Mothball Express – Tony Oswick
The driver wonders at the daily farce,
each whirring ticket snatched with shaking hand.
A frugal superannuated band,
for no-one pays – they have the grey-haired pass.
Exasperating frames and metal sticks
and shopping trollies fill the bus’s aisle.
They barricade across in beaver style,
a dam that blocks the way like solid bricks.
For eighty-six is now the common age,
the prattling yakking dotards chatter on.
All learned conversation long has gone,
the passengers are near their final stage.
Then from the steps the long-toothed hordes inch down.
Senescent mobs descend on peaceful streets,
competing for a place on sheltered seats.
The geriatric gang has hit the town.
Oldies – Alex Hand
Two oldies on the corner of the road, holding hands, in verbal silence.
The grand narratives of humanity long since interrogated,
now it’s down to the unspoken word and functional language – Tea?
He in an old flat cap, she well dressed and neither with a nod to today.
To the untrained eye they are a couple from a bygone age,
morose and probably smelling of mothballs and mildew.
But neither body nor mind gather not a smidgen of moss;
she has green fingers; he loves his history hardbacks.
From the back to see the over sixties holding hands, gorgeous,
decade after decade the same familiar coupling of fingers.
Between them they finish the Guardian crossword in fifteen minutes and think the private thoughts of ageing slowly.
The Pearls and the Paste – Linda Ford
On a third-rate street
in Nice, cars hum,
their roofs are oil slicks
in the late sun,
where seeds scatter
a balcony like the husks
of old lovers,
and still pigeonne fly
above the city.
Inspired by a photograph of Carolina Otero (1954)
taken by Edward Quinn.
Ballad – Michael Newman
Wet streets are no remedy for bad nerves.
Nor is the scuffle of ruffled pedestrians!
Worst of all must be the nearby factory’s
Beyond palisade of security points,
those window-eyes unceasingly
mock and master
the nervous interviewee,
the casual visitor.
Around the conundrum of the conference table,
decisions are taken
and directives issued that percolate through the offices
and work benches,
the echelons of lower employment.
You are judged, sentenced, imprisoned; such openings as lead to
sunlight turn round suddenly,
reach a hypogeum of lower instincts.
The gentle breath of countryside is a different matter.
Beyond the Cotswold escarpment, orchard esplanades
explode in whites and pinks;
wind-whispers are accentuated by leaf-gossip
down the lime-intoxicated avenues, and there is no peace.
Yet inevitably you return to that factory, to that
prison of glass hostility, to the music of impersonal machinations.
Ballad of emptiness, must I ever pursue your melancholic theme?
Highly Commended –
White Tea Cups – Steve Singleton
Flick of a switch, lights on.
Flip of a sign, slide of the bolts,
start of a shift.
We stand on the shelf, shuffle forward, in orderly line, patiently waiting our turn.
I’m not a tart, but for the price of a pound and a bob,
I’ll go with anyone, after all, it is only a job.
I’ve had them all in my time, the famous have
signed napkins, framed and pinned on the wall.
Of course, there are others, the lonely looking for warmth and a sit down out of the rain.
The illicit lovers, who whisper,
with tender touches that wander and quiver.
The workers with the sausage fingers, too big for the hole,
and must cup me as I cup their choice.
Late, come the artists, no early starts for them, undiscovered geniuses,
painters or sculptors, the penniless writers and poets.
Holding court to any who’ll listen.
If you can, spare a thought for who had me before,
and who might come after.
No flat white latte cappuccino mocha expresso Americano decaf here.
Just tea, strong and hot, coffee, instant, hot chocolate, no frills,
Or, love it or hate it, Bovril.
Trips to the washer, detergent and steam, clean and dry then back in the line.
Ready to be smooched….., kissed……, licked……,
caressed or stroked by fingers……. that linger……….
If I had a voice, the secrets I could tell.
flip of a sign.
Slide of the bolts,
flick of a switch and lights out. End of shift.
Siren in a Night Street – Christopher M James
Song-scare, aghast at missing a cue,
its two notes drowning out
the crowd’s disarray, lurching
like boats in the night
that have slipped their moorings.
Tall ships before, ambulances now
where they ram chests,
encircle mouths, howl to cower cars
and hum together the insides
of conch shell heads.
You need maestro hands to smooth
the ruffled air for that refrain,
and in coat-tails be part-bird
to test our own terrible wings.
Swabs, drips or tourniquets,
cantabile scales going through
the ablutions of tuning up,
as if to groom an answer
for a first moment of hearing.
It’s just arrived at the scene
for a timely rescue …. that’s us
being beautifully mortal again.
Before, in the flat, old world,
hands on board stopping to heed,
the wax they plugged in their ears
to choke out the nether voices
dissolved under the wick of skull.
Here, its tune has dazed the moon,
eyeballing a prostrate body
like a meddlesome passer-by.
If it’s true what they say
about fast lanes, fights, overdoses
and clogged arteries, our minds
are thin-ice skates: a blade
sounds a quarter note, a crotchet-hope
that’s held out, dashed, raised.
The Forgotten People – Sue Gerrard
They perch precariously on pavements,
slowly tempting fate by shuffling
one foot closer to the roadside.
These are the forgotten people
whose green homeland is now a wasted,
lifeless, tarmac jungle.
Their once pure air is now darkened
and dulled by the aggressive belching
monsters who nudge each other forward
bumper to bumper towards further
desecration of the shrinking green land.
These are now the pavement people
who huddle together in masses
on neutral kerbstones,
but even here is unsafe from the
always-angry, impatient drivers
who sometimes mount this safe haven
and claim victims at random.
These are truly the forgotten people
who grow old simply trying to cross the road.