Manna, poems by Julia Deakin
Julia Deakin was born in Nuneaton and worked her way north to Yorkshire via Shropshire, the Potteries, Manchester and Huddersfield, where she taught in secondary and higher education, and began writing poems. Her work is praised by leading UK poets. ‘Crafted, tender poems, written with passion and purpose,’ said Simon Armitage of Without a Dog (Graft, 2008). Anne Stevenson enjoyed its ‘mature wit and wisdom’. ‘Real linguistic inventiveness’ said Ian McMillan. ‘Bold, irreverent and wickedly funny,’ said Alison Brackenbury of her Poetry Business Competition winner The Half-Mile-High-Club. Eleven Wonders (Graft 2012) Michael Symmons Roberts judged ‘powerful, assured, elegant.’ A compelling reader, she has featured twice on Poetry Please and won numerous prizes. Her fourth book, Sleepless (Valley Press, 2018) is commended by former National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke. www.juliadeakin.co.uk Without a Dog and Eleven Wonders from www.graftpoetry.co.uk ; The Half-Mile-High Club from www.poetrybusiness.co.uk ; Sleepless from http://www.valleypressuk.com
A round of thin white sliced
arrives with your all day breakfast
at the Harbour Grill. It sits
on a distressed plate, between
the stainless steel spout – designed
to miss the cup – and the heap
of chips, beans and batter
you know will do you no good but.
It falls short of the plateful in your head:
the chips too thin, batter too pale, beans
a bit low on the bean count.
Beside it the bread, limp and soft
as lint spread with Savlon, waits
like the dressing for a wound.
High o’er the fence
That week at Auntie Mary and Uncle Les’s
in their schoolhouse at the bottom of a lane
we had the whole playground to ourselves
with their five children, three girls one called Susan,
a scooter, a tricycle, toys and games times five
and a new breakfast called Weetabix
from a box that was yellow like the fields
we walked in. There were ponds, bulrushes
and things called oast houses.
The sun shone every day till past bedtime.
Back home we lived in a schoolhouse too
but colder, the playground out of bounds –
and they never came to stay with us, to see
our cornflake box with a cockerel on
or our Force flakes with a funny man, saying
High o’er the fence leaps Sunny Jim.
“Force” is the food that raises him.
Back to school
Looking over the canal
at those high windows thick with dust, I see
such long years.
with Mrs Williams. Needlework –
Miss Peters. Up there at the top, Science.
Mrs Batty. Mr Janes!
Down here, almost under water,
the abandoned cloakroom’s metal grilles,
forgotten pumps in shoe bags;
above, along the whole length of the hall,
Full School Assembly. Me, flat chested,
front edge of the stage, reciting
Heureux lui qui, comme Ulysse, my voice
beyond the rows
of cross-legged, pleated skirts to prefects
at the back, where six years later I sat
burying a box of tampons in my bag.
Such long years it took
to shuffle backwards to the upper ranks
between walls of staring teachers.
They stare on,
many from the grave.
one booms, and I collapse
my bare legs to the wet cobbles
of Manchester’s now gay village.
What are you doing out here, anyway?
You’re late. Go and see the office!
I wait, finger on the brass latch, penitent,
as Mrs Thomas fills in forty years
of red noughts on the register.
O magnificent, sumptuous, pink striped,
ribbed green, knitted drawstring tea cosy. O
consummate summit of textile engineering.
When all about you lose their cool you bear
your searing lot with stoic dignity,
as trembling lesser vessels wait upon
your every inclination and the instant when,
unsheathing a spout proud as a trident,
you are moved to settle storms. How many
stirrings have your ministrations calmed,
how many insurrections your soft looks disarmed?
O fantastic, bombastic, taciturn pachyderm –
no pot too hot for you, no stain too rude –
teach us a little of your portly fortitude
As flies to wanton boys are we, or coins
in a ‘Penny Avalanche’ machine, some silver
standing out against the duller browns,
some still too new and pristine to be smeared
with human grime and nudged towards
their summary dispatch,
the shifts and realignments
made for each addition sometimes cataclysmic,
mostly not. And then what? Who knows
if this dicing deity will sling us straight back in the slot
and through the whole charade again, or lose us
in some sweaty pocket for the next eternity?
A woman is only as good as what she does not say
to a posse of men telling joke after joke not listening
to anyone but themselves especially not women especially
not her no heels no sense of humour not even smiling
cheer up love it might never happen she’s looking
over their shoulders for a clock or a door
mindful of how her sister bought an automatic
fish feeder which broke down when she went on holiday
to Legoland and what it must be like to come home
to a tankful of dead fish
© Julia Deakin