first day back
Gaps in wardrobes
spaces in cupboards
sitting on the stair
he knows she's gone.
The ornaments remain,
Wedgwood, Lladro Figurines,
Regency beaux, flower sellers
a girl with a cake teasing a dog
two children in a nursery fight
one holding a pillow above her head
like a murderous leg of lamb.
He places them on the floor,
a sheep standing in a saucer
an owl upside down in a bowl
lovers in an armless embrace
the new stumps strangely aged
gathers handfuls, armfuls, sackfuls
lays them in line in the hall,
treads on the protruding spout
of an elephant teapot
In a train on a first date
to see Umoja she wears
a velvet hat and reads a newspaper
and I ask if it's an African thing.
We don't show love or hold hands
she says and with her soft Zulu ‘s’
asks if my sons are well.
She revels in disinterest;not asking
who I saw a film with but where,
not who I went to Paris with
but a polite raising of an eyebrow
and on her fifth visit in a year
the expressionless gaze in bed
with legs rigid as if wired together.
On my towpath walk she glides by in a boat
a young African's arm around her
and I resist running to keep up with
her dark eyes looking void into mine
short hair unmoved by the breeze
her lips soundlessly shaping the words
'How are the boys?'FIRST DAY BACK Despite their stifled yawns he tries to tell them about Marx and to sum up his thesis in a sentence. Our reality, consciousness, identity, our political, cultural and economic systems are determined by the ways in which we technologically transmutate the physical world. What do you think then? he asks. Is it true? You’ve got ten seconds to answer. They look alarmed, so he holds his hands out, fingers cupping, encouraging. Joke, he says. Joke. You'd prefer a story, wouldn't you, he asks, and their grins explode. Yes, they shout, like sitting round a fire, telling tales. (He could see firelight flickering on their faces). They're smiling now; tall, smooth-skinned Somalians, gaunt Rwandans, gentle, full faced Ghanaians, gold bangled Nigerians making their Victorian values heard (not for them the two inch band of flesh at their waist, tops of knickers showing) and the two Dagenham lads, sitting apart, asking if this geezer was a brother of Groucho. He sighs. Smiles back at them. Asks them how their summer had been. FREEDOM FIGHTERShe walks easily, hijab swirling in a breezy London park, her gaze straight ahead on the angry back of a husband. An Islamic possession, she quietly knows that her cover-up is as useless as its irony as her eyes catch mine and I stop and imagine dark nipples and smooth legs as she moves away, female and hidden, in that oppressive black. And her Nike trainers.OWNBACK But do you still love me, I'd asked, grinning tentatively, What's love? she'd answered as she unlatched the door, It could be, she'd said, Freud's 'an overestimation of the sex object' or the more sociological 'affective tie' or perhaps the god Cupid as winged child with bow and arrow.. Her sneering irony had trailed away by the time she'd reached the gate. Now, as I slope through London streets, a foreign tourist asks me, 'What is time?' It could be, I say, money or standing still or flying by or a pre-arranged moment for something to happen or perhaps the space-time continuum within quantum physics..