Alan Buckley is a poet, editor, and poetry tutor, who was brought up on Merseyside and now lives in Oxford. Author of two pamphlets – Shiver and The Long Haul – Alan's first full collection, Touched, appeared in 2020. His work has been highly commended in the Forward and Bridport prizes. Alan was a founding editor of the award-winning pamphlet publisher ignitionpress, and has taught creative writing to young people with both Arvon and First Story. He's also a regular contributor of essays and reviews to The Friday Poem.
A man is judged by his work
~ Kurdish proverb ~
His fingers work the lotion into my skin.
His palms come to rest, pressing my cheeks,
before he draws them back. I close my eyes
but can’t not see the history between us –
in the Boy’s Own stories my grandfather read
this man would be swarthy (I would be ).
He’d flash his teeth, grasping a curved dagger.
I’d stand aloof, wielding a service revolver.
We talk, as he brushes the lather up
in a little bowl – second lockdown, Premier
League (Man U: I offer my sympathies).
I don’t ask why he came here. It’s my country,
my country’s friends, my country’s enemies’
enemies, that spent a century drawing
straight lines across his forefathers’ lands,
that gunned and bombed and gassed, that drove him here
to this shop on an English street corner,
a cube of light resisting the dusk.
O Mesopotamia: derricks rose up,
drills bored down, and black gold gushed, with the force
of blood released from a jugular vein
by a razor’s quick slit. I feel the stainless
blade caressing my throat, as he scrapes off
the stubble with patient, professional love.
Use matches sparingly
Instruction on front of matchbox
Not meanness or thrift
but wisdom; respect
for each small torch
that’s kept in there. Lover,
the same is true for words.
I bring you no fireworks.
A room is never so dark
that it needs more
than one slim burst
of sulphur to show
the mirror hung on its wall,
the way to its door.
And lovers know too
how even a single
flame might raise
a scar that time can’t heal.
So come, stand next to me;
let’s flip this little box.
Strike softly away from body.
See how it urges us.
They’re standing like figures on a cake, by a pre-war
Hillman Minx. My father, stiff as the mannequin his suit
was lifted from, has a pleasantly startled expression,
as if he can’t quite believe he’s got to this threshold
beyond which adult life begins. My mother’s hiding
behind her lipstick smile, the blinding white
of her dress. They think they’ve found a way out,
and here’s the car that will take them away
to a housing estate that’s still being built, to earth
that’s yet to be dug over to make a vegetable patch,
to a life untethered from its past. They’re wrong,
of course; I’m witness to how their histories
followed them out of this frame. But look – here’s
where I’ll choose to say I come from, that small
place of reassurance that something else is possible,
the warm hollow made by their locked hands.