Rusted gates between old stone pillars
lead to nowherezones, gypsy scholars,
plains of colonising wildflowers.
You can still hear the hum of the city5 bus,
the crank-chains of cyclists,
soon to be jaded teens
on routes to their own nowheres.
He turns tarpaulin, MDF,
corrugated cardboard – pilched
along with fag-butts, coin and scrap –
to shanty. Sinks a can
of Tennent’s, listens as 5pm turns to 10
and Thames Valley Police
move him back to the city.
Savage hawthorn and privet set
next to neatly tamed daffs
that sit in a circle, as asphalt
and three lanes of traffic
cake the orbit, hides nowherezone,
gyspy scholar and the only windbreaker
she’s able to find. She wetwipe-bathes,
tends nails with airy precision, armed
with emery board scrapped
from a toilet floor. Trades tracksuit for skirt,
trails coat over right arm and struts Cowley Road.
10pm becomes 2am,
they share the charm
of his soggy duvet,
go twos on her last snout
and laugh at how its been
two months and she still
hasn’t figured out how
to read the city with these
new eyes. Mick says, you’re
further in than you’ve ever been,
it might grow into you,
but so much so you’re barred.
On towpaths out of urban centres things are lost:
Rewley Road’s rusted railway tracks;
nettles pierce upturned hull; fields wrapped in silage.
They get lost. Like old Lash and his scouring pad beard,
his tiny black patch of wheelbarrow, enamel sink,
cycle chain and Spanish guitar. Lash idles on stump-stool,
simple wink and ‘ow do to those in the know. They get lost.
Out past the murals of Frenchay and Lizzie Jennings.
Out to wetlands. Out over fields to Godstow Abbey,
Fair Rose’s bower, maze, cup. Tomb.
They soothe in the cool of getting lost.
R. M. Francis is a writer from Dudley. He’s a Creative Writing Lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton and the author of five poetry pamphlets. In 2020 Wild Pressed Books are publishing Bella, his debut novel, and Subsidence, his first full poetry collection, is due with Smokestack Books. In 2019 he was the inaugural David Bradshaw Writer in Residence at Oxford University.