Young women with damp hollows, downy arms,
Bare burnished legs — you see them striding
Towards their plant-filled offices, riding
Bicycles to flatshares after work; lunchtimes, you stare
As secretaries, backpackers tanned from birth
Peel off their things and stretch on sun-warmed earth.
A few of them stare back... As if they’d share
Their world of holidays and weekend farms
With you! They step more lightly every year,
A glimpse of neck-hair, a scent that lingers, girls
Who, swinging bags with shops’ names, disappear,
Trailing glances, into crowds; each one unfurls
Her special beauty like a fragile frond
Before your famished eyes. I am what lies beyond,
They seem to say, beyond the mortgage, car and wife —
I am what you deserve, I am the buried life
You will never live. Are they pushed laughing onto beds
By hands that unhook bras and yank down briefs?
Do they wake with tongues thick-furred, heads
Hot and unremembering as carpet-swirls?
Crave water running over them in purls,
As cool as their long fingers? Schubert, jazz,
It’s all the same to them. As are your little griefs.
It isn’t fair. If you’ve not changed, what has?
Is it a kind of shifting, imperceptible, like sands
On some barren, windswept stretch of shore?
In simmering parks, on summer streets
Where they wait but not for you, you furtively explore
The curves of eyebrow, cheek and lip —
Of other things too; you search left hands
For seals of love, or ownership.
Moving off, they can smell your old defeats.
Filched off Clive James's site, and originally appearing, I believe, in Jenkins' The Little Black Book (Cargo Press, 2001). Worth having a look back at the late Dannie Abse's 'Not Adlestrop', for a somewhat lighter take on a similar subject (a subject I've been trying to write about for years).