To a Halver


This poem is an ode to a halver, and a halver is a half-brick. It has an epigraph from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath: ‘And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history’

To a Halver

O halver, O haffa, O half-brick: your battened-down
century of faithful service in a pit village terrace
forgotten now you’ve broken loose; now you’re at large
on CCTV, flackering out of kilter till you bounce
like far-flung hail rebounding off the riot squad –
or kissing the away support a fond goodbye –
or anyhow let fly, as fifty years ago
someone aimed you at my father’s skull
while he was being shepherded down Rutherglen Road
when it was raining bottles, when it was raining hammers and nails
after an Old Firm fixture – the decider: I exist
because you missed and broke his collarbone –
I weigh you now against the good you’ve done.
St George’s Hill, when Cromwell’s cavalry advance
we find you, or your country cousins, apt and good,
versatile in the hands of the True Levellers;
now Banksy has a laugh replacing you with flowers;
and what about your bit-part in that dockyard stand-off?
The gates swing to, the scabs clock on –
as to the nitty-gritty of whose side you’re on,
you stay, as they say, ahead of the curve.
But you were there at Peterloo and you were there
at Brixton. You were all the range at Meadowell.
You ancestors were with us in the cave
before the wheel before the fire and ever since
we’ve never been without you: all our grand designs
can be reduced to you. You stand for stunted hope
grown wild among the backyard odds and sods
where the snubbed toaster and the jilted BMX
jockey for position with the unacknowledged honesty.
O root and seed of boxed-in lives! O token of dissent!
How often have I seen you in the thick of it
and raised my arm against you? On pitted tarmac;
by the gutted community centres of besieged estates –
borne as a gift or hurled down like a prophecy –
I’ve seen you taken up and even in the playground,
hidden in a snowball, you followed hard upon.
You’ve come a long way from the clay-pit, worked out and abandoned;
a long way from the vanished kilns of Langley and Eldon –
here: let me launch you on another posthumous career,
earthbound comet, stub of destiny, throwback. I have a
soft spot for you, so go on: make something happen,
O clod, O totem of the unaccommodated, O halver –
history’s ellipsis point, sign to which we must attend –
when words fail may you always be at hand.

uncollected poem, copyright © Paul Batchelor 2009, used by permission of the author

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