THE WIFE’S COMPLAINT
Here falling in love is like songs sung
without knowing the words. Words come later,
bouncing off her head like molten lead:
you’ll listen to me or get what’s for.
Then the men start talking: Be a man.
Let her know who’s the boss.
Start as you mean to go on. Sad dying falls
like the lamplighter’s twilight: false, untrue.
Give her a baby and settle her
chokes the flowers on the kitchen table.
Then the saddest tune of all:
My wife’s late and ah’ve got t’start her
drowning any life begun with love.
But a real man knows what to do
with a rubber tube and a bowl of water.
The minister reckons we’ve all got it,
a gift from God like winning the pools,
or three straight wins at pitch-and-toss.
It’s in the Bible, written down in black ink.
‘Then ah don’t choose to ‘ave polio,’
Billy Parnham reckoned. Didn’t change owt.
He still fell over when he stumbled,
yelled when Dougie Grant pinched his sticks.
‘Ow about the lads climbing heaps of slack?’
Elizabeth Drew asked. Nobody answered.
She was allus a clever dick, top of t’class.
‘Why don’t you go and ask the minister?’
Dougie smirked. He didn’t like religion,
unless it came with bread and dripping,
the clink of coins in charity’s cold dish.
THE REVOLUTIONARY PARTY
for William Sargeant
‘Revolution’s for them soft buggers
that don’t know where their bread’s baked,
leave alone buttered.’ Or larded in your case,
thick slabs of white to give the bread taste.
‘It’d ‘ave tasted better wi’out,’ you said,
though Yorkshire pudding with jam’s a rare treat.
The minister thought you were joking
when you told him: invited him for tea.
William thought the revolution would bring
fresh fruit and vegetables and children
wearing shoes instead of bare feet. ‘Fat chance,’
the means test feller sneered. ‘It’s t’workhouse
or concentration camp,’ was his opinion.
You bought the travel brochures for Russia
but never went, late as ever for the party.
ON THE CORNER
‘You’ll not make a song out of me,’ he sang,
blistering the back-to-back gossipers
like coke dropping off the rear of carts
on their way to the Firth Brown furnaces.
Nobody knew what he was on about.
‘He’s lost his place at Jessops,’ some said.
‘The Board of Guardians refused to pay,’
according to the touts in Dunlop Place.
Cold soup’s no relief for a man of his build,
though it’s all he’ll get at the relief station,
then home to one cold tap in the living room
and lice swarming in the privy middens.
His wife’s long left him. ‘You’ll make no song
out of me,’ she told him. On the corner,
hers is the only song he remembers.
William Bedford’s selected poems, Collecting Bottle Tops, and selected short stories, None of the Cadillacs Was Pink, were both published in 2009. A new collection of poems, The Fen Dancing, was published in the spring of 2014.