Martin Figura (British Working Class Poets)

Martin Figura,

Martin Figura’s collection and show Whistle was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award and won the 2013 Saboteur Award for Best Spoken Word Show.  He was Salisbury NHS Writer in Residence in 2021, My Name is Mercy (Fair Acre Press)was published later that year. He lives in Norwich with Helen Ivory and sciatica.

 

The Remaining Men

When the men surfaced for the last time and dispersed

some were left over.  These men wandered about the town

until they each found their own particular sweet spot. 

Then they just stood there, looking out over the scarred coast

through red-rimmed eyes to the rough brown sea. 

 

As the days, went by people gave up asking them

why so still and could they fetch someone

or something?  They became like street signage,

A-boards, parked prams or tied up dogs; something

to be manoeuvred around.  As the months went by

 

the men became hardened to difficult weather

filling their coat pockets with hail.  During the great storm

of Eighty-Seven, their caps blew off and went cartwheeling

down the streets with bin lids.  As the years went by

the slagheaps faded to green and saplings were planted. 

 

The men began to petrify into monuments.  When

the new road for the business park went through

a lot of them were tipped back onto trollies, like the ones

railway porters used to use, then loaded on to flatbed trucks

with the traffic cones.  Most were broken down for aggregate. 

 

The lucky ones were sold off as novelty porch lights

and stood outside front doors on the new estate

illuminating small front lawns and driveways. 

As the decades went by, saplings became sycamores

and elms and named Colliery Wood.  In autumn

 

the early morning light on them was glorious

and cycle paths made their way there.  The remaining

men were defaced by graffiti and badly worn

by then; many considered them to be an eyesore. 

When children asked what they were, not everyone

 

could remember and of those that did, few were believed. 

As the centuries went by, they all but disappeared,

only the circle in the park remained.  Archaeologists

and historians disagree about how they came to be there

and what they might have been used for.

 

Richard Nixon Speaks at his own Funeral

 

My only friends dressed in black and carried walkie-talkies,

I never saw their eyes, just myself reflected back,

buttoned into a respectable coat and five o’clock shadow. 

 

Named after a king, born on a fault line, I learnt young

to keep my voice low in an argument, to rise in darkness,

put in a hard day before the world wakes up.  Life can turn

 

like a pole-cat or skunk.  This is the house my father built

and lost in twenty-two, here are the graves of the brothers

who never made it through.  As a child I breathed cold air

 

into the spongy maze of my lungs and held it there.

You’d have to cut me open, prise apart my ribcage

to find scar tissue.  I loved a quiet woman

 

who knew how to sit through the night. I wept

into my handkerchief when she died. 

Women who talk dirty are worse than kites

 

or commies.  The past is a smoking gun

and my face marred by dust and sweat and blood. 

I’ve spoken to men on the moon about peace,

 

done what I’ve done for the good of my country. 

Stand in cold rain to pay your respects.  I gave them a sword,

those sons of bitches, they stuck it in and twisted. 

 

Wire taps and dirty tricks are just

curve balls and switches.  My only friends

dressed in black and carried walkie-talkies.

 

Sand

A little Midlands new town with nothing left

to make or do, or mountains to speak of

and no-one passing through.  The bypass

exit sign does not say An Historic Market Town. 

 

No stately home, cathedral, cobbled streets,

no green or pond, no ducks, no honey-stoned

second homes; just overspill without blue

plaques.  The town hall is an office block. 

 

Still they won’t just chuck it in

and with a grant, men turn themselves

brick by brick into a museum

while their nimble-fingered wives

 

fashion jewellery from circuit boards,

components and coloured wires

to stock the shelves by the postcard rack

and stacks of books of bygone days. 

 

The town has edged itself with sand,

the one-way-circuit, a never-ending

coastal road.  Hold a shell to your ear

and hear the rush of the M6/M5 intersection.

 

Bunting hangs from shop to shop, the precinct

is ablaze, a promenade of windows blind

with Union Jacks, a mural by a local artist

adorns the underpass.  The marketing’s rolled out

 

to Leamington Spa, to Droitwich, to Telford

to Ashby-de-la-Zouch and all points in between. 

On the next bank holiday everybody waits: 

the dripping hanging baskets, the portly mayor

 

in chains; the goose-pimpled beauty queen;

kids holding maypole ribbons, balloons or flags;

the Sealed Knot done up as Mods and Rockers

ready for the battle of sixty-four (on the hour,

 

every hour); a maze; a brass band tuning up; the Lost

Children’s Hut; seagulls in a cloudless sky; vendors

of buckets, spades and fudges; the committee wearing

Can I Help You badges.

 

The Remaining Men was shortlisted in the Hungry Hill Poets Meet Politics 2021 Prize and published in the associated Anthology.

Richard Nixon Speaks at his own Funeral was published in Paris Lit Up Magazine

Sand was published in TheMorning Star, World English Poetry 2015 and the Hope Anthology 2014

 

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