My Wives

I descend on Holborn’s escalator
watching my wives pass by on the opposite side,
smiling, waving at me; they shout in Swedish,
Russian, Urdu, that they’ll always love me.
Even my English wives croon in their dialects.
My Japanese wives bow low, their kimonos
showering the stairs with the smell of Hokkaido
and Kanto. My wives are everywhere;
pacing the corridors, rushing to Kilburn,
Gatwick, Paddington, smiling at me as they go.
They have new husbands now, waiting at home,
but I know it’s me they miss. As we tunnel the grim
postcodes of Lambeth, Borough,
the Elephant and Castle, most of my wives have
left to catch connections for Kent or Sussex.
There are just the two of us now,
husband and wife for a couple of stops.
We sit in our seats, rocking in unison.
She twists her wedding-ring, then starts
to weep. What can I do but join her?
We sob through Waterloo and Kennington,
all the way to Stockwell where she picks up
her bag, and slips through the doors.
I can picture her room in the Walworth Road,
her Joss sticks smouldering, that smell
of patchouli she’s left in the empty carriage.
I go home alone, lie in an empty bed
while all my wives are sleeping with men
who do not love them.


from Spanish Fly (Cape, 2001), © Neil Rollinson 2001, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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