A Room in the City (3rd prize: 2015 competition)

My hands know every nubble of the wallpaper.

The wind still shuffles about behind the fireplace.

On better days, I go downstairs for dinner;

tomorrow we shall have paper hats – it’s Christmas

on television. We carried up the angled lamp

to stand it by my bed, bending above the pillow.

The rooftops opposite, the aerials, the stunted trees

like broccoli, forming my skyline are the same

 

but farther off. The birds that come and go

are more like shadow puppets now,

and never call my name across the street.

I may look out at half past three,

my head upon the windowsill, to watch

a tangerine and silver sunset.

Or I may not.

 

So many of the books I learned to read

in my cocoon of eiderdown and blankets

are here, lined up and leaning on the shelves. Today,

I took one down and opened it, and every page

was white. I think of all the letters I have known

dancing their spider-conga down in the narrow space

behind the cupboards. The phone rings in two rooms,

and I am not afraid; I know it won’t be anyone for me.

I close this book. I lie here, until teatime,

stare up at the light-bulb, watch the plankton

drifting in the fishbowl of my eye, and half my head

is in and out of dreams; a man stands on the iron bridge

and shouts, and points to stars that are not there. How small

he looks from here. The clowns are crawling on the roof

 

and laughing in the chimney. Pigeons flap in empty rooms,

the starfish hands of children wave through clouds reflected

in the windows of a long white car, and on a beach, a woman

rolls in the surf, an arm flops from a floral-patterned sling,

and snow is falling on the tracks, and on the sea,

covering all the broken wooden boats

in silence. And someone on the wall calls out

to ask me what I know. But I am gone, already.

 

The central heating clanks all through the house.

The tumble drier is growling, down in the kitchen,

and in the next room, someone moves about, and sings along,

off-key, with The Seekers’ Greatest Hits.

I am a child, sitting up in bed, pressing

my ear to the wall.