They’d had me facing flak from angry suppliers
wanting final payments before the Christmas break.
The policy round here was make the bastards wait
then wait some more – until you broke their trust for good.
Phone call after phone call was leaving me uptight –
that’s why I locked my desk and binned my party hat
and blew my final afternoon in The Turk’s Head.
Alone made perfect sense. I drank another toast
to liquidation soon.
A young guy in a suit
flirted with the staff: he bought everyone a round
and his smile was sunlight off stacked corporate windows –
blinding. I could see him with my job, fast-tracking
through jammed figures in dodgy books – a magician
disco-dancing through the Great Wall of China.
I downed three flat pints, each with a whisky chaser
before I bristled through the crowds to the station.
On the teeming platform, a woman with your smile
and ballet-dancer’s poise had reached out for the arm
of a disembarking student – and he’d waltzed her.
I thought of the scene awaiting me back home – you
sleeping off another binge on the unmade bed;
fresh cigarette burns following an artery.
Once, I thought I’d be the one to make a difference,
but you reinvent your story every day. Love,
I’ve no idea what I’m supposed to bring you now.
As the motion gripped and quickened, I let its weight
press me in my seat; imagined the train a shuttle
ascending into the violet smoke that drifted
from the brewery.
When I slumped off at Crossgates
frost was icing the grit on the far embankment
like Christmas Past. I spied my teenage self, kicking
and dancing amongst the candy of broken glass
in a bus shelter. Something shifted in my guts,
warping through my breath. It all came home to me then –
a moment like his with no thought of the future.
I fretted my keys and looked back at the city –
skylights angled to catch wafers of falling snow.
From Matthew Clegg’s West North East (Longbarrow Press 2013). Click here for more information about the book (and to purchase copies). Listen to Matthew Clegg introduce and read ‘The Last Workday Before Christmas (and two other poems) on location in Crossgates, East Leeds: