We Will Be Men

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We Will Be Men

My love and I go fretting
after the late summer sun,
then into the dusk of the
West Yorkshire towns.

Morley, Horbury, Dewsbury.

The night turns
but the warmth sticks, 
releases the musk of 
suburbia’s dying roses.

The windows are open
and I will once again try
to speak of the years that
take their toll.

Of the boy born from the
slabs of Essex.

The long time ago.

*

I was the middle child
being told of my uselessness
as I bumped into tables, the 
sideboard, the plates of
breakfast baked beans.

You cunt!
My Dad would say.
Wipe it up!

A sleight of hand
to the cheek,
a busted flush
to end the week.

Twelve years old,
risking my life
for the time trial of
the Sunday papers;
sprinting across
the new town Basildon
roundabouts, dodging
the Ford Capris to keep him
in racing reports, my Mum 
in Embassy Number 1,
her racist outrage.

How Cassius Clay was 
not really a black man.

I could never run it in less
than five minutes, and as 
I returned, breathless, heaving 
into the flatulent kitchen, he’d 
laugh as he opened his back pages.

Next week, you flat-footed cunt!

How he loved that word,
goading me as I’d walk into
the banister in shame,
bruising my name
on the way upstairs
to listen in bed
to God on the radio,
Max Bygraves,
and how to grow
a decent turnip.

*

My love and I park up for coffee,
the M1 services at Woolley Edge.

A different heat now,
that of exhausts and 
fluorescent tubes.

Good health does not live here,
rats do. Scattering to the bins, the 
burger boxes, the hateful cabs of
truck drivers, gassed on fumes.

This is an awful place and all
I want is to discuss
more of my pain,
my condition.

Of how he made me eat a goose's egg,

Swallow it, you cunt!

Popped my boils with drawing pins,

Sit still, you cunt!

Pulled my teeth out with his fingers,

Open wide, you cunt!

And made me stand with a broken leg,

Get up and walk, you cunt!

But I'm stopped
with a firm tut,
asked about joy,
and do I really want
to eat that muffin,
and how there must
have been something
beautiful in a boyhood.

Anything?
Anything?

I breathe in
the petrol,
glance at the neon-lit
truck cabs once
more and

hold on to it,
hold on to it,
hold on to it.

Then exhale,
smiling.

Yes.
It's there.
I've found one.

If I could take a day.

*

Miss Stephens is trying hard
to teach us verbs. We all know it's too
hot today, too mean to answer back.

The girls have undone their blouses
and Martin Piper's got the horn.
Bjorn Borg is covering exercise books.
England's beginning to dream.

The bell will soon ring, we will run
crashing through the corridors
out into the torrid sun of 1976.

David Price, Tony Wright and myself, 
cycling to Bulphan. Over the hills, away 
from the estates, away from the numbers,
on the road to Ian Duncan's.

Two Chippers,
a Chopper, a bag of
Gobstoppers, and penknives
in our pockets.

Shirts off, wheelies on.
Butterflies, ladybirds,
a Vauxhall Viva,
a screaming geezer,
but we don't give a fuck.

Tarmac melting and we all sing,
'I've got a brand-new combine harvester.'
Our legs are red, but we are kings.

Trunks on.
Manure stink,
electric pylons,
parents gone to
Sainsbury's think
we are playing chess.

The swelter,
the sky,
the heartbeats.

One day we will be men.

We swim in Duncan's pool,
eat hot dogs until we choke,
guzzle Warninks until we puke,
laugh as Wrighty follows through.

We lay on the grass, talking of birds
and how Jackie Linzell will be my wife.
Pricey says he's fingered her,
Duncan's fucked her. Twice.

My fever turns to ice and I
want to kill. I throw a punch,
fall in hysterics, loving this thrill,
loving life, loving Pricey,
Wrighty, even Duncan.

*

My love and I above the heartlands 
around Emley Moor. A yellow moon 
rises, crowning the mast.

The radio is switched off and the only 
sound our breathing now under these 
satellites, these histories.

I wonder where they are,
those boys? Did they grow safe?
Did they grow bored?
Did their promise fade under
the weight of adulthood?

Like mine did.

Is that all it was? I'm asked.
Your best day? 

*

Drunk and
sunstroked,
headached
and bellyached,
we cycle back.

Duncan's been sent to his room
within an inch of his life.

We are quieter now,
thoughtful, lost,
homework bound.

The dog day churns us
as we pedal the hill.
Wrighty begins to cry,
his weight a hindrance,
gnats sweet on his thigh.

At the summit we gather our breath,
decide to race down into the town.
The last to the garage will be a bender
and take it up the arse.

We dip down with 
the sunset,
shout at prams,
call the girls slags,
Man U shit.

I'm first,
I'm second,
I'm first again.

I win. I win.

A truck door swings open,
a sweating fat man revealed.

Come in lads, do you fancy a ride?
Come in lads, it’s cooler inside.

Wrighty flicks his penknife.
Pricey gobs a spit.
I say the word
under my breath.

We cycle home, tired
to the usual kind of heat.
We call each other fuckers.
Three boys dead on their feet.

*

My love and I, we are boxing clever
outside the steps to my home.
Rain on me, like a memory.
I sleep alone. I sleep alone.

*

I walk in the front door.
My Dad sits at the table.

I'm burnt, tired and angry.

The day played out,
but not yet.

Hello son, he says.

Hello, you cunt, I reply.
 

!976Long Hot Summer

◄ Other Colours, Other Clocks. After W.H Auden

18th Pale Descendant ►

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