The Journey Back
By Michael James Treacy
Published: October 16, 2007

I had to go back:
there were ghosts to kill.

Only Johnny and I made the trip.
Strange really: the oldest and youngest.
Didn’t seem to mean anything to the others.
Just me, with all of the memory fully intact
and Johnny, with no recall of those times.

I remembered the main street,
the bleak council houses
and downbeat people
in that dirty town.

Almost killed
on that road:
siblings in tow,
hurrying as usual,
late for school again,
crossing without looking -
Landrover screeching to a halt.
That irate, red-faced man shouting;
me rushing away with my ragged flock.
‘Get stuffed, you miserable bastard!’ I yelled.
Everybody shouted and swore, back in those days.

I saw the pub where my Father fought Mr. Robinson:
two very big men knocking the hell out of each other.
No one else would dare to interfere in that epic scrap.
I was so proud when he beat old Robinson to a pulp.
I can’t remember another time when I was proud:
he left us again soon after that and I hated him.

Johnny and I walked to the house of our birth
in the middle of a rundown, terraced row;
same building, except for the paint.
Seven kids in two bedrooms -
how was it all possible?
Bittersweet memory:
summer days,
laughing,
beatings,
hunger,
cold,
joy,
tears,
grime,
sorrow…
Nan’s death.

Always smelling,
always ashamed I smelled,
always avoiding the Carter boys -
the times when they finally caught me,
when they beat me for being a ‘smelly belly’.

No one would ever be friends with a ‘smelly belly’
except Smudger of course and he stank the way I did,
but he couldn’t back me up, like I could fight for him,
not with spindly, deformed legs: the way his were.
I hope it ended OK for you, Smudger my friend.
It went well for me when I stopped smelling.

Johnny and I walked to the waterway:
the decrepit, rubbish-strewn canal.
The place that I escaped to,
to avoid the Carter boys,
to escape my Father.

I sailed with pirates,
defeated aliens,
slew dragons,
rescued maidens,
fought the invaders;
ran for the hell of it all.

I was a Masai, stalking a lion -
I was Bannister, the super athlete -
I was the first to land on the moon -
I scored the winning goal for England -
I was Scott against the Antarctic winter -
I ran with Buck to answer the call of the wild -
I was just a smelly boy with his smelly thoughts.

A different time and a different set of circumstances.
A place where a silly child dreamed of escaping the dirt.
Johnny laughed when he saw that I had a tear in my eye;
I laughed when I realised I was crying at the memories.

We walked back slowly through that depressing town.
There were still relatives we hadn’t seen for years:
a different bloodline, which excluded kids like us,
which was too good for ragged-arsed children;
probably still too good for Johnny and I.
We decided, best to give them a miss:
we thought they’d smell too much
like they thought we smelled.

We left them behind again,
left the town behind;
didn’t need them,
didn’t need it:
we weren’t
smelly
now.

 

Michael James Treacy claims that poetry is the vocabulary of his heart, soul, mind and occasionally his rear end. Please visit his website to confirm this... freewebs.com/michaeljamestreacy