THE BUTCHER'S SHOP
The pigs are strung in rows, open-mouthed,
dignified in martyrsâ deaths. They hang
stiff as Sunday manners, their porky heads
voting Tory all their lives, their blue rosettes
discarded now. The butcher smiles a meaty smile,
white apron stained with who knows what,
fingers fat as sausages. Smug, woolly cattle
and snowy sheep prance on tiles, grazing
on eternity, cute illustrations in a children's book.
What does the sheep say now?
Its baas are silenced. There's sawdust underfoot
and trays of meat with little plastic hedges,
playing farms. All the way home
your cold and soggy paper parcel bleeds.
You can practise this technique at home
Make still the air as birds in wintertime
Select a half-forgotten song to play
Set a flame to one white candle
Softly softly close the curtained eyes.
From memory the streets will re-appear.
You will know how to find your way on pavements
of tarmac tacky from an afternoon of sun.
Step backwards into time. Cut to a room -
the bed is rainbow-spread, the room is stuffed
with shells and chessmen, books, one blue guitar.
Speak to the inmate dreaming on the pillow
You will not need to ask her name.
Time tricks memory; it's in the senses.
A flash of sunlight on brick and suddenly
Clear as film you see a road walked down once
thirty years ago, hear the voice of someone long dead.
A smell can do it too. The patina of the library
polish overlaid with dust, smell careering out
with the first swing of the revolving door, like an embrace
pulling you in to time trapped between plastic coated covers.
Inside you feel the same. You're not.
You're onion, pass-the-parcel prize without
inside, hollow and afraid. You're all forfeit.
Smoking is something I've always hated:
its paraphernalia of dog ends, lighters, ash.
I worry for your lungs and arteries.
Yet when you strike a match and pull
gratefully on the pale insidious stalk
in the quiet companionship of my back doorstep,
the thready rising wisp of smoke
carried off into the scented evening
is flame of sanctuary lamp,
mysterious as the Holy Spirit,
red-eye presence in the night church,
blue as frankincense.