(for I. Curtis 1956-1980)
We walked the same hills, Ian.
We passed the closed doors of familiar villages and towns
Oldham, Saddleworth, Maccelsfield.
The North eats her young, Ian,
she gives you a voice and makes a fool of you
with a voice like that how could you be serious?
Talking like that how could you ever be for real?
You would always be laying it on a bit thick
you would always be hearing yourself speak
as if you were the grandfather who never read
as if you were two women fighting in the street
good for sarky, good for mithering
good for kicking the shit out of all that sounds grand
filled with shards of broken past like York midden.
But the voice is also a small dark stream
running past Roman dry stone walls, Ian,
on the outskirts of slate grey mill town.
The water’s clear enough by day
but dusk congeals the slow waters past the bridge
thickens the moon and street lamps
into grotesque caricatures
fall into those waters, Ian,
and you’ll be taken out on the ride of your life
with all the other Lancastrian male hysterics
dressed in Crombie overcoats dreaming
their half-arsed Ambrosial dreams
before they scream blue murder in desperate lines
that’s when you start seeing Witch Trials, Crow,
The Passover, The Eternal and whatnot, Ian,
and after you’ve shot your mouth off
about out what you’ve seen and where you’ve been
you’ll be sure she’s pulled you out
with a toddy and a granny shawl
you’ll be frightened, a bit pissed
alone and shaking and still you’ll hear
a wheezy voice, as thick as ginger parkin
like a pensioner whose been at The Embassy cigarettes
“Come on, our Ian, it’s time for your turn.
Stand a little closer where I can see yer.
Go on love, get on with it!
Just step up on this small stool here.”
I was not that face in the water
Nor Jenny Greenteeth pulling you under
Nor shade under oak which made you shiver
I was only the tain of the mirror.