At the Birmingham markets

When I was young, before
the sky was torn, I strutted
in-and-out of poisoned jobs
and bare-walled rooms, poor
yet indestructible, naive and full
of quirk and piss, not belonging
but belonging, knowing more
than anyone could know.
Back then I loved, part-owned
the vital edges of my world where
this bold front came most alive – the suspect streets
and pubs and clubs and darkened parks
and yes, the markets too.
Oh the markets! And how down there
unruly grapes jostled maverick yams, dissenting pears
and proud bananas, Mick the Meat, cheap eggs,
defiant blocks of out-there cheese;
and how people fraying before their time
from lives hard-strutted sat – underdogs
outside the empty Church of Pigeons –
smoking fags and supping polystyrened tea,
and talked in common gestures
of various degrees of pain, their very breath affirming
the ties between the never-hads –
in Birmingham we thank the driver
as we get off the bus!

Now some years on –
although I’m sure it isn’t only that –
the sky is fractured, my piss is dissipating,
and avoiding restless liminal places,
the venues where the others play,
I have also come to reconsider
my attachment to the markets.
Down there, it seems at least, the air
has soured like Mick’s old mince:
the battered toms, bruised plums,
the gourds that want for water,
the bested shot potatoes,
yellow dairy and cheap peas
mock every inch of front
I once enjoyed and worse:
the ragged left-behind who sit
and lie and wheeze in fumes
and bags outside the useless church
are indistractable, resigned,
draw no longer succour,
fillips from their unconnection,
display no common human cause
that may redeem our beating down.



Charlie Hill is a critically-acclaimed novelist and short story writer from Birmingham, whose poetry is improving. A memoir – I don’t want to go to the Taj Mahal – is due out from Repeater Books in September.