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Steve Page Jun 20
He takes up his walking stick,
looks up as if surprised to see me there and smiles,
and together we take the baskets, and walk the stairs,
sharing a well-worn joke and a laugh
and we count, we stack, we tally
and we bag the coins, the notes,
all meticulously accounted for,
- another echo of Sundays past with taller stacks
and notes that knew how to behave better
and then after two signatures he takes his stick,
looking to wrestle Cath from her chat,
and go to get some dinner.

He takes up his drum sticks,
doing the count by instinct and,
with a coordination I can only dream of,
provides a dependable back beat, off beat or upbeat,
all in a groove you just have to love,
from a throne that’s all his and his alone
behind his well-worn drums,

leaving me to thank God
for servant hearts and patient servers,
for lives lived well and long,
and for John, whose beat goes on,
whether with two sticks and his kit in the sun,
skin deep and soul deep in the same beat,
or holding one stick, with a fresh joke to test run
(or perhaps on repeat), but always laughing
comfortably keeping time, 90 years young,
walking with his King.
John Jackson turns 90 this July - great at serving each Sunday and great behind the drums.
Steve Page Jun 19
It was the taboo of the touch and although it was her habit, it still held the power to thrill me to comfort my distance.

We chatted as she scanned each item , especially the contraband cake, and it was as if we were conspiring, masking our planned insurrection.

I obeyed the card-only directive and, as the till printed the receipt in a flurry, she reached over, stripped it away and pointedly
held both hands out toward mine.

And just there – as I reached around the screen, she cupped my hand in hers and she gifted me her “Look after yourself, luv.”
- while I choked on my goodbye.
Arvon retreat writing exercise
Steve Page Jun 19
Don’t tell our parents, but I think I’m ready
for the next step, I want to hold your hand
and perhaps walk the longer way home.
I’ll shorten my stride and keep in time with us
because it all slows down when you’re talking
when you lick your lips to keep them moist
and they manage to reflect the dipping sun.

I’d like to sit face to face with your face
while you talk about the sky and the stars
about the horizon and what lies beyond
the slow canal and the horse that’s pegged there.

But let’s not tell our parents yet,
I’d like to find out what this is like
before they talk and spoil it for us.
Arvon retreat writing exercise - intimacy
Steve Page Jun 19
If pain was a friend instead of a burden
– if I could make peace with the unwelcome
– if perhaps I could see it as a teacher, not in a lecture theatre (distant and with sharp echoes), but in a private tutorial with soft furnishings and perhaps a vase of flowers.
– If her lessons came with handouts , exploring with pictures the reason for the searing , the overwhelming
– but no, my pain is that annoying parent on a pointless trek, refusing to stay silent, incessant in her insistence that we can’t part ways
– if we came to a fork in the road and after a heated debate I went left and left her wounded and helpless
– if I was free to explore the trees, to dance, to run and bask in the sunlight, confident to climb down every crevasse without fear of the return journey
– if on the path from the forest, when heading back to the city I saw her again, would I pass on the other side or would I Samaritan her, bind her wounds, carry her back with me, better able to support her after the respite?  Would I better appreciate her for who she is, or would I continue to carry her with resentment.
- If I came across the fork again, I think I would disable her as before and happily leave her bleeding.  I would lose myself in the forest once again.  
But I’d still be able to see the city.
Arvon retreat
Steve Page Jun 19
As I wait, I see on an uncomfortably high stool
the grandmother perching opposite
the comfortably bored teenager
replete in his distressed Ramones tee shirt
and ripped white jeans.

She holds her black coffee with both hands, while he
plays with the long spoon in his tall glass of hot chocolate,
her eyes focused on the top of his head,
his engrossed in the puddle of brown milk around his saucer.

Below the music, she pleads for a friendship that he
shows no interest in until she reaches into her bag
and emerges with perhaps something that he’s been waiting for –

And beyond the counter, shielded by formica, percolators and stacked cups, the apprentice barista drops his tray and from the back two men in ill-fitting suits give a half-hearted cheer, while his boss withholds her anger in front of the paying customers, but judging by her face she would gladly take her protégé by his stained apron and string him up – I think this isn’t the first time she’s taken the cost of breakages out of his salary.

And I’ve missed what it is grandma has presented to her grandson
– all I can see is a suggestion of his fingers playing with silver,
a ring perhaps? The hot chocolate is pushed aside and his shoulders straighten.  
She still looks uncertain, and the seconds drag until his face seems to soften.
He looks up and mouths what might be a thank you.  

And he doesn’t withdraw his hand when she covers it with her own.
Arvon retreat writing exercise - a story with a break
Steve Page Jun 19
Margy shouts her advice from outside Greggs
unsolicited, but often needed
usually it concerns fashion
- the choice of a scarf
- inappropriate shoes for the weather
- or the state of a pair of trousers, hanging and baring a cleavage
(“No one wants to see that, dear.”)

Margy can be relied upon to wear the same distinct socks
– draped around her stocking feet, their multi-coloured design now greyed
by wear and the Uxbridge Road.

Margy is more reliable than her friends and she tells them as much
(“You’re all a bunch of time wasters.”)
demanding more loyalty and demands from me enough for a cup of tea
- a very expensive one apparently.

And on a Sunday, she’ll kneel and pray throughout the early Eucharist,
declining the bread and wine
(”On, no dear.  It’s not a habit I want to cultivate.”)
Arvon retreat June 2022
Steve Page Jun 19
In another life, my father
must have been a blacksmith.
Essential in his village
Essential to be needed
(otherwise what’s the point?)

Swinging his hammer in heat, in smoke,
content within his St Bruno haze, suspicious
of anything lighter than black leather
anything lighter than brass fittings

- comfortable with sweat stains and scattered ash,
scars and deep bruises marking him
a man’s man and breadwinner,

- relaxed with the air blue, the tribe white
and his iron laughter echoing with every strike,
every blow shaping his son
into his family’s likeness.
Arvon retreat June 2022.
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