n. one of the hundreds of people that look like Sue from far away, but who are in fact strangers.
Cottoning on too late, the Herne Hill train sparking slow
away into the sleet, that you are not you, but a telesue
coming in from the wings of the platform to play a cameo,
and I remember the background buzz of a fancy dress shop
as past tense as your maiden name, the pop and slup
of trying on fancy dress masks of cow heads, stormtroopers
and elven faces – shrieks as the elastics stripped our hair, stooped
almost kissing as I freed you and you freed me, and lost touch.
Now you’re just an AOL email address and a year, a smudge
in a photo from that Halloween party, you and your Carlsberg
leaning focusless into the frame, and here in the sleet the telesue
lips a favourite-coloured scarf against the wind, but Sue, real Sue
there are days I don’t believe in doubles or daydreams, when
you’re behind every windscreen of every car coming the other way.
Time was when we crossed and drew,
and one by one chose oil, chose you,
and, over the top, we mottled and slew.
We took on subjects like suffering for love.
In the bowls of the fallen, the flowers nod.
The point of still-life vanishes in blood.
Once we’d raised our colours and made our attack
we signed our names with regrets – after the fact.
If only we’d stopped, stepped up, stood back.
Lights off at Elmie’s fried chicken shop,
a shout, a double-take of noise in the polythene
of the building site opposite, more of a howl—
a vixen calls out, the echo skims its double on the return,
sticky rib bones in next door’s garden, cider bottle caps.
A lapwing watching the curl of the street astonished
by nothing, now nothing can be heard and not seen.
We fall for the fox’s howl and howl, the howl
as much for refuge as territory, as summoning,
piercing the navel, the night bus stesh stesh,
cutting the engine in Streatham garage water—
the howl, this howl like a toddler longing now
for what possible logic might lie behind leaving,
a thirsty Alsatian for its rotting owner,
ranging the human nerves for every colour of fear.
Around her haunches a sodden newspaper
and from her reflex, breath which drifts over
the algae on the white plastic water slide.
Shiverless, her fur wettens steadily
in the empty kind of rain that is either falling
or landing. In the near-blue of the grey
the sudden colour lit by kitchen lights
downstairs where our neighbour shoos, useless,
through the living stencil of his own reflection,
the needle-thin hair, the stitching form of her;
a muzzle stiffening to a blurred bright world
to yield to whatever will tread for her
from the black perimeter; some spirit of foxness,
some colossus of fox, gigantic as an AM carrier wave,
grawking through the carpark, splitting the sheath,
the luxury concrete, fur trickling with brick dust and sparks,
teeth like the splitting of railings, here to gekker
the sleep-deprived out of their cotting
and the earth.
*To gekker - To make a series of stuttering throaty vocalizations in the manner of foxes when encountering a rival.