and a jukebox reminisces in a cracked voice
there is nothing to say. You talk for hours
in agreed motifs, anecdotes shuffled and dealt
from a well-thumbed pack, snapshots. The smoky mirrors
flatter; your ghost buys a round for the parched,
old faces of the past. Never return
to the space where you left time pining till it died.
Outside, the streets tear litter in their thin hands,
a tired wind whistles through the blackened stumps of houses
at a limping dog. God, this is an awful place
says the friend, the alcoholic, whose head is a negative
of itself. You listen and nod, bereaved. Baby,
what you owe to this place is unpayable
in the only currency you have. So drink up. Shut up,
then get them in again. Again. And never go back.
The house where you were one of the brides
has cancer. It prefers to be left alone
nursing its growth and cracks, each groan and creak
accusing as you climb the stairs to the bedroom
and draw your loved body on blurred air
with the simple power of loss. All the lies
told here, and all the cries of love,
suddenly swarm in the room, sting you, disappear.
You shouldn't be here. You follow your shadow
through the house, discover that objects held
in the hands can fill a room with pain.
You lived here only to stand here now
and half-believe that you did. A small moment
of death by a window myopic with rain.
You learn this lesson hard, speechless, slamming
the front door, shaking plaster confetti from your hair.
A taxi implying a hearse takes you slowly,
the long way round, to the station. The driver
looks like death. The places you knew
have changed their names by neon, cheap tricks
in a theme-park with no name. Sly sums of money
wink at you in the cab. At a red light,
you wipe a slick of cold sweat from the glass
for a drenched whore to stare you full in the face.
You pay to get out, pass the Welcome To sign
on the way to the barrier, an emigrant
for the last time. The train sighs
and pulls you away, rewinding the city like a film,
snapping it off at the river. You go for a drink,
released by a journey into nowhere, nowhen,
and all the way home you forget. Forget. Already
the fires and lights come on wherever you live.
- "Never Go Back," Carole Ann Duffy