If I Could Take A Day

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 heat 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 
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.

I was, 
and I fear, still,
the greatest exponent 
of the loneliness of the 
short distance runner.

*
 
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 6,
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 Wooley Edge.

A different warmth now, 
that of exhausts
and florescent 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 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,
butterfiies, 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 who think 
We are playing chess.

The heat, 
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 heat 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?', I'm asked.

*

Drunk and 
sun stroked,
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 heat churns us
as we peddle 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 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 fatman revealed.

"Come in lads, do you fancy a ride?
Come in lads, its cooler inside."

Wrighty flicks his penkife,
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 and angry.

The day played out,
but not yet.

"Hello son", he says.

"Hello you cunt'", I say.

🌷 (5)

◄ Haiku Five O'

At the Arts Council in Manchester ►

Comments

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Cynthia Buell Thomas

Fri 3rd Nov 2017 21:47

Ralph, welcome back with a 'bang'! It's late tonight, for me. I want to read it again tomorrow, when I'm fresh. But it sure walloped along, with real honest passion and fine execution, as always. See you in the new day.

DESMOND CHILDS

Fri 3rd Nov 2017 13:40

Really enjoyed reading this poem. Brought back the year of 76 and more. Great writing.


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Helen Elliott

Fri 3rd Nov 2017 12:47

Ralph, this is fantastic writing. It is very powerful. Raw. I was drawn in to the memories and couldn't stop reading.

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raypool

Fri 3rd Nov 2017 11:58

A stand alone poem by anyone's standards .So much wrung out over a long ride into the past, but I love how everything is stripped down to rawness and the switching of time periods which adds a punch and emotional impact.

Fantastic read , enjoyed every nuance.

Ray

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Wolfgar Miere

Fri 3rd Nov 2017 10:00

Excellent, insightful, brave.

David.

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Graham Sherwood

Fri 3rd Nov 2017 09:56

This takes an awful lot of reading but is so rich in detail and emotion. The compulsion of the "where are they now moments" together with the detail of the narrative is really compelling!

This is extraordinary writing Ralph. I hope more people take the time to read through it all!

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Colin Hill

Fri 3rd Nov 2017 09:17

painful in places to read but also painfully good. When used in the correct context certain words are very powerful and you have employed them well here. I was 12 in '76 and have many memories of that summer. But so much seemed to change from then on in - including the climate - and it feels now like it was our last hurrah in many ways!
Brill poem Ralph.
Cheers, Col.

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