Cheerfully fat and frumpy, I sit alone,
tucked away at a corner table,
Tesco carrier plonked on the floor beside me,
George jacket chucked on the back of my seat.
Although I am conspicuous, my presence
is nevertheless unobtrusive; somehow I escape notice
and they speak around me freely.
It’s not that they don’t see me, so much as
that they think I don’t see them and can neither hear
nor understand their conversations.
Discussing their secrets in front of me
seems no different to airing them
in the company of the chairs, the tables,
the abstract pictures and the menus.
In their worldview, real people
(people who matter, people who think)
always wear labels and exhibit
material evidence of recent gym attendance.
As I do not match that description,
they do not suspect that I listen
or that my imagination
could polish their stories,
until they shine, until you could almost
see your face in them.
And if ever they happen to see themselves in a poem,
they’ll attribute it to chance resemblance,
mere coincidence, as they turn to each other
and say ‘I’d swear that was us, but
I distinctly remember that the cafe was empty,
when we spoke of this that day.’
When we heard of his death, our greatest surprise
lay in the fact that it had not come in a car wreck.
He had a habit of crashing almost annually,
leaving cars concertinaed but nobody hurt.
He would always walk away, miraculously unscathed,
muttering to himself ‘Blooming bugger came out of nowhere!’
We used to joke that the phrase would one day be etched
on his tombstone, an epitaph and explanation,
‘I need a fulltime job just to pay for my ruddy insurance!’
he’d complain, appearing bemused when everyone laughed.
In the end, it was his heart. Nobody ever noticed that.
He was all bluff and bluster, an ex public schoolboy,
sent to boarding school at five and never regaining the time
in which to grow up. He loved
cars which went fast and fireworks
which went BANG. He lived
with his parents until their deaths,
then sofa-surfed afterwards.
As his car pulled into driveways
on the dot of dinnertime, children would cheer,
as their parents sighed and whispered conspiracies,
inventing excuses in ever-increasing desperation.
– ‘Say we’re going… ‘
– ‘A work do?’
– ‘We used that last time!’
Meanwhile, the children rushed
to open the door and usher him in,
never hesitating to welcome him
as one of their own.
A Portrait in Objects
Glass covered shelving.
Small china Shelties.
Drawers with lavender sprigs.
Seed cases of honesty in vases.
Toilet roll doll with knitted skirt.
Bed sheets, no duvets.
Crocheted armchair covers.
Photographs on a gleaming sideboard.
Pristine table cloth. Net curtain.
Privet hedge. Door chain.
A stick. A headscarf. An apron.
Shoe polish. Hair grips. Safety pins.
Curling papers. Stockings. Nivea.
A box of pens. A book of matches.
Butter in a bowl above gas fire.
Aynsley teaset, unused.
Pyrex mugs, well-loved.
Custard creams in shortbread tin.
Stockpiled cans of corned beef.
Advocaat. Babysham. R Whites lemonade.
Tinned pears. Evaporated milk.
Bottles on the doorstep.
Toys free with teabags.
Sugar in sachets.
A kettle that whistles.
Adele Fraser lives and writes in the mountains of Snowdonia. Her work has been published by a number of magazines. She also has poems forthcoming in The Interpreter’s House and Ink, Sweat & Tears.