Four Horsemen of the Acropolis
Not the real one, the one in Greece,
that heroic monument.
The takeaway in Market Street –
that’s the one I meant,
between the The Money Shop
and the place it gets spent.
You know: the pub,
The Cock & Bull, where Mikey
got banned. Any road up,
we thought they were pikeys,
first sight we got: horseback,
weird clothes; one looked like he’d
just crawled out the black
earth of a grave. This was Death
as it turned out; leader of the pack.
Pestilence came next, his breath
bad enough to kill off crops.
Then this big bastard, War, wreath-
shaped spurs, gunbelt, chops
dripping with rabid spit,
the kind of guy who’d fuck up the cops
then wait for the SWAT
team so he could have a proper fight.
Fourth dude was a skinny runt,
thin, like a shadow at twilight.
We had him down as Famine
even before he stopped for a bite,
the others trooping in
after him but not looking enthused.
Couldn’t say I blamed ’em –
it’s not much cop, the food
at that place. We stood round, some
of us filming it for YouTube,
others wondering in glum
voices if this was the end of days.
You know: Kingdom Come,
comets falling in a fiery haze
like that smart bomb shit in the Gulf War,
buildings in rubble and deserts ablaze …
don’t know what they call it the Rapture for.
But it didn’t happen.
As they stumbled through the door
and dropped their greasy wrappings,
Famine retched and gobbed
which set the rest of ’em barfing
nasty patterns on the paving slab.
It was Apocalypse Market Street
and victory smelled like a dodgy kebab.
MIA for nearly a decade, and now
Sgt Gnomy is back in the yard.
A hero. The pride of the B&Q
elite. He’s been sitting by the pond
for hours, fishing rod like a plumb
line, eyes staring straight ahead.
Conflict in the garden shed. Some
have plans for him. Others have
their doubts. Is he a poster gnome
for ornament recruitment, or a grave
threat to garden security? What
happened during that decade
he was among people? Was he guest
or prisoner? Did they expose
him to party political broadcasts,
shopping channels, reality shows?
Has he come back with an eye
on the garden, a plan to blow
pond, trellis and lawn sky high?
Is he sitting on a fertilizer bomb,
brainwashed by ITV2 and Sky?
At the Bar
At the bar, propped like an unsold canvas
against a gallery wall as the exhibition
is dismantled, I glance to my right to assess
how many patrons are waiting their turn.
Which is when I catch the eye
of Mr Urban Rebel: jaw slack in a gurn
that’s half arrogance and half stupidity,
baseball cap worn back to front,
three-day stubble. A fake tough guy.
He eyeballs me. Scrawny shoulders shunt
forward. Head jerks. Hands describe
some arcane gangsta sign-language learned
from a rap video. I’m here with my wife:
a chilled out start to the bank holiday,
a few drinks. It’s not worth the fight.
Let it go, I tell myself, and look away.
The barmaid works steadily down the queue,
pulls pints, serves shots, gives change.
Mook-boy’s next. “What can I get you?”
she asks. Pigeon chest thrust out, Adam’s
apple bobbing like a switchblade cased in glue,
he grunts his self-conscious order: “Pimms.”
“Strawberry or lemonade?” the barmaid
enquires – a logical question. It foxes him.
A beat, then: “Uh, just normal Pimms,” he says,
blissfully unaware it’s a summer cup
that’s meant to be mixed with lemonade,
strawberry or ginger ale. She rings it up:
a single glass, two pounds ninety five.
“No, a pitcher!” he barks, like a rottweiler pup
mistakenly thinking it’s already a threat to life
and limb. She treats him to a world-class
bitch, please look. He withers. I want to high five
this woman. “Uh, sorry” – this from Mr Bad Ass,
Mr Attitude. He shuffles, gives a sheepish blink,
pays up without a word. Me, I order a pint of cask-
Co-edited, with David Sillitoe, an anthology More Raw Material: work inspired by Alan Sillitoe, that will be released later this year.