Looks Familiar

It's noon, it's afternoon. You walk
the neat precincts of the city in which
you've lived longer (or almost)
than conscious life. All those pedantic

seconds you've lost, the weird selection
the brain makes of time: snippets,
the quicklime instants which were recorded,
erased, remembered, apparently by chance.

Turn streets like pages. You spot the plots
where buildings have been unbricked,
and spaces have been colonised by other
planning opportunities. You're home

and wringing wet with the sweat
of changes, with the frafting of skin
onto skin, with the operation of decades.
All that you live's diffused, condensed.

They hang around outside the shops,
the ones you noticed but never visited:
neighbours, friends, colleagues, the children
of children you knew, new lovers

where old ones did and dusted
and then resolved their new identities
with a lick of ink. They greet you
as if you were coincidence itself.

Hello, hello. You're fine, you're shaking
hands with, sharing sympathies with times
you've neglected, abused, embarrassed.
Sometimes the only one you recognise

is yourself. That's you in Dolcis,
Monsoon, in Habitat. Or Next.
You shrug each other's shoulders
and swap banter or inanities.

Sometimes there are banshees in your brain,
voices and visions, matter to unscramble
as you potter, imperfectly, through streets
and stretches of pavement. You wreathe

the welcomes with garlands, as you would
children recovering from unmarked
rites of passage. The cemeteries bloom
with relatives you never read to, or roses

climbing their calculated way over statues,
memorials, arbours. Benches you sit on
are gamely dedicated to the strangers
blessed before you were recognised yourself.

At times like these, changing refrains
into fragments of celebration, you know
how long you've been part of pageants
for which you never enlisted. The steady

krang of the xylophones which majorettes
hammer to order each Sunday,
the pedestrian who questions your right
to cycle on his pavement, the worn

and ageing shapes of shop assistants
who told you once the right direction back -
all these ridiculous, and insignificant
figures fill the blanks in your landscape.

Tramping the city, suddenly you discover
that you're the vagrant, and that these
fugitives from your past belong
to a region with different rituals;

and that each encouraging salutation
is a form of farewell. You're alone,
an impostor in the here and now,
in the artifice of home.

But that's okay. To find you no longer
belong is a form of belonging -
to be lonely is no breach of etiquette.
Nothing to write away about. There are

alternatives - to stroll into oblivion,
or to open the corridor door, to call
the conundrum's bluff. To know love, move on,
for love is not anonymous at all.

From Looks Familiar

Looks Familiar