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Only there, the afternoons could suddenly pause…
Carol Ann Duffy, ‘Stafford Afternoons’

I try to imagine it differently, coming back to this town,
its streets the same except for shops unemptied,
a book store not bought out by Waterstones,

or the Ancient High House not leaning forwards,
its bulging Elizabethan plaster and timberwork.
But as the train shuttles down the West Coast mainline

and I shift my head to gaze into the gloaming outside –
a paperback of Acrimony on the table to pass the time;
the girl opposite eyeing it with suspicion or interest –

I’m woken by the town’s lit-up landmark; that castle
built from wood, then stone, then again and again
until it was left in the ruins that remain and its stock

of earthworks. The station’s empty in pools of orange
light. This, I think to myself, won’t be the last time
I wander bleary-eyed past the silence of the Bird in Hand,

a bunch of kids skittering their BMXs round McDonalds
or the small miracle of a bargain shop where, for years,
everything’s been ‘Going Going Going’

though, for a second there, I almost considered turning off
to Joxer Brady’s, even The Coach, but every time I just
drag my heels past, onto the waiting shadow of the night bus.

poem by Ben Wilkinson; first published in Poetry London (No.61, October 2008)