Walking the Dog

Frank and Corinne
walk into town
to have a drink, hang about
celebrate his win that warm September evening
the sinking sun sends long shadows
gilds the top of the buildings.
Frankie’s happy in the anonymous crowd
the men in short sleeves, the women
in basques and mini skirts
the noisy street.  Up ahead he sees
a slim man – Frankie watches
the way he walks, lithe and jaunty
there’s music drifting out of The Dog
and laughter, the doors swing open
the slim lad goes in.  Frankie glimpses
the world inside – he sees another man smile,
greet the slim man –
Frankie feels a door in him
open just for a moment –
then the door swings shut.

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Regional Heats

It’s a hot Saturday in early September
the pool side is crowded
with families fluttering
like the red and blue bunting
up above, the plastic snakes
dividing the lanes.
Frankie’s in Lane Two
the whistle blows
five boys dive
and they’re off:
cleaving the water,
up turn down and back again.
Frankie has the lead
up ahead by seconds.
Mam and Corinne on the edge
of their seats,
Corinne’s squealing
C’mon! C’mon!
Frankie has the fastest time.
He grins at them
Corinne gives a thumbs up sign
shouts Yey, Frankie!
It’s all over in minutes,

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Bev the coach

is tall and muscular
her short hair flops over her eyes
when she leans down to talk to kids
messing about in the baths.
She’s quiet, but the kids
do what she says
and she’s quick
to notice bother
and put a stop to it.
Corinne and Frankie like it
when she’s on duty –
they can focus on swimming.
Frankie just does it
like he’s part of the water,
slicing through the blue
easy, light, front crawl,
no splashes
just like he’s been taught
it feels like
he’s swimming
into another world.

Frank’s the fastest in the city,
You keep at it, Bev says,
you could be Under 16s champion.

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Corinne and Frankie

are dolphins

at Elswick pool.

They meet on a Thursday evening

and Saturday morning;

they do lengths, widths

front crawl, back crawl

racing against the clock.

Bev  the coach shouts the time

checks their style:

No pain, no gain, do it again, she’ll say.

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After school, in the park

it’s warm, leaves on the trees whisper,
Frank gets a coke, Corinne has chips,
they share a swig for a chip
and Frankie says:
I’m gannin ter Australia
On yer own?
I’m gannin.  One day.
And he looks out down the park, across the river
like he could see Australia there.
Why Australia?
Cos it’s the other side of the world from here.
Only one more year, says Corinne,
then yer can de owt yer like,
escape, go off, disappear.
Like Grandad? says Frankie.
And they talk again
about the mystery:
Me ma says nowt;
it’s like she’s always
just about to, then
changes her mind,
but he left such a long time ago.
He didn’t die though, did he?
Nah, I divvent think so.
This is where they stop
and consider all the thousand possibilities
once again:
He’s got another family Down South
He’s retired to Spain
Lost his memory in an Old Folks Home
In prison for Murder
Changed his identity
to escape a violent debt collector
Joined a Circus, The Army
A monastery in Tibet.
It’s a serious game
but neither are brave enough
to ask their Nan.

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Frankie’s Acrostic

In English, Miss Thoroughgood is talking about names
where they come from
what they mean. Frank looks it up,
Frank means open, undisguised, speaking out
but Miss Thoroughgood says:
It comes from Francis – he was a saint
a gentle man who loved animals.
Frankie thinks about monkey when he was little.
Then she says:
I want you to do
Acrostics with your names
that’s a poem all about yourselves.
This is Frankie’s:
Fanciable, fearless and fashionable
Red haired, right-handed
And a good liar.
None of the above are true. No-one
Knows what
I’m like, not really.
Even me.

But he doesn’t show it to Miss Thoroughgood

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In the toilets at break

Paddy and Dec get him and push him in
it stinks of piss in there
they pin Frankie’s arms
pull his tie off
drop it in the bog.
Paddy undoes Frankie’s belt
pulls his pants down
knots the wet tie round Frankie’s hands
then Paddy pushes him
he falls over the bowl
face down by the cracked cold tiles.
They laugh,
Paddy takes a photo
with his mobile
the door bangs, they’ve gone.
Paddy sends the picture of his bare arse
to all year11’s mobiles;
Corinne tells Mr Yeoman,
he confiscates the phone
makes Paddy and Dec confess.
Mr Yeoman unties Frankie, waits for him
with Corinne outside the bogs
Mr Yeoman says:
You ok son ?
He calls it hi-jinks
a joke gone a bit too far
We’ll leave it at that  – ok?
Frankie is glad it won’t get back
to Mam and Dad
Corinne is mad that Paddy got away with it.

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The start of autumn term

Frankie and Corinne talk
as they’re walking to school
under September light
sieved through leaves
Frankie’s in a shirt
Corinne’s sleeves
are pulled over her hands.
He’s keeping an eye out for Paddy,
an ambush, as he says to Corinne:
I’m better than him at a lot of stuff
but not the sort that’s top in Dad’s book:
identifying a motorbike by the sound of its engine
reeling off the specifications of a BMW Saloon
making a rawlplug stick in a dodgy wall
drinking ten pints and still knowing who won
the League.
Remember I learnt ter swim first,
while Paddy was still splashing
about on the floats?  When Paddy knocked a tooth out
in a fight at school? Dad showed him off
down the pub.  When I was
in the nativity play, Dad just laughed.

Suddenly he hears
Frankie the Freak!
Paddy and his mate
are whispering it behind him,
he turns, they shout it out loud
and when Paddy says the words
Freak, he sticks his face in Frankie’s.
Here’s the Freak
on his way to School!
Paddy is walking
with Dec,
they gob on Frankie;
Paddy laughs
pulls his hair, yanks his bag
off his shoulder, Dec
kicks it into the West Road
jammed with morning traffic
won’t let him back onto the pavement
cars have to swerve
drivers honk their horns
the lads shout Freak!

Corinne pulls Frankie’s arm:
Bog off you two!

Dec and Paddy run off laughing,
but when he enters the yard
they trip him in the mud.
In class, Sir says:
Frank, you’re a mess
Can’t you even try to look decent ?
Paddy sniggers
Frankie says nowt.

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Nan and Grandad

Nan is Dad’s mam.
She’s a strict Catholic,
Catholic and strict:
even Dad does
what Nan says.

When Frankie and Paddy were little
they’d ask about Grandad:
sometimes Dad said
He was a Trawlerman
lost at sea, or mebbes
became a pirate.
Other times he’d tell them
Grandad was
a long-distance lorry driver
who broke down in Africa
an was captured by cannibals.
When they complained No
tell us really, he’d say
Bugger off, Nebby.
All they know for certain
is that Dad
never tells the truth
about Grandad
and Nan won’t.

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