It’s summer. So of course torrential rain
has fallen now for days; it’s turned the roads
to rivers, burst the river banks, swamped drains
and drowned in a cataclysm of soupy floods
a traffic tunnel opened weeks ago.
The cars are stranded on this motorway
turned waterway – the pass is an impasse.
And so to pass the time I watch the flow
of all these rivulets away from me,
my face is reflected in the steamy glass.
Recently I’ve been thinking of my friends
and how, when the last millennium rolled over
like an old dog, the whole world didn’t end;
the slideshow function on my Mac’s screensaver
shows us, uploaded, newly digitised,
fading across the distance of the screen
and each now seems an electronic ghost…
Things carried on. Were we, perhaps, surprised –
(and are we still?) What happened in between,
those and these days? What’s been gained or lost?
All week it has been freezing in the flat
where – after how many moves? – I’ve had to sift
through boxes of old junk I’ve kept, so that
it seemed preserved, this stuff, as in a drift
of snow: old notes and diaries under ice,
photos from photo-booths – my anxious faces
glossed in i.d.s from universities
(strange when you hate a place to try it twice
let alone three times), all those hairstyles, phases,
freeze-frames of myriad intensities.
And strange too, how much of it is obsolete
already, (though these days we’re classed as youth
till 44). In here, among receipts,
for gifts long given and lost, I’ve found such proof
of history’s incessant forward schlep
picking up speed of late, as artefacts
that now seem relics from some ancient bureau;
There’s (exhibit A) a 90-minute tape
filled with sad songs; a mouldy filofax
and some notes for countries long since using Euro.
There are fragile concertinaed inventories
for short- and long-haul flights not booked online
but in an actual travel agent. These
release a faint whiff of old nicotine
from trips on which assorted passengers
could while away the journey smoking fags
in designated rows, seats A, B, C…
(Now, though more planes – they shoot the messengers
who say so – fill the sky up with their dregs
smoking ranks under knife-crime socially).
There’s an old address book listing rented dives:
the place before the place a-place-ago,
of some old friends, and weird, diminutive
phone numbers that seem missing a first ‘O’
- which prompts a mental trawl back through the ones
we had as kids, before successive codes
lengthened their – what? – five digits, maybe less?
And then it dawns: there are no mobile phones -
just ancient landlines pegged along the roads …
and not a solitary email address.
There are boarding passes, rail cards, ticket stubs.
Whether what stopped me throwing them away
was sentiment or sloth, my corny slob’s
memory-hoard lets me now retrace a day
ten years ago, I caught a bus then train
(I’ve kept receipt of both fares - see the rings
left by my coffee on the jolting trip?)
from Edinburgh to Glasgow, back again –
– as well as, in between, such vital things …
as humbug wrappers and a hand-drawn map.
Here is a photo of me: I’m at Marx’s grave
At dawn; here is a flier for a show
in Amsterdam; two giant cornflakes (they’ve
bleached out, gone faintly mouldy); here’s a row
of smiling half-recalled contemporaries
caught, though now faded, in a Polaroid
at some event or other in the town;
here are photos of old boyfriends (number three’s
absent, I note) at weddings, trips abroad;
and one in New York before the towers came down.
Here we are grinning up the Empire State
(Why are we happy? Why are we not in tears
bowed by foreknowledge?) caught between this note
which warns my student loan is in arrears,
assorted postcards pinned to flaking walls
in awful flats – Chagall, Matisse, George Braques -
and one unfilled paroxetine prescription;
there are slips from folded periodicals
‘Thanks for your short, excruciating work.
Find info enclosed (still there) about subscription’.
There’s a desolate financial paper trail.
Follow it one way and it leads to me
un-propertied, unkempt, ‘unwell’ - yet still
enjoying unexpected solvency.
But trace it back the other way through slips
from temp jobs, dole books and P45s
to summer work whose terms I can’t make out,
and – hoopla - I shed myself with paperclips,
with tax and housing benefits – till I’ve
left myself bureaucratically quite naked.
Naked – or, worse: flayed. Flinching. Overwrought.
An insect bolting underneath a stone
shocked by some awful hand or sudden light
couldn’t have had less functional backbone
than this sardonic-looking idiot
(me, if you’re asking) propped beside a lamp
a drink in hand at some unwholesome hour
- I want to know what makes my eyes dilate
or nostrils flare, crouched in the sweaty damp
Of that old bedsit, why stuff mattered – for
this box of doodles, bills, old cards and prints
have meanings which are growing out of date.
I can’t recall their felt significance -
like negatives developed decades late
in which we find, above all else, exposed
thwack – like a high-kick to the heart – the gap
between our sense of then and of today:
no matter that the photograph was posed
or corny as this old compilation tape
– which, anyhow, I’ve now no means to play.