Back from school, 4.30pm
New school, last day of term. He hauls its weight
home in a duffel bag, daydreams clear its spikes
shortcutting through the grey park. The tinselled town
is selling hard. He doodles in its margins.
Same redbrick cul-de-sac, same parked cars,
bedsit lightbulbs, sodium streetlamps where
Salvation Army bands blast lonely hymns.
The laurel by the gatepost holds his arm.
No lights. Outside her room he breathes, eases the door.
Cheering messages line the wall, old prayer books,
her bed for wrestling cancers neat,
and vacant. Handbags sagging from their hooks.
Flood tourists, Sheffield, March 1864
the flotsam was still scumming from the dam-burst
when we piled onto the special train
for a day out at the scene of the disaster
found a spot where we could finger stone and timber
wrap our palms around half-bricks left on half-houses
show our most flattering sides to the photographer
and prod our feet into soft earth
where someone’s baby was hurled from its cot
and mills from their foundations
forty-three of them, the papers said
though we lost count of the wheels
and grinding stones, and filthy things
that might have been a mother’s Sunday bonnet
or even (you said almost with a giggle)
when you touched them
felt like bits of people
On land, the huge sea strikes the senses most.
Its expanse, true. But more the million years
of war against the cliffs. A shattered coast,
caves, detritus, wrack. White-tailed eagles steer
a line above the zig-zags, smooth away
jagged edges. Ahead, a rarity:
a fertile slope, heaps of bleached stones too high
to be natural. This place is empty.
Not empty. Emptied. The day’s forced march, bairns
screeching like buzzards, the cattle left,
the food eked out. The swell and swish of brine
and bilge. Always waves, churn and plunge and lift.
They said we would have land. We only saw
the sea, the sea, the leviathan sea.
Julian Dobson lives in Sheffield, where men call each other ‘duck’. His poems have appeared in publications including Sentinel Literary Quarterly, Ink Sweat & Tears, The Morning Star and The Stare’s Nest (and also on Clear Poetry on 23/03/15 and 01/10/15).