Tonight the Black Country is tinselled by sleet
falling on the little towns lit up in the darkness
like constellations – the Pigeon, the Collier –
and upon the shooting stars of boy racers
who comet through the streets in white Novas.
It’s blowing in drifts from the pit banks,
over the brown ribbon of the cut, over Beacon Hill,
through the laploved chimneys of the factories.
Sleet is tumbling into the lap of the plastercast Mary
by the manger at St Jude’s, her face gorgeous and naive
as the last Bilston carnival queen.
In the low-rise flats opposite the cemetery,
Mrs Showell is turning on her fibre-optic tree
and unfolding her ticket for the rollover lottery
though we ay never 'ad a bit o luck in ower lives
and upstairs in the box-rooms of a thousand semis
hearts are stuttering and minds unravelling
like unfinished knitting.
And the sleet fattens and softens to snow,
blanking the crowded rows of terraces
and their tiny hankies of garden, white now, surrendering
their birdfeeders and sandpits, the shed Mick built
last Autumn when the factory clammed up.
And the work’s gone again
and the old boys are up at dawn to clock on nowhere
except walk their dogs and sigh
at the cars streaming to call centres and supermarkets
because there ay nuthin in it that’s mon’s werk,
really bab, there ay . . .
But it’s coming down now, really coming
over the stands at the Molinuex, over Billy Wright
kicking his dreams into the ring road
and in the dark behind the mechanics
the O’Feeney’s boy props his BMX against the lock-ups
and unzips to piss a flower into the snow
well gi me strength Lord, to turn the other cheek
for we’m the only ones half way decent round ere
and the tower blocks are advent calendars,
every curtain pulled to reveal a snow-blurred face.
And it’s Christmas soon, abide it or not,
for now the pubs are illuminated pink and gold
The Crooked House, Ma Pardoes, The Struggling Mon
and snow is filling women’s hair like blossom
and someone is drunk already and throwing a punch
and someone is jamming a key in a changed lock
shouting fer christ’s sake, Myra, yo’ll freeze me to jeth
and a hundred new bikes are being wrapped in sheets
and small pyjamas warmed on fireguards
and children are saying one more minute, just one, Mom
and the old girls are watching someone die on a soap
and feeling every snow they’ve ever seen set in their bones.
It’s snowing on us all
and I think of you, Eloise, down there in your terrace,
feeding your baby or touching his hand to the snow
and although we can’t ever go back or be what we were
I can tell you, honestly, I’d give up everything I’ve worked for
or thought I wanted in this life,
to be with you tonight.