Bruce BarnesBruce Barnes is a Bradford based poet, a student from the Writing MA at Sheffield Hallam University, and a member of Beehive Poets. His work has appeared in Pennine Platform as well as other magazines and anthologies, and very occasionally he wins or is placed in poetry competitions. He has two collections: The lovelife of the absent-minded Phoenix Press, Newbury 1993, & Somewhere Else Utistugu Press, Bradford 2003; recently the Utistugu Press published The Country Bus Pass Tour 2004, a sonnet sequence inspired by he and his partner's trip round England with Senior Bus Passes. After a fleeting acquaintance with Pennine Poets in the 1970s, he is pleased to join the fold.
Read Bruce's piece on Jane Wilson
I look at Erna again, looking for the features that say
we are of the same. The petite woman who is carefully
picking at her food, has my father's broad forehead,
and those eyebrows like firm brushstrokes. But she has shrunk
from a youth when her photos seem enlarged:
a mother hen of a young girl spreads her arms around
her brothers, a woman dances down a city street
with the man she's hugely in love with. Trying not to stare,
I can't help noticing how relieved she looks
to be here; this morning was another border crossed,
from the wooded valleys of the Bronx to this Irish
restaurant in Yonkers. Her papers are in order;
although the name Baumwöllspinner, cotton spinner,
has been rubbed out, she displays a faint trace of it,
like an imperfection, or the shadow of a tattoo.
Travelling up, I had fretted about questioning her,
in between reading the subway map, and listening
to a man who wanted to help, " Up to 145th
the no1 train's an express". He tells me how
his wife was sick but getting better, about a deli
he knows on Fifth, as if to show me that a scar
had healed. Getting back to the bones of a story,
what I can recall of my father's version,
is more about places than what happened in between:
in Warsaw, she sees her husband shot, she walks
overland to Spain, crosses the Straits of Gibraltar,
to Morocco slipping into my cinema war
that takes off from 'Casablanca'. I'm walking back,
through the mist, with Rick. ' I think this is the beginning ..'
of a much too beautiful ending...
The Devil is in the detail that has fed her up to now:
a city is in flames, she's racing down a platform
in that summer dress (the one in the photo),
slips on the running board but a hand grabs hers,
to haul her on the last train. She does not know
if they will come for her so she hides in the stench
of a panic filled toilet; someone hammers the door
but goes, cursing in Yiddish. The dark's noise passes.
Behind frosted glass nowhere leaves but sometimes it trails
blobs of light. She sleep wakes, and as the train stops,
she's in the corridor fiddling with a door lock;
she jumps. … If I were in her suede ankle boots,
I would leave the tale there, with the scorched knees
easing, a hideaway mist but firm underfoot,
and with a blackbird singing first thing.
I have got the skate with mixed vegetables, mixed enough
for 'fries' to be clean and cosmopolitan. I wanted
póiríns, Leitrim style, kettle boiled with the muck on;
by this midsummer those little spuds will be in the pigs.
From the noisy kitchen comes an accent to chew on,
and heading for the restroom, I ask the manager
where he is from. Question and answer sets us off
on the Dowra roads, skirting the rush and bog parish
of Creevalea, up musty smelling Lisnanerris
to our trig point- Greagnagloch. In the back of beyond,
he's a boy again in short trousers and old Mass jacket
and I'm before my time in 'dining out clothes'.
He shows me neighbours' places that I knew as ruins,
he gives me a name for the townland on the doorstep,
Luachranabainne glistening like a jug of milk.
Wrestling with a gate I once might have fixed, we hurry on
through sheep-shed years, to greet Mrs Forde. In the side room,
she has laid on a spread of tomato and ham sandwiches;
I think of Erna, starting to puzzle at my absence;
to keep her kosher, I ask for black tea, a slice of lemon
if she has it. Tom, an old neighbour has called in,
and given the ghost of a chance to come back again,
is vigorously winding the first Victrola in Drumkeeran,
to haul in from New York a pianist's stomp
until the fiddle of Michael Coleman springs into life.
Casey's Polka would be anybody's meat and drink,
a toast to l'chayim at a shtetl dance. The music spins
in its travels, skips and bounces alongside the rain.
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