Time Portal At Fenchurch St. Station

by Ieuan ap hywel
The Writer's Block
First Place, August 2021
Judged by Bruce McRae

An autumn drizzle dampens
the station entrance
A ticket inspector
in silver buttons nods
me through the barrier

My first half-day free
of dead-reckoning in five weeks
I buy a return ticket to Chalk Farm
underground station
The long haul up Primrose Hill
Umbrellaed commuters stare
at my swagger
Heavy steps an’ little uns
Heavy steps and skipped ones

The cleaner answers my knock
She’s at Les Marécottes
A week in the Valais Valley
with her class

Pity, Julie loved to watch the antics
at the monkey house
Later, we’d chill listening
to the Beatles, down
a bottle of airén from a case
liberated by her father
at Córdoba in ’36

Belay that outing
I’ve missed her, and that is that

A 2T engine blows superheated
steam from a water trap
Warm condensate envelops
me in a grey mist
I trot through
A hidden voice speaks through the fog
‘Plenty of time, Sir.’

The Tannoy bursts into life
A woman’s wooden voice annunciates
‘The train on platform four
is the 12:24 for Tilbury . . .’
her plummy accent reverberates
among the roof spaces

A courting couple squirm
on a bench
A bare thigh lifts
to pull my eye
A porter winks,
‘Young love hey, Sir’
“Yes, indeed.”
I buy a paper at W. H. Smith’s

I ruminate on what could have been
Julie’s play-acting wearing my uniform
The scrambled egg on my cap
did something for her

A pigeon squawks underfoot
The train puffs, chugs and puffs out
of the station. Rat-a-tat-tat
The smell of coke hanging
on the engine’s chuff
The rhythm changes over the points
te-te-dum, te-te-dum
nothing to be done

Down the embankment
a housewife happily beats
the life out of a carpet
A horse tosses
it’s feedbag for the last oats
Workmen congregate like rodents
The shriek of a factory hooter.

I lean back into an antimacassar
Five weeks to Woolloomooloo
Summer in the Antipodes
Helen’s tanned torso
at Rushcutter Bay
scrumptious in her red silken
polka-dot bikini.

Having lived in London for 20 years, I admit this poem struck me on a personal level, evoking another time in my, as well as the author's, life. Those moments in our past when everything that was or is verges on change. Well constructed and paced, it conjures the senses of sight and sound while steering clear of being overly emotional. --Bruce McRae