‘What’s it all about, Alfie?’
The old man had used Naughton as a parable
Not ‘Alfie’ (a slight, commercial piece
ask the remake’s Jude Law
and his comical hairpiece) but ‘Rafe Granite’.
Father in novel is Bolton Devil
But on stage murder-scowl was rearranged
to knowing grin, to winking wiseman
to teacher of tough but necessary lessons.
‘See,’ the old man said, or implied,
‘A soft lie is easier sold than a hard truth.’
The old man worried a great deal
about money when young,
so when old paid overmuch
to avoid having to think about the stuff.
So where would the gold have gone
if he had sold his seam of truth?
Yes, a man of bodily comforts,
of good soap and razorblades,
of mid-shelf port and tweed and tobacco
And yes, a man of records
and especially of books
but was utterly ungrasping beyond that,
no Fagan box of jewels under floorboards
or dreams of a two-bed buy-to-let
somewhere nice in South Hampstead
He was no monk –
ask the late-night arms
of postwar Pimlico
or the lone surviving pimp
of 1940’s Belfast.
Nor did ambition dim
to the end he held a sometimes green flame
for gaining late name in life-extending print.
But for this he lacked the earthly guile
Chose wrong helper-pupils
Could not sharpen elbows
Nor seep sufficient grease
He was too messily full of Life –
of love and bile and play
of truth and warmth and fight,
too fatally full of generosity and of spite
Dry day (though rain yesterday) –
Water skips and scans
Riverbed and at mid-bank
Unhesitating and mindless
Clear quick free
Not tomorrow never yesterday
But an endless pretty parade
of Today Today Today
Fleet insistent flow
Creates illusion of consistent scene –
Grey-green marble scratched
by off-white froth
Poet can’t keep up with river
Nor take root in damp earth like willow tree
So lives unriverine
Untidily somewhere in between
Life gallops through her growing veins
Not coarse but ancient and wild.
There’s something unnerving about so much
Life in something so small,
It brings out the worst of the suburb –
the dry, the dun, the careful,
the deliberate, the cold, the joyless,
the precious and self-righteous, the dead-inside.
Life capitalized – always capitalized –
offends limp lowercase lifeless.
Lycra grouped on Sunday
takes great offence
‘She was licking our water bottles,
She was biting our coats.’
And they say dogs whine…
Life doesn’t care, won’t apologize
She’d do it again
In a wild and ancient heartbeat.
Sunrise or shortly after –
Sky is painted purple pink
Tintoretto operatic pretty.
What a sight it makes
over Edwardian roofs and repointed chimneys!
What a sight…
Empty, obvious, a stage set.
Week later, after sunset –
Bare trees, mud, 90s buildings,
Rain. A greyblack evening
Streaked at its edges by white headlights.
Manmade stream overfull
Overspills its banks.
Beyond, allotments stretch
low, patient, untidy,
Life in them waiting
for faded men and women,
for more water, for Spring.
The artist prefers the latter,
Slattern. He sits barefoot
in ripped jeans and holey jumper, with
full beard, writing in a kitchen
that smells of yesterday’s onions.
So what makes him so superior?