On The Carpet

The carpet is threadbare and brown
and my feet, in their red Startrite sandals,
suddenly small. There is an earwig
marching across the pattern. It must seem
like a hundred miles to him. I don’t like earwigs
but I leave him be.

There is nobody else in the room,
just the headmaster, the earwig and me.
If I look very hard at the earwig
or at the cut out flowers on my toes
which have a little smear of Cherry Blossom
still in the middle leaf, I’ll be alright.

But the earwig has reached the edge
of the carpet and it’s not alright.
Mr Mapplebeck’s voice is very loud.
I can smell his coffee breath.
‘I’m going to ask you one more time.
Was it you that stole from Woolworth’s?’

And I can see the counter at the big shop
the spinning top, the clockwork mouse,
the striped plastic windmill and, in my head,
my hand is reaching. I’m crying now,
I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it, though now
I’m not so sure any more. Perhaps I did.

Perhaps it was me. Perhaps I’m a thief
but I won’t say yes and I won’t look up
at Mr Mapplebeck who is a giant.
I’ll be the earwig who keeps on marching
though it will take him all afternoon
to reach the window and he hasn’t any shoes.

(Second prizewinner in the Wells Festival of Literature Competition, 2014 and published in The Stonegate Devil)

Tom Makes His Mark

Thomas Clarke, Plumber and Glazier

July 4th – 1794, aged 15

I did it for a dare and to win a girl. She said
I never would but I proved her wrong,
chose the horse’s arse, bottom left
on the last panel, the one about the apocalypse.

I’ve a handsome hand but big and this
was the widest expanse of clear glass to write on.
I was proud of my curled initial, though my hand
shook a little when I heard the master coming
and the writing slopes downhill
to the right like on the board at school.

Anyway, after all those back-breaking months
of grozing, of staining my fingers
with lunar caustic and Cousin’s rose,
of straining my eyes repainting chain mail,
an ape’s tooth, the turned-down mouth
of a knight, the way I saw it, I’d a right.

And who was to know? Once the panel
was hoisted into place and the scaffolding
removed no-one would see the details
till dirt and damp and loosening glue
had undone our handiwork and that
wouldn’t be for a century or two.

I like to think of an apprentice
all those years hence, reading my words.
I wish I could tell him about the night,
oh the night, I spent with the girl.

(Third prizewinner in the Keats Shelley Award, 2011. Published in The Keats Shelley Review and in The Stonegate Devil)

Jug

for Ros

Your garden in spring was filled with white blossom,
pale crocuses, snowdrops, narcissi
but the day before you died I ordered flowers.

My basket, because I kept pressing order
and nothing happened, totalled £ 311

so I gave up and rang them, ordered a jug,
a simple cottage garden jug of stocks,
salmon pink lisianthus, alchemilla mollis

and three Antique Duett roses. My note said
‘with all my love’. The call centre girl asked

What is the occasion? Birthday or a celebration?
I didn’t know how to answer.
Do you want kisses and if so how many?

I was mean with my kisses, Ros. I answered one.
All that morning I pictured you receiving it.

There was no reply when they knocked.
They left them in the garage.

(Published in Agenda, in the 52 Anthology and in The Stonegate Devil)