for Tim and Jo Dooley
Uncanny that we should be journeying home
in the one compartment underground,
but somewhere between King's Cross and Baker Street
over the Hammersmith & City Line's roar
I was sure that the words were 'poetry review'
and then a swallowed chuckle or a laugh,
your signature style, and it was you—
Orpheus on his route back from a reading...
Me too; and it was uncanny enough
in the vast metropolis, our subterranean coincidence;
uncanny, but apt we should meet this way
only a moment before you got off,
the train door sliding shut between us...
still more left to say.
Uncanny, but then again meeting that way
fitted well with your calling, this serious game.
Fellow travellers, underground,
and after inspiration, Eurydice, a loved one,
or reaching toward new readers
we had waited for cadences slowly to form;
we'd conjured from nowhere the ghost interlocutors,
characters, their lives coinciding
a moment to gather discrete turns of phrase
for the traded confidences
snatched between Tube stations.
How they tune in above circumambient noise,
are lost from sight in your conurbation's
little streets hurled against the great—
its darkness, solitudes, silences...
Then next thing you know
from a partial leaf-fall
come re-emergent distances,
new chill factors, time
shifting more quickly, and loss is
sensed as that bit more precise
now raindrops lit by streetlamps
are speckling the panes
and thunderheads, a shorting day,
its crepitations over us,
again, they cover such a range
of start-lines at each terminus
making our last hopes first past the post,
as when a train manager cuts in to say:
'All change, please. All change.'
Through a watery light of after-rain
this bed, its personal history,
brought back by container ship from Japan
shows in ruffled covers
lines that say love spent the night here,
its indentations, your body's traces.
This commonplace bed with everyday sheets,
its rumples and creases
caused by the nightmare disturbances,
forms a tableau of shadowy folds
where by contrast time
tries to recover us, in all senses.
Yet still this unmade double bed
while you are away
preserves outlines where your body lay,
reminding me what lovers
do in their proximity
although I'm next to nothing now.
Most times, I'm like a multi-storey car park
where we can't find the car.
Overcrowded or deserted, in an oil-stained half-dark,
I go from floor to floor.
But today, through a long spring evening,
transparent shadow's equally spread
over this back-street brick and sandstone;
re-foliate flora cresting the hill,
two people are training their spaniel
to 'Walk on!' 'Sit!' and 'Heel!'
as they each drop into a Polling Station.
Two lovers pause to kiss. Illuminated,
a gardener stoops among her flowers
when all a life's conflated
into that view of brief duration...
It's as if I could see me now.
At a pavement edge, which separates
this moment from the next one
and the next, you see
yourself, that other person
on whom the mute phenomena
impose their lack of reason
You have the scented branches
of cherry, laburnum, magnolia
whose pale green growths revive.
Lifted, pointing in breeze they thrive
at blossom time while you,
alive in every minute,
might have a quiet word
for the solitude.
You can't escape
that thought of being woken
in the small hours by those
cries of revellers strayed down your street,
inebriated woman's cries:
'I'll call the police and have you arrested;
you bastard, it's what you deserve',
Still between skylines'
brightening you heard
birdsong like estate agent signs
and can't escape that thought,
as if the song birds sang
were guess I'm doomed to be
chained to a mem-or-y.
PETER ROBINSONThe Returning Sky (Shearsman), which was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation in 2012. Just published is Foreigners, Drunks and Babies: Eleven Stories (Two Rivers), and forthcoming later this year are Like the Living End, a chapbook of new poems from Worple, and The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary British and Irish Poetry.