The Journey Back
I had to go back:
there were ghosts to kill.
Only Johnny and I made the trip.
Strange really: the oldest and youngest.
Didn’t seem to mean anything to the others.
Just me, with all the memories fully intact
and Johnny, with no recall of those times.
I remembered the main street,
the bleak council houses
and downbeat people
in that dingy town.
on that road:
siblings in tow,
hurrying as usual,
late for school again,
crossing without looking;
Landrover screeching to a halt.
That irate, red-faced man shouting;
me rushing away with my ragged flock.
“Get stuffed, you miserable bastard!” I yelled.
Everybody shouted and swore, back in those days.
I saw the pub where my Father had his drunken fights.
I was so proud when he beat McGonigal to a pulp.
I can’t remember another time when I was proud:
he left us again soon after that and I hated him.
Johnny and I walked to the house of our birth
in the middle of a rundown, terraced row;
same building, except for the paint.
Seven kids in two bedrooms.
How was it all possible?
Always ashamed I smelled.
Forever avoiding the Carter boys.
The times when they finally caught me,
when they beat me for being a smelly belly.
No one would ever be friends with the smelly ones,
except Smudger, of course, who stank the way I did.
I hope it went well for you, Smudger, my friend.
It was OK for me when I stopped smelling.
Johnny and I walked to the waterway:
the decrepit, rubbish-strewn canal.
The place that I escaped to,
to avoid the Carter boys,
to escape my Father.
I sailed with pirates,
fought off invaders;
ran for the hell of it all.
I was a Masai, stalking a lion;
I was Bannister, the top athlete;
I was the first to land on the moon;
I scored the winning goal for England;
I was Scott against the Antarctic winter;
I ran with Buck to answer the call of the wild.
I was just a smelly boy with his smelly thoughts.
A different time and a different set of circumstances;
a place where a silly child dreamed of escaping the dirt.
Johnny laughed when he saw that I had a tear in my eye;
I laughed when I realised I was crying at the memories.
We walked back slowly through that depressing town.
There were still relatives we hadn’t seen for years:
a different bloodline which excluded kids like us,
which was too good for ragged-arsed children.
We decided, best to give them a miss:
thought they’d smell too much.
We left them behind again,
left the town behind;
didn’t need them,
didn’t need it: