The Last Summer
Someone took this title— Poetry of the Forties,
selected and edited by Howard Sergeant ‑
out last on 27 June 1986. Fifteen years earlier
it was first taken out on 24 May 1971;
the frank, a rubber stamp, makes all this plain.
For fifteen years then the book stayed
at Weymouth College of Education,
Dorchester Road, Dorset, which was,
I hope still is, an Institute of Education,
though Poetry of the Forties was withdrawn.
Think of the nineteen-year-old of 1971,
the thirty-something of 1986,
and the give and take, touch and go,
who lived with that paperback propped on
tabletops, bedside lockers, in duvets,
dormitories, B & Bs, the rented rooms
where the young ones lived en route to a job
with Poetry of the Forties in their minds,
the underlined passages of the introduction,
questions marked, the comments pencilled
over coffee break or on a train
shooting across long stretches of England
at Christmastime, Easter, the last summer home.
Before we level off I take another look
at the naval yards, the cuts and inlets
of the jagged coast as we veer east
above the Atlantic’s crosswinds:
oil tankers, factory ships, containers
stacked high with everything for Canada,
the white waves cut up rough, the streeling
cusps of cloud that soon turn day into night.
All on board switch to home life –
pillow talk, loving embrace, the restless sleep
of being so far up and taking time
over a movie you’d never watch below.
The long islands of coves and parks,
the fishing grounds and mariners’ bells
that ride the sea-lanes, as they’ve always done,
slip by quiet and undaunted villages
where SUVs sit in frosty driveways
and the lights of juggernauts search out hedgerows.
The few trawlers tied up at stone quays
are silent and still as you check
what time it is in the dark
and how long we’ve got to go.
In the stark waterfront apartments
plasma screens flicker even yet.
Every Dog Has His Day
At the wharf where his boat is berthed
the banker sips his second latté
and broadly welcomes the new day.
News from home is not so good,
the dreadful collapse he avoided,
splashed across every page
his name on everyone’s lips.
The dog, curled in the back, rises
momentarily to sniff the air,
a change in temperature,
maybe a shuffling hungry bear?
But the man looks a million dollars
in his yachting shoes and cap,
preparing instructions for the defence.
Meanwhile in government circles,
rumour has it, he is threatening
to spill the beans and name names,
and everyone knows what that means,
as he snaps back the head
of the mobile and considers
who to ring for the craic.
No end to the strimming,
the APÉ buzzes its way through
winding streets, and under balconies
bright bed sheets rustle like flags.
In the clammy room
not a shred of light, not a bird or voice,
only your steady breathing away
deep down in your own dream world.
The still of evening ‑
a grey evening, it has to be said ‑
slates of the house
beyond have loosened,
a slate-grey pigeon luffs by
and from the kitchen
the washing machine’s final cycle spins
faster and faster like so many lives.