I KNOW WHERE SYD BARRETT LIVED
My childhood had real magic in it.
A great wizard lived in hiding
just a few streets from my Grandad’s house
in Cambridge. I have learned this since
from reading history books on wizards.
Grandad bought his pipe tobacco
at a corner shop, near the wizard’s den.
I would stay outside with Sally,
Grandad’s spaniel, when he went in,
and the grown-ups coming past would pet her.
I wonder if the wizard did?
Or if he ruffled my stack of yellow hair
with magic fingers, standing on the step,
agreeing with my grandad
that Ted Heath should keep an eye on Thatcher.
Perhaps he passed on secrets
through his fingertips, a sort of wizard’s gift
that would help me cast my own spells
if I learned how to perfect it.
If you knocked now, 23 years later,
what would I tell you over tea and biscuits?
I’d show you my book of poetry,
and my degree certificate. You missed them both.
I’d reminisce about the times we shared.
I’d tell you I love trash tell now;
you said once I was a little snobbish.
I’d announce that I have found true love;
she has seen me at my worst, and still accepts me.
I’d say you’d love her, I was sure of that,
and I’m happy, though not quite a grinning fool.
I wouldn’t have to tell you that your loss
was like an arm hacked off that never truly healed.
I wouldn’t have to tell you. You would know.
The only thing that I could hide from you,
in life, was my terror as I watched you die.
MUM AND JANIS JOPLIN
I sat with Sylvia, my mum,
at the table
in her village kitchen.
We drank red wine,
smoked high-grade weed
she’d bought from someone
at the Refuge.
On her boom box,
Janis Joplin sang.
When ‘Ball and Chain’ played,
Mum stopped talking,
‘God, Janis had it,
don’t you think?’
My hippie mum,
at forty five,
grieving unrequited love
and her dog Punch
that her step-mum killed.
Her real mum
died at twenty-seven,
the same age Janis was
the year she checked out,
back when I was six.
FOR DORIS GARNHAM (d.1942)
but the rash
WHEN MY DAD TOLD ME HE LOVED ME
When my dad told me he loved me
for the first time, I was forty two.
He wrote it in an email, as if
that made perfect sense to him.
Back then it had been ten years
since I’d seen him at Mum’s funeral.
Age made him nostalgic
for the things he didn’t care about
when young, like family.
THE LAST TIME I SAW UNCLE STEPHEN
His black BSA
by the big bay window
at my grandad’s,
a green tarp
protecting it from rain,
my dad pulling out
into Keynes Road
in his F-reg
I still don’t eat my vegetables, not unless
I’ve gone four days without a shit.
Inside I’m still the little boy
that Grandma bullied at the dining table
in Ipswich in the summer holidays.
‘Eat your peas. In India the children starve.
You should count your blessings,’ she would say.
Like those carrots that were nine-tenths water?
And the gravy that covered everything
like molasses? I had to force them down.
And Grandma sat there, grim but glowing.
No doubt she wore the same self-righteous sparkle
the day she had my mother’s dog destroyed.