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STUART PICKFORD

 

An Entirely Ordinary Parents’ Evening 

A woman’s crying in the school gym. Not loudly
but it’s a fact, real as numbers. She’s not injured
from aerobics or spinning. One of the Romanian cleaners
stops mopping the floor, looks in. Someone
has sent for the Head. The woman weeping has the face
of someone you think you know. No one can stop her.

Pulling their coats across them, people step back
like at the circus when the sad clown trips over
his flapping shoes. But there’ll be no laughter
or drooping bouquets. There’s no mention of her son
or where he is now. She weeps like something
blown loose in the wind. No one can stop her.  

Someone has posted it on social media. A thread
will start on Instagram about her expensive shoes.
Gucci? Her weeping is the sea and the beach, the waves.
A man makes for the emergency exit. Strip lights buzz.
A boy breaks into the perfect circle of grief
and, face turned away, holds up a paper towel.  

In years to come, the number of witnesses will fill
an empty church. But they were not here. Her grief
is a lump uncovered in the earth. Outside,

workers are stacked high in their offices. Targets.
Minutes. The blood pressure of the city is too high.
The moon is blind and stamped on their cars.

Her weeping is a Somalian woman washed up
on Margate beach who can now be buried. The Head
stays in his office, the Helpline’s engaged.
The caretaker with his flower head of keys helps her
to her feet. His daughter’s still missing in Serbia.
He knows the weight of blood and how the heart weeps.

  

 Fair

He’d booked it ages ago,
stashed the tickets in a drawer.
By the time they went to go,
it was to a different event.
They had to have the radio on
in the car or the sat nav. 

When they arrived at the hall,
a clown daubed their cheeks
with three stripes: red, yellow
and another, all for charity. 

Then they sat, elbows not touching
and the handsome magician
took his lovely assistant
by the hand; her smile,
the lights along the stage.

She got into the box. They knew
she tucked her legs away
and some of what they could see
wasn’t her. The magician
banged his saw on the floor
and cut her in half.
There was no blood. 

Opening the box, the assistant
jumped up in one piece,
her smile lit by the applause.
Each time it happened,
she was not hurt.

  

Cheers 

We might as well’ve been alcoholics
as often we’d pop open the Prosecco and ting
each other’s glass with a toast, a cheers, 

glasses with thin waists scoured by hot water,
that parodied us in reflection. Sometimes
canapés were laid out for us to pick at 

and sometimes we’d screw open a Shiraz midweek
even though we’d made the pledge, and the pledge
to each other but the sky was falling in

and we needed something to lift the sky off.
Sometimes we’d drink on our own, kidding ourselves
about the definition of a unit, or neck it 

from a can in the shower, cold against hot,
and sometimes we’d get it cheap, not because
of the money, we needed the metal in our veins,

sometimes to forget, to steal a kiss,
to steel ourselves against a kiss. And weekends
we’d let loose, the booze would speak, the grog 

we’d buy on Thursday and stash in the fridge
where it’d sweat, a bomb waiting to go off,
after which we’d hit it to cope with the silence.