Fire Starter 1958

I was on the bomb site
off Arch Street
collecting pieces of wood
and newspaper

-screwed in a ball-
and small pieces of coal
liberated from the coal wharf
near by

plus a few Swan Vestas
borrowed from
my old man's box at home
I lit a fire

near the railway arch
and Ingrid said
are you allowed
to do that?

not that I know
I said
what if a policeman
comes?

she asked
I'll just say
it was alight
when I came

and I was
keeping warm
I replied
but that's lying

she said
stretching the truth
a little
I said

she frowned at me
her bruised eye
was on the mend
and was just a slight

memory now
-her old man's
handiwork-
what if you get burnt?

she said
risk of the game
I said
I shouldn't be here

if my dad saw me here
I'd be for it
she said
you're always for it

I said
you've only got to look
at your old man
and he whacks you

I replied
not always
she said
looking away

he slippered you
the other week
for dropping
that bottle of milk

she said nothing
but looked across
the bomb site
at the passing buses

on the New Kent Road
I got out a small tin
and opened it
want a cigarette?

she peered at me
then at the tin
where'd you get those?
she said

I made them
I said
made them?
yes out of dog-ends

I picked up
from the gutters
and borrowing
cigarette papers

from an uncle
I made them up
she pulled a face
but they must have

other people's
spit on them
she said
but the papers

are fresh
I said
and besides
the burning tobacco

gets rid of that
she looked at me
and said
yuk

I put the tin away
and we watched
the fire burning
a Rozzer stopped me

on here the other week
and said to me
did I see you smoking?
I said

no I've not been smoking
I'd flicked the butt end
onto the bomb site
behind me

and he looked
at me suspiciously
and said
better not let me

catch you sonny boy
and he walked off
I'd have wet myself
she said

if a policeman
stopped me
we watched the fire burning
for a few more minutes

then we went across
the bomb site
to the chip-shop
to buy 6d of chips

and stood outside
and shared them
watching the small bomb fire
burning across the way

on that cold
November day.

by Terry Collett

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