When it comes, and I know how it comes
from nowhere, out of night
like a shadow falling on streets,
how it waits by the door in silence –
a single black thought, its empty face –
don’t let it tie you down to the house,
don’t let it slope upstairs to spend
hours coiled next to your bed,
but force the thing out, make it trudge
for miles in cold and wind and sleet.
Have it follow you, the faithful pet
it pretends to be, this mutt
like a poor-man’s Cerberus,
tell it where to get off when it hangs
on with its coaxing look,
leave it tethered to a lamppost
and forget those pangs of guilt.
Know it’s no dog but a phantom,
fur so dark it gives back nothing,
see your hand pass through
its come-and-go presence,
air of self-satisfied deception,
just as the future bursts in on
the present, its big I am, and that
sulking hound goes to ground again.
For you, the catch wasn’t something caught –
not word or contender, attention or fire.
Not the almost-missed train, or the sort
of wave surfers might wait an entire
lifetime for. Not the promise that leaves
the old man adrift for days, his boat
creaking, miles offshore. Nor what cleaves
the heart in two, that left your throat
parched and mute for taking pill
after yellow-green pill, the black-blue
taste the price you paid to kill
the two-parts sadness to one-part anger.
No. The catch was what you could never
let go. It’s what you carried, and still do.
Not cold but given to feeling the cold,
a slip of a boy waiting
for the number 12
as a summer breeze floats in,
suddenly shivering. Or the way
my mum used to tell my brother
and me to take our coats off
even though we’d soon be out again:
“You’ll not feel the benefit!” she’d scold,
sagely, and who were we to argue?
Nesh is for those of us who sense
someone walking over our grave,
who need the perfect
imprecision of the poem, made
from language’s shoddy array,
to get us through the day.
Look at you, sat on the doorstep
having forgotten your keys again,
the slightest chill biting
at your neck. I’d give you my coat
if you weren’t fifteen years dead.
Think of mornings we’d head for the hills,
the world quiet for the chatter of water,
a lone walker calling back his dog, still
deep in the woods’ deepening shelter.
The rain would pelt us like pine needles:
us, struggling up Clough Lane again,
making sense of the sky’s doodles,
chance and happenstance and change.
I ran those paths alone today, pausing
at the forge’s broken waterwheel,
the faint sound of a distant barking
ringing the valley to sharpened steel.
Clear skies, like only in winter. Yet I swear
two clouds mapped the hillside together.
all poems taken from Way More Than Luck (Seren, 2018)