In Little Black Dresses
You’ll find them in the changing rooms upstairs,
shucking off familiar things, stepping out
of marriages and motherhood and down
to smalls, the known particulars of pleats
and folds until the years have slipped away
like underskirts and they are girls and girls
not wanting to be thin, or young, or tall,
or someone else, but just to have their due.
Not stitched-up in emperors’ suits of clothes
but with new labels pressing at their necks,
in Selfridges they change. And pulled from rails,
the chance to wear their real lives for an hour
over lunch, to re-dress the short-term self
in LBDs, their cloth re-cut and spot-
lit in the cubicles of might-have-been,
clean lines now, in dresses that fit them well.
Town House, Tansley Drive
Up past the gasometer, the blueprints
and footings for Meadowhall, a little further on
from the substation, the launderette
and the old dear interrogating the street
in her winceyette, searching for the shelter,
asking no one in particular if they’re Ernest.
Halfway up a lung-burst climb (and a bastard
to take in the ice) is our drive sloping away.
We spent Februarys digging out, digging in.
And if the road wasn’t enough, there were two flights
to finish us off. Do you remember the wall-heaters
on each landing – just the whiff of a warm –
the one on the top floor where you stood night
after night, looking out over the cooling towers,
up the M1? And me, one flight down, asking
where you were going, where you had been.
Twenty years on and it’s still me and the old dear
asking the questions. Asking, and asking again.
In the Reading Room at the British Library
you can hear the sea. And in this noiseless place,
a pin drop from a milliner’s grip some ninety years
away, or a wren caught in the eaves of a sudden thought.
There’s a finger, sweat greasing its trigger at dawn
as it eases back to join the volley of twelve Enfields
in the yard, dust falling from the walls as we all
fall in time. A rage of sound exalted to stillness
and it carries down the decades. Even after-hours
the librarians whisper here, afraid to weigh their loss
or private joy against the din. As though one
misplaced word could creak like a nightingale
on a parquet floor, jar like a note in a symphony
of counted bars at rest, could make you miss the atom
cracking with the thunder of a goldcrest’s heart.