Niall O'Sullivan

Twelve Seconds

I know for a fact that one of the married guys at my job
pulls into a quiet lay-by on a B road on his journey home,
takes out his favourite magazine and beats off for a few minutes.
Then he drives home to his wife, he eats his dinner
puts the kids to bed.

On my way to the job, I catch
the 0552 from Herne Hill to Victoria.
I board the second last carriage and
nine times out of ten, it's empty.

Now, before you even go there,
I don't do what the married guy does,
I'm single, I can do that whenever,
I do something much more perverse,
I read a book of poetry,
feet on the opposite seat, 50mph,
I watch Brixton, Battersea power station,
and a stretch of the Thames sweep by.
Sometimes I write a few lines of my own.
It's the combination of all these things
that make me feel like a free man,
that I'm somehow malleable, suspended
above my own life's carriage for a moment.

It reached a peak today,
my carriage crossed the Thames
at sunrise. The water was the same magenta
as a kitchen in my favourite Matisse.
The sun was a huge oriental pastiche of itself
framed by purple curtains of cloud.
This was only visible for the twelve seconds
it took for the train to cross the river
but the big red ghost of that sun
stayed in my mind all day,
and while it remained, no shitty job,
bigoted comment or psychotic boss
could touch me.

I wonder if the image of the lady
in the magazine stays in my workmate's head
before he parks up outside his house.
Does it keep him calm in the traffic?
Does it keep him from throwing
his dinner at the wall?

I only ask this because I don't write
through a belief that I can stop wars
or coax gullible woman into my chamber.
If I didn't do this I'd probably end up
killing myself or someone else.
That's why I don't judge the guy in the lay-by.
Art is a fickle label.
We're doing the same thing.

Taken from Niall's forthcoming collection, provisionally entitled You're Not Singing Anymore . A landscape gardener by trade, Niall doesn't like his workmates to know his poetical career spanning seven years in London.


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