“Have you ever tried needles?” he asked,
Mancunian tongue, Gog saliva.
Thin and looking sorry for himself.
“Amazing,” he said, out of focus.
On his first morning in the city
He had a girl 12 years his junior
Navigating the stolen street signs
And temporary fencing in our
Kitchen to make him filter coffee,
And a job interview to go to.
She ironed his purple shirt for him.
I didn’t know we had an iron.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” he enthused
Before she was even out the door.
I shrugged. Heading out into the heat
Without deodorizing, no more
To watch old men in suits half as old
Reminisce on Chinese business trips
Or bankers barely older than me
Explain why communism failed,
I begrudged him his optimism.
I was leaving the city that week
Without all the answers I’d sought,
The brown corduroys I’d only just bought,
Or much beyond yes, no, please and beer
In a language I’d never now learn.
Had I tried needles? Need he have asked?
Nevertheless, by then friends were scarce.
So the day before my departure
We sat and drank in an Irish bar
In the Old Town to kill the morning,
Waiting for our mutual man, Mark;
Eyes fixed on the TV’s rolling news:
Bombs on trains and buses. In London.
This was before phones had internet –
Besides which, I was between phones then;
Between jobs, between meals, between homes…
No way of contacting my brother.
Would he still be alive tomorrow?
“What’ll they call this, d’you think?” he asked.
I recalled that last summer at home,
Before the degree and the divorce,
A Barbara Allen adaptation
On Radio 4 being cut across
By talk of World Trade Centres and planes
That would soon be dubbed Nine Eleven.
The War on Terror was underway
By then; everywhere I spoke, schoolkids
Would shout “George Bush!” and give a thumbs-down.
We never brainstormed a likely brand.
I left for a block of Danish cheese,
Which would be my only souvenir;
The stink of which would permeate through
My dearest possessions for a year.
He came to Prague to kick a habit,
As I had found out so many did.
I wonder what the place made of him –
And what he made of it. But that night
Mark and I kicked a Gambrinus can
All the way from Hlavní Nádraží
Through hot drunken streets of cheering Czechs
To our door and upstairs to our flat.
If I’m really honest with myself,
I’ve wondered more what became of that.
Rhymes for all times