Time period: 1966-1972

Poet: Philip Hobsbaum

Permanent URL: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/17kx0

Source: Belfast Creative Writing Group 1963-6

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We once lodged in that street.

The roofs

Beetled over the kerb,

Glooming the narrow sidewalk. There

Kids kicked listlessly at stones

Between parked cars

And dogs went on their business round the steps

Where slatterns rasped.

It never offered much. Even the sun

Died on the upper windows.

But at the end,

Like a stone curtain shutting off

Another world, this wall.

Beyond, green tops of trees

Hinted at summer - almost we glimpsed

Gables, pinnacles, domes,

Even could guess at lawns

Sloping to tinkling streams,

Striplings at tennis, lithe girls sipping drinks ...

For stuck

Bang in the forehead of that wall

- Where no stairs climbed, no ladder leaned -

A gate shut fast.

None of us ever saw it wide,

No one has passed right through -

For who would leave our street,

Its double banks of cars,

Sunless corners, listless kids

To peek, poke, pry

Beyond? What guarantee

Of leaves, flowering shrubs

And gardens, too, had we?

What if beyond

Stretched such another street

As ours, barren, run down?

But since we never tried the lock of that gate

To venture in

Leaving behind the world we knew

For one made anew -

We never knew.

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The guns still poke out of decaying walls,

Though trained on nothing, remembering the past.

Sentinel over lost glories stands the Guildhall,

The tiny city seems crumbling into the mist.

Look for a centre - office-blocks, chain-stores? No,

Simply churches and bars studding blind streets,

Staffed only by patched men with nowhere to go

Or people in shops who glance up at your feet.

Past the Swan, the Eagle - blind pubs that won't fly -

I slog up to the station, getting wet,

Going past, always past this frontage of decay:

The siege of Derry is not lifted yet.

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You've the whip hand all right. They're driven hard,

Those friends who gather round to hear you censure

Their boys their love-lives. Conscious rectitude!

You change your hair-style, girl, but not your nature.

What of your lounge-bar yearnings after men?

You press your phone-number on each beginner,

Then sweep out smiling. But they slyly grin,

Start swopping anecdotes with one another.

You were the only girl he'd seen, one said,

Vomit and copulate at once. Another

Told how you made him tuck you up in bed.

A third called you the human vacuum cleaner.

At endless coffee-parties, late at night,

You warn your eager friends of sex and sin,

Warm, flushed and shining. Paradise without,

The observer thinks, but what a swamp within!

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'It wasn't me. I wasn't there'

And then your eyes begin to shift

Searching the smoke-filled room as if

To seek aid in this questionnaire.

But no one comes. The red-haired clown

Shuffles his feet, grins by your side.

Your knowing eyes are open wide.

'It wasn't me. I'm not to blame'.

You never are. Men seize and pillage

But that's their folly, not your shame.

You fling yourself into their arms

But you were drunk. They took advantage.

More honest when your breasts fell out,

You groaned and writhed in ersatz glee.

'That awful girl. It wasn't me.'

You had the fun. Admit your fault.

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Static, or nearly so, seen through the haze,

Forms slowly sheel, and, in a leisured trance,

Slowly hands grope for ... what? Bob Dylan plays,

Christening with weazen treble each new dance:

Lank hair is fashion now, and kinky boots,

Expression wiped off each tense countenance,

As solemnly they circle, mask to mask,

Clutching for ... Mister Tambourine Man where,

Where did you leave the curls, the moist blue eyes,

The laughter of my ... I should not be here

And rise to leave. Nobody notices

That I'm not going to Maggie's farm no more.

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Miss Rafferty, in my General Class, eats chocolates,

Gets fatter every day, longs for a man

But goes on eating chocolates. I sympathize;

Guinness is my ruin, that and misery

Bloating and crumbling, making me want to drink more.

How did Henry VIII get on, or King Edward,

Boozed, bulky, bearded? Perhaps

It's different for men. Herbert Spencer

Decided against George Eliot on the grounds

Of general ugliness: we dream of houris,

Lissom and swift, they dream of bank balances,

Power, prestige. This grows as the bulk grows:

King Henry need no charm, he had an axe,

A palace, followers. Maybe, at last, that's why

There's hope for me but none for Miss Rafferty.

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'How ar'you? Howya doin'?' Not so well

As you, pint in one hand, fag in the other,

A beautiful virgin pulling you to bed,

Old cock of the walk. They still talk of your flights -

Embezzling three hundred quid in a term,

Chasing a Spanish lector, cheeking the Prof,

Trunk calls to London, being, at last, sent down

For robbing a pub in a glorious haze of beer,

Spirits, cigar-smoke.

Still, your glory dimmed,

Young acolytes hang on - brothers to those

Who in your days of grandeur dogged your wake,

Catching the girls you grandly threw away,

Drinking your bottles, your life. They're settled now,

Work in attorneys' offices, have jobs

In far-off glittering London. How about you,

Poor cock of the walk? Your plumage ruffled now,

Still holding court, still of with someone's bird,

With someone's car or flat - do I detect

A desperate tic in the rolling gleam of your eye,

That grand rich voice too Irish?

Bulky I stand,

Bearded, myopic, amidst the ruck of the bar,

Your girls, your friends, and find you asking me

What can I do for you, where can I get you in.

My cock of the walk, sick of the bumming life,

Taxis to Dublin, crates of Bush in the back,

Sickening bounce of glasses, bottles, cheques.

Will you at last come home to the semi-detached,

Garden, kids - all that made possible

That slap in Authority's face we so admired,

Your flout, your flourish - ask it at last to turn

The other cheek, accept your filial kiss?

I'll do it if you like - I'd rather see

You clip on your spurs for one last bloody bout,

Wreck the whole join, tear down your Father's house

In a glorious mass of plunder, wreckage, glass,

Carried out bleeding, leaving behind no hole

For cock of the walk to beat his last retreat.

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