Bridport Prize – Commended. From Petrol, Cyan, Electric. First published in The Bridport Prize Anthology, 2012.
All day he has climbed
the ledges of outstretched arms,
finding footholds in their soldered webs.
Sweat has matted the hair beneath his cap,
tobacco flecked his tongue. Now the sun is falling
towards the horizon; amber comes to mind
as it aligns behind the half-built tower
lit strange as silver, a gateway in metal
on mapped land. He turns for home, thinks of her
watching the skillet on the gas, the way she fetches
hair from her face with the back of her hand,
how he’ll tell her there’s nothing troubling here,
just this― the uneven tilt of the earth,
the rising green of the hills, unconcerned.
The terraces line up just the same,
grey pavements, the smell of grease in the alley.
He lifts the latch, swings in;
the gate is all she hears in the kitchen.
At the door, he’s stopped by the curve of her back,
the knot of cotton at her waist that flounces
to the hem of her skirt. She checks the flame
before she turns, oblivious to the sweat of gas
on the window, the sulphur air. What she notices
is the breeze he carries in that pricks
like static on her skin, his matted hair,
how he looks before he leans to untie his laces,
something that’s beyond her knowing, half-denied,
lurking beneath the surface of his eye.
Then, when he lies awake at night
he thinks of them advancing like metallic warriors
charging, passing leaping arcs of current from arm to arm.
But he knows they are only waiting to crackle and hum
among the sheep in the fields, the circling birds.
So he fills his mind instead with things he knows:
tomorrow the drays will pull the cable; guy wire,
ground wire; 50 Hz, three-phase.
Against this, the weight of her sleeping next to him,
the callus on his hand, a thigh muscle flinching.
As, outside, the pylons stretch from striding legs,
stapling earth to sky― the threads of his labour
clinging mutely to the hillside, promising blue arcs:
proud, stock-still, unafraid of the dark.