Where does it go? Depots mainly, on the edge
of Kent and Essex. Try the Dartford Crossing –
sewage plants, substations, heavy traffic –
a perfect place for murder. They keep it stocked
in wooden crates on endless shelves
ﬂoor after ﬂoor in subterranean bunkers:
love contained like unsold cargo
or un-pulped books; the self-help kind, flat-packed love
for easy storage, love damp and jaundiced.
Love worn on no one’s sleeve, love rattling
like shattered ceramics on the tusks of a forklift.
How does it get here? It just comes
for early career researchers, who mill about the aisles
dressed in protective suits, who unearth
platonic love from cases, like plutonium,
careful not to spill a drop of all this used
and wasted love. They’ve heard the rumours,
spots, blindness, madness, mania, jealous rages,
ﬁts and giggles, genocide. Winners
of the Turner Prize shipped in to build collages
chronicle its decline, or replicate Rodin’s The Kiss from never-worn engagement rings,
dredged from drains, rivers, pawn shops,
and lovelocks clipped from the Pont des Arts
to ease the weight of love. Musicians digitise
the sound, moans like warping steel or wood,
the chorus of an altered mass. Meanwhile,
the poets, wearing rubber gloves, read charred
and tea-stained letters, cached emails
from dumped lovers, to recycle Eros
from the mulch of this organic compost.
All night they have been touching meat,
thrusting trolleys stuffed with cheek,
shoulder, ear and leg, and now the day’s
come back to life they’re closing
Smithﬁeld market; sewing up the partly
butchered, washing off the blood.
I watch them from my ofﬁce vantage
stripping their overalls. I button up
my collar for handshake after handshake,
presenting our creative for clients to dissect.
The past is lowered like a theatre set.
Axes swing for human heads, the gallows
start their jig, men sell unwanted wives,
and horseshit is piled high beside meat labelled fresh.
This is the market
'the cauliflower business in this town is down the drain'
Bertolt Brecht, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
Bundled first editions arrive.
Comics released from West End clubs
rehearse new material to labourers and foremen.
Authority figures stride to cars from young men
getting dressed in alleys. A bottle smashes.
A cab beeps. Laughter swells from opened café doors.
I used to treat the children on Fridays.
Fish wrapped up in the Evening Standard.
Or trips to Clacton on Saturday mornings.
Now I bring home things I am given.
Boxes of shirts stacked in the hallway.
Our cupboards stocked with premium tea.
It was found in the street abandoned.
It fell off the back of a lorry. Came our way
after the death of a long-lost Irish cousin.
Money is found in the strangest places:
the wheel-arch of a delivery van;
wrapped in a bag in a toilet cistern; under
a copper’s Custodian Helmet. Ownership is fluid.
Not the knowledge chosen for the national
syllabus, nor knowledge scrawled by Mrs Smith
on the board in shaky chalk, but the knowledge
I heard my father practise, out loud after tea.
Not a knowledge of capital cities, of England’s
football captains, David Beckham’s scoring record,
nor any pub quiz question, but a knowledge of maps,
of London’s maps in more than three dimensions.
Maps that covered the dining room, a cheap print
of The Hay Wain, of Bubbles and our photographs.
Maps he rose each day to enter, a clipboard
on his handlebars, to expand his hippocampus.
Manor House to Gibson Square; Archway
to Gloucester Gate; Penn Street to Portland Place;
Consort Road to MoD
via Peckham Rye and Westminster Bridge.
But I can’t buy the wisdom that vocation
is hereditary – that sons should give their lives
to do the jobs their fathers did – instead, I learnt
not from the front, but from the back seat of his cab
ferrying decision-makers, Canary Wharf
to Portcullis House, past navvies tunnelling
the Underground, through the husk of blackout
London, and to here and now: this argument.
Taught to speak by sixteen years of answering
the register, by milk, chalk and cartridge ink,
Shakespeare and the Lord’s Prayer, I raise my arm
to pay my coins, my tributes to the knowledge.
After a day of keeping tugs and waste disposal barges,
sailing racers, showboats and commuter clippers afloat,
the Thames turns inwardly to ﬁnd a space
to stretch out in, within a space no bigger than itself,
and burrows through the mud and clay
where every London intersects, to get its nose beneath the grave,
then flips the past up like a coin to send afloat
its drowned possessions: Anglo-Saxon ornaments,
unexploded payloads, bone dice and oyster shells,
wedding rings and number plates, and all those
you might have been had your time started early:
grave-diggers, barrow boys, mole men and cockle pickers,
gong farmers and costermongers, resurrectionists
and suicides; the taken, the lost, the given –
then settles down to dream again of all its infant waterways,
the estuaries and tributaries that led it here,
among the rusted hulls of years, to where there is no space
to breathe or settle down to sleep.
Gift of the Gab
Closing time. Market traders wrap
their gifted tongues in greaseproof paper.
They transplant vivid steaks
to cold drawers and the walk-in fridge,
from where my granddad steps
with a chilled-blue face.
His language is foreign.
I can’t translate the weights and measures
on this avenue of butchers’ shops.
It should be in my blood,
his knack for selling, his spiel and patter,
but I’m more at ease with the cleanliness
of what the market has become.
An emporium of artisan: bistros,
vintage clothes and specialist obsessions,
cupcakes and paella dishes – silent
and arranged where the dead still slash
sacks of sawdust open. They hang
rabbits like wrung-out rags,
singing with their strong tongues of kilogram
and stone, of shilling, pence and pound.
11 The Love
12 in my heart
13 To a Coal-fired Power Station
15 Plague Ground
18 Preservation in Situ
19 This is the market
20 The Knowledge
22 Horses in Upton Park
25 The Last Good Market
27 The District Line
28 Inside Time
29 Deadman’s Walk
33 The Origin of Coal
35 There may be thawing damage
36 Gift of the Gab
37 In Praise of the Flood
38 Things can only get better
40 B Road Lay-by
42 Where the devil gets in
43 All graves flung open
44 Ballad Night at Sgt Peppers
45 Sold at the roadside in hell
48 Into the Maze
50 The moth collector
52 Naming the Light
53 How to disable the alarm on a Saab 9000
54 North Cascades
56 Single Litre Engine
57 Driving home from hospital after the hottest day of the year
59 There’s been talk
60 Sleeping on the top floor of a Travelodge while below another night begins
62 Night Change
65 The clear and present day
66 Prayer at the Edge of the West
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