Caught by the River


12th February 2023

A poem by Nick Power.

Well, that night, the baby had croup
sat up ‘til midnight while slates blew off the roof
5ml Calpol put paid to her wheeze
stole a slug myself from the little syringe
while her mother was out drinking
on the Vale
a night for a night was the way we played
it: shift work for blowouts in those early months
but I lay there in bed overheating, with zero hope
for the next day, or the day after, for that matter
look: you can see me there on the Divan bed,
blinking in the dark
wondering about cowboy songs
and where I’ll get a match ticket Sunday

Earlier in The Greenhills I let the baby walk around
she was hiding from barmaids going peepo, peepo
the girls were cleaning down the pumps, smiling back
I was comfortable in that bubble
one barmaid dipped into the till and handed me a skull
‘I’m Hoofy’s girl,’ she said. ‘He says thanks for sorting
that lift last week.’
I said, it’s a long time since anyone’s handed
me money. Gracias.
(minutes later I could be seen blowing it on
the Super Dice machine)

And lying there
in that enormous collapse of the self
in the dark on the bed in the elevator shaft
of familiar hopelessness
and the whoop of my daughter’s croup
I came out of my body
went searching for dispensations
in the flyblown streets around Garston Park
sicknotes, letters of exemption, forged death certificates

I was seen beneath the neon of chipshops and
snooker halls, mouthing off
saying listen, I do not want to work, I will not work
I will starve myself blind for the right to keep
my own time, my own mind,
for these hands to remain
stuck in the sap of bottomless pockets
for the freedom to write, to be ignored, if that is what
it must be
but if not poetry then what else? What else except Fords
or the taxis
and Thursday afternoon in the Sportsman’s Arms
I can’t hardly dance. I can’t hardly sing…