This poem is based on our family metal-finishing business, where I worked for 23 years. It was one of those small enterprises which sound so glamorous, but are really just hard work. Every three months I had to do the VAT. This took a long time, and always ended with a large bill. So this poem is dedicated, without love, to HM Revenue and Customs.


These are not (you understand) the figures
which send cold judgement into the backbone
which leave us, workless, shrunk at home
staring in a sky grown black with leaves.
These are like the ticking of a clock,
the daily sums, a van’s new brakes,
three drums of trichloroethylene on the back
of a thrumming lorry; yet they take
a day to make: thin bars of figures.  While
I try to balance them, light scurries round
like a glad squirrel.  Radio music stales,
until shut off.
                        What’s left when it is done,
the green book closed?  There is no sea to swim
no mouth to kiss.  Even the light is gone.
Bookkeepers drink over-sugared tea
lie in dark rooms; are always hunched and tired.
Where I stretch up the low bulb burns and whirls.
And in it, I see him.  The dusky gold wing folds
across his face.  The feathers’ sharp tips smudge
his margins.
Sunk, in his own shadows, deep
in scattered ledgers of our petty sins:
he, the tireless angel:
Unaccountably, he sleeps.

from Selected Poems (Carcanet, 1991), © Alison Brackenbury 1991, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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