I know the moment you were born
or can at least offer one of them
because all of us are ideas
before we ever breathe
and the idea of us is what remains
whenever we slip away.
It happened on the Tube, a place
I would find myself in those days
in that it was no place at all.
When I did read, I slept
and when I didn’t sleep I thought
of ways out of that situation.
(Do you see what I mean about ideas?)
On the opposite seat, I saw a man
and at first I only noticed
the warning signs from my teenage years:
the swallow tattoo on his jugular,
his knuckles pipping out
Morse code rage. A shaved head
and sideburns, Doc Martens
bulging in their leather glossiness,
and I remembered the men
who would scrawl graffiti runes
on park benches and bus stops,
their china blue stares and knives
bound in electrician tape, their promises
of violence which always held
an ambivalent geniality. This man sat
with his smaller version:
a boy in jeans with rolled cuffs,
boots not reaching the carriage floor
and as I watched him cup a hand
to the whorl of a buzz cut
and a voice I had never heard
spoke one little word.
Swimming. She grows stronger,
more incredible. Head first
into deep water, strokes matched
to the instructor’s demands. Water
is never given a chance to seal,
the lane markings distorted
into chains. When she won her last badge
I returned her home through winter dark
before my journey back to the city,
the gravity always pulling at me
in these moments, the distance.
She asked questions, and countered
with opinions about the world
which have the fluid logic of dreams.
The sky and its curve, the moon
and its high longing for the seas.
And when we talked about the stars,
and how long light takes to reach us
both of us experienced the wonder:
that these far-flung spheres
– arranged into a hunter’s belt
a lions paw, fish shimmering
in a school – are all oblivious
to the patterns we make for them
and are really so far away.
Daniel was born in Shropshire and lives and works in London. His poems have been widely published, most recently in Structo and The Literateur, and he has work forthcoming in Under The Radar. Daniel is also the author of the novel, All the Dogs (Tindal Street, 2008).