I’m re-posting a poem with attached introduction that originally appeared on my Salon blog in 2004. Sheds, the poem, has been included in an anthology compiled by a group of fellow bloggers, which is currently in production & due to hit the newsstands – well, the contributors’ letter boxes – any day now. As soon as I get my copy I’ll put out the bunting, I promise...
My family was unusual in our street. We had a lawn in front of & behind the house. We had a privet hedge, regularly trimmed, a pair of mature apple trees, flower beds stocked with the conventional mixture of shrubs, plants & flowers, & my father tended it all efficiently yet tenderly in the approved way at the appropriate times.
But we didn’t have a garden shed. All the neighbouring families had sheds, each one tucked into a corner at the end of the plot. The Mahoneys had a big 15’ by 8’ metal shed painted green. The Days had a pine shed, creosoted to a rich dark brown, with a tiny terrace bordered by chamfered railings. The Manns had a simple tool shed with a corrugated asbestos roof. But we had no need of bought-in accommodation for spades & flowerpots & rolled-up chicken wire because we had an air-raid shelter. It was a rambling, brick-built structure, the sloping roof of which Dad had converted into a rockery. Six steep stairs took you down into the single chamber below ground level & there Dad stored the sacred garden artefacts.
I should have been proud of our air-raid shelter. No one else had one in any of the surrounding avenues in safe, secure, suburban Norbiton. But, in the final analysis, it was too exotic, too excessive. It lacked the plain, unadorned lines, the simple dignity of the garden shed. And Dad was denied the opportunity to indulge the summer evening ritual at which, as if responding to some deep, subliminal signal, the shed doors would open & all the other Dads would emerge, tuck their hands into their waistbands, draw a deep, satisfied breath, raise themselves briefly up onto toes & then down onto heels & then walk up the garden path towards the house, whistling tunelessly…
Sheds: haunches nestled into
banked earth. Cow parsley, ragwort,
bedding high sides. Blunt faces
nose-ringed with hanging padlocks.
Inside, a stook of exhausted
spades, a knackered
a crippled bike, kept for spares.
Here, where the sheds are,
clocks run slow. One man,
slouched in a doorway,
hand-rolls a cigarette.
Another taps out a briar
onto a windowsill and then
repacks the bowl. Rapt,
he stares across the match flame.
Kids roll and scatter,
break like high-tide
at the allotment's edge.
They watch, uncomprehending,
the semaphore of sweet-peas,
rocking, bean-rows, carrot-tops;
the closed and secret faces
of the sheds.
The sun goes down
behind the recreation ground,
Breaking ranks, shadow-wrapped,
the houses sidle in.