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Someone will have to go

Portrait of Leonard Drysdale, clerk, Birmingham, England, 1946

Ever punctual I stride,
past doors of frosted glass and stencilled names,
the expected sounds of typing.
A morning nod to Mrs Flegg in reception,
then along to my office,
closing its door to sigh at the overflowing in-tray.

Some use of dictaphone and telephone,
issuing curt instructions
while examining the state of my fingernails.
Straighten my tie, trot down the corridor
to pretend excitement or dismay over the latest regional sales report
in the office of pencil-tapping Mr Codling
who dispenses, as always,
a terse "Could be better."

Sandwiches for lunch and a three-sugared cup of tea,
set down by Mrs Wilkins,
a limp in her left leg, but quite a dancer before the war.
Four trophies on her mantelpiece at home,
how they must gleam.

In conference with Mr Pettiwood.
Having looked at the quarterly figures, he says
that someone will have to go.
It's Weems, a bit of a gambler, a bit of a tippler,
whose eyes stray from sales charts and balance sheets
to ankles and the racing form.

I watch Weems pack his things,
the framed photo of his wife.
Weems shakes each proffered hand,
I wish him luck and mean it.

The weekend,
a dutiful visit to father in Coventry.
The sitting room with a fox hunting print on the wall,
this sagging house he finally owns
after forty years at the foundry.
Some talk, some quiet, the sharing of a pie
and three bottles of ale.
I watch my father climb the stairs to the bedroom,
know the chair on which he'll drape his shirt and braces.

Sunday night, I catch the train back to Birmingham,
my attic room and downstairs landlady who tolerates
the jazz records I play.
Sidney Bechet and more Sidney Bechet,
trying to imagine New Orleans
as I polish my shoes
for Monday morning.

Arthur Marsden working on a sculpture of the writer Edgar Bowers

I'm working on his nose,
it's the nose of a hardened drinker.
Still, he's written his books. A dozen of them,
translated into twenty languages.

He's full of stories,
jail and madhouse stories,
times with the rich and famous
in villas in Spain and France.

It's his wife who's paying for the sculpture.
I'm a big fan of her paintings. Can't afford one myself.
She sure understands the natural world.
Her paintings of deserts and skies, they're unequalled,
make me glad that I'm not a painter.

I love stone, working it,
the sound of the hammer against the chisel,
chipping away, the form appearing.
I forget the clock, forget to eat.
I'm a pair of eyes, looking, absorbing, deciding.

Never wanted to be anything else.
At twelve, I was hauling up boulders from the beach
in Dad's wheelbarrow,
began sculpting seagulls and cormorants.
The garage workshop and the back garden were covered with them.
At fourteen, I did my first sculpture of a person, my Mum,
done from photographs and talking to Dad about her.

At the age of fifty,
all I know is that my heart is a boat,
its destination threatened
by foul inner weather lasting for days,
that leaves its captain unsure of his mind,
his face in the cabin mirror,
half purple, half yellow,
lacking a mouth.

But I wake on this studio floor,
remember that I have a loving wife,
others who believe in me
and I rise
knowing exactly
how my latest sculpture must proceed.

I take up my hammer and chisel,
sing an old Irish sea shanty
as the stone chips fly and fall.



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