slipping over long brown fingers.
You’re not waiting for a taxi
you’re waiting like Rufus
for spring to move out of winter
as cherry blossoms begin to fall
at such a young age.