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Shy like a bright whisper

Shy like a bright whisper she rearranges her mind in neatness
And humbles herself in oblivion,
Sliding her questions like a knife around her children –
Who spark up and hasten,
Called to the door
And the meddle of her hands as she stops them,
Just so,
All bright-faced and spoony, ready for the world:

I spy my little smiles out of the window,
Watching them troop in disarray to the warmth of their house,
Easy souls in recline, the clatter of pots,
Heavy snores, a sewing machine’s chatter,
As wriggles and noise threaten to peep round the door
And down into the front room,
Three generations living in chaos …

… whilst out on the street young girls call
With mock whispers and giggles,
Scampering down dank alleyways,
Wrestling with their minds as trikes and bikes crash and ‘Carumba!’
And a wind blows, fitfully stirring up dust
To the tune of bricks and cars and a ‘Ho!’
Shouted by a Dad,
Calling in his minions,
Who scarper in a flurry of garden-ready hidings as,
Hands on hips, he stares his road-end glares
Before returning to the dodgy gang
Who swarthily chew on a scrap-end carcase ….

… and in the park where nobody sings
A few slouch slack-jaws peck at the swings with matches,
Conflagration in the ruins of seats
And the empty shells of buildings boarded up –
No eyes, no brains, no speech –
Just the deadly dull destruction of a wanton clique …

… meanwhile, a few soft streets away,
Hovering brides-to-be rehearse their splendours,
Eyes on neighbours,
Shimmering rectitude trying out their looks,
Miss-Perfections training for the world …

… as the shopkeepers in their magic palaces
Move to the cling of the bell with a look-up
And a ‘Yes sir?’ that weighs in a glance but says nowt,
Paused in a fraction for a possibility that isn’t,
Their stilled hands held in a moment of enduring expectation
As they blink their eyes in a fidget
And stare crossly through air and grime onto the grim road
Whose shoulder intrudes into the breath of their shop
With noise and clacks and the dumb wail of a car
Winding down
And deposits travellers, like myself, all freshed up and excited,
Mussed up and cussed, looking for ha’p’orth jamborees
In the treasure-island of their mysterious darkness
Whose fresh odours of burnt spices,
Cumin, cinnamon, ginger
Weave a spell of desire through the grand flowering of their produce
Stashed and stacked and uppity-racked
In staggered cradles of cornucopia
Overflowing with variation in the sweet smell
Of cardboard boxes, melons, scattered rice,
Bananas, tropical islands and Asian fruited summers …

… yet later, as dark draws down the heat,
Sinister feelings thread their way through Nervous Street
Where easy strollers shoot laughs, shout and curse
– we do not meet –
On their way to jack-a-knave meetings,
Crushed glass, boots, a light,
Weak features sketched by amateur hands
With dog-howl eyes, fast breath, thin teeth,
Crazies twitching their crimes away in sheer disbelief
All wrapped up in hyperbole,
What glee!

… they part their separate ways,
Drifting in twos and threes on fag-end patrol,
Mutters, stamped feet,
A slipped something,
The adult greetings of a band of thieving toms
Viciously strong
In juxtaposed splendour
As their weak see-nothing Mums
And half-crooked Dads with shag-along smiles
Box in their thoughts behind a façade of T.V,
Pretending ignorance of the knock on the door,
No fault theirs their son is ‘wrong’
As the helicopter blades thrash and clatter overhead
And a distant wail brings in the police,
Joining in the song of destruction …

… and yet, at school next day this world is forgotten,
As Mums in cliques raise shrieks,
Tap hands on cheeks,
Or mutter darkly in twos and threes
On yesterday’s gossip,
As the bored caretaker looks on,
Waiting for the streaming line of children
To emerge expectant, wide-eyed, tired,
Bad-tempered to a frazzle, over-hot, ready to flop,
Swept into their mother’s arms and the chaos of the milling, spilling,
Giggling swirl of bumping, demanding, squashed-kid thumping
Bodies on the homeward turn
That pours out of the gate and past the ice-cream van
And dissipates into the houses of Tipley:

And this is where I live , with the motorway thundering by,
The park that no one uses,
Litter on the streets,
Kids, noise, grime and the air full of pollution,
Roads jumbled together,
Shops that struggle to stay open,
Chatter and neighbour-gossip,
Dumb doings and the doings of the dumb,
The lives of the needy, the speedy, the greedy,
The heeding, the breaking, the taking,
Confusion of turmoil,
Organic organisation,
Life in all its muddle, meddle,
Muddling on.

July 1999

This is a poem describing the asian areas where I used to live. It starts off with a bright-eyed young Pakistani mother talking in subdued tones to her children as she collects her kids from our house … then children play outside as their dodgy dads do up old cars … the park where the dodgy gangs hang out … the Missy Perfects who aren’t so perfect … shopkeepers … more gangs …. children at school ….

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