Lifeblood: A Book of Poems

by Professor Joel Hayward

Joel Hayward Poems 1

 

Oakville, Alabama*

For a stranger he unwrapped lace cloth from treasure:
a scrapbook of oversized newsprint.
Its yellow sellotaped newspaper clippings
were his life-savings. Photographs, stories
of his dead uncle and the stranger’s hero: Jesse Owens.

The stranger listened,
aware that the apostle’s explanations
did not always match the newspaper stories
he ran his finger over with exaggerated motion.
Illiteracy?

“Ain’t just then, suh, that they hated
us,” he said, hunting but kindly the stranger’s eyes.
Blue, embarrassingly.
“It’s only a while back I couldn’t get a burger
in the fron’ of M’Donald’s. Had ta go round back
afore that.”

The nephew walked him down
to the Jesse Owens Memorial Park.
A local authority granted the family this land. Reluctantly?
It could have been beautiful. With quality grass,
and children. And life.
None. The birds conveyed disappointment.

“We had a bronze statue here, but very first week
white boys come and put chains round unca Jesse’s feet,
pulled him down with a pick-up.”

The stranger saw a well-formed concrete base,
crowned with two bent rusting bolts
and anyone’s drink can,
but not with a bronze athletic god.

They walked back for iced tea and talked
more about their hero.

The stranger noticed the beauty
of utter poverty’s luxury:
photographs of smiles everywhere.
On tables, fridge, walls, mirror, doors.
Children loved by parents.
Parents loved by children.
Some came in as the two sat close and shared.
They said ‘hi,’ heard a strange accent,
shook hands (except the girls, who still said ‘hi’)
and asked where he came from.
With those photographed smiles.

The stranger left America carrying new luggage:
greater respect for a hero
and memories of a day
spent with fine people.
He still wonders
whether the council’s promised replacement statue
stands, or did for a while,
in the Jesse Owens Memorial Park.

* In memory of Jesse Owens: history’s greatest track athlete, a fine
man, and a deserving hero.

 

 

 

Emily

Vast natural cavern stretching,
brilliantly lit in some places. Shadows
stare out with few blinks
and black eyes
from where they dwell
behind stalagmites
caused by the dripping of rocks.
Wounds of unfulfilled dreams?
Helmet-lit cavers
“intruders!” the shadows hiss
explore each twisting, tight
tunnel and cavity,
searching for anything.
They see leering shadows
gesturing and
mocking their pale weakness.

They ignore them, as best they can.
Is it the dread, or an unwillingness
to see themselves
among the uncouth brutes?

They cannot ignore one: larger than all,
unwilling to let them enter
further into this echoing mind.

They may hate him love him envy him curse him
but they greet him cautiously, with deference: Heathcliff!
Which of his creator’s secrets does he guard?

 

 

Wampires in the Lounge

They sat and talked on chairs that moved closer
as she pressed him for more on wampires.
He, giant from the Balkans, couldn’t sound the V and
made the watching children’s hands and squints hide smiles.
Goth finally facing the real thing, she lusted for his
culture and grey eyes. Did he notice? What did he see?
A wolf’s willing victim? A weird westerner
writing herself into Stoker’s story.

An intruder asked if he knew Stoker.
No, but Coppola’s film
lacked any Slavic royalty. The truth?
The Turks; it was all about the Turks.
Her excitement and lust for the wolf
enchanted her chair,
which pulled itself towards his
with the power of four hours’ conversation.
She offered her throat,
but was he reading her thoughts?
Could mundane conversation around them
penetrate the Carpathian mist?
Could coffee and biscuits
exercise greater spell-breaking power?
As evening came the pull of his lair grew stronger,
and he offered her a ride.
She entered his lustrous black stagecoach
a Mirage for a journey home.

 

 

Castlepoint

Low-tide walking at Castlepoint
she, free spirit with brat’s
eyes and concealed fires
singeing her heart,
left deep-toed footprints in the sand
and waded, proud of
water-adoration and her
ability to babble. Was this a mediocre
or an excellent demonstration of
both?

He, far freer spirit with sad eyes
and scarred psyche,
imprinted his boot soles as he walked
with her and heavy thoughts,
not all of her, so deep
that scuba-divers wouldn’t find them.

Sand on both lips made kisses
dry and their intertwined
fingers gritty. Sand
couldn’t deny them
the silkiness of a brief moment
of what they considered some kind of love.
It seemed an eternal split-second.
The intensity of heaven’s or hell’s blessing.
Would it survive long after that gash in time?

He sat high on cliff’s edge above
waves of fury and
salt-wind that held his cropped hair
to attention, and felt it wouldn’t last.
He hoped, and maybe she hoped,
that no harm would come to the other.

 

Triumph Bonneville 750

Newly rebuilt top-end and re-sprung suspension.
An oily maestro’s work; not mine.
I can write, but I lack his brilliance. A trade?

It barked with neighbour-punishing volume
and savagery. Black, flashing sunlight in my eyes
after hours of tender massaging
with a soft cloth and scratch-resistant liquid.
Gold pinstripes signalled British regality.

Joined as one horse and rider
we raced crescent moon
on Saturday night down that long straight
between Massey and the Manawatu Gorge.
We chased and ran down, crushed,
any visibility cast thin by the headlight.
A victim every blink to my mount’s adrenalin.

No cars front and back. I, we, ruled the road.
The death of insects on my visor
revealed my supremacy.

Incomplete! A movement!
In my mind? In the nothing ahead of our light?
Black as the fields on either side I couldn’t see,
the cow crowded my vision and our pitiful beam.

Hooves I couldn’t hear clomped
to escape something
descending with a roar of murder.

Beast without road rules.
Cow humped right; not left.
Not that way! Left! Left!
My steed panicked
and swerved at that thumping brute.
I panicked and pulled it back.

We panicked together, swerving this way, that.
We slow-motioned past the cow
at 100 miles per hour,
Death asking, “What, you made it?”

We stopped in flattened grass on the verge
and waited. For me to find me.
We abdicated royalty and putted back. Home
by another road.

 

When the Light Goes Out

She listened
for any rattle
in the light-bulb.
The tell-tale sign
of death.
He heard his
grandfather.
The tell-tale sign
of death.
She replaced the bulb.
Light
returned.
He held his grandfather’s hand.
Darkness
dripped.

 

 

You Know Who

You bury the living and feed the dead
with equal effort. And pleasure? You buried me,
with lying tears,
and from the grave I watch you feed promotions
and fat compliments
to an overfed body with no hunger but clumsy hands.
A mortal ghost who pays you well.
Eyes twinkling, in darkness,
you take his payment of deference
and pretended diligence
and fold those proudly into a bulging wallet.

I live away from your view, but not you from mine.
From the unimagined freedom
of the grave I watch
and laugh at your sincere cruelty. When I arise
where will you be? What will you see? A haunting?

 

 

Situations Vacant

The situations vacant advert said your
boss urgently needed a temporary secretary
due to maternity leave.
I would talk with you
and wish you well, and
encourage you to give your child
a name with one syllable,
but I don’t know you.
You’re a memory lying cold
under no headstone.
Where are you?
How can I bring flowers?

Joel Hayward Poetry, Joel Hayward Poet, Joel Hayward Poems