Joseph Clegg’s fiction and poetry have been published by Confluence, Avatar Review, Potato Soup Journal and Bandit Fiction, and he writes about jazz and hip hop for BRICK. He is co-organiser of two literary critique groups and can be found on Instagram @cleggjjg.
CLOSING DOWN FOR THE END OF THE SEASON
Tonight at the pier, the secret gig that never was. We roam through fringes of high-rise, last reach before the eastern blue. Gales chase us down the front, trailers and tanks moving outwards. We follow graffiti directions. Our only forwards is back. Pat Scurr from the Bay, eighty-plus, familiar to the face, still runs the carousel. His voice so delicate, out of habit mutes his oaths. Could-haves and after-alls wash through him on the tides, to claim he’s always welcomed new ideas, yet he’s not at liberty in this machinery. The fulcrum of his universe spinning, fixed. By overflow containers, we catch up with the last family to leave. Stalking past, just a sizzle of patchouli. Late-bloomed ransomed youth and overripe smiles. Then pointing at the market, the middle brother: All they sell there now is sundries. Go in and speak to them, into England and speak to them. We have shouldered this so long, been promised our time back twice-fold. And we stand itching, waiting, slipping into age. We weren’t created meek to be swept under the bus, all accounts found settled to our disadvantage. But here, you grasp the rudder all you want. It’s ours once more, this shaking sky.
Stretch back on tennis club grass. Forgotten for a mo. Give me five more before I face them again. Wet seeps under, was just a spitty shower. Shiver pollens out my tangled sinuses. Head waiter always on at me to radiate. Meaning what—emerald dazzling light? Whenever I wanna moment he’s lurking, and me I’m sure in a full‑on daze. Years away on wide acres, pitches near the sky. A tennis ball my dog’s lost toy. He leans in my face, saying this and that. Need to watch myself, though, July is peak breakdown. Think of that dappy moo from the kitchen, busted for taking squirty sauces home. Oi, where’d ball girl go? I so loathe them calling me that. Bigshot bowl-cut and his mate in mauve socks. Should drop dead from shame every night, they never do. The time I pointed out my name-badge, all gentleman sniggers on a backhand basis. Amianth? Foreign, is that? Nah mate, English, you can ask my dad. The polite ones tho, end of the day, you know they won’t tip so well. White skirt, no pockets anyway, to tuck them pennies in. It all runs through my fingers—rave, rave, rave and puppy chum. Never gunna afford that terrier tattoo at this rate. Sun again and volleys twanging the net. Lashes tickle like frrk, try blink it hard away. I know how much the bubbles cost mate. What it set you back. You honestly reckon they’re gunna miss some ketchup?
BOUDICCA FORGIVES MY HISTORICAL IGNORANCE
We’re on our second date and time has collapsed. At a coffee shack by Lake Verulamium, Buddug was getting busy. With her phone, not with me. Correcting the Wiki entry for her past self. Warrior queen, bringer of victory, defier of Rome. That’s when it cracked and shook. Me: The hell was that? Her: Like, uh, nothing. Oops. Her cloak all jumbled after the disintegration of history, her coffee spilt. It’s been that kind of week. None of her new colleagues can say her name right. (Bee-thig, Bee-thig, I intone in my mind.) Buddug looks so grievous. It’s not just the warpaint, the alarm-red curls, it goes beneath that. In a heart’s roar she speaks to me of historic fraud, of inaccuracies and anachronism. Chattering propaganda bots of the Roman Empire. We’re on our second take and coffee’s off the menu. Every last thing has melted, a barista tells us. All we have left is this muddy-tasting lake silt, stirred with a jewelled twig. Served with oak leaves. Not fit for a queen, is it? It’s barely warm. Yet in the ever-dying hours of evening, Buddug kneels beside the lakeshore with me and drinks it from cupped hands.