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
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
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
asks if my sons are well.
She revels in
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.
She walks easily,
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.
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..