FROGMORE POETRY PRIZE 2014
THE SMALL HOURS
Twenty years on, I see the thing we could not describe.
The cold fist as we walked in;
the unwelcome that never let up, but deepened.
Whiskey loosening wrong rooms, blurring the angry air.
Oh, come on! Cliché, we said. Not this –
not a hooded perambulator in the billiard room
nursing a broken clock; not white
emulsioned mirrors, the paint
slapped on, broad-brush, edge-to-edge,
striated with the painter's haste.
Nor the small-hours touch between the eyes for both of us,
as though a coin or a heel of soap had been aimed
precisely from the foot of the bed.
Outside, I turned my back on the house
and moved with the sun across the lawn, reading
a three-day old paper, putting off a drink of water
until your return. I watched hang-gliders unsticking like moths
from Scafell Pike, taking their leave of the earth.
Later we found the stereoscope, with its trays
of glass plates, and we shuffled the Edwardians, laughing
as they loomed into life and we gave them names.
I am still here. Like all the terrors that never leave,
the terror is never leaving. Next door's oddballs
in their overcoats ask only Is it tomorrow?
We don't speak now, but I sense you're here, remembering
me as I remember you – twenty-five, resolute, shutting
off the downstairs lights. In the morning you'll vacuum
the one room we're able to endure, check the lock
on the back door, carry our rucksacks to the car.
I'll try to signal that behind us the windows have proliferated
and turned black. 'Don't look back,' is all you'll say.
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