She jags a stiff rod against bone bleed hardness
at one side of her tired house
in Harbor Gardens, East Dunnsea.
A drain gasps under black leaves.
Up scrape. Down scrape.
She scratches like a lazy fire starter,
on edges too dull and damp to spark,
but releases a ripe retch of worn fat,
old rice, gray water, much more,
yet less pungent, less vital to a nose
than salt air heady with decay,
sweeping in a tepid rush
up a steep pebble beach nearby.
An idle fisherman doesn’t notice.
He sits on a stretch of sea wall,
shaped one day at a time by
the folds of his fleshless jeans;
sweet acridity of sea litter,
a signature of his place and era.
One mile off, freeway traffic
roller coasts over humped bridges;
a dry burr, like the amplified sound of
screaming herring, emptied in a trawler’s belly.
He doesn’t hear, He only knows his own fog
as he withers this Sunday,
hoping the weather will boil up,
put a great slap on the sea,
gray it so he can’t go there tomorrow,
just as he doesn’t want to return today
to face her herring scream music
in a flatulent house with a cleared drain
on Harbor Gardens, East Dunnsea.
He passes by the school that broke him in,
except it isn’t any more:
gone, those small bullets of chalk, squared paper,
ink and jam jars of art water.
Market Street School was sold yet left to stand,
to lose the face of authority in a season,
to dry to a husk,
a curiosity wedged like a
thick antiquarian book between
a discount store and a charity shop.
It clings to existence,
history on a life support machine;
no longer noted as he passes,
yet felt for sure, somewhere deep among
those meddlesome knots and scars of his forming.
All he sees is a dying street,
creaking in West Dunnsea, pushed up
like a loose tooth, like a bullied child.
He crosses at the place where Barry
chased him into the path of a black car.
The smell of its tires linger.
I’ll swipe your nose and make it bleed I will.
The computer repair shop – essentially the same,
with the same stone step he recalls
from those distant days of a milliner,
closed Wednesday afternoons when Barry’s gang
could pile into him, uninterrupted.
Such indignity, upended on that stone step,
his head pressed against a glass door.
Those taunts - don’t just make him cry, make him bleed!
He feels the shower of small knuckles,
squeezes his rolled newspaper tighter
as a batter fart from the fish and chip shop
turns him to the lunchtime line,
like a line he saw one evening,
and blushed hot as freshly fried cod
when his eyes met with his teacher,
Mr. Haig, ginger and aging,
hand in hand with Miss Kolinsky
who taught the babies.
Miss Kolinsky, whose best friend’s daughter
became his wife, his love…
He stops to unlock a plain white door
in a worn brick building on Market Street,
the unadvertised way to the Women’s Center
that he runs, well-oiled, with Madeleine;
sharing the pain, of battered wives,
Amy Lou, Zoë, poor sad Lizzie,
fourth abused wife of a bully - a Barry.
Big Arch Bait and Tackle
He doesn’t look like an angling man,
or a man who knows about lures and reels.
Does a man with a red turban understand
crankbaits, treble hooks or trolling sinkers?
His bait and tackle shop doesn’t look like a store.
It stands alone - reminiscent –
the only building to survive bombs,
a pioneer cabin in a sea of waving grass,
a piece of coral (wood, graffiti, flaking paint),
stuck to the floor of ocean depths, that are
ripped and buggered east of a row of terraces,
shuddering in shadows of gargantuan pillars,
supporting concrete freeway ribbons,
undulating up and over like vast eels - electric.
Hear them crackle most potently
when daylight is young or very old.
Hear him crackle near close of business on Monday.
Such electricity! Look at that look,
that lust that turns a key against his big barbed hooks,
barbs for sharks when daylight is old,
when his white convertible as lonesome as
Big Arch Bait and Tackle, comes alive - a fake growl.
He drives the bridges east to his big lady,
when a fat candle’s lighted through frosted glass,
in a tired house, in Harbor Gardens, East Dunnsea –
Monday night blush while worm bait’s a fishin’.
She’s windblown paper crossing the street.
A purse is slipping from a shoulder,
even though she’s bent the other way
with shopping weight shaping grooves.
She’s spinning, skittering before traffic.
Her small face between bare shoulders has drum skin,
thin like her, as thin as sun burnt sheets to peel,
stretched over tenderized furrows.
She stumbles onto pavement,
a most inelegant step in her street ballet.
Foraging for keys, the purse strap slithers.
She rests her shopping.
It relaxes like an inebriate
that vomits a jar of spaghetti sauce,
then red delicious apples that bruise
as easily as she.
All the while she is fretting
about getting Jack to his brand new school.
She hopes to hell she’ll have enough gas -
no more cash until Thursday.
As she looks toward the freeway parp and blare,
lifted there with fuzzy air, disseminated
by salt stained ocean breezes,
the misery returns and stings somewhere:
a nudge on her shoulder or back,
a rubber bullet to the torso,
an arm wrench where triceps hang loose as dewlaps.
As she bends to retrieve,
it’s a sharpness in a knee
that asks her again to scan
those faces that wetted her,
that breathed on her and left,
leaving only marks, or nothing, and Jack.
© Graham Burchell
Loch Raven Review Winter 2005 Vol. I, No. 2
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