Last night, The Unicorn was full of them –
old boaters-turned-gongoozlers, who raised a glass
but not a finger as I steered into the bank.
Yow’ll mek a boat girl yet, grinned Joe the Tug. He’d know.
Fifty years ago he courted Rose by leaving flowers
in the bridge’oles where her boats would pass.
Today, my head hurts. I unhitch my wide green morning;
push onto the willowed Trent, into the day.
The river strong as sorrow, quick to drown,
peopled by herons and forgetful cows in bankside pools.
A pillared hall glides past, a shagpile parkland
pinned with veteran oaks and well-bred sheep.
The urban ducks sail out to meet me at the border lock.
The littered water tightens round the hull.
Gravelled towpaths, breeze blocks, corrugation;
the city’s arse on show, its face elsewhere.
I keep my head down past the bridge’ole smackheads,
dickheads, rent boys, idle men,
the anglers under CCTV cameras scowling,
drinking lager silently and shitting in the bushes.
Things get smaller inland: plastic-sheeted boatyards,
mossy brown pontoons and diesel pumps.
The lovely flood lock, open as a drunkard’s arms,
and then the first brick bridge.
My bridge, my landmark. Low-arched,
shouldered, bumped and scratched,
domestic as a doorknob.
I’ll never, Joe, I said last night, I haven’t got the strength.
He knows better. Laughing now, I’m passing under arches:
on for Liverpool, or anywhere that could be home.