Niall O'Sullivan


No, I said a pint of semi-skimmed milk,
the green one, that's right,
you are a quick learner aren't you
oh dear, and you were doing so well.

Their voices are flattened and posted through
the steel drawer. The only meaningful discourse
is the sliding of money from one end
and change to the other.
The glass is 15 millimetres thick,
it slices our worlds apart.
You arrive from your world of lipstick,
asphalt and booze for petrol, fags, chocolate,
maybe a jazz mag so you can spank away
the nights frustrations, and fall asleep.
I remain under the hum of strip-lights
mopping the floor, restocking the fridge,
or just staring out to catch the blinking of a star.
A pair of foxes padding between pumps,
an outburst of nettles through cracks in the forecourt.

I know it's all in coppers,
but it's legal tender.
You ain't got a choice.
Don't call the police,
they won't do nuffin.
Money's money.
Legal tender

That's me up there, my wife, my kids,
my home, my smile, out of the customers sight,
framed and behind glass.
It lacks the power it once had, over familiarity.
Now it's a echo, a stale slice of time,
a strain light made in a box.
These days, memories can only be stirred
by happy accidents. The smell of
washing powder spilling from a damaged box
reminds me of her strong hands wringing
the kids' clothes dry. A new hole in my sock
recalls the inherited sheets of our marital bed,
our families histories pulled over our heads
as we suffocated our virginity.

Why don't you speak proper English?
You gotta leave here sometime.
I'll smash your fuckin' face in when you do.
You shouldn't even be in this fuckin' country.

I just stare at their flared eyes and nostrils,
spit and cusses spraying their ugly mouths,
angry mouths are always ugly.
Sometimes I call the police, or just wait for them
to burn out. Sometimes I shift my focus
to my reflection in the glass
just to see what they are raging against.
Let's see: A face that hasn't been photographed for years,
bored bovine eyes, a neat trimmed 'tasche
above lips that haven't met with lips
since nights become my days.
Leaning forwards, my breath betrays
where the inner world ends and the other world begins.
The glass, it's there for my protection,
too thick, I'm told, to ever crack.


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