Shaun Belcher Poems 2002-22

Category: Substitute

FOSSILS

The playgrounds were strewn with ash
Smoke still billowed from the underpass
Further out in the estuary steam rose
From the tanker now beached and rusting

Lights now only flickered around the estate
On every other day to conserve energy
Milk floats converted to run on steam
Carried bodies of those who froze

Up the icy streets to the crematorium
The one place left they still used gas
The old cylinder gas tanks long since
Deflated like punctured balloons

Horses and cattle roamed the empty fields
Looking for their owners and a bale of hay
But the engines that brought them
Had long since died and started to rust away

No-one now could remember how it started
One day there were fires everywhere
The pylons buzzed in the rain
Then it stopped, silent roads, empty skies

Hands scratching for fuel kept finding
Impressions of leaves and insects in the coal
For a while the neighbours chopped down trees
Built holes in their eco-house rooves

To let the newly built fire-places let out smoke
then the hard winter stopped that
By spring there was no firewood to be had
All the oil and gas had burnt out long ago

Slowly the bones started to appear
Bodies lying in the fields slowly
fading back into the chalky soil
Row upon row of chalky fossils.

SUBSTITUTE

North Berks Cup Final Long Wittenham F.C. my father second left back row.

Looking on from the sidelines came naturally
a boney slightly effete lad who wanted to be what his Dad wanted him to be.
Every Xmas Meccano and Scalextric (or a cheaper version from Bosleys toy shop)
When all I wanted was pen and paper or an Airfix Saturn V and some comics.
Happy with my mum’s Encyclopedia of Animals and a set of colouring pencils.
I built my own museum of antiquities in my bedroom.
I made a glass topped case of oddments my Dad dug up with his JCB.
A meteorite, a bit of roman pottery, fossils or so he told me and who was I to argue.

I spent hours kicking a ball against my neighbours shed, dubbined my boots
The smell of tarmac and sweat oozing from his pores after a day labouring
as he showed me how to clean my boots. How to pace myself, avoid injury.
In kick arounds I wasn’t bad, no Geoff Hurst more a Martin Keone at left back.
A position the better team I clawed my way into could not fill so there I was.
Sunday morning in Edmond’s Park living my father’s dream. Trying to live up to the photograph of his team shot at Reading FC ground before winning the North Berks Cup ( I still have photo and medals and programme.)

My mother watched me take a few knocks and struggle as a defender.
Not ‘filled out’ enough to stand up to the bigger boys. Immature and sensitive.
The inner poet derailing my ambitions to play for Arsenal from an early age.
I look at photos of me aged 14 and wonder I didn’t break something.
But my father’s advice came good. Don’t get angry get even.
They score one you go back and score one against them.
Remember your second wind. I did remember so much so I wrote a poem.
Mum played the long game wanted me to go to University. First in family.

The rest all drove trucks, laid tarmac or went into the police or army.
One sunday my Grandad challenged a semi-professional team to a match.
His family and mates from the Working Men’s Club against them as a bet.
Our whole family of Butlers and Belchers turned out on a frosty morning to watch
them win on the park I got substituted every game for Didcot Boys on.
My Dad and Uncle Dennis and others ran rings around the so called professionals.
There was a big celebration at the club that evening. Ernie had won his bet.
I learnt then that there is no substitute for perseverence, talent and a bit of luck.

Now I stand on the sidelines again. Recovering from a host of bad tackles, unlucky injuries and plain bad-timing. Always a substitute.

Stepping across the line. Taking on the professionals at their own game.

Bound to be substituted later. Like always.


New Poems: Loops

Loops

Sparkling green walls covered in frosted webs
A thousand hedges grid-locked our estate at dawn
October school-runs on foot, lawns damp with dew
We’d strip privet sticks and collect them in loops

One web on top of another until a sticky shivering
Vibrated in our hands, dew running down stalk to palm.
We knew nothing then, spun our own stories as we traipsed
Slowly toward a school playground fuzzy with chalk

Circles on walls, boards, exercise books and balls
Punctured and hiding below those spun nets
The exhaled breaths of football careers not yet dead
We curved balls endlessly at bare walls

They came back every time,thuds ricocheting
Against the garage walls our only release
Drum n Bass lives before we knew the words
Stamping out glam rock tunes in our heads

Now the lawns and hedges torn up turned to gravel
Commuter belt rentals cars packed in like terraces
Nothing breathing just dead ground that floods easily
The earth covered and the dreams we had floating away

Over the hedges, nets, lawns like vapour trails
Heading west to unknown futures no longer there.


A new boy in my old bedroom repeats an overhead kick
On a digital platform.
Dreams of escape as a ball lands in a net.
Cannot hear the milk train on the loop.

Ignores far sirens and sticky hands cradling the dead.

The Loop:

The London – Oxford railway line bypasses my hometown of Didcot on a single track known as ‘The Loop’ to thirteen year old trainspotters…

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