Martin Hayes (British Working Class Poets)

Martin Hayes

Martin Hayes was born in London and has lived along the Edgware Road area of it all his life. He has worked in the same day courier industry for over 30 years and is the author of 7 collections of poetry including, When We Were Almost Like Men, (Smokestack, 2015). The Things Our Hands Once Stood For, (Culture Matters, 2018) Roar! (Smokestack, 2018), Ox (Knives Spoons And Forks Press, 2021), and Underneath (Smokestack, 2021).



spines stronger than the back of the Earth


a telephonist’s Mum is in our reception area demanding to speak to a supervisor

so that she can ask him why

her daughter is in tears

and won’t come out of her bedroom

the supervisor appears and asks the Mum what the problem is

to which the Mum asks back the same question

only fiercer

the supervisor eventually explains

that this ladies daughter

has a call count 33% below the rest of her team

and despite the counselling sessions she’s been a part of

and the warnings she’s received

nothing seemed to be improving

so he felt that there was nothing left for him to do

other than try and put ‘a rocket up her arse’

which he did do

the afternoon before

when he came out into the telephonist room and in front of everyone

called her a lazy good for nothing xxxxing slob

who was dragging the whole team down

the Mum is enraged by this explanation

and tells the supervisor that he should be ashamed of himself

humiliating her daughter like that

in front of everyone

that if it was such a problem

then he should’ve pulled her into an office and told her so


like a man would

before swinging one into the side of that supervisor’s head

and storming out

thus proving

once again

that you can easily break the spine

of a 16-grand-a-year 19-year-old telephonist

with gold dust in her eyes and a heart like a trumpet

but that a 56-year-old working mum of three

has a spine stronger than any man's

but especially

a supervisor's

the neighbour and the light bulb


the neighbour underneath me is at my door

he wants to know if I have a spare lightbulb

it is 2 pm on a Saturday afternoon

and he is dying of dementia


so I give him a lightbulb

I don’t ask if it’s a screw in one or a twist he needs

it’s not like he’s actually going to use it

he just takes it from me

and says thank you


as I hand it over to him at the door

he looks at me

turns his head from side to side

like a dog

then he says

did you come round mine at Christmas?


there’s still life in there


no I tell him I met you on the landing on Boxing Day

your electricity was off


electricity? oh, yes


he doesn’t know what the hell I’m on about


where do I go from here, he says


in the lift taking him back down to his floor

I can smell the death he holds my hand with

he calls me Andrew

his fingers are like the penis bones of a primate

hard and wanting to break through the thinnest skin


when I get him in his flat

it is a wasteland

no signs of recent life

no photos

no order

there is a kettle on the mantelpiece

a loo roll on the floor

an empty packet of Wotsits on the windowsill

everything is exactly where it was left

when it was last touched

weeks or maybe even months ago


he sits in his chair

I place a glass of water beside him and switch on the tele

Love Island is on


thank you Andrew, he says


I don’t say anything


the whole world is humming outside

and sometimes it’s hard to understand why


the night worker



the night is moving in

as Terry the night controller

steps his way along the canal towards work

watching the sky turning from its busy blue to deep lazy black


he doesn’t move with the sea as we move to it anymore

he is a night worker

the dark seaweed has wrapped its fingers around his bruised barnacled legs

and sets him apart

dragging him down in the opposite direction to the rest of us

the pins and needles of his almost-there heart attack

have stiched him into these night-shift patterns of jet-lag tolerance

as his wife sleeps in the warm woollen wallet of the loneliness he gives her

breathes it over her every morning as their ships pass

like a condemned pig’s snout exiting air one second before it collapses

and she now she now can get up to her fussy chattering day


it is the love of mountain lions bears the humpback whale  

solitary in the deep depths of their detached existence

two Tenerife toothless weeks the prize sizzling in the pan of their uneaten breakfasts


never mind

never mind though

it’s a job!

and there’s always the grass and speed and prescription pills

to help fight the night’s army of rogue waves

that wash over him as he watches the clock slowly hammering in its ticks and its tocks


slowly the ghosts rise out of his mind dripping wet with mischief

crawling down the inside of his back

dueling in amongst the turrets of his vertebrae

swinging on the nerve-ends of his sciatica

playing out their deep and lonely dramas

that he has become the battlefield and protagonist of


tick tock

slowly the clock goes

carving each second of his shift into his own forearm

until the first cutting-torch-flame of the sun cuts a crack in the black

and light begins to swarm

to the sound of the birds’ first song

of kettles boiling over

of bread popping up in their toasters

of the rustle of cereal shaken about in a box

of yawns and pick-me-up kisses

all of the things he misses

or which pass him by

outside the fog

anchored to the top

of his night worker head


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