by Glyn Maxwell
The road is dark and wet and red.
I never went. I never was.
It was an insult, what you said
and you shall bleed for it, because
I am the stranger up ahead.
And beyond him, the winter-lights
of freezing inner England, new
medallions and satellites
bejewelling a lucky few,
and something being put to rights
elsewhere and very quickly. We
have heard of it, are watching it,
are doing it. The comedy
is nervous, gets away with it.
Crazy with geography,
and puzzled in the contour-lines
and power-lines, we gulp and sing
O Little One, Oh well . . . the wines
divulge and nod. We’ll have a King.
There may be storms. I know the signs.
The field is overturned and wild.
We married in a city, or,
we didn’t, but we had a child
or two, had two affairs, or four.
Where was I when that stranger dialled
nine, nine, seven, two?
Where on earth? The jealousy
of afternoons was mine, a blue
and doubtful smile, and suddenly
I am the stranger. Words are few.
Desperate, the government
is decent, cruel, decent, cruel:
it said it went. It never went.
It sat for life. It crushed for fuel.
Its methods were no different.
Another incident elsewhere
by London’s brick; on Liverpool’s
wire there is a human hair;
same time, same reason. Rules are rules,
blindfolded, neither here nor there.
The factory is ready. You
are laughing on a motorway.
Garages will make time for you.
Enterprise is underway.
Someone else is under you.
All the streets and all the skies
are dark, and wet, and red. All the
money spent is in your eyes
and mine are spluttering at a
sou’-westerly. And then it dies.
Look: villagers on Pylon Hill,
they sit where the revengers sit.
It does no good. The same eyes fill.
Angels? Oh, no, the English. Shit.
Go back where the blind orphans drill,
left, right, halt. The glass
is squashed and spilling with its men
so pleasantly surprised. A class
of ordinary citizen
will pay for this. The lorries pass.
And beyond them, the sentinels
of freezing England, the dim crews
of high achievers, and the smells
of what had been opposing views.
Of what had been the criminals.
And yes, the great and cowardly,
the finally-blinking “I believe,”
superfluous remorse, the sea,
no tears, a pulling at my sleeve,
another coward next to me.
Perhaps another Saturday
or two. (It’s you. We walk. I love
the light up here.) The road is grey
and driven-on. The sky above
is fixed and dark. The field is hay.
And the first village comes, a chap
too neat and sly to worry much
and the sky sheets, and in the gap
we lower eyes, and our knees touch.
We giggle at the thunderclap.
Glyn Maxwell received his M.A. from the Creative Writing Program at Boston University. (1988)