Monday, 9 May 2016

The times we missed

                                             Paul around the time when I first knew him 

I want to remember the first time that we met.
I want it to be etched onto my brain,
hammered in with a chissel,
imprinted by the giant machine that you hated to clean.
I want it to be part of me, like the years of grime,
silted into the grooved landscape of your hands.
I want it welded to my neurons.
But it isn't there.

I remember you though and the time,
spoke of you to my friend who encouraged me then
as she encouraged me later.
She knew what I was yet to learn,
that your iron was worth more than all the words
of the other suitors, the poets and tutors.
But I was enjoying my freedom, living my dream,
didn't want to choose, afraid to lose.
There was no rush.

I must have been doing my MA.
Maybe I spoke of it to you.
Maybe that's why you told me you were 'impressed' by me,
too impressed to get close.
Maybe you were recently out of that relationship,
the one your mum clearly had hopes for
though you told a different story.
She didn't want children.
She was too much for you.
Maybe you saw that potential in me too
when you took me in over the wooden table in Ed's dining room.
Too clever.
Too much.
No rush.

Only once were we alone.
You came round to my home,
the one with the terracotta walls.
You put up iron coat hooks reclaimed from a station cloakroom.
You'd picked out the numbers in neat, white paint,
fine work for such big hands.
You charged other people but you gave me mine for free.
'I must have really liked you,' you said later.
I can picture you standing at the top of my cellar steps,
wedged in with one leg a few stairs down,
grounded, anchored as you were,
drilling into my wall while I watched,
not quite seeing what was in front of me. 
It wasn't the best place for the hooks
but I didn't have anywhere else to put them.
You were probably wondering why you were giving them for free
to someone who would shove them in a cupboard,
who didn't even make you a cup of tea,
who barely made conversation though she had so much to say.
It was wham, bam, thank you man and you had gone.
The first moment that we missed.

Or maybe I was already with Chris.
Because, the next time, that's what I remember,
sitting at Ed's table with Chris by my side and you opposite.
You were talking about your work and I was enthralled,
said 'it must be therapeutic',
probably imagining myself banging out my own incessant worries:
to stay or leave, that was the question going round and round my head.
(I should have left, of course, I know that now,
but we all know about hindsight and that's not how the story went.)
You said you'd show me how to make a poker one day,
planted a seed that would grow years too late.
You took Chris down a tunnel on a job.
I stayed at home when I should have come
but I was always too scared of being trapped.
'Lovely guy,' he said and we carried on
like a broken record until it snapped
and stuttered and could play no more.
And I was alone.

The next time is certainly carved in stone,
or stained in my mind's indelible ink.
Surrey Street on a summer's day.
We were going the same way,
me on foot, you on a bike.
You were smarter than I'd ever seen you,
under some female influence,
wearing beige shorts, a blue and white checked shirt,
it was even ironed.
You pulled into the kerb and stopped to chat.
I told you about the break-up.
You told me that you hadn't seen Ed for a while.
He was with someone new. And so were you.
You didn't have time for a coffee just then
or perhaps you thought you'd better not.
Things were going well maybe, with the new one,
not the time to rock the boat.
We didn't realise that we were barely afloat
and that this was it and one life is all we have.
Sometimes there isn't time to catch up later.
Keep in touch, I said. But you never did.
And you cycled off to look
like a stranger in photos of remembrance,
that I only see now

when you are gone.